Friday, May 7, 2010

Six Questions for Brooke Ford, Assistant Fiction Editor, Broken Pencil

From the website:

"Founded in 1995 and based in Toronto, Canada, Broken Pencil is a website and a print magazine published four times a year. It is one of the few magazines in the world devoted exclusively to underground culture and the independent arts. We are a great resource and a lively read! A cross between the Utne Reader, an underground Reader's Digest, and the now defunct Factsheet5, Broken Pencil reviews the best zines, books, websites, videos, and artworks from the underground and reprints the best articles from the alternative press. Also, ground breaking interviews, original fiction, and commentary on all aspects of the independent arts.

From the hilarious to the perverse, Broken Pencil challenges conformity and demands attention. Learn more here."

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

BF: Sometimes I don’t know what I’m looking for when I start each story. But I’m definitely interested in writing that exhibits a strong prose style, characters I care about and like for whatever reason, thoughtfulness, uniqueness in some way, a strange sense of a situation. Generally, I want to be surprised, and that can be in any number of ways. I like stories that play with structure and format.

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

BF: I get turned off a story when characters lack motivation or when things are happening just for the sake of it. If by the end, I’m still wondering what the plan is or what the point is, something is missing. Not that I need an overstated plot line or structure, but I need to know that something was thought about by the author or the characters, that somewhere something changed. I turn down stories that just follow the ‘and then…and then…and then…’ structure, basically flat stories that more or less retell an idea.

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

BF: Really loose and ‘spongy’ prose really turns me off. What does that mean exactly? I don’t know, but I know it when I see it. It can become quite clear when an author hasn’t taken the time to figure out what kind of magazine they’re sending their work to. I’m sure every publication experiences that, and it’s always a turn off.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?

BF: Sometimes. If I really liked a story but it wasn’t quite right for the magazine, I’ll say so. I’m so thrilled to be reading stories sent in by so many different writers that I typically feel compelled to say a thing or two.

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?

BF: I’ve received some less than professional responses from writers and I feel bad, but I’m a writer, too, who gets rejected. Having your writing squashed, returned and rejected tons of times is part of the game. It’s not personal. And sometimes it’s all about timing, getting your work read by an editor at ‘the right time’ (whenever that is).

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

BF: Would you pick a story that you really liked even though it required a fair bit of editing over a story that you liked but that wouldn’t require a lot of editorial suggestions? 

Sometimes. I’ve read a few stories where the core of what I’m reading is really great and for whatever reason isn’t as tight as it possibly could be—maybe in its grammar or sloppy proofing or even some confusing language usage. If I feel that after making some suggestions the story would really fit with the magazine, then I would support that story and writer. Being a publication that really tries to promote and support emerging writers and alternative writing, sometimes reading through a story a few times and seeing the potential is well worth it, as opposed to maybe passing over a piece because it’s not completely polished right off the bat. 

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

NEXT POST: 5/10--Six Questions for Scott G. F. Bailey, Principle, The Literary Lab

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