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Chatting with Goran Lowie

Goran takes on submission trackers shaming magazines for AI subs, aro/ace representation, Dutch SFF magazines, Twitter spec-poetry roundups, and the Belgian SF industry (or lack thereof).

Chatting with Goran Lowie

Goran Lowie has poems published or forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Star*Line, Penumbric, Kaleidotrope, and others. In 2023 he was awarded André Velghe’s poetry award. He is aro/ace & teaches ethics in Belgium.

Goran is also the author of the poem “Elegy for the Asteroid Miner” from Radon Issue 4.

Q: What has your reaction been to submission trackers such as The Submission Grinder openly shaming magazines which publish AI submissions?

There is a devaluation happening in the arts. Suddenly AI seems to many as a viable option for images, stories, journalism, and other written content. In reality, current AI is nothing of the sort—they’re just bullshit machines regurgitating plagiarized words. I’m happy to see The Submission Grinder taking such a public stance on the issue and wish other organizations did the same. We desperately need a pushback on this subject in defense of artists.

Q: How is it teaching ethics to high schoolers? And how did you find your way to humanism?

It’s interesting for sure. I would never want to teach another subject. The specific class I teach is a kind of alternative to religious classes, where humanism mixes with current topics to engage students via critical thinking and identity. It’s a very rewarding thing to see the impact you can have on the kids. But it’s increasingly challenging in this polarized world. 

I often teach the current hot topics like LGBTQ+, racism, migration, and climate change. I’ll often have half the class being supportive of LGBTQ+ rights and the other half openly homophobic. It gets insane at times. I have had local right-wing extremists threaten me at my door. I continue to give this class though, and don’t avoid the controversial subjects, because it’s more important than ever for kids to learn these things and develop these attitudes.

I followed this class myself when I was younger, and it had a very big impact on me. I have been a humanist ever since. This has only been strengthened over the years as I’ve become more aware of everything going on in the world and being influenced by humanist writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and film directors like the Dardenne brothers, Vittorio De Sica, and others.

Q: Does your enjoyment of films ever inform your writing?

Indirectly, anything you consume and interact with will have an impact on everything you do. I had a big cinema phase during my formative years (from around 18 to 21) in which I completely dedicated myself to film. I can think of many films which left a big impact on me and helped me become the person I am today. But I’ve never really been directly inspired by specific films to write poetry.

Q: Are you still producing Speculatief, your Dutch SFF magazine?

This is somewhat of a difficult subject. It’s currently sort of on hold—one of my big problems at the moment is hyperfixation. I have a tendency to hyperfixate on something, and then suddenly . . . it’s gone. Coupled with life being incredibly busy lately and time being so valuable alongside me focusing more on my personal career . . . it’s on the back burner, but still being worked on. The audience was extremely small to begin with and the first issue was far from the success I was hoping for. 

Q: How is your bi-monthly speculative poetry roundup progressing?

Great!! I saw a lot of positive responses to the first one and definitely plan to continue this for the time being. There’s so much great stuff being published in SFF poetry right now, but much of it is underread and unseen.

It’s honestly also a great way for me to read as much SFF poetry as possible. I always believe people who want to become directors need to watch as many movies as possible. People who want to write should read all the books. It’s the same with writing poetry—I like the roundup because it puts a deserved spotlight on some amazing poems, but it also makes me read more poems and think about them in a critical manner. What makes this poem work for me? Why do I like it more than all the others? It’s a fun and rewarding experience.

Q: The data you share on your Twitter regarding submission stats is quite helpful. What prompted you to begin doing that?

Transparency is always a good thing. I actually followed Mary Soon Lee’s lead, who’s been doing this forever. I think it’s valuable for other writers to see how long it takes for poems to get accepted and especially how many times they were denied proper. It gives them some perspective. Also, I just personally like stats and sharing the warm feelings I get whenever I get an acceptance!

Q: When or how did you decide you would write a series of poems specifically for Radon? 

It’s simple—I like Radon very much. Ever since I read THE DISPOSSESSED I have been interested by anarchism. Pair that with the current world situation and themes of revolution, alternatives to our current way of living, resistance, and transhumanism just naturally interest me. There aren’t many magazines like Radon and it seems to be tailor-made to my interests. 

Q: Do you look for a sense of community when submitting to journals or what is your primary concern when submitting?

Not initially, but it helps me to keep coming back. Community is such a vital aspect of the writing for me. What do I look for usually? The following order:

     1) Interests – What is this magazine focused on? I’m passionate about solarpunk ideas, anarchism, ethics, hopeful futurism, slice-of-life stories, and imagining other possibilities/alternatives such as queer-norm worlds or other unusual ideas. Naturally I’ll prefer magazines that align with those interests.

     2) Money and magazine size – Obviously no SFF poets are in it for the money because the paying markets are few and largely offer token or semi-pro payments. Still, it’s nice to feel valued. I will always try to hit paying markets first.

     3) Response rate and simultaneous submissions – This is why I barely submit poems to markets like Analog and Asimov’s, which are both high-profile mags yet have high response times and allow no simultaneous submissions. I can be impatient at times, and letting a poem with the same place for months at a time feels like a waste.

     4) Will it actually be read? – I prefer submitting to magazines I know have a following or people are reading and discussing.

Q: You publicly talk about your experience as aro/ace. Has this identity or surrounding conversation had an impact on your writing?

Somewhat, I suppose. I do tend to focus on queer relationships in my poetry because romantic and sexual attraction has always been a bit incomprehensible for me. I write from my experience and that simply isn’t a part of it. I like to focus on platonic relationships and friendship as a contrast to love and partners. When all the stories you read and everything you listen to is focused on romance and sex, a somewhat alien concept, you naturally start making up your own alternatives. I also deeply believe in representation; it feels good to recognize yourself in something when you’re part of a marginalized group. It took me longer than it should have to realize I’m aro/ace because its existence simply wasn’t presented to me. It took me even longer to accept because it seemed like I was obviously broken. 

Q: Tell us more about the 2023 André Velghe Award you won?

There’s a local (country-wide) poetry contest accepting thousands of anonymous submissions every year. They choose five winners, the #1 being awarded with the André Velghe Award. I only started writing poetry on a whim in May of last year, writing five poems in a day and sending them out to magazines but not really taking it seriously. The first poem I ever sent out was immediately accepted by Star*Line (which gave me such a big ego boost!), but it wasn’t really a thing I was pursuing yet. In August I received an e-mail from the poetry competition. I saw the title and had honestly forgotten I’d even sent anything in. I was stunned to learn that I was in the top five and invited to the ceremony; I was even more amazed to be given the award. After this, I immediately started writing more poems and have written nearly 150 since.

Q: Do you find the writing industry to be different in Belgium than it's portrayed in the US?

Definitely when it comes to speculative fiction. There’s basically no market for it here, especially not from local authors. Few books get translated. We don’t even have “Science-Fiction” or “Fantasy” categories in bookstores—they get put with the thrillers and mystery books under “Exciting.” The poetry market is extremely small with maybe ten magazines in total publishing mostly the same people and offering no payment, mostly “modern” poetry. I’ve gotten very harsh and down-right rude rejections from magazines in Belgium and the Netherlands dismissing my poetry because it should stay closer to today’s reality. It’s essentially a non-viable, dead market for me.

Q: You've had a large number of acceptances in 2023 so far. What is next for you?

I’m honestly not sure. Things are weird for me right now. Though I’ve had a great time getting lots of acceptances the past few months, I’ve had a bit of a dry spell on the writing front. I’m worried this might be another hyperfixation that’s over. I worry the next poem won’t be as good or suddenly I’ll lose all of my inspiration. Things have been busy and continue to be so. I have no idea if this poetry thing will last; my life is too unstable to be able to tell.

If it does, I’ll mostly be focusing on writing more and to just keep submitting to magazines. I have no intentions whatsoever of writing short stories and the like, it’s just poetry for me. I’m toying with the idea of putting together a chapbook or collection, too. I have ideas for a themed chapbook of elegies, of which I’ve written seven so far (one of them being Radon’s “Elegy for the Asteroid Miner”). But the future is always uncertain, and I try not to make long-term plans because I know I can’t rely on future me.

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