Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Six Questions for Ellen Parker, Editor, Frigg

Frigg publishes flash fiction to 1000 words, short stories to 8000 words and poetry. Read published stories and learn more here.

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

EP: I look for a narrator’s voice that speaks to me. It’s hard to pinpoint the qualities in a narrator’s voice that draw me in, but I’ll try. Here are three: intelligence, facility with language, and freshness.

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

EP: I can’t separate this answer from the answer I gave for question 1. If the narrator’s voice in a story does not attract me in the ways I mentioned above, I won’t take the story. Editing a journal is a subjective enterprise. I may not be drawn to a story, but another editor might be—and vice versa. Each editor (and each reader) will react to a story in his or her own way.

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

EP: I would not use the word “mistakes.” Writers might not have enough experience to quite pull off a story—or their tastes might be different from mine. My best advice for writers, regardless of their experience level, is to keep striving to enhance their facility with all elements of fiction writing, including language, narrative, dialogue, and voice. Be as much yourself as you can. Say what only you can say. However, even those writers who are working closest to their highest abilities, using a voice that is distinctively theirs, still will never be able to produce a story that is universally loved. In fact, the most idiosyncratic writers, the ones who are most truly themselves, might not have a large following.

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

EP: This is an interesting question in light of what I’ve said above. Fiction writers are puppetmasters. All their characters speak in the various voices of the puppetmaster. Does the puppetmaster speak in modes that are compelling, honest, distinctive, vibrant, and real? Then those characters will reach out and grab us.

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?

EP: I don’t have a blacklist. I cling to the idea that everyone (including me) is continuously trying to behave better than they did the day before. I prefer silence from those writers whose work I reject. When I reject a piece via e-mail and I see that I have gotten a return e-mail from the writer, immediately I think: Oh, no. What is this writer going to say to me? I cower. I open the e-mail with great trepidation. Nine times out of 10, the writer is merely thanking me for reading his or her work. But, in that moment just before I open the e-mail, I am frightened. (I think most of us step carefully through our days, peering at the world through lowered lids, while thinking, Please, everyone, don’t be mean to me.) It’s a different case if I’ve made specific comments about the story. In these cases, I am initiating a dialogue. Questions and reactions from the writer are certainly welcome.

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

EP: I’m not sure what question would be associated with what I would like to say to submitters, so I’ll just come out with it: Please forgive me for any pain I have caused you. Please forgive me for the disappointment, anger, or hurt you felt when I didn’t accept your story or poem. Please forgive me for not having read your work well enough. Please forgive me for not having responded quickly enough. There is a great deal of pain associated with being an earnest fiction writer who toils over his or her stories and then bravely sends them out, only to have them (no matter how courteously) turned away. Please forgive me and every other editor who has not loved and accepted your work each time we received it. Please, though, don’t stop doing that work. If you can find your way to writing stories with as much skill, craft, intelligence, honesty, and passion as you are able to bring to the task, you will eventually reach a loving audience.   

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

NEXT POST: 6/4--Six Questions for Scott Barnes, Editor, New Myths


  1. Thanks for the conversation, Jim, with Ellen who is always, always gracious in her "not this times."

    Frigg is a place I'd like to be and I love your comments, Ellen, about continuing to strive to be better at all the elements. I'm really improving in my ability to be patient with a piece until ALL of it works.

    This takes practice--and practice "without too much concern about whether I'm writing for one editor or another." My goal is to keep at it and eventually, I believe, one of my nerves will touch a nerve at one of the venues I lust for. Maybe one at Frigg.

    So, Ellen, I'm going to keep working at it!

  2. "What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?" - You gave the most compassionate answer to this question I've read yet in these interviews, Ellen. Impressive and encouraging.