The creative dream team behind sci-fi e-zine Mad Scientist Journal have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for their latest short story anthology, Battling in All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders.
Following on from many years of short story publications online, Battling in All Her Finery will be the fifth anthology the pair have published. This new collection will boast a brilliant and carefully curated selection of sci-fi and fantasy stories with powerful women at their core. It will be the first to be specifically child-friendly, but promises just as much compelling and inspiring content as their previous books.
Historian, editor and novelist Dawn Vogel makes up half of the team behind Mad Scientist Journal, along with her husband Jeremy Zimmerman. We spoke to Dawn to find about more about their latest project.
Kirstie: Tell us about your anthology, Battling in All Her Finery.
Dawn: Battling in All Her Finery will feature short stories about women leaders. We use a very broad definition of leader, to include military, political, social, and other forms of leadership. We also use an inclusive definition of women, to include any character who identifies as a woman in some way.
Kirstie: How did you decide on the theme for this anthology?
Dawn: The original impetus came out of the idea that you can be as much of a leader in a pink frilly dress as in a three-piece suit. We refined the idea substantially from that point, going from princesses kicking butt in their frilly dresses to a more broadly defined “women who lead.”
Kirstie: You’ve offered some suggestions for the kind of stories you’d like. How did you come up with these?
Dawn: We wanted to highlight a variety of genres and types of leaders. So we tried to think of leaders from different genres and the battles they might face. There are many more we’ve thought of since then, especially as we’ve talked to others about the project. Leaders come in a lot of forms that aren’t just formal titles.
Kirstie: You have access to a huge talent pool through Mad Scientist Journal. How many submissions do you expect to receive? What is your process to decide which stories to include?
Dawn: For our last anthology, Utter Fabrication, we wound up with well over 300 submissions. We are bracing for the submission pool to be even higher for this anthology.
This results in a LOT of words that we need to read. And we’ll be the first to admit that we will not read every single word we receive. We both work full time jobs and are writers as well as editors, so we have to maximize our time as best as we can. We’ve been doing this for long enough that we can generally tell in the first few pages whether or not a story is going to work for us.
We generally rank stories on a scale of 0 to 5, with an added “fight me” category for the stories that we each really want included. Using this process, we can generally winnow down the list to a more manageable pool, at which point we sit down and work out the details.
We both love three stories along very similar lines? Which one do we love the best? It’s a really difficult process, in the end, because we want to publish far more stories than we can afford, so we end up having to cut even some of the ones we love.
Kirstie: What do you hope the anthology will achieve? For women? For writers?
Dawn: One of our goals with this anthology in particular is to make it our first all-ages friendly anthology. We have many nieces and nephews, both by blood and through friends who are as close as family, ranging in ages from 2 to 18. While we like sharing what we write and edit with our families, we know that not all of our anthologies have been appropriate for all of the kids. So this time around, we want something that we can share with all of them. We’re hoping to provide them with some excellent role models that they can aspire to be like.
For women, we’d also like this to be stories that they can relate to, in a way that perhaps traditional speculative fiction has not provided. And for writers, we want to buy their stories, work with them to revise their stories into the absolute best story it can be, and then share these stories with the world.
Kirstie: You’ve got a great team of artists ready to create cover and internal art for the anthology. How did you put the team together?
Dawn: When we started Mad Scientist Journal, we worked with a couple of artists we knew. Over time, we had other artists contact us out of the blue, and we found some artists out in the wild. Our cover artist, Errow Collins, we actually met because she and her fiancée were cosplaying Cecil and Carlos from Welcome to Night Vale.
We were delighted by their costumes, and then even more delighted to learn that they were talented artists. For this anthology in particular, we selected artists who identify as women who we thought would bring something fun to the interior and cover illustrations!
Kirstie: This book is fifth in your anthology series. Why did you start creating anthologies?
Dawn: After about a year of Mad Scientist Journal, we started wondering if there were other things we could do in a similar vein but not just “mad scientists.” “Historical accounts” seemed like a reasonable academia-style spin off from a science journal. Miskatonic Valley seemed like a good clear way to show it wasn’t about a real place. Once we did that, more ideas started to come to mind.
Kirstie: How did Mad Scientist Journal begin? What made you want to start publishing fiction?
Dawn: Several years ago, Jeremy was at a local convention called Foolscap, and someone on a panel asked why there weren’t scientific journals for mad scientists. Jeremy pulled out his cell phone and used input from the audience to register a domain name for such a venture.
The original motivation was just a desire to see something like that in the world and realizing that no one else would do it if we didn’t. Our motivations have evolved a lot since then, but at the very start it came down to, “Wouldn’t it be neat if this was a thing? How could we make this work?”
Kirstie: Out of all the stories submitted to the Journal, which has stood out to you the most?
Dawn: We’ve been doing this for so long, and we cycle through so much content, that it’s hard to say one story stands out above all others. We have different pieces that we love for different reasons. Deborah Walker’s “Pure and Without Savour” is an absolutely beautiful, heart-breaking story, while K. Kitts’ “When I Grow Up” is a strangely heart-warming story with wonderful children characters. And for good laughs, any of the “To Dr. Von Lupe” stories by Alanna McFall (we’ve published four of them) are delightful.
Kirstie: Are there any up-and-coming writers you’ve published recently that you think we should look out for?
Dawn: We’ve published several authors who have gone on to have a number of their stories published by pro markets and nominated for awards. S. Qiouyi Liu is a fantastic recent graduate of Clarion West who we published in Fitting In and also in the regular MSJ. They’ve also had a number of stories and translations of Chinese works hitting the pro magazines, and they’re definitely someone to watch.
But we also suspect that you’ll be hearing of great things from many more of our authors, too!
Kirstie: Why did you choose Kickstarter to fund the book?
Dawn: Kickstarter has always proven a great way for us to fund our anthologies. It shows us that there is interest in the world for what we’re making, and it allows us to have these larger projects once a year.
Kirstie: How are you finding your Kickstarter experience so far?
Dawn: Unbelievably fantastic!
Kirstie: The campaign has raised almost $1000 by the end of the first day. How did that feel for you? Did you expect it?
Dawn: We were a little bit blown away by just how well it did! By five hours in, we had surpassed how well we had done on the first day of any of our previous Kickstarters. We suspected that this would be a popular theme, but it’s turning out to be even more popular than we realized!
Kirstie: What’s your plan for once the campaign is over? What do you hope for this anthology? Do you have plans for your next one?
Dawn: We’ll be open for submissions to the anthology during the month of March. We’ll spend March and April reading the stories and making our hard decisions. Then we go into the process of getting everything squared away for publication, which typically takes another couple of months.
We’ve usually been able to have the anthologies out in the late summer or early autumn, and we often try to time the release to coincide with an event where we’ll be selling our books.
We don’t have anything solid planned for our next anthology yet, but we’ve been kicking around vague ideas about doing something specifically sci-fi related, since our anthologies thus far have been geared more toward fantasy and horror. We’ve often had a small handful of sci-fi stories in them, but that hasn’t been our focus yet. And since we call ourselves Mad Scientist Journal, we think that sci-fi would be a good direction to go!
A huge thank you to Dawn for taking the time to talk to us. You can check out the stories published by Mad Scientist Journal on the website and check out the Kickstarter campaign to follow the progress of Battling in All Her Finery.