Category Archives: Behind the Scenes


Today, we’re delighted to share our final story with you, “Ghosts of Bari,” by Wren Wallis.

When I put the final issue of Shimmer together, I did it as deliberately as I’d done every other issue of Shimmer, considering where each story should fall in the issue. It was something Beth taught me how to do when I edited my first issue—because the story you open with is not necessarily the story you want to close with.

I gave Wren a heads-up the moment I realized I wanted to close out Shimmer with her story. Having your story appear last may not seem like a great thing; if I’d held to the original release schedule, it would have had Wren’s story appearing after Hugo balloting had closed. I didn’t want that for the story, or Wren, because the story is gorgeous and should be read by as many Hugo voters as possible.

Putting a story last doesn’t mean it should be overlooked, it doesn’t mean it’s being hidden away. In fact, in the case of “Ghosts of Bari,” I put it last because it ends on a very specific note. It ends with a directive, a directive Shimmer wants you to undertake. Wren’s story encompasses so much of what Shimmer hoped to do, what we wanted to be. And by placing it as our final story in our final issue, I hope that is evident.

Relatedly, thinking about how we made issues (stories fitted together like puzzle pieces), I got curious as to how many stories Shimmer published in its thirteen years. Near as I can tell, it’s 288 stories, from 224 authors—but I suspect that author count is off, because I’m not convinced every single Shimmer author is on the website list yet. #goals

In my searching and looking through old issues, I was genuinely amazed at all we accomplished over the course of those 288 stories, so here are some notes from along the way.

Issues 1-4 had nine stories each. Our biggest issue, with twenty stories, was eleven which was our Clockwork Jungle Book—stories about steampunk animals. Genevieve Valentine appeared in that one, and so did Alethea Kontis. Aliette de Bodard made her first appearance in issue three, as did Angela Slatter. We got Amal el-Mohtar in issue four, and our first translations in issue five (Lavie Tidar translating Nir Yaniv). Silvia Moreno-Garcia also made her first appearance in issue five. Silvia’s story, “King of Sand and Stormy Seas,” stands out brightly in my memory; it was one of the first stories I remember falling for when I came across it in slush—the first story I really advocated for and wanted to see published.

Issue six contained Cat Rambo—another story I remember being deeply affected by (“Eagle-haunted Lake Sammamish”). Also “Sparrow and Egg,” again from Amal el-Mohtar—made me burst into tears. This issue also contained “Tom Cofferwillow Comes Undone,” by Stephen L. Moss—possibly the first story that made Beth realize what weird taste I can have in fiction. This story plays with language in ways that still delight me.

John Joseph Adams guest-edited issue seven, which was packed with pirate stories! Issue eight brought us “Monologue With Birds & Burin” by Daniel A. Rabuzzi. Another story that stands out in my memory. Both the place and the character get me here, hard in the heart.

Monica Byrne’s “5 Letters From New Laverne” showed up in issue twelve; this story made me bawl the first time I read it. We got our first K.M. Ferebee story in issue thirteen (pulled from slush by Keffy Kehrli), and our first Stephen Case, who would also join us in our final issue. Issue fourteen blew me away when I was thumbing through it: our first Sunny Moraine, our first A.C. Wise, and our first Karin Tidbeck! I mean…talk about all-stars.

Issue fifteen was my first to pick stories for; it brought us Megan Arkenberg, Mari Ness, and Milo James Fowler. It also taught me that it’s okay to really fight for a story you want—I bought a story I’d previously rejected, so never say die people. You never know.

K.M. Szpara came to us in issue sixteen, and Damien Angelica Walters and Carmen Maria Machado in issue seventeen. Issue seventeen has seventeen stories, did you know? More than half of the authors moved in the course of publishing that issue… Nightmare level unlocked.

The great Ann VanderMeer guest-edited issue eighteen, which would become our final print issue, containing an Area X story from Jeff VanderMeer. Issue nineteen is when we leapt online—with another K.M. Ferebee story (with a heroine named Elyse, hmm!).

We published 28 issues online over the course of five years, finding yet more wonderful authors. We got an Alix Harrow, a Sam Miller, an Eden Robins, a Tara Isabella Burton, an Alex Acks, a Malon Edwards, a Maria Dahvana Headley, an Isabel Yap, a Helena Bell, an Erika Satifka, a Kristi DeMeester, an Arkady Martine, a Natalia Theodoridou, a Fran Wilde, a Charlie Bookout, and so many other authors who made editing an absolute joy.

