Jaylee James, one time editor of Vitality Magazine and the editor (aka fearless leader) of the Circuits and Slippers anthology stopped by to do an interview! Thanks, Jaylee! Visit her online at jayleejames.com.
Welcome Jaylee. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello! J I’m a writer, editor, and story curator who spends way too much time on the internet. I live in Kansas City. I’m bisexual and previously was the senior editor of Vitality Magazine. I have two fluffy teacup Pomeranians who I love to death.
How did the idea for Circuits and Slippers come about?
I was sharing my love of fairy tale retellings with twitter, and with a friend there named Lyssa Chiavari (author of amazing YA sci-fi with asexual characters!). She mentioned she had wanted to do a fairy tale anthology for a while, but didn’t want to edit it alone. And I was like… I would love to help you! Haha.
We were trying to find a way for our anthology to be unique, since there are *numerous* retold fairy tale collections. We considered doing an LGBTQ one, but immediately after having that idea, Less Than Three press announced their LGBT fairy tale anthology, due around the same time as ours. We decided to go with sci-fi retellings because at the time, Lyssa was working on a retelling of Snow White where the dwarves were robots. Lyssa ended up not being able to work on the anthology with me, however the idea was already decided on and things were set in motion largely due to her influence. J
What kind of criteria did you use to select the stories? Was there a limit to how many you would/would not accept?
I tend to just go with my instincts when I read submissions. If I am passionate about a story, I will move it to my short list. I tend to pass on stories that are boring, cliché, or don’t have sound internal logic. Pacing was also a serious issue. Because we were retelling fairy tales, we had numerous people submitting who were following too closely to the original tale, which often includes random events, poor logic, or shallow characterization. I think the authors were so worried about incorporating all the fairy tale elements, they forgot to tell a good story.
I look for stories that have a good heart to them. Since I know I will be doing thorough edits on the pieces, I can let some things like grammar, spelling, and other writing flaws pass. But it has to have something solid going on in it that is worth doing the work to edit and bring it out.
After I have my short list, I go through the painful process of eliminating pieces. I think I had something like thirty-five pieces that I really enjoyed. I knew I couldn’t have *that many* pieces, because I didn’t want to create some unwieldy 700-page book, haha. I decided I would have twenty pieces, based on a quick survey of anthologies I have in my house, and the average number I found there.
This is where polished pieces became more of an issue. I weighed each story based on how well I felt the piece would be received by our target audience, how it fit with the rest of the pieces, how it fit with the balance of stories (obscure vs common, and how many Rapunzels or Little Red Riding Hoods we already had, etc.), and how much work it would be to edit the piece. Knowing I was going to be spending hours and hours editing these pieces, I had to let a few go that were great stories but would require a ton of work to get them polished enough for publication. Some pieces were eliminated simply because we had something like six Red Riding Hoods submitted, and I couldn’t publish them all. There was one piece I loved, but it was extremely dark and included graphic violence, which none of our other pieces did. When rejecting those on my short list, I made sure to write a personalized email explaining why I had to reject it, what parts of it I loved, and sometimes even providing links to other calls for submission that it might fit better in.
(I’m really happy to say that two of the authors who I couldn’t publish in Circuits & Slippers ended up finding a home in the Creative Ace’s upcoming LGBTQ+ fairy tales anthology, Unburied Fables: http://creative-aces.tumblr.com/post/150549411476/im-pleased-to-announce-the-fifteen-authors – You should definitely check out that book when it comes out in October, since I know at least two of the pieces are fantastic!)
I’ll be honest here- until I participated in this I always thought editing an anthology would be so easy (other people write the stories for you and even do some of the marketing). Now, having seen just a bit of the work you’ve put in my mind is thoroughly changed. Could you tell people out there who are naïve like me about the amount of work (cover art, editing, promotion, contracts) that goes in to curating an anthology?
Reading submissions itself is a laborious process. We received 90 submissions, and the majority of them were around 5,000 words. While I didn’t completely read every submission (sometimes you can tell within a few pages that a story won’t work for you) – that’s still a large amount of work. And it’s stressful. People don’t read the guidelines when submitting, submit things that clearly have no business being in your anthology (we got some historical fiction? Randomly?), submit offensive material, or their formatting is a mess (like a submission with no line breaks), etc. It can be really frustrating and hard when you feel like you’ve spent hours and hours reading pieces you can’t use and worrying that you won’t have enough, etc. Plus, writing rejection emails is really, really hard. Having received rejection emails, I know what they feel like, and I end up stressing over all my word choices to make sure the author understands that their piece had value even if I couldn’t accept it for this anthology
After that, though, the real work begins. I edited all of the pieces myself, and the book is 370-ish pages long, so I did thorough line edits on 370 pages of material. I happen to absolutely adore editing (I know, I’m weird) so the only really difficult or stressful part was how MUCH there was to edit.
