For the Strange Horizons 2020 Fund Drive, a conversation between fiction editor Catherine Krahe and accessibility editor Becca Evans. They chatter about accessibility, crafting, design, and finding joy in fanfic and games.
Becca Evans: Hey Catherine! Let’s do some talking about some stuff! I figure we can introduce ourselves to the lovely readers and then go from there!
I'm a very recent graduate (just earned my master's degree) from the States, currently in job-search mode. I’ve been working with SH for … about a year now, first as an Accessibility Editor, then as an intern, and now as an AE and as part of the Development/PR team!
Catherine Krahe: Ugh, job searching is terrible and I wish you strength. I’ve been with Strange Horizons since 2011 or so; there’s a Staff Spotlight with Ness that has more timeline information. I’ve only worked with Fiction, though, so I’m really interested to hear what you’ve been up to.
BE: Ooh, yeah! I started working with Clark, training up on AE stuff and adding content warnings to back issues last June. I love it—I get to read all the cool stuff and make it more welcoming for people who are meandering through our incredibly large repository of stories. My research focus in grad school was accessibility in online publishing spaces, and when I saw the call for AEs on SH’s website (while I was in the middle of conducting an accessibility study of twenty-nine different speculative fiction magazines' websites), I knew I wanted to get into that.
For my master’s program, we’re allowed (and encouraged) to do a three-hundred-hour internship, rather than a traditional thesis. Since I was already working with SH, and it was already perfect for what I was looking for (publishing, SFF, the works), I asked Ness if ve’d be interested in having me on for more stuff. I did a ton of stuff … I could go on for a really long time, but suffice to say I really enjoyed the work! Towards the end of everything, Ness, Kate, and I had a meeting about the fund drive, and I offered to help out with the drive, and Development/PR in general, because … I was bored, and anxious about job-hunting, and it was something I felt I could positively contribute to in the crazy that is the world right now. I could ramble on forever about what I do, because I really do love it, but the AE work is definitely the closest thing to my heart.
CK: What does accessibility mean in this context? I did a bit of that early in my time here—making sure that the alt text for illustrations embedded in a story worked—but have happily handed off that responsibility.
BE: I think of it as making content, technology, and information available and usable for as many people as possible. This includes everything from making sure that web pages and text are screen reader friendly to having audio recordings of text (and transcripts of audio), to making sure that the colors used in websites have enough contrast to be easily seen by low-vision viewers, and more.
Content warnings are a tool we use to help our readers protect themselves from potential triggers, and I view that as a huge part of SH's work to keep our issues accessible and safe for our readers.
CK: Yeah, the first story we used them on was at the author’s request. What’s the most not-obvious accessibility tweak you’ve made? Not in terms of how it affects the site or the content, but in terms of how someone like me, who hasn’t given this a ton of thought, would be surprised that it’s a thing, I guess? (I used to work in special ed and part of my job was figuring out how to make jobs more doable for my students, sometimes in weird-to-onlookers ways.)
BE: Hm, I’m not sure. Most of what I’ve done so far is go in and analyze other websites for their “levels” of accessibility … but I’d say the thing that people just don’t think about, in terms of making their website accessible, are images that they are using to convey information. So a graphic, for instance, that lists an important event’s date or time—but they don’t have that date and time actually written out on the page in text, just in the graphic. If that information is not included in the ALT text, screen readers can’t read it, and low-vis users will miss it.
CK: I ran into that some when I worked with a blind student who needed adapted graphics and such. It’s frustrating.
BE: It really is. And until people are constantly thinking about accessibility, and making their websites accessible from the start, it’s not going to get any better.
CK: Because for able-bodied typical-senses me, the most annoying thing about the website is that I have to keep loading the archives to read further back.
And it’s not actually that hard to do things like have adjustable font sizes in a program or shapes and colors in a game, or captions, or any of that. But here I am explaining your job to you. Solidarity argh?
BE: Ha, yeah, once I get started it’s hard to stop. And yeah, this stuff is relatively easy to implement, if you’re doing it from the start! But a lot of people tend to think “eh, we’ll add that in later,” and then you have a lot of work to do, and you’ve already done so much, so they quit. Argh!
