Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Six Questions for Mike Cluff, Editor-in-Chief, and Dan Hope, Managing Editor, Fiction Vortex

Mike Cluff and Dan Hope co-founded Fiction Vortex as a place for great science fiction and fantasy short stories. Mike serves as Editor-in-Chief and Chief Annoyance Officer (meaning there are too many chefs in this kitchen already), and Dan is the Managing Editor and Voice of Reason (meaning he frowns a lot and points out the obvious). Fiction Vortex publishes speculative fiction up to 7500 words. Stories of 5000 words or fewer are preferred. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

Mike: I want good characters. That doesn’t reference the morality of the character, it means I want well rounded, developed characters that keep the reader in the story.

Dan: Wait, you’re just going to throw one out there and leave the other two for me? Fine. I want great ideas and compelling conflict. The whole point of speculative fiction is to present new and interesting ideas, even if they aren’t the focus of the story. But no amount of great ideas will save a story if there’s not a good enough conflict to drive the narrative. It’s surprising how many stories we get that include an instruction manual about a strange new technology or a geological survey of a magical land, but then absolutely nothing happens.

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

Dan: Did I mention how many people forget to include a good conflict? I did? Oh. Well, that happens too often. Here’s another one that’s really getting out of hand: The Twist Ending. Everyone thinks that a twist ending is super clever. It’s not. Especially when the twist is the whole reason for the story to exist. Far too many authors write stories that are really just elaborate setups for mediocre twists, and no one is impressed. You can’t pull the rug out from under readers and expect them to love it. In order to make a good twist work, you must carefully foreshadow the event and make it relevant to the theme and conflict. And even then, it might not be worth it. Usually, it only makes the story appear amateurish. So, to all you out there with a story idea that can be summarized as, “Dude, what if these space marines were fighting these bad aliens, and we have lots of cool fight scenes, but then at the end we learn that in reality the humans are the bad guys?!?!?! Wooaaahhh!,” stop it. Just don’t.

Mike: Why don’t you go lie down for a minute, Dan. You’re starting to foam at the mouth. As for me, a big no-no is sending us a submission that is addressed to another publication. We aren’t vain enough yet to think we are receiving exclusive submissions. But getting our name wrong? We do have some pride. I don’t know if ignoring our submission guidelines counts as a mistake, but that really turns me off of a story. I am fairly certain Dan feels the same way.

Dan: You can’t see this right now, but my left eye is twitching at the mere mention of someone ignoring the submission guidelines. Right, sorry, I’ll go lie down.

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

Mike: Unfortunately, no. We recognize that some authors use their blogs as means of sharing their work with family, friends, and writing groups, but our terms and conditions require first electronic rights and that, honestly, is to protect Fiction Vortex from any claims of plagiarism.

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? 

Mike: We claim to practice the ‘Golden Rule’ and reject others as we would like to be rejected. Wait, I don’t like the way that sounds. Dan is our rejection expert, I think I’ll let him handle this one. What? Yes, that means you can get up.

Dan: Thanks. I want authors to know that we really just don’t have time to say much about a rejected story, good or bad. I always try to include a line about one or more of the major faults that influenced our decision, but sometimes that just boils down to the editorial equivalent of “We just weren’t feeling it, sorry.” If you’re polite, we don’t mind if you respond to a rejection, but odds are we aren’t going to read it (see previous references to the utter lack of time for anything other than eating, sleeping, and marathoning episodes of Star Trek in the background). We likely won’t respond to questions, and there’s nothing you can say to change our minds short of “I’ll pay you a million dollars to publish my short story.”

Mike: Maybe we shouldn’t say that. It undermines our integrity as editors. Plus, I have nothing to do with your Star Trek: The Next Generation marathons. And no this isn’t an appropriate time to get into our unending debate of Kirk vs. Picard.

Dan: Fine, unless you offer us a billion dollars, no deal. And Picard. Only Picard. Kirk was a clown.

Mike: Told you, not going there. And yeah, I’d be fine with a billion dollars.

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor? 

Mike: Lots of original stories showing up in my email each day. For free. I don’t buy as many books now because I am busy reading submissions. In fact, I feel guilty if I read something else while the submission pile grows. I still haven’t decided if I like that though.

Dan: I love reading, so this is a great gig, but the really mind-blowing joy comes when I stumble upon that one incredible story in the submission pile. The one that makes me sit up and say, “Whoa, I wish I had thought of that.” It happens a few times per month, and it’s a real pleasure. It gives me an immense amount of pride to see those stories on our site.

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

Mike: That is a sneaky question, one that could get us all in trouble. But like I said before, our vanity isn’t that big yet, so I’ll forgo any information on how Dan and I are extremely intelligent and attractive gifts to the speculative fiction world. We can save that for the next time. But I will ask this question, and maybe Dan could answer: What makes Fiction Vortex different from any other speculative fiction publication?

Dan: We’re cheeky. And people sure love the cheek. We have a cool logo, too.

Mike: I was thinking you would respond about the quality and frequency of our stories.

Dan: Sure, that too. Can we get back to the question about questions? I was hoping someone would ask us about who would win in a fight between Captain Mal Reynolds and Captain Han Solo. Now that is a question that needs answering. I mean, first of all we have to define the parameters of the conflict because there is a significant difference in outcomes when considering a land battle versus a space battle, resulting from--

Mike: Don’t forget that no one actually asked you the question.

Dan: I know, but the fact remains that--

Mike: Enough with the battle of the Captains. Kirk rules. That’s all for us, folks. Come see our great stories posted twice a week at FictionVortex.com.

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

NEXT POST: 11/15--Six Questions for Christopher Rhatigan, Editor, All Due Respect

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