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[GUEST POST] Mike Allen on the Heart of CLOCKWORK PHOENIX 5

Mike Allen edits the digital journal Mythic Delirium and the critically-acclaimed Clockwork Phoenix anthology series; as of this writing, he’s in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for editing and publishing Clockwork Phoenix 5. His horror tale “The Button Bin” was a Nebula Award finalist and now his debut collection of short stories, Unseaming, is a Shirley Jackson Award finalist. By day he’s the arts columnist for the daily newspaper in Roanoke, Virginia, where he lives with his wife and frequent project co-editor Anita Allen, as well as a dog named Loki and two sister-felines, Persephone and Pandora. You can find him on the web at http://descentintolight.com and on Twitter at @mythicdelirium.

Clockwork Phoenix 5 and the Heart of Clockwork Phoenix

by Mike Allen

A friend asked me what sets Clockwork Phoenix apart in a crowded field of anthologies. It’s a fair question, especially as I’m now running a Kickstarter to add a fifth volume to the series (which you can check out at http://tinyurl.com/CP5kick).

We do have a unique vision, but it’s damned hard to articulate its principles.

CP5_cover_mockup_small (2)I certainly haven’t read every other anthology out there, but I don’t think anyone does what we do — we in this case being myself and my wife Anita, who also helps edit these books.

We seek stuff that both touches the heart and plays with the mind, that bends and distorts and breaks genre boundaries. Anthologies I’m familiar with that work the same turf often set out to make some sort of dissertation about what comprises weird or interstitial or slipstream. Clockwork Phoenix has no point to make about what is strange; it simply is strange.

Occasionally I’ve seen Clockwork Phoenix gently taken to task because the reviewer can argue that this or that story isn’t particularly experimental or bizarre. My answer is that the strength of the story overall is what matters most, rather than how obviously bizarre it is. I’m not advocating for a specific style or aiming to make a statement.

I love, though, putting stories that are just subtly off kilter next to pieces that are way out past the horizon. You see, the books are experiments in their own way — we tend to deliberately pick stories with connecting or contrasting themes and place them together so they complement one another. We don’t start with any preconceived notions about what those themes will be.

To a large degree Clockwork Phoenix is my response as an editor to the things I read when I’m not being an editor. I love stories that push boundaries in terms of how a story can be told, but I often find experimental tales unsatisfying because they leave no emotional impact beyond confusion. On the other hand, most traditionally structured stories bore me, especially if they’re mired in predictable emotional arcs. So I look for stories that have engaging, surprising emotional arcs, and if the author can also surprise with how the tale is told, I’m happy as a devil on ice.

So really, at its heart, Clockwork Phoenix is all about my personal vision for what an anthology should be — yet it’s clear that these books that Anita and I put together have resonated with many readers. That delights us to no end.

Every volume in the series has had stories chosen for “best of the year” anthologies and nominated for awards.

And so, because of all of the above, we’re raising funds to add another book to the series.

The truth is, I don’t much enjoy running a Kickstarter. But I love producing Clockwork Phoenix.

I take immense joy in every aspect of the art that goes into it. Sifting through hundreds upon hundreds of submissions for the gems that gleam with that particular blend of strangeness we seek. Assembling the authors like the cast of a play, arranging their stories like the beads of a necklace or the jewels of a crown, completing the contraption and rolling it out on to the stage, setting it in motion to mesmerize the audience. The chance to do that again is totally worth all the work.

We also take great pride in the richness of diversity to be found in those four books, from the authors in the tables of contents, to the approaches and settings contained in the stories themselves. New voices are not just welcome at Clockwork Phoenix, they’re absolutely essential to what we do.

We’ve often subtitled the books with the tagline “beauty and strangeness,” and you’re sure to find both in each book. And in the new one too, should it get funded.

So, assuming we hit our funding goal, those who want to try a story out on us might wonder what I’m hoping to see.

What I can tell you is that it should be something that, in a good way, surprises me.

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