Meet the Editors: An Interview with Fiction Editor, Lily Davenport
It’s a new year and new staff here at BWR. We (the editors) interviewed each other so that you (the world) could get a sense of us as editors/readers. We’re pleased to meet you!
Interview by SARAH CHESHIRE
Sarah Cheshire: I’ll start with the obvious: you’ve recently discovered that, if you press a stethoscope to your belly button, you can intercept the communications of a yet-to-be-discovered species of mutants who dwell within the cavities of deep-sea coral reefs and possess an intelligence quotient comparable to humans’. Soon after this discovery, you (by proxy of your belly button) discern shocking information about a secret plot this subaqueous species is concocting, which involves “ceramic garden gnomes, the constellation Orion, and the [inaudible] of mankind.” What happens next?
Lily Davenport: I team up with my best friend the astrophysicist, so we can listen in on transmissions coming to Earth from Orion. (Only hearing half the secret plot is no good, and we need to find out if there are also extraterrestrial coral-dwelling mutants.) We discover, after much trial and error, that if we put a disc of mica that’s been left to marinate in the light of the full moon for precisely twelve nights on a turntable, equipped with a dangling strand of scarlet thread instead of a needle, we can hear the Orion half of the communications. Aside from some confusion about what exactly a garden gnome is (the Orionites seem to think it’s a protective house spirit that feeds on pet goldfish), this seems to be a gentle people, who desire only to bring their recipe for cosmically rapturous marmalade to the seafolk.
It’s difficult to make marmalade of any kind under a mile and a half of seawater, so the astrophysicist and I volunteer to produce the cosmically rapturous variety in his ridiculously well-equipped kitchen, and have it shipped to the coral-dwellers. The Orionites agree to this solution, though on pain of death we are never to taste the marmalade ourselves.
SC: Great answer. I want to read on! Speaking of which, your current BWR fiction submissions call states: “we want your fleeing mutants, your interstellar castaways, your goblin-children who tunneled right out of the mountain and into the light of the twin suns…” Which contemporary writers exemplify the narrative aesthetic you want to see represented in BWR?
LD: The list I used to answer this question on our election night is lost to history, but here are some things I read recently that seemed BWR-ish: Ruth Joffre’s story collection, Night Beast, and Daniel Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster. And there’s The Emissary, by Yoko Tawada, and Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel, Freshwater. China Miéville’s The City & The City.
Even if these books aren’t formally experimental per se (traditionally a BWR hallmark), they’re fearless and thoroughgoing in their transgressions of genre. They ask the reader to do work, to intentionally navigate the text. And their worlds and characters are endlessly ambiguous and complex. In essence, I want the writers who were too ‘experimental’ (whatever that means) for the SFF magazines, but too ‘genre’ (whatever that means) for the other journals that publish experimental work.
A sidebar: though no examples come to mind immediately, I’m interested in seeing collaboratively-written pieces. And work that reads like a text-based game, stories that foreground the choices we make whenever we encounter a text. I love fairy tales as much as the next UA MFA, but submitters be warned: we see a lot of them.
SC: Word on the street is you can bake a wicked homemade pie. If you were baking an equally wicked Sci-Fi story, what ingredients would you use?
LD: Those supposed pie skills are overhyped, you know.
My current novel project involves a lot of infanticide, so maybe it’s wicked? Other ingredients include VR, a climate apocalypse, bioengineered merpeople, ghosts, and a fake nineteenth-century retelling of Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur.
SC: You’ve mentioned in the past that your baking habits sometimes ebb and flow in conjunction with your academic workload and other life circumstances. When do you find yourself most inclined to bake?
LD: I bake primarily as a way of briefly accessing a space characterized by order and routine. I might not be able to fix my novel, write a decent lesson plan, or get a job after grad school, but if I use the right ingredients and follow the directions, I’ll eventually end up with croissants or Black Forest cake or whatever. Busier times of the semester, or a higher stress level for other reasons, equals more baked goods. And I’d like to think that dealing with my persnickety sourdough starter has taught me some level of failure tolerance, but that one’s kind of a stretch.
SC: Quick—without thinking! How many pies do you think you bake on average per semester, on a scale of one to fifteen?
LD: Four or five.
SC: Hey, speaking of fifteen pies! 15 equals 47.1, and 47.1 will be one of the first issues of BWR published after your tenure as fiction editor is over. What do you want your legacy with the magazine to be?
LD: Killer office décor.
BWR is much bigger than me and my preferences about fiction. This isn’t the Lily Show, and ultimately the pieces that we publish during my time as editor will arrive at that larger status through a combination of factors (what people send us, what they have to withdraw, what I hold for further reading, what the other editorial staff is interested in, what the room of assistant editors thinks is worthwhile) that I often don’t control. So I want to focus on continuing the work that my predecessors have done to foster transparency, generosity, and respect inside BWR, because I can’t be proud of the magazine if I’m not equally proud of the process that shapes it. I’m aiming for a legacy of compassion, accountability, and, yes, pie.
SC: What made you want to be BWR fiction editor?
Real answer: it’s a privilege to see, day in and day out, the things that other writers are making. It’s amazing to get to be someone who sends good news to people who, like all of us in this field, work hard and mostly get rejection letters. BWR holds a unique position in the literary community, and I’m grateful to be a part of that; we can give a home to stories that otherwise might not see the light of day.
SC: What is your favorite work of fiction from BWR’s archive?
LD: “Huge Dead Crystal Palace” (MH Rowe), “Tooth” (Michelle G. Lee), and “The Twins” (Jill Rosenberg)! But “Witch House Oranges” (Katie Knoll) was my first BWR reading experience, and one of the reasons I was so excited to (a) come to UA and (b) get involved with this magazine.
SC: Rumor has it that Ursula K. Le Guin died last year, but I definitely saw her buying a quart of Sunny-D at Publix yesterday. Thoughts on Ursula Le Guin’s immortality?
LD: Le Guin will linger on Earth in my forearm tattoos, until they rot away with the rest of me. (I have a hemisphere of Gethen, the planet on which The Left Hand of Darkness is set, on each arm.) More importantly, her legacy as a fierce and nuanced thinker and a writer of unparalleled precision, subtlety, and inventiveness lives eternally in everyone who’s read and loved her books. She’s a genre-breaking giant, and always will be. Death can’t do anything about that.
SC: Where do you see yourself in fifteen years?
LD: My little brother informed me during the break that I should stop answering this question with “unemployed.” So here’s the wildly optimistic version: “either teaching lit/creative writing at the college level or doing arts and education programming in a public library, and regularly publishing fiction. With a novel about merpeople and King Arthur out there in the world.”
SC: Where do you see yourself in 115 years?
SC: Coming around full circle… do you think mermaids have belly buttons?
LD: The merfolk in my project are a varied bunch. Most of them hatch from eggs, so no belly buttons there—but the ones who are closer to marine mammals probably have them, yeah.
SC: THANKS, LILY!