Kickstarting Invisible Threads: A Chat with Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner
Bex: INKLINGS! PEOPLE! EVERYONE! You gotta see this.
Jaz: See what, Bex?
Bex: Apex! Apex!
Jaz: Apex? What’s up with Apex?
Bex: WORDS! NEW WORDS!
Jaz: New words. Well, we’re a writing community. We have new words all the time, don’t we?
Bex: Yeah, but... bounces off the walls... They're making a thingie!
Jaz: A thingie, huh?
Bex: Like last year only awesomer. Lots of words!
Jaz: Slow down, Sweetie. You mean an anthology? They’re doing another anthology?
Bex: pants Yup! A cool one. They're Kickstarting it now. And sub call. Stories. We got stories!
Jaz: Oh, OH! They’ll do an open submission call too?
Bex: YES! I need this book. We need to help them.
Jaz: Definitely. They have to reach their goal or I’m going to cry. And not happy tears.
Bex: Jaz, Broaddus is on the list! And Walters. And all these awesome people!
Jaz: swoons Oh my Goddess. We’ve got to get our hands on that book. Stat!
Bex: How about we do another INKterview? Great excuse to find out more of the good stuff, right?
Jaz: Bex, you are a genius.
<cue evil genius music>
Kickstarting Invisible Threads: A Chat with Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner
INK: How do you see this anthology as distinct from the intentions and content of the Do Not Go Quietly anthology? Since it isn't called Do Not Go Quietly Again, clearly you are wanting to stress some other aspects.
Jason: That’s a great title. I might steal it for our next anthology.
Invisible Threads IS NOT Do Not Go Quietly, Too. Do Not Go Quietly focused on revolution, fighting back against despots, those meaning to do harm, etc. Invisible Threads is about breaking free from societal expectations and beliefs to reach your potential.
The anthology theme was inspired by a story written by Beth Dawkins. Beth was raised in rural Georgia and in her story, she used the metaphor of an unclimbable wall surrounding a community to represent the barriers those in rural America face when trying to break free of the poverty trap. The story stuck with me. I asked her if she would mind if we stole her theme for our anthology and offered to place the story in the book. Thankfully, she said yes!
INK: Looking at your anthology description and the commissioned authors, Apex is clearly one of those presses who is committed to diversity in publication. Can you tell us a little about why this is important to you? Does Apex have any processes or protocols for dealing with sensitive subjects?
Jason: Casting aside obvious reasons such as fairness and equality, I’m a big proponent of diversity in writing because, frankly, diversity is more interesting. I already know the white guy's perspective on life, the universe, and everything. When I read, I want to be taken into unfamiliar worlds. I want to discover how other people of different backgrounds see things. Life is a limited resource, so during my allotted time here, I want as many different experiences as I can fit in.
Lesley: I agree with Jason. Having a diverse ToC was never a question, it was a given. I’m not interested in reading the same perspective over and over again. I want variety. I want to learn something new. I want experiences and perspectives that are different than my own. My goal and responsibility as an editor is to make sure there is space for as many voices as possible.
INK: Do Not Go Quietly had a somewhat similar theme to the Invisible Threads anthology. Can we expect a yearly anthology of resistance and social commentary?
Lesley: I hope not. Not that I don’t love Do Not Go Quietly or the theme for Invisible Threads. I think both anthologies have important things to say and are needed, and personally, I enjoy reading these types of stories. But I hope that in the next year or so, we’ll be in a place as a society where resistance and social commentary don’t feel so urgent. I’d love to edit an anthology of stories that doesn’t feel heavy. One that brings boundless joy to both writers and readers. I feel like we all need more joy. Maybe a little magic. Some frivolity.
Jason: I would argue that the similarity between the two anthologies isn’t resistance and social commentary, but an examination of those things that subjugate our best selves. They’re in conversation with one another due to shared characteristics of this subjugation, certainly. Lesley and I were both raised in extremely poor areas of Appalachia, so we are sensitive to societal aspects that favor privilege and discriminate against the poor. It makes us rebellious. It fuels our drive to succeed. And that manifests itself in both Do Not Go Quietly and Invisible Threads. I will venture to say that Invisible Threads will be more inspirational and upbeat than Do Not Go Quietly.
INK: Since we're a writers' group and some of us are already planning pieces to sub to your open call when it happens, can you give us any idea of when it will be coming and how long it will be open?
