Thursday, July 3, 2014

Six Questions for Grant Faulkner, Editor, 100 Word Story

100 Word Story publishes pieces of exactly 100 words—no more, no less. "Tell a story, write a prose poem, pen a slice of your memoir, or try your hand at an essay." Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Grant Faulkner: A friend introduced me to the form, and I became obsessed with writing 100-word stories. I had been working on a novel for years, so writing these smaller pieces was a nice break, and since I could squeeze them into a somewhat frenzied life as a working parent, they gave me a great sense of creative satisfaction. I could actually finish something. 

As I thought about submitting them, though, I realized how few journals are truly dedicated to flash fiction. Since 100-word stories are such a particular form unto themselves, I thought they deserved their own publication. Also, I thought a 100-word story is the perfect length to read online, and we wanted to reach readers where they were. 

Fortunately, my friend Lynn Mundell was up for a crazy creative endeavor as well, so we got together in coffee shops and living rooms and hatched this thing. And then the fabulous photo editor Beret Olson came aboard. Her photos provide a wonderful interplay between story and image.

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

GF: I think the best 100-word stories possess what Roland Barthes, in describing what makes a photograph arresting, called the punctum—“the sting, speck, cut, prick.” It's difficult to describe, but a good 100-word story startles the reader in a similar manner.

A 100-word story, because of its compressed brevity, can resemble a prose poem. I like stories that work with language and mood in such a way, and move with a sense of what is left out of the story. Flash fiction is so much about absences and gaps, after all. 

There has to be a sense of escalation, though. Most of the pieces we publish have an identifiable beginning, middle, and end. Each sentence has to carry a symbolic weight forward and tell a story.

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

GF: Since 100-word stories are so brief, it's easy to think they're easy to write. They require as much revision as any story, though. Too often we see pieces that read as first drafts and even include obvious typos or grammatical mistakes.

We also sometimes get stories that rely on gimmicks, such as an ending that flips the story with a contrived coincidence rather than through earned character development. We want every story we publish to illustrate life in an interesting, arresting way. 

SQF: In your piece in the NY Times, "Going Long. Going Short.” you say the least helpful feedback you received in a critique group was “I want to know more.” Do you have any other advice for critiquing short-short works?

GF: Everything that applies to a good critique of a longer work applies to short-short stories. Are the characters compelling and drawn without clich├ęs? Is there a compelling conflict that escalates?

That said, stories that are as short as 100 words rely more on nuance, so a critique can be similar to critiquing a poem. Each word and phrase requires close scrutiny, and the sentences can be read like the lines in a poem.

When I critique, I like to focus on what’s left out—to try to see how a short-short can live in its breaths as much as its words. That’s a good challenge for any form, though.

SQF: You’re also the executive director of National Novel Writing Month. How did this come about, given your penchant for short fiction?

GF: My penchant for writing longer works preceded my penchant for flash fiction. I like writing and reading in a lot of different forms, and I think each form influences another in vital ways. One of my grad school profs, Bob Gluck, had us write a novel in one page, so I see long and short forms as very compatible.

One of my favorite things about 100 Word Story is also one of my favorite things about National Novel Writing Month: they both help people who might not otherwise call themselves writers become writers. We’ve heard from teachers who teach 100-word stories in prison programs and high-school GED classes, and they tell us they love the form because it’s not intimidating. Its brevity is an invitation to writers to give it a whirl. 

Likewise, National Novel Writing Month tells people that instead of getting overwrought with the idea of penning a perfect novel, you’ve just got to jump in and write it. Having a goal and a deadline are the foundation of accomplishing audacious creative endeavors.

SQF: What’s next for 100 Word Story?

GF: We want to publish an anthology of one hundred 100-word anthologies. We’re also dedicated to publishing our hero of the short-short form, Lydia Davis. And then we’re long overdue to put on a rollicking party that lasts long into the night. Short stories, long parties.

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

NEXT POST: 7/11--Six Questions for Lise Quintana, Editor-in-Chief, & Allie Marini Batts, Managing Editor, NonBinary Review

Friday, June 27, 2014

Six Questions for Susannah Martin, Editor, Estuary

Estuary publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art. Read the complete guidelines here -

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Susannah Martin: I had been the head editor of my homeschool co-op’s newspaper and then literary magazine for a few years, and I really enjoyed it. When I left, I decided to create my own literary magazine the way I wanted it. Originally, I had intended it to be a high school literary magazine, which is the way the very first issue was formatted. However, after the first issue, I had a hard time getting enough submissions, so I decided to open it up to people of all ages, and that’s how Estuary was born.

