"Eclectica is a quarterly World Wide Web journal devoted to showcasing the best writing on the web, regardless of genre. 'Literary' and 'genre' work appear side-by-side in each issue, along with pieces that blur the distinctions between such categories. Pushcart Prize, National Poetry Series, and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as Nebula Award nominees, have shared issues with previously unpublished authors." Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
TD: First I look for stories that are well-crafted. By that I mean the author's mechanics should be like a good sports referee: invisible. As readers we should be able to immerse ourselves in the story, not be forced out of it to contend with clunky prose.
Second, I hope for some kind of emotional impact, but I'm not talking about a Hallmark moment. The best stories move me in ways that aren't easily categorized, and the responses sneak up unexpectedly. The really great stories make me do something out loud--yell, laugh, howl, all of the above.
Finally, a story needs zing, meaning that quality, inclusive of the craft and emotion already mentioned, that makes the story jump out from the hundreds of other stories I'm reading for a given issue. Zing is easily recognized but difficult to explain. It's probably most easily defined by what it is not.
The opposite of zing would be writing that serves some unconscious need to work out personal issues. I refer to writing like this as "masturbatory," because it is more about the author than the reader.
The opposite of zing, in almost every case of this kind that I've encountered, is writing about writing. Stories about writing stories. Novels about writing novels. Any way you slice it, the self-consciousness is unbearable.
The opposite of zing is stories that are "by the numbers" or feel like they've been "work-shopped."
The opposite of zing is a piece of writing that assumes the reader cares about particular characters, events, or ideas. I hate that. Frankly, the reader doesn't care. It's the author's job to build interest out of disinterest, then fan it into concern, love, hatred, etc.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
TD: Often I can't finish reading a story because it's poorly written. Or I do finish it, and I wonder why I wasted my time doing so. And sometimes I read the whole story, and it is pretty good, but after I've read all the submissions for an issue, I realize that the story in question just doesn't stand out. Or a week later, it hasn't held up.
SQF: What other common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
TD: See above under "opposite of zing."
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
TD: Unfortunately, no. When I say unfortunately, I mean that on the writers' behalves. I simply don't have the time to provide that kind of feedback. After my day job, my family, housework and chores, the time I have to devote to editing is measured in minutes, not hours.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
TD: Having something worthwhile to say forgives a multitude of evils. This is true whether the writing is poetry, fiction, nonfiction... I ascribe to the old saw, "Necessity is the mother of invention." There is an element of practicality that drives even the most wildly creative work.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
TD: I suppose it would have been great if you had asked how to buy a copy of Eclectica Magazine Best Fiction Anthology, Volume One. I would have said that you're welcome to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to sell you one for $12 plus shipping and handling. That's quite a bargain for 30 zing-filled stories in a beautiful, IPPY-award winning book.
Thank you, Tom. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 6/3--Six Questions for Linda Manning, Managing Editor, Aurora Wolf Literary Journal