There were twenty people in this anthology. If you’ve ever worked a group project, you know that coordinating people’s schedules, getting materials from everyone involved, etc. is a PROCESS. Haha. I got lucky to have twenty awesome people involved in this anthology who were helpful, kind, patient, and flexible. That isn’t always the case! But thankfully everyone put up with my scatterbrained shenanigans and long spaces between updates and hurried sent-from-my-phone messages saying “I haven’t forgotten you! I promise! I’ll have edits to you as soon as I can!” But from each of those twenty people, I had to collect a contract, author bio, contact details, then send the edits to them during a timeframe they could work with (everyone gave me their schedule at the beginning of the summer to let me know when they’d be out of town, etc. I tried to make sure to give them at least two weeks around the edits in order to give them time).
While the authors do some of the promotion, this is true, I did a lot of promotion myself as well, organizing ARCs to go out and people to host guest posts. That process involves a whole new set of people who have questions, schedules, and information to get straight. I also created promotional images and set up the goodreads page. And went to MidAmeriCon for a week and handed promo cards to anyone who came within grabbing distance.
Cover art was fairly easy because I hired someone to do it (Najla Qamber at najlaqamberdesigns.com, who does beautiful work and is also extremely patient with unartistic editors who have no idea what they want “but like, put space or something on there. Like stars or whatever.”) Although when I ran Vitality, I had covers custom created every month by artists who I had to keep on deadlines and discuss details with and etc. So while for this anthology it was fairly simple, there can often be much more work involved. It seems like, with each facet of the book creation process, you can either spend a good chunk of money, or a good chunk of your own time and energy to get it done. Since I have zero artistic abilities whatsoever, I chose the former.
A part of creating a book that not many people talk about, though, is the actual putting it together part. Which is the only part of this entire process I actually dislike (I am pretty sure I went on twitter and offered to sell my soul to various dark forces in order to not have to do this). But I hauled myself onto InDesign and messed with page gutters and font sizes and alignment and all these awful boring fiddly bits that are so time consuming and obnoxious. I had to make a table of contents, which I’ve never actually done before. So I spent a good thirty minutes pulling books off my shelves and looking at their table of contents to figure out what it was even supposed to look like. You think you *know* what these look like, until you have to make one. And then you realize you have absolutely no idea, haha.
In a major publishing house, they have the money and resources to have professionals do every step of this. But this is a small press operation – I’m publishing it myself, so it’s just me, in my pajamas at four am googling the best free fonts for book interiors, sending emails from the break room at my day job to coordinate author interviews, and ranting to my dog about proper comma usage during hours-long editing sessions.
What do you think is harder, writing a short story and fitting a beginning, middle, and end into a word limit or sitting down and hammering out a novel?
I’m definitely not the person to ask. I have never actually finished writing a novel. I’ve done some novellas, and novel-length fanfiction that I didn’t even bother editing (haha), but those experiences do not compare to writing an Actual Novel.
What is your favorite fairy tale trope? Which is your least favorite?
I love almost all of them. They’re archetypes, patterns, and I love seeing how authors use and adapt them to different situations. I personally love when fairy tales are rewritten to make the female characters have more agency than the original tales, or when authors gender swap the characters to create amazing queer stories.
The tendency in the old tales to portray the good, virtuous characters as young and beautiful, and cast the disabled characters, or even just “ugly” characters, as villains, is an absolute pile of trash, however. Young, virginal princesses with big eyes and blonde hair are not the only people who deserve happily ever afters.
If you had to pick, which fairy tale character would you relate the most to?
I always identified with characters like Cinderella, who were trapped in terrible circumstances that were out of their control. The Drew Barrymore movie Ever After, especially, just the utter unfairness of her entire life and then finally, finally getting her revenge. I cared less about the guy and more about the scene where her stepmother and sisters arrive at the palace and she gets to banish them to a life of hard labor.
Can you describe Circuits and Slippers in haiku?
I am having terrible flashbacks to junior high English class, but…
Cyborgs, robot cats,
Alien princesses, and
Awesome stuff like that!