Trevor Denyer Interview
Posted on 17 November 2004. © Copyright 2004-2021 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to Trevor Denyer, publisher of fantasy fiction magazines including Legend, Roadworks and Midnight Street.|
Tell us a bit about your background and the magazines
I’ve always been interested in writing and editing. I guess my first attempt at editing was way back in the mists of time, when I was at school. I used to hate sports, probably because I was never any good at it. So some like-minded friends and me decided we would create a school magazine. We were allowed to stay indoors and do this while the other poor sods were out in the cold playing games!
The end result was a mix of (literally) cut and pasted magazine articles, graphic stories and other bits and pieces that didn’t really reflect the activities of the school, but satisfied our creative instincts.
For me, the fun bits are creating a whole from lots of parts. The result has a character and, in that sense, a life of its own.
Many years later, in 1998, the first issue of ‘Roadworks – Tales From the Hard Road’ appeared. Once again, this was the result of my creative urges getting the better of me. I had been writing short stories before this, with the occasional publication success, but at that time, I was feeling rather depressed about my lack of success and the length of time it was taking to achieve any recognition. The magazine covered the genres I was familiar with, both from a writing and reading perspective; that is horror, dark fantasy, science fiction and slipstream. The title, by the way, referred to works produced by writers on the hard road to success.
In Autumn 2000, ‘Legend – Worlds of Possibility’ was born. The inspiration behind this was twofold. First and foremost was a desire to produce a magazine that covered other pet genres, namely Arthurian fantasy, romantic fantasy, alternate worlds, myth and magic. The work I published here was primarily low fantasy.
Secondly, I wanted a magazine that, I felt, would fill a gap in the market. Short fantasy seemed to be the answer. I wanted something that might be more commercially viable than ‘Roadworks’, and might help finance that magazine. What I didn’t realise until later was that the gap in the market exists for a reason. There is very little interest in short fantasy fiction! People seem to prefer doorstop trilogies that they can immerse themselves in, rather than intelligent snapshots.
‘Roadworks’ ran to sixteen issues between Autumn 1998 and Summer 2003, and ‘Legend’ to seven issues between Autumn 2000 and Summer 2003. Both were critically acclaimed, and many of the stories I published in ‘Roadworks’ received Honourable Mentions in the ‘Year’s Best Horror and Fantasy’ anthologies.
Despite this, ‘Legend’ became non-viable because of its shrinking subscriber base. With ‘Roadworks’, I reached a point where I wanted to make changes that the format of that magazine could not easily sustain. I also had a publication queue that would have taken years to clear. Many of the stories were ones I’d accepted in the early days, that no longer met the far stricter criteria I was now applying. As a result, both publications closed in favour of ‘Midnight Street’, which is, if you like, the next generation. I believe that the lessons I learned from editing the first two magazines have paid dividends with ‘Midnight Street’, which combines the quality of content that ‘Roadworks’ had – fiction, interviews, articles and, just recently, reviews – with the quality of illustration that was one of the main strengths of ‘Legend’. I also feel that the title is far more evocative and meaningful. Returning to a cheaper A4, stapled format means that I can afford to have a colour cover and reduce the price.
The other benefit, though this was a hard and unpopular decision, was to give me an excuse to cull many of the previously accepted stories that I felt did not come up to the high standards I’m now applying.
So, my motivation to edit magazines comes from a certain amount of laziness on my part. I find it easier and, to some extent, more satisfying to create something using other people’s creative endeavours than slogging away myself to create something that might never be recognised. It is also satisfying to help talented writers to become more visible and successful.
How do you find new writers?
I think it’s fair to say that new writers find me. I do not make extensive efforts to advertise the guidelines, for example. I advertise the magazine and rely more upon its reputation to attract and encourage new writers. So far, I’ve never had to actively seek manuscripts. The only time I do that is for particular features; for example, the ‘Showcase’ section of ‘Midnight Street’, or a writer I particularly want to publish.
I will say here that I’m considering putting together an anthology of stories by new writers. I haven’t worked out the details yet, and I’m hoping to get an Arts Council grant to help with the cost. Just keep an eye on ‘Midnight Street’ magazine and the website: http://www.midnightstreet.co.uk
What kind of work are you looking for? What excites you about a piece of writing- what keeps you interested?
