Friday, January 26, 2018

SQF revisited - Vestal Review

Vestal Review publishes a semi-annual print magazine and has a web presence devoted to publishing flash fiction not longer than 500 words on a quarterly basis. The magazine accepts works in all genre except children's stories. Vestal Review has been published continuously since March 2000.

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

Mark Budman: Brevity, energy and drive. These are the essentials of flash fiction.

Read the complete interview here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Six Questions for Brendon Taylor, Editor, Deep Magic

Deep Magic is an e-zine dedicated to professional quality fantasy and science fiction that is free of graphic violence, sex and vulgarity, and with almost no profanity.  It was run as a non-profit over a decade ago for four years.  In June of 2016, Deep Magic re-launched under a new business model, with the original 3 founders and new Board Members with expertise in the industry.  We pay professional rates for the short fiction appearing on our electronic pages, and feature stories, articles, book excerpts and interviews from a mix of well-known authors and industry professionals, as well as amateur and debut authors. Learn more here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Brendon Taylor: The founders and current board members have long been fans of fantasy and science fiction.  The niche we have sought to fill with our publication is excellent fantasy and science fiction that is also free of graphic violence, sex and vulgarity.  We believe fantastic writing does not require those elements that seem prevalent in much of the literature in the genre.  Our focus hearkens to the writing of C.S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Rick Riordan, John Flanagan, and J.K. Rowling, who all excel at storytelling at the adult and young adult levels.  Our original tag line remains true to this day: Deep Magic is a safe place for minds to wander.

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

BT: We look for compelling characters, original story-lines rich with tension, and strong endings.  The editors at Deep Magic find these are three essential elements to good story-telling, and in short fiction are particularly important.

SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?

BT: Although there are many reasons a story might be rejected, here are 10 common mistakes we see:

          1.  A lack of a hook at the beginning to grab the readers' attention.
          2.  A lack of tension throughout the story that loses a reader's interest.
          3.  Poorly developed characters that result in the reader not connecting or caring about them.
          4.  A lack of believability in the plot -- logical disconnects, inconsistent behavior by characters, etc.
          5.  An ending that fails to deliver a powerful conclusion.
          6.  Flat, uninteresting dialog.
          7.  A common theme or plot that feels too similar to other stories we have read.
          8.  Lack of focus, or editing, resulting in the plot jumping around too much or leaving holes in the plot.
          9.  Stories about cats that are the main character.
          10.  Stories that fall outside of our submission guidelines, genres, or requirement for clean writing.

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

BT: We have provided comments on some rejections, but not all.  We allow those who review and make rejection decisions to offer comments as they deem appropriate.  If a story is close to acceptance, but falls short for one reason