SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
JS: Three? Hmm... Well, one, of course, is the writing itself. It has to be as sharp as possible. To use a tired old metaphor (the type I would frown upon in a story, but here I go hypocritical), it's like fishing. Bait and hook. The bait has to be fresh. The hook has to be shiny and sharp as hell. Now to mix my metaphors and move on to item number
2: Don't drop the ball. Once you've got me hooked with well-baited sharp opening lines, don't fumble all over yourself once you get halfway or more into the story. I see this a lot, a super sharp beginning to a story only for it to devolve into the same old pap and trite, predictable plotline and resolution as a thousand other stories I've read (many published in reputable journals, so take my whining with a grain of salt).
And #3? What for #3. Well, I guess technique can only get you so far, and to now throw one more metaphor into the mix, even the best chefs in the world can only do so much with flour and water. So, put some meat into your stories, big thick cuts of bloody red meat. And, I don't mean throw a bunch of vampires and explosions in there for their own sake, but the story should have something serious at stake (even if it's a comedic story). We're bored with the same old middle-class suburban "what does it all mean?" boring malaise as if it's still the 90's and 9/11 never happened. We want stories that have their place in the current atmosphere. The sense of risk and consequence should be thick throughout the story.
SQF: When reading a story, what clues tell you the story was written by a novice author?
JS: Adverbs. Seriously, heartily, and assuredly.
SQF: What other common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
- Nothing of interest has been mentioned by page two.
- Stories about college students with overly typical college student problems (read: lack thereof)
- No sense of any real world hard work experience. Yes, I can tell.
- A sense of entitlement inherent in the prose.
- Anything "too writerly" or in other words, overly proud of itself, relishing in its use of a ten dollar word when a 50 center would do.
- Prose that passes judgment on a particular class or group (typically the working class or, commonly labeled, "red staters.")
- Sloppy dialogue, dull, pointless, goes nowhere or exists solely to move the plot
- Trying to solve world hunger/racism/social injustice/sexism/etc. etc. in the confines of the story. This really smacks of amateurism.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
JS: Only if I think it's very, very close. But, more often I'm not rejecting, I'm asking for revisions in order to publish it.
SQF: What do you consider to be the primary responsibilities of an editor?
JS: In my case, at least, it would be establishing and maintaining a brand, a style, an aesthetic. I want people to have a general sense of what we are and what we're about based on the work we consistently publish. There are many perfectly good stories that come over the wire to us that we don't run simply because they're not a good fit. So, authors should always take rejections in stride. The work is likely to get accepted somewhere, and you always want your work to be where it is desired. I take pieces that I genuinely love and am proud to put my brand upon. So, that, and spell-checking.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JS: Not sure what the question would be, but the answer is this: Know your own audience, and target your publishing efforts toward publishers that aim for that same audience. I've learned this lesson expensively and all too dearly myself. I think you learn far more being an editor than you ever will from being a writing student. The most annoying thing I see is when submissions come over the wire that are just blatantly wrong for our style and aesthetic. This tells me that the author is lazy and is just shotgun blasting every journal s/he can find. This is very annoying. A side note on this: I also don't care for long bios that go on and on listing every single journal title in which the author has published. My advice is: list only the top 3-4 (or the 3-4 most closely related to the journal to which you're submitting). Then, offer a link to a personal webpage that gives all the information you'd like to give.
Thank you, Jason. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 6/9--Six Questions for Carolyn Zaikowski, Editor, Dinosaur Bees