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Reader's Freebies 13 - STRANGE HORIZONS

A Glimpse of the World Beyond

In the ever-changing and sometimes fickle landscape of the World Wide Web, it’s hard to find an online magazine that has consistently provided quality fiction as well as not bucked to whatever the latest trend is. Strange Horizons has been around for seventeen years. Seventeen! In the world of the net, that’s a glacial age. On top of exploring all that’s new in the world of this genre, the weekly speculative fiction magazine also serves as a stable home for well-written prose that’s fresh and exciting. As a writer and avid reader, I enjoy online magazines. What often strikes me though, is how ‘clunky’ and somewhat chaotic some of these sites are once you’ve opened the welcome page. I’m not trying to slam anyone here, but at the ancient age of 30+, I often need a few moments to fight my way through small fonts, distracting images and a myriad of popups. However, upon entering Strange Horizons, my blood pressure lowered and a sigh of surprise as well as relief escaped my lips. The cyber-surfer is welcomed by a slick, professional and funky interface. After a glimpse of the stylish yet simple layout, you get all the information you need to start your journey into the strange horizon beyond.

When Art Meets Fiction

Strange Horizons provides two main points of interest; speculative fiction and art. I’ll be focussing on art. What gives this particular blog an extra special reward is that SH’s art director and co-editor, Tory Hoke, has kindly agreed to chat to us about Strange Horizons’ art section as well as give us some insight into her own personal artistic process. The incredible art works on display here are truly breath-taking and I highly recommend checking them out.

But before we get to Tory and Strange Horizon’s art catalogue, let’s quickly speak about the stories.

Speculative Fiction???

What is speculative fiction exactly? A friend once told me that Speculative Fiction is basically the ‘everyday man’s’ Science Fiction. At the time I found the answer a little ambiguous and not really that funny, which I presume was the intention. Yet, come to think of it, the answer in a way sums up the genre albeit in an oversimplified manner. Spec-fic encompasses elements of fantasy, horror and yes, science fiction. Famous works that could possibly be regarded as spec-fic include George Orwell’s 1984, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Speculative fiction is a broad concept that ranges from poetry and prose and ventures into film, music and, yes, art. To me, this is a genre that dares to be different and doesn’t settle for being neatly pigeon-holed into any specific set of ideas and borders. The limits are always being pushed, the reader always being challenged. At Strange Horizons, the reader is presented with a vast catalogue of top-class prose from seasoned as well as up and coming authors and poets. In 2014 the essay published by Strange Horizons, "The State of British Science Fiction and Fantasy" was nominated for the BSFA Award. The same year Strange Horizons was honoured with a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine.

If you’re looking for speculative fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, art or musings on the genre itself, then you’re in safe hands.

The Art in the Narrative

Although we don’t often see artworks accompanying novels or short stories (however, it’s certainly not unheard of- think Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf and The Dark Tower or Roald Dahl and even H.P. Lovecraft whose works often included art work inspired by the relevant piece) the mediums of story- telling and art seem a good fit when joined. Of course we could also look at the novel’s often ill-reputed step-brother, the graphic novel, to see a more direct merging of narrative and art. But, at least for me, good art always bares a narrative (why is Mona Lisa really smiling? who is the girl with the pearl earring?) ... and good narrative always conjures up good art, albeit in the mind of the reader.

Today we’re speaking to a lady of many talents. She is a published writer, artist and art-director and editor. Abodians meet Strange Horizons’, Tory Hoke.

Let's jump into this interesting chat...

The Interview

Hi, Tory. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Let’s start with the lady herself...How did you get into the crazy world of art and literature?

Thanks for the invitation, Eddie. It's great to be here.

For me, trying to put my art and writing in the world proved one hand washes the other. While I was shopping my first novel around, I realized that short story credits--which I didn't yet have--would make my cover letter more appealing. So I started writing short stories and joined Scribophile (and the 100 Credits Club) to get feedback. It took only a few months for me to get hooked on the community, the short story game, and--you know--actually improving my writing.

