Monday, November 14, 2011

Six Questions for E. S. Wynn, Editor, Smashed Cat Magazine

Smashed Cat is looking for “stories no longer than 1000 words and ideally in the 500-700 word range. We’re honestly open to just about everything, regardless of format or genre, (as long as its not brimming with sex and/or violence) though we do favor the gritty, strange, bizarre, irreal or brain-bending fiction over just about anything else. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

EW: For Smashed Cat, I'm looking for stories that are profoundly bizarre or try something so new and different that it takes me a moment to truly appreciate it. I already operate one magazine that focuses on strange, experimental and literary fiction (Weirdyear Flash Fiction) so I've often been asked how Smashed Cat is different. Put simply, Smashed Cat is weirder than Weirdyear. If Weirdyear were a mine digging into the depths of the bizarre, Smashed Cat would be the mine next door which tunnels through dark rock until it reaches the sticky core. When it comes to stories for Smashed Cat, it has to be new, it has to be haunting, and most of all, it has to be so profoundly bizarre that the average reader of experimental fiction would read it and say "huh?"

SQF: When reading a story, what clues tell you the story was written by a novice author?

EW: Generally I don't mind reading stories by novice authors. All five of my magazines (six if you include Fractal Novels - SQF: more on this in a post next month) are geared toward giving writers a leg up in the industry. They offer a home for good stories from authors who haven't gained a following yet and a foothold for gaining the following a writer sometimes needs to gain the confidence to keep writing. That being said, if a story comes in totally riddled with grammatical errors and/or simple spelling errors, I'll usually reject it. It's a pet peeve. It's time consuming to track down all the little typos and correct them, and it says on the submission guidelines page: "please proofread before sending." To any and all who write, the key to good proofreading is to slow down. Read slowly, read aloud, and do it twice. You'll be surprised at the results.

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

EW: For Smashed Cat, I get turned off by stories that aren't experimental or weird. Sure, I realize that the definition of "weird" is relative (some people think that cross dressing, laughing loud or doing hand stands in the middle of the street are weird) but the level of weird I'm looking for with Smashed Cat is so far beyond slightly abnormal that it might make some readers' toes curl. Honestly, that's the biggest way to get a rejection from Smashed Cat. It may be a magazine bent toward the literary, but if you send me a story about how weird it was that your grandma had a perfectly ordinary skunk as a pet, I'm going to reject it. Religious stories and heavy-handed spiritual references/condemnations (of any type or from any book or creed, including Atheism) often end up in the bin too. I don't have time for preaching from anyone when it comes to fiction.

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

EW: I used to, but I found that pointing things out (like a ton of spelling errors that makes editing a story a long and time-consuming process) usually results in an argument about why a story is awesome and I owe it to the writer to publish it. Honestly, writing may be an art, but that doesn't mean writers shouldn't act professionally when submitting to (or receiving rejections from) an editor. Another reason I don't provide comments anymore is that it breaks my heart to have to write something like "I really liked your story, but the schedule is full." I know what its like to be a writer, and I waded through my share of rejections when I was younger. I hate to use a cliche', but more often than not, it hurts me more to send a rejection than it does the writer to receive it. That's one of the reasons why I operate so many magazines. I hate turning away good fiction. I'd publish it all and then some if I could.

SQF: What do you consider to be the primary responsibilities of an editor?

EW: I've asked myself that question many times. I think every editor has the overarching responsibility to read completely though every piece of fiction that crosses his desk (unless its over 5,000 words, then it's okay to skip around.) I've seen too much gold that gets passed over because it doesn't grab like a demon in the first five words, and I refuse to judge a story by its first line. Beyond that, I think it's the author's job to proofread their own story, and the editor's job to catch the (one or two) errors that might be left over. Politeness is important too, but that goes with professionalism. It's not the responsibility of an editor to teach writers how to write (unless that editor is getting paid to do so) coddle any writer, cave to pressure or publish a piece of writing that isn't ready for the spotlight.

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

EW: As an editor, the most important piece of advice I feel I could offer to writers is to keep trying. If one editor rejects one story, send that story to another editor of another magazine. Write new stories. Try new things. Persistence is the key, and it does pay off in the long run. I know from experience. Remember, rejection isn't failure. It just means you've found one way that doesn't work. Keep searching and you'll find the way that does.

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

NEXT POST: 11/17--Six Questions for Jeffrey S. Callico and Nicolette Wong, Editors, Dark Chaos

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