This month’s interview in my BEHIND THE ZINES interview series features Marie Baca Villa. She wears a few different hats at Apparition Lit: Assistant Editor, Marketing, Blogger, & Submissions Reader and I am so grateful that she was able to chat with me about her work.
Each Behind the Zines interview is first published on my Patreon, and later here at Maria's Reading.
More about Marie Baca Villa:
Marie Baca Villa is a chicana writer and artist in California. She has a master's degree in psychology and used her education to build a long career in crime victim advocacy. As a fan of speculative fiction, she loves anything involving strange worlds, complex characters, and unexplained phenomenon. She's a bonified cat lady, covered in tattoos, and she loves cussing, beer, and flaming hot cheetos. You can find Marie on Twitter @okay_its_marie.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background, where did you grow up, and what do you do outside the world of speculative fiction?
Marie Baca Villa: My name is Marie Baca Villa, and I hail from sunny southern California. In addition to writing and editing, I’m also a visual artist, and my day-job is coordinating a forensic sexual assault center, where victims of sexual assault and child abuse can go to get supportive services. It’s very serious work, and it’s what propelled me directly into the world of speculative fiction because, at the end of my very long day, I can always do with some wonderful escapism.
Q. You are part of the team behind Apparition Lit, a speculative fiction zine that has been around since 2018. What attracted you to the speculative fiction genre initially - as a child or young adult (or adult)? Were there any particular stories, books, movies, TV-shows, or something else that sucked you into the world of speculative fiction?
MBV: I can definitely say my mom opened that door for me, beginning at a very young age. She never shied away from the likes of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, etc etc. She loved a good ghost story. One fateful day, I picked up her first edition copy of Firestarterand it was all over. As I grew, I found horror to be a very happy home for me, and in particular modern horror. Everything from Carnival of Souls to Scream. I love 80s and 90s schlock; you name it, and I’ve seen it. After 9/11, postmodern horror began to set in and I lost my sight for it, so entered my interest in sci-fi. The classics, of course, from Soylent Green and Logan's Run to X-files and Stargate. In recent years, I’ve come to love cerebral sci-fi, like Moon and Ex Machina, that blends the horror of being human with the fantastical visions of the future of humanity. You’ll notice not much mention of fantasy. Sadly, before this point in my life, I had scarcely allowed myself to be interested in fantasy. Joining Apparition Lit has altered my view on that and has opened my eyes to the beauty of fantasy writing. I’m still getting my feet wet, but I know there’s many great pieces waiting for me to experience!
Q. You have a few different roles at Apparition Lit: assistant editor, marketing, blogger, and submission reader. Can you tell us a bit about each of these roles and what’s involved for you in your work at the zine? What are some of your favorite things about the work you do at Apparition Lit?
MBV: Yes, and oddly enough, I really do all of that bit by bit! Slushing is by and large my biggest role as we have really started to pick up steam and gain submission numbers. I am a first submission reader, so I get to dive right into subs and just start moving through them. I occasionally do second and third readings when other readers want extra eyes, and now I also get to provide feedback to the senior and guest editors about which of our held pieces I would most like to see published. My favorite part of this experience is that every reader and editor at Apparition have vastly different tastes and ideas. It has taught me so much, both as a reader and writer, about how finding the right voice and home for your piece can mean the difference between a rejection and a hold. And also, how rejections are rarely, if ever, personal. They’re just about who is reading and what they see for your piece at their publication.
In my second year of working with Apparition LIt, they gave me the reins over the App Lit Blog. I exclusively write all of the blog posts that are put up on our site, and it’s quite fun. In my first year, I’ve kept it light and enjoyable for our readers. My primary features are the guest editor Q&As, where I interview each of our partners. I’m in awe of the amazing insights, knowledge, and gifts those editors have seeded in those answers. I also love to do curated playlists for every issue; posts highlighting accomplishments and updates; and throw in the occasional seasonal game/printable. Marketing comes into play where I am primarily responsible for the fun visuals you get on our blog and Patreon posts; the most prominent of these are our Patreon exclusive visuals which show our submission stats and results.
Last, and definitely not least, I assist reading, selecting, and editing our monthly flash contest winners. Editing flash has its own unique opportunities; namely, the word count has meant that the authors have already ruthlessly cut into their own work, and we are really just left with the occasional tweak. It makes it easy and enjoyable, and getting the opportunity to see new work every month keeps the voices in our magazine fresh and exciting.
Q. How did you get involved with the zine? And did you have any expectations or worries before you started? How has the actual work been compared to what you expected?
MBV: Apparition Lit graciously opened up applications to become a submission reader, and so I took a chance and was selected. I was so honored, and the other readers who came in with me (Maria Schrater and Tamoha Sengupta) are world class, so I am still so excited to be here. Only one worry - every author’s worry, truly - was that I wouldn’t fit in and/or measure up. The team as a whole is so amazing and supportive, and from the first editors meeting, those fears have faded. They have given us all many opportunities to get involved beyond reading (see my answer to your previous question) and I can’t imagine a better environment in which to read/contribute. As I shared a bit before, it has also taught me that most, if not all, editors/readers behind a magazine/publication are just fellow writers doing their best to make the best publication. Rejections are not personal; decisions can be hard; and competition is fierce because there truly are so many amazing writers out there. It has given me more confidence in submitting, and we often echo this sentiment (in our twitter, on the blog, on the website) to encourage people to consider us! We are truly great to work with!
