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Super Editor!
Interview with Kaolin Fire

by Sue Babcock and the other curious writers at American Zoetrope

You are the founder and editor of GUD (pronounced "good"), which is Greatest Uncommon Denominator, an award-winning print/pdf magazine with two hundred pages of literary and genre fiction, poetry, art, and articles.

As such, how many people do you have working on GUD? How many do you have helping? Do you have "reading editors" to help sort through the slush? Do you have people behind the scenes? GUD has evolved. Where will it be in ten years? Where will the literary world be in ten years, and how does fantasy and horror figure therein?

GUD is a shop with a ton of hats and very few heads. Everyone involved in even a minor role gets a spot on the GUD masthead unless we're trialing them--and as interns are my purvey and I have too much to do already, mostly they just get dropped by the wayside. I'm hoping to be working with a marketing intern at the moment, but I think I owe her an email.

We've not gone the "reading editors" route--any given issue's "instigator" is responsible for slush, though they can ask the rest of us to chip in at any point. We've had a few folks offer to read, but it's a hurdle we haven't quite managed to work out.

Ten years--I don't do well at planning things out further than tomorrow. It's painful to see big mags go by the wayside.

GUD intends to go quarterly, but we need to get the finances a little more stable to really make that leap. Right now whoever can chip in does, and it's a very expensive hobby--especially with the economy the way it is.

I don't see the literary world changing in any drastic way, nor fantasy/horror/etc. I don't keep up with the latest genre/subgenre trends too much. Things seem to cycle. But really--who knows? The world could end tomorrow.


Tell us more about GUD. How much is one issue of GUD? How much is a year's subscription? What makes it different than the other magazines out there?

A single PDF of GUD is $3.50 (also available for most ebook devices, including Kindle). A single print copy is $10 (plus shipping, if outside US). A 2-issue (year's) subscription is $18. We don't at the moment offer subscription pricing on PDFs--but we do sporadically offer other deals around our PDFs; in the past we've run "Dollar Downloads" and "Choose your Price" deals. And if you folks are nice I might let slip that choose your price page...

You can order here: GUD Magazine

GUD's mission is to blend the genre and lit camps and sate those with a penchant for both. We strive for writing that pushes the bounds of its pigeonhole and can reach out to open-minded folks of either camp, not stumbling on its common negatively-associated tropes. And if all that sounds boring, then I apologize for putting it poorly.

" Night Bird Soaring" is currently up for the sidewise awards and you can read it in full on the website to get a better feel for _some_ of the sort of stuff we publish:

And if you create an account on the site, you'll get one randomly selected poem or story for download, free (sitting in your account).


I love the way GUD gives a snippet of the stories in the archives. Does that seem to pull sales in?

I honestly don't know if the snippets we make available drive sales--but I'm thrilled that you apppreciate them. It's amazingly hard to get feedback of any sort on things like that, and we put a lot of effort into selecting just the right amount of snippet for each piece. I rather hope it does help drive sales, but if nothing else I know it makes the site look more fleshed out.

One thing to note is that we sell very few "individual" PDFs--I'd expected tht would be a more attractive item, but maybe we haven't hit the right price point or maybe were just not showcasing them well enough.


Can you separate Kaolin the web-designer from Kaolin the GUD frontman personality? Or are they both the same?

There are a number of different Kaolins with various synergies--some of them help each other out, some of them not so much. And some of them only in certain circumstances. I try very hard not to pollute any particular brand by mixing something too unrelated.

For instance, Kaolin the flash game developer can link back to GUD with all sorts of things, but it doesn't make sense for GUD to link back to that Kaolin (despite the little game room I added to GUD's website--that's about trying to get people to spend more time at the website, and may well either disappear or become much more writer/story-focused).

I'm very conscious of separating the different Kaolins--though sometimes I do let things bleed over more than I, perhaps, should.


Which is your favorite Kaolin?

