Friday, December 13, 2013

Six Questions for Martha Bayless, Fiction Co-Editor, Phantom Drift

Phantom Drift publishes fabulist flash fiction, short stories, poetry, non-fiction and art. In fiction, the editors like "stories that favor the unusual over the usual; stories that create a milieu where anything can happen." Read the complete guidelines here.

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

MB: Sureness of voice, narrative drive, and an idea that keeps me reading.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?

MB: Most rejected manuscripts just don't have a spark --  the density of interesting prose.  Instead of "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," which packs so much in, they begin something like, "Everybody thought Mr. Darcy should get married but he wasn't sure himself."  Not that plain writing is bad.  But it still needs to pack a punch.

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. 

MB: A good writer can make either plot or character so compelling that we hardly notice the lack of the other one.

SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first submission?

MB: Find people who will give you candid but not soul-destroying feedback about how to improve your writing.  Don't take your rejected work and self-publish it on your website and hope to become a startling success that way.  Trust me, your self-published stuff really isn't ready.  Nobody can look at their own stuff and know the truth about how ready it is, and that includes Stephen King.  Yes, I do go to your website and look at your self-published stuff.  Did I say, "Trust me, it really isn't ready?"  Trust me, it really isn't ready.  Get more feedback, polish more, rinse, repeat.

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

MB: A lot of people out there are scarily talented.  I guess that's about writers, not about writing.  I think the thing I've learned most is that it's always best to be courageous in your writing -- the writers who take risks write more interesting stuff.

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

MB: "How soon can you tell that a story's not going to work, if it's not going to work?"  Damon Knight used to talk about the "Line of Death" -- he'd draw a line under the sentence where he knew the story wasn't good enough.  Sometimes it would be the first sentence.  Sometimes it would even be the title.  Almost always it's on the first page.  Because when there are problems with the storytelling, they operate on the micro level as well as the macro level.  Problems with plot and structure and believability are accompanied by problems with clarity and individual sentences.  Maybe 2% of the stories I see are well told but just don't hold together or sustain interest.  Another 94% have some problems at multiple levels.  (The other 4% are fabulous all round.)  The good news is that when your writing gets revised and improved and refined, the improvement magically happens at all levels too.  

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

NEXT POST:12/17--Six Questions for Lisa Mangini, Editor-in-Chief, Paper Nautilus

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