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Apex Magazine is open again for submissions with Cat Valente as the fiction editor. I am one of four slush readers. I also read for The Edge of Propinquity. TEoP is my zine—lock, stock and barrel. So, I read a lot of slush.

There are dangers of being slush reader, especially in the horror genre. I'm not talking about the danger of reading boring stories or reading clichés or even reading something so badly written all you can do is roll your eyes and wonder "why me?" Those are all part of being a slush reader. You read a lot of bad stories to find the ones that will fit the publication you are reading for.

The danger I'm talking about is the personal horror of reading some truly sick stories. Not sick as in good. Not sick as in bad. Sick as in "Dear God, this person needs therapy." These are awful stories about rape, torture, pedophilia, and other unsavory topics that are unnecessarily graphic, gory and detailed. I got one of these stories yesterday and read too much before I realized what it was. It wasn't tasteful. Nor was it anything that Apex would publish. It barely met the speculative fiction guideline. It was a violent fantasy masquerading as a story.

Sometimes I wonder if people send such stories out to magazines just so they can force their thoughts on someone else. Occasionally, I get overly sexual stories for TEoP that I'm positive were sent out by exhibitionists looking for people to read their stuff, knowing it didn't qualify for the market but doing it anyway because they can and they get something out of knowing a complete stranger is reading the smut they wrote. These people I understand.

The people who write stories like the one I received in Apex's slush pile yesterday… I don't. It bothers me that I read as much of the story as I did. It bothers me that I'm still thinking of the horrific imagery presented. It bothers me that this story, unlike other gross stories I've read, feels like someone's perverse violent sexual fantasy that they wanted to force on to someone else.

I get a story like this about once every six to eight weeks and I hate it. I know there isn't anything that can be done about it, short of giving up being a slush reader. I'm not willing to do that. I like being a slush reader for the most part. This means I'm going to continue to take my chances with the slush pile. However, that doesn't mean I have to like it.



( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I wonder if people send such stories out to magazines just so they can force their thoughts on someone else.

I think that's definitely it for some people. When I was working the switchboard at San Francisco Sex Information we'd occasionally get regular callers who were calling about their "issues", i.e. wanting to discuss with someone else the topics that got them off. It'd make sense then there might be a particular kind of exhibitionist who'd do it in print.

I'm really sorry that you have to read those kinds of stories, that sounds pretty terrible.
Jun. 8th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
that's the only thing i can figure out
Jun. 8th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
*shudder* I read slush over at Fantasy Magazine and, yeah, I know what you mean. I can only imagine how much worse it must get with a magazine that looks for horror.
Jun. 8th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
Uuuuugh. How thoroughly unpleasant.

I feel really naive now because it hadn't occurred to me that horror magazines would get slush like that. I know that from the "no pedophilia, necrophilia, rape, bestiality, or anything that otherwise really, really grosses us out" disclaimers on every single set of writers guidelines for erotica that you can find, it's a huge problem with those markets. I always kind of wince inside when I read one of those disclaimers, because every word of them tells a story, and that story begins "This one time, I got this submission that. . . ."

Jun. 8th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
That does sound kind of upsetting. Especially if you know the freak is just trying to get his voice out there in an attempt to validate his weirdo beliefs.
Jun. 8th, 2010 09:37 pm (UTC)

I never thought about slush reading from that point of view before. Some people are just plain creepy :(
Jun. 8th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
Yes. I know exactly what you mean.

Sometimes I feel like returning the submission with a psychiatrist's phone no.
Jun. 9th, 2010 02:26 am (UTC)
Ick. That sounds decidedly unpleasent.
Jun. 9th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
oh... Can you say me what you meant under "slush", I tried to understand right but I collapsed. And it is needs to me for understand or re-thinking your report.

Not are want or yes, I'll say my opinion. You spoke emotionally. I can't to blame you. It's your rights, and I understand the politics of Apex Magazine (from your words, to tell the truth). I repeat I think you was very emotionally. But to understand me right, I say that I can't wonder how Clive Barker could published in this World. I think you both of me live in the one World.
Jun. 9th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
Slush = All of the submissions that Apex Magazine receives. Apex receives hundreds of submissions every month.

Slush readers read all of the stories and send the exceptional stories to the Fiction Editor who decides whether or not she will buy them.
Jun. 9th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
"Beta-reader" or "reviewer" I think, thanks once again.

"Slush readers read all of the stories and send the exceptional stories to the Fiction Editor who decides whether or not she will buy them."
I knew it, I asked cause my translator don't want to accept the "slush reader".

Sorry to trouble you
Jun. 9th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
It is no trouble. :)
Jun. 11th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
The scary (for some people) part is that there are communities out there that are into that type of graphic detail and topic. And, for those into some of those topics, those communities can be just as supportive and friendly as any other genre community. Of course, most of those communities aren't large enough to really have a magazine to support them. Even if they did (I've seen some forums in the 60-90k member range for topics that squick most people), they probably couldn't handle the legal onslaught of the more conservative parts of the world regardless of their intent.

Obviously everyone has different disgust or discomfort levels. And the guidelines of most submissions pretty much excludes those fringe groups and their stories, so I find it strange that someone would actually submit something that obviously violates the guidelines. Yeah, I could see there being hope that maybe it is "just enough" to squeak by, but still... it seems like a pointless effort on everyone's part to submit it.

From my experience, I don't know if most of those people are really that broken. Yeah, they have an interest in something obscene or perverse, but it doesn't mean they'll doing anything beside write them. And some of them are just perfectly normal, except for some mental button that is just... a bit (lot) off from everyone else.

(I click on random links and words at home, just to see what interesting corner of the Internet I find. Those shadows can be just as interesting as the mainstream places.)

It seems interesting being a slush reader. It seems like you'd have to have a cast iron stomach in general and that ability to get through piles of terrible prose to find the gems.
Jun. 11th, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
I totally understand what you are saying. Sometimes, you have to brutally kill an innocent in a story to move the plot along.

However, I think there is a difference between killing/torturing an innocent offscreen and onscreen. Also, I think there is a huge difference between killing an innocent to move a plot along and graphically torturing and killing an innocent onscreen as the plot.

That was the "story" I received: the graphic torture/rape/murder of a child as the plotline. That's it.
Jun. 11th, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
Here by way of jongibbs recommendation.

I'm sure they do get perverse pleasure out of knowing that they've made at least one person read their story--at least, I strongly suspect it because I feel that way about my [much more ordinary] story submissions. I think, well, at least that one person read it.

Echoing other commenters, I shudder when I read the list of gross stuff that magazines don't want to receive, because I know they wouldn't specify that they don't want to receive it if they hadn't received tons. *sigh*

I hope the good stuff makes up for the bad in your slush-reading time.
Jun. 11th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
It does. There are some spectacular stories in the slush pile and it is always an honest joy to read a story and realize "This is a good one." and be smiling at the end of it. Those are the stories I love to send up the line.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )