SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
JL: I love science fiction and wanted to see more of it. I don't personally subscribe to narrow interpretations of the notion, "Write what you know." On the other hand, I absolutely believe in the life advice to "Do what you love."
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
JL: An engaging, captivating character. I want to miss him or her as soon as I finish the story. I want to want to be her or him (or get as far away from her or him as possible) while reading.
A unique dilemma. Everything under the sun has been done, but if you can make it feel fresh, you've got me--and the reader--on your side.
A conclusion that both feels organic to the story and fresh enough to surprise or enlighten. For me, Robert Reed has a knack for ending a story such that three hours later I'll think back on it and still feel an impact. I never could get anywhere close to that in my own writing.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
JL: The top reason I reject a story is it failed to hold my interest. Now, that's a copout, because what you really want to know is the top three reasons a story failed to hold my interest, I expect: wooden prose, simplistic characters, and themes that have been done to death.
Wooden prose is the hardest thing to overcome, I think. It takes a lot of time and practice for most of us to learn to write "naturally."
Characters: Also tough. If your bad guy thinks of himself as a bad guy, other than ironically, you probably aren't there yet. If your good guy thinks of herself as a bad guy, ironically or otherwise, maybe you're close.
Themes: It amazes me how many stories are about some kid building something in a sandbox who turns out to be God--the Judeo-Christian vision of god, no less--sculpting Earth. Not to cast aspersions (I wrote that story several times, too, I suspect), but it's unlikely to sell to editors who have read it over and over again, unless you craft prose like Ray Bradbury or Gene Wolfe or something. Wiser folks than me publish lists of these overdone themes. Clarkesworld Magazine has one.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
JL: I know it when I see it. You generally know it when you've finished writing it.
SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?
JL: The short answer is "No." In today's world, that's publishing. The long answer is that if no one's seen it (literally, less than a dozen), and the author has taken it down before submitting it--or it's substantially revised from a posted draft. Well... maybe. Don't post stories you want to sell for first publication.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
Q: "What gives you the right?"
A: "Nothing at all. If I had the time, it would keep me up nights."
Thank you, Jonathan. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 11/11--Six Questions for Andrew McAleer, Editor, Crime Stalkers