SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Tahlia Merrill: Right after graduating from college, I did an internship for Enchanted Conversations, another webzine that publishes fairy tale fiction. After a few months, the editor told me she was going to shut down the website to pursue other projects. I decided I liked the theme of fairy tales so much that I decided to start my own website and expand it to include mythology.
I’ve wanted to break into the publishing industry since I was fifteen, so starting my own magazine has been a great way to get experience with the submission process. I also learned how
to create and manage my own website, which has been a crazy journey, for sure.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
- A really creative twist on the original tale. I’m always looking for unexpected plot, characters, and settings.
- The focus of the story being on the twist and the writer deeply developing it.
- Brevity. Tight plot, tight pacing, tight sentences.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
TM: When it is missing one of the three items listed above. Most of the stories we get aren’t nearly experimental enough. It’s not enough to just write the original tale in your own words, keeping the plot, setting, and characters exactly the same. I really want a key element of the tale to be transformed so I see it from an angle I’d never considered before.
Sometimes stories will have a brilliant concept but then the concept isn’t well developed. The initial twist might make me say “oooh!”, like if the writer chose to set Cinderella in the Wild West, but then I keep reading and realize the setting is just ornamental. The characters may say “Howdy” and the carriage might be a transformed tumbleweed instead of a pumpkin, but none of it changes the plot or characters’ motivations. It’s a crying shame because the story had a spark, it just wasn’t nurtured into a sustainable flame.
I think #3 is pretty self-explanatory. I sometimes get complaints that our word count is “so short”, but I’m telling you, a majority of the submissions we receive could use some serious editing. Even in the stories we accept, I often will give the writer an assignment to cut our several hundred words. Nothing is better than a sleek, lean story that is void of excess. It’s rare to receive them, and when I do, it’s a true gift.
Extra bonus pet peeve: Semicolon misuse and overuse. I try not to let it bias me against a story, but gahhhh, when I see a story where the writer uses more than one semicolon on a page, it just rubs me the wrong way. It’s such a conspicuous pretentious punctuation mark and you wouldn’t believe how many writers use them liberally and completely incorrectly.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
TM: As much as possible. As a freelance writer myself, I understand how special it is to get feedback on your rejections instead of just a form letter, so I try to provide a line or two of personalization when I can. If the writer mentions in their cover letter that this is their first time submitting a story or that they’re currently unpublished, I put a little extra care into the rejection because I know how intimidating submitting your work for the first time can be.
The downside is that this means submissions take me FOREVER to get through, but I know the writers consider it worth it, so it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
The worst part is that sometimes it’s really tough to put my finger on why the writing wasn’t strong enough or why I preferred another writer’s story over the rejected submission. If I’m spending too much time agonizing over the rejection, I usually just whisper an apology under my breath and send the form letter.
SQF: If Timeless Tales Magazine had a theme song, what would it be and why?
TM: It’s tempting to choose one of my favorite Gaelic Storm songs or something from a dramatic musical. Heck, an obvious choice would be Sara Bareilles’ “Fairytale” song. However, since the whole premise of Timeless Tales is to defy expectations, I think it’s only right to pick a song that has a modern vibe and doesn’t fit the mold of the “Ye Olde Fairy Tale”.
My personal theme song for TT is probably “Go Big or Go Home” by American Authors. Because I always throw myself 110% into the magazine and am constantly trying to improve it. I never settle for “okay”.
However, if I picked a song to play on the website, I’d definitely choose “Plant Life” by Owl City. It has a haunting melody without sounding archaic and all the whimsical lyrics about ghosts and bears make it a perfect fit.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
TM: How about: What new things can we expect to see with TT for the upcoming year?
Answer: Well, as you may have heard, the next issue will be the first to feature poetry as well as fiction. We’re also making the magazine even more readable and accessible by offering it on Kindle before the end of the year. Our pay rate for published submissions has recently been increased and we’ve brought on a social media manager.
Because we haven’t had much luck raising revenue through Patreon donations, we’re planning on switching things around with our fundraising. The plan is to sell each audiobook individually on our website rather than asking for donations. So lots to look forward to in the future!
Thank you, Tahlia. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.