My favorite Kaolin depends on the day. Whichever one gets to be creative and productive, ideally. Kaolin the poet, Kaolin the writer, Kaolin the book-cover-maker, Kaolin the game developer, even Kaolin the website-maker (I'm not much of a designer, so I'm especially proud when I pull off a website design that doesn't suck--for pro projects we hire real designers, but for instance i think the latest site I did for a friend turned out rather well.

My least favorite Kaolin lately is Kaolin the systems administrator--I had a bit of a meltdown earlier this week trying to do a side job. Someone else's chatroom I was hosting temporarily took my server down for about three hours. That was painful because I host a lot of sites on that server (including GUD).


The story Altered and The Lion and the Mouse have a wonderful surreal, quirky quality to them. Is this something you strive for, or is that what just pops out. Do you have a favorite genre, style or voice in your writing?

re: wonderful surreal, quirky quality--thanks! By and large that's what pops out, though it is something I like and something I strive to polish/achieve. It's definitely natural to me.

As far as style or voice goes, I really strive for a certain cadence. I read all of my works out loud, these days, as I'm writing (well, as I'm editing as I write), just to make sure the flow is consistent.

I consider science-fiction my favorite genre to write, but find myself doing magic realism much more frequently (I think it lends itself better to flash--at least for me--than something properly solidly SF). Though those two pieces are both science-fiction (in my mind), they also have a certain "just so" sensibility to them that makes me think magic realism.

I really like to play with reality, beliefs, play with what you might be thinking, expecting, and hope to get the reader pulled in with that sort of play, find the "anything could happen and it'll work within the context of the story" point.


Playing with reality and belief sets. That really sounds fun, but it must be hard to do. I mean, balancing the 'could be' with your readers' trust.

Yes, the reader's trust tends to be very fragile. . And an editor's trust even more fragile, I think, given how much we've been burned. That's our jaded more than anything else, I think, though also just "well, we've seen that so make us care".


This doesn't sound boring to me at all, more like out-of-the-box line blurring. I have to wonder where 21st century fiction is going. Our language changes so much with technology and the influx of folks from the far corners.

What will become of old-fashioned genre fiction?

I think there will always be a place for old-fashioned genre stuff. Maybe it will become more the niche and genre-bending more the norm--and if that happened maybe GUD would include more straightt-genre stuff. All the same we do consider it (just as we consider straight lit stuff) and publish some of both, but we're definitely looking for stuff that is more than the sum of it's tropes.


Do you, as an editor, ever get totally blown away by a story--having obviously read so many? How often does that lightning strike? Do those make all the slush worthwhile or do you find yourself becoming jaded?

I've definitely been blown away by stuff. Most frequently it's a short piece, and I have to let it sit to see if it's more a novelty thing or if it has staying power. (sometimes it winds up being a novelty piece with staying power, and that usually gets a thumbs up, too--staying power is most important). The longer a piece is, when I start out excited, the more chance it has to disappoint. But of course, the longer it is, the more chance it has to develop something deeper, carve it out...

Lightning strikes maybe a few times an issue--more often I'll be excited by something but not quite sure, which will entail more discussion with colleagues, letting it sit, reading it a few more times. Each of our editors brings a fairly disparate and diverse background, so something one of us thinks is worthwhile on basis of freshness might get "outed" by another more familiar with a certain realm.

We all suffer burnout on a somewhat regular basis, but we pinch hit and take breaks. I think we all started out relatively jaded--we knew what we were getting into, having for the most part done slush before, and the rest of it. But for all that common jade, we know there's great stuff in there.


Novelty and staying power. Given these, it almost sounds like flash fiction is a good place for new writers to start.

You know, master something short before risking the story to lethargy and disappointment.

Short stories and flash fiction are different beasts. I think it's good to write longer fiction to work on some skills like sentence flow, character development, scene development... While flash is where you can work on plot and hook more easily, and work on more advanced sentence flows than people will generally let you get away with with longer pieces.

That said, some people just write one or the other more naturally, and if they're happy there that's probably where they should stick unless they're, erm, stuck.


