Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, was nominated for a 2017 Elgin Award. Her novella, Bitter Suites, is a 2018 Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist. In 2019 she won the SFPA’s poetry contest in the dwarf form category and has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize for poetry. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine, a 54-year-old publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction.
Angela is a kind and intelligent person. We spoke of poetry, prose, and publishing.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Angela! Thank you for joining me today!
AYS: Thank you for having me, Naching! It’s a pleasure to be here.
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
AYS: Far too young, probably. My first experience with horror was watching the first Friday the 13th at a dive-in theater with my parents. I was sitting in the back seat of an old International Scout and I was positive a knife was going to drive up through the seat and kill me. The end of that, the moment when Jason comes out of the water… probably ended any enjoyment I would ever have for lakes and oceans.
So, I was probably…5?
NTK: Is Friday the 13th your favorite horror movie? If not, what is?
AYS: No, and I’m terrible for watching movies. In horror especially I’m usually disappointed. The two I’ve loved recently though were Midsommar and Parasite…. though Parasite wasn’t too horrible…but I loved it.
NTK: Do you watch horror TV shows? If so, do you have a favorite?
AYS: I do have a list of horror TV shows I want to watch if I can ever find the time. The Haunting of Hill House is one. I should say, if it counts, my favorite horror is black comedy. Does that count? In that case, I could say Rocky Horror Picture Show (LOVE) What We Do in the Shadows… anything like that I adore.
NTK: (Laughs.) It does count. Do these sorts of shows inspire your writing? What inspires you?
AYS: I always have such a tough time with questions like this. It’s never one thing. It’s more like a story exists already and I get to find it. Somethings in the news will be clues, a word someone says… something I witness. But the story already sits there waiting for me to find it. Then the news item, etc. is the key that unlocks it. Terrible way to try to describe it, I know. I often think of it as being a medium working a Ouija board to communicate with something outside. The keyboard is the Ouija board, the mouse is the planchette and I’m just sitting at the computer listening for the voices to tell me what to say.
… and that’s when someone considers if I need to be committed. I’m harmless, I swear!
NTK: (Laughs.) That is a terrific way to describe it! Reminds me of how Michelangelo described his process of creating art! Who is your favorite horror author?
AYS: Oh, so many. Neil Gaiman is my all-time favorite everything author. Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe of course! Ray Bradbury—I just finally read Something Wicked This Way Comes. My favorite horror books though, were those Alfred Hitchcock anthologies of short stories. My favorite story of all of those is by Theodore Sturgeon called “Shadow, Shadow on the Wall” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum. These books had such a huge influence on me that when I happened across Hitchcock’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame I burst into unexpected tears. I didn’t cry for anyone else, but those stories he shared meant everything to me growing up. That’s probably why I still gravitate toward the short story as a form, and enjoy publishing other people’s short stories. Somewhere, a dark, twisted little child needs these… or just that dark, twisted little child in each of us.
NTK: You, yourself, are a publisher now. How did you become the publisher of Space and Time Magazine?
AYS: By accident. I’ve been self-publishing since I started fiction in 2011 and that has gone well for me, but a few years ago I noticed I was creating a stagnant vacuum for myself. I decided to start submitting to magazines and I started looking for where my friends were publishing. I saw Christina Sng had just published in a magazine called Space and Time, so I went to the website. There, instead of submission guidelines, I found a letter from current publisher Hildy Silverman about how the magazine needed to close after over 50 years of consecutive publishing. It began in 1966 with Gordon Linzner. I probably would have just paged on to look for a different market, but at the end of her letter, she mentioned it would be great if someone else could keep publishing Space and Time. I couldn’t get that out of my head. I had published a local arts news ezine a few years before and had learned layout from my last newspaper job. There was no reason I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put in all the work and time a magazine requires so I gave it a lot of thought. I had finally made the move to quit the day job and be a full-time fiction writer and poet. I really just wanted to focus on my own writing. But here was this piece of history needing a home… all these authors, like myself, needing a place to publish. Poets, artists… I felt like if I just walked away it would be a really selfish act on my part. My husband and I had a big discussion about it and agreed to take it on, if only to keep it going until someone better came along. So, I emailed Hildy. About two issues into it I absolutely fell in love and went from “keeping it alive until someone else came along” to “this is my baby and I love it.” Adopted baby, but the love is real. Interesting side note, Hildy and I made it official on my 50th birthday completely by coincidence. We also bought our house on the same day. I’m not sure what gifts could top a house and a magazine after that.
NTK: That’s terrific. Thank you for keeping Space and Time going. What do you look for in stories you publish? What makes a story a Space and Time story?
AYS: Well, not to cop-out, but I do the same thing to find fiction I love as I do to write it. I’m really going to sound addled, but I feel like the current issue already knows what it wants to be, so I get all the stories Gerard (Hourner) has from our first readers. I print them all and as I pick them up. They will just feel right, before reading them. I probably shouldn’t reveal too much of my eccentricities, but I do feel like there is a click before I even read it. Those go into one pile. Then I read everything. Inevitably, the ones that clicked will all work together perfectly. Then my co-publisher and husband (Ryan Aussie Smith) reads them all without me telling him which ones I liked, and he almost always makes exactly the same selections. Then comes the painful part… fitting what we want into the budget. There’s always at least two stories that break my heart because we just don’t have the budget and room for them. As far as what we look for, aside from the mysterious click, anything that breaks the rules will always be my favorite. Experimental, new combinations, unexpected new uses for old tropes, calls to break down the status quo and begin something new… theoretically, I like the idea of anarchy, and while I don’t see it working in reality (unless we evolve) I do love it in literature.
