Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Six Questions for Bryan Burch, Co-Editor, The Whistling Fire

The Whistling Fire accepts poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works. Submissions are limited to 1500 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

BB: We look forward to stories that excite us. We are an online journal that focuses on bringing out the work of emerging authors. We are graduate students ourselves and have created a space to feature the works of our classmates in the broadest sense of the word. We look for stories and poetry that show a distinction of maturity and use language beyond the everyday. As we mostly attract “younger” voices, we look for voices that are clear in what they are saying even when technique falters. In our poetry submissions we respond to content that is gritty or daring, and are less likely to publish “cute.” We love fiction and nonfiction and wish we got more submissions, but tend to be more critical of these since often times the idea set up at the beginning is lost by the end of the piece. We appreciate erratic story telling, but only when accompanied by a strong narrative voice at the helm. I know I appreciate a strong narrative direction told with confidence over vague or inconclusive. One of our first nonfiction posts was an autobiography excerpt by Stacy Furrer called “Black Sheep Sings”. It is an excellent example of an author using a very tight focus with a very close lens. I appreciate her use of specific detail that forces the reader to focus deeply on the implications of the story.

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

BB: We see far more poetry and so can be much more picky about what we select. That said, we reject cute and poorly rhyming poems out of hand. I tend to be unimpressed with poems that force themselves to return to their initial or opening statement when they should have flown out in a new direction. When suggesting the rare rewrite or edit, I often recommend Richard Hugo’s essay “The Triggering Town” as a guide to illustrating this point. I have very little regard for stories – fiction or non – that wander. I want to feel that the narrator is driving the story and directing my attention while engaging my imagination to fill in the narrative blanks.

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

BB: We once had a submission in which the author told us to “go online to find his bio.” I don’t think any of us at The Whistling Fire read that one. Another submission told us how to appreciate her story. Sometimes the author’s desperation to have their story published is so apparent that it springs off the page like a bad smell. Be cool. Be patient. Sometimes the fit of material to publication just isn’t right. Try another journal. Join a workshop. Get some feedback. Implement it.

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

BB: Mystery! What keeps me reading is the feeling that I want to know why or how this character does what she does. I am also a big fan of “and then what happened!?” Please don’t tell me everything in the first paragraph. Parse it out, keeping in mind that since I want your story to be satisfying, I want it to succeed. I tend to like troubled people or characters in the middle of a decision or crisis. I feel it gives the story some space to travel. I’m very comfortable with not knowing EVERYTHING about a character as long as what is presented gives enough emotional information to engage my imagination.

SQF: What percentage of your submissions do you accept?

BB: Gosh. I suppose we accept about fifteen to eighteen percent of the poetry we receive, about forty percent of the fiction, and about sixty-five percent of the nonfiction. We have only published four nonfiction pieces and would love to have more. The Whistling Fire has just celebrated its one-year anniversary and are very proud that we are able to publish a new piece of poetry, fiction or nonfiction every week.

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

BB: “How do you deal with material that is so close to your liking and might benefit from rewrite or revision?”

This is such a tricky subject for us at The Whistling Fire. We strongly support the workshop process, but also realize that a written work requires a certain kind of autonomy. Of the editors, I am most likely to reply to an author with MINOR suggestions for revision. I feel the balance, for me, is not to abuse my position as an editor over a prospective piece of writing. There has been a learning curve on my part! I’m happy when it works out and the author appreciates my perspective, but my perspective may not really be the best for what that author is trying to say. We are hesitant when it comes to suggesting revisions and do it after careful consideration and email consultation between the four of us.

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

NEXT POST: 5/21--Six Questions for Kelli Russell Agodon, Co-Editor, Crab Creek Review

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