Friday, September 19, 2014

Six Questions for Benjamin Goodney, Managing Editor, Storm Cellar

Storm Cellar is a national literary arts magazine, with a special emphasis on the Midwest, that publishes literary fiction, flash, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art. It publishes quality, innovative, and eclectic work while striving to represent women and minority writers. It is "un-boring." Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Benjamin Goodney: Things really got cooking when we were like, "Women don't get published enough in literary venues, let's do something about that." We were like, "The Midwest is a more diverse place than people give it credit for, so we should be putting out the work of women, of racial and sexual minorities, underrepresented authors of all kinds."

As an ongoing concern, we're trying to publish what we consider the best, full stop, of what we receive, at the same time that we're trying to promote variety, egalitarian conceptions of literature, and methods and perspectives that are unfamiliar to us. We're not really into bourgeois white masculinist psychological realist modernism (apologies for the redundancy), mandarin-class verse, family anecdotes, or jaded postmodern snark. While we're open to making exceptions, for the most part we find that stuff super-boring.

But probably the notion of "best, full stop" is incoherent, so we need to find the finest examples of many ways of putting marks on the page. The authors who send us their work are helping us figure it out. You can understand the tension between received notions of quality and a desire to publish people who aren't doing (whatever) that (is). Every issue, we're trying to resolve that tension. We're saying, this is good, this is risky, there is a place for these and those. There is a chip-on-shoulder quality to our magazine in that regard.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

BG: All of us here are looking for well-crafted work. Sometimes, as writers, we are conduits for "inspiration"—but most work we publish has been designed to affect the reader in a specific way. (Authors need not be able to explain what that is.) Craft is Michelangelo going back to the block of marble day after day until the statue is complete: it shows.

We always want to like what we publish, where "like" means enthralled by. And that means "making it new." You may not be aware of this if you're not an editor yourself, but reading slush gets samey-samey pretty quick: the average submission is average. We do not like average. In addition, we tend to prefer something ambitious and weird over something familiar and slick. Doing more than one thing at once often helps: try putting some tragedy in your comedy, some prosody in your imagery, some thinking in your memory. Surprising us often helps. When we say we're a journal of "safety and danger" we're not only talking about one thing. Aim fucking high.

The thing that is most important to me personally is a sort of spark or intense aesthetic experience—not necessarily pleasure–produced by reading excellent work. I admit this is a vaguely described, completely intuitive, and subjective standard of judgment. The writers who produce it are usually either very skilled or very committed, and sometimes they are very raw. This is how I describe what nearly all editors do, which is knowing-it-when-you-see-it. (It is a fact of human psychology that we like things first and then rationalize our preferences post hoc. Thanks, science.) See above re: "quality."

SQF: Other than not meeting the above criteria, what turns you off to a submission?

BG: Cliché of form, style, structure, plot, character, dialogue, theme, voice, etc. combined with lack of self-awareness. Sensationalism. Half-assing it. Blather. Imitation instead of theft. Pointlessness. A surprising number of writers seem to implicitly believe that just because they wrote something, it is worth other people's time. (Maybe that is the fault of internet?!?) I really feel like if everyone would stop at some point in the drafting process, and ask themselves, "Why does this matter?" it would increase the general welfare. "Because it's fun" counts as an answer to that question, by the way.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

BG: Nobody should send out work looking for comments.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

BG: Writers, especially early- and mid-career writers, need to read. Probably, you don't have an author you admire willing to mark your every draft. So, to develop an ability to tell the difference between what works and what doesn't, look at examples, break them down, figure out their operation. Your MFA does not substitute for this work. We ourselves read other great magazines, like Ninth Letter and Tin House (and, yes, items in a shit-ton of different publications, from A Public Space to Zyzzyva).

Also, that there is nothing personal about a rejection letter. Editors learn not to care about most submissions, because there are so many; they learn to care about and get excited by just a few, and those they love forever.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

BG: Do you accept bribes?

A: Yes, provided they are big enough.

