Thursday, May 10, 2012

Six Questions for M. R. Branwen, Editor, Slush Pile Magazine

Slush Pile Magazine publishes literary short fiction to 7,000 words. In addition, essays and poetry will be considered. Learn more here.

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


a. The prose must be transparent and elegant. Transparent in the sense that the words should be a conduit into the story by means of which I am being carried along. But I should never be made aware of the mechanism. There should be no stumbling over awkward syntax or affectation. I should almost be unaware that I am reading.

But simultaneously, in the part of my mind that is listening, not translating, the words should be reverberating. Because they should have personality and cadence. Ideally, I will wake up in the middle of the night and realize that I am ruminating on a passage of the story.

b. There should be tremendous momentum. From the opening sentence, my mind ought never wander -- and not because there is action taking place in the plot, but simply because the pacing is appropriate. I notice that in an effort to bring readers into the characters' reality writers will spend time dwelling on minutiae. There is a place for that, sort of, but that is often where writers lose me. 

c. Ideally, after that, is some kind of narrative arc. Your story and characters should progress, they should accomplish something. This is not nearly as important as the first two points, except when a story has gotten off to a good start and then suddenly falls off of a cliff. That's actually how we talk about it in our readers' notes to each other, by the way, because it is such a common occurrence. Why spend all the time and effort crafting a story to just suddenly abandon it at the end?

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

MRB: I don't know if I can do a top three, but common culprits include too much dialogue and too many adjectives. And, you know, the absence of everything I noted in response to question #1. 

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

MRB: Write prolifically and join a workshop. Then write more. Then take your favorite story, scrap it entirely and without looking at the first version, write a new version. Do that again a few times. Once you have done that, you will have a much better perspective on the story, which parts of it are actually important, and which version is actually working. After that, submit. But, realistically, you're going to be rejected on your first go-round.

There isn't an easy answer to getting a submission accepted; it's not like you can trick an editor into selecting your story by implementing a strategy. It has to be a solid story and it has to suit the editor's taste. In order to accomplish the first point, you have to work diligently. Blood, sweat, and tears and all that. There's no getting around it. The second point is just a matter of identifying your market. Hone in on a few publications whose aesthetic you really admire and get on in there.

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

MRB: I will always give feedback if it has been requested.

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

MRB: I can only speak for myself, here, but my primary objective is to find and champion new, great work. To find the people who are writing it, and to help them further their careers.

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

MRB: I don't know what the question would be, but I'm just going to offer a bit of unsolicited advice (that has most likely been offered to you by everyone who has ever given you advice about writing, not to mention all of your high school English teachers and Ezra Pound). If you want to be an excellent writer, you must read a lot, and you must read almost exclusively good writing -- preferably writing that has a bit of distance from your own day and age. Because whatever you put into your brain is what will be coming out on the page. What you read affects your vocabulary, your syntax, your internal dialogue. I would go so far as to say it affects the way you interpret the world. So just as you would eat healthier foods to obtain a healthier body, you have to read quality literature if you want to produce a quality body of literature yourself. And then, as I said above, WRITE A LOT.

Best of luck to you!

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

NEXT POST: 5/14 -- Six Questions for Susan Terris, Editor, Spillway

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