When Strange Horizons accepted "Lysistrata of Mars," I ca-a-asually offered SH an illustration to go with it, and SH accepted.

That illustration opened the door to other work, and from there they've both spiraled.

Being an art director sounds like the dream job for a creative person, yet I’m sure it comes with its own fair share of challenges. What does the job entail?

At Strange Horizons, I'm grateful to have a partner, Heather McDougal. For commissioning the art, we alternate months, and pinch-hit for each other as needed. She creates cover art for the ebooks, and I conduct the interviews. We make a dang good team, and there's no way I could do it all by myself.

To find artists to approach, I keep an online archive of the artists who have submitted their portfolios to SH and any other artist who looks like a good candidate. Typically I'll read the stories scheduled for a certain month and browse that archive to find one who might be a match. Then I reach out. If I'm lucky, that artist is interested and available.

If so, I send the contract and details about the commission. Usually I ask to see their progress, and I may offer some feedback for the artist to consider. Then the art is ready for publication.

How long have you been with the magazine? And what changes have you seen the magazine go through since you joined?

I joined SH in the winter of 2015.

Last year, thanks to long effort by webmasters Tim Moore and Andrea Hull, SH rolled out a gorgeous site redesign. The new site has made SH as beautiful to post to as it is to read!

In April of this year, after nearly seven years in the role, Niall Harrison stepped down from his position as editor-in-chief, and Jane Crowley and Kate Dollarhyde have stepped up. Niall's service transformed SH, and I'm thankful to him for bringing me aboard as art director. He is missed. At the same time, Jane and Kate have taken the reins without missing a beat. I can't wait to see what they do next.

Why do enjoy being a part of SH team?

There's something moving about what SH represents--its mission, its values, its tales to tell--and the fact that fifty strangers scattered across demographics and geographics all find a way to carve out a few hours a week to make it a reality, month after month, year after year. Every issue is an international labor of love.

I love that I get to be a part of that.

And I dig the stories, too!

With online magazines having a pretty big presence on the net, what in your opinion makes Strange Horizons different?

Its audacious rock-this-party, stick-it-to-the-man, pro-human, pro-science, yarn-spinning passion--as far as I can tell, that's what keeps authors submitting, supporters contributing, readers reading.

I can imagine that you receive a lot of art submissions and that most are special in their own right. But what, in your opinion, makes you sit up and notice? And what do enjoy about receiving such a work?

A voice, man. Like, a point of view, a distinctive style, and a consistency. If an artist's portfolio shows me what they like to create, what makes them unique, and what I can count on them to deliver, then that's a voice I want to hear.

The most exciting thing about finding an artist with a voice is knowing exactly what stories to bring that artist--usually as soon as possible!

Getting back to you, Tory. As an artist myself, I’m always interested to know where other artists draw inspiration from. The grace and big theatricality of Baroque influenced some of my own work. I like that almost over-the-top ‘Biblical bigness’ of the subjects. What first inspired you to pick up a pencil and try to capture your imagination on a piece of paper? And are there other artists, works or movements that sparked your inspiration?

Thanks for that--that is kind.

I've always drawn stuff. Cartoons, mostly. Comic books. I can even point you to an animated short! But the kind of cinematic "story snapshot" illustration that came with short stories really got my motor running. Seems like it's the most efficient way to get a story idea out. Five hours can get you the first draft of a short story, a couple pages of comic book... or a full color illustration. Plus you can listen to podcasts while you work. Hard to beat.

Lately what I wish for most is time.

How would you describe your own style?

So this concludes our interesting interview with Strange Horizons' art director, Tory Hoke. Be sure to catch some of Tory's own thought-provoking work at the links below, and join us again in two weeks’ time for SUPER SCRIBES, the start of our NEW blog series highlighting the work of literary greats.

Art from our featured guest, Tory Hoke:

"Broken Egg" (C) 2016 Tory Hoke for Rhonda Parrish's B is for Broken anthology

Illustration (C) 2014 Tory Hoke for "She Commands Me and I Obey" by Ann Leckie, published in Strange Horizons

"Dimah" (C) 2014 Tory Hoke

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