Thank you, Benjamin. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 9/26--Six Questions for Natalie Bowers, Editor/Publisher, 1000words

Friday, September 12, 2014

Six Questions for Ujjwal Dey, Editor, publishes all genres of fiction in flash, short story, novella and novel length works by known and amateur authors. We publish digital art, paintings and photographs of aspiring artists. We also post interviews and reviews on our website. An eclectic mix of all flavours of genre fiction. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Ujjwal Dey: I was working as a professional Content Manager and Editor with leading multi-nationals such as Capgemini Consulting, Accenture and Verizon India. I felt I needed to expand my content into fiction domain. So FFJ started as a hobby. The love of our writers, readers and contributors made it grow exponentially in its first year of publication itself. Born in my bedroom on August 2008, now brings easy entertainment, joy and valuable experience to its supporters. It is my voluntary effort to give back to the industry and activity of writing and reading. I invest time, effort and money in it without earning a single cent of profit. Profit is not the motive. Short stories are an endangered species in the literary world. We provide a safe home to them. In 2013 we expanded into book length works but it is limited to our known, select authors who know we pay peanuts but we do no monkey business.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

UD: Clear name of author, contact email, attachment should be .doc or .rtf only for text and .jpeg for artwork. We want to tell your story. So we want to promote you and not just your content. So please feel free to tell us about yourself so that we can put it as a brief bio along with the story. We only accept electronic submissions by email to editor @ 

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

UD: Excessive formatting of the text or total lack of effort in the layout of the text is a sight ready to turn off the most active reader. Follow the IT rule of KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. Often I would take a chance on a subject matter or on an experimental story because it was in a simple .doc file without any fancy decorations or alterations to the paragraphs.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

UD: Every submission sent to us received an edited document and a customised reply irrespective of acceptance or rejection. From 2013 when we started looking at book length works, we no longer provide free editing services to the submissions. But from day one on 2008 till present, every submission of story or art has received a personal reply from a human at FFJ with specific comments about the submission irrespective of acceptance or rejection of the manuscript. We even provide a phone number after acceptance of content so that our authors or artists can contact us whenever they have a concern or request.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

UD: Writing is just the same as any other art form. You may learn painting, you may learn singing, you may learn to play the saxophone, you may learn to run a marathon, you may learn to dance well, you may learn kung fu, etc. But then there are generations of humans who do all these things without going to a special course or school or tutor. They do it naturally. So writing can be taught but you don’t necessarily need tuition in creative writing. Read enough crime fiction, and you may have an idea for your own crime novel. Photograph enough relatives, someday you may just get paid to photograph social events. You may not be a Shaolin Monk, but if you are 6’3” and can bench press a small car, then you can defend yourself. Find your calling. Find your gift. Then give it a chance to grow from within to outer space. 

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

UD: You should ask why the hell do I keep doing this? I have no answer. There certainly is no money nor fame in this activity or online ezine called yet it is now in its sixth year in print. How? Why? Who cares? Well, it does impact lives. Many of my best writers are now friends with me on Facebook and LinkedIn. We keep in touch and motivate each other through life’s onslaught of challenges and successes. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I made a lot of very good friends whom I have only met “online” so far. I am not as famous a publisher as Murdoch or Hefner but my work helps my authors and artists build a portfolio, a resume, a stepping stone to greater things. Never received a complaint. Never regretted my personal time going into this. If I could do it all again, I would probably keep more from the slush pile and send out Christmas cards to everyone who has ever emailed us at FFJ. 

Thank you, Ujjwal. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 9/19--Six Questions for Benjamin Goodney, Managing Editor, Storm Cellar

Friday, September 5, 2014

Six Questions for Dash, Editor, Expanded Horizons

The mission of Expanded Horizons is to increase diversity in speculative fiction and to create a venue for the authentic expression of under-represented voices in the genre. The magazine publishes fiction and nonfiction to 6000 words and artwork. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Dash: I started Expanded Horizons in 2008 in order to help increase diversity in the speculative fiction genre. While there are other publications that believe in and support diversity, and while there are many more such magazines today, I was unaware of any speculative fiction magazine at the time that had diversity as the core of their mission.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Dash: First, I look for submissions which fit with our mission and fit within the scope of what we publish, i.e. that the submission is speculative fiction (or an essay about speculative fiction), that it fits within our word count (unless it’s art), and that it either a) is by an author from an under-represented background, or b) is about a protagonist of an under-represented background.

Second, I look at how well-written a submission is: world-building, plot, character development, use of language, originality of ideas, and other things. I look for authenticity of voice, e.g. does the author share the same background as the under-represented characters in the story? If not, has the author worked closely with people from that background in order to construct and tell the story?

Third, I look for stories (usually by people of under-represented backgrounds themselves) that challenge stereotypes and other “single stories” that are dominant in the field of speculative fiction (and often in the broader culture as well). I want stories that expand our horizons!

SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions you reject and how authors should respond to comments?

Dash: Authors should take the time to read the guidelines and some of our back issues before submitting to the magazine. All of our back issues are available for free on the site. We make these back issues available for free, in part, so that authors can get a good sense of the work we have published in the past, as a predictor of work we will accept in the future.

