Thursday, February 23, 2012

Six Questions for Matt Potter, Founder and Editor, Pure Slush

Pure Slush publishes flash fiction and poetry both online and in print. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

• Does it take me into another world? The best stories (a) take us into another world but (b) also show a universality of experience. If you can do both, then you've really got me, as a reader first, and of course as an editor.

• Is it sci-fi, medieval, fantasy? If so, I loathe them all and won’t read them. Sorry, but there are plenty of sites out there who love them all. Pure Slush is not one of them. And life is too short.

• Is it too clever? Is the story more about showing the reader how cool the writer is? If so, then I probably won’t read it to the end. Is it trying for the 'good writing' bar? I don't know what 'good writing' is either, and writers who wank on about it infuriate me: it's that ole 'I'm part of an exclusive club and you're not' ego trip. A very boring waste of time.

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

• Adverbs!! How I loathe most adverbs! It’s a tried and true rule of effective writing: cut those adverbs out! If you use an adverb, think of how else you can write the same thing, in a more physical way. Too many novice writers use adverbs and their work sounds like a teenager’s journal, or creative writing for twelve year olds.

• Too many verbs: many write using verbs in the Continuous tenses: she is dreaming, or more often, she was dreaming. She dreams or she dreamt is just much better: less words, more direct. Use Simple tenses when you can. And if you don’t know what these are, look them up online on a grammar site. They keep your word count down and are often far more direct and powerful.

• Using too many words that temper or qualify an action: she almost seemed to be struggling. NO! She struggled. (And the next question is: OK, how was she struggling? What was happening to her physically? What actually was she doing? What was her face doing? What were her legs and arms doing? Show me.) Have the courage of your convictions and make the action definite. Seem and try and maybe and almost and perhaps and probably are words I continually edit out.

• Bad, inconsistent, or no punctuation. Punctuation can change meaning, and sloppy punctuation shows a lack of care and a lack of insight.

• Words I need a dictionary for, to look up their meaning. Writing is about communication, and while I can’t confess to knowing all the words in the English lexicon, I know a few. Run some by me I don’t know, in your story, and I won't feel intimidated, I’ll just think you’re a wanker and I'll question your method of communication and your reason for wanting to do so. I don't suffer fools gladly.

• Does the writer get the joke? If not, then he / she is probably too green and takes him / herself way too seriously.

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

• Misspellings and a writer too hip for his / her own good (and mine, and Pure Slush readers).

• There are always themes for fiction on Pure Slush – less often for non-fiction – but writers who do not take note of the relevant theme/s (and word lengths) also show a lack of care. Themes and word lengths are well signposted on the site. I always send these stories back with the query, Which theme is this for? I once had a writer respond to that question with ‘The story’s so brilliant, it fits any theme’. (Later, she asked to have her address taken off the Pure Slush email list as she did not endorse anything called slut. slut is the title of Pure Slush’s first print anthology. Perhaps she was joking then too.)

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

MP: Always. Always, always, always. Even when not rejecting a story. Be constructive. You don’t have to be rude, but you should be honest. I once had an editor – in one of a series of emails – tell me I had a “needy need” because I wanted to know why she had rejected a story! (It was also 1st January, so not a fun way to start the new year.) So I sent her a list of phrases / excuses / reasons she could use when rejecting work, if she so wanted. She pleaded a too-busy schedule. I think she was just getting off on the power she thought she had. ("Yes, I'm an editor," she said, her dark mane hanging across her shoulder. "I do very important work and I live on coffee and adrenaline. All I have time for is my craft and applying eyeliner.")

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

MP: A vision of sorts, even if it’s just a small vision. (My vision: less wank and more fun and stories that earn an emotional response, if anything.) And care. Actually, I think it’s like having a salon, getting people together, allowing them space to show what they do. Promotion is important too, and the idea that you – as editor – are with the writer, on the same page, wanting what is best for them too, is very important.

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

MP: Where do you get your ideas? Ha! they just come to me … usually when I am thinking of new ideas! I like doing something new – new to me: everything has been done, surely – and so repackaging and refashioning ideas is always fun.

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

NEXT POST: 2/27--Six Questions for Nina Rubinstein Alonso, Editor, Constellations


  1. LOVED this, Matt!!! You're a great editor! Have to say my favorite of all: ""Yes, I'm an editor," she said, her dark mane hanging across her shoulder. "I do very important work and I live on coffee and adrenaline. All I have time for is my craft and applying eyeliner."

  2. Matt Potter is the dearest man and a spectacular editor. He works really really hard to display his authors work in the best possible light. Many will not be bothered doing what he does. Matt has "an eye" for what is good. It's a taste thing, I believe. Some ed's have it, some do not. I enjoyed this interview so much.

  3. "Seem and try and maybe and almost and perhaps and probably are words I continually edit out."

    I like the honesty, directness, and specificity of Matt's responses. He lives his "less wank" credo. A fine interview.

  4. If you want to make your story the best it can be, send it to Matt. He's even willing to negotiate (a little) if you state your case. Except, maybe, on the word "got".

  5. Jim, this is a wonderful interview! Inspiring, enlightening, and entertaining! Thanks!