Friday, October 30, 2015

Six Questions for Jason Rennie, Editor, Sci Phi Journal

Sci Phi Journal publishes fiction that explores a philosophical idea or has a philosophical hook, and nonfiction with a general philosophical discussion that used science fiction as a launching point. Word count is 100-5000. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Jason Rennie: Sci Phi Journal was started as a spin off of the podcast I used to host, The Sci Phi Show. The aim was to explore the intersection of science fiction and philosophy and the way science fiction made the exploration of philosophical ideas uniquely possible. The goal was, and still is, to tell interesting stories that make the reader think about questions of life the universe and everything.

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

JR: This is a difficult question. The most important thing in a submission is the "big idea" that is being explored in a story. The magazine centers on questions of philosophy explored through science fiction. A "big idea" is essential to any story I publish, and the food for thought sections we include at the end of stories, and that are part of the submission, help to make it clear what that is. Beyond that there is no "top thing" I look for apart from an engaging story. Perhaps this is the wrong way to think about it. I evaluate a story, after the "big idea,” on quality. I normally evaluate a story, after the first readers have had a look, by putting on some music and reading the story on the train to work. This provides some distraction and so if the story keeps my interest and my mind doesn't wander then I know I have something that is drawing me in. If I get to the end and there isn't a problem with fit or excessive language then the story goes in the "contact yes" pile. I will usually give stories a second go on a later date if it doesn't pass on the first read in case I was feeling off that day. I suppose it would be better if I had some careful mechanism for judging a stories quality and measuring it, but the best measure I have found is "Do I keep reading it when there are other things that want my attention," so that is what I go with.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

JR: Stories that keep my attention are what matters, most other things can be forgiven. Anything that throws me out of a story will be a problem, so spelling mistakes and other errors can cause that. This won’t sink a great story but it can sink a good one. Sci Phi Journal's first readers are more sensitive to those sorts of errors than I am.

Beyond that, I don't think there is too much that will turn me off to a submission. As the magazine specializes in philosophical science fiction a story with glaring logical mistakes is not going to make it, but there is little else that would sink a story in terms of content. I did write a short post for trying to outline this. I'm not sure how well I succeeded. I'm an orthodox Christian and tend to lean Libertarian in my politics, so stories that are shallow blasphemy and that extol the virtues of communism as a panacea for humanity aren't likely to be well received. That being said, engaging stories that explore a big idea are what the magazine looks for, everything else is secondary to that. I don't have to agree with everything in stories I publish, and I certainly haven't in the past, and I've rejected stories that I have agreed with because they didn't draw me in.

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

JR: The first readers the magazine has are mostly writers so when they provide feedback on a story I will often try to pass that on. I will offer some comments if I think they are helpful, but I am a reader of fiction not a writer of it. I buy the stories I like and reject the ones I don't. I trust the feedback the first readers offer and will offer my own if I have anything to contribute. A few times the first readers have said "No, but if these things are fixed it would be a yes," and I will always pass those onto an author and ask if they would like to resubmit afterwards.

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

JR: I've learned that I am right to stick to the role of editor/reader and not attempt this craft myself. Perhaps I am unusual not being a fiction writer myself. It is humbling to read the works of some great writers, and I am gratified that I am able to play some small part in getting their stories out to an audience. It is a lot of work but very rewarding. I don't think I expected it to feel this way.

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

JR: None I can think of.

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

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