Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Six Questions for Paul McQuade, Editor-in-chief, Ekto Magazine

Ekto is a multilingual literary quarterly specialising in flash fiction. Stories are accepted and published in English, French, Spanish and Japanese. Learn more here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

PM: As someone who often reads in other languages (I read all languages published at Ekto, but primarily translate Japanese to English), I was looking for the same kind of changes in literary dissemination that I had seen in English-language writing. I have found a lot of writers whose work I love through online venues but when I went looking for the same thing in other languages it just wasn't present. I'm always looking for new and exciting writing (aren't all editors?), regardless of the language, so Ekto was made to discover writers outside English, and to bring new English-language writing to an online audience in other languages. Fortunately, I have a talented group of co-editors who helped make this possible. 

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

PM: While it may seem like a horrendously facile comment, we look for skill, excitement, and feeling. We don't need an emotional epic, but as long as we feel something strongly, and the language and story grip us, then we love it.  Sometimes we get well-written pieces with a story we don't care for, sometimes we get stories we like that are sloppily written, and sometimes whole pieces are beige. We need to see skill, be excited by the work, and feel some sort of emotion from it. 

As we work with flash fiction, time is of the essence. There is no novel-style preamble. There is no room for adjectival padding. Flash fiction is a process of distillation, of reducing a story to its essence. It has to be strong, or it doesn't flash, it just fizzles. 

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

PM: Any submissions that fail to respect our word count are immediately met with a raised eyebrow. It demonstrates a lack of professionalism, and effort, on the part of the writer. It's just shooting yourself in the foot, so why do it? 

Writing-wise, I'd say the most common mistake we see is writing that lacks momentum. We also see a lot of stories we've seen before (i.e. derivative, unoriginal) and writing that is still trying to find what it wants to say. A good exercise is to condense the essence of a story into a single sentence. Does your story really say this? If not, rewrite. Keep your story focused and driven. 

Also, as writers we should be aware of how language works. Grammatical mistakes and typos turn any editor off, though one or two can be forgiven. Confusing lay and lie is a personal bugbear of mine and makes me groan inwardly every time I read it.

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

PM: At Ekto we have four slushpiles (in each language) and from each of these we only accept three stories per reading period. This means that, unfortunately, our rejection rate is extremely high, and we have to rely on form rejections. We will sometimes provide a personal comment if we were particularly impressed or a story almost made it in. We encourage all writers whom we have rejected to try us again.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

PM: Editing really makes you aware of what's going wrong in your own work. If you don't like something when you read a piece, look back at your own catalogue and see if you're doing the same. The writer ego often hides our failings from us. Viewing other people's work with a clinical eye helps with this, and you don't have to be an editor to do it. 

More than anything else, I think editing has taught me how vital excitement and momentum are in writing, and how many writers overlook this. They are too willing to give it all away upfront. Good writing revolves around fundamental unknowns; plot progresses as we slide along the edge of information gaps, all the time wanting to dive in and see what's at the bottom. Without that movement and the excitement of the unknown, writing tends to lie lifeless. 

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

PM: I think a good question to ask (in addition to the above; they're all good questions) would be how editors recommend dealing with rejection. Rejection is an essential part of the process and learning to turn it to your advantage is one of the most important things a writer can do. The first reaction is to be angry, to complain about how blind and stupid those editors are to reject you. (That's fine and healthy, but do it in private. Being disrespectful to editors is a good way to get nowhere.) But what writers need to learn is that editors reject pieces for a reason. Find that reason. Fix it. Learn not to make it again. This is when you grow most: when you are able to see your own work from outside yourself.

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

NEXT POST: 5/31--Six Questions for Renee K. Nicholson and Keegan Lester, Editors, Souvenir: a Journal


  1. Love these Six Question interviews. Great idea and I appreciate the sharing of advice.

    I still submit in silence. If the submission is rejected; no one ever knows. If my submission is accepted, there is shouting and sharing.

  2. Thanks, Amanda. Glad you find these interviews helpful. Good luck with your future submissions.