Contrary Magazine publishes commentary, fiction, poetry, and reviews. The editors "hope our magazine expresses contrarities that otherwise might go unexpressed." Learn more here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
FB: I have a preference for stories that challenge and blur the traditional categories of fiction, poetry and commentary. As this is part of our mission at Contrary, I look at that quality first. Second, I look for mastery: of language, of character, of story. I like to sense there is a strong mind creating this story. Third, I look for flow. I want the story to move well, though by that I don't necessarily mean a fast read. I mean a story that maintains the reader's interest from start to finish. My job as an editor is to sift and select for our readership and give them the most exceptional work we receive.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
FB: A story that pushes 5000 words without being utterly compelling will not make my short list. A story that has endemic flaws, such as clumsy action or poor language choices won't make the list. So many stories that we receive use abstraction to veil the writer's inability to convey image, character, landscape. My editor Jeff and I will debate the merits of a really good story that contains some little flaws and see if there are fixes for it. If at that point, there's no logical way to stitch the story back together, we let it go. Those are often difficult, because there are often worthy elements working within the story, but, ultimately, too many missteps to actually publish it.
SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
FB: A false, pat, or otherwise bad ending to an otherwise great story will make me return to the story with a lot of skepticism the second time through. If the ending can be fixed, we send it back for surgery. But often the bad ending is an endemic rather than symptomatic problem. Anything purely of a genre, say, noir, has to be very fresh to keep me interested.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
FB: I would say it depends on the story. The best of realistic stories place you in the skin of the protagonist and create a very real constellation of characters for the reader. But some of the fiction we receive is a little less conventional than that...utterly unknowable voices, or characters who are very distant from the reader in some respect. Those can be great elements within a story. It goes back to having a strong presence behind the story, a capable creator writing the story.
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?
FB: I think mutual respect is critical in the exchange between editors and authors. I don't mind if authors respond with questions about their stories. As someone who has submitted stories, I would personally never risk upsetting an editor, but nor would I ever be one for blacklists. As a writer, I know that submitting a story and getting rejected can be personally challenging.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
FB: So many editors out there are also writers. I'd love to know how editors relate to their roles as writers? I feel the experience of being a writer deepens my respect and empathy for the writers who submit work to us. I feel a real connection to them both as colleagues and as authors. I wonder if others feel the same.
Thank you, Frances. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 4/21--Six Questions for Ty Drago, Editor, Allegory