Q. What have you learned since you started at Apparition Lit, and what are some of the most enjoyable things vs. the hardest things about what you do?
MBV: Oh boy, am I really going to take a third opportunity to say rejections are not personal? Yes, I am. Because while reading, and getting the honor of reading amazing works, is truly the best part of this experience, choosing which pieces to pass on is the hardest. Every one of us at the magazine has our own unique tastes and interests. I have loved stories dearly to only see them rejected by another reader. And vice versa. Some stories that we never got to publish still come to mind on occasion as truly stand out pieces, and all I can say is that I hope they found a home! Sometimes I love a story so much, it actually hurts my feelings when it gets passed on. I think “How can you not see how great this is??” and I’m sure the author is thinking the same. The reality is a good magazine, like ours, really hashes out the strengths and weaknesses of a story and isn’t afraid to be honest about if something is a good fit. That is how our issues come together so successfully. Sometimes, at the end of the day, it’s a hard decision you have to make to truly get the best product.
Q. What do you look for in a story when you’re going through the submission pile for Apparition Lit? And is there any advice you would give to writers wanting to submit stories to Apparition Lit or any other zine?
MBV: Yes, I wrote a whole blog post about this once! The dos and don’ts of submitting. I’ll start with my personal do’s and some of our magazine dos. First, I love a good tearjerker. Not in a sappy way, but in an authentic, moving way that shows me the author was not afraid to give characters and conflict depth and challenges. I also love a good horror piece. We don’t get a ton of horror, for some reason or another, and - fair warning - not all of the other editors/readers enjoy horror, but boy do I love a good horror story in the slush pile. For the magazine, one of the best things we love is intention. When a piece comes to us with a cover letter that demonstrates they’re familiar with our publication and intentional with our submission, we feel very seen and appreciate the author’s attention to detail. In terms of what not to do: do not ignore our guidelines and rules. They exist for a reason. We always get a range of pieces that fall so far outside of anything we are interested in (or break our rules) and it takes our time away from truly deserving pieces. This is not the same as self-rejecting. Self-rejecting is when you have a good piece you think will fit but do not feel you can take the time to submit to us. I am talking about people who don’t even bother to read the call/guidelines and its obvious to us in a variety of ways. Intention is best and will always put you ahead in the game, even if your piece doesn’t end up being selected. Editors will appreciate your efforts!
Q. I love Apparition Lit’s flash fiction contests. I’m guessing you get a lot of submissions for this contest every month and I know a lot of people love writing for the prompts. What are your thoughts on the benefits of prompts and contests like this, and also: as a submission reader, do you see a big range in what types of stories come in for these contests?
MBV: Truthfully, sometimes we get flooded. That’s when it gets tricky, because since it’s flash, and monthly, we are trying to be ruthless, but we get caught up in many stories and it’s back to being the hard decision we never wanted to make. With the high number of submissions we see, it also means we see so many fantastical interpretations of our prompts. We see everything from the literal to the types of stories that have only a faint reflection of our prompt. We welcome everything, because true to form, you never really know what is going to grab you until you read it…
I personally love a themed/prompted contest. Apexalso does a good one, which is microflash, and I like to take a stab every month. Sometimes the prompts are elusive for a writer, and that can both be an exciting challenge and also a sign that maybe this month they just won’t have anything to submit. That’s fine! There’s always next month! I also see authors who use it as an exercise to practice and challenge themselves, and really keep up with it just for their own benefit, not even to get published. I am the same way! I have written to many a prompt and just shelved it. You never know what seeds you will plant!
Q. Has being involved behind the scenes affected your view of the business of genre fiction publishing, compared to your perspective before? Have you gained any insights you didn’t previously have?
MBV: Is this the fourth time I will mention rejection? Yeah. It can not be overstated. Before entering Apparition Lit, I viewed magazines and publications to be a monolith of tastes and an impenetrable fortress. Now I know there truly are homes for all types of work, and it’s really just about the challenge of finding the right publication. It does not mean your piece is not wonderful; it just means it was not for us. Never mind, on to the next! Take heart and don’t self-reject!
Q. For writers and readers out there who might be thinking about getting involved with a zine in any capacity, what would you say to them? Do you have any tips and / or advice?
Be sure you like/love the publication you want to join! I have now met many a slush reader, and one thing is for sure is that we all compare notes about how our publications work, our comfort working with specific editors, and how much we enjoy reading the types of submissions we get. Just like finding the right home for your work, you can also be selective about finding the right home for your unique tastes and skills and you should know that every magazine out there works differently. No two are alike. Ask around, talk to current readers, and see how you can get involved at any level before diving in!
Q. Anything in particular you want to promote here, some exciting projects coming up for you?
MBV: I have no big projects on the horizon, but I am ridiculously excited about this year’s flash contest prompts. We have a range of beautiful photos rolling out every month, from amazing female photographers, and so far we have seen some stunning pieces get submitted. Check us out monthly! And please read our guidelines!
Thanks so much to Marie Baca Villa, and check out all the great poetry and fiction in Apparition Lit!