Interview with Lauren “Scribe” Harris

authorPhoto_laurenScribe_harris_604x403I first met Lauren “Scribe” Harris at Balticon in (I think) 2011 or 2012. Since that time I have gotten to know her through her voice acting and her hilarious round-table discussion podcasts with Abigail Hilton. Earlier this year she became an Assistant Editor with Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, one of the most popular online magazines for speculative fiction. I sat down to talk with Lauren about her new job and her perspectives on the world of SF/F publishing.

CL: Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a fantasy author and, in addition to my fantasy book review column, I am also one of the two Assistant Editors for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show magazine. In addition to those, I also have a podcast called FandomPhD and am one of the Ladies Pendragon from the Pendragon Variety Podcast.

CL: Describe for me what a typical day on the job as an Assistant Editor is like.

My particular job isn’t predictable, since I don’t have to wear the hat every day. Before any stories get to me, there’s a slush reader who plucks out the best stories and sends them on to the very busy Kathleen, who organizes not only we editors, but also all the columnists. She’s way more organized than I could ever be. She sends the batches of stories out to the other Assistant Editor and me. We’re generally given a 2-3 week turnaround time for each batch of stories.

I receive between 15 and 30 stories every few weeks, so it’s not the day-in, day-out slog most agents and editors have to handle. I generally read about five at a time and send my notes and decisions to Kathleen.

I send all the stories to my Kindle and make highlights with notes and impressions along the way. Since the stories have already been through at least one person, I do have to read more of the story than your average slush reader to know if I like it. Occasionally, I know within 500 words, though I usually give stories at least 1000 words before rejecting them.

CL: In addition to being an Assistant Editor, you’re also an author in your own right. What’s the most valuable thing about writing that you’ve learned from doing your work as an editor?

MOTIVATION AND STAKES ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO GET FRONT AND CENTER. I have rejected more stories because I didn’t understand characters’ motivations, or the stakes of the story than for any other reason. One of my high school English teachers taught me a shorthand for this, which he called the “so what test”. Make sure you can answer the question “so what?”, preferably within the first 250 words for a short story, which is when I’ve found I start to miss them.

CL: OSCIMS runs a wide variety of different kinds of genre fiction. For each of the following genres, I’d like you to give me your opinion on whether it’s growing, stagnating, or dying, and then explain why.

This is an interesting question, and I have to say that I’ve only been wearing the hat for about two months, so I’m not certain I can give you a fair estimation, so take my answer for what it’s worth (which is very little).

            Hard Science Fiction?

Dying. I actually don’t get a lot of hard science fiction. Every so often, there will be something you could call hard sci-fi in my submissions pile, but the market’s tendency toward more character-driven fiction tends to preclude a lot of the modalities of hard science fiction.

            “Adventure” Science Fiction (i.e., SF where the science takes a back seat to the characters and the plot)?

Growing. This is, by and large, the kind of science fiction I receive and, I think, where the genre is headed. The YA market is opening up more and more to science fiction, which has been tough in the wake of the paranormal romance push, and since the YA market has been leading genre trends for the past ten years,  I imagine this sort of science fiction is on the rise.

            High Fantasy?

Growing. After several years of stagnation and decline, high fantasy is back with a vengeance, lead, no doubt, by other forms of media, such as HBO’s adaptation of Game of Thrones. We’re seeing a rise in popularity of High Fantasy among YA novels, though I can’t tell you whether it’s rising in terms of the short story market just yet, since I haven’t been in it for very long. Look at the new releases over the past year or so, particularly within YA, and you’ll see the marketing push for political High Fantasy such as Queen of the Tearling, Throne of Glass, and The Red Queen.

            Modern and Urban Fantasy?

Stagnating. I haven’t noticed any changes over the past year or two. I get a fair number of submissions that fall into this category, and there are still a good number of books published, but I don’t get the overwhelming sense of market saturation as with, for example, paranormal or dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction.

            Steampunk?

