Monday, June 29, 2020

Interview: Uncanny Magazine

Congratulations to Uncanny Magazine, who are nominated for the Hugo for best Semiprozine!

Uncanny has swept this category for the last handful of years, and if they take home the rocket statue later this summer, it will be their fifth win in a row. They have also won the Parsec Award and the British Fantasy Award.  Uncanny Magazine is run by co-Publishers/co-Editors in Chiefs Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas, and a vivacious team of managing editors, fiction and non-fiction editors, and podcast narrators and producers.  Uncanny is known for publishing personal essays that don't hold anything back, and fiction that challenges expected worldviews.

Much of Uncanny is pre-funded through Kickstarter, as was the award winning Uncanny Special Issue Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. Authors, poets, and artists featured in Uncanny include Galen Dara, Julie Dillon, Hao Jingfang, Theodora Goss, Roshani Chokshi, Amal El-Mohtar, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Rachel Swirksy, Fran Wilde, Aliette de Bodard, Sonya Taaffe, Naomi Kritzer, Ursula Vernon, and so, so many more. Bimonthly issues include fiction,  non-fiction essays, poetry, interviews, and podcasts. 

Managing editors Chimedum Ohaegbu and Michi Trota were kind enough to let me pick their brains about their behind the scenes work at Uncanny,  their favorite things about being involved with the magazine, what makes Uncanny unique, and more.

Chimedum Ohaegbu is a fan of bad puns, insect facts, video game music, and is working towards her dual degree in English literature and creative writing. Her fiction and essays have been published in Strange Horizons, Train: A Poetry Journal, The Ubyssey, The Book Smugglers, Arts Common Magazine, Room Magazine and elsewhere. She is also the co-founder of FEMMES Interactive, a Vancouver B.C. based workshop series supporting womxn, nonbinary, and femmes of colour in creating works of interactive fiction. You can learn more about Chimedum Ohaegbu at her website and by following her on twitter, @ChimedumOhaegbu.

Michi Trota is a four time Hugo Award winner, a British Fantasy award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo.  She was Uncanny Magazine's first Managing Editor/Non Fiction editor, and she is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and co-editor of the upcoming WisCon Chronicles Vol. 12 (May 2020) with Isabel Schechter. Her essays have appeared in The Book Smugglers, The Establishment, The Bias Blog, The Learned Fangirl, and Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F. You can learn more about Michi and her life long promotion of diversity in SF/F at her website,, and by following her on twitter, @GeekMelange.

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: Can you tell us about your role at Uncanny Magazine? How did you get involved with the magazine?

Michi Trota: In 2019, I was the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor at Uncanny. As Managing Editor, my responsibilities included the production of the magazine - copyediting fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the magazine as well as posts for the blog and website, layout and design for each issue, creating the issue covers using the art provided by our cover artists, coordinating with the Assistant Editor for additional copyediting and production of the Uncanny newsletter, and support with social media. As Nonfiction Editor, I was responsible for choosing writers to solicit for essays for each issue, which I oversaw through developmental and line edits before accepting for publication. There were always at least four essays per issue.

I met Uncanny's Publishers/Editors-in-Chief, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, through mutual friends at SF/F conventions. We'd been on panels together a few times, and they knew I had a professional background as an editor and communications manager. I was so thrilled when they asked me to come onboard as Uncanny's Managing Editor when they began building the magazine in 2014, so I was able to be part of the whole thing from the ground up. I ended up spending over five years as part of Team Uncanny (I left the editorial staff at the end of 2019), and the experience changed my life.

Chimedum Ohaegbu: I've been Uncanny's Managing Editor since the end of 2019, fulfilling the same role that Michi did during her tenure in that position.

I got involved in 2018 after Uncanny opened up applications for an editorial assistant position. I'd been a longtime reader of the magazine and an aspiring editor, and had been looking at ways to get professionally involved with the SF/F community. I found out about the internship and applied for it on the same day - that is, the very last day applications were open, which was wild - and was thrilled to land the position!

A few months later, Publishers/Editors-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas offered me the Assistant Editor position, and later on I was offered the Managing Editor position, after getting to learn a lot from working closely with Michi. The journey from Editorial Intern to Managing Editor has been uplifting and educational, not to mention exciting!

NOAF: As editors, what is a typical “week at the magazine” like for you?

MT: Uncanny wasn't my full time job, so after a 40+ hour work week at my dayjob, I would spend a lot of my evenings and weekends working on the magazine; this was in addition to gigs with Raks Geek, the fire and bellydance performance troupe I'm part of in Chicago, as well as other volunteer and community boards I was part of. There are always emails to answer, and we're typically working on more than one issue at a time, in addition to planning larger projects like the next year's Kickstarter, coordinating schedules for who is attending which conventions to represent Uncanny, and other projects. During Uncanny Year Four, for example, we had hit the stretch goal of filming a pilot for what an Uncanny TV show would look like, so I was coordinating with my friend and co-host Matt Peters about guests, a production/stage crew, filming location, and what the episode would look like. Basically, there’s very little sleep during a typical week!

