Friday, December 9, 2016

Six Questions for Ben Richards, et. al., Editor-in-Chief, Red Sun

Red Sun publishes science-fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction of 3,000-5,000 words, but will consider works up to 17k words. The editors also will consider serializing longer works up to 80k. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Ben, Editor-in-Chief: Red Sun’s politics are moderate, slightly left of center. We are anti-political correctness as long as it doesn’t cross the line into racism, sexism, etc.

Our publisher is called No Sell Out Productions for a reason.

We don’t sell out. We don’t shy away from controversy because we’re worried about what some people will think. We don’t run to safe spaces nor believe in them, but we respect the people who do. We don’t blow our tops, then copout and blame our behavior on “triggers.” We don’t think flying the U.S. Flag on the back of a fire truck, or on your house, is terrorism. We don’t submit to the crazies on the left or the right. We don’t play favorites.

At the same time, we want the stories from the crazies on the left and the right. We want the stories from the social justice people. We want stories from all people everywhere in the world.

With one caveat... we are biased. I know, hard to believe, but it’s true! We’ll be the first to admit it! Our bias is for story-driven, action-packed science fiction, fantasy, and horror, as opposed to the think pieces about climate change, or about Christian preachers coming to terms with being gay.

An action-packed story about a gay Christian preacher, on the other hand, is right up our alley.

We’re also biased in favor of good, moral characters fighting injustice and promoting the greater good as opposed to morally ambiguous characters.

Which brings me to the final reason Red Sun exists, and perhaps the biggest of all. It started one day when I queried a pro science-fiction magazine that prided itself on “inclusivity.”

Like Red Sun, they were inclusive of all backgrounds, religions, creeds, and colors. Great, I thought, and I queried them about war-themed science fiction from war veterans (since I’m an Iraq War veteran). Their response was: “We don’t publish military science fiction--it’s just not what we do.”

So much for inclusivity.

They’re not the only ones that do this. It’s this level of hypocrisy why Red Sun exists. Unlike the people who claim inclusivity, but only publish what fits their narrow brand of politics, ideology, beliefs, etc., we promise we won’t do that. We won’t sell out. Everybody can have a voice with us as long as you give us story-driven, action-packed tales that don’t cross the line in their anti-PCness. We’ll publish the crazy left stories side-by-side with the crazies on the right.

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

Michael, Managing Editor: First, I would say the entries that followed the instructions in the guidelines.  If you failed to follow those instructions, the entry usually doesn’t get read.

Secondly, one of the most important things I look for in a submission is the first paragraph.  If the beginning doesn’t hook me in a way that keeps my interest, then I usually cannot stick around long enough to read the rest.  The beginning of a story is what should be capturing a new reader’s attention, not holding their hand and explaining every detail.  Leave something to my imagination so it can tickle my mind.  A story that begins something like, “There was screaming coming from the basement and I do not know why…” is pretty cliché and doesn’t leave much for me to wonder.  However, if you took that same first line and turned it into something that is intriguing, it will make wonders, such as: “The baby screamed from the basement in the middle of the night, but I knew no children lived in the house.”

Third, please remember the first two rules.

Karen, Fantasy Editor: Once I get beyond the question of “did the author follow the submission guidelines,” I look for:

Does the story drag? Personally, I dislike stories littered with flashbacks, that suffer from heavy use of passive voice, and drown in information dumps. Writing which may be grammatically correct may also be dreadfully boring.

Second is technical competence. Does the author hit my pet peeves, such as wandering apostrophes, arbitrary capitalization, malapropisms, etc.? Writing is first and foremost a craft. If the author can’t be bothered to master the craft, then I can’t be bothered to accept the story.

Third is whether I like the main character(s). The main character doesn’t have to be perfect--in fact, it’s better if he or she is flawed. Flaws humanize the characters. There’s a limit, however. A character that’s too flawed (e.g., the heroine who’s terminally stupid, the hero who’s an arrogant, womanizing boor) will kill a story. If I cannot at least empathize with the main character, then there’s no connection and, therefore, no reason to care what happens.

