"Cheek Teeth is the blog of TRACHODON magazine, updated twice weekly in the following categories: Flash Fiction, Features, Reviews, Touché, and Fossils." Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
KS: When it comes to flash fiction, a writer only has so many words to get the job done. Even still, the stories we publish come to a natural completion—either through tying up loose ends, a slight shift in mood, or (my personal favorite) a particularly fitting metaphor.
Next, I look for uniqueness of voice or perspective. Voice doesn’t always mean five syllable words and perspective doesn’t always mean point of view. What I’m talking about here is a narrator or character’s particular way of seeing the world. Do they notice the fingerprints on the window, or the majestic view on the other side? Do they hear the clock’s incessant second hand, or laughter coming from across the street?
Finally, I look for stories of smart surprise. Smart surprise works best when a writer can create a world or character so thoroughly, that readers go along for the ride without question. The surprise comes into play when that thoroughness is disrupted or confirmed in a crafted manner that enhances story.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
KS: If a story doesn’t have sensory detail, metaphor, or powerful verbs, I get pretty grumpy. Verbs are a writer’s primary tool for moving the story forward. Choosing bland verbs and skimping on detail leads directly to lack of metaphor. Without metaphor, I find myself asking, “So what?”
If a story isn’t properly formatted or punctuated, especially for dialogue, I get impatient. When a writer only has so many words to get the job done, clarity matters tenfold. If I have to stop because I can’t tell whether a white space is intentional or if a line of dialogue is spoken or internal monologue, I’m likely to pass on the story.
If a story relies on the spectacles of aggression, violation, violence, or out-of-this-world oddities that make no move toward crafted literary completion, I will not accept it for publication. Extraordinarily disturbing stories have been written and received much-deserved literary fame—but their trump isn’t in their shock value, it’s in their crafting.
SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
KS: There aren’t any others. It’s almost always common mistakes that lead to rejection—imprecise word choice, careless formatting, and lack of imagination. In other words, same as above.
SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?
KS: The best part about being an editor is the privilege of publishing another author’s words. Managing a publication like Cheek Teeth keeps me connected to the literary world that I also depend upon for my livelihood. It’s a way of contributing to something bigger while also continuing to grow individually.
I also get a little giddy when an author I respect responds to a solicitation. It feels like receiving a compliment on behalf of a publication I’ve worked hard to be a part of, and it often sparks the beginning of a connection that can lead to some great email conversations following publication.
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?
KS: Establishing rapport with anyone interested in Cheek Teeth is important to me, and there’s nothing I admire more than a writer willing to seek advice to give something another shot. I don’t mind if an author rejected by Cheek Teeth replies with a polite question, but I appreciate it if that question comes with the expressed desire to improve the story and/or submit additional work to Cheek Teeth in the future.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
KS: I wish you’d asked about the number of writers submitting work compared to the number of writers subscribing to literary magazines. How much overlap is there? How many writers submitting fiction today have also read at least five literary magazines cover-to-cover in the past year? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer.
I do know from my 10 years of experience with four different literary magazines, that the number of submitters very often outweighs the number of subscribers. Being a writer who doesn’t support the publishing industry is like being a farmer who doesn’t eat produce. I don’t care what you read, just read. And read with abandon. Read magazines you trust and magazines you’ve never heard of before. Give lit mag subscriptions as birthday presents or graduation gifts. Chances are, you’ll make someone’s day and improve your own writing and knowledge of the publishing industry at the same time.
Thank you, Katey. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 10/27-Six Questions for Laura Roberts, Editor, Black Heart Magazine