Monday, January 3, 2011

Six Questions for Beth Thomas & Tara Laskowski, Editors, SmokeLong Quarterly

SmokeLong Quarterly publishes flash fiction to 1000 words that contains "language that surprises, narratives that strive toward something other than a final punchline or twist, pieces that add up to something, and honest work that feels as if it has far more purpose than a writer wanting to write a story." Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Beth & Tara, I know you made some changes recently at SmokeLong. Please tell us what they are and a little about why you decided to mix things up.

BETH & TARA:   There have been several changes afoot at SmokeLong Quarterly this year.

First, we spiced things up with the addition of SmokeLong Weekly to our publishing calendar. For the Weekly, we bring in a new guest editor every few weeks (an editor, publisher, or writer we admire) to read that week's submissions and choose a story for publication. This has opened SmokeLong up to new editorial voices and styles, while simultaneously lightening our workload when it comes to reading submissions. (We still publish the Quarterly as usual.) Then, SmokeLong founder and head poo-bah Dave Clapper decided to step down from the day-to-day editorial duties at the journal. We (Beth & Tara) took over as senior editors and are now handling the editing of both the Weekly and Quarterly issues. And finally, we hired a whole mess of new editors to help us get our act together and keep it that way.

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

BETH:  I look for a compelling story and characters, a unique situation or angle, and evidence that the author has spent time refining (e.g., every word serves a purpose).

TARA:  Interesting language that surprises me and 'clicks' with me; long-lasting resonance--if I still think about it days after I read it, I know it's a keeper; and some situation or idea that I've not read before.

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

BETH:  Lack of anything new or fresh, boring language, and the "so what?" factor. Basically, the story doesn't wow me.

  1. If it is too long--we only publish 1000-word stories or less.
  2. If it has a punchline or is overly gimmicky--I am not interested in that kind of story.
  3. If it involves cancer or a terminal illness or is a high school story about a bad break-up--we get so many of these, that unless they are done in a VERY unique way, we generally will pass.
Of course, rules are made to be broken, so you never know what might catch our eye.

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

BETH:  Typos, messy copy, too much scene setting up front, stories that read like the first few pages of a novel, stories that are obviously not a good fit for SLQ.

TARA:  Explaining too much, bad exposition, typos, genre fiction (I don't have anything against genre fiction, but we aren't the best venue for it. Other pubs out there do it a lot better than we ever would).

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?

BETH:  I rarely provide comments on declined stories. I do try to send personal rejection letters when I can, especially if I know the author, or if their story was almost accepted.

TARA:  We try really hard to. Certainly if a story comes very close to acceptance, we will send a personal note with encouragement and explain why we didn't take it. But we get a lot of submissions every week, and if we took the time to write comments on every story it would be more than a full-time job. However, know that we do read every submission and give it careful consideration.

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

BETH:  How do you handle The Slush?

BETH: We read all year long, every week. Our guest editors read the stories that come in on their assigned weeks, then the SLQ staff goes back and reads anything suggested by the guest eds. Some stories will get read by 6 or 7 editors before a decision is made. Know that if you submit your best work, it will be taken very seriously. And know that even if you get a rejection, it is possible that every editor on staff has read, commented on, and discussed your story.

TARA:  How about: What other online pubs do you read and admire?

TARA:  There are many, and I'm sure I'll miss some in my list, but some of my favorite online publications right now include: PANK, Bananafish, decomP, The Northville Review, Necessary Fiction, wigleaf, The Collagist and Barrelhouse.

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

NEXT POST: 1/6--Six Questions for Casey Quinn, Publisher & Editor, Short Story Library

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