Lesley: The plan is to open submissions when we hit 50% funded. That date depends on how people respond to the Kickstarter, but I have submission guidelines written up and polished in the hopes that it will be soon after we launch.
No matter when we open for submissions, they will be closing at midnight on April 13th.
INK: What will your reading process be for the open submissions? Limited spots means tough competition. How many submissions had you gotten for the previous anthology, Do Not Go Quietly?
Lesley: We have an awesome group of first readers who have volunteered to help us with submissions. They are all experienced readers from Apex Magazine and I am extremely excited to be working with them again. These readers will read all the submissions as they come in. Their job is to make sure that stories 1. Follow the guidelines, 2. Fit our theme, and 3. Are well written and compelling. If a story does all three, then it will be bumped up to Jason and me for consideration.
While I don’t remember exactly how many submissions we received for Do Not Go Quietly, competition will be tough! We will have a very limited amount of openings to fill, and I know we get some amazing stories. It’s going to be really hard, both for writers submitting, and for Jason and me when it comes down to making final selections.
INK: If you had a choice, would you rather read a submission that dealt with the hardships and tribulations of the current world, or something that allowed you to escape from that into something more fantastical?
Lesley: Personally, I’m hoping to see stories that deal with hardships people face in our current world. There’s something very powerful about seeing yourself in a story (whether that’s books, movies, comics, music). It makes you feel seen and less alone. By recognizing their own struggles in Invisible Threads, I hope that readers will then take that recognition and realize that their neighbor or a co-worker or a random stranger may see themselves in another story from the anthology, and as a result possibly gain some understanding and compassion for what that person is going through.
How does it feel as an editor to know that writers are drooling at the idea of potentially having you read their words? mops slime off chin
Lesley: Strange? Let me check … Yeah, pretty strange.
I’m just me: a mom, a Girl Scout leader, a woman who geeks out when reading things I love. Drool over Jason reading your words. I’ll just be over here flailing over the stories I fall in love with and trying to encourage Jason to flail with me. (Inside scoop: Jason does not flail easily, but occasionally I can get a small yippee from him.)
INK: We're all glad to see Jason back at work. Jason, if you're comfortable doing so, can you tell everyone about how you are doing post-surgery? Have the changes to your health in the past few years had any impact in your preferences with fiction, whether as an editor or as a reader?
Jason: Thank you, I’m happy to be back to work. I’m a person who truly loves editing and publishing, and being away from it for extended periods of time was difficult.
I’m on the mend. I feel like I’ve been saying that for a long time … For readers not familiar with my situation, I had to have my entire jaw replaced with my left fibula (a procedure the doctor called a triple mandibular resection). There were some complications that required follow up surgery, but the doctor promises me I’m in the home stretch. I do feel better, so maybe he’s right!
As with any life-altering incident, the health problems have changed my tastes a bit. I’m more interested in positive stories. I’ll always favor dark SF over all else, but the cloud of bleakness I usually preferred to inhabit has lifted (a little).
INK: A question from Boris, our resident INKtopus. Is Lesley's reading octopus involved with anyone? Would she become his inky penpal?
Lesley: She isn’t currently involved with anyone because she has yet to find anyone better than the book she’s reading. But sure, she’d be open to a penpal. As long as Boris is okay with receiving scraps of paper with hastily scrawl titles and author names with notes like “This book is magical. Read it!” and “Changed my life! Seriously!” and “Have you visited your local library today?” Anything longer than that or nonbook related would be expecting too much.
I’m actually planning to get more added to my reading octopus tattoo soon. Need to go in and chat with my tattoo artist about a design. Exciting!
INK: The Apex airship crashes on a desert island. You only have time to grab three items each before it goes up in flames. What do you save?
Jason: I’d grab my cat, Pumpkin, first. Even though he would likely be freaked out by the crash and I would be shredded to ribbons. Second, I would reach for my Macbook and the external backup drive. They have the entire world of Apex stored on them. And I’d grab my copy of issue one of Apex Digest.
Lesley: Obviously, I save my dog, Oz, first. He’s my constant companion and I’m going nowhere without him. I won’t be shredded to ribbons like Jason will be, but I’m sure Oz will lick my face furiously, making it very hard to see. If I still have time to save anything once I calm him down and can see again, then I guess I’d better grab my cell phone so I can call for help and this handy knapsack full of protein bars and bottled water so we don’t starve or dehydrate before said help arrives.
