MicroHorror publishes horror fiction to 666 words. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
NR: The first thing I notice is whether an author is careful with the English language. By that I mean spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization—all the fundamentals. Once you’ve passed that bar, I want to see originality of plot, without relying on stereotypes and narrative crutches. Finally, I want a good ending that I don’t predict. Even though some people think they’re corny, I love twist endings—but only when the author plays fair. No cheating.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
NR: I reject a lot of stories because of awkward, unrealistic dialogue. I know it can be hard to capture speech with verisimilitude, but characters need to speak like real people. I also reject submissions based on the “show, don’t tell” guideline—description is often necessary, but excessive exposition can kill a story. Other pet peeves include clichéd figures of speech and awkward onomatopoeia.
SQF : Which of the following statements is true and why? Plot is more important than character. Character is more important than plot. Plot and character are equally important.
NR: I don’t think that’s a fair question; it depends on the story and the author’s intent. Especially in a short-short, it’s often necessary to just sketch out the characters with a few quick lines so the plot can play out, while at other times you can be more leisurely at creating a detailed portrait. Either way, though, I prefer information about characters to emerge naturally throughout a story, instead of getting a big information dump of description front-loaded at the beginning.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
NR: Sometimes, but not often. I wish this weren’t the case, but I’m terrible at giving constructive criticism. There have been times when a story has been promising but flawed, and I’ve returned notes to the author and gotten back a much better submission, and it always makes me happy when that happens.
SQF: What do you consider to be the primary responsibilities of an editor?
NR: First, an editor is a curator. I pick and choose what I think is good so that readers can find the best selections in an impossibly huge body of work. I don’t want to sound conceited, but I think I’ve got pretty good taste when it comes to horror fiction, and I’d like to build my reputation for that. But I’m also a janitor; once I’ve decided what I want to display I need to clean it up and make it ready for presentation. There’s not a writer in the entire history of literature whose words were perfect from the beginning, and an editor is the fresh point of view that a writer needs to turn a good story into a great one.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't, and how would you answer it?
NR: What’s your favorite punctuation mark? Mine is the semicolon.
Thank you, Nathan. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 9/21--Six Questions for RW Spryszak, Editor, Thrice Fiction