BE: Anywho, what about you? What do you do when you’re not staring in awe at fund drive numbers?
CK: Partly I want people to know what you do, which is why I led with that. We didn’t just luck into the accessibility we have, we (meaning you) made it happen.
Outside of my SH work, lately … not much? I swear, I used to be interesting, I used to do things, then *gestures at everything* and now mostly what I’ve accomplished this week is overdue fund drive work and reading submissions during my night shift work. Also adjusting to night shift.
My work is essential and hospital-based (no patient care, but lab work) which means my daily life didn’t change much with the beginning of the pandemic. But my usual SH work schedule was to be outside my house, especially after meeting with a craft group on Saturdays, and I just couldn’t adapt for a couple months.
I like crafting, though like most people I’m better at coming up with ideas for projects than at completing them.
CK: At some point, I’m going to do a good-sized embroidery piece with little cute garden plots full of vegetables and flowers and one in the center with hummocks of dirt and a dead bird with LAY THINE EYES UPON IT AND SEE THAT IT IS BARREN as a banner.
BE: That sounds absolutely amazing! I cross-stitch (I want to get into embroidery, but the free-flowing aspect scares me; I like the x’s.), and finishing projects can be a chore sometimes. I haven’t been able to craft in a while because of everything going on and my own lack of energy, but I am working on a piece that will go to one of our lucky Grab Bag tier backers!
CK: Design is always the hard part with me—I’m a messing-with person when it comes to patterns and almost always change something. With embroidery, I haven’t found other designers that match my aesthetic perfectly, though some come close, so I end up doing a lot of doodling and trying to make letters curve the right way.
BE: I’ve been playing with a design for a cross-stitch tattoo I really want, but I have a similar problem. The photos of cross-stitch tattoos I’ve found aren’t exactly what I want, but I’m having trouble translating what I actually want into a workable design (eventually, I want a whole sleeve of cross-stitch flowers/trees with at least two bees and a cat in there somewhere).
CK: A friend of mine has an embroidery tattoo with stitched things she likes on it and the needle tucked into the work because it’s not finished yet. Cross-stitch might not be the best medium to translate to a tattoo because of the 'X'iness. I don’t know, I don’t have tattoos or any real knowledge of them.
BE: It’s so tricky! Translating thread work to permanent ink is weird … but cross-stitch has been part of my life for a really long time, and I just love the idea of it. One day I’ll figure it out!
CK: And I’d forgotten that not everyone goes for the tiniest possible stitches.
BE: Yeah, I think it’s easier if you think of it as the pattern, rather than the product, if that makes sense?
CK: Super does.
CK: Besides the crafting, I read a troubling amount of fanfic—in the sense that it has had actual effects on my professional life, not in a moral sense—and haven’t managed a book in weeks. And that was a pair of mid-nineties Harlequins from a Little Free Library, picked up because they would not give me feels.
BE: I’ve also been reading what is probably a troubling amount of fanfic for the past few weeks! But I also work at a local comic shop (super small, I get paid in books rather than money sort of deal), so I’m never short on anything to read. Lately I’ve enjoyed a contemporary King Arthur-mixed-with-fantasy-order-keepers books (Once & Future, by Kieron Gillen) and one of DC’s recent YA graphic novels, You Brought Me the Ocean (which, despite DC’s whole … thing, right now, is a neat queer comic).
CK: I keep meaning to try comics again, as more than a daily-update thing, but I am very, very text-oriented. I need practice to remember to look at the pictures. Ursula Vernon’s Digger is amazing—most things she does are—and I recently sent an eight-year-old friend Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn, which he thought was hilarious.
BE: The Phoebe series is a bestselling series for a reason! Kids love it.
CK: I barely managed to get it in the mail because I started reading it. Then the library closed before I could check it out on my own.
BE: I miss the library so much *sobs*.
CK: Same. Not just because it was where I did my SH work and also had three Pokestops and a gym right where I could reach them.
BE: But those are definitely great bonuses! I stopped playing Pokemon Go after a bit, but I have been playing the phone version of Animal Crossing (Pocket Camp), because I don’t have a Switch. It’s the “friends” aspect that I think gives me the most joy; I haven’t been able to see any of my cohort from grad school in a while, and we were super close, so having the semester go virtual was rough.
