This week in my ongoing interview series, we have Fred Coppersmith, the editor and publisher of the spec. fiction print zine Kaleidotrope. Issue #7 is now out and your can order this great little mag Here.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Background, life today, etc.
I’m a developmental editor for a academic/clinical publisher and occasional writer. I’ve had short pieces appear in both Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Flashquake, with hopefully more to follow elsewhere. I grew up in New York, spent some time at school in Pennsylvania (and later working for Penn State University), and moved back here a few years ago looking for work in the increasingly tumultuous world of book publishing.
Have you always wanted to publish your own zine? How did Kaleidotrope come about?
I think you have to be a little touched in the head to start your own zine—and you certainly are if you get into it for any other reason than love of sharing stories and love of print. I think that’s something that I’ve always had. When I was at Penn State, I was a member of the Monty Python Society on campus, and for several years I edited (and largely wrote) that club’s weekly newsletter. We had fake news stories and interviews, opinion polls and cartoons, etc. That was a great experience because it gave me an opportunity to just be incredibly silly and also play around with layout, trying new things every week. I also wrote and performed original sketch comedy with the club, and later for a short-lived campus television show, and I like to think that kind of smart but silly, anything-goes attitude carries over a little to Kaleidotrope. Certainly it does in the horoscopes, which are absolutely ridiculous but a lot of fun.
I moved back to New York in 2004, and soon after I started looking to recapture some of what I’d been doing at Penn State, while also carrying it over into the sf/fantasy worlds I enjoy so much. Kaleidotrope gives me the chance to wear a lot of those different hats, and to work with a lot of really talented writers and artists.
The best advice I can give anyone interested in starting a zine is, just do it and see what happens.
What makes Kaleidotrope different from other zines available?
If I had to pick just one thing, I guess I’d say the horoscopes. I think Kaleidotrope is maybe a little more varied in its content than some other zines. Obviously there are some great publications like Lady Churchill’s and Electric Velocipede that are the template, or at least standard-bearers, for the kind of thing I’m interested in doing. But I like to think I bring my own unique sensibility to it, a little more silliness and humor than you might see elsewhere–although always with a serious commitment to story and finding unique voices to balance it out. I lean pretty heavily towards speculative or genre work—sf, fantasy, horror—but mostly just because that’s the kind of stuff I’m interested in as a reader. Kaleidotrope can be a little all over the map sometimes, but so are the many different things that stories can do, and so I think that works in my favor. Issue to issue, story to story, it’s going to be something completely different. All you know is that, hopefully, it’s never going to be boring.
What are you looking for when picking stories? What are you seeing too much of? Not enough?
I’ve actually been closed to submissions since April—I’ll re-open again in January—so it’s been several months since I looked at any submissions other than what I’d previously accepted. The old—and probably not entirely useful—standby is, I know it when I see it. Editors are always saying we just want good stories, and it’s a cliché and maybe not the most helpful one, but it’s one with a lot of truth behind it. When I’m reading through my slush pile, when I sit down to put together a future issue of Kaleidotrope, I’m looking for the exact same thing that you’re looking for when you read it, or when you read any publication: you want interesting stories, distinctive voices, something you haven’t seen everywhere else. You want to be entertained.
I would love to see more horror, more genuinely scary stories. That’s a tough thing to do well, but I see more gore for its own sake, which just doesn’t appeal to me. One thing I do see a lot of is physical description as a poor man’s substitute for character development, and that just almost never works, at least not for me. I get a lot of stories that tell you the age, hair color, or even shoe size of a particular character, but that never give you a reason to care about any of it. I think good stories, by necessity, are about good characters. You don’t have to love, or even like, them, but they have to seem real and honest on the page. Faulkner wasn’t wrong when he said the only thing worth writing about was “the human heart in conflict with itself.” I get a lot of submissions that are interesting ideas—sometimes very interesting—but that alone does not a successful story make.
That said, of course, I’ve published stories that, on the surface, appear to be doing the exact same things that stories I’ve rejected have done. They just do them better. So each story is different.
What's been the most difficult part about bringing Kaleidotrope to your readers?
Well, Kaleidotrope is still very much a one-man operation, so production and mailing out copies is never what I’d call easy. But I think the hardest part is simply getting the word out that the zine exists, and there’s interesting work that’s worth checking out and supporting inside of each issue. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the death of the short fiction market. And while I think there’s some truth to that as paying markets continue to close up shop and readership seems to be shrinking, I also think there’s been an explosion of smaller markets and newer venues for writers. There’s less money in it, to be sure, but I don’t think there’s ever been this much sheer variety in the types of stories and zines that are available to readers. The trick is not only giving Kaleidotrope a distinctive voice, but also working to make sure it’s heard among all the others.
Still, the zine has had some great feedback and reviews recently, including a short write-up of the last issue by Rich Horton in Locus, so I’m optimistic about the future.
Issue #7 has just come out. Could you give us a few highlights of the issue?
I’m really pleased with this new issue, but at 76 pages it’s tough to pick out only a few highlights. And obviously, I’m biased—I think it’s all great. But just to give you a taste: issue #7 has both post-apocalyptic futures and historical fantasies, both time traveling philosophers and talking animals. Talking Elvises, too, come to think of it. There are stories that take place in foreign lands, or on distant planets, or in some weird mirror version of the here and now. One of my contributors, C.L. Holland, was a recent Writers of the Future winner, but it’s no exaggeration to say they’re all great. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really great contributors over the years, and whenever the zine works they’re obviously the ones who deserve the credit. (And more money than I can offer them.) My job is just to make sure they have a place where they can shine.
What's ahead for you and Kaleidotrope in the future.
Fame and fortune, I can only hope. Right now, I’m concentrating on sending out the October issue for review and trying to drum up new subscribers. I’m also slowly working on putting together the next couple of issues. I’ve got great stories from writers like Rachel Swirsky, Paul Abbamondi, Daniel Braum, and yourself—as well as lots of others—coming up in 2010. And, like I said, in January I open again to submissions after almost a year off. I’m actually looking forward to the slush pile again.