Meet STORGY – Tomek Dzido, Anthony Self, and Ross Jeffery
An orgy of stories, that is what STORGY Magazine is all about – a writhing pile of lithe, literary works and brazen art. You may have read my interview on STORGY a couple months ago. Guess who else was interviewed by STORGY. Chuck Palahniuk. Yep. That guy who wrote Fight Club (bringing me a tantalizing degree closer to a literary hero). You also may have seen my post about STORGY’s massive #EXITEARTH contest, and like me, wondered who are the orchestrators of this bacchanalian display of exceptional prose?
I asked the STORGY chaps to satisfy our curiosity about the mysterious beginnings of the literary magazine and what the team plans for the future. Trust me, this interview is even more interesting than it already sounds.
So, I think what everyone might first want to know is how you came up with the name Storgy and how does it express what you do?
Tony: Years ago when Tamagotchi’s were still a thing and a child could be entertained by asking it to use an imagination and play outside rather than thrust an iPad in front of its sweaty face, Tomek and I wanted to keep our writing skills relatively blunt (sharp is far too generous) so we came up with an idea to pitch each other story titles that we would write one thousand words for, read each other’s work and titter like pre-pubescent boys that had just seen a picture of a naked Abi Titmuss in the copy of the local Daily Star; from there we went on social media and asked people to pitch us titles and we thought we would need a name for this ludicrous endeavour so we thought of STORY and ORGY and put our hands together. Tomek had raspberry jam in one hand and some dog poo in the other, so the end result of his clap did not impress the startled cat he was trying to fellate at the time.
Tomek: Our goal was to devise a method through which to hone our writing skills, and as time moved on, we were fortunate to meet like-minded people who shared our passion for the short story and came on board. A lot of thanks goes out to these early contributors, without whom STORGY would not have flourished into what it is today. What we try to do is provide lovers of short fiction and film with a platform on which to publish their words and gain exposure. STORGY would not exist were it not for the dedication of all our authors and whilst there remains much for us to explore and many possibilities for expansion, we thank everyone who continuous to support us.
Storgy was founded in 2013. Since then, the magazine and its team have grown. In four years of publishing, what challenges has the magazine faced along the way?
Tony: Personally for me, it was the push of getting a story done on time, the self-doubt of it being any good – that nagging voice at the back of the mind that turns into a harpy witch, screaming at you that ‘you’re not good enough, you’ll never amount to anything, why are you crying?’ whilst clawing at your face with its curled, gnawed talons…that can be bit of a bastard. I look back at some of my own work and shudder at its sheer failings from a technical standpoint. As we grew though, we realised that other people were starting to get involved and sent us their own work. In its infancy stages, we had a core group of contributors and that gave us time to regulate and shuffle stories around, so that helped. We’ve just launched a YouTube channel and I’m trying to get things scheduled in for that, so the Harpy witch has evolved into a digital menace…
Ross: I came on board in 2016 to help head up STORGY’s social media and soon became head of our literary reviews. I’ve known Tony and Tomek for years even sharing a house with Tony at one point (what that man can’t make with a can of Mushy Peas and pasta isn’t worth eating). Secretly I was hoping that they would ask me to join this project and what do you know…they did. So as well as all the stuff Tony has spoken about above, Harpy Witches, Abi Titmuss and Tamagotchi’s, we also work with various publishers from huge organisations such as Bloomsbury and Penguin Random House, in addition to small Independent publishers such as SALT Publishing and Dodo Ink to name just a few. The guys (Tomek and Tony) have done a sterling job with a shoestring staff team – literally the two of them. So over the last year we have experienced expediential growth and the have taken a few more staff on – as well as expanding our reviewing team to keep up with demand from those publishers and authors that want to work with us.
Tomek: The greatest challenge was maintaining our motivation. A little over a year ago myself and Tony experienced a particularly trying period during which we questioned the existence of STORGY. During this dark time we were very close to shutting up shop. A desire to focus on our own writing and the complexities of juggling full time employment and matters of the heart drove us to the edge of insanity, but then Ross appeared and allayed our anxieties. Since then we have not looked back. The team has continued to grow and STORGY has gone from strength to strength. I am heavily indebted to Tony and Ross for all their hard work; the unsung heroes of STORGY without whom this ship would never sail.
Fight Club author, Chuck Palahniuk, said that STORGY is helping to ‘keep the short story alive.’ Do you think the short story form was dying, or at least in need of some fresh blood?
Tony: I think it’s fair to say that people enjoy reading a collection of short stories from their favourite author, or a novel by said favourite author, rather than take a risk and sample an anthology from writers they may not of heard of. I enjoy sci-fi and horror, so I regularly get a bumper anthology collection from loads of different authors. It helps you understand different style and prose, whilst opening your mind to different perspectives. Do you find duds sometimes? Of course you do. But that’s the nature of the beast. With publishers and distributors now using click-bait techniques to sell their authors, sometimes the little guy can be left out in the snowy plateau, shivering cold in the wind. We want to bring that little guy in from the cold and give him his shot. And possibly some Jaffa Cakes.
