Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With the IGMS Editorial Staff
by Scott M. Roberts
The Intergalactic Medicine Show has a lot of moving parts. My editorial staff are integral pieces
to the whole production, and are largely responsible for finding the material that makes it into our
pages. I'm pleased to work with such a wise group of readers and editors.
I asked them each to answer a few questions, and hope you find their responses illuminating:
What brought you to work with IGMS?
John Ellis: My sister, Sara. She informed me they were looking, I had enjoyed reading issues in
the past, I applied.
Lauren Harris: I met Edmund Schubert, the previous editor, at a convention. At the time, I ran a
podcast for aspiring authors of genre fiction, and my cohosts and I asked him for an interview.
We moved on to BarCon, where my people talked to his people. I stalked him online and read the
Magical Words. Dragon Con happened. He assumed control of my cell phone. We may have
developed alter egos and fought crime. It's all a blur.
When a position opened up at IGMS, he wanted to ensure more women were present in the
editorial process. Needless to say, my nefarious maneuvering paid off. I got the job.
Sara Ellis: I was the very first slush reader and have been sifting through the pile ever since.
Name your top three works of fiction-- it can be anything from short stories to novels to
anime-- and why each makes your top three.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip. A remote, powerful, icy sorceress who keeps
Beasts of Legend is the lead character in this novel. That alone intrigued my younger self, as such
characters tended to be the mysterious helper, mentor, or antagonist in most fantasy stories I'd
read previously. Here, Sybel is someone who proves to be very human underneath all the
wonderment and mystery. For good and ill.
Every character in this story is a person, an uneven mixture of actions and traits, noble and
Usagi Yojimbo, by Stan Sakai. A long-running graphic novel/manga/comic book series
recounting the life and adventures of a ronin (masterless samurai) who lives in a fantastical
version of 16th century Japan. Said samurai also happens to be a rabbit.
Usagi is one of those comics where something light-hearted and humorous can turn tragic and
heart-breaking in a matter of panels.
Likewise, the violence and cost of a life of combat is never romanticized or used in an
Imagine Akira Kurosawa by way of Carl Barks and you'll come close.
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis. Perspective flips on old fairy tales, legends,
and myths are nothing new. Lewis's look at one of the "Jealous Sisters" from the ancient myth of
Eros and Psyche is perhaps the definitive version of such a story.
This is the story of Orual of Gloam, the unloved, ugly oldest daughter of the king. She loves her
half-sister Istra (whom popular folklore and the Greeks have renamed Psyche) more than she
loves herself. And when she hears the half-baked, cockamamie version of what happened
permeating the lands, she's given the fire and fury to write a complaint against the gods
themselves. A complaint for which she knows they have no answer.
Or so she thinks . . .
This is a brilliant story about how love--tender, glorious, maddening, painful, needy, pure
love--can go wrong so many ways.
And the ways it might go right, if one wakes up enough to perceive the truth of things.
Do you know how hard it is for me to pick my favorite anything? TORTURE.
3) Six of Crows duology, by Leigh Bardugo. These two books pack in so much character,
worldbuilding, and excitement in such a tiny space. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and if
you want to see a multiple POV story and slow-drip character backstory done to perfection, read
2) Shades of Magic trilogy, by VE Schwab. I can't express how much I love this series. I stopped
in the middle of the last book for about three months because the main characters were happy for
just a moment and I knew everything was going to come crashing down and I didn't want it to. I
finally finished the series, and it was amazing.
1) Star Wars. Once a fangirl, always a fangirl, With the exception of the prequels-that-shall-not-be-discussed and a weird EU novel where Luke fell in love with a ghost stuck in a space station, I
have loved every piece of the Star Wars universe, Alston to Zahn. The Expanded Universe (now
Legends) was my doorway into space opera and gave me a path into more and more genre
fiction. Star Wars in many ways shaped my understanding of the hero's journey, my feelings on
female empowerment (RIP Carrie), and the overarching sense of ideals that have carried me
through into my adult life as a semi-decent human being who only occasionally shoots first.
This question feels so unfair. There are so many stories that are important to me, and feel a part
of me. I suppose three that stand out among my top twenty or so would be:
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston writes exactly like herself, and
the way (the protagonist) Janie Crawford wants to be free is the way I want to be free. Poetry
flows seamlessly through the narrative, pulling you deeper into Janie's heart. The passage where
she can't get Tea Cake out of her mind makes me fall in love. I listened to the audio version as
narrated by Ruby Dee a few years ago, and it made me cry in Union Station while waiting for a
Hellboy Vol. 3: The Chained Coffin and Others, by Mike Mignola. I am obsessed with folklore,
and I love the way Mignola uses it in these Hellboy stories. He is a great visual storyteller, and I
am sucker for "monster trying to be good" stories.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my favorite contemporary
writers, and it's hard to choose one book by him, but Ocean just never leaves me. It is authentic
childhood, but through the lens of an adult knowing which events and details made him the
person he is. All of the magic, good and bad, feels utterly real--I can't help but think of this story
as nonfiction. Gaiman is so good at the details, everything feels very lived in, and each of his
characters has their own voice.
