Friday, September 26, 2014

Six Questions for Natalie Bowers, Editor/Publisher, 1000words

1000words is looking for previously unpublished flash fiction of up to 1000 words in length. The stories may be in any genre, but must have been written in response to one of the images from our Pinterest Boards. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Natalie Bowers: It was early 2012, and I’d just completed an online writing course with flash fiction aficionado Calum Kerr. He’d mentioned that he was trying to get the first ever National Flash-Fiction Day off the ground and was looking for people to organize events and projects, offline and on. Over the course of the course, I’d fallen in love with flash fiction, and I’d always had a secret desire to run my own magazine, so I put the two together with my enthusiasm for photography and came up with the idea for 1000words. We published our first stories in the run-up to NFFD 2012.

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

NB: I don’t dilly-dally when it comes to deciding if a story is right for 1000words. If it grabs me, it goes on the site, and the major factor in determining whether a story grabs me or not seems to be its narrative voice. I need a narrative voice I can trust. It doesn’t have to be confident, but it does have to be consistent. I have to believe in the narrator to believe in the story.

The second thing I look for is a spark of something special. It might be an unusual turn of phrase, a particularly poignant observation, a subverted cliché, a surprising simile, or it might be that the story itself is old, but that it’s being told in a new way … or vice versa. It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

The third thing I look for is subtly of exposition. I believe there’s a place for ‘telling’ as well as ‘showing’ in flash fiction, but I do like to have to read between the lines. I don’t want to be told what to think; I want to be told a story that makes me think.

I also like stories that work synergistically with the pictures that inspired them, but that’s a fourth thing!

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission (besides the converse of your responses to question 1)?

The biggest turn off for me is an apparent lack of proofreading. We all make a mistake here and there, so I’m more than happy to drop in an extra comma or apostrophe if needed, but if I’m faced with consistently inaccurate grammar and punctuation that doesn’t serve the story, then I’ll most likely give up on the piece.

The other thing that turns me off is when authors toss their stories at me without so much as a ‘Hello’! My name is on our website, but even a ‘Dear Editor’ would be polite.

SQF: In your FAQ, you state, "we believe that the shorter the story, the sharper the bite.” Is there such a thing as too short?

NB: Not for us. I think the shortest piece we’ve published is 75 words long, but if Hemingway (or whoever really wrote it) had sent me his six-word story, I’d definitely have published it!

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

NB: Where should I start? The most important thing I’ve learned from being an editor is that I need to persevere with my own writing. Every time I publish a story at 1000words, I’m inspired to open up my laptop and start typing again. The stories we publish always push me to up my game as well. As an editor, I ask myself what I like and what I don’t like about each submission, and this has helped me enormously when rewriting and editing my own stories. I’ve also developed a thicker skin when it comes to dealing with rejection. It’s nothing personal when I decline to publish a story—it’s often just a matter of taste—so when I receive a ‘no’ from a publisher, I simply dust of the rejected story and send it somewhere else.

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

NB: The question I wish you’d asked is: “Are there any topics or themes you don’t want to read about?” As someone who’s suffered from depression and anxiety, I don’t like submissions that deal with mental illness in a superficial or stereotypical way–I’ve got too much first-hand experience to believe in them. I also have a particular aversion to stories about suicide, mostly because the one’s I’ve been sent have been about people simply feeling sorry for themselves. I have published one or two on the site, but these have been something special, something different, like Cathy Lennon’s A Useful Facility in theNorth, which is one of my very favourite 1000words stories.

Well, that was a cheery note on which to finish!

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

NEXT POST: 10/3--Six Questions for Annabelle Edwards, Editor, Control Lit

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