Friday, January 18, 2019

Six Questions for Kerrie Seljak-Byrne, Editor-in-Chief, Augur Magazine

Augur Magazine publishes short stories to 5,000 words, flash fiction to 1,250 words, poetry, and graphic fiction. They focus on bringing together speculative and realist literary fiction, with an emphasis on publishing works from under-represented, diverse, and marginalized creators. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Kerrie Seljak-Byrne: We started Augur for a few reasons. First, there are very few speculative fiction magazines in Canada. You can count them on your fingers—compared to American speculative fiction magazines, of which there’re dozens! We also wanted to bring together speculative fiction and literary fiction—so many magazines take one or the other, or take both but don't explicitly say so. We wanted to be that explicit market.

As a staff of dominantly queer, trans, WOC, and disabled folk, we also wanted to make sure we were making room for others who identified as under-represented, marginalized, or "diverse".


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

KSB: Strong writing. A sense of what the reader should get from the story, or how they should be asking. And we have a specific soft spot for beautiful images.


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

KSB: Anything cookie-cutter, or that reads like many pieces we've seen before. Or anything that ignores our guidelines.


SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis?

KSB: Now defunct, but Shimmer and Liminal were two of my favourite online magazines. I'm also a huge fan of Room Magazine.


SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

KSB: We list what we won't accept in our guidelines: gross-out or gratuitously violent pieces, horror that uses neurodivergence or mental health as the horror element, comedy that punches down, stories that are “speculative” because a non-marginalized group suddenly experiences what it’s like to be a marginalized group (e.g. a man “has to live with sexism”, a white woman is suddenly “treated like a woman of colour”), anything that uses sexual trauma/any trauma as a plot device, casual or blatant misogyny/bigotry/racism/etc., or otherwise insensitive pieces.

Pulp fiction is also a hard sell for us. We love genre, and many of us read pulp fantasy fiction, but it isn't usually a match for us.


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

KSB: I would ask about cover letters—a lot of writers seem to struggle with them. I'd suggest that they address their cover letters "Dear Editors”, since they don't know who's reading the piece, and that they include a small amount of information about themselves and their most recent/important publications. We often get cover letters that are exceptionally short and informal, or overly formal and extremely long. There's a middle part there that makes it feel like you're starting a conversation!

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

Friday, January 11, 2019

Six Questions for Tiffany Key, Editor, Mercurial Stories

Mercurial Stories publishes flash fiction to 500 words (though sometimes that word count is doubled for a two-week issue). A prompt is posted on Monday. Stories are due on Thursday. The next issue is published on Saturday. “The concept was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s advice to fledgling writers: write a short story every week. Mathematically, he reasoned, it is nearly impossible to write 52 terrible stories.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Tiffany Key: I started Mercurial Stories to give writers a regular, structured challenge so they could get out of their own way. Too often, creatives procrastinate with their work, usually because they are perfectionists or afraid of failure. When the work becomes too precious in our minds, we neglect to do the gritty toil of writing, which is actually where the story shines through. Responding to a prompt quickly and tersely undermines the fear that our creative well is finite. The more you write, the better you become at your craft. It is that simple.


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

TK: Our submission requirements are a little different from most magazines. As the editor, I check if the story responded to the prompt. This is the most important aspect because it means that the story was written specifically for that week’s prompt. I reject stories where it is obvious that they just recycled an existing story but tossed in the prompt’s word or phrase. 



Word count is our second screening measure. I always make the word count very clear when posting the prompt. It is usually 500, though on occasion will be doubled if the prompt spans two weeks. I have been flexible with this aspect BUT the stories are usually not as good. See, the magic of flash fiction is that restriction of 500 words. You don’t get to that number by simply writing until the counter reads 499 words. What you do is write a story, realize that you are way over the allotted amount, then begin to trim away the excess. Editing is just as important as writing (especially in flash fiction) but the trick is not to let the editor-self know that.

Time is the third point. If you miss the deadline, you will not be included in that week’s issue. Having a deadline is another crucial part of the challenge. Many people find themselves unable to write without a deadline, especially if they are free from typical time restraints such as work or caring for loved ones. And if you miss the deadline, you can simply try again next week with a new story.


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

TK: Mercurial Stories accepts any story that meets the requirements regardless of how I feel about a story. That being said, I do don a more traditional editor’s cap when it comes to the print edition. I am currently selecting stories for our quarterly publication, which will come out next month. This volume is carefully curated and will feature stories that I believe work well beyond the context of the weekly prompt. Stories that will be excluded are those that I don’t want to read a second time, honestly.


SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis?

TK: I have subscriptions to The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and London Review of Books. I read LitHub and Catapult, McSweeney’s and Oxford American. I listen to podcasts, mainly interview shows with writers and artists as guests such as First Draft, Monocle 24, and Library Talks.


SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

TK: Again, we don’t discriminate at Mercurial Stories. Really, the requirements work as a filter for the slush pile. My main requirement is that it is a story and with only 500 words at your disposal, you would be hard pressed (ahem) to include gratuitous violence or sex. Frankly, I would be rather impressed with the writer who manages to meet our requirements and include some random gore or erotica, just for kicks. Might make for an interesting read.


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

TK: This seems a bit cheeky, asking your interviewee to ask and answer their own question. To be a good sport, though, I suppose I would ask about the forecast for the magazine. And in turn, let me answer: Mercurial Stories is really just getting started. With the print volume in the works and our podcast featuring stories read by selected writers along with interviews, Mercurial Stories is expanding in all directions. We will continue to provide writers with growth opportunities while giving readers an interesting collection of stories every week.

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

Friday, January 4, 2019

Six Questions for Keely O'Shaughnessy, Reader, Flash Fiction Magazine

Flash Fiction Magazine champions original, creative and engaging works of fiction, which run between 300-1000 words in their entirety. The stories can be of any genre but the emphasis should be placed on a complete story, where there is conflict and character development.  Flash Fiction Magazine accepts submissions all year around. Stories can be on any genre and it is always free to submit.

For guidelines and to submit your story please use this link.

SQF: How did you become involved in Flash Fiction Magazine?

Keely O'Shaughnessy: I began at FFM as an author when, in 2015, my story, ‘The Gallery Attendant’ was chosen for publication on the site and then in our first anthology. (We are now on issue number 4, I believe.) I answered an email from Shannon asking for editors on FFM’s sister site 101Words and then progressed to being a reader and then Lead Reader with FFM.

As well as reading some of the great submissions we receive, I’m also tasked with training up other volunteer readers. The FFM community of writers has just gone from strength to strength since our last interview with Six Questions back in 2016. The staff at FFM is always evolving and growing stronger.

Since 2015, our new Managing Editor has been the talented, Mark Anderson: a writer and English professor from Minnesota. It is great to be a part of such a diverse and cultured editorial team and be able to read awesome flash stories from all over the globe.   


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

KO: Things that I love are: following a character’s honest and believable transformation. (This could be the smallest revelation if written well enough.) Without this a story can’t really have a narrative.

I also have a soft spot for specific and concrete detail. If an author uses specific and concrete detail in the right place at the right moment, it really helps to elevate a story and makes it both believable and relatable.

Thirdly, if pushed for an answer, I’d have to say that I’m always drawn to paired-back dialogue that can speak volumes and drive the narrative forward. It’s something that is tricky to do in shorter fiction.


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

KO: The other day, I was discussing a story with a new reader that I’m training. She wondered if a story should be selected as it had some beautifully written lines in, and ultimately, as there was no real plot, we decided that it couldn’t be. It’s a really sad decision for a reader to have to make because you know that these moments of exquisitely crafted fiction aren’t going to be seen by FFM readers. But, powerful images and crisp sentences don’t count if the narrative isn’t there to give the whole thing purpose. In such short fiction, every word the writer chooses has to drive the narrative towards a conclusion. It’s so frustrating.

My other turn offs include: adverbs, when not used sparingly and stories that don’t have a resolution of some kind. When thinking about ending, an author should always consider, will my reader be satisfied enough?


SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis?

KO: I don’t think there’s one magazine, other than FFM, obviously, that I read regularly as I tend to read loads of magazines at once. That’s the beauty of short fiction, isn’t it - it allows you to dip in and out of magazines collecting stories as you go.

I have a very varied taste in what I read. I try not to discount a story based on genre or anything. I will often read Ambit Magazine as I’m based in the UK and I do like a lit mag published in London or fiction that is local to me. Sometimes, I check in with Glimmer Train, but can easily switch to something online like Everyday Fiction or Chaleur Magazine, who publish stories more regularly - all showcases equally striking fiction.


SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s) of a submission?