Are you seeing any trends in story-telling that you really like? How about trends that you
don't care for?
John Ellis: I'm seeing a greater willingness to cross genres without fear that, "That kind of story
never goes there." I'm all for experimentation in the interest of seeing what cool hybrids can be
created. Do that romantic comedy about two kaiju! Give me that murder mystery where the
detective is a retired Minotaur gladiator! And let's see more space aliens at Hogwarts, by all
I'm not very fond of stories that include a character who just happens to be a member of a group
that's the current cause celebre in the media just to have someone from that group. All too often,
the surface traits end up being all that character is. No arc. No growth. Just a checklist of traits.
Lauren Harris: I love the number of diverse characters I'm getting in my inbox. Characters who
defy the assumed straight-white-male stock image protagonist excite me because I know I'm
reading something that, while perhaps not necessarily new, isn't the literary equivalent of getting
vanilla ice cream at Baskin Robins . I mean, vanilla is great, but there are 31 other flavors, y'all.
I get a lot of stories with a gimmick that relies on indirect reporting of events rather than in-scene
action (epistolary, teacher's records, email chains, product reviews, etc.). 95% of these end up in
my rejection pile.
Sara Ellis: I have trouble picking up trends that I like; when I really like a story it feels fresh and
timeless at the same time. This is usually because the stories I like get me invested in the
characters' emotions, so it doesn't matter as much what the setting is.
I don't know if it is a trend as much as it may be a newish writer move, but I get too many stories
that are about people bitterly hating each other. Husbands hating their wives, wives hating their
neighbors, etc. Just nasty people having nasty feelings, and that is typically how it starts and
finishes. It isn't enjoyable to read, and I can't invest in anyone. I can be intrigued by and even
like a villain, but I can't stand reading about people whose only real defining characteristic is that
they are irritated by their spouse or child or colleague and are just waiting for them to die. Some
writers may think it is subversive, but really it is just boring.
What types of stories do you wish you could read more of? Are there any types of stories
you're sick and tired of reading?
John Ellis: For a magazine devoted to science fiction and fantasy, there are surprisingly few
adventure and action pieces that turn up. I'm not saying that's the only type of fantasy and SF
worth reading, I'm just saying that after all the introspective, bittersweet, slow building and
downcast stuff, it sometimes feels GREAT to read about KICKING BUTT.
So to speak.
If I never read another story where a character tells another character that they're actually their
future one true love and they traveled back in time just to see them thus they should totally
become lovers right now and the other person just ACCEPTS this without PROOF, it will be too
soon. (And no, telling them stuff like "Hey, I know you prefer to be called 'Angie,' Angela!" is
Lauren Harris: Want - Ensemble is tough in short stories, but when it's done well, I love it!
(Think Firefly, Six of Crows, Agents of SHIELD.) I'd also love to read more space opera, cool
magic systems, heist stories, and medieval fantasy. And I think I made this clear earlier, but I
want more of the other 31 flavors. If you write a lady-bro heist story set in medieval Prague with
a transgendered POV character, sign me the hell up.
Meh--Time-travel, vampires, werewolves, and fairytale retellings. Not many of them have
something new to add to the established tropes and themes.
Don't want--I bounce hard off of animal protagonists. I'm also not a huge fan of stories that are
comedies first and SFF second, as most comedies require a distance from the protagonist that
tends to leave me bored.
None of these are an absolute no for me, but they have to bring something unique to the table to
pique my interest.
Sara Ellis: I love reading stories that push beyond an idea and get into the details of how
someone really lives in that world. I love being surprised by specifics and particulars--you have
a wizard casting a spell in an all-night diner, but what does their spell look like? What does it
smell like? I love that sort of richness that makes me feel like I'm there. I'm also a sucker for
nuanced platonic heartbreak, young people trying not to be monsters, and people trying to survive
or win when no one else believes in them.
I am tired of the knight on the quest to kill the monster, the barbarian on the quest to kill the
monster, and the space colonist who has been awakened from cryosleep and doesn't know why. I
have received a few stories that put new twists on these clichés, but I've also just received a lot
of clichés. What are you doing that's different? If you really think you are doing something
different, don't waste your first two pages on exposition. A short story typically only gets 2-4
pages to make me curious/invested/entertained enough to keep going. And don't rush the ending!
What is the number one thing that makes you toss a story in the rejection pile?
John Ellis: Being dull. As a rule of thumb, it's best to pack the cool stuff close together in a short
story. It's not like a novel or a serial where space allows for the occasional filler.
(Number two thing would be being pointlessly gross just for the shock factor, but that's another
Lauren Harris: Lack of obvious character motivation front and center. You don't get many
words to make me care about your protagonists, and until I know what they care about and what
they want, I don't know who they are. If I don't get that in the first 500 words of a 5K story,
there's something wrong. Even if they're an antihero--I don't need to like them to be invested in
Sara Ellis: Immediately describing female characters by their measurements/lust factor. There
have only been a few instances out of thousands where this was important to the story. Let your
women be real people, not just decorations. If their physicality is important to the story, give me
better details than how their blouse hugs their bust. Be creative.