SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
- Sharp, tight writing.
- Risk taking.
- Edgy subject matter.
Since I am talking about flash fiction 500 words or fewer, I am looking for sharp extremely tight writing. Genre is irrelevant to me. I am in it for the message, so I want the subject matter to have some edginess to it. I also want to see that the author is confident; by that I mean that they are willing to take a chance and experiment with the form. Stories that feel work-shopped and contrived don't work for me. I don't feel that the standard story construction dogma is the end all be all of fiction writing, especially for flash fiction this short. I want to see some risk taking. I want to see that the writer has made their own choices and has done it fearlessly. Aesthetically speaking, I like difficult, hard “to get” stories, and when I do “get it,” and I'd better, I need to be bludgeoned by it. I want emotion in the extreme. I like the dark thinky stuff, and more importantly, I want stories that say something in the abstract. I don't care about beginnings, middles, and endings. I don't care about conflict and resolution. I don't care about first sentence hooks or any of the other mainstream writing fashions du jour. I like traditional stories but much prefer voyeuristic vignettes, and I like a liberal amount of ambiguity. Think Antonin Artaud, Henri Barbusse, Fernando Pessoa, and Oliverio Girondo and you've got a good idea of what I like.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
- Grammatically challenged writing.
- No unique voice.
Grammatically challenged writing will get an instant rejection, so does sentimentality and writing that tries too hard. Second to that is writing that is technically sound but has no unique voice. Stories in which it is obvious that the writer hasn't dug in deep enough or has a limited world view, or rather, stories in which the writer’s emotional immaturity shows through. I’ve been writing for a long time, reading even longer than that, and I’ve learned that technique can be taught; a unique voice has to be earned.
I also don’t like cliché subject matter. As for my definition of overwritten, I don’t care for stories that "explain" too much -- stories leaving nothing to reader interpretation. Stylistically speaking, I have difficulty with stories in which the writer seems ignorant to the fact that all writing is poetry. Clunky overwritten prose just doesn't work for me.
SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
CAG: A flat uninteresting story that has no mood and movement and is devoid of any social and/or emotional relevance. Life is mundane most of the time, but a good writer can make even the most mundane shock and awe a reader. I don't want gore or language or sex for the sake of it though. Sloppy writing also turns me off, and writing that seems to be "trying too hard" to be literary. We are a “literary minded” site, but I only want to see nickel words in the title, and it had better be good. Lastly, I will reject stories that completely ignore the definitions of the words Apocrypha and Abstraction.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
CAG: I like fearless writers, and so I like fearless characters. 500 words or fewer doesn’t give you much room for character development, so they have to be extraordinary in-your-face confident and self-aware. Milquetoast just doesn’t work in fiction this short. I like dark and difficult. I like despair and need and insatiable cravings. I like infatuation, obsession, and desire. I like socio-political statements, and I love psychodrama. I enjoy the different and the interesting, and most of all, I value truth and beauty above all else, no matter how gruesome it is. It takes a certain type of character to deliver on that. They need to be muscular and up to the challenge.
SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?
CAG: Since we are a new publication, I've only rejected a few pieces so far, and I did provide commentary. However, I am sure as I get busier with submissions, I may not have time to comment. Of the few I rejected, I actually liked the stories, but they weren’t a good fit for the site, and in one case, the author simply went over the word count limit. I don’t think authors should reply to rejections unless the editors have provided specific commentary on the piece, and even then, I wouldn’t reply with more than a thank you. Editors are busy people, and they don’t have time to get into lengthy critique sessions. As for angry replies, just don’t do it. File the rejection and move on. I’ve had a lot of pieces accepted that were initially rejected. Some of them I reworked, and some I didn’t. More often than not, a rejection has everything to do with “fit” and editorial preference. Check your fit and try somewhere else. I don’t have a blacklist, and hope I never need one.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
CAG: Why I chose the artwork I did for the site:
A: The painting is “The Land of Cockaigne” by Pieter Bruegel, and this abstract surrealistic vision exemplifies our site. I started the site because I write abstract flash and slipstream and I knew I couldn’t be alone, so came up with A & A to showcase abstract flash fiction that doesn’t quite fit mainstream conventions when it comes to story construction. Stare at it for a while; our submission guidelines are posted, but the artwork tells you all you need to know about the type of writing we are looking for in particular.
Thank you, Cheryl Anne. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 7/21--Six Questions for Greg Dybec, Editor, Fix it Broken