More advanced sentence flows. Can you elaborate on that?

More advanced sentence flows--things that play with what you're "taught in school"; things that aren't necessarily complete, or proper, but have a certain resonance that shows you're doing what you're doing because it's right for the story, not because you don't know what you're doing. Flash fiction tends to allow you license to write with more poetic and/or minimalistic flows (though it doesn't require that, of course--but in a smaller story folks have more patience for it, and so you can accomplish more drastic effects).

And if that all just sounds like hand-waving, it might be a bit. Hard to articulate


When you go back and read the stories you selected for a particular issue, does it make you feel good, like you know they all work and you love re-reading them. Or do you look at some of them and say, why did I select that one?

One of the benefits of a really long acceptance cycle is I'll probably always remember why I accepted a piece in an older issue.

I don't think any of us have any regrets except for the stories we tried to buy that got away.


You've been quoted as saying, "Writing, like art, is something I've been doing since I was a kid." At Liquid Imagination, we attempt to blur the boundaries between fiction/poetry and art. As a poet, writer and artist, how could we do this better? Is it possible to create a NEW TYPE OF ART through the merging of the two?

Well, I've only just been poking around Liquid Imagination (and the Flash challenge has me bemoaning my lack of writing time lately--I'm part of a number of writing groups, and one in particular has been keeping me writing, but I seem to just miss the deadlines--or forget--three times out of four).

I'm a big fan of blurring boundaries (so long as they don't just turn into a muddy morass). I'd like to do more of that with GUD (and it's nice to see Murky Depths doing short story-driven comics and such), but it's a tall order--I do see each as a separate discipline, and any crossover falls to the least common denominator; to pull something off that blends really takes a certain sort of savant.

There's room for new forms of art in anything--a form is pretty much just a set of self-imposed limitations. Poets have done a lot with that; artists as well. Stories ... stories are almost separate in that you can tell a story in prose, in poetry, in a painting. So I'm getting myself mixed up in nomenclature--that happens.

Twitfiction seems to be a big new form of late, and I've been having a lot of fun with that. And before that seems like a huge jump from the topic--I've been thinking of producing a chapbook of twitfiction--one twitfic to a page--where each twitfic was tightly integrated with a piece of art representing or broadening it. On my list of to-do... which never ceases to grow. Some day.


Maybe technology will steer art up some new avenue. What do you think?

Tweet the meat is where I started, I really appreciate them as a market. Very consistent. And having the limited submission period and theme somehow makes it easier to write to. . I recoend trying to write the full numbe they let you submit every week.

A story in 140 characters is tough. I've written around 40 of them and I have maybe 5 I'm really proud of. Which is probably around the same ratio for others' published stuff I've read. There are a number of twitfiction markets--nanoism, tweetthemeet, thaumatrope, escarp, outshine, picfic just to name a few. .

I keep meaning to write a long intro post over at GUD about them.

Haiku is a good comparison. You get a lot more room with twitfiction than haiku but you're expected to be grammatical.

The most famous short short short story is Hemingway's six word: For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.


What is your recommendation on submitting collaborated of works, which might include poetry or fiction with artwork, to GUD or any other progressive venue. I am not talking about digital poetry, but, say something like an abstract digital art and an accompanying poem, that together have clear synergism.

Things that are separate but "go together" are a hard sell--and it's hard to say really the best way to submit them. Best in my opinion would be if the poem were actually integrated with the digital art somehow; then it would go under the "art" category. We do get submissions of self-illustrated stories and poems, but have yet to receive one where we were interested in either the art or the story/poem--as I replied to the other (though after your follow-up), creating a good blend of things is much harder, imo, than creating a good solitary piece.

I wouldn't say you'd need a query letter, so much as just explaining the synergy in the cover letter--why the pieces are more powerful together and should not be considered separately.


What are some of the biggest turn offs in regards to stories submissions you've received? (if you notice this in the writing, you're less likely to even finish reading it, much less publish it)

Do you have a preference to POV used?

Do you typically prefer stories written in past tense?

