Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Six Questions for E.S. Wynn, Editor, Weirdyear

Weirdyear publishes flash fiction to 1000 words. Stories in the 500-800 word range are ideal. The editor is interested in stories that contain "progressive material that stretches the boundaries of fictions." While open to any genre, weird, horror, and slipstream are preferred. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

EW: The absolute most important thing I look for in a story is originality, beyond-thinking. I’m no grammarian. I like English because it’s not math, because it is capable of wonderful variation—so I’m not going to reject a piece out of hand if it has a couple typos. I prefer clean, proofread material; but if the story is new, unique, fresh, badass or so far out there that it flies in out of left field and smacks me right in the noggin (artistically), it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’m going to take it and clean it up just to see it get some literary light and readership.

The second most important thing is imagination and creativity. Your story may be totally original, something no one has ever conceived of before, but its also got to be more than just a really cool looking skeleton of a story. Likewise, the idea might be totally unoriginal, and I might pick it up wholly based on the creativity and imagination put into it. Consider the film Avatar for example: While the story was one I’ve seen a million times, clad in the flesh of a million different genres and writers, the imagination and the creativity, the very research that was put into the story totally sold me. Originality, the concept itself, is a great framework, but it is less than it could be if it isn’t padded with the meat of imagination.

The third thing is effort. People think that you can’t see effort, that if you just slap a couple of lines on a page and call it poetry, no one will be the wiser; but as an instructor and someone who has worked within the education industry for over ten years, I can say that nine times out of ten, I can tell the difference. What says “effort” to me? Well developed ideas, proofreading, specific word choice and writing devices (alliteration, etc.). If your story were a cake, the previous two would be the layers—this would just be the icing.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?

EW: Honestly, the number one reason why stories get rejected from Weirdyear is because they aren’t weird enough! Now, I know weird is relative, and I’ve seen a lot in my life, so let me give you some hints. Farm life, Blair Witch-type spookiness and Buddhism are not weird. People with skunks and/or chickens for pets are not weird. Crossdressers are not weird. Scripture-selling alien Crossdressers landing in your yard in a chicken-shaped spaceship are weird. Chickens talking eloquently about their relatives in the fifth dimension is weird. Just take a look at the magazine and see some of the strange things that we’ve published.

The number two reason is attachments. I know it's irritating, but I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to attachments, so I rarely, rarely read them. It’s in the guidelines.  :)

The third (and most unfortunate) reason is the violence and sexual content. Like most magazines, Weirdyear is trying to keep its content mostly within a certain optimal readership zone. We can’t take stories that are so gory they make axe murderers gag, and I’ve had to turn a few away that were basically everything but hardcore pornography. I’m not saying there’s no art in porn and gore, but it’s just a little outside what we can take as content for the magazine.

SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?

EW: Stories that feature people rapping about something in an attempt to catch the attention of younger readers irritate the fuzz right out of me. Another one is 3+ grammatical errors in the first line. (I’ll still read it to be fair, but dang!) Also, preachers giving sermons while slaying pagans (slaying vampires, especially sparkly ones, and sinners is OK though.) Other than that, I’m pretty open-minded. Send it on in and I’ll tell you if it works or not. I don’t bite. Hard.

SQF: Your guidelines refer to stories that stretch the boundaries of fiction. Can you provide an example of this?

EW: Stories that truly stretch the boundaries of fiction are stories that look like they were written by an alien. No joke. Almost all the writing we read these days is linear prose from a first or a third person perspective which follows a basic formula. I encourage writers (and readers) to think outside of the box. Try writing from new perspectives, try something that makes your reader go “huh?”, and then make it short enough that they’re compelled to go back and read it again in order to understand it. There is no one right way to stretch the boundaries—just pick one and then push it. Experiment in everything you can. It’s literary, it’s progressive, it’s random, it’s Tom Stoppard, it’s Daniel Grandbois, it’s Rikki Ducornet, it’s Storm Constantine. Be the change, and make something that is so unique it will just blow the socks off of and bewilder everyone that reads it. That is creativity in its truest sense, and creativity is exactly what we’re looking for at Weirdyear.

SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?

EW: Wow, a blacklist? That’s intense. I usually just ignore them, but then, I’ve only gotten two or three, and they weren’t all that bad. No death threats, yet. I usually don’t mind getting polite questions about my comments/rejections, but only if they’re more developed than “What do you mean it's not weird enough?” The important thing to remember is that if I reject a story, it doesn’t mean that it’s garbage or even that I think it’s garbage. It’s just not right for Weirdyear and the direction the magazine is going.

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

EW: Someone asked me a while ago why I chose to work in flash fiction, and honestly, the primary reason is because I love it. I love the idea of a story so well designed, so precise and strong in imagery, that it can be delivered in the space of a couple of sips of coffee. With flash fiction, you can go to another world in the space of a breath, and that's perfect because that's really all we have time for these days. It's really the angle we need to play if we want people to read in this age of highly compacted schedules and whip-snap attention spans. I've heard people refer to flash fiction as fiction for the internet generation, and that's really what it is. It's fiction for a generation that doesn't go further than reality TV and Facebook to get away from the natural stresses of everyday life in this century. It's the most promising key to the level of literacy and imagination we so sorely need in the electronic age.

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

NEXT POST: 3/26—Six Questions for Stefanie Freele, Fiction Editor, The Los Angeles Review

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