SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
SM: Burner was founded on the principle that there was too much interesting, incendiary art being made out there that wasn't being published in quality literary and arts magazines due to the fact that it often didn't fit within the academic, hierarchical structures that many high-end arts publications are built upon. As writers and artists ourselves, Leah Stephenson (Burner's Executive Editor) and I began brainstorming as to what our ideal publication would look like. Fun, thought-provoking, high quality, beautiful and colorful were all keywords that sprung to mind, and thus Burner's Call for Submissions (http://burnermag.com/submit.html) was born. The quality of submissions we received (and have continued to receive in exponential volume) was astounding, and moreover the ethos of Burner is something that our submitting artists really appear to understand and connect with -- many an e-mail has appeared in our in-box that states "I was waiting for a magazine like this to come along!"
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
SM: Part of the Burner ethos is that every reading is done 'blindly', meaning we pay no mind whatsoever to the artist's biography or credentials before reading their work and judging it upon its own merit. I would say that the top three things we look for in the stories and poems we receive are that they must be:
- Immediately compelling: if it doesn't grab my attention within the first paragraph or so, it's typically going into the 'out' pile. There have been a few exceptions to this, but not many!
- Grammatically sound: I am a strong believer in the form and function of words working harmoniously, and tend to feel that if you don't know the difference between your there/they're/their 's and/or the correct placement of a comma, the work gets muddied. Again, once in a blue moon there is an exception made in respect to this rule.
- Beautiful, beautiful prose: Beautiful prose can be absolutely life-changing. There is a magic to words and their placement, and every piece that gets accepted into an issue of Burner must have this entrancing, enchanting quality.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
- It's too long: It's right there in our Call for Submissions that we accept prose between 500-1000 words, and yet you wouldn't believe how many stories are submitted that go into the 2000+ word count. Of course we're not going to be total sticklers about the 1000 word limit (i.e., we're not going to toss it into the bin for counting out at 1100 words), but the total disregard for our space constraints is one thing that essentially ensures submission rejection at Burner.
- It's not Burner: Burner's ethos is by all means pretty broad, but at the same time it's quite obvious if you've read through one of our issues that there's a certain style we gravitate towards. We typically don't accept work that reads 'too academic' (throwing around big, multi-syllabic words when a little, simple one would fit the bill better), and while we do call for Non-Fiction in our Call for Submissions, we don't want to hear personal accounts about the time you met so-and-so at a concert unless it's written in an absolutely stunning, compelling, conclusive way.
- It's not not good, but it's not AS good: Given the enormous volume of submissions we receive, there's simply not enough room for everyone, especially in the longer short/non-fiction categories. Burner also publishes poetry, visual art, photography and editorials, and it really is only the best of the best that make it in. Sorry.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
SM: Personally, I have a penchant for characters who are intensely human, but also have a little mystery about them. I've got to care about them and their wellbeing. And they must contain a sense of movement, which I don't necessarily mean literally. A character who stays in the same place -- emotionally, physically, spiritually -- throughout the entire story is likely not a character that I'm going to find particularly interesting.
SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?
SM: If it's fantastically good to the point that I feel it's a shame to not publish, yes. Otherwise, no.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
SM: Hmm. Maybe "Does buttering up the Burner editors in your cover letter enhance your odds of being published?"
And the answer would of course be a big, fat, resounding no. We enjoy the compliments we get, but the only thing you're enhancing by writing a gushy cover letter is our egos.
Also: please write a nice, professional cover letter and a good, brief bio. Having these things under your belt will do wonders for you and your writing career, I assure you. Please, please, please!
Thank you, Sarah. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 4/1--Six Questions for David A. Bright, Editor, Gemini Magazine