Shimmer ended each digital year with a beautiful print anthology featuring artwork by Sandro Castelli, as did almost each and every issue once we found him (issue six was his first cover, I believe, but with issue fifteen, he was our regular cover artist). Beth and I still talk about an anthology called The Best of Shimmer, and we’ll see how far I can twist her arm, eh? We published such an array of wonderful things, and when I think of every nugget hidden in these issues…ah, I want you to read each and every one of them, because they are each dear and special and yeah, shimmery. WHAT IS SHIMMERY? the masses cried. Go read everything we published. You’ll see.

If you’re tempted, we still have some print issues available in our shop, and everything available in digital. Maybe treat yourself to a back issue or two. There’s so much to read!

Thank you for being part of our journey.

Slusher Perspectives: What Do Shimmer Slush Readers Look For In Stories?

Pam Wallace wrangles the Shimmer slushers into a stack this week to see what they really, really want in stories!


Shimmer currently has eleven volunteers reading slush.  Slush readers have two choices: they can either reject the story, or they can forward it on to the board for further consideration. 

How does a writer get their story forwarded to the board?  Each slusher is unique, with their own tastes and perspectives, and let me warn you from the start–there’s no way to predict which slusher will be assigned which story.  When you send a submission to Shimmer, it’s kind of like entering your story in a game of “Spin the Bottle.”  You never know who’s going to get that first kiss, and whether they’ll ask for a second.

For those of you who practice the fine arts of Rejectomancy and Prognostojection (trying to predict why a story was rejected or whether a story will be rejected), we offer you some of our slushers’ personal faves, what we look for in a story, what grabs us and compels us to keep reading. If you look close enough, it’s highly likely you’ll find certain commonalities among the different slusher opinions.

As always, we never say never.  Just as soon as we say we like this and don’t like that, a story will come through that rocks our world and yet doesn’t have one item from either “list.”  So write that story that you love.  Make us believe in it.  We read slush because we love stories, and we really do want to love yours, I promise.



I want a story that grabs me with that first line, nags me to keep going, and surprises me with which ending was chosen from the directions implied by the narrative. I love plucky narrators (I know, I still say “plucky.” Shush.) I love stories where the weirdness is at the heart of the story, but the tale is about the people dealing with that weirdness. I struggle with second person narratives, especially when the presumed “you” and I have nothing in common. I dislike “preachy” works, especially if the proselytizer is trying to justify their particular “-ism” by using junk science and research while ignoring contrary information (especially when that information is in the majority.)

So go ahead. Grab my attention. Wow me. I’m waiting for that genius work.


I think I’m pretty predictable when it comes to my likes and dislikes in terms of slush stories. What I always look for first is voice, because I think Shimmer definitely has a kind of voice that it looks for in all its stories, so when an author sends something that has that shimmery voice I always feel like they’ve done their research and are going to give me a story I’ll like. I also appreciate stories that aren’t set in White America, and stories with minority/LGBTQ characters. I like a rich and varied selection of human characters. Stories that are compassionate toward their characters are always appreciated, as well – I like seeing all kinds of shades of grey and reasons for characters to act the way they do. What usually cinches the deal for me (or, you know, has the opposite effect) is the quality of the ending. I like good endings! I know they’re hard to do, but nothing is more disappointing than a good story with a bad ending. I’m also, unfortunately, not opposed to camp. It’s a flaw in my character. I’m working on it.


What I look for first in a story is the voice–that indescribable, undefinable “Something” that makes a story come alive.  I want to be propelled into the story.  I want to feel like I’m inside the POV character’s brain and watching events unfold through their eyes and the rest of their senses.  I love humor, especially sarcastic humor, so stories with a wry twist that tickle my funnybone make my list.  I tend to prefer lyrical writing, but that’s not to say I won’t like a plain-spoken tale.  I like the story to be unique in some way.  I take more notice of out-of-the-ordinary settings and situations, but again, this doesn’t mean I won’t like an oft-used setting if the story is well done with a unique twist.  I prefer to be surprised by the ending.  And that ending has to resonate and touch me with an emotional layer. If you make me cry, I’m yours.


In a nutshell, I want stories that don’t bore me. When I read slush, I’m looking for:

Stories with better-than-competent prose. These are stories where I can tell from the first few paragraphs that unless something goes seriously wrong in the middle, I’ll read all the way to the end. (I hope nobody is surprised that most slush stories are not read all the way from the first to last sentence!)

Stories that don’t have obvious endings. Most stories need more than two possible endings. Usually if there are only two possible answers, I get bored because either it’s too clear which option the author will go for, or the protagonist waffles so much that I stop caring what they choose. Note: this does not mean that I’m looking for “twist” endings. Those tend to be the most predictable because everyone goes for the same twists.

