Tell us a little about how Cirsova began. Why the name Cirsova?
There are a lot of factors, but I’ll hit the big three:
First was James Hutchings’ setting blog, Teleleli (apolitical.info/teleleli) and his Age of Fable browser game (ageoffable.net) which takes place in that world. These inspired me to dust off some setting notes of my own and start Cirsova as a D&D setting & gaming blog. The setting is now an artifact in the blog’s description sub-head “An encyclopedia of the Cirsovan empire… etc.” An explanation of the name’s etymology as it pertained to the setting can be found here, but most folks just need to know that “C” is hard like in Latin.
Second was Jeffro Johnson, his blog (jeffro.wordpress.com) and his work at Castalia House (castaliahouse.com/posts) on his Appendix N project. I’d been a fan of his gaming content since around the time I started blogging in 2013, and the enthusiasm of his Appendix N Retrospective pieces really sold me on checking out a lot of those writers, plus gave me a list of names to be on the look-out for at used bookstores and flea markets. By mid 2015, I’d amassed a pretty impressive collection of books by these authors as well as a number of vintage pulp rags which had just blown me away.
Third was the Sad Puppies 3 debacle. I’d gotten interested because someone from the tabletop gaming blog community—Jeffro—was being recognized, which I’d thought was awesome, but I show up and I find all of this ridiculous hyperbolic invective being used against them. A friend trying to warn me off of the Puppies actually sent me someone’s screed comparing Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia’s efforts to Nazis rounding people up, putting them on the trains and sending them to the death camps. That blew my mind, and I found myself more than a bit sympathetic to the people who were being smeared as evil sexist racist homophobes who wanted to keep women out of sci-fi and only promote sexist racist homophobic works. Ironically, a lot of what the Puppies had put forward was pretty milquetoast and a far cry from what subtext I’d read into the accusations against them. I figured if you want a regressive sci-fi revolution done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!
In seriousness, though, there seemed to be a genuine thirst for, matched by a genuine dearth of, the kind of old-school action-packed science fiction and fantasy that took its cues from the Golden Age or the New Wave, particularly where it came to short fiction. I’ve seen the big name mags accused by numerous readers and outlets of filling their pages with boring evanescent fluff that either doesn’t go anywhere or pushes some droll and saccharine message, and from some of the selections I’ve read, I’d believe it. Where would someone send a story like Lorelei of the Red Mists or The Overworld or The Shadow Kingdom? There are a few places (more now than when I put out my first submission call), but very few.
I wanted to create an outlet that paid semi-pro rates for the crazy awesome sort of fiction that filled the pages of the pulps and the works listed in Appendix N. It’s a gift to fans of that sort of writing and the authors who create it.
I understand it’s a one-man show running the entire magazine by yourself. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced getting started and maintaining such a beautiful magazine?
The biggest challenge will be financing; we’re paying rates that are competitive with many of the more well-known publications while we’re still trying to build our clout and readership. At Morgan Holmes’ encouragement, I pushed for a quarterly release in 2016, which helped to accommodate the many great submissions we received and will make us award eligible in the 2017 season, but it’s a pace we’ll only maintain if the readership can support it.
Initially, I’d thought that the biggest challenge would be getting submissions. The first issue accepted nearly every piece submitted to it, but anyone who has read issue 1 knows that every piece in it was solid. By issue 2, the challenges were having to decide which stories to accept and having to say no to some really great stories. Oh, yeah, and reading nearly 100 short stories, novelettes and novellas over the course of about 6 or 7 weeks was a challenge, but certainly a fun one.
The cover art is absolutely gorgeous. How do you decide on each publication’s piece?
One of the biggest breaks for Cirsova was finding Jabari Weathers to do our covers. He brings a degree of class to the publication that I would not have dreamed possible when I first toyed with the idea of starting a magazine.
Even though the work is done on contract, it feels like a partnership working with Jabari on these. Not every artist would put in the same degree of work with the same levels of enthusiasm for the authors’ pieces as Jabari does. His work is starting to gain some much deserved attention. Between issues 3 & 4, he’s been working on a pretty big project for John Wick. I just hope I’ll be able to keep him on as our primary artist as the demand for his work grows!
Usually, I pick a story that I really like in each issue and then highlight a scene I’d like either depicted or interpreted. I send the story over to Jabari and he shows me some thumbnails of ideas he has after reading the story himself. Then we decide on a direction to go for the cover
Issue 2 was a bit special, though. Adrian Cole’s Dream Lords trilogy from the 70s was awesome, but had some really lousy covers over which he had no control. Since issue 2 features the first in a new series of Dream Lords stories, I wanted to make sure we finally gave Cole a Dream Lords cover he’d be happy with, so I brought him into the process for the Issue 2 art.
Also with this year’s Hugo season coming up, I thought it would be awesome to have a variant cover by Ku Kuru Yo featuring /V/ and Vivian James in homage to the iconic Frazetta cover for A Princess of Mars for our Summer issue. Those were limited to the last Kickstarter, but we’ll keep a handful of them with us to sell at conventions.
What are some of the highlights of recent submissions to your publication? Anything that stood out from previous submissions?
Well, I’ve already mentioned a bit about the Adrian Cole story. The Sealed City (issue 2) is the first new Dream Lords tale since the 1976 novel Bane of Nightmares, so that’s really cool. Misha Burnett’s A Hill of Stars (issue 1) is the first work in the Eldritch Earth shared universe, a pre-historic Lovecraftian Earth for Burroughsian adventure, and has been a popular piece; the stories being written in that setting are really awesome, and I can’t wait to share them. Schuyler Hernstrom, whose stories The Gift of the Ob-Men and Images of the Goddess were the cover story of issue 1 and featured novella of issue 2 respectively, has become a fan favorite and been gaining some really loud praise.
Awhile back, I put out a call for unironic Lovecraft inspired fantasy and sci-fi stories, and I got some really mind-blowing stuff. I’m super particular about “Lovecraftian” fiction, feeling that less is always more (Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum is my favorite example). So, while we don’t have PIs investigating cults and being driven crazy by public domain monsters, we do have a lot wild and capital “W” Weird stories with otherworldly horrors.
Any plans or secrets for upcoming issues that you’d like to share?
Well, our winter issue is special, as it will be ‘double stuffed’, with twice the content of a normal issue.
We’ve planned a special spring Eldritch Earth issue for issue 5 featuring some recurring favorites like Brian K. Lowe, Schuyler Hernstrom and Misha Burnett.
Plus, we’re looking at more new Dream Lords stories in the future.
Lastly, give us a short bio, letting readers know how they can keep up with Cirsova Magazine.
Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine is available both electronically and in print on Amazon.com. You can find us on the web at cirsova.wordpress.com and on twitter @cirsova.