Welcome back! Today, I’m pleased to feature writer and editor Simon Dewar. Simon is the founder of the Suspended in Dusk anthology series, as well as an accomplished author in his own right.
Recently, Simon and I discussed how he got his start as a writer as well as how he views the journey of an editor’s process.
A few years ago I saw someone on Twitter mention a submission call to an anthology they edit. The anthology was Bloody Parchment, the literary anthology for South African Horrorfest. I sent in a story and was one of those selected for publication. It was a story called “The Kettle” and it was about the horrors of routine, post-natal sleep deprivation and caffeine addiction. Kinda cool to sell a story to an imprint of Random House on my first go. I didn’t quite think I was some sort of prodigy, but perhaps I thought I wasn’t too bad. I was woefully unprepared for the rejections to come. I’m a little more sanguine about things now.
You are the editor of the acclaimed Suspended in Dusk series. How did you become involved with this project, and what was the initial inspiration?
Originally this idea came about as a project to be co-edited with Nerine Dorman. It was to be a non-themed anthology to be published by Dark Continents Press. We came up with the name because Nerine Dorman is a big Type-O Negative fan and one of their songs is called “Suspended in Dusk.” For whatever reason, Dark Continents couldn’t run with the project any more (they later closed shop), and while I was collecting stories and finding a new publisher the stories that came through seemed to gel really well with the title. They were all about people stuck between worlds, between the light and the dark, or in times of change. Eventually the book found a home with Books of the Dead Press.
In your experience, what has been the most challenging part of being an editor, and is there a particular aspect that is the most rewarding?
For me, the most challenging part is the administrative aspects… all the emailing of authors, liaising with the publisher, etc. The actual editing and proofreading stuff is pretty easy and stress-free by comparison. It was especially easy this time around for Suspended in Dusk 2, as I had an enlarged budget and so had stories come through from some professional writers. There were stories I was afraid to ‘dot an i’ or ‘cross a T’ on, they were near-on perfect when they came through.
I don’t want to sound too blase about it, but part of me feels any idiot could sit there and accept submissions of good stories from professional or semi-professional writers and come out with a relatively decent book at the end of it. Certainly, an amount of success and quality in an anthology, comes down to a editor’s taste as to what kind of stories they choose, by whom and how they fit with theme. One thing I did, with both Suspended in Dusk and its sequel, is select a number of stories by newer, promising writers and work to try and develop those stories and help those writers develop their own skills. For me personally, these stories were the most work because they required a greater amount of editing, but they were also the most rewarding. I’m not about changing a writer’s voice or rewriting their story for them, but because of the collaborative relationship I build with the writer, I am able to work out what they want to say, what themes they want to address and what feelings they want the reader to feel. Through the editing process, I strive to help them say those things and present their story to the reader in the most effective manner. There’s nothing better than stepping back from a story after several passes of editing and both the writer and the editor thinking, “Wow, this story really shines now.” Or really packs a punch. Or really churns the stomach. Or really severs your heart strings. You get me. It’s also super validating and gratifying for me as an editor when writers want to work with me again because they see the value I help them bring to their work.
In addition to your work as an editor, you are also an author of numerous short stories. What is your personal approach to writing short fiction? Is there an average length of time or number of drafts it takes you to complete a story, and how much outlining do you do in advance?
I go for long stretches without thinking about writing at all to be honest. I also go for long stretches without writing at all. Then, one day—BOOM!!!—a bunch of shit goes down. I might hear the same song on the radio twice in the same day. That’s a motherfuckin’ sign, man. Maybe then, in my daydreams, I remember something from my childhood… some bully, some school friend, some scene, some sight or smell, some girl. And just maybe, the night before I was watching a horror movie or reading a horror book involving cannibals. All of a sudden—I’ve got a story that features Mariah Carey, it’s set in a high school much like that of my hometown, two of the main characters are based off a teen friend and our year 9 science teacher, and somewhere along the line it features some rather hungry people. For me the ideas process is a confluence of random things that just come together and scream “Write me, bitch!” and then I must write.
As far as actual writing process goes: …at heart, I’m a plotter (although I don’t believe in being too rigid about it). Once I’ve got the idea down, I tend to quickly plot out what I feel are the required scenes for a story. Once I’ve worked out what those scenes are, I separate them with Scene breaks and then flesh them out with dot points. Once I’ve fleshed each scene out as a series of dot points, I return to the start and write the actual story over the top of those dot points. Where the story changes, I relax and let it change. Sometimes I realise things are out of sequence and I move whole scenes around to better rationalise the timeline. Sometimes, I think of a better idea halfway through and then scrap the remaining dot points and just pants the rest.
As a writer, are there any particular themes to which you find yourself returning frequently?
I like, or at least, gravitate to writing about kids or teens. Maybe I do it because childhood and teenagehood are great times in our life for the creating/generating/finding of stories. Maybe it’s because kids are people too and our world is full of them. I also write a lot of stories about kids who aren’t necessarily good or innocent people. Lots of the kids I write about do bad things, often times by accident or because they feel they have no choice, or they’ve been conditioned to act that way. Sometimes they do them because kids can be bad people too. Perhaps, that’s why Suspended in Dusk was my anthology theme. The world of a teenager is a world between worlds, between childhood and adulthood, a time of great change and uncertainty, a time of growing strength but still vulnerability. I do suspect that this makes it harder to sell some of my fiction though , perhaps because it’s confronting and doesn’t fit squarely into adult fiction (child/teen protagonist) or YA fiction (strong themes etc).
Outside of children, I rarely write about good people. There’s a school of thought that people, generally speaking, are innately good or altruistic. I don’t know if I believe this is true. Maybe because I know for me it’s a constant internal battle. There is so much evil in the world…war/racism/sexism/violence/theft/rape/greed/etc… that I have genuine doubts about it.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
Suspended in Dusk 2 is with Books of the Dead Press in their release queue. It should be out in a couple of months.
I’ve found a co-consipirator for an anthology project that I”m hoping to kick off next year. We’ve found most of the writers and will be looking at pitching it soon to publishers. That’ll probably be my last anthology for a while though as I’d like to focus on my own writing for a while.
I’m also working on putting together my first collection of short stories. I’ve got about 6 of 10 or 12 stories already written. Slowly coming up with the remainder 🙂