Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Six Questions for Paul Soderberg, Editor, The Feathered Flounder

The Feathered Flounder welcomes submissions from contributors age 60 or older. (Obviously, if we receive a submission from a Pushcart Award-winning Pulitzer Prize recipient who is 59, we might make an exception.) Submissions may be 500 to 10,000 words, or 10 minutes for video. We accept: short stories, novel excerpts, essays, nonfiction book excerpts, and video creations. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

PS: Passion, clarity, and accuracy. The first is art (creativity), the other two are science (craft), which is to say: 1 part feeling, 2 part fact. But the feeling part, the passion, is by far the most important. A story that makes the reader really feel but has typos can be fixed; a perfectly typed story that leaves the reader unmoved is DOA, dead on arrival.

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

PS: In fiction submissions, the three most common mistakes I encounter are: a poor title; a weak first sentence; and an over-reliance on dialog. 

TITLES are in essence an art form in their own right, just as picture frames are as much an art form (and a profession) as are the paintings that fill them; and US Copyright Law sees them as distinct (you can register the copyright of a story, but not of a title); but because it is the title that makes a prospective reader either read or skip a story, the writer should devote as much creativity and care to the title as he or she did to the story it "frames." One writer told me that a story he wrote was rejected 14 times; then, realizing it had a blah title, he gave it an attention-grabbing title and sent it out and it was immediately accepted. Ernest Hemingway was the master of titles. 

FIRST SENTENCES should grab the reader and pull her or him straight into the mood or atmosphere of the story. Edgar Allan Poe was the master of first sentences. (For confirmation, read the first sentence of any story or poem by Poe.) 

OVER-RELIANCE ON DIALOG means lots of talking for the reader to "listen to" and few if any descriptions that appeal to the other senses--tastes, textures, smells, etc. So the reader ends up being an eavesdropper, rather than an active participant in the story, when the reader relies too much on dialog. The other problem with too much dialog is the simple fact that, as everyone knows, verbal communication between any two people, their dialog, is maybe 10% verbal, 30% unspoken intent, and 60% body language--and straight dialog conveys only that first 10% of what's going on. In short, over-reliance on dialog makes the reader a frustrated eavesdropper who's getting only around 10% of what's being said and no sense of the setting in which it's being said. James Lee Burke is one of the modern masters of the art of writing that engages all the senses, not just hearing.

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

PS: Absolutely--I provide not only comments and suggestions but also compassion. Hemingway called the rejection letter "the most savage of reprimands." I go out of my way to ensure that my rejections are both information-packed and savagery-free.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog? 

PS: Yes--if it meets the criterion for any other submission: it must be excellent writing. For nonfiction, that means writing that makes the reader really think; for fiction, "excellent" means writing that makes the reader really feel.

SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions 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?

PS: I want rejected writers to clearly understand that the problem is with their manuscripts, not with them personally; and I love working with writers who want to improve their writing mastery--provided they're not arrogant, exactly as you said: "polite questions." To paraphrase a famous line from the visual arts, editors view arrogant writers the way fire hydrants view dogs. ("Asking a working artist what she feels about art critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.")

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

PS: "How do you view the state of literacy in America today?" I view it with alarm, disgust, and despair--so much so that I just wrote a novella about it ("The Butterfly Bird" [2012], in which a retired English Literature professor mentors a 16-year-old girl who wants to write a novel). The single greatest cause of the Dark Age of Literacy now dusking is the public education system, in which teachers are teaching kids that writing is all about self-expression. That's like teaching music students that the point of learning how to sing is so you'll sing better in the shower. In any Writing Renaissance, writing is focused on the reader, not on the writer, and writing is all about communication, not self-expression; and great works (the ones that get reprinted endlessly) communicate feelings powerfully, from the writer's heart-mind onto paper, and from paper to the reader's heart-mind. The saddest thing in all this is to ponder the countless great stories that now will never be told because the writer was taught that writing is all about him- or herself. 

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

NEXT POST: 2/1--Six Questions for Lisa Andrews and Meredith Davis, Editors, Apeiron Review

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