Ross: I must agree with Tony on this point, it’s not that the short story genre is in danger, it just needs to be jump started occasionally. The other day I walked into Waterstones (book shop) and spent a good proportion of my time trying to locate where in the shop the short story anthologies were. After tracking down a member of staff they showed me the smallest collection of books at the start of fiction; in the United Kingdom it’s just not seen as its own entity – the selection of books didn’t even have a sign. The last year I’ve read and reviewed some fabulous anthologies, so it’s not through the lack of talent…It’s just finding a collection in a book shop is a fricking hard task!
Tomek: The short story is a form that will never die. There are millions of readers across the world who enjoy reading short stories, and millions of authors who strive to write them. The difficulty is connecting the two. Unfortunately, short story collections do not sell as well as novels, for reasons which mystify me. In an era when time is in such short supply, a short story is the perfect antidote, but it doesn’t quite work like that. Not yet, anyway. I feel that there is much scope for innovation in the manner in which literature – and short fiction in particular – is presented and shared with readers. The digital age in which we live has the potential to empower the short story and ensure it not only survives, but thrives. Of course, there is much work to be done, but for the small part STORGY can play in keeping the form alive, the challenge is one we willingly accept.
My personal experience working with Storgy was the greatest pleasure. You roll out the red carpet for your writers and interviewees, treating artists and the craft of writing with great respect. How do you discover new writers to feature? And what is it you’re looking for when you’re vetting them?
Tony: Thank you for saying so. In all honesty, the writers have found us. We’ve always said from the start that STORGY is a platform for writers to express stories that they may not be able to showcase elsewhere. Using the old adage of ‘Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day, but give him the tools and he can fish for himself for a lifetime,’ we’ve simply said, ‘Your story is really good. We want to publish this so you’ll gain the recognition you deserve and write more.’ We’re looking for originality; we’re looking for great stories – sure. But we’re also fans. We also love reading truly engaging short stories that speak to us in a myriad of different ways. We’ve had some magnificent stories that we’ve had to decline because it lacked…something. But hopefully that writer will get angry or say to themselves, ‘Yep, you know what…in my heart it wasn’t good enough,’ and they’ll push themselves to write an even better short. One that we’ll gladly publish.
Ross: Thanks Christa that’s great of you to say. I think that one of our biggest assets is that we are all insanely passionate about literature, I also feel that because we are such an intimate set up that when we work with authors on projects they get the sense that we really care and they get the attention to detail that I find is quite often missing in the larger organisations. I again agree with Tony (this is like the most I’ve ever agreed with Tony – I better watch what he puts in my drink later) what with authors finding us; we offer a platform and really appreciate talented writers choosing to showcase their work through STORGY Magazine. But part of my job as head of books is to find existing talent, whether that is through independent publishing or reading a wide range of books, or even through listening to other authors and what they are currently reading – we’ve also a fantastic well read team here at STORGY and often recommend new writers to each other on a weekly basis.
Tomek: Thank you for your kind words. It’s nice to know that working with us is an enjoyable experience. The discovery of new writing occurs in many ways, all of which are the result of our passion for literature. STORGY is placed in a rather unique position within the industry, whereby we can act as an explorer of new and undiscovered talent and an agent of published authors. The discovery of new writing, whether it be a STORGY submission or a published anthology, never ceases to excite us. It is an honor to read the writing we receive and we feel immensely privileged to be in a position to share our discoveries. There remains a great deal of writing to which we are not yet exposed, but the wider we cast our net, the greater the words we catch. In terms of submissions, we have an experienced and talented team of editors, however, our decisions are entirely subjective and I would encourage writers who are not chosen for publication in STORGY to submit their work to other magazines. The debate about what makes a good short story is a complex one, and whilst there are numerous aspects which influence our decision, the most important is our enjoyment of a specific piece, irrespective of form or content or style or genre. Ultimately, there is only way to find out; submit.
You also hold yearly writing competitions. Your latest awards a £1000 grand prize and will be judged by Diane Cook, former producer This American Life and of author of Man V. Nature. This competition is open-genre and based on the theme Exit Earth. Why did you choose this theme?
Tony: I think we can safely say that last year was a complete wash out. Brexit. Terrorist shootings. Countless iconic celebrity deaths. Politics going bananas. It all seemed like a weird Twilight Zone episode where we were living in a parallel universe, but there didn’t seem to be any ending…whether the protagonist found it safely back home or not. I think a lot of people felt powerless last year, so we’ve decided to give them the opportunity to fight back using their words. The competition doesn’t need to have a dystopian theme; it can be about anything – a mother and daughter reconnecting, a superhero down on his luck, a morbid tale of a spooky house, the possibilities are endless…
Ross: That’s all above my pay grade…over to Tomek!
