Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Six Questions for A.J. Huffman, Editor, Pound of Flash

Pound of Flash publishes fiction to 750 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

AH: Most importantly, I look for originality.  I want to be surprised.  I want a monkey that teaches cha cha on Venus.  I want to find out at the end of the story that the narrator was really an egg sitting in the refrigerator and the cute little tale I thought was about coming of age in suburbia, was really a tale of two vegetables.  Okay, maybe those are extreme examples.  But I do like the surprise twist ending or a good unique character.  And that does not mean to say, a story about spending summers with your great grandmother at her house on the lake won't be accepted, because I love stories like that too, but it has to be special.  It has to have something that makes it stand out from the other 27 stories from other authors about how much they loved spending summers with their grandmothers.  The best advice I can give towards achieving this, is push yourself, just a little bit.  Get the story out, then go back and take it just one step farther.  Add that one personal element that is only you.  That is where the special will come from.

Secondly, and I know I sound like an old English teacher when I say this, but . . . SHOW DON'T TELL!  I am not looking for directions to the Dairy Queen.  I want to see the Dairy Queen, taste the ice cream on my tongue, feel the eyes of the hot guy at the next table checking me out.  Don't just tell me he's there.  Bring him to me.  And the advice for this also leads me into another thing I look for, vocabulary.  Please, do not think I mean turn into a human thesaurus.  There is such a thing as vocabulary overkill, but when you read your final story and you are using words like "sad" and "dark" and "beautiful,"  it's time to revise.  To me, those are telling words.  I don't want a dark sky.  I want midnight drippings of illuminated silver weaving a blanket over my head.  I get the dark sky is there, but I want to crawl into the blanket.  It's a matter of degrees.  Another telling/vocabulary pet peeve of mine is when I see dialogue that is consistently followed by the word "said."  I know it has to be there sometimes, but truth is, if it's in quotes, we assume it's been "said."  Use the opportunity following dialogue and breaking the dialogue to let us see inside the character's thoughts or show us what they are doing.  Something besides just telling us it's been "said."

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

AH: The biggest mistake I find in our flash fiction submissions is that some flash authors believe that because the pieces are so short, they don't have to have a point.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I do not want a 750 word description of a baked potato, just because it is what you had for dinner.  If you're giving me 750 words (or less) about a baked potato, make sure there is a reason your are telling me about that potato, even if the reason is because you really love baked potatoes.  That's a reason. 

Conversely, the second biggest mistake comes from authors who think they can turn the plot of the DaVinci code into a flash fiction piece.  750 words does not hold enough room for a ten-character conspiracy theory, at least not one that is going to make sense to a reader.

My advice here:  Keep it simple, but purposeful.  Make each word count.

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

AH: I do not provide comments when I reject a submission.  I am a writer myself, and I know how hard the submission process is.  I also know that what I might absolutely hate, the next editor might love enough to nominate for a best of prize.  Our art is incredibly subjective.  To me, telling another author what they did "wrong" would be like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  Okay, maybe that's extreme, but my journals are about giving work that I find enjoyable and creative out to the world.  Just because I reject something, doesn't mean it's not any good.  It just means that it is not what I an into at that moment.

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

AH: I waiver back and forth with this one.  Truth:  yeah if it's good enough I probably will.  But I really dislike doing that.  To me, and again, this is just my personal opinion, authors who put their work on personal blogs are shooting themselves in the foot.  It is so hard to get published as it is, to give your work that strike against it when so many journals refuse to post work that has been on such sites, is career suicide.  Make your personal blog about how you write your work.  Or post the pieces that have already been published elsewhere (with appropriate accredidation to whoever published it).  But give your original, unpublished pieces a fighting chance and keep them to yourself until you've given them a fair chance with the editors.

I will say, authors that consider a submission a link to their personal website/blog and a statement saying things like, here's my work, publish what you like, will NEVER get published by me.  I find that not only rude, but exceptionally lazy.  Rude because they have shown no indication that they even know what kind of work I publish and are just lumping me into an anonymous glob of faceless and countless other editors.  Lazy because, as a writer myself, I work very hard and put a lot of time and energy into selecting which of my pieces go to which journal.  Publishing is not easy, and I don't believe in rewarding someone who is "phoning it in" when there are hundreds and thousands of other writers who are just as good, if not better, who are busting their butts to do it properly and professionally.

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?

AH: What an author needs to know about my rejection (or any editor's rejection) for that matter, is that it is subjective.  I accept what I like at that moment in time.  I never know what I'm looking for until I see it.  I may like and accept three pieces by an author today, and reject three just as well-written pieces by that same author next week.  It all depends on what I like at the moment I read it. 

I don't mind if an author asks a question now and then.  Not at all.  And I will do my best to try and explain rejection.  I don't like confrontational or accusatory questions like, well, such and such over at acme magazine edited this and thought it was wonderful, why don't you? kind of thing.  That's just sour grapes.  But an author, especially someone just starting out (as we get a lot of those), who is curious if there was something specific that I didn't like, absolutely, I will happily respond in the kindest, thoroughest manner I can. 

I started these journals because I know how hard it is to get your work out there.  I want to see younger writers have more opportunities to do that.  And I will help them as much as I can in the time I have.  Obviously, I cannot edit every single piece of work I receive.  But I have no problem answering, professional, kind, straightforward questions from authors.

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

AH: How important is it to read the submission guidelines?

I don't know about other editors, but I spent a lot of time working on my guidelines.  There are things in my guidelines that are there to help authors know what I am looking for.  Specific things I do and do not want.  Word count being the biggest.  I find it very frustrating when I get submissions that state their word count is 973, when I have specifically stated I am looking for 750 words and under.  Both my time, and that of the author, has been wasted by not reading the guidelines. 

There are things in my guidelines that are there to help me be a better editor, a faster editor.  I am currently editing seven online journals of various types and styles and our press puts out an additional seven anthologies a year.  So far I have been able to keep my response times to under two weeks.  I know how frustrating it is to have your work pending for months and months.  I don't want to do that to my writers.  So it's very important that they follow the subject heading guidelines, so I know which journal they are submitting to.  It's there for both my convenience and their priority.  It won't do an author any good if I open a submission to one of our anthologies three months after the deadline because they didn't follow the guidelines and put the anthology title in the subject line.

Quite often, it is the little things that take only a few minutes, like reading the full guidelines, that can make a difference between acceptance and rejection.

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

NEXT POST: 5/3--Six Questions for Gary Markette, Editor, Anotherealm

1 comment:

  1. Nice interview! I loved what A.J. said about the difference between showing and telling - about not needing directions to Dairy Queen. That made me laugh!