Necessary Fiction is a webjournal that publishes a new story every Wednesday and serialized works every Monday and Friday. The editors look for "bold stories told with poetic precision. Show us the world in ways we haven’t yet seen it, in no more than 3000 words." Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
SH: Necessary Fiction was actually started by James Stegall of So New Publishing. I had been thinking of starting a webjournal of my own, so when he put out a call for an editor I asked if I could take it on. Mostly it was a desire to get more involved in the literary community beyond submitting my own work, which can be so isolating. I like being able, in my own small way, to support writers doing work I believe in and sharing stories I think folks should be reading.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
SH: Curiosity. That's terribly vague, I know, but it's hard for a story that doesn't exhibit some sense of curiosity about the world to interest me. I think of fiction as a way to make sense of how individual lives are woven in larger webs of nature and culture and science and history and everything else, so stories that don't explore those connections in some way often feel claustrophobic to me. Especially if they take for granted that certain types of characters or people are inherently interesting no matter what they're doing.
I tend to prefer reflective stories, those that feel like a moment slowed down rather than stories overwhelmed by action. I like a story that asks me to linger and think about something rather than rushing me along.
And for lack of a better word, surprise. I hate knowing where a story is going before it gets there, so a story as serendipitous as real life is more likely to grab my attention (which doesn't mean it has to be realism, just that it needs to feel organic). Stories as tidy as a clichéd sitcom plot, moving steadily toward some inevitable, predictable conclusion, almost always lose me along the way.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
SH: Stories that end with a punchline or gimmicky twist rarely work for me. They often feel deceitful, because if they're written well I'm invested in the characters and their story only to discover those characters were a convenient way of getting to the joke.
I love flash fiction, but for me there is such a thing as too short. That's in no way meant as a judgment, just a personal preference. I think I'm slow to get into a story, so if it's over before I've warmed up it won't grab me. Like I said, I prefer to linger and take my time.
And stories about writers, which I receive far more of than I would have guessed, usually feel like a busman's holiday to me - whether it's characters who happen to be writers, or the use of well known writers (and their books) as key elements of a story. But regarding all three of these reasons, I am always glad to be proven wrong in my assumptions about what can work in a story.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
SH: To be honest, it isn't usually the characters who grab me. I'm more interested in the narrative voice and the way it explores the world and invites me along. Sharing that curiosity I mentioned. Whether it's a character's voice or an author's or something between them doesn't matter, but I love stories that have a sense of being told rather than passively watched.
SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?
SH: Sure, if it's a good story.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
SH: How about, "Will you work with an author on a story that's almost there but not quite?" One of my favorite parts of editing is seeing something in a story that I know can become powerful and moving, and trying to help the writer bring that power out by hammering away at the story. I make a lot of suggestions and request a lot of rewrites, and very few of the stories published at Necessary Fiction go up without at least some revision, even if it's very minor. Hopefully without forcing my own aesthetic onto the writer, but by sharing my perspective on the story in a productive way.
Thank you, Steve. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 6/30--Six Questions for Dr. Santosh Kumar, Chief Editor, Taj Mahal Review