Mike Allen is the editor and publisher of the anthology series Clockwork Phoenix and the poetry journal Mythic Delirium. He was a Nebula Award finalist in 2009 for his short story “The Button Bin,” and his first collection of short fiction, The Button Bin And Other Horrors, is forthcoming from Apex Books. He and his artist wife Anita live in Roanoke, Va., where he writes the arts column for the daily newspaper.
One of the wonderful things about the genre community, if you’re a creative type, is if you have an idea and it’s not something you could ever get a major publishing house to line up behind, you can do it yourself and folks respect you for it. Heck, it’s almost expected.
So how did I end up editing the Clockwork Phoenix trilogy, and why have I launched a Kickstarter for a volume four?
I’ve known since I was a teen that I wanted to try my hand at both fiction and poetry, but I never ever thought being an editor of anthologies would be part of my future.
That changed in 1995, when I edited a little anthology that you’ve likely not heard of called New Dominions: Fantasy Stories by Virginia Writers. It held work by the late, great pulp writer Nelson Bond, award-winning poet R.H.W. Dillard, recent SFWA Service Award recipient Bud Webster, and a number of others. The idea was to showcase speculative work by writers in the region of Virginia where I live. It’s a really long story how that book came to be, but I think I can sum it up like this. A person I knew who I thought shared my interests suggested the project to me and offered to back it financially. I assembled the stories and poems. The backer failed to follow through on any of his promises. Believing in what I’d put together, I published it myself and promoted it in every way I could think up. Its tiny print run sold out.
And from that point on I knew editing and publishing fit within my skill set. This ultimately led me to start my own poetry zine, Mythic Delirium, in 1998, in what you could call the tail end of the desktop-produced print magazine era, just before the rise of webzines. It’s first two issues didn’t make much of an impression, and I thought I was going to shelve it as a noble failure, but Warren Lapine of DNA Publications – who had heard of me and met me because of New Dominions – asked me to continue it under the umbrella of his company. Even then, if you had asked me if I’d still be putting out Mythic Delirium in 2012, I’d have told you something to the effect of “I don’t know but I hope so!”
And yes, that’s still going, with me now editor and publisher after DNA fell on hard times. Mythic Delirium‘s 27th issue, with work by Rachel Swirsky, Theodora Goss, Ken Liu, Shira Lipkin, Sonya Taaffe and many others, comes out in September.
In 2005, after years of editing poetry, I decided I wanted to try my hand at editing fiction again, just as in my first project. That begat the two Mythic anthologies in 2006 – with work from Cherie Priest, Vandana Singh, Richard Parks, Ekaterina Sedia and many others – which I’m very proud of but fared about equally to the first two issues of Mythic Delirium in terms of the notice they got. I learned things though, that made me hungry to try again and do it right, make the books longer, open to submissions rather than going invitation only, and yet try to employ the unique sensibility I bring as a longtime editor of poetry.
That’s where Clockwork Phoenix came in. With the backing of Vera Nazarian’s Norilana Books, we launched in 2008. I was interested in what was going on with anthologies like Interfictions and The New Weird, but what I wanted to do was create a book that would be weird and interstitial and slipstream and all that stuff, but without the thesis explaining the trends it partook off – something that would be strange without offering any explanations as to what that meant. I wanted it to be a venue where experimental writing and good storytelling received equal weight. I wanted it to be a place where writers could be as good as they could get without having to worry about being commercial.
And I think it worked, and not just because of Saladin Ahmed’s Nebula nomination, Gemma Files’ and Stephen Barringer’s Shirley Jackson nomination, or all the reprints in Year’s Best anthologies. I think maybe the best evidence it worked is that when I go to cons, everyone I talk to wants to know when the next Clockwork Phoenix is coming out. But, just as with Mythic Delirium all those years ago, my parent company hit hard times, no one else is going to take its place, and if I want to keep going I have to go it alone. And I think Clockwork Phoenix has more to offer, that we bringing something to the table that the writing and reading community needs, that no one else brings.
Except, I’m not really going it alone.
That’s what I love about the concept of Kickstarter. It allows me to stand before the Internet community and say: I want to do this. Will you help me?
As I type these words, much to my own astonishment, the Kickstarter for the fourth volume of Clockwork Phoenix is only about $600 away from reaching its $5,000 goal and being fully funded. So the sf community is telling Anita and I that they like what we do and want us to continue. What greater validation can there be?
I feel I’d better mention that even if we reach $5,000, there’s still more to do. At that amount we can do just as good a job as we did before, but I’d love to up the ante. At $8,000 I can guarantee paying that fabled professional rate of 5 cents a word, which I see as a way of giving back to a community that’s been so good to me.
Stay tuned for news of when I’ll open a window for submissions.