LSQ Year 10 Special: MEET OUR EDITOR-IN-CHIEF — Jennifer Lyn Parsons!

DEAREST READERS!!!! We have entered the realm of Year 10 — our tenth year of publication! To celebrate this momentous decade, we have several tricks up our sleeves. One special feature is a celebration of our fantastic staff. We would not exist without the numerous volunteer editors and bloggers that shape our publication into what you see. So to celebrate our staff, we’re running a series of interviews throughout the year to introduce you all to our working women behind the scenes. And what better way to kick this off than by sharing an in-depth interview with *drum roll please* our very own editor-in-chief, Jennifer Lyn Parsons!

LSQ: Year 10 – a DECADE of publishing spec fic by women authors! In what ways have you seen the Quarterly grow and change over the past ten years?

Jennifer: First of all, holy crap I have no idea where the last ten years went. The only way I can truly mark it is in the vast number of stories in our archive, the huge crowd of authors we’ve published, and the slowly-encroaching gray hairs on my head.

LSQ has grown in oh so many ways. Honestly, it’s become so much bigger than I ever imagined it would be. It’s hard to describe exactly how, partly because the change has been so gradual and organic it’s hard to notice in the day-to-day.

At the beginning it was literally just me doing everything. There was no blog, other than the issue and submission period announcements. I had no editors, no proofreaders; it was completely a solo operation. The first issue was tough to fill; I had to recruit friends to submit stories to get things off the ground.

Now? Now there’s an editorial STAFF and not only a blog, but an entire STAFF for that, too! We receive hundreds of submissions for each issue, and our readership is robust. One of my biggest “oh my this is bigger than I knew” moments happened when I started a pull box at my local comic book store. The owners had heard of us from our reviews on iO9!

I think the biggest way I can say it has changed is that it is larger than just me now, and not just staff-wise. If something were to happen to me that would prevent me continuing with the work, I know there would be folks stepping up to take over LSQ. After 10 years, it feels like there’s a real legacy. It’s not fragile anymore. We’re here to stay.

LSQ: Can you share any of your secrets of success for keeping an independent literary journal going for so long?

Jennifer: I think I can sum my secrets up in a couple simple rules:

  1. Quality over quantity plus consistency. I feel it’s better to have four fabulous issues per year, published consistently, than try to fill a monthly issue and potentially miss deadlines and have a lesser quality publication. The more you are seen as dependable, the more readers and writers show up to join you. I was lucky enough to realize this early on. Hopeful I’ve just saved some of you from some hard decisions.
  2. Keep it sustainable. If you fold because you’ve overstretched your boundaries too quickly, it does nothing to aid the community. This goes for both your financial outlay as well as how you utilize your personal energy and time. I have seen far too many publications have great intentions at the start, only to fold a few issues in because they didn’t have a plan to keep things going long-term or had underestimated how much effort it would take to keep publishing.
    I think I would also add that it’s a good idea to not expect to make a hefty sum doing this work. Most, if not all, literary journals run on a shoestring budget. These projects are run by folks who love what they do and are passionate about supporting short fiction, poetry, and the like. To this day, I don’t draw any profit from running LSQ and occasionally still chip in from my own pocket for larger expenses. I’m happy to do so because it’s LSQ and I love it, but it is something to keep in mind.
  3. Ask for help before you need it. Knowing what your plans are and having a decent idea of what lies ahead will allow you to ask for help before you become desperate for it. If you’ve followed through on the two previous rules, you will likely find you’ve nurtured the goodwill and community that will help you find the assistance you need.
    This is part of what has kept LSQ running all these years. As I saw the need arise, I put out the call for help. While we’re entirely volunteer run, I’ve been more than happy to write job recommendations for staffers and do what I can to provide support and experience in the field that they might use in their paid work elsewhere.

A very happy result of all this is the small but vibrant community we have here and that, more than anything else, is what keeps LSQ humming.

