Catching Up with Lex Chamberlin
In our second interview with Lex, they detail the state of the speculative scene in 2024, blending genres, the art of drabbles, and the secret to having your fiction published.
Lex Chamberlin (they/she) is a nonbinary and autistic writer of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. They hold a master’s degree in book publishing and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and they reside in the Pacific Northwest with their husband and quadrupedal heirs. Find them online at lexchamberlin.com.
Q: Tell us about your latest flash fiction story, "Wandering Womb," published in The Dread Machine last week?
That’s a story that I’d been marinating for a long while before writing it. Even though it’s flash, there’s a lot to unpack (spoilers ahead):
I took the title from the archaic notion of the same name that a uterus can bounce around the body to wreak havok, which is a pretty laughable image today. Unfortunately, though, it kind of accidentally does loosely describe aspects of endometriosis, which the main character and I have in common. Also, she’s literally wandering in a post-apocalyptic wasteland while trying to manage it, so that’s another layer there.
The realistic parts of the story came from just regularly wondering how I’d survive without my medications. For endometriosis-related pain, I’ve now had two surgeries, one of them including a hysterectomy. I’ve also had to stay overnight in a hospital for internal bleeding after the rupture of an ovarian cyst. Separately, I’ve struggled with my mental health since I was extremely young—some of Katya’s lines are taken verbatim from my partner’s mouth from times I’ve wrestled with suicidal ideation. I poured a lot more of my own experiences into this story than I usually do for fiction.
The speculative part came last, with simpler and lighter origins—that was just a product of learning about the vine called kudzu, and seeing parallels between the way it creeps over and consumes everything and the real behavior of endometriosis. Chronic pain has a way of putting you in an apocalyptic headspace as well, so externalizing that by blowing up the threat level of an invasive plant felt appropriate.
Q: Do you have thoughts on where the speculative magazine and journal scene is in 2024?
I’ve only been doing this a couple years now, so I’m probably not the best person to answer this, but I’ll try:
For writers, it seems like it’s just getting more competitive. There are so many of us! Even magazines that don’t pay for stories can end up swamped with submissions. I’m really happy that my craft is getting to a point where I’m able to get published more now and feel like I’m a part of the scene rather than just watching it. But my rejections pile is still steadily growing, always—if you’re trying to make even a tiny bit of money in this, acceptance rates can be extremely low.
For speculative magazines and journals, as far as I can tell, it remains pretty rough financially, and certain monopolizing companies have apparently been making things even harder recently in short fiction. So many cool publishers have had to shut down or scale way back. From what I understand, while short fiction isn’t a way for writers to earn a living, it’s really not a way for editors to do so—I just hope my favorite places will be able to stick around a while.
Q: How do you think that marginalized narratives, such as neurodivergence and the LGBTQ+ community, can be woven into speculative fiction for better and further representation?
I think there are a lot more opportunities in speculative fiction to explore the experience of “others” and perspectives that maybe don’t hit hard enough to make an impression when showing them through realistic settings or interactions. For example, it doesn’t always feel powerful enough to say that a character is autistic and try to show a real-life version of it and just hope that people won’t shrug it off. If I instead write a character who is literally a different type of creature and feels that separation and has to navigate their alienation in a strikingly visible way, that to me is much more interesting and truthful to the experience.
Q: Your story "Take Care" from issue 6 is a fascinating blend of horror, sci-fi, and even a touch of fantasy with the concept of vampirism (albeit lab-created). How do you go about seamlessly blending genres?
I love that you called out the vampirism specifically, because it’s kind of up to interpretation whether they’re zombies or vampires, but frenzied vampires were my initial conception of them.
I feel like I blend genres very unintentionally, and that does not help me at all when it comes to placing my stories. I rarely start a piece thinking about genre. It’s more, “This is the concept, this is the character’s struggle, and this is the reason it might be worth reading.” I just make things with ingredients that I like, so what comes out will often mash together aspects of different genres with no regard for practical consequences.
Q: What did you read when you were younger that drew you into the speculative book realm?
I could ramble forever with this question—I’ll try to keep it brief:
I think a lot of fantasy readers who are now in their early thirties started with Harry Potter. While I can’t really look at those books anymore and don’t recommend them, I’ll admit they were my first fixation too. Later, in middle school, I read all the Goosebumps books in the library, and I also loved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In high school, I think the top hits were Death Note, Twilight, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide books? I’ll add an honorable mention for the His Dark Materials series as well, though I didn’t get to that until a few years later.
I did voluntarily read a fair amount of non-speculative work too, including classics and non-fiction. I wanted to be a well-rounded reader! But even when I liked them, they never held my attention as well. I think I’ve always needed some kind of magical or speculative element, to just drop me into another world and give me a break from this one—I wasn’t usually having a great time as a kid, so I think having escapes that actually felt like escapes was a big deal.
Q: Where do you find you draw the most inspiration from?
I have nightmares pretty consistently, so it used to be mainly there. Now, I develop a lot of stories from contest prompts or anthology calls. Sometimes it’s just finding echoes of analogy when learning about new things, though, like drawing a connection between the way kudzu overtakes and smothers everything and the internal spread of endometriosis, or learning about perfect and imperfect flowers and wondering how they might interact around those divisions if they were humanoid. Honestly, it’s often a combination of all three.
Q: What is your experience creating art within the limitations of drabbles?
Drabbles can be a stimulating challenge. I usually write them for a specific call, but they’re also a helpful exercise if a story isn’t working at its original length, to try to really distill something down. My drabble in Martian Magazine, “Giver of Flesh,” is actually a prequel to a much-larger story that I’d been having trouble placing. Even if I never get that longer story published now, it’s exciting to me that a grain of it will still exist out in the world.
Q: You've been published six times in 2023 and are starting 2024 off strong. What is your advice to emerging writers struggling to get published by literary magazines?
I think the most-important piece of advice I can give is to actually read the magazines. I don’t do this enough myself, but I make an effort to at least read the stories of writers I know and like as they come out, and to pick two or three magazines I really pay attention to. Most of the stories I wrote in my first year taking this seriously were awful, and I know it’s primarily because I didn’t read short stories, so I didn’t understand yet what makes them work. I was writing them like novel chapters, because that’s all I was consuming—the fact that I didn’t get published until that changed feels like pretty convincing evidence to me.
Q: Your writing website is well-constructed and visually appealing. How did you go about setting it up?
Thank you! It’s actually Carrd, which is super easy to play with. I set most of it up over a handful of hours in one night, after studying the sites of some fellow SFF writers. I think I just got lucky that a lot of my initial random choices worked pretty well aesthetically? I was worried for a while that it was too sci-fi for how much I blend genres and wander at times fully into fantasy, but sci-fi is mostly what people want to buy from me anyway, so I guess it worked out!
Q: Do you have any writing goals for the upcoming year?
I plan to continue on the short-story grind, but my biggest goal is to finish another book. I’m a few chapters in on a novel-length sequel to my first Radonstory, “Ascendant Neither-Nors,” with a couple language tweaks but following the same character and situation. In hindsight, trying to query a six-POV fantasy novel that’s under 80k words as a debut was pretty ambitious—a one-POV high-concept sci-fi novel may have a better shot. For the fantasy novel, I did recently get my first partial request from an agent, which was amazing after so many form rejections. But we’ll see—I really just have to keep working on the next thing.