In a lot of anthologies, there’s usually just one form of expression; it’s all short stories, it’s all poems, it’s all comics, etc. But Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales Of Insatiable Darkness (paperback, Kindle) isn’t like other anthologies in that regard, as it may primarily be short stories, but it also has poems, comics, illustrations, and even games. In the following email interview, Unfettered Hexes editor dave ring discusses how this collection came together, and why it’s so diverse.
Photo Credit: Farrah Skeiky
To start, what is the theme of Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales Of Insatiable Darkness?
Broadly, the theme for the anthology was “queer witches,” but more than that, we asked writers to send stories engaging with “darkness,” whatever that meant for them. For a large number of the stories, that means that they explore power, death, and consequences. Accordingly, the book skews towards dark fantasy and horror, though there are some more light-hearted stories, and science fictional elements, too.
Where did you get the idea for Unfettered Hexes?
I blame Marianne Kirby [author of Dust Bath Revival]. We’re neighbors, and in each other’s pandemic bubble all year. We had just gotten through an hour-long discussion, talking out the details of a different anthology for Neon Hemlock — a queer sword & sorcery antho I’m sure will happen someday — and then we switched gears to talking about the rebooted sequel to 1996’s The Craft. It quickly devolved into, “wait…what if I did an antho about witches?”
Unfettered Hexes doesn’t just have short stories, it also includes comics, poems, and nearly four dozen illustrations. Why did you want it to be so varied in form?
I included a game in my last anthology, Glitter + Ashes. That was a reprint of Dream Askew by designer Avery Alder. I quite liked the way it felt to have that as part of the anthology, not quite as a toolkit for the apocalypse in real life, but as a way to explore those themes in another dimension beyond that of reading. It felt natural to continue that again with Unfettered Hexes. I had stumbled onto Mercedes Acosta’s game Los Arboles through a Twitter rabbit hole, and found it really elegant. So I asked Mercedes to reskin it (i.e. keep the same core mechanics but adapt the themes) for Unfettered Hexes. I think it came out really cool. And when I was looking for stretch goals, I stumbled onto a game from Allie Bustion that used tarot cards, which led me to reach out.
I also opened and closed Glitter + Ashes with poems (from Anthony Moll and Saida Agostini). I was delighted to find work by Rasha Abdulhadi and Imani Sims to bookend Unfettered Hexes with. Poetry has a way of sliding under the ribs, and I love using poetry to underline the themes of an anthology.
Comics and illustrations were new for Unfettered Hexes. They grew out of stretch goals on the Kickstarter. Grace P. Fong is a longstanding collaborator (she did the cover for Glitter + Ashes), so it was exciting to have her do a comic for the antho. Caleb Hosalla is an artist I’ve admired from afar for a long time, so I was excited when he agreed to do a comic for it as well. The two comics share some themes, but they sit on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of tone, I think.
Frances P. did two vibrant color illustrations for our inside cover, based on two stories: “The Passing Of Sinclair Manor, Or, The House Of Magical Negroes” by Danny Lore and “The Coven Of TAOS-9” by R.J. Theodore. It felt somewhat extravagant to include color illustrations, but it felt really great to do so, especially getting to illustrate different aspects of both those stories from the art done by Matt Spencer.
As far as the dozens of interior B&W illustrations, Matt Spencer is just incredible. He signed on initially to do a handful of images, but we hit a stretch goal on the Kickstarter to design an oracle deck based on the stories in the book, and at some point we agreed that we should just put all the oracle card illustrations in the book. I can’t imagine these stories without the art at this point. Matt’s a brilliant collaborator (he illustrated the inaugural cover of Baffling Magazine, another project I co-edit), and I intend to rope him into plenty of my future projects so long as he’s willing.
Art Credit: Matt Spencer
Also, what are “story games”? Are those like Chose Your Own Adventure things?
Good question! Well, they’re not Chose Your Own Adventure games — which believe it or not is a trademarked name, and even if they were I would never say so in print. Think of them as being in a Venn diagram with tabletop roleplaying games, but usually less complicated and more focused on story than “winning” or experience points, etc. I’m nervous about being too confident answering that question, though. I’m not even sure that the two game designers (Mercedes Acosta and Allie Bustion) would agree with that definition. This post sort of gets into the weeds about it, if you’re curious.
