I met Julia at WriteFest this past February and was struck by her approachability and her sense of humor. Despite being “kind of a big deal” (my words, not hers) she was encouraging and easy to talk to about writing, revision, and submissions. I’ve since been grateful for her advice on more than one occasion. Full disclosure: I’m taking her workshop, partly because I’m so excited to work with Julia again.
Kate: So, I wanted to start by talking about your background with writing and editing.
You have an impressive CV: formerly fiction editor for Strange Horizons for 3 years, and currently co-editor of a YA SFF anthology, and poetry and reprints editor for Uncanny Magazine. How have these experiences shaped your writing or editing philosophies? Do you have an editing manifesto? :)
Julia: Hahaha, a manifesto! No! But I have definitely learned a lot over the course of editing different things. My main editing philosophy has not changed, but has strengthened and deepened over time. That's the idea that an editor's job is to help the author make each particular piece be the best example of what it wants to be.
By that, I mean, an editor's job should not be to remake something in a completely different style. Respecting the voice and the heart of the work is key.
KL: Yes! I like that a lot. And I bet it feels good for the authors you work with, as well, to have their work so "understood," so to speak.
JR: I think that's true when it works! The best exchanges between editors and authors leave everyone walking away feeling happy and satisfied with the work they've done.
KL: In your experience, does editing poetry differ from editing fiction? Where does your fiction background enhance your editing of poetry and vice versa?
JR: I think there are differences and similarities. It's more often the case that I will accept a poem as is with no changes or very minor queries about spelling and punctuation. With fiction larger and deeper editing suggestions are more common. This is a general observation, though, and not a universal one. There have been stories I've though were perfect and poems that I have worked with authors to revise extensively.
It can be harder to edit poems because they are usually smaller, and the poet's put a lot of thought into each word choice and their voice and style and content. It can be really hard to ask for a revision on a poem without changing the heart of it. Whereas with fiction there's usually a bit more wiggle room.
KL: And with fiction, you deal in story, in plot. That isn't always the case with poetry. But I would imagine having a mind that thinks in "story" could be helpful at times for poetry. As having a mind which thinks about sound and language could be helpful for fiction.
JR: Yes, your thoughts about language and story are spot on!
KL: Which did you start doing professionally first--writing, or editing?
JR: I started writing first! I have been writing ever since I was a small child! I started editing in high school for my school newspaper, first as a copy editor, and later as the editor-in-chief. I was also writing during that time.
KL: I’m sure a lot of us writer types got our start on the high school or college newspaper. Well, it may be hard to say, then, since you've been doing both for such a long time, but I wondered if you could put your finger on anything that editing has taught you about your own writing.
JR: Yes, absolutely! I didn't start editing fiction until 2012, when I started at Strange Horizons. I learned a lot from that about story structure and pacing, and how things I had previously thought I might be able to get away with in my own writing were not actually going to work for me.
I've heard a lot of people advise newer writers to get a job reading submissions, and I think it's one really good way to understand how editors feel when they see a lot of stories close together. The patterns of things that a lot of people do really start to stand out.
KL: Ha ha ha! Any examples of things you thought you could get away with?
JR: One thing I did a lot was start my stories too early. I would have pages of detailed setup before I got to the point where the story started really rolling.
KL: Yep, been there! Now, you also are part of the Skiffy and Fanty podcast, commenting on bad movies you watch. What's the history of that podcast, and how did you come to be associated with it?
JR: Ha! That's a podcast that Shaun Duke started several years ago. I sort of accidentally stumbled into it a few years back when they were tweeting about the bad movie they were watching at the time and ended up getting invited to be a guest for the next one. From there, I somehow became one of the regular show hosts. We have a pretty big group of hosts and we do a lot of different kinds of episodes including discussions of different topics within the science fiction and fantasy genres, and interviews with authors.
I'm also really excited right now about the new podcast I am doing with Writespace's own Layla Al-Bedawi and our friend Amal El-Mohtar!
KL: Cool; tell me about that!
JR: This one is called Walkthrough, and in it, Layla and Amal and I are playing a phone app game called The Walk, in which you unlock pieces of a story by walking in the real world. It's a really cool game, and on the podcast, we're discussing the story of the game as we play it and talking about exercise and other generally geeky things we're into. We're hoping that our listeners will play The Walk with us and join in our discussions via Twitter and blog comments.
KL: That sounds really fun. (And bonus: good for you!)
JR: It is! You can follow us on Twitter, or check out our blog.
The best part is that Amal and I have played before, so we are getting to watch Layla reacting for the first time, and it's so wonderful. This game has a lot of surprising twists and turns, so Amal and I are delighted to hear Layla's theories about what will happen.
KL: Wow. Okay. Now I have to play.
JR: Yes! Join us!
KL: And in addition to writing, editing, and podcasting, you're teaching a class at Writespace starting this summer. When does it start, and what kinds of tools will writers get to practice in the class?
JR: Ooh, I am really excited about this course! It starts on the 19th of July and goes for six weeks. It will all be online, so people can sign up from anywhere. We'll have a lot of interactions via text, but I'm hoping that people will be able to meet in a google hangout video chat at least a couple of times during the course because that can be fun and useful. A lot of how and when we interact will depend on what the student who sign up want to do and have time for.
The course is called Making Your Inner Editor Work For You, and in it, we'll cover a lot of ground from understanding what your inner editor is to how to have useful and positive interactions with your writing community to how actual editors think about submissions when they receive them.
It should be a lot of fun, and full of tools that writers can apply across their work.
KL: Ooh, great. That last bit--how editors think--should be really helpful. I think that often writers are a little afraid of editors. You’re submitting your precious work to someone who has control over whether it gets published, and it is intimidating. It will be nice to have an inside look, but also to understand that the submission process--and acceptance/rejection--usually isn't personal. (Even though the work we submit IS personal!)
JR: Yes, all of that is true! And I hope that writers who take this course will come out feeling less intimidated by the process!
KL: Is there anything else about the class, or about any other project you're working on, that you'd like to mention?
JR: The only thing I really want to say is that this class idea came out of conversations I had with people during Writefest in February. That event was so warm and welcoming and incredibly useful that I really wanted to be part of Writespace afterwards. I love that the main mission of Writespace is to encourage and nourish writers, so I'm really happy to be working with them.
KL: Absolutely. I agree. And I am so excited to take the class! One last question: as a student, what should I have prepared as the class begins? Drafts of stories, etc.?
JR: If you have story drafts that you want to work with, you will have plenty of chances to do that, but I've designed the course so that people can come in with nothing and that will also be fine.
KL: Excellent. Well, thank for talking to me today, Julia! I appreciate it and am so looking forward to more of it in July.
JR: Thank you, Kate! It's been a fun conversation, and I can't wait to have you in class!
Kate Lechler is a volunteer at Writespace. She resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. Her work has been published in NonBinary Review, Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction, and Illumen. She also is a staff reviewer and curates the Expanded Universe column at FantasyLiterature.com. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.
Julia Rios is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in several places, including Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, and Goblin Fruit. She was a fiction editor for Strange Horizons from 2012 to 2015, and is currently the poetry and reprints editor for Uncanny Magazine and co-editor with Alisa Krasnostein of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and the Year's Best YA Speculative Fiction series. She is also a co-host of two podcasts. The Hugo-nominated podcast, The Skiffy and Fanty Show is a general discussion, interview, and movie review show. Walkthrough is a discussion of exercise and geekery with Amal El-Mohtar and Layla Al-Bedawi. Julia has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders, and poems for the Strange Horizons podcast.