You go ahead and grab your laptop and the first issue of Apex Digest, Jason. I’ll make sure we don’t die on this island!
INK: What are some of the invisible threads you have experienced in your own lives or careers? Perhaps the threads that have most shaped your life?
Jason: - Now we’re talking.
Let me preface this answer with acknowledging that I recognize I was born with the privilege inherent with being a white male. But Invisible Threads isn’t meant to diminish anyone’s struggles. Life is a series of challenges (except for an elite few...and, well, frankly, this book isn’t for them) and we want to celebrate people for overcoming them.
I was raised in southeast Kentucky. Basically, in squalor. My dad was laid off in the mid-80s from his job as a coal miner. Like most in the region, we were poor as dirt. The poverty trap is a tough one to escape, let me tell you.
Fortunately, I landed a scholarship to Transylvania University (a nice liberal arts school in Lexington, KY). It’s a good school, but filled with the wealthy children of horse farm owners and coal barons. I dealt with a lot of class discrimination from students AND professors. I had one professor give me a D on an essay because he refused to believe someone who spoke like I did could have written the paper, therefore I must have cheated.
I went into software development. Dozens and dozens of times I had to laugh along at jokes about my accent. Hee-Haw. The Beverly Hillbillies. All that stupid crap. Especially when I had to travel out of state for work. Even now, Appalachian stereotypes are still acceptable to joke about.
I’m not bitter. I used all the comments and implied insults to inspire me to work harder. I sometimes think I transitioned into editing and publishing just to show all the haters I’ve encountered in my life that a poor redneck from the hills can do accomplish as much, if not more, than them.
Lesley: God, this is hard to answer because honestly I feel a little embarrassed about how much time I’ve allowed this particular thread to steal from me and how long it took me to really see that it was even there, but I’d have to say society’s obsession with being thin.
I’m 38 years old, and I’ve weighed myself at least weekly since I was in high school. The number that shows up on the scale? I allow that number to dictate my self-worth and how valuable I feel. Which is ridiculous! Weighing less this week than I did last doesn’t mean I have more value, and weighing more doesn’t suddenly mean that I’m bad or disgusting or have less worth, but our culture has convinced us that it does. It’s become this little voice that constantly whispers in our ear, making us feel guilty and shameful for enjoying a taco.
I think back to all the time that I’ve given to obsessing over a number on the scale, and I feel angry. What a waste of time! Think of all the books I could have read! The words I could have written! The things I could have done and seen rather than spending that time worrying about a number on the scale.
Now that I see this thread in my own life, I am actively working to snip it, but it’s hard. It’s like a steel thread so thin it is nearly invisible. It’s wound itself multiple times around my waist and thighs. I’m striving to cut those threads, to snip the steel, but they are hard to see and every time I feel like I’m making headway, I find another thread pulling tight that I need to unwind and free myself from.
INK: Since your anthology is about insidious social, cultural, and economic threads and your Kickstarter starts Feb 17th, would you accept a million dollar donation from someone who is part of the Illuminati? Who do I make the check out to?
Jason: I would take a million dollar donation from almost anyone! You’ll need to write the check out to Pumpkin Sizemore and Oz Conner (Lesley’s cute doggie), because if Pumpkin and Oz aren’t fed, no work is going to get done. :)
Thank you, Lesley and Jason, for taking time away from your fundraising to talk to us. We're honored you shared some of these details with us and you can bet we'll be cheering Apex through the entire fundraising drive and sending some possible stories your way when the submission call opens. We'll try to wipe the drool off before we hit the send button.
You're both already honorary INKlings--and we're once again out of cake. This stuff disappears faster than words appear in our space.
Readers, please consider sending some attention and, if you can afford to do so, funds towards this project. INKubator is a writing community intended to celebrate the diversity of our members. This anthology reflects our beliefs, aiming to include diverse writers writing about challenges and social pressures. Projects like this are our chance to help shape the development of publishing.
No matter who you are or where you come from, there are boundaries and barriers that dictate what you can do, where you can go, and who you can become. Invisible threads running through society, pulling you this way or that, tripping you when you try to better yourself, ensnaring and holding you back. Whether these threads come from others in the form of racism, misogyny, or ableism, from those in power through laws and rigged systems, or from within yourself through cultural ideals and values, they are there. They keep you locked in a constraining box of “who you should be,” rather than letting you grow into the person you truly are. Invisible Threads is an anthology of dark sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories that examine these barriers.
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