Welcome to part two of BCB’s interview with Sarena Ulibarri, Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press. On Tuesday I talked with Sarena about the inner workings of a small press, and about her job in particular. It was an enlightening glimpse into the dynamic and multi-faceted publishing industry. Today I want to chat about her new project, SPECULATIVE STORY BITES, a short fiction anthology.
I really enjoy short stories. As a reader, I find the experience like sampling various flavors of ice-cream. The whole serving is ice-cream, not sorbet or mousse, but I get to try something different with each taste. And SPECULATIVE STORY BITES didn’t disappoint. While the stories weren’t united by a prescribed theme, they all fell within the definition of speculative fiction. From edgy flower fairies, to a chocolatier whose treats contain a little more than sugar and cocoa, this unique collection is well worth the read. Thanks for joining me again today, Sarena!
Tabitha Lord: World Weaver Press publishes full-length fiction, novellas, and anthologies. For the anthologies, how do you decide which projects to green light?
Sarena Ulibarri: Aside from SPECULATIVE STORY BITES (which was mine, so no one could tell me “no”), I’ve green lighted three new anthology projects since I’ve been Editor-in-Chief, and all three of them are from editors I already know and trust. The conversation was basically, “Here’s my cool idea,” followed by, “Yeah, that sounds fun, let’s do that.” We hashed out the details about submission guidelines and publication timing later. I green lighted Kate Wolford’s new Krampus anthology because her previous anthology KRAMPUSNACHT has been one of our best sellers; I green lighted Rhonda Parrish’s new Magical Menageries anthology EQUUS because her anthologies are consistently stellar; I green lighted Trysh Thompson’s idea for SONOFAWITCH! because a collection of stories about magic spells gone wrong just sounded like a lot of fun.
An anthology premise needs to be specific enough to have a focus, but broad enough to allow for variety in the stories. With SONOFAWITCH!, for example, we decided “witches” was too broad, and “love spells gone wrong” was too narrow, but “humorous stories of spells gone wrong” should draw in just the type of story Trysh is looking for.
TL: I know there are a few different ways to create an anthology. One is to invite a select group of authors to write individual stories around a theme. Another is to announce the theme and then open it for submissions. Have you done both? Do you prefer one to the other?
SU: World Weaver Press always does open submissions for anthologies, though we might extend solicitations to a few specific authors we think would be a good fit. Open submissions are a great way to find new writers. For her newest anthology, EQUUS, Rhonda Parrish decided to do blind submissions in order to reduce bias. It can sometimes be hard to judge a story fairly when you know a writer, either personally or by reputation. There are certain writers who tend to pop up consistently in our anthologies because their writing fits our aesthetic and vision, but we don’t want the table of contents to always look identical.
TL: For Speculative Story Bites, you edited the collection yourself. The stories are all obviously speculative fiction. Other than that, they are quite diverse in theme. What direction did you give to your authors for creating them?
SU: SPECULATIVE STORY BITES is a bit of a strange case, and the authors were so patient and understanding as the project kept morphing. We had open submission calls for a couple of anthologies that we weren’t able to publish for various reasons, and I sort of cobbled together the stories couldn’t I bear to part with. Most of these stories probably could have found a different home, but I would have been mad at myself if they never were published just because the project we originally considered them for fell through.
Once I made that decision, though, I still had to tie them together somehow. I came up with the premise of “bite-sized stories, offering a sampler platter of fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal horror.” I had to narrow it down to stories under 4000 words—which meant I had to regretfully reject some very good pieces—and then I tried to balance it with a variety of genres and tones. Like a sampler platter at a restaurant, the pieces may not all be to your taste, but they’re worth a bite, and you’re bound to find a few you love.
TL: I think creating an anthology must be a little like curating an art show. You, the editor, choose the theme, select the pieces, and arrange them with an eye for cohesiveness and flow. Can you talk a little about your process for bringing Speculative Story Bites to life?
SU: I wanted to pair the stories with other World Weaver Press books so that readers who enjoyed that story might also find a new book they would like. With authors such as Kristina Wojtaszek, Rebecca Roland, Larry Hodges, and A.E. Decker, who all have novels published by World Weaver Press, that was an easy “also by this author” listing. But for the others, I had to make tough decisions about similarities in tone and content. For example, M.T. Reiten’s urban green man story “Wild Corner” fit well with the dark tone and content of the SCARECROW anthology we published last year, and the humor and unexpected were-creature in Dianne M. Williams’s “All the Pieces of My Heart” reminded me of THE WEREDOG WHISPERER by Susan Abel Sullivan. Since the stories varied so much by genre, length, and tone, I tried to alternate, placing a very short story right after a longer one, placing a funny story after a serious one, etc.
TL: I won’t ask you if you have a favorite story – that would be like asking a mom to name her favorite child! Totally unfair! But what do you look for in a short story? What type of writing grabs you and inspires you to put your name behind it?
SU: A short story—especially a very short story—is a balancing act. The writer has to lead the characters through a complete emotional arc that leaves the reader satisfied that they haven’t missed out on anything, that they really have reached “the end.” But at the same time, the writer needs to create a world and characters that bleed off the page and suggest a life beyond the scope of the story. It’s often very difficult to find that balance point, especially with speculative fiction where we’re creating new worlds and bending the rules of reality. Our ideas can easily spin out of control until they need a whole book, or even a series of books, to fully explore them. It’s easy, too, to fall short, give in to stereotype, treat your characters like puppets acting out your whims. The short stories I love are as immersive and satisfying as a good meal, but also leave crumbs strewn through my mind that I’ll be finding for days, or months, or years.
TL: Thanks so much, Sarena! I look forward to World Weaver’s next anthology.
Sarena Ulibarri is the Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press. She earned an MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and attended the Clarion Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop at UCSD in 2014. Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Lakeside Circus, and elsewhere. She currently lives in New Mexico and has two corgis.