"The Molotov Cocktail is interested in volatile flash fiction (to 1000 words), the kind of prose you cook up in a bathtub and handle with rubber gloves. While literary fiction is certainly welcomed, The Molotov Cocktail isn’t some erudite journal that will only accept stories with at least five layers of metaphor. We want your action, we want your rotten characters, we want viscera." Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
JG: Basically, I look for voice, tone, and imagery. A narrative voice that hooks the reader is crucial, whether the piece is in the first- or third-person. I look for a voice that is the antithesis of "writerly," one that is organic and genuine but also surprising and even shocking. This fits into the tone of the piece, which is another important element to the fiction we publish. The tone must fit into our dark and offbeat aesthetic. Typically, a writer who has familiarized herself with the kind of prose we publish will stand a much better chance of hitting the mark. And nothing beats strong imagery, the kind that conjures a strange or surreal picture in the mind's eye.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
JG: Writers don't always adhere to our submission guidelines and failure to do so certainly doesn't bode well for their submission. Also, I don't enjoy reading stories that focus too explicitly on mindless violence or other gross-out tactics. The Molotov Cocktail seeks dark fiction, but not dark for the sake of dark. There still needs to be humanity in the characters, and ideally the dark side of humanity is revealed in these stories. So that's one of the more tricky pitfalls many writers fall into when they submit work. And finally, there is simply the fact that we only have so much space and can't publish every story we receive. Some stories we like but they still don't make the cut because there are others we like better.
SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
JG: Unoriginal concepts. Stories that fit into a common mold. I don't know how many stories I've read that end with a gunshot. That's not to say we've never published stories that end this way (we have) but it's such a common ending that it won't make a submission stand out or have the impact that the author likely thinks it does. I also see an over-reliance on characters who are high or drunk. And I also encounter a large number of stories from the perspective of serial killers or rapists or other monsters. It takes a lot of skill to pull that off, and few do.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
JG: As previously mentioned, the voice. Even in the third-person the narrative voice makes or breaks characters for me. Also, it's important to make the character unique, especially for the kind of flash fiction that we publish. Offbeat characters, those who don't have any cookie-cutter qualities, are crucial.
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?
JG: I've fortunately only run into a handful of unprofessional responses to rejections. I find anyone who gets offended by a rejection, and especially one who responds with an angry tirade, to be comical. It takes a lot of work to get a story accepted for publication and rejections are never personal. I wouldn't encourage authors to respond to rejections at all, though there's nothing wrong with a polite "Thanks for your consideration" response. Asking for additional feedback doesn't bother me, but due to the high volume of submissions it's unlikely I'll be able to respond with an in-depth critique.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JG: How should writers respond to rejection?
Keep submitting to other publications. Be diligent in researching the best markets for your work. Duotrope Digest (www.duotrope.com) is an invaluable resource for this. And also, consider submitting additional work in the future. I, personally, tend to remember names even of those authors who we have rejected in the past, and I always appreciate the chance to read more work from the same author. Perseverance is the name of the game in the literary world. You're going to receive a lot of rejections, but we all do. You can't let rejection bother you, but rather it should motivate you to keep striving for that elusive publication. It'll only happen to those who keep writing and keep submitting work.
Thank you, Josh. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 12/8--Six Questions for Nicole Monaghan, Editor, Nailpolish Stories