Six years ago, the staff of Apex Magazine chronicled their finest fictional moments in the anthology The Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1. But in the new book, Apex Magazine 2021 (paperback, Kindle), they’ve taken a different approach by collecting all of the original sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories they published in the titular year. In the following email interview, 2021 co-editor Lesley Conner discusses the decisions that went into making this anthology.
For people unfamiliar with apex-magazine.com, what is it, and what genres does it encompass?
Apex Magazine is a digital speculative fiction zine edited by me and Jason Sizemore. We publish dark sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. And we recently won the British Fantasy Award for Best Magazine / Periodical. We’ve had several stories win major awards in the past — such as the Hugo and Nebula awards — but it was very exciting for the magazine as a whole to win such a prestigious award.
Congratulations. So, what do you think makes apex-magazine.com different from other websites that publish short fiction, especially in the genres you cover?
We’re really fond of saying that our stories are “Apex-y” which means nothing unless you’ve been reading Apex Magazine for a long time, or you’re part of the Apex team. Basically, Apex stories have a darker edge than you’re going to see in most sci-fi and fantasy zines, but we’re not exclusively horror. Actually, we publish very little straight horror. Apex is looking for stories that push the boundaries of and blend genre. We want stories that don’t fit neatly within a well-defined box.
And then what is Apex Magazine 2021? Is it every short story apex-magazine.com published in 2021, just the best ones, just the new ones, what?
Apex Magazine 2021 is all of the original fiction published in Apex Magazine in 2021, minus one story. Sabrina Vourvoulias wrote an amazing interactive story titled “Las Girlfriends Guide To Subversive Eating.” Since it is an interactive story, there’s really no way to publish anywhere other than the website. It’s very cool and different than anything else we’ve published. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here.
And it’s just the short stories, right? It doesn’t also have the reviews, interviews, or non-fiction pieces, correct?
Correct. Apex Magazine 2021 only contains the original short fiction from the magazine in 2021. To read the reviews, interviews, classic fiction, and essays, readers will have to check out the magazine.
Why did you decide to have Apex Magazine 2021 be every new story you published in 2021 as opposed to having the book be shorter and be a “best of”?
The desire to have a physical print book with all of the original fiction published in Apex Magazine is always there, both from readers and from the Apex team. There’s something really special about being able to see an entire year’s worth of work in one place. In 2018 we tried print runs of each issue of the magazine. They were stunningly beautiful and a small handful of Apex readers subscribed to the print editions. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to build a big enough print subscriber base to make continuing with print edition financially feasible (though if you want those print editions, they are still available through Amazon). An anthology is the next best thing. It isn’t single issues and it doesn’t contain everything that the magazine does, but it does give those of us who want a physical incarnation of Apex Magazine something to hold in our hands.
Conversely, was there any talk to including the classic stories you reprinted in 2021, or any of the interviews, reviews, or non-fiction?
We didn’t really ever consider adding the classic fiction, interviews, or non-fiction to the anthology. Mainly because even without adding it, the anthology is massive. It’s over 500 pages long and contains 48 short stories. That’s more than big enough for one collection.
And continuing with this line of questioning, you previously edited an anthology called The Best Of Apex Magazine: Volume One. Why did you decide to do a collection of last year’s stories as opposed to The Best Of Apex Magazine: Volume Two?
I love Best of Apex Magazine: Volume One. It’s like the perfect little primer for someone who wants to see what Apex Magazine is all about. And who knows, maybe we will put together a volume two at some point. But not yet.
Apex Magazine 2021 is a celebration of Apex Magazine coming back after our hiatus. It would have been so easy to just shutter Apex Magazine and move on to other things, but Jason and I missed it. So, in 2020 we ran a Kickstarter to jumpstart the return of Apex. We didn’t know how people would respond. We were all stuck at home during a pandemic, the world was chaos, and everything felt really unsteady; would anyone care that we wanted to revive our little magazine? The answer was a resounding yes. That Kickstarter was super successful and our first issue back was January 2021. That issue had outstanding stories from Alix E. Harrow, Cassandra Khaw, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, and more, and we didn’t let up from there.
Obviously, the stories in Apex Magazine 2021 are from, well, 2021. Is this collection coming out in December of 2022 because of the way book publishing works, because of the pandemic, because you don’t want to cannibalize the magazine…? Because it seems like it would be cool if Apex Magazine 2022 came out in January or February of 2023, but that might not be realistic.
There’s a lot of reasons for the timing. First, publishing time is weird. It’s a lot of hurrying to get everything done and then waiting. Second, we funded this anthology through Kickstarter. This means we needed time to plan and run the Kickstarter, and then once that was done, we could actually start on the book. Kickstarters take so much more time and energy than you would think. They are a massive undertaking. Third, yeah, we don’t want to draw people away from the magazine itself. Yes, the idea of having all the original fiction from the previous come out in a January or February of the next year is lovely, but doing so would definitely draw subscribers away from Apex Magazine. We need paying subscribers to be able to keep the magazine going, so we don’t want to do anything that will deter subscriptions.
