The Spectatorial proudly presents itself as the University of Toronto’s “one and only genre journal.” It curates the best of original speculative fiction, genre fiction, folklore, mythology, graphic art, and poetry. This fall marks the journal’s fourth year of publications, both in print and online. The Medium sits down with The Spectatorial’s fiction editor, Benjamin Ghan, to discuss getting involved in the journal, David Bowie as a science fiction author, and finding fellow nerds.
The Medium: What inspired you to join the Spectatorial?
Benjamin Ghan: In my first year at U of T, which was a couple of years ago, I wanted to do more, get more involved, so I started writing for the [Spectatorial’s] blog. It was a comic book review, actually. So that got me going, and then I submitted a couple of fiction pieces. I got involved because I’m a writer; I’ve published one book and a couple short stories. So this is really what I wanted to do. I’m a huge nerd, and some of my interests are science fiction, fantasy, and speculative [fiction], which is often shunned and generally not accepted.
TM: How do you feel that these genres are considered unpopular?
BG: Well, I feel like anything can be literature, and of course science fiction is. I don’t think you can deny that people like writers like Isaac Asimov, or Ray Bradbury, or Kurt Vonnegut, or Robert A. Heinlein, or J.R.R. Tolkien. All of these people produce literature. These themes do shape our society. We can’t ignore it. If you look at the canon of literature throughout time, we go all the way back to Homer, which is definitely accepted as literature—there’s gods and monsters in that. Genre is only a thing that came about maybe a hundred years ago, and The Spec is here to showcase that.
TM: What can genre fiction offer to readers that other fields of literature can’t?
BG: It’s about ideas, but different ways to represent society. There’s also more diversity. If you look at speculative fiction and presentation, it’s always been at the forefront of diversity. You can go back to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek of the 1960s, and its cast of characters is more diverse than whatever was on TV last night. That’s about looking at the future.
TM: How has involvement in the journal affected your writing process? More specifically, the journey to your first novel?
BG: It makes a difference to understand what it’s like to work with an editor, and to read so much more with so much variety from so many people. It’s been a huge influence on me and what I want to do and what I want to write. Talking to other members of the staff, being involved in meetings and with other people, it’s all been a great source of inspiration. It keeps you motivated to see so many other like-minded people and so many wonderful pieces.
TM: How are the journal’s different submissions organized and edited?
BG: There’s the managing staff, the editor-in-chief, the creative director (who’s in charge of the layout and what illustrations go where), the online editor (who’s in charge of our blog), and then you have the content editors. I’m the fiction editor. So if you submit fiction, it’s all anonymous, and we vote on it anonymously. If you are chosen for your fiction piece, you will be working with me to get your piece ready. We’ll go through the several steps in the process of editing. So you don’t have to [submit] a perfect, finished piece. It doesn’t just have to be a book review or a movie review. I once wrote an article about how David Bowie is a science fiction author.
TM: How can someone make their submission stand out?
BG: Give it your all. If you have an idea, then run with it. The more original, the more inventive it is, the better. If you think you have something that hasn’t been seen before, or if your characters are beautifully fleshed out, or if your prose is stunning—there are a lot of ways. And we read through everything. It is important to say, though, that if you aren’t picked, it doesn’t mean that your submission was bad; it could have been awesome, but it may just not have fit with what we’re doing, or it was too long, or we simply don’t have the space for publishing. If we don’t accept the first time, don’t throw it away. You can send it in the next time. Keep it, keep working on it. There is no such thing as a finished piece.
For writers, this is a great opportunity to submit something that perhaps other journals aren’t ready to take. It also gives writers the chance to learn about the editing process. It’s not like you just submit something and it gets published immediately. We go through several editing steps, we give you feedback, and we give suggestions. It’s really about making the work the best it can be.
TM: Are submissions open to U of T students from all campuses?
BG: Of course. You can submit both to the print journal and the online blog, which has no deadline. You can submit no matter who you are. We have published students, professors, university alumni, even people who don’t go to the university.