So aside from having to follow the book’s theme, what other parameters did you put on people’s contributions?
We asked folks to keep stories under 6000 words for the open submissions process, and for them to be originals, but otherwise it was a fairly broad remit. The downside of that meant that I had to say no to some great stories more because they didn’t fit into the developing coherence of the anthology, not that they weren’t great stories.
And how did you decide who you were going to ask to contribute?
I think of the “invited contributors” as being a signal to other potential submitters of what you’re looking for in the book, so I thought of them as a microcosm of what I wanted the rest of the book to look like. And, of course, they were writers whose work I admired, and wanted to ensure I could include them by inviting them from the start.
How often, when you asked someone to contribute to Unfettered Hexes, did they suggest someone else you should ask?
That’s never happened actually. Though it happens quite often with other kinds of projects, like putting together a panel. I.e. “Oh I wouldn’t be a good fit for that but maybe try x y or z,” that sort of thing.
In putting Unfettered Hexes together, were there any contributions that so struck you that you’ve since gone out and bought one of that person’s own books?
I don’t think there were any contributions that brought established writers with a back catalogue onto my radar — I was already familiar with those writers. But are there contributors that I will now follow everything they put into the world with a rabid interest? Oh yes.
Unfettered Hexes is not the first anthology you assembled. You previously edited Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales Of A World That Wouldn’t Die and Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales Of A City That Never Was. Is there anything you learned putting those collections together that directly influenced what you did with Unfettered Hexes?
Glitter + Ashes and Broken Metropolis were definitely been formative editorial experiences for me.
It’s challenging to articulate editorial vision such that other folks can decide what of their existing work might work or how to craft something new for it, but I think I’m getting better at being clear about what I want, what I don’t want, and where there’s room for interpretation.
Along with being the editor of Unfettered Hexes, you are also a writer. Some writers who edit anthologies feel they should never include their own work, others feel they should. You don’t have a story in Unfettered Hexes. Why not?
I know there isn’t full agreement here, but yes, I tend to think including your own work in an anthology is gauche. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large it makes me uncomfortable.
The Hidden Ones is something of an urban fantasy story set in modern day Ireland. It’s as much inspired by my misspent youth in Dublin as it is about being almost 40 and in a now 15 year relationship. It’s about lovers who’ve become distant through the pall of immortality, what it’s like to thrive on the shirking of responsibility, and a lot of bad decisions.
Do you think people who enjoy Unfettered Hexes will like The Hidden Ones as well, and vice versa?
There’s some overlap there. They both involve queerness on the page, unusual magic, and have a certain spoopy aesthetic. I’d probably recommend The Hidden Ones to fans of Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion Of The Fallen, Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles Of Amber, or KD Edwards’ Tarot Sequence.
Now, as you mentioned, Matt Spencer is making a collection of Oracle Cards as a companion to Unfettered Hexes. For people who don’t know what those are, by which I mean me, what are Oracle Cards?
Oracle Cards are like tarot cards. So they can be used for divination / fortune-telling, self-reflection, story generation, or tabletop games. They’re also just beautiful. We did include all the art that Matt made for the oracle cards in the anthology itself, so everyone will get to see it.
And will Matt’s oracle cards come with copies of Unfettered Hexes or will they be available separately?
The cards were available as a Kickstarter add-on but they’re now they are available separately on our website.
Hollywood loves making movies out of short stories. Are there any stories in Unfettered Hexes that you think would be especially interesting to see on the big screen?
Oh, absolutely. I was just telling Ruth Joffre at a recent Neon Hemlock Live that I would love to see an animated version of her story, “The Witch Of Kaa-Iya.” Nico Reed’s “Human Reason” would also be incredible to see filmed. To be honest, running down the list, there honestly isn’t a dud to be had. And now I can imagine Imani Sims’ poem during the opening title sequence and Rasha Abdulhadi’s made into a song over the ending credits. My inbox is open to anyone who wants to make this happen.
Finally, if someone enjoys Unfettered Hexes, what similar anthology that someone else put together would you suggest people check out next?
Some recent favs of mine have been SLAY: Stories Of The Vampire Noire edited by Nicole Givens Kurtz and Silk And Steel: A Queer Speculative Adventure Anthology edited by Janine A. Southard. Both of them scratch some adjacent itches to Unfettered Hexes.