Phillip, Horror Editor: I have to agree with Michael for numbers one and two, because he's absolutely spot on.  Most people do read the guidelines and submit with the proper formatting and so forth, which we very much appreciate, but unfortunately seeing a good hook is still something of a rarity.  For my third thing, however, I would have to say I look for whether a story keeps me continuously engaged.  A great beginning gets my full attention, but then the writer has to hold onto it somehow--sometimes with an unrelenting tense or creepy scenario which has continuous forward momentum (the stories in our first issue provide terrific examples of this), sometimes with a unique and entertaining narrative voice, and sometimes with characters so well crafted I become completely invested in them.  A good hook won't work without a strong follow-through.  Give me a reason to keep caring.

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

Michael, Managing Editor: If you failed to follow the first two rules, generally your submission never makes it far.  Even those that abide by those rules, grammar and spelling is the next item that gets your submission denied.

Karen, Fantasy Editor: I’m a card-carrying member of the grammar police, so an author who fails to master the craft of writing makes my teeth itch. A great idea isn’t worth my time if the author cannot take care in writing it.

There’s little in the way of truly original story ideas, which doesn’t bother me if the author presents the formula in an engaging manner. Especially when reading romance, I know the end of the book; it’s the journey that makes the reading worthwhile.

Phillip, Horror Editor: I think one of the most frequent turn-offs encountered is lack of direction.  If a submission doesn't provide an idea of where the story is headed by page three at the latest, it's a submission my fellow editors and I probably will not finish; an absentee plot equals an absentee reader.

Problematic characterization is another huge one which keeps coming up over and over.  So often we get characters who are more a bundled collection of traits than an actual person, or characters whose motivations are paper-thin ("I am evil... BECAUSE I AM EVIL!").  Worse are the characters who a given story tries to pass off as likable or witty when they don't actually do anything likable or witty. Those bug the hell out of me.

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

Michael, Managing Editor: I review hundreds of submissions and reject most of them, mostly because they failed to follow the basic rules of writing or did not bother reading the very simple guidelines that are posted.  However, when I find a Keeper that just couldn’t quite make the cut, I will most certainly write a personal rejection note to the author.

Karen, Fantasy Editor: I seldom offer comments unless the story is terrific and simply does not meet our needs. For instance, Red Sun received a submission along the Alice in Wonderland line that was wonderfully written, but its target audience was for middle school readers. It just didn’t fit RSM.

Phillip, Horror Editor: I actively submit my own work to numerous venues, so I know what it's like to wait months for a response and then get a bland, noncommittal form rejection (I don't think Red Sun's form rejections fall into either of those categories, by the way).  For me, one of the most exciting aspects of acting as an editor is being able to be on the other side of that and let writers know what I actually think about their work.  I can't do this for nearly as many people as I would like, of course--the form rejection is a necessary evil for Red Sun just like it is anywhere else because of how many submissions we receive--but I definitely strive to provide as much feedback to as many submissions as I can.  And since I love talking about stories and craft, it tends to be rather on the extensive side more often than not.

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

Michael, Managing Editor: I have learned that authors should take their time with their stories, it’s not a race.  Once you allow yourself time to write, you should write for you.  If it excites you, then it  might excite the world.  If you get bored with it, then the world will weep bitter tears if they are forced to read it.  Writing should be fun, so have fun doing it.

Ben, Editor-in-Chief: Bitter tears.

Phillip, Horror Editor: Being exposed to such a variety of different pieces as the slush pile provides is endlessly illuminating.  I've seen stories which have blown me clean away with their command of plot and characterization, with their ability to make me think things are going one way only to pull the rug out from under my feet and show me that it's been headed in an entirely different direction all along.  Stories which just wring so much entertainment out of a simple premise.  I don't actively think about what makes these submissions so genius and how I might achieve similar effects in the context of my own work to the degree I should, but hopefully I'm picking up a few tricks through a sort of craft osmosis.

Thank you, Ben, Michael, Karen and Phillip. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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