SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
- I want to see the sheer joy of creation in the stories. If you’re not enjoying yourself, then why should I?
- Be distinctive. It's like the old joke: Do you know why Charles Bukowski wrote the way he did? So you wouldn't have to. Play to your strengths and not someone else's.
- Have something to say. Not necessarily "deep" and "profound"—give me something compelling. Tell me something I need to hear. Give me a great story and not just empty calories.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
- Affectation: I pride myself on being a very sincere person, so I respond to sincerity in others. If I think you’re doing more posing than actual storytelling, then I’m out and I’m gone. It's very important to me that you serve the story and not yourself.
- Lack of imagination: This one kills me, because a little imagination can work to mitigate the worst of crimes. Clichés are definitely a symptom of a poor imagination. Keep in mind that it’s fiction. Make stuff up and have some fun.
- It just doesn’t do it for me: Sometimes, I’m just not going to be that into your story. I’m a writer as well, so I understand the arbitrary nature of all of this. You just kind of realize that you can't please everyone and move on. Outside of the context of inclusion in vis a tergo, my opinion of your story is meaningless.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
JC: Spelling and grammar count. There’s deliberate, which is an entirely different story, and then there’s careless, which is inexcusable. We traffic in words. We should be able to use them correctly.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
JC: Usually when I accept a story, I’ll make comments or suggestions, but even that’s pretty rare. Otherwise, I’ve learned not to make comments on stories I reject. See Question #5.
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?
JC: I’ve stopped making comments on rejected stories because the lack of civility from a select few jackasses made it not worth my time. Every time I was making comments on work I rejected, I felt I had to walk on eggshells, because who likes getting declined? If someone asks for comments, I’ll be more than happy to oblige, and I’ll definitely try to be as helpful as I can. But on the whole, I don't want to say anything because that way you can just safely assume that it's not you; it's me. I think the best way for an author to respond to a rejection is to shrug it off. I’m sure every editor will agree with me when I say that writers shouldn’t take any of this personally. As a matter of fact, if those same select few jackasses were to submit work I enjoyed, I’d be more than happy to publish them. I don't hold grudges, so why should they?
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
LC: I suppose the best imaginary question to answer would be “Why do you do this?” and the answer would be I love writers and great writing. My only aim with vis a tergo is to showcase great work, and it’s gratifying when a writer grants me the opportunity to publish their stuff. I know that I'm only as good as the work I publish, so the fact that so many talented people have decided to let me be the caretaker of their creations has been a humbling experience; and I am sincerely grateful for the chance.
Thank you, Jeff. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 3/22--Six Questions for Pamela Tyree Griffin, Editor, The Shine Journal