Scareship Magazine: An Interview with Editor Rick Hollon

We’ve had the very fortunate privilege of corresponding with Rick Hollon, the editor of Scareship, on multiple occasions. He has an eye for great work, the skill to help a story come into itself, and the work ethic of an industry professional. A large thank you to Rick for giving this interview. Scareship is indeed a publication that authors should be proud to be a part of.

You can read back issues of Scareship and learn about submitting at

Can you tell us a bit about the origins of Scareship Magazine?
Ever since I was a teen, I wanted to run my own genre magazine. I used to buy back issues of Asimov’s and Analog to get a sense of what they liked. I spent hours reading each issue over and over, wanting to figure out what the editor had seen in each story, what made each piece tick. Some stories were always weaker than others, but each issue felt like a cohesive work of art, a collaboration between authors, artists, editors, graphic designers. It would be hard to imagine any particular story creating such an impact on its own. Even the ads, chintzy with thumbnails of lurid pulp covers, contributed to a greater whole. I’ve always been a writer, but those old issues lured me into dreams of editing.

I dreamed and made a lot of plans but I didn’t try my hand at a zine until I was 20. This was shortly after 9/11. America had gone crazy almost overnight, and that scared me more than any idea of terrorism or random violence. The thought that your own culture, your own country, could convulse itself into schizophrenia was powerful, disturbing, and I didn’t know how to make sense of it. To be quite honest I still don’t know how to process the idea. One night I got a popup ad on some website. It showed a pair of gas masks — one adult, one child-sized — with the scare-caption “Gas masks are never important… until you need them.” This was an age when, out of the blue, people ran around terrified of gas attacks. People bought duct tape and plastic sheeting for their windows. I felt that this popup ad was the symbol of the disease in my country. I wanted to tape it up on telephone poles, leave it on windscreens. Instead I printed it out and made a zine cover with it. My wife and I wrote that first issue by hand because we didn’t have any word processing software. Some friends let us use their scanner one night and we all cut up magazines and made collages. It was a thing politically inclined youth used to do before the internet took everything over.

At the time I was big into UFO folklore. The term “scareship” (a tongue-in-cheek shorthand for the “mystery airships” that plagued the skies after the invention of the dirigible) was evocative and seemed a perfect fit for the zine — people were frightened of rumors floating in the sky. I’m sure at the time it seemed a powerful statement.

I was never satisfied with a locally xeroxed political zine, though. Bit by bit genre fiction crept in. Once, toward the end of Scareship‘s original print incarnation, I even opened up the magazine to outside submissions. That issue was a complete disaster, full of purple vampire erotica and unfocused essays on feminism in auto shops, but it began Scareship‘s evolution toward its current form.

What makes Scareship different from other genre publications?
Right now Scareship is open to almost every variety of genre fiction I can imagine. As time goes on I may choose to narrow its focus — after all, it’s easier to get noticed as a great performer in a specialized niche than as a good performer in a wide-open market. Maybe one day I’ll publish nothing but time travel stories with a Western flavor, dinosaurs chasing cowboys on every cover. Until then, what sets Scareship apart is the theme of change. The scareships of folklore were symptoms of popular anxiety in an age of rapid technological and geopolitical change. I like stories that engage the topic of profound change, whether it be technological, social, environmental, personal, spiritual. Not every story reflects this idea, but as a cohesive work, I think each issue will leave readers unsettled, optimistic, haunted, above all with something to think about, something that applies to our own sometimes unsettling, sometimes incredible world. Some of that political zine DNA persists, as well — I favor stories with feminist, LGBTQ, working class, and non-western perspectives.

Why do you feel it’s so important to provide personal feedback for authors who submit work to Scareship?
As I mentioned on Scareship‘s blog, it has to do with my formative experiences as a writer. One of the truly life-changing events early in my writing career was receiving a personal rejection from one of the semi-pro magazines that proliferated back in the late ’90s. As I recall, the main criticisms were “Doesn’t have a hook / doesn’t draw the reader” and “Unoriginal plot.” Such a simple critique, yet it revolutionized my outlook. I realized that short stories were more than “some stuff happens and the characters do this.” Short stories have structure, meaning, and not a word wasted. Most of the writers who have submitted to Scareship so far have mastered these basic ideas, but I still like to take the time to offer my input on what I liked and didn’t like, what I as a reader found lacking. If writers do me the honor of submitting stories, I want to make the experience worthwhile in whatever way I can.

What are you looking for from authors who submit?
Your email should contain your story as an attachment, not as in-line text. (In-line text is fine for poetry, however.) The subject of your email should let me know whether it’s a fiction or poetry submission as well as the title of the piece and your byline name, so I can quickly locate the proper email when it’s time to respond. Your cover letter should contain a brief bio; if your story is accepted, this gets put in the back of the magazine with the rest of the contributors’ bios, so feel free to link to your website, Twitter feed, Kindle publications, etc. Please don’t try to sell me your books in your email, however.

When submitting, what is the one thing you’d recommend authors not do?
Don’t be unprofessional. Your email and your attached story are my first impression of you — make it good. Follow the submission guidelines, use proper capitalization and punctuation in your cover email, supply me with all the requested information. Also please don’t send me a snide reply if you don’t care for my critique. If you’d rather not get feedback on your story, say so in your cover letter; don’t let me waste time giving you an honest assessment if you’re going to reject it as “a bunch of mumbo-jumbo,” as one writer did recently.

How to determine what selections will be included in Scareship?
I don’t have an exact system for grading submissions. Prose quality is essential; this tends to be the primary cause of rejections. As a minimum, I expect clear prose with an easily readable cadence. If you take the time to read your story out loud, or have a friend try it out, you should see what I mean. I do like more poetic prose as well, if that’s your thing — prose that casts a spell over the reader is always welcome here. I prefer character-driven stories, but I do have a soft spot for exciting pulp, especially if scientifically accurate dinosaurs are involved. By the end of the story (preferably much sooner) I want to feel something. I want to feel moved, haunted, thrilled, crushed, happy, amused, thoughtful. I want stories that linger in my head long after I read them. If a story is competently written but doesn’t move me, I probably won’t accept it.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?
This changes all the time. Some of my reliable favorites in genre fiction include Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, Michael Swanwick, and Ken Liu. Some of my favorite novels are Moby-Dick, The War of the Worlds, The Left Hand of Darkness, Stations of the Tide, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, etc.

What has surprised you most as an editor in the process of publishing Scareship?
The amount of writing talent out there waiting for a good market. It’s been immensely gratifying to receive submissions of such quality for our first issue; the next issue is already looking even better.

What are your long-term plans for the magazine?
I love reading submissions and putting out the best issues I can, so I hope to stick around for years to come. Eventually I would like to begin paying contributors. Perhaps once Scareship has a regular reader base I can submit a Kickstarter and raise enough to turn the magazine semi-pro; it’s been done before. Regardless, this experience is too much fun to not continue.

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