Sam Asher, and The Cosmic Background A New Pro-Pay Home for Strange Flash

Sam Asher, and The Cosmic Background

A New Pro-Pay Home for Strange Flash

By Angelique Fawns


Who can’t get behind a market that defines itself as “a slipstream publication – that means we like your stories that don’t make a ton of sense. We want your giant talking frogs.”


The Cosmic Background is a new pro-paying flash market, and they take their inspiration from the leftover radiation from the Big Bang. 


The website says, “Turn on an Old TV. Turn on a Radio. And tune between the channels. Listen to the static. Observe it. Within that static you’re seeing the afterglow of the Big Bang, observing the visualization of heat from the birth of our universe. You’re witness to the most important event in the history of everything.

But only when you tune between the channels.

That’s where we want your work to come from: The place between channels.”


I met the editor and brainchild behind The Cosmic Background when Sam Asher purchased my story, “The Sentient Sea of Sargassum.” 

AF: What was your inspiration for starting your new flash venue?

SA: Stories like yours. The Sentient Sea grabbed me and sung at me and made me want to give you cash dollars and shout about it from the rooftops. Before the Cosmic Background existed, I had no means of doing that and was witnessing all of these wonderful, weird, hard-to-classify stories struggle to find homes at some of the older pro-paying magazines. When Daily SF (RIP) closed, I realized there were absolutely zero magazines left that would pay pro-rates for shorter stories, and I decided I should stop angsting about that, and do something positive for my community. 


That, and, of course, the weird creatures that live within the yawning maw of the Cosmic Background reached out to me and gave me no choice.


AF: How has the reception been to your concept?

SA: Overwhelmingly positive! I had a feeling we’d be filling a niche that would be appreciated, and I’m grateful to have been correct. In the 4 months we’ve been open, we’ve received over 2000 submissions. Unfortunately, of that 2000 we’ve been able to accept fewer than 10, but those 10 I am immensely proud of.


AF: What do you do as a day job?

SA: I’m a teacher, and a nanny.  I’ve been working with kids my entire adult life, and it brings me boundless joy and almost-as-boundless exhaustion. 


AF: Can you tell me more about your background and how you got interested in Speculative Fiction?

SA: Absolutely. I grew up living all over the world — I was born and spent the first 9 or so years of my life living in Salmiya, Kuwait, and from there went on to live in England, Catalunya, Austria, Thailand, and the USA, with stints in between in places like Switzerland, and Kenya. I am deeply aware of how lucky that makes me. Being exposed so many wonderful countries, and being able to read/speak so many languages also brought me closer to the stories of so many other cultures, many of which were deeply speculative without feeling the need to classify themselves as such in the way we do in the English language world. Traveling as much as I did also meant I had books with me constantly — I’m 35-years-old, so for most of my childhood and adolescence, books were my only form of portable entertainment. I loved the classics of the genre, LeGuin, Asimov, Pratchett, as a teenager, and from there found writers like Octavia Butler, and Ted Chiang, and in my twenties others who were writing exclusively short fiction, like George Saunders, and Lydia Davies. Writing stories felt like an inevitable conclusion.


AF: What kind of writing do you do yourself and where have you been published?

SA: I write what I enjoy reading, so it’s mostly speculative, mostly weird, mostly on the shorter side. My short fiction has been published in 25-or-so places, in magazines like Apex, Amazing Stories, Daily Science Fiction, the Mid-American Review and Orca. My first real sale was to the Saturday Evening Post, a story that ran alongside an old Kurt Vonnegut reprint. That’s still one of my proudest moments. I’ve been working on the longer end of things lately, and just finished my first novella. 


AF: How do you find time to write/do your own publishing?

SA: I have one of those watches that stops time. And I don’t sleep a lot. Between work, and having a 2-year-old, my days are astoundingly full. 


AF: Do you see The Cosmic Background expanding?

SA: Much like the universe itself, yes. At the end of our first two-year run, we’ll be kick-starting an anthology of every piece we’ve published, and right now I’m working on securing the funding to publish 1 or 2 full length hard copy short story collections a year. 


AF: What hints can you give writers hoping to sell to you?

SA: In a piece of flash fiction, not a single word can afford to be wasted. Every single one needs to knock me on my ass, to grab me by the throat, and not let go. Your opening needs to either grip me, surprise me, or fuck me up. A lot of writers send me entertaining, well-written vignettes, but a vignette is not a story. You need a solid plot, and compelling characters to go along with your perfect writing. 

In short: Selling to me is horrifically difficult, as is writing flash fiction as a whole. If you don’t read flash fiction and love the medium, your chances of selling to me are basically zero. 

I’ll add, as one potentially helpful little hint, that stories involving children overcoming shitty adults in some way are something I love, as is anything that makes me cry. Bring a tear to my eye in 500 words and I’ll buy your story.


AF: What is really exciting you in the speculative fiction field currently?

SA: So much. Afro-futurism, the Voodoonauts, my Clarion family (Shingai Njeri-Kagunda and Theodora Ward will both have a Hugo award sooner rather than later), the new breed of editors like Arley Sorg, and LP Kindred, the evolution of the old-school writer’s workshops (down with the Milford method!) and so much more. There’s still a long way to go in the fight to make our industry more inclusive, but I’m seeing more stellar BIPOC, Queer, and Trans writers making a name for themselves than ever before. As an aging Millennial, I’m hugely proud of the Gen-Z writers I’m familiar with, like Matty Olivas, who are changing the field for the better. 

This answer could go on forever, but the explosion of Novella also warms my heart. Christopher Rowe, who I’m fortunate enough to call both a mentor and a friend, released a novella last year that was completely perfect. We’ll be publishing one of his stories in the Background soon, which I couldn’t be more excited about.


AF: In your opinion, what is the best way to find profit in our field?

SA: If you ever learn the answer to this, please let me know. 

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