Finally, I love beautifully weird fiction that exists on its own terms, rather than being “yet another X story.” A recent example is Karin Tidbeck’s “Jagannath” from Weird Tales #358, which is very, very strange. This isn’t to say I can’t still be wowed by a really interesting take on a popular Grimm fairy tale or your favorite fantasy creature, but the bar is pretty high. What I want is for a story to surprise me with something I didn’t even know I was looking for.


For me, Shimmer means dark, weird, and lovely. I can be seduced by strong voice, non-linear plots, and savvy humor. I’m less enthused by stories with only one possible outcome or that contain unexamined Western cultural defaults. Once a writing instructor told me, “leave room for the reader,” and I find that’s really important to me. It’s hard to define, but I want to feel almost like the story needs me to put together some concepts (such as who loves who but can’t say so out loud, or why this character is doing something self-destructive) instead of handing me the answers. The more I engage with the story, the more I forget to guard my heart.


It may be due to the fact that I’m in an MFA program, but my first thought is always, “What would I want to say about this in workshop?”  If I can find something to say that doesn’t involve expletives, and I could actually use it in a critique, you’ve gotten past my first filter.  I’m a grammar nazi, and can’t overlook multiple misspellings/grammar atrocities–unless the voice is spectacular.  I love stories that screw with my mind; I’m a post-apocalyptic nut, and I love anything to do with viruses and zombies.  If you can create a world for me where you wouldn’t mind sitting next to me at the movie, I’ll love you forever.  I’m notorious for picking apart scenes that don’t make sense; world-building is supremely important to me.  If I can’t poke your world full of holes, if I want to pack my suitcase and move there even after I’ve seen someone’s head get ripped off–you’re my new favorite person.

Maybe I’m too picky, but a good story should suck me in, and have to drag me out by my toes.


I look for stories that make me smile, make me sad, make me feel excited, or completely sick with writerly envy; the ones that make me feel something.  I’m immediately drawn to lyrical language and gorgeous prose, and can be a bit blind-sided as if it’s shiny in that I don’t initially care that the plot may be hobbling along, or comprised of assorted ragged bits and bobs that don’t quite match up; and I often have to fight the tendency to fall in love with stuff just because it’s pretty (shallow, yes, but I have learned along the way). So, to woo me now? Add some strong characters, grab me; take me along on their journey with them (which could be surreal and haphazard, a little ambiguity is fine by me, even with endings); let me feel their emotions; show me something new; twist old narratives into something unique; let me glimpse the weird worlds that lurk behind the workaday; the humanity in the monstrous, the monstrous in the beautiful, and that’s it: I’m yours.


Aside from the basics, such as cleanliness of the technical elements, good pacing, and a unique premise, here’s what I want:

I want a story that cuts like a table saw. I want gleaming, sharp prose with teeth. Savage beauty, if I can find it. Lilting, lyrical language thrills me. Visceral detail and vivid characters hook me and make me want to fall in love. None of this is to say I won’t enjoy a more plainly written story, but it probably won’t excite me in the same way. It’ll take me longer to warm up to it and that’s iffy, given that I have a short attention span.

I really enjoy stories that surprise me, and I love when a writer knows how and when to provide levity to help keep tension from dragging a story to the ground. I love weirdness and wit, monsters and well-written magic. I love surrealism and characters who breathe. I want clever metaphors with a sharp mouth feel. I look for genuine emotion and useful description; I want a punch in the gut and a knife in the heart—emotionally, figuratively, or even literally sometimes. Who doesn’t enjoy a little bit of blood?

Wow, all of my wants sound so violent. I guess I take the whole “grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go” thing to heart, eh?


Whenever I approach a story, it’s a bit analytically. I’m constantly running through questions:

– Does something about the opening–the character, the voice, the situation, etc.–at least engage me enough to keep going?

– Is the premise unique? If not, is it different enough from past takes on the concept to be worth considering further?

– Is there any character I care about or am intrigued by?

– Do the technical elements of the writing keep pulling me out of the story (i.e. clunky spelling/grammar/structure,etc.)?

– Does any faulty plot logic snag me?

– As the story progresses, do I understand enough of what’s going on? Even if I’m confused about some things, am I still engaged by the style, voice, or otherwise?

– Does the ending satisfy/make sense/have a great twist?

And so on. As long as the story is able to answer these and other questions, it stands a good chance.


How Shimmer Falls in Love With Fiction

That you may have more fodder for your rejectomancy, here’s a behind-the-scenes view of how the submission and decision-making process works at Shimmer.

