Friday, September 26, 2014

Six Questions for Natalie Bowers, Editor/Publisher, 1000words

1000words is looking for previously unpublished flash fiction of up to 1000 words in length. The stories may be in any genre, but must have been written in response to one of the images from our Pinterest Boards. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Natalie Bowers: It was early 2012, and I’d just completed an online writing course with flash fiction aficionado Calum Kerr. He’d mentioned that he was trying to get the first ever National Flash-Fiction Day off the ground and was looking for people to organize events and projects, offline and on. Over the course of the course, I’d fallen in love with flash fiction, and I’d always had a secret desire to run my own magazine, so I put the two together with my enthusiasm for photography and came up with the idea for 1000words. We published our first stories in the run-up to NFFD 2012.


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

NB: I don’t dilly-dally when it comes to deciding if a story is right for 1000words. If it grabs me, it goes on the site, and the major factor in determining whether a story grabs me or not seems to be its narrative voice. I need a narrative voice I can trust. It doesn’t have to be confident, but it does have to be consistent. I have to believe in the narrator to believe in the story.

The second thing I look for is a spark of something special. It might be an unusual turn of phrase, a particularly poignant observation, a subverted cliché, a surprising simile, or it might be that the story itself is old, but that it’s being told in a new way … or vice versa. It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

The third thing I look for is subtly of exposition. I believe there’s a place for ‘telling’ as well as ‘showing’ in flash fiction, but I do like to have to read between the lines. I don’t want to be told what to think; I want to be told a story that makes me think.

I also like stories that work synergistically with the pictures that inspired them, but that’s a fourth thing!


SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission (besides the converse of your responses to question 1)?

The biggest turn off for me is an apparent lack of proofreading. We all make a mistake here and there, so I’m more than happy to drop in an extra comma or apostrophe if needed, but if I’m faced with consistently inaccurate grammar and punctuation that doesn’t serve the story, then I’ll most likely give up on the piece.

The other thing that turns me off is when authors toss their stories at me without so much as a ‘Hello’! My name is on our website, but even a ‘Dear Editor’ would be polite.


SQF: In your FAQ, you state, "we believe that the shorter the story, the sharper the bite.” Is there such a thing as too short?

NB: Not for us. I think the shortest piece we’ve published is 75 words long, but if Hemingway (or whoever really wrote it) had sent me his six-word story, I’d definitely have published it!


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

NB: Where should I start? The most important thing I’ve learned from being an editor is that I need to persevere with my own writing. Every time I publish a story at 1000words, I’m inspired to open up my laptop and start typing again. The stories we publish always push me to up my game as well. As an editor, I ask myself what I like and what I don’t like about each submission, and this has helped me enormously when rewriting and editing my own stories. I’ve also developed a thicker skin when it comes to dealing with rejection. It’s nothing personal when I decline to publish a story—it’s often just a matter of taste—so when I receive a ‘no’ from a publisher, I simply dust of the rejected story and send it somewhere else.


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

NB: The question I wish you’d asked is: “Are there any topics or themes you don’t want to read about?” As someone who’s suffered from depression and anxiety, I don’t like submissions that deal with mental illness in a superficial or stereotypical way–I’ve got too much first-hand experience to believe in them. I also have a particular aversion to stories about suicide, mostly because the one’s I’ve been sent have been about people simply feeling sorry for themselves. I have published one or two on the site, but these have been something special, something different, like Cathy Lennon’s A Useful Facility in theNorth, which is one of my very favourite 1000words stories.

Well, that was a cheery note on which to finish!

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


NEXT POST: 10/3--Six Questions for Annabelle Edwards, Editor, Control Lit

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, FictionFreedom.com

FreedomFiction.com 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, FreedomFiction.com 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 @ freedomfiction.com 


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 freedomfiction.com 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?

N/a

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, FictionFreedom.com