KO: When I’m in Reader mode, or even just reading in general, I look out for opening lines that grab me and promise something concrete and maybe a little out of the ordinary, (and deliver on that promise through to the end). That’s a big ask, I know, but I have high standards.


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

KO: Something about word count. My answer: FFM’s word limitations are 300-1000 words, but it’s crazy how many stories we have to turn away just because the author hasn’t adhered to the word count. If a story runs over the limit or under, it doesn’t matter how much we might like it or how good it is. Our editors and readers are all volunteers and don’t have the time to spend cutting down/bulking up stories to fit a word count. It’s just the rules.

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

Friday, December 28, 2018

Six Questions for Mur Lafferty and Divya Breed, Co-Editors, Escape Pod

Escape Pod is a podcast featuring original and reprinted science fiction of 1,500-6,000 words. Learn more here - http://escapepod.org/guidelines/.

SQF: How did you become involved with Escape Pod?

Escape Pod: SB Divya was assistant editor of Escape Pod when Norm Sherman stepped down, and was promoted. She asked Mur, editor of Escape Artists' Mothership Zeta that had been placed on hiatus, to join her as co-editor.


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

EP:
1) The hook has to be strong. There is no time in audio short stories to set a leisurely scene because listeners get bored.
2) Stories that follow the submission guidelines. This is rarer than you would think.
3) Escape Pod was founded on the idea of "fun" science fiction, and while we have evolved over the years, we still try to look for fun and optimistic stories (but not always).


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

Mur: Knee-jerk negative reactions that are unfair: second person POV and present tense narratives. They're both hard to do. Possible, of course. But hard. But more fairly, stories with obvious -isms bug me: sexism, racism, classism, ableism, etc. Falling on tropes like killing the gay/nonwhite/disabled character to further the plot of the protag really annoys me.

Divya: My knee-jerk negative reactions are more to prose quality basics like spelling and grammar. If the opening paragraph(s) are full of typos, I feel like the author didn't take enough time with the story. Long, heavy-handed ("As you know, Bob...") expository sections tend to lose me, as well as the -isms that Mur mentions above.


SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s) of a submission?

EP: As said above, I want a good hook that I know will grab someone's ears and keep them enthralled when they listen.


SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

EP: Erotica, sexual violence, gratuitous violence. More than a hint of horror or magic.


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

EP: How many people will see your stories before we do? Our assist. editor Ben Kinney and at least one of his team of associate editors will look at the stories before they get to us. We are building a slush team of many diverse backgrounds in order to give the most thorough reads of the stories that come in.

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

Six Questions for Stephen Kilpatrick, Host, Tales to Terrify

Tales to Terrify is a podcast featuring short horror, dark fantasy, and other disturbing fiction. “Feel free to challenge the definition of horror.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this podcast?

Stephen Kilpatrick: Tales to Terrify was founded at the beginning of 2012 by Tony C. Smith, who runs the District of Wonders network, and Lawrence Santoro, the original host of the show. Larry had a passion for horror and a close affiliation with the Horror Writers of America. He also had a strong background in entertainment that made it a rather good fit for the founding of a podcast filled with stories from friends and an extended social network. During the first year of the podcast's existence, my only involvement was that of a listener. Periodically, as all labor of love creative endeavors do these days, there would be requests for help, typically in the form of financial donations. At the time, I wasn't able to even consider kicking in more than a few dollars, so I volunteered my time as a narrator.

While working with previous editors and Larry as a narrator, the staff dwindled, was looking for editors, and I stepped up to become one. Not too long after that, Larry let us know that he was sick. I feel that as a matter of either pride or optimism, he initially downplayed the extent of the seriousness of it to me. Unfortunately, we lost Larry to cancer, and Tony left me the choice of closing up shop or continuing on.

I chose to carry on as a sense of duty to Larry and a sense of obligation to the many authors that we had pledged to air their stories and narrators that had already submitted completed narrations. At the time we had, literally, a year and a half of stories to air. It felt disrespectful to the aforementioned parties to simply discard all of that work, but I was uncertain if I'd be winding down the show or if I'd continue on past what we had. Year on, it's obvious that I continued on.

During that time I've had the help of several fine editors to help shoulder the work of the podcast.


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

SK:

* A measure of mastery of English.
* Something new or a novel take on something old.
* Something that we feel we can easily find a narrator for.