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

SM: Quality, quality, and quality. I’m looking for work of quality. I don’t ask for much else. Proper grammar and spelling is a must, and it needs to be interesting.

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

SM: There’s not really one thing that I get the most that turns me off, and the answer depends on what that submission is. For the sections like the “Poet Garden” and “Gallery,” I’m not very picky. However, when it comes to the “Story Corner,” “Review,” and “Essays” sections, I am looking for structure and grammar. Therefore, submissions lacking either of those will not be accepted. For instance, I’ve turned away short stories that showed promise, but were lacking a decent ending. If a writer’s story doesn’t have an identifiable beginning, middle, and end, then I won’t accept it.

Also, profanity and sexual content are prohibited in every section. I have turned away contributors for this. However, if the work overall is good, I might simply ask the contributor to revise the problem parts out of it.

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

SM: Absolutely. When I was first starting out, I remember getting rejected and not knowing what I did wrong. As far as I’m concerned, not telling someone why you’ve rejected them just adds insult to injury. Now, when I have to reject someone, I always try to give some constructive criticism. It’s not always much, but I always try to say something that the contributor can use to help him/herself improve.

SQF: There’s a section in the magazine for essays, where writers can “write on whatever subject you like.” Anything? Really?

SM: Pretty much. Like I said before, I’m looking for quality. The essay section is supposed to be broad. That’s why I leave it with no topic. As long as the writer adheres to the rule of no profanity or sexual content, and the work is interesting to read, I’m perfectly willing to accept it.

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

SM: How long should submissions be? That would have been a good one.

My answer is, usually about 4 pages or less. It pains me the most when I receive a fantastic submission that is just too long to include in Estuary. I have to admit that I get it. I’m a writer myself, so I understand the compulsion to write and then just keep writing. My first short story was over 8 pages long. I get it. Unfortunately, I must put a limit on the number of pages I can include, and that limit is about 4. For the record, anything less than 4 pages is perfectly fine and there is a tiny bit of wiggle room with the 4 page limit.

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

NEXT POST: 7/3--Six Questions for Grant Faulkner, Editor, 100 Word Story

Friday, June 20, 2014

Six Questions for Amanda Hamilton, Editor-in-Chief, Blue Monday Review

Blue Monday Review is a literary review which aims to capture and emulate the spirit of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. We seek fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art that is as brave, thoughtful, truthful, and innovative as Vonnegut's own best work. Read the complete guidelineshere.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Amanda Hamilton: I started the magazine for a lot of personal reasons, the biggest one being that I wanted to get involved in a literary scene that was unaffiliated with a university (they're hard to break into without getting hired/being a student). When I couldn't find anything that fit my interests in my area, I made my own. Perhaps a selfish reason to get into the literary magazine biz, but hey.

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

  1. Whether the piece keeps my attention from top to bottom. I have a mediocre attention span at best, and I tend to assume my readers are even less patient.
  2. Emotional connection. This is a little tricky, but ultimately unavoidable in evaluating art. If I feel no connection at the end of a piece, I don't feel the need to snag it.
  3. To what extent it feels "Vonnegut-like." If I'm really on the fence about a piece, I always turn to Vonnegut as a guide. If a piece doesn't make me feel at least a little like I felt while reading "Breakfast of Champions" or "Harrison Bergeron," it probably won't end up in BMR.

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

AH: When a piece feels too blatantly "English Major-y." If a piece is more concerned with being "clever" than being good, messes with structure or grammar for no discernible reason, mistakes vagueness or intentional elusiveness for poetry, or feels like the product of a writing prompt, I get a bad taste in my mouth.

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

AH: Generally not, though many times I draft comments and end up deleting them. Unless an author specifically asks for comments, I get nervous that my words may be taken wrong, especially if I'm not being overly positive in my feedback. If I do offer comments, it means I have a lot of love for the piece, but it's just not hitting me right.

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

AH: A ton! Basically every piece I've declined has an element I've later found in my own writing. I think the biggest thing I sometimes see in my own writing as well as in many pieces I decline is that just because you thought a story was interesting when you wrote it, it doesn't mean it's actually interesting. You have to evaluate your work like an editor (that is, critically and with very little patience) if you want it to be accepted by an editor.

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

AH: "What's your slush pile like?"

Pretty big! We're really behind in submissions, which is exciting because it means people are sending their work in, but daunting because there's much work to be done. The major issue is that there are some submissions that have been haunting our inbox as far back as December. We're not proud of that fact, but we do want to give every submission its turn and with just two people sifting through, that can take a while.

