Thursday, December 02, 2004

LEVIATHAN 4: A Short Interview with Editor Forrest Aguirre

This November, Ministry of Whimsy Press/Night Shade Books published Leviathan 4, edited by Forrest Aguirre. As many of you know, I created the Leviathan series back in 1994 and this is the first volume in which I had no editorial involvement. I thought it would be interesting to interview Forrest about the anthology, which has been getting excellent reviews. Forrest has several other anthology projects in the works, in addition to his own novels and short stories.


Forrest is a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for his editorial work on the anthology Leviathan 3. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications including Flesh & Blood, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Exquisite Corpse, 3rd Bed, Indigenous Fiction, Notre Dame Review, Redsine, Polyphony, and many others. His work is forthcoming in The MacGuffin and Surreal Magazine. He has recently finished his first novel, Swans Over the Moon.

How is Leviathan 4 different from previous volumes?
If I could, I'd first like to comment on how Leviathan 4 carries on in the tradition of previous Leviathans. The first three volumes of Leviathan have been recognized for their excellent writing and disregard for hackneyed genre conventions. I view them as all beautifully dark, somewhat surreal anthologies that push the envelope of speculative fiction. That said, Leviathan 4 differs somewhat in that I took a more formally experimental tack in editing it than had been done in previous volumes. Since cities are collections of structures, I wanted a wide variety of narrative structures in this anthology, something that reflected the complexity of cities within the book itself. This necessitated that I take a liberal view on story structure, considering rather unorthodox styles while reading submissions.

When you had, for example, two really well-written stories to choose from, what made the difference between a rejected submission and an acceptance?
I had some very, very difficult decisions to make in this regard, some of them painful, to be quite honest. I remember kneeling on my living room floor at midnight, toward the end of the selection process, with two dozen manuscripts laid out in a grid. These stories, I knew, were the best of the best. A handful of those stories were a lock - works I definitely wanted, no matter what. From there, all things being equal in terms of being well-written, I chose stories in such a way that there would be a variety of styles but, hopefully, an atmospheric unity. An anthology such as Leviathan 4 should be more than the sum of its constituent parts. It should be a fully functioning organic whole with a life, a look, a smell, if you will, all its own. So I assembled, broke, and reassembled the story selection and order over a dozen times until I had what I wanted. I was truly saddened when I looked at the rejection pile. If I had half again the space, I could have filled it at the snap of a finger. There is, simply put, a lot of great writing out there.

A lot of Leviathan 4 stories are long. Did you intend to choose several long stories?
I felt, initially, that one would be hard-pressed to write a story that engaged with the theme in the way that I wanted using fewer than 5,000 words. I was looking for stories that couldn't take place in any other setting than the ones in which they took place. This meant that each story would either have to imply what historians call the "constraints of place," or that the city would have to be described in such detail that readers would clearly understand how the environs would affect character and plot. Put bluntly, this takes time, which means words. Lots of words. There were shorter pieces that approached my criteria, but in almost all cases (there were a couple of exceptions), the brevity of those pieces didn't allow me to "inhabit" the city in which the tale was set.

What did you learn from editing Leviathan 4?
Tough question! Of course, there are all the organizational and professional aspects learned or re-learned while managing a project like Leviathan 4, but the thing I'm taking with me, personally, is my own editorial "voice". It is, in many ways, similar to my finding my voice as a writer. I feel that I now have a process, a way of going about my editorial work and, most importantly, a sense of how I want my editing to feel - a flow, a groove, an ouvre. Ultimately, I want people to pick up an anthology I've edited and, without seeing my name on the cover, say "Hey, this seems like a Forrest Aguirre anthology." I feel, with Leviathan 4, that I'm getting close.

Do you have any other editing projects in the works?

Besides my writing projects, I'm working on two editorial projects at the moment. First, I'm working with Deborah Layne at Wheatland Press on an anthology of women's fictions about women's experiences. The tentative title is Muses, and we hope to release the book at Wiscon next spring. This will be a one-shot collaboration, not a series, but a rather exciting project, I must say. The second project is scheduled to be a series of anthologies entitled Text:UR. I'm working with Raw Dog Screaming press on this series, which will highlight even more strongly experimental work than that found in Leviathan 4. I am currently working on the first volume, subtitled The New Book of Masks, though I'm not currently open to unsolicited submissions. Readers of decadent and symbolist literature will recognize the title as an homage to Remy du Gourmont's The Book of Masks, but the similarities end at the title. Text:UR - The New Book of Masks will be an anthology in which the central conceit will revolve around both the objects of masks, marionettes, puppets, automata, and such, and, even more importantly, the themes of obfuscation, misrepresentation, deceit, and spectacle. This anthology, and the series as a whole, will have, as I've said, a strongly experimental sensibility. As with Leviathan 3 and 4, I am reaching out to both the speculative fiction and experimental literary communities, challenging the writers to take the best aspects of each tradition and apply them to the theme at hand in innovative ways. It is exciting to step out and establish my own place in the editorial community. On that note, I want to say thank you for getting me started.

Thanks, Forrest. All of those projects sound extremely interesting. One of the fun parts about Leviathan 4, for me, is that for once I was able to enjoy an anthology that appealed to my most esoteric tastes, but that I hadn't edited--and these new projects you have planned will give me similar pleasure.