CK: I am still sort of playing Pokemon Go, but not as much as I was. The things that have been changed to make it still work with shutdowns make it harder for me to get into it. I have really enjoyed seeing people playing Animal Crossing and the low-stakes joy it’s bringing to the world.
Meanwhile, when I play video games, I play Don’t Starve, the Dark Souls of Animal Crossing.
BE: I don’t think I’ve heard of that one, what is it?
CK: You wake up on an island, you gather food, you make a torch or fire because the darkness will eat you, you avoid monsters and eventually build a camp and farms and such. Then winter comes. Then spring comes, which is worse. No lives, so if you die you die. I’m no longer at a point where I’m spending six hours a day playing it, but I still enjoy it some. If nothing else, there are adorable beefalo who only sometimes go into season and kill you.
BE: Aww, beefalo! That sounds like a ton of fun.
CK: THEY ARE FURRY AND MAKE MOO NOISES.
BE: I’ve never seen them BUT I LOVE THEM.
… I have now seen them, and I LOVE THEM EVEN MORE.
CK: This is my reaction to all dogs ever.
BE: I’m dogsitting for a friend right now, and the constant contact with a dog is a balm for the soul.
CK: Yeah, my cat has been thrilled at this night shift thing.
BE: My cat looooves that I’ve been home a lot more during all of this. She has some anxiety issues (and some medical issues on top of it) so it has also been really nice for me to keep a closer eye on her. Going back to “normal” after this will be strange.
CK: Wait, what is normal? I don’t even remember any more. Some of that is that I’m still going out to work, but some of it is … when was March again? How many years have passed? Which near-Biblical plague are we on this time?
(Actually, can we get a rain of frogs? No, let’s go straight to bees. Rain of bees. We need more bees.)
BE: Yes, I agree. All the bees. Think of the honey.
CK: Now I’m back to being faintly depressed about the state of the world and my place in it. What’s a recent uplifting or favorite thing of yours?
BE: On a very small level … strawberries were on sale this week, so now my entire fridge smells wonderful! And on a slightly higher level, I got a confirmation email about my diploma mailing out this week!
BE: Thanks! What about you? Any lovely moments or funny memories?
CK: Weekends are tough for me lately because of the lack of structure, but it’s been good to see people remembering their favorite parts of SH on the Twitter feed. Especially because there’s so much variety with twenty years of archives to go through!
BE: It really has! And it has been a wonderful excuse to read all of them. I can even say I’m doing it for “work”!
CK: There’s a great feeling when other people like something I’ve worked on—it’s not like we put our names on the stories, after all. I helped with that! I too think it is a great story! It was so much fun to work on you have no idea!
And then I think of things before I came on board, like “Tomorrow Is Waiting” from 2011, which is just … gentle, low-stakes joy.
BE: *scurries off to go open it up to read later*
CK: How many tabs do you have open with recommended SH pieces?
BE: Between my laptop and my phone … about twenty! Which is really on the nose, but it’s true!
CK: I have a bunch of Spanish Samovar stories in tabs right now, mostly to see if I’ve retained enough of the language to be helpful as a first reader for our Mexicanx special issue. I do not hold out a great deal of hope.
BE: I failed so bad at high school Spanish I switched to Latin in college, and, uh, let’s just say foreign languages aren’t my strong suit.
CK: I love that Samovar publishes original and translated versions.
BE: It’s really, really lovely. I need to read more of Samovar, because I really admire what the team does with it! (hint hint, dear readers).
CK: Likewise. There’s so much good going on.
BE: Well, as a sign off for our wonderful readers, and a special thank you to our backers, who have helped us hit our stretch goals to maintain our pay rates in the coming year—
CK: —and special issues!
BE: (I’m so bad at endings)
CK: Our editorial meetings end with ritual call-and-response of "bats" so honestly, this is fine.
Thank you, everyone who reads and supports Strange Horizons. You make this possible—you have made this possible for twenty years now, and every year, we try to make our genre wider and stranger and more inclusive. We couldn’t do it without you. Please take care of yourselves and each other.