We have also tagged all of our stories by topic, so that authors of a story with a particular theme can see examples of works we have published before that share that same theme. If authors have questions about whether their work is a fit for us, they should query before submitting.

I cannot respond to every submission with a personalized rejection letter. However, when I do, I would like authors to think carefully about my comments on their story. Sometimes I offer feedback on the world-building, characterization, plot, and other technical aspects of a work. Other times I point out problematic ways in which their story presents women and/or minorities, e.g. the trend that stories with female “protagonists” too often feature viewpoint characters who take no meaningful actions nor make any decisions in the entire story (and then sometimes, are rescued by men). Many authors who write such stories have never reflected on the passivity of their female characters.

Authors should respond to feedback and criticism professionally and courteously.

Also, please note that a rejection letter with feedback is not a re-write request, unless explicitly specified.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

Dash: I provide feedback on about half of the stories I receive. This number may be higher or lower depending on how much time I have.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

Dash: I’ve learned to be more thoughtful, reflective and informed about what I read. For example, I’ve learned to more thoughtfully distinguish between stories written by people from under-represented backgrounds and experiences, and stories written “about” people like them by authors who may never have even met someone from that particular group, who are working solely off of media representations and the like. I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for why this distinction is important.

I’ve also become much more familiar with common stereotypes, especially those which are limiting of and damaging to minority groups, and I like to think I’ve learned a great deal about how these stereotypes can be avoided and subverted.

I’ve also learned about how dynamics of privilege play out in writing and publishing, and how these dynamics often work (intentionally or unintentionally) to silence or marginalize people from under-represented backgrounds. It’s not a level playing field out there.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?


Thank you, Dash. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 9/12--Six Questions for Ujjwal Dey, Editor,

Friday, August 29, 2014

Six Questions for Sherri Ellerman, Flash Fiction Editor, Liquid Imagination

Liquid Imagination publishes fantasy, horror, and science fiction stories (to 5000 words, 3000 preferred) and poetry, articles on writing, literary fiction, and flash fiction from 200-999 words in any genre. One aspect of Liquid Imagination that distinguishes it from other publications is its use of imagery, music, and voice to enhance the written work that appears on the site. Read the complete guidelineshere.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Sherri Ellerman: 

Depth: I often over-think things, and I seek a deeper meaning in most everything. Both of these are factors in the choices I make with submissions. I tend to look for meaning behind a story or at least a revelation within it.

The author’s trust in the reader: I would rather miss something in a story than have every little detail spelled out. One of my favorite authors, Ann Marie McDonald, demonstrates perfectly how to trust the reader. She is able to show so much without coming right out and saying it. This can sometimes lead to unanswered questions, but that is often a trademark of flash fiction anyway.

Clarity of the characters: A writer of flash fiction has so few words in which to develop his characters. His ability to do so efficiently is something I look for in submissions.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

SE: Besides a lack of the above mentioned, it would be an obvious disregard for proper grammar and usage. I am strict on myself concerning this when I write, so those mistakes bother me. Because of that, they are a distraction from the story. I will accept a piece that I have to edit and work with the author on, but it has to be really good in every other way that matters.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog? 

SE: We prefer pieces of writing that aren’t already available to readers on the internet. How can we surprise our readers with fresh ideas if we are publishing something that they may have already seen?

SQF: Your guidelines state stories that "surprise us with fresh ideas and language” have the best chance of being accepted. Is there a particular story (or stories) that stand out as examples of this? Why?

SE: Going Under by J.J. Roth

This story drew me in with all of its subtle metaphors and symbolism. It could technically work even if the reader misses both, so it took a lot of trust from the author to let the readers see what he intended for them to see. He kept the language simple yet was able to show so much with the details he chose to include in his descriptions

SQF: What magazines do you read?

SE: To be honest, I can’t recall the last time I bought a magazine. If I have a lot of time to read, I will pick up a book. For a small window of time, I will go to the internet—to online magazines. I know that sites put together well, like Liquid Imagination and Fabula Argentea, will always have something to offer.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

SE: When I submit a piece for possible publication, I often wonder about the editor who will ultimately decide to decline it or consider it. If I could ask just one question of an editor who will be reading one of my flash submissions, it would be this:

How did you become interested in flash fiction?”

His answer will give me a strong indication of what he is looking for in submissions.

My Answer: Because I have a limited amount of time to write, I was getting bogged down in finishing my longer projects. Flash gave me an opportunity to write shorter pieces that contained complete story arcs but took less time to complete. I found the same satisfaction in reading flash fiction.

Thank you, Sherri. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 9/5—Six Questions for Dash, Editor, Expanded Horizons