What are some examples of stories you adore?

Do you feel editing has made you a better writer? (quicker at spotting your own weaknesses)

Turnoffs--certainly bad spelling and bad grammar. And doing colloquial speech can be tricky also. Anything that comes off as purple, or asyouknowbob.

When I'm reading, even when I am open minded to a piece, a part of me will be wondering--did the story need to start here, or could it have started further down? It's always sad when I get to the end and I'm still wondering that, though often I'll not go more than a page of that and give up on something

Also when I'm reading, if I'm not terribly entranced by the writing, I'll jump to the end to see if there's something more to it that might be prised out from what's there--or just to sate my curiosity.

Some of the saddest items for me are those that I'm really glad I read but just don't feel have the "something extra" I'm looking for, or I feel I liked them on too personal a "just Kaolin" sort of level.

I don't have a preference for POV but have noticed my colleagues grumbling about a preponderance of first person.

Same with tense--I think past is generally preferred but at the same time it's good to have a mix.

As for stories I particularly adore, see Issue 0. and the upcoming issue 5.

Editing (and in particular, slush, and choosing to pay real money for stories) has made me a lot more conscious of my shortcomings as a writer (hopefully in a good way)


Have you ever considered make an iPhone or Blackberry app that would tie the various aspects of your creative experience together?

(for instance, something that would allow phone users access to written or spoken content in some dynamic form)

I'm open to ideas.

The one iphone app I've done that's in the store (I've done demos for people that haven't made it to the store yet or are just meant as prototypes) is Falling Up, a nasty little twist on the standard "falling tetronimos".

(and hey--it's free )


What projects are you currently working on? And when will they be made available to the public?

Oh, my. What am I working on? I have lists--and lists of lists. As to when they'll be available, I can't really say.

The only thing I'm sure of is Issue 5 of GUD is in progress and should be published "soon", and we've already bought up content for Issue 6. We'll be reopening slush shortly for Issue 7.

Beyond that... flash games, writing of my own, poetry, the odd bit of art. It just sort of happens when it happens. GUD and work have been my big focuses lately, with work winning more often than not (something has to pay for GUD, after all).

You can see some of my flash games and other computer games here.

I'm hoping to write some choose your own adventure games ala Tina Connolly's "Hard Choices", which I turned into a flash game here.

And most recently I've been writing a lot of twitfiction (though I fell off the bandwagon a few weeks ago :/ ). I have a separate twitter account for keeping track of those bits I've gotten published:

I tend to update with whatever I have going on; and with whatever GUD has going on.


I think when one follows inspiration, there is a bit of chaos that flows into one's life. Sometimes it seems one can follow a river, until it becomes a waterfall, and you don't know where it's taking you; you just know you need to let go and follow it. And all those projects you intend to do? Well, the current took you a different direction.

I wonder if this is true for you? I wonder if the same inspiration and creativity that allows you to write for Strange Horizons is the same inspiration that allows you to draw, edit, or design websites. Yes, they're separate. Yes, they might even blur (like genres). But is the source the inspiration comes from the same?

There's definitely a chaotic flow that I follow (and I do love chaos--my math-fu is a little weak, but I did manage to sit a chaotic dynamical systems course — great stuff and ties into cognition as well…

The vast array of projects stems somewhat from my need to be doing /something/, and just maybe not "this" something. One thing I've had to learn is how to reduce the scope of my ambition for any particular project. I take something large I want to do, break it into concepts, and then try to come up with smaller projects that will help me study those concepts and hopefully make the final project more bite-sized when I get to it. This applies most strongly to game development, but also to writing (to the point of trying to write in-world flash pieces to try making writing a particular novel easier).

There is an underlying energy or flow I try to did whenever working regardless of the work— sometimes all it takes is coffee but sometimes I suspect a very convoluted confluence of planets/stars/whatnot. I love that waterfall.

Thank you so much, Kaolin, for taking the time to talk to us. We appreciate your time and your exceptional knowledge and experience.