Monday, March 15, 2010

Six Questions for Timothy Gager, Fiction Editor, The Wilderness House Literary Review

The Wilderness House Literary Review is a quarterly publication containing fiction in three categories -- under 500 words, 501 to 1000 words, and 1001 to 5000 words -- poetry, non-fiction, book reviews, and art. Learn more here.

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

TG: I look for mind blowing twists that could actually happen and not just happen for the sake of blowing someone's mind.

I look for sustaining quality. Someone needs to sustain the interest of the editor completely for 500 - 10,000 words. It only takes one bad sentence or one really bad suspension of my disbelief to kill the story. Editors sit there with a knife to kill a story...don't make them use it.

If it's realistic, I want it to be totally realistic. If it's "out there,” i.e. if a dog is talking, I want it talking for a reason; and I want the story to vamp off that.

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

TG: The tense shifts all the time and the grammar is poor.

The story has a bad arc. It rushes to the end or has a huge drag in it.

Something stupid happens that is not logical to either the story itself or the real world.

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

TG: A really bad ending that ties everything into a cheap little package will.

SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that make them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

TG: Characters that have an urgency or a desperation can automatically create what I'm looking for. Characters that are painted differently, either by their dialect or background. If the author is aware and can pull this off, it's a big plus. Of course they need to do A, B and C as well.

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?

TG: Ideally, I don't want to have a dialog with them. I feel it's just as difficult to send out rejections as it is to receive them. I've been on both ends. A writer should know that it's a numbers game and that one story you send may not click with that one editor. Another of your stories may click with THAT editor or that story that was rejected may click with a different editor. Sometimes editors are tired and are having bad days...and sometimes that great story about surviving in the jungle you wrote was read directly after another great story about surviving in the mountains. Sometimes it's not you, it's me.

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

TG: Do you read the bios and credits of the authors? Does it make a difference?

I try not to. I don't want to be influenced. Some great writers have written bad stories as well as some unpublished authors have written some miraculous work. Again, if a TC Boyle is submitting to me, I'm really hoping that I like it. Who am I to reject TC.

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

NEXT POST: 3/17--Six Questions For Carter Jefferson, The Internet Review of Books