Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Six Questions for Six Questions for Clifford Garstang, Editor, Prime Number Magazine

Prime Number Magazine publishes short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction, essays, interviews, craft articles and book reviews on a quarterly schedule, plus a print annual. The first issue appeared in July 2010. The magazine is affiliated with Press 53. Learn more here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

CG: I used to be the fiction reader for Shenandoah, which I enjoyed very much. It was a lot of work, but it was a thrill to be involved with discovering great work and bringing it to print. So I’ve been looking for an opportunity to work with another magazine. Last year my own collection of short stories was published by Press 53 and while I was talking to Kevin Watson, the publisher, it occurred to me that a magazine would be a perfect extension of a small press—a good way to discover new writers and also to get the word out about the press. Realistically, the magazine needed to be online, but with Press 53 we have the ability to produce a print annual of editors’ favorites, and that seems to me to be the best of both the print and online worlds.

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

CG: I look for vibrancy, tension, and subtext. By vibrancy I mean a situation or setting that is fresh and characters who are alive and unique. I see a lot of stories that are just rehashed stories about divorce or cancer, and they’re boring to me. I want to see the story pop from the opening line. By tension I mean conflict, of course, because that’s what keeps a reader reading. Lots of stories I see are all internal conflict—a character wrestling with himself—and while that is sometimes a valid tension-producing conflict, it’s hard to pull off. Stories are most compelling where there is weighty interpersonal conflict. And subtext is important to me because it gives a story dimensionality. The story might be about cancer on the surface, but if there’s something else going on in the story, the medical problem, which has been explored over and over again in fiction, can be made new.

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

CG: First: typos, grammar, and usage. These things can be corrected, of course, but they tell me that a writer is lazy. I expect to have to teach these things to my students, but I don’t think an editor should have to be a teacher.

Second: clumsy dialogue. It makes me cringe, and it’s an indication that the author hasn’t read much good fiction.

Third: Throat-clearing. When a story just starts but doesn’t get to the real beginning for pages, that’s a sign of an early draft that should probably be reconsidered and revised.

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

CG: Voice. Uniqueness (name, appearance, job, background). Crisply defined desire.

SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?

CG: No.

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

CG: What sort of story ending do you favor and why?

Instead of an ending that ties up everything neatly, I like a more open-ended close to a story, one that resonates with the reader. Why should the author want to shut everything down just because the particular conflict she’s explored in the story has been resolved? The world doesn’t work that way—there are always more questions to ask. So I like a story that leaves a reader wondering what happens next.

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

NEXT POST: 8/6--Six Questions for Deb Harris, Editor-in-Chief, All Things That Matter Press

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