For ‘Midnight Street’ I’m looking for work that is more than the bog standard horror, dark fantasy type story. I want work that is different and unusual, or puts an original spin on an old idea. I want stories that are well characterised, so that you can feel the protagonists’ trauma, excitement or whatever emotion is being described. I want characters that live and breath, and leap from the page and stick in the memory. I want stories that excite me and fire my imagination. I want work that entertains and has some sort of a plot thread, however tenuous.
I also want well-crafted work. Though it may be a little old-fashioned these days, I place a lot of importance on grammar, sentence construction and spelling. I firmly believe that these aspects help a story to flow well, and carry the reader effortlessly into the heart of a piece. I think that a story that is properly constructed has a far more professional feel about it.
That is not to say that I won’t publish the more ‘experimental’ work. I firmly believe, though, that the old adage is true: You have to know the rules before you can break them!
What makes your heart sink?
I could say that it’s the opposite to everything in my previous answer, but that’s too simplistic! Those are the easy ones to reject.
What makes my heart sink is stories that are ‘unfinished’. By that, I mean work that starts well and then goes downhill. There are many reasons. Here are some:
The writer gets carried away or over excited. The end result is an implausible or badly constructed end to a story.
The story is over-long. This can result where the writer desperately wants to include material that is only marginally relevant to the story he or she is writing.
The story has a long section of info-dumping, usually as a clunky narrative block. There are other, more skilful ways of inserting important background information, such as using the characters to disseminate it through dialogue (but not all at once!). Another way is to infer the historical back-story by describing the present situation in a more active way.
Info-dumping slows the pace of a story, and this is rarely acceptable in the short form. The writer needs to ask him or herself how necessary the information is to the story anyway. Very often, a nod is far better than a full-blown demonstration!
Sometimes, it’s just stories that are good, maybe even very good, but don’t have that extra ingredient that I know when I read it. Often, when I analyse why, it’s something like slightly flat characterisation, or dialogue that doesn’t ring true, or an inability to suspend disbelief sufficiently.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
I’ve always had very eclectic tastes. My reading fare at the moment is the collected stories of Ray Bradbury. He is a writer I’ve admired for decades, and was originally introduced to by my English teacher, who used to read us Ray Bradbury stories during class!
I like authors that inspire me or surprise me. Another is Stephen King. His remarkable gift is in the way he makes characters jump from the page and live in your mind. He is able to chill you to the bone while describing a world that is all too recognisable.
Another favourite writer is Stephen Baxter. Here’s someone who mixes hard, technical SF with very human stories. The result is clever SF driven by character dilemmas that inform vast and imaginative futures.
My favourite writing is that which is technically proficient and takes me on a journey. It might be an emotional journey, a scenic one or a fantastic one. It could be a journey into darkness or a journey into light.
How do you respond to unsolicited work- do you give feedback?
Unsolicited work is the raw material from which exciting new writers emerge. I’m always open to unsolicited work, but I do have strict criteria that I apply. My motivation is to find what I consider to be talented, technically proficient, imaginative and exciting writing.
I also have a magazine that requires a high standard of content. I obviously want people to buy and keep buying it. I owe it to my readers to provide them with what I hope they agree is the best material I can find.
I don’t give a lot of feedback, mainly because I don’t have a lot of time to do it. I have a full-time day job and a demanding family life, and only limited time to spend on everything connected with ‘Midnight Street’, from reading and evaluating stories, through marketing, producing the magazine and maintaining the website.
As a result, I only give feedback where I can see promise in a story. I have to be captivated by the story within the first few paragraphs. If I’m not, I’ll reject it. By that, I don’t necessarily mean I want a slam-bang opening, but I need to see something there that excites me and fires my imagination.
If I receive work that may have an original idea, and that idea is buried beneath incompetent, technically poor or amateurish writing, I’ll reject it.
My feeling on this whole feedback issue is that if you are a writer, you need to learn the craft first. Don’t rely on an editor to take on that responsibility.
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