It is almost supernatural though how the perfect stories, art and poetry will all come together with a theme, but completely unrelated to each other until they are in print.
NTK: That is a cool process. So organic! You’ve mentioned your background in journalism. Do you think it has influenced the way you write short stories?
AYS: Yes, absolutely. The very first publisher and editor I ever worked for (Jason Pippin, Community News, Browns Mills, NJ) gave me some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten. He asked me what reading level should I be writing for. I think I answered a college reading level. He told me no, I should always write for an 8th-grade reading level. He said the idea isn’t to dumb down, but to be concise and clear. The purpose of publishing anything is to communicate something to the widest possible audience as clearly as possible. I believe Hemingway also said something similar. One of my personal achievements is writing for the same newspaper Hemingway did (Kansas City Star). Other things newspaper writing taught me is to write fast and accurately, grab a reader fast and let the nut graph set up the rest… oh, and never wait on the muse. She is selfish and will let a writer starve to death before she speaks. Honestly, fiction and nonfiction are two sides of the same coin. You have to make nonfiction glow with a creative interpretation, or you get a dry as dust account. But if your fiction doesn’t have some kind of reliable root in what the reader can understand, the story has nothing to grab on to. But ultimately, fiction or nonfiction, the point of it is to communicate. That’s the same.
NTK: Such great advice! Let’s talk about characters. Do your characters have free will? Or do you direct their every move?
AYS: No, all my characters absolutely have free will. They never listen to me. I often argue with them and try to control them, but they will do continue to do what they want. After I learned to accept that things have gone much better. I’m a lazy writer. I sit down, let my mind wander and they do whatever they want. Often, I’m amazed at how they wrap things up. They are much better at creating stories than I am.
NTK: You write both poetry and prose. Do you feel you have to switch your brain up when writing the two? Or do both come from the same place?
AYS: They both come from the same place, but the difference is like speaking two different dialects. I speak differently when I’m talking to a group, when I’m talking to teenagers, other writers and the cashier in the grocery store. I might say the same thing but in completely different ways for each of them. That’s also how I think of poetry and prose… and I think it even holds true between genres. Because of this, I recycle ideas a lot. One of these is the idea of being dead as being “post-consumer.” It turned up as a line in a poem I wrote, was put in a story later, showed up again as a line in a poem, had an appearance in a non-fiction piece I did and is the theme of the collection of poetry I’m working on now. Expanded of course, but the idea of things we use up (animals, people, friends, products) and the waste that creates (homelessness, abandonment, betrayal, global warming). Same idea, different ways to communicate.
NTK: As a person of Okinawan descent, how has the horror community treated you?
AYS: I would say the horror community has treated me very well. As you have also probably experienced, horror writers are some of the most loving, nonbiased people I know. Of course, we all have bias naturally, but as a whole, I think the horror community keeps an open mind, and heart, more than any other group I could associate with. As far as my place as a writer of mixed Asian heritage, the support was overwhelming. It was Bryan Thao Worra, my first HWA mentor, that asked why none of my work reflected my Asian experience. My answer was that I didn’t feel Asian enough. I don’t belong to either world. He suggested I let that experience of “otherness” show up in my work instead of suppressing it. That first story was “Vanilla Rice” and it was my break-out piece. That was sold to Where the Stars Shine which won Alberta Best Speculative Book of the Year (I think for 2019). It’s been reprinted in Black Cranes, a Bram Stoker finalist this year (crossing fingers!) along with an original story of mine. That story really began Bitter Suites, also a Bram Stoker finalist. I think that just speaks to the credit of the horror community for the amazing inclusiveness they share.
NTK: What does the future hold for you? What work do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
AYS: I’ve got a few stories and poems coming out in different anthologies. One of which is Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas. I’m about to release my poetry collection (Krakan Fever) for this year, written with my daughter Kyra Starr. It will be her first poetry book. I have released a paranormal romance called Soft Deadlines to the brand new Kindle Vella program, I’m wrapping up the third and final novella to the Bitter Suites series to be released by the end of the year, writing a book on manuscript submission (Mark My Words) with Lee Murray to be released next month in conjunction with a Horror University class (“Manuscript Magic”) we will be teaching on the same topic, a sequel to The Christmas Spiders (children’s book), working on my next poetry book (Post Consumer) which I am so, so, so excited about and of course, we have three more issues of the magazine for this year. Oh, and we’ve done a collaboration with DreamForge Magazine and Uproar Books for Worlds of Light and Darkness, an anthology of some of our favorites that we’ve published. Then there’s always the fun stuff we get to do with the magazine: Iron Writers Competition, Flash Battles, the Exquisite Corpse, a brand new open mic event on third Fridays and in June we will be announcing all the details for our own awards called The Linzners (for Space and Time founder Gordon Linzner).
NTK: Thank you for chatting with me today, Angela! It’s been a pleasure!
AYS: Absolutely! It’s an honor being here. HorrorAddicts is one of those wonderful, loving and all-inclusive things that are part of what makes our community so great.
Addicts, you can find more information about Angela on her website.