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

NEXT POST: 6/27--Six Questions for Susannah Martin, Editor, Estuary

Friday, June 13, 2014

Six Questions for The Editors at Lunch Ticket

Lunch Ticket is a biannual journal published by the MFA community of Antioch University of Los Angeles, a program that is devoted to the education of literary artists, community engagement, and the pursuit of social justice. The magazine publishes fiction, creative nonfiction, writing for young people, poetry, translation and visual arts. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

Rachael Warecki – Fiction Genre Editor

An interesting beginning. A piece should grab my attention in the first page, ideally with the first sentence. This doesn't mean things have to explode or someone has to die, but I should have a sense of your story's conflict and who your protagonist is by the end of the first page. I'll usually give a piece two pages before I call it quits, but if an author hasn't done the necessary work in those first two pages, I'll have neither the compulsion nor the time to invest myself in that piece any further.

A story told in a unique way. We've received plenty of pieces that lack one or more basic story elements—most notably, plot, or in some cases, an ending. I don't believe that "literary fiction" and "plot" are mutually exclusive. Slice of life stories can work, but they have to be told in a unique or powerful way: maybe the voice is incredibly strong, or the author is particularly adept at deploying beautiful and original figurative language. The same goes for stories that tend to lean on tropes. I've seen a lot of stories about young, unrequited love, usually from a male point of view, or about the gradual end of a relationship, or about coming of age in a small town. These stories can be told well, and I'm not going to vote to reject them out of hand, but many of these trope-stories don't distinguish themselves enough from the twenty other similar stories we receive over the course of a week.

Professionalism. That means your piece has been proofread for spelling, grammar, and syntax errors; your story has been revised and polished; your submission follows our stated guidelines; and your cover letter contains more than just some number that I assume is your story's word count. It also means that you're familiar with our mission as a social justice publication. We're pretty open-minded in terms of genre, but we stay away from work that seems to promote or sympathize with racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. viewpoints.

Michael Passafiume & Candace Butler – Poetry Genre Editors

  1. Is the material and/or the voice fresh?
  2. Is the poem well-written (use of grammar/language, its structure, etc.)?
  3. Is the poem universal and understandable beyond whatever vision the author had in mind?

Poetry is tricky in that what speaks to me as a reader may not speak to someone else and vice versa. I like strong voices with a unique take on subject matter. I want Lunch Ticket readers to have an experience they’re not getting at other literary websites, and publishing compelling work is one way to win them over.

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

Haneen Oriqat – Writing for Young People Genre Editor

Unoriginality and confusion quickly push me away from a submission. Specifically within the Writing for Young People genre, I look for what stands out in a story that makes it different than other YA stories. As for confusion, there's nothing more difficult than trying to grasp for some type of understanding when reading a story that uses experimental writing without answers or direction. I have to keep my audience in mind with my genre.

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

LT: We don't accept previously published work, and Lunch Ticket defines this as previously published.

SQF: What are the biggest challenges to publishing a biannual magazine?

David Bumpus – Editor-in-Chief

For us in particular, as a student-run magazine, I would say that it's keeping a staff of nearly 40 members on top of the production schedule: each of my staff members is not only working on Lunch Ticket as a volunteer, but is also balancing school and often one or two jobs on top of that as well. Working on Lunch Ticket, and actually producing the final issue of the magazine, is then really an act of love and dedication for the literary community. This is also amplified by the fact that our biannual issues come out during the last days of each semester, when everyone is in some combination of trying to graduate, compile manuscripts, or prepare for the upcoming residency.

SQF: What advice can you offer authors hoping to publish their work in Lunch Ticket?

Jennifer McCharen – Translation Genre Editor

Read Lunch Ticket, of course. Also get to know Antioch, because the work that's important to the institution trickles down to a great extent to the students curating the journal. Social justice, broadly defined.

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

Rachael Warecki – Fiction Genre Editor

I wish you'd asked about our decision-making process, because that's something I'm always curious about when it comes to submitting my own work. The Fiction team is comprised of four hard-working readers, myself included. We're assigned pieces as soon as they come through Submittable, and I ask my team to read, vote, and comment on a certain number of pieces each week. Submissions are read blindly. After the pieces are read, I start an email discussion thread for those pieces that have one or more advocates within the team. We then choose to accept, decline, or hold those pieces for further discussion. Although we try to respond to our submitting authors as soon as possible, we do want to make sure that every piece is thoroughly considered. Even the pieces we decline relatively quickly have at least four paragraphs of rationale backing up that editorial decision, and I never make decisions without the full input of the team. We want our submitters to know that we love reading your work, we're honored that you're trusting us with it, and that even if we decline one of your pieces, you may have another story that's a better match for our team's tastes.

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

NEXT POST: 6/20--Six Questions for Amanda Hamilton, Editor-in-Chief, Blue Monday Review