Stagnating. Steampunk has a dedicated audience that doesn’t seem to be growing or shrinking at the moment. That said, the market seems to demand something more than corsets and a few gears to really hit. From the more literary end of Bacigalupi, to the action of Morris/Ballantine, to the upbeat satire of Carriger, I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon.

            Horror?

I have to confess that I’m not familiar enough with the genre to say. (I am a notorious scaredy-cat).

            YA Fiction?

Stagnating. The only reason I say YA is stagnating is because it’s at saturation point. The market for YA really can’t grow any larger—it remains the most lucrative for novels. That said, I don’t know of many YA short-fiction magazines out there, so it is still rather lacking on the short fiction scene with the exception of novel tie-ins.

            Erotic SF/F?

Growing. With the advent of self publishing, the ebook market for erotic fiction, especially erotic genre fiction, is, pardon the pun, swelling.

CL: Are there any other subgenres that you think we should really keep an eye on over the next few years?

Space opera! It’s coming back! (*squee*) Also, New Adult genre fiction.

CL: What’s one thing that writers do that drives you absolutely crazy as an editor?

Besides the stakes and motivation mentioned above, I’d have to go with affected language. My bullshit detector goes off pretty quickly when I notice forced language, and much of that happens when writers try to force a voice that isn’t natural to the story. My beloved high fantasy is often guilty of this.

CL: What’s one trope that should be totally played out, but you can’t help loving it?

Heroine and the dragon. I will read umpteen retellings of this.

CL: Science Fiction is often one of the most overtly political genres of fiction. Now, Orson Scott Card is one of my all-time favorite authors, but he’s become infamous in recent years for very vocally expressing his conservative political views. Do OSC’s politics filter in at all to the day-to-day operations of the magazine?

Nope. To be honest, my contact with OSC is vanishingly small—I’ve actually only ever met him at a book signing, where he refused to answer a question about his politics because he, and I’m paraphrasing, wanted everyone there to continue to like him.

CL: Follow-up question: What sorts of institutional safeguards does OSCIMS have in place to keep the boss’s politics separate from the magazine? Have you ever run a story whose message or tone OSC vehemently disagreed with?

As far as I’m aware, the stories don’t end up on his desk at all, nor was I given any content guidelines beyond the fact that IGMS doesn’t take erotica. If there is anything in place, it’s at the final editor’s level and not mine, though it is my understanding the magazine is about good fiction and not politics. I doubt if a great story would get sidelined for, say, gay main characters.

CL: You have self-published some of your own fiction, including the Millroad Academy Exorcists series. How do you decide which stories to publish yourself and which ones to market to publishers?

coverPhoto_exorcisingAaron_nguyen_by_laurenScribe_harris_300x480The short answer: I self publish novelette and novella-length work, and shop novels to agents and publishers for a year. I don’t write a ton of short stories (which might change, the more of them I read), so that hasn’t been too much of a consideration thus far.

Longer answer: The Millroad Academy Exorcists books are all novella-length, which are hard to sell to traditional markets. That was originally a print concern because the length of the novella wasn’t cost-effective to print, but they’re becoming more popular with ebooks, so some publishers are buying novellas. The caveat being, those are generally from previously-published authors, or the novellas are tie-ins with already-published series (such as the Iron Druid series, by Kevin Hearne).

So, with Millroad Academy, it was sort of a no-brainer to self-publish them. It did take a bit of a nudge from a friend, though.

Traditional publishing is still the way I want to go with my longer works, so I give myself a year once I start querying. If there are no bites, I consider the self-publishing route with those as well. Thus far, I don’t have a novel I’m ready to self-publish, but who knows what the future holds?

CL: If you could go back ten years and give a piece of writing advice to yourself, what would it be, and why?

Stop rewriting your first damn chapter and finish the book.

CL: Lauren, thank you very much for your time today.

Thanks, Chris! It’s been a pleasure. 🙂

Posted by chriswlester

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