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Monday, September 15, 2014

Bull Spec officially retires as print magazine

Posted by on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 2:22 PM

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For Triangle-based fans of science fiction, fantasy and horror, Durham’s Samuel Montgomery-Blinn has played a major role in raising awareness of and consolidating the rich local scene for these genres with his magazine and website Bull Spec since 2010. The INDY reported on it back when it was on its fourth issue in 2011.

But after years of diligently promoting the books and films he loves, Montgomery-Blinn is cutting back … a bit. Bull Spec is officially retiring as a print periodical, though it will continue as a website and email newsletter. 

The print version of Bull Spec has been a labor of love for Montgomery-Blinn. "Spec" is shorthand for "speculative fiction," a term that encompasses science fiction, fantasy, alternate history and more. The magazine collected articles, interviews, reviews, comics, short fiction, poetry and event calendars. Montgomery-Blinn oversaw, edited and distributed it to local bookstores. 

Though he’s quick to point out the many other contributors responsible for putting the magazine together, Montgomery-Blinn has been the driving force behind it, which is why, after eight issues, he's finally calling it quits. The reasons are simple—aside from being a financial drain, the magazine was something he had to balance with his marriage, children and demanding day job for IBM, where’s he’s working on its high-profile “Watson” project to create a system with the Mayo Clinic to more efficiently match cancer patients with appropriate clinical trials. 

“The first six issues, I did everything, from copyediting to layout,” Montgomery-Blinn recalls. “I’d be at the beach on a family vacation and would sneak off at three in the morning to work until dawn, because there was an issue launch party scheduled and I needed to get the issue to the printer by a certain time so there’d be something to launch.

“When I started in late 2009, my kids were 1 and 3," he continues. "Now they have homework and hockey practice and dance practice and gymnastics, and there’s no more cracks in life to fit in some copyediting.”

Battling a lack of sleep and in one case, shingles, Montgomery-Blinn found issues coming out less frequently as he balanced work, family and event promotion with the print magazine. “[Publishing] was like bang-bang-bang-bang, and then [the wait] kept getting incrementally longer,” he says. “The last issue took almost a full year.”

That double issue, No. 8+9, was released in April 2013. It wasn't supposed to be the last one. Montgomery-Blinn had accepted stories for a 10th issue, but finally gave up on putting it out and returned the stories to their authors last month. 

Montgomery-Blinn has raised the profile of science fiction and fantasy in the Triangle by organizing fans, providing publicity for events, and sometimes even working with authors’ publicists to help include Triangle stops on their book tours, occasionally moderating Q&A sessions at their appearances. He promotes the culture through social media, emails and even just by providing stacks of printed flyers at Triangle businesses. His work has paid off—some Bull Spec-related events have drawn hundreds of attendees, encouraging similar events down the line.

“We’re science fiction people—we’re hermits!” Montgomery-Blinn says. “We don’t socialize too terribly much. It was through Twitter and social media that I was able to do outreach and find people—writers, filmmakers, artists—and put them together. I just think that was something that was ready to happen, and all I did was give people a little nudge. We’ve gone from losing our only local science fiction convention (Trinicon) to having more events than I can make it to in a year.”

He’s not giving up that promotional aspect of Bull Spec—he’ll continue to do the website, newsletters and flyers, to invite authors for readings and signings, and to post interviews with local and visiting authors and authors online. But now, there’s one less major task for him to accomplish on a regular basis. “It’s cheap-to-free to do, and it’s much less difficult than having boxes and boxes of magazines to sell,” he says.

He’s grateful to all those who supported the magazine, and is open to someone else taking over Bull Spec or doing something similar—“Someone who’s good at invoicing bookstores and finding advertising and can maybe do their own art design, none of which are things I can do,” he says.

But why did he do all this in the first place? “It’s hard to describe that,” Montgomery-Blinn says. “I did have some naïve ideas, 'if you build it, they will come,’ and ‘maybe this could work.’ But basically, I’ve just really loved science fiction since I was a kid. Getting to meet a lot of the local writers and realizing what a talented group we have here made me want to give them a venue. And I hope I did that.”

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