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Interview with Richard Hacker of Del Sol SFF Review


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Richard Hacker Interview Richard Hacker is an author and editor living in Seattle, Washington. He is editor of Del Sol SFF Review and a development editor for Novel Editors. As an author, his work has won best novel in the SFF category at the TexasWriters’ League and has been a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers’ League. Three of his crime novels set in Texas were published by Champaign Press. Del Sol Press has published three science fiction/fantasy novels, Die Back, The Vengeance of Grimbald and most recently in March, 2021, The Bifurcation of Dungsten Crease. All of his books are available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon. In addition to his writing, he has created the cover and interior artwork for two books of poetry.

For my second article in my short story series, I sat down with Richard Hacker--editor-in-chief of Del Sol Review's now popular SFF Journal--to talk about how he got into running an SFF journal and what he thinks makes a good story.

Olivia: Tell me a little about your background and how you came to be the editor-in-chief at Del Sol SFF Journal?

Richard: I've been a published author for ten or fifteen years. I wrote three crime novels that were published by a small press, but decided to change genres when I had this story idea that ended up being a novel called Die Back. As I was working on that, I decided that I needed to get some objective feedback, which can be very difficult to come by, which is how I met Mike Neff. I went to one of his workshops, and we kind of hit it off. He liked Die Back and wanted to publish it at Del Sol. So that started my relationship with Del Sol. Then we did a second novel in that series, and then a third. Somewhere in there he asked me to start editing the sci-fi and fantasy stories for the Del Sol review. At that time the stories were mixed in with all the other fiction that would get published in the Del Sol Review. A couple of years ago, we decided to break off the science fiction and fantasy stories and have a place just for those stories. 


Olivia: What do you think makes Del Sol SFF Journal / Del Sol Review stand out? Why do you think an author should publish here instead of another SFF publication?

Richard: That's a good question. I was thinking about it and, on reflection, it seems like a lot of the avenues for writers to publish their short fiction in the genre are kind of specific. A lot of times they want a certain kind of thing. We, on the other hand, are very eclectic. We'll take hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, fantasy, speculative -- a real variety. We're more interested in good writing within that genre. The other thing I've been trying to do is to make the sci-fi / fantasy review a place for new writers. It can be hard to get a foot in the door. At this point, if somebody sends me something, and it's close but just not quite there, I can give them some specific feedback and invite them to do a rewrite. In my experience that's somewhat unusual. But I've done that several times where I've given someone feedback, and they've taken it to heart and sent it back to me. Now there have been times where they sent it back to me and it still wasn't quite there. But I think they felt at least like I'd read their story and paid attention to it.


Olivia: What makes a good short story?

Richard: You know the first thing that comes to mind is that good writing is what makes a good story stand out. The submission guidelines for the review actually highlight the key things a story really needs to have. There needs to be a sharp narrative, a good hook, and it needs to be unpredictable. I'm sure you've read a story where you know what's going to happen from the beginning. I don't want a story I've heard before, just with different names on it. Fantasy and sci-fi have some very heavy tropes like dragons and fairies, and things like that. You know, if you're gonna do a zombie story, I want it to be something I haven't seen before -- a new twist on it. I've published a couple of zombie stories, but those I felt like went at it in a different way.


Olivia: Do you think it's important for novelists to write short fiction?

Richard: I think it's good for writers to write. For novelists, one of the things writing short stories does is let you experiment with story ideas without committing your life to it. You're in it for a year, two years…three or more. So committing to a novel can be kind of extreme if the idea dies six months later. Writing short stories doesn't take that kind of commitment. You can experiment, try things out, and see what has life.


Olivia: What are some of your favorite writing exercises?

Richard: For me personally, I haven't really used a lot of writing prompts. I usually start with more of a, "What if?" So I'll ask myself, "What would happen if I came home and my house wasn't there anymore?" "What would happen if my spouse was a different person?" My wife always says I like messing with people's heads. So I like stories that sort of twist reality somehow, that go in a direction that's weird and strange. And then you have to imagine what a character would actually do in these situations.


Olivia: What are some red flags you often see in work by new writers?

Richard: Before I started editing a journal, I had no idea how many people submitted things without reading the guidelines. That's always a red flag. Examples include someone sending me something that's formatted incorrectly or that's 20,000 words. A lot of spelling errors and grammatical errors is another thing a lot of new writers do that looks unprofessional. I think most editors aren't looking for fixer uppers. We are looking for things that can be published with little work.


Olivia: What's one of your favorite short stories by a previously unpublished author that you've read this year?

Richard: The story that comes to mind is called The Kryptonite Beast. It's by a Nigerian author, Suleiman Aigbe Buhari. We published it in our latest volume. It was a unique creative story about this artist who is a bit of an alcoholic and a disaster. His grandmother thinks he's a waste of space. After she dies, he has a reckoning with himself, and he creates this sculpture out of broken beer bottles. He creates this beast, and you're not sure if it's alive in the real world or in the viewer’s imagination. Villagers get cut and believe it's feeding on their blood. Maybe…or it could just be sculpture with lots of sharp edges. I loved how the story walked a thin line between reality and fantasy.

Another story that comes to mind is a story called Un Agujerito Negro by a guy called Arthur Plotnick. He submitted it maybe a year or a year and a half ago. It's the best story I've ever published. Hands down. I didn't know anything about the guy, but when I went to go find him, I discovered he was in his seventies and had died. When he submitted the story, he didn't have a bio attached, so I didn't know what he had done, but he had taught writing and published many stories. I was honored he submitted his work to us.


Olivia: Wow, that's quite the story.  I'm gonna have to go read that.

Richard: You should. I recommend it for anyone who just wants to read a really good story. I don't remember every story I read, but that one really stuck with me.


If you want to read the stories Richard mentioned, among others, head over to the Del Sol SFF Review. You won't regret it!


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