Monday, September 5, 2011

Six Questions for Anne M. Stickel, Editor, Black Petals

Published quarterly, Black Petals is about the dark side of Science Fiction, and the bizarre and unusual in Horror. We publish short fiction, novel excerpts, poetry, and illustrations. We review books too. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

AS: Scary or supernatural elements are best because that's what we're about, but it is perfectly okay for the story to have a happy ending or erotic content. We even had one tale that ended with a recipe! A color-coded system is used to categorize an accepted story with a phrase to summarize content when listed for editing/illustrating purposes:

Violet = violence, the undead, monsters 
Black = end-of-the-world, tragic lovers 
Green = eerie forces of nature
Blue = science fiction, space aliens 
Pink = ghosts, strange gods, demons 
Red = psychosis, the surreal

Since stories are illustrated, they should spark an artist's imagination too.

A unique style or at least clear writing (with as few typos/grammos as possible) pleases us. Otherwise, too much time goes into copyediting versus content. Willingness to work with the editor is a must, even for poets. Editor Crist manages the art and web posting.

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

AS: When an author submits a piece showing lack of basic mastery of the English language, especially when our posted guidelines have been ignored, and punctuation is hit and miss, the work is likely to be rejected, regardless of content. Always query first.

The story content is merely mainstream, and the speculative element is missing.

The author fails to return the release allowing us to publish the piece, especially if they then tell us that, oh, by the way, it was a simultaneous submission and has been accepted elsewhere.

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

AS: Four-letter words are allowed, but not when other words would work better...and they usually do. Using words like 'that' and 'made his way' to the point of distraction is another pet peeve, as is the use of periods where commas (or semicolons) belong and vice versa. The biggest problem, though, is failure to read our posted guidelines and sending us a double-spaced story in the wrong font, especially if the title is in a different font from the body of the text. I once read a book on writing stating that somewhere out there is an editor who will take a piece, no matter what: sorry, not me.

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

AS: Usually the comments are brief, since writers are easily offended by being told the detailed reasons for rejection. BP doesn't reject very many stories because we're on the lookout for new voices. Sometimes an author will ask for reasons, and then we go into more detail. Sometimes a story makes it all the way into the 'zine and an author then asks to have it removed because they don't want their stuff out there for personal reasons or suddenly decide they don't like anyone editing them (warts and all). Most are happy with the editing and online appearance (courtesy of webmaster-coeditor K. Crist).

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

AS: Virtually all of our readers are writers too, and many of them teach creative writing. Most of us writers take ourselves way too seriously and fail to have any fun doing it. BP is a for-love-of venue, which is why I enjoy it so much, and have met many unsung but highly accomplished writers (none of them 'famous', but many of them multiply-published). I see the editing as my volunteer job, the way others see working in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Really, though, writing is an addiction, and I love hanging out with the other addicts. I expect them all to surpass me, and I want to see them shine bright enough to inspire the next generation of writing readers.

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

Q: How do you like working with other editors?
A: Nothing beats working with one's soul mates.

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

NEXT POST: 9/8--Six Questions for Gay Degani, Editor, Flash Fiction Chronicles

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