Submissions arrive in our submissions email: Currently, the volume is about 25 to 35 stories a day. At that rate, we’ll handle over 10,000 stories in a year. I do think that volume will continue; it’s about double what we were getting before we raised our pay rate (and has stabilized from more than 50 a day right after the announcement).

At most, we’ll publish around 30 stories a year, which means we need to be very good at rejections; otherwise, we would drown.  (Want to improve your odds? Read an issue or two. Issue 10 is even free. Read our guidelines. Also, be completely amazeballs.)

Every day, our Minister of Distribution, Sean Markey, distributes the day’s submissions evenly and randomly among the slush readers. (Sean gets that fancy title because he also helps out with distributing issues of the magazine: he’s the one who handles our conversion to other electronic formats, and gets them into Amazon and Weightless and other outlets.) We currently have 8 volunteers reading slush, and sometimes I’ll read some as well. You can see our current staff on our Shimmery People page.

Slush readers have two choices: they can either reject the story, which is what happens the vast majority of the time, or they can forward it on to the board for further consideration. It’s our goal to read each submission and make this first decision within three weeks. Often we’re able to reply much faster; currently, the oldest unread story in our submissions is dated August 21, which is a bit over 2 weeks. The biggest variability in response time for the first reading is the amount of time and energy the slush reader assigned to the story has.

We also do our best to write useful and friendly rejections; over and over again, we get feedback that writers appreciate them. We could probably reject stories a lot faster without this, but we have chosen to retain the personal touch. We don’t enjoy form letters any more than you.

Once a story reaches the board, Senior Editor Elise Tobler or I (sometimes both) give the story an initial read and give the story a “no” or a “maybe.” This usually happens within a week, but can take longer depending on personal circumstances. The “no” stories are rejected promptly, and the “maybe” stories rest.

Every year or so, there’s a story that we’re positive we’re going to accept from the first moment we read it. “Bullet Oracle Instinct,” by K. M. Ferebee. “Seek Him i’th’Other Place Yourself” by Josh Storey. There are a few others, but not many. Even those stories rest; we don’t accept them immediately. Why? Because sometimes a story that seems really shiny on the first reading doesn’t hold up on a second reading. We give ourselves the gift of distance and perspective on a story before making a final decision. It’s exactly the same dynamic as advising authors to take some time away from the story between drafts.

We let another week, or two, or more pass before the second reading. The decisions can get really tough at this stage. Are the story’s flaws fatal for us, or can they be fixed with edits? Should we ask for a rewrite (always fraught)? Am I reading this story fairly, or is my bias against, say, unicorns clouding my vision? What does the author intend in this section–do we agree with that intent, and can we bring it out more clearly? Do we still love the story after some time away, or was it forgettable? Even if it’s completely awesome, is it Shimmery? Occasionally, we’ll consult outside readers for their opinion on a technical matter or a style issue. Staff members comment on the stories, and Elise and I discuss them offline, sometimes at great length. Each story’s such a unique and personal thing, and we each have our own unique and personal takes on it

The decisions are very rarely clear or easy. They take time. Yeah, there’s some procrastination and avoidance at this stage — but it also just takes time. Elise tells me the longest wait within recent memory was about three months (which I think is shamefully long); our fastest was turned around within a week. (It is at this stage that sim sub withdrawal notices are problematic, especially since we do not accept sim subs.) We put a lot of careful thought into stories at this stage; we’re not just eating cake and watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race while your story languishes forgotten. I promise.

Will the decisions get easier now that we’re paying pro rates? It’s too early to say. Maybe there will be more obvious Yes stories; or maybe the decisions will get even harder when there are even more good stories to choose from, and the stakes are higher.

It’s easy for me to look at other editors and assume they all have the gift of instant clarity and make decisions faster than a speeding bullet, without any doubts or missteps. It’s easy to hear the chorus of voices that say UR DOIN IT RONG.  It’s the same trap I fall into as a writer, when I begin to believe that all other writers are constantly inspired and motivated and disciplined, and I’m the only one playing Plants vs Zombies instead of writing. It’s the trap of comparing my insides to everyone else’s outsides.

Publishing constantly teaches me to trust myself. This is my process. This is how I fall in love with Shimmer stories: slowly and carefully and deliberately. And that’s just fine.

To summarize:

Within 1 to 3 weeks, you should get a rejection or a hold notice. If it gets to be four weeks, by all means query; it is most likely that either your submission or our response went astray.

If you get a hold notice, you may get a rejection within 1 to 2 weeks. If it’s longer than that, your story is under very serious consideration, and you should hear one way or another within a few more weeks.