The first item can be subjective. Tales to Terrify is one of the few fiction podcasts that will accept original stories from unpublished authors. This does come with the task of receiving stories from people who have passionately created something that they love, but, frankly, need to polish their craft more. At the opposite end of the spectrum are authors who read like their co-author is the editorial staff of Roget's Thesaurus, needlessly wordy. Earlier this year I read Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day and found it to be a prime example of mastery of English.

The second one can also be subjective, but we do also receive a fair amount of stories that are yet another vampire or serial killer or ghost story that you've read so many times before. Again, these were written by creative people who put love and hard work into the story that they took a risk in submitting, but if the story is one I've read before, or I can't understand why I need to care, then why would I want to air it? Tales to Terrify's listeners do enjoy a nostalgic trip down the halls of horror's history from time to time, but I wouldn't take them on that journey knowing there is going to be a good chance they'd be bored.

The third one is something that is likely unique to our format. Magazines and short story anthologies do not care how many speaking characters are in a story. Nor do they care about the use of difficult to pronounce words or the inclusion of phrases from another language. These can all be landmines for finding an unpaid narrator to read and read confidently.


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

SK: The previously mentioned "writing out of a thesaurus" is something that has made me doubt if I want to continue reading a story during the first paragraph. Typically, if I see someone using strange or archaic words in the opening of a story, I'm presuming they've put lipstick on their pig. However, there have been quite good exceptions to that, where a story was told in the first person by a strange protagonist, for example. I would encourage any author to carefully consider their word choices. A intriguing plot and vivid characters is more important using ten letter words.

Another common one are people who don't understand the submission guidelines, didn't read them, or did and just disregarded them. We have a minimum word count, but we still get submissions that expect payment that fall under the word count. We've received stories that by only a stretch of the imagination could be considered “horror." And we do get stories from people that we call "torture porn," which is probably horror, but is always a terrible story.


SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

SK: Short stories, by definition, have a limited amount of time to execute their plot and, by that virtue, a short window of time to hook the reader. Having the story narrated doesn't change that. The first few sentences of the story are the most important for that endeavor, in my opinion. I like something that either fires the listener right into the story or makes a promise of something that will be found out later in the story.

"Grandmother's passing left the two of us emotionally destitute, but financially rich." Lays out a sort of background for the story, but is pedestrian.

"Something cold and wet lay in my grandmother's basement. That's what I had dreamed about. And when my cell phone woke me, the premonition already told me what grandmother's lawyer was about to say." This has an air of mystery to it and a promise of a pay off. The author then would have to deliver on what that thing in the basement would be, of course.

"Howling with rage, the thing pounded its heavy, wet hands on the bathroom door. I fumbled with the painted over window latch looking for escape. The conditions on grandmother's will had been clear, and I had betrayed them all." That is a wild start to a story. What might come next? Who is this trapped in this bathroom and why and what is this "thing" about?


SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

SK: Our listeners absolutely hate animal abuse. We've got more angry emails about animal abuse than anything else. Child abuse is a distant second. Although animal abuse is a hard sell for us, there are still variations on that theme that we think we'll let an author get away with. A dog tortured to death is going to get us a bundle of angry listeners, but a witch chopping up snakes for a spell is probably going to get a pass. People really like cute animals.


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

SK: "Who should an author show their story to before you?"

Tales to Terrify has a real soft spot for fledgling authors. We hope that at least one of our original stories came to us from someone who had never been published before and in twenty years that person is going to be mentioned in the same breath with Stephen King or Clive Barker. But, I think, we do get a good number of fledgling writers that knocked out a story in a couple of hours, had Microsoft Word or Google Docs check the spelling and grammar, and then sent it to us, and then we rejected it. My fear is that our rejection, which usually is done with a form, not with additional notes, will dissuade someone who has a new passion for writing from doing any more.

I think that anyone who has decided to take writing seriously should find a writers’ group or a few friends who are willing to give some honest notes about their work. Then, just before they send their work to be torn to shreds, grow some thick skin and pass it on to those people who will be honest and give specific and clear feedback about what they liked and what they didn't. And the reason why I specifically mention multiple people is because the opinion of a single person is of limited value to a new author. If the intent is to write to a wide audience, you have to have more than a single person look over your work. If two out of three of your reviewers are in agreement, they might be something to it. If one person doesn't like an element, you might be fine to ignore it.

My point is - if Tales to Terrify, another magazine, or another podcast rejects you, that should not discourage you. Chin up, soldier on, get back to work.

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