CO: During the academic year I have classes, a part-time job, occasional freelance work, and many extracurricular and volunteer commitments, so doing Uncanny work has usually been a weekend/evening scenario for me as well. The busiest weeks are . . . all of them, in a way, since as Michi said there does tend to be a lot of planning emails for issues, blog posts, social media promotion, and other projects such as our Kickstarter even during 'slower' times. During faster-paced times, there's also direct production on upcoming issues: myself and Uncanny's excellent Assistant Editor Angel Cruz copyedit the pieces, then after the authors approve the edits I lay out the issue in InDesign and the covers in Photoshop. Wrestling with software has, I'm pleased to say, gotten progressively easier - though I do still get distracted by rereading stories while doing layouts!

NOAF: How is Uncanny magazine different from other projects you’ve been involved with?

MT: Actually, Uncanny is similar to other projects I've been involved with in the sense that I prefer to take on projects with folks who are thoughtful, responsible, and talented. The time I spent with Uncanny only solidified my desire to collaborate with people who have clearly held principles, bring passion and consideration to their work, and treat each other with respect. It's been a great experience working with folks who make a daily effort at thinking through both impact and intent, and do their best at continually working to create a more integrated and inclusive genre and community.

CO: Prior to Uncanny, I'd mostly been involved in undergrad publishing at my university, so an immediate difference was the scope - Uncanny gets a lot of excellent submissions from all over the world, whereas I'd been used to a talented but very specific (UBC-only) pool. In projects I’'ve been involved with since joining Uncanny, I've looked for - and been lucky to find! - environments that mirror Uncanny's, i.e. where I get to work with people who are team players who care about their communities.

NOAF: Michi, You were with Uncanny for 5 years. How did the magazine evolve during your tenure? Chimie, where do you see the magazine going in the next five years?

MT: We're all very ambitious folks at Uncanny who want to DO ALL THE THINGS! This is great in principle, but in practice it can get very exhausting! A thing I've appreciated very much about Uncanny is seeing how the team continued to think about how we could improve and push the envelope every year, but also noting where our ambitions didn't quite match our capabilities and bandwidth, and rescaling the magazine's scope where needed so that we weren't burning ourselves out.

CO: I see Uncanny holding onto our best habits - publishing work we love from emerging and established writers and artists; continuing to help shape the tenor of many SF/F conversations; and (professionally) geeking out over how vibrant SF/F can be! But I'm also excited to see our scope and innovation expand, and for Uncanny to be an even brighter spot for readers, writers, and editors alike.

NOAF: What's been your favorite thing about being involved with Uncanny Magazine?

MT: I have so many favorite things about being involved with Uncanny! I've been introduced to so many amazing writers because I first read their work in the magazine - it's been particularly wonderful for me to see Filipinx writers published in the magazine! I'm so proud we had the chance to continue the Destroy! series with Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction and Disabled People Destroy Fantasy - Elsa's speech at the 2019 Hugo Awards was a highlight of the con for me. I can't believe I got to spend five years editing incredible essays about the genre, fandom, and pop culture - I am definitely a far better editor coming out of my time with Uncanny, I'm so lucky I had the chance to have this experience and what I learned has helped me grow so much as both a writer and editor. Thanks to my time with Uncanny, I've had the opportunity to work with an incredible array of folks, from creators with established careers to folks for whom Uncanny was their first publication. I think that's my favorite part of Uncanny, actually, that I got to be part of creating and evolving a fantastic publication and community that's become an entry point for fans to read work from creators they might not have heard of before, and for creators to build on their career as writers in SF/F.

CO: Ooh, it's difficult to choose just one favourite thing! I will say that, as an early-career creative, it's been exceptionally cool to work with some of my favourite editors and writers in SF/F. I still feel like a sponge, just soaking it all in and learning a ton while growing more confident in my abilities, more appreciative of the mind-blowing work appearing in the genre. Working with Uncanny has also granted me more access to a lovely community, both within and without SF/F, and I'm excited to continue to be part of it.

NOAF: Uncanny Magazine has won the Hugo for best Semiprozine for the last 4 years in a row. You're on your way to unseating Locus for most 'zine wins in a row! The list of awards the magazine has won seems to never end! What is the Uncanny team doing that everyone else isn't doing?

MT: The industry for SF/F magazines is changing so fast and there are so many variables that it's really impossible to say what one magazine is doing better than others. The SF/F magazine field is so incredibly strong right now in the work being published, its fantastic company to be in! We're all approaching the genre a little differently, but with the same goal: to publish phenomenal work that's more truly reflective of what the genre can be and who its creators are. A lot of this is luck - you never know which story is going to be a hit or what audiences are going to really connect with and love. At the end of the day, I think Uncanny is doing what any magazine does: choosing the stories, poems, nonfiction, and art that we feel passionately about, putting our all into giving them the best support that we can, and trusting our audiences.

CO: Seconding this! I think this is an incredibly exciting time for SF/F magazines, and the field is such that we're all building off each others' energy and passion for publishing great work. We're lucky to have such a committed readership, as well as a caring speculative community at large, which is in large part what allows Uncanny to thrive alongside other gorgeous journals.

NOAF: Thank you so much!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.