Thursday, April 12, 2012

Six Questions for Athena Dixon DeMary, Co-editor, Z-composition

The purpose of Z-compositions' forum is to help showcase new and published writers of prose, poetry, and flash fiction who on occasion dwell in the shadows. We want those who are smitten bitten with the macabre. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

AD: First, I look for how the language works. I love musicality in poetry and even in fiction. How do the words bounce against each other?  Words should do double duty. They should tell the story, but also please the mouth. Second, how vested am I in what I'm reading? When I truly get into a submission I lean into my screen, and when I'm done I feel like I've just come back from a journey. I look for that in everything I read and its present in everything I accept. Lastly, how does the author make use of everyday life? I love work that showcases the intersection between everyday life and art. At times, I think writers feel as if they need to write the bad, the obscure, the dark, and the simple joys or quiet moments of life get lost.

SQF: What are the top three things that turn you off to a story and why?

AD: I find myself turned off by writing that has clearly not been proofread prior to submitting. As both a writer and editor, I understand quite keenly that misspellings can slip in and punctuation can go awry, but I've come across pieces that are littered! It shows a lack of care for the product you are putting forth as well as some measure of disregard for the editors and publication to which you are submitting. Secondly, I am turned off by submissions that are clearly overly wrought. Let the language speak for itself. If the writing is strong there isn't a need to cover it in tropes and layers. Make me care without all the flash. Tell a simple story well instead of following trends or writing something "interesting" badly. Lastly, I'm turned off by cover letters that are either a CV copied and pasted into the box or are some sort of sarcastic joke. Humor and accomplishments are fine, but I don't need to know every place you've ever been published, nor do I need to read about your love of taxidermy or decipher what's true about you or a quirky lie. Again, just keep it simple unless you've specifically been asked for something else.

SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first story?

AD: Know your audience and literary magazine. I strongly suggest making sure you read at least a few pieces that have been published in the journal you are interested in. It can be a daunting task to read through all of the archives, but having some base knowledge of what the editors publish will increase your chances of being accepted. Perhaps reading the previous issues will also allow you to see what they are used to publishing, and you can give them something that will be a breath of fresh air. Just be careful! You don't want to submit formal poetry to a modern journal or the opposite.

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

AD: I do offer comments when I feel that I was very close to accepting a submission, but there has been just one or two things which have stopped me. In these cases, I tell the author what I thought didn't work and encourage them to submit again. There are some submissions that are really very good, but just don't fit at the time. I really like to encourage those authors to submit again in the hopes they have a closer fit.

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

AD: I think an editor has the duty of bringing the best work to the world without consideration of prior publications, social connections, nepotism, or personal gain. There's no place for that if the craft is to continue moving forward. As well, editors have the responsibility of bucking trends. We all see what's popular and what forms and subjects are currently in the spotlight. Is the editor brave enough to accept and publish work outside of those trends? An editor should be well read, but not only in terms of classics, modern literary darlings, or genre specific work. They should be well rounded, so they may recognize great work in any form.

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

AD: I would ask how editors feel about the influx of new journals and magazines. I would say I'm encouraged by the new journals and magazines emerging. I think it gives publication opportunities that may not have existed in prior generations. Of course, it is always good to be published in major, nationally known publications, but being able to build your credits and learn how to better your craft is an invaluable experience.

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

NEXT POST: 4/16--Six Questions for Helen Ivory, Editor, Ink Sweat & Tears

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