Tomek: For the first time we decided to focus on a specific theme for our annual short story competition, and following in depth discussions we settled on ‘Exit Earth’. This was partly due to our interest in the current state of global politics and how it impacts – or will impact – the future of mankind, but also our desire to work with Diane Cook. Man vs. Nature was one of our favorite books of recent years and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the two together. Whilst we are avid readers of dystopian fiction, we remain hopeful that entries will explore the limitless possibilities of this year’s theme. I must stress again, that this is not a genre focused theme and we encourage and welcome short stories of all genres. Our mission has always been to discover great short stories and a theme based approach to this year’s competition will provide an interesting way of inspiring new fiction. We are immensely excited about the competition and hope it proves to be an enjoyable experience for writers, and readers, too.
Who are the favorite big-name authors among the staff? Who are some authors you’d love to publish on Storgy?
Tony: George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Cormac McCarthy, Jonas Jonasson, David Moody, Will Self, Neil Gaimon…the list could go on and on…
Ross: Chuck Palahniuk (he remains the reason I write to this day), Hunter S Thompson, HG Wells, Bret Easton Ellis, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Hubert Selby Jr, Philip K Dick, James Herbert, Richar Thomas, James Frey, Peter Benchley – Some writers that blew me out of the water last year included Carys Bray, Ali Shaw, Adam O’Riordan, Roisin O’Donnell, Oisin Fagan and recommended from Tomek was Callan Wink (very grateful for that one). And some to keep your eyes out for in 2017 and beyond Joseph Sale, Jess Bonder and Daniel Soule – all creating some brilliant work in the independent realm, it’s only a matter of time for these guys.
Tomek: All the writing in STORGY is special to me. We wouldn’t exist were it not for the passion and perseverance of our authors, all of whom I hope gain wider acclaim. I can’t name individuals because one day we hope to publish them in print. In terms of authors I would love to see in STORGY, to name only a few: Jodi Angel, Ann Beattie, Amie Bender, Lucia Berlin, Jason Brown, Judy Budnitz, Diane Cook, Charles D’Ambrosio, Debra Dean, Junot Diaz, Tom Franklin, Rivka Galchen, David Guterson, Adam Haslett, Tama Janowitz, Dana Johnson, Miranda July, Richard Lange, Sam Lipsyte, Chris Offutt, ZZ Packer, Susan Perabo, Benjamin Percy, Thomas Pierce, David James Poissant, Donald Ray Pollock, Eric Puchner, George Saunders, Jess Walter, Caire Vaye Watkins, Apil Wilder, D W Wilson, Callan Wink, Tim Winton, and many may more. If you don’t know them, buy their books. If you do know them, scream STORGY!
What kind of readers would enjoy Storgy Magazine?
Tony: The thing about STORGY is its diversity. We’ve had short stories ranging from broken spirits to uplifting tales about the human condition. We’ve had sci-fi, horror, romance, drama to stories written from the perspective of children. It really caters to all. Now we have a YouTube channel (submit storgy) and we can reach out in a media capacity.
Ross: If you’ve got two eyes and can read then STORGY is for you. We publish such an eclectic mix of content each week that there is always something for you to read, we pride ourselves on this to ensure that our readership keep coming back as content changes so much with each passing week.
Tomek: We take great pride in the diversity of short stories we feature and hopefully one day soon we will be in a position to publish new and experienced authors. We will continue to publish short stories that excite and inspire us and hope that readers enjoy them too.
What might writers gain from being published in Storgy Magazine?
Tony: They’ll have a platform to showcase their short story/essay/article, they’ll be able to join a network of like-minded individuals and communicate via Twitter and FaceBook amongst a host of talented artists and writers. They’ll be able to strengthen their own style and pick up skills from other writers. In short, they’ll gain a whole wealth of knowledge from the STORGY empire.
Ross: A dedicated team who are not out to make a name for themselves, if it comes with the work we do that’s fantastic, but our purpose is to promote the artist; give them a platform and dedicate our efforts in helping them get their work out there!
Tomek: They’ll join a thriving community of creators and become part of the history of STORGY, each writer playing an important role in safeguarding the future of the short story.
Storgy has two anthologies out. Will you continue to publish anthologies?
Tony: As long as we’re still breathing, we’ll still do anthologies!
Ross: ‘Keeping the Short Story Alive’ Chuck Palahniuk – how could we stop!
Tomek: Even if Tony does stop breathing.
What goals does Storgy Magazine have for the future?
Tony: I could tell you, but then I’d have to smear Nutella all over your body and release the birds…
Ross: I could tell you, but they don’t even tell me, I just turn up and work my fingers to the bone, it’s the only way they’ll let me see my family again. If you’re reading this then it’s too late for me!
Tomek: Ross, back to the basement. Tony, I’m waiting…
Thanks to Tomek, Tony, and Ross.
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