LSQ: Name some of the biggest challenges that you’ve encountered over the years. How did you overcome them?

Jennifer: Those secrets to success I mentioned — those were hard-won. I made mistakes, usually around overextending myself personally in favor of making sure issues got out on time. I had to learn to ask for help and accept that folks wanted to support LSQ if I just asked them.

I also had to learn what was good for LSQ at any given time. There are tons of ideas for special projects, different events, etc. on my wish list. However, even if there were infinite time and resources, that doesn’t mean every one of those ideas would be good for us.

Every bit of growth we’ve had came out of a challenge, really. When we wanted to start publishing digital and then print editions of the issues, that came out of people asking for them and then having to find a way to make that happen sustainably. Right now the biggest challenge we’re facing is desperately wanting to pay authors what their work is worth, but needing to find ways to increase our income to sustain that without taking on advertising. Ads are something I’m vigorously opposed to implementing on principle. (Hint: we have a Patreon account if you’d like to help out!)

LSQ: This is a publication that seeks to uplift women writers. Can you tell us a bit about how you cultivate that aesthetic?

Jennifer: I think a lot of it comes from my own personal philosophy. Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street were hugely influential to me and I still hold to many of the ideals I learned as a child. Both of these shows focused highly on kindness, listening, and uplift. They acknowledged that sometimes things are sad or dark and it is okay to feel those feelings, but when things went wrong, that’s when you look for the helpers. My parents often were those very helpers and reinforced these views. For example, I come from a long line of volunteer firemen and was raised going to Girl Scouts, so I learned this from my upbringing as well.

The world has its ups and downs and as it goes through its turmoils there are plenty of folks out there pointing out how horrible everything is and how we’re all doomed. They may not be wrong and still they fight tooth and nail for change. That is definitely a good thing, however, I do not believe that should form the whole of our experience in this life. There is goodness yet in the world; there is need for respite and rest in order to keep getting up every day and embracing all the world has to offer. Uplifting stories and essays are some of the things those folks are fighting for and I hope that LSQ does a small part in helping readers remember that.

This combination of kindness, uplift, community, and reminding everyone that there is beauty yet in the world are major aspects driving the Quarterly. They’re what I try to bring to LSQ for our readers and writers as well as behind the scenes for the staff. I feel it’s still a work in progress, but we get better at it every year.

LSQ: Given that LSQ casts a wide net in terms of genre (spec fic, sci-fi, fantasy, in-between stuff), are there certain types of stories or tropes that you see more frequently than others? Are there sub-genres that you’d like to see more of? What’s on your story wish list?

Jennifer: It’s fascinating how we go through waves of themes in what we receive in our slush pile. For a solid year we got numerous mermaid submissions every quarter. A recent submission period brought us multiple stories where people were literally eating their emotions in some way. I’m not sure if it comes from various writing assignments or if there’s a theme that flows through the collective unconscious at various times, but we do see patterns.

I’ve been pleased to see some more sci-fi lately as we went quite a few issues where everything was fantasy. I wonder if Tor.com publishing books like Martha Well’s “Murderbot” stories has started to have an influence on writers’ choice of storytelling vehicle. It would be lovely if it did.

We recently updated our submission guidelines with a bit of a wish list, so I have a good handle on what I and the other editors would like to see.

Stories about people who are of color, disabled, queer, or marginalized in some way are always on the top of the list for us. I can say things have improved in those areas, but in particular we rarely see stories about disabled or older folks who don’t get around as the usual able-bodied or able-minded hero. There are loads of plucky young girls in our submissions right now. They’re great and it pleases me to no end to see these stories being written. I would just love to see authors try something new. Occasionally we get a story from a mother’s point of view and that’s often an unexpected treat.

I would also particularly love to see more afro-future stories and solarpunk stories as well. Futuristic tales where we don’t all crash and burn would be a welcome change from the dystopians so many folks are writing at the moment. We’re starting to see more in these subgenres, as well as various tales from India and the Arab world that have been amazing to get a chance to read. They make our editors want to write new and different things as well! It’s a lovely circle that way.

LSQ: Have you seen women authors’ place in the spec fic writing world change over the past 10 years? If so, in what ways? What else needs to be done and by whom?

Jennifer: I definitely have seen some significant changes since LSQ started. I still feel like there’s a need for us, and we’re not going anywhere, but I do see very encouraging things happening in the wider SF/F community. The Hugo awards last year were a perfect example of this.

I think one of the biggest changes has been that I actually can name more than one woman of color genre author now. Ten years ago it felt like all we had was Octavia Butler on a list by herself. Obviously this was not true at all, but these women were decidedly not in the spotlight at the time. Diversity in general has improved, with different points of view and tales from outside the Western milieu becoming much more mainstream, and I feel like there is a head of steam building that will keep this going.

I will note that I’ve also seen a dark side to this. There are some, a vocal minority in some cases, a dangerous majority in others, who feel proprietary about speculative fiction in all its forms and mediums. As women have gained more prominence, despite there being plenty of room for all of us, those voices have gotten louder, more violent, more aggressive in trying to keep us down. It’s worth acknowledging that they’re out there, though I don’t feel things have to be this way and it saddens me that they focus on ownership rather than embracing the ideals of the stories they purport to love.

I think the best thing we can do is keep going with what we’re doing. Keep showing up, keep writing, keep reading, keep talking to one another about the amazing stories we love and the authors who are writing them. Being present in large numbers makes us hard to ignore.

LSQ: Where do you see LSQ in another 5 years? 10?

Jennifer: I’m not sure if it’s surprising or not, but the vision is simple for me. I see LSQ still doing the same things it’s been doing these last ten, but more so. Still putting out consistent, well-rounded issues full of stories by a diverse array of authors. Still featuring loads of wonderful, thoughtful essays and reviews. I suppose I’ll have a few more of those gray hairs I mentioned, too.

As with most large projects, we still have room to improve, room to grow, even within what we already do. I’m hoping that some plans we have for things this year will be part of that continued success and growth, taking us into that next ten years. I do also have thoughts and plans for other things further down the line as well and will continue to be working hard to make them a reality.

I occasionally daydream about what my life would be like if I hit the lottery and I can honestly say that if that allowed me to devote myself to LSQ full time, it would be a dream come true. I’m excited and encouraged by all we’ve been able to do and honestly can’t wait to see what the next decade has in store for all of us.

LSQ: Any words of encouragement for emerging women authors out there?

Jennifer: Oh gosh, just keep writing! Make sure you’re doing it because you love it (even the hard bits). Write stories for yourself first, then worry about the audience. I can’t tell you how many stories we’ve gotten that an author struggled to find a home for elsewhere, but that they loved to pieces. That passion comes through in the telling and I think we’ve published quite a few gems that provide new, unexpected facets to the vast treasure trove of storytelling as a result.
There are definitely venues out there for your quiet stories, your noisy stories, the stories that no one seems to get because they’re considered too quirky, too precious, or too outside commercial expectations. Personally, I live for that stuff and it’s why I started LSQ in the first place. I saw stories in fan fiction that I didn’t see anywhere else and knew they needed to see the light of day. Other editors like me are out there as well.

Read stuff you love, write stuff you love. You don’t always have to bleed on the page, it’s okay to take joy in your work, too. Jane Yolen wrote a book on the subject, go read it. Write things that are fun and make you laugh. Write stories that are hard to tell, but oh my do they put your gorgeous, fragile heart on the page and say something real.

Write even when you only have an hour once a week and it takes years to get the story down. It’s all good and worthwhile. It’s all valid and needs to be heard. When you’ve gotten it all down on the page, we’ll be here to read those tales and celebrate your stories alongside you.

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