Apex Magazine 2021 has a limited run of 1000. Is there a reason for this, or did you just think it would be cool to do a limited edition thing?
Having a limited edition is always cool.
So how did you decide what order the stories would be in Apex Magazine 2021?
The stories appear in the order in which they were published online. This seemed like a logical order since it’s one we’d already spent time building.
And are the versions the same as they were when they appeared in the magazine?
Yes, the stories are the same as they appear in the magazine.
What happens if an author is like, “Wait, I noticed a continuity error” or “I could write that part better” or “I changed my mind, I want the Girl Scout troop to save the world with Thin Mints instead of Peanut Butter Patties”?
None of the authors approached us wanting to make any changes. If it was something small, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been an issue, but this is a reprint anthology, so we didn’t want any major changes to the stories.
Did you add anything to the stories? Like, did you commission an artist to draw companion illustrations for this book?
Each story comes with a write-up either from the author or one of the editors talking a little bit more about the story. What was the inspiration, why did Jason and I like it, the author’s feelings on readers’ reactions. Just little something more than readers would get from reading the story on the website. I’m a big fan of bonus content, so this was really fun to get together.
One thing I noticed about Apex Magazine 2021 is that you only have one story by any one person. There’s one story by Izzy Wasserstein (“This Shattered Vessel, Which Only Holds Grief”), one by Elana Gomel (“The Niddash”), one by A.C. Wise (“The Amazing Exploding Women Of The Early Twentieth Century”), and so on. Is that by design?
It isn’t really a written rule or anything, but we do try to put time between publishing two stories by the same author. The reason is we don’t want the publication to get stale. We never want readers to feel like they’re reading the same type of story over and over, and we definitely don’t want to discourage authors from submitting to us because we become known for only publishing authors X, Y, and Z. Apex Magazine definitely has a specific feel to its stories, but that doesn’t mean we only want to publish certain established writers. We want stories from a wide variety of authors. Yes, it is very cool to publish well known authors, but it is just as exciting to publish an author who is at the beginning of their career.
Izzy Wasserstein, Elana Gomel, A.C. Wise
This is the third anthology you’ve assembled after Do Not Go Quietly: An Anthology Of Victory In Defiance and The Best Of Apex Magazine: Volume One. Did you learn anything editing those anthologies that directly affected how you edited Apex Magazine 2021?
Putting together both Do Not Go Quietly and The Best Of Apex Magazine were both much different than Apex Magazine 2021. Mainly because we had to select the actual stories. We knew right from the beginning what would be in Apex Magazine 2021. There wasn’t any of the discussion or massive amounts of reading that goes along with putting together a more traditional anthology.
And what about your role as a Girl Scout leader, which you mention prominently in your bio. How does that impact what you do with apex-magazine.com and Apex Magazine 2021? Like, do you automatically reject any and every story in which an alien eats a Girl Scout or in which a Girl Scout is depicted behaving in a manner that’s not in accordance with Girl Scout protocols?
Being a Girl Scout leader is a big part of my life. I’ve been volunteering for 12 years now and have worked with so many amazing girls. It’s been a super rewarding experience.
That being said, it doesn’t really impact my Apex work. If a story depicts Girl Scouts, then normally I just chuckle to myself, and then read it the same way I would any other story.
Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies….and animated shorts for that Netflix show Love, Sex, + Robots. Are there any stories in Apex Magazine 2021 that you think would make a good movie?
“Cottonmouth” by Joelle Wellington would make a really great horror film. It’s dark and atmospheric, and I think there is a lot that could be explored between the characters. “To Seek Himself Again” by Marie Croke would make an absolutely lush movie. The world building would be unique and beautiful, and the story would lend itself to some really fantastic shots.
What about for an episode of Love, Sex, + Robots?
I haven’t seen Love, Sex, + Robots, so I’m not sure.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Apex Magazine 2021?
Apex Magazine 2021 is a massive anthology with 48 stories in it. It includes author and editor notes on the stories, and is a really wonderful way to both get a print edition of Apex Magazine‘s content and really get a good feel for what sort of fiction Jason and I are currently wanting for the magazine.
Finally, I’m going to put you on the spot: If someone enjoys Apex Magazine 2021, they’ll probably go get Do Not Go Quietly and The Best Of Apex Magazine: Volume One. But once you’ve read both of those, what short story anthology assembled by another sci-fi, fantasy, and/or horror magazine or website would you suggest they check out?
Well, Jason and I are Kickstarting another anthology in February called Robotic Ambitions. If you like dark sci-fi and robots, then you’ll definitely want to check that out. But outside of Apex, Tordotcom just released an absolutely gorgeous anthology called Africa Risen edited by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Sheree Renee Thomas, and Zelda Knight. I haven’t had the chance to dig into this beautiful book yet, but I’ve worked with several of the authors in the anthology and with Oghenechovwe and Sheree. I don’t think a reader can go wrong picking up this anthology.