People Holding publishes original, character-driven prose that describes, illuminates, riffs on or narrates a photograph of a person holding anything. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this blog?
Morgan Beatty: People Holding started out as Holding Antlers, which was limited to photos I culled from eBay of people selling antlers. I had been using the photos as prompts only for myself, made a blog, and posted my stories into the void—didn’t tell anyone about it, got no readers and expected none. My wife introduced me to the idea that writing maybe ought to have readers. She helped turn Holding Antlers into something real, solicited writers, then helped me morph it into the site it is today. She's the reason it exists.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
MB: That the submission sees a world inside the picture. That all the writer’s energy is put into allowing the photo to move them toward words. That the story isn’t a laundry list of what’s seen. A photograph’s always more than its colors. A story that recognizes that fact within every sentence is amazing to read.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
MB: The most difficult language to connect with is the dialect of a narrator the writer doesn’t mean to be unexpressive. “You know what I mean?” is a filler that muffles feeling. A literal narration of what’s visible in the photo, without a transformation, or a lens placed on top of the first lens that originally took the picture years before—those stories don’t imagine themselves into the photograph.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
MB: Only when asked. But I always offer a rejected submitter another prompt, another go at it. If I like a glimmer of something in a story, I put as much energy as I can into returning the submission with edits. When I feel what the writer feels, but don’t see it in the writing, I edit as deeply as I can, with the writer’s permission, until we find a way to make the story better. I believe editing is more important than seeing and knowing immediately that a story works or doesn’t. I have no respect for the “read only the first sentence” method of evaluating the merit of a story.
SQF: If People Holding had a theme song, what would it be and why?
MB: The Cure’s Why Can’t I Be You? This is the question I would love all People Holding’s writers to ask themselves about the figures in their prompts.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
MB: Why do you use old photographs? Because they’ve survived, in the way all good writing survives.
Thank you, Morgan. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.