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SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
MC: The failure of a writer to try to impress someone with their cleverness. You can’t. So please don’t try because it’s just a waste of our time. You can impress me by telling an excellent story; or by writing a heartfelt real poem. But you’re never gonna impress me with clever wording, clever plot, clever gimmicks - ain't gonna happen.
The story or poem has to be real; that is, honest - from you, the writer. If you’re telling a story - just tell what happens. If I like it, I like it. If I don’t, I don’t. But it’s got nothing to do with how clever it was - just how good it was. Basically - don’t “try” to write. Either you can, or you can’t. So just do it; and if you can - the reader won’t know, cuz your “clever writing” won’t get in the way.
It’s like Spencer Tracy said about acting “don’t ever let anyone catch you doing it.” It’s exactly the same for writing - if the reader catches you doing it, the story or poem ceases to encapsulate you; and instead of being in it, you’re outside it.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
MC: Besides those listed in Q-1, other reason are: it offends me. Please don’t “shock & awe” with tales of graphic sex, drugs, violence. I see that trash on the news every night. Duh. You’re not gonna shock & awe anybody with graphic crap. Lil Wayne is about as offensive and putrid as I can bear. Certainly would appreciate less of it, not more.
SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
MC: Well, the writing is usually what’s going to attract any reader, or repel any reader. So if your story or poem isn’t good writing, you’re wasting your time doing it, and my time reading it.
Basically, a writer is asking the reader to give part of his life to reading what you wrote. That is, it has to be the most important thing the reader can be doing at this very moment; or…the reader oughta be doing something else, no? I mean, your writing has to be better than whatever there is on TV; or better than doing chores around the house; or better than spending time with the kids… Otherwise, I oughta be doing those other things, no?
So, reading John Fante or Tony O’Neill, and others, is better than TV and/or any and all other stuff I could be doing. So, that’s the standard to set for any and every writer.
SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?
MC: Getting to read and publish great writing. It’s an honor and a privilege to have people send me great writing that I can publish for the whole world to see and benefit from.
SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories 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?
MC: Steven McDermott of Storyglossia said some years ago “I don’t have time to explain why your submission wasn’t used. Just assume it wasn’t right for me at that particular moment.” Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great submission - just that it didn’t fit (for me) at that point in time. Ok? And don’t worry about it. Usually when submissions are rejected, it’s because the editor missed on it; not the writer. Ok?
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
MC: I guess, the value and importance of writing. Writing is what teaches the world how to think, from Homer and the Bible/Gita/Torah/etc, to Shakespeare, to Kerouac, to now. Writing means something. It means everything. It is the writer telling the rest of the world - right from wrong, good from bad, proper from awful. If you can, do it. It matters.
Thank you, Mikael. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 12/06--Six Questions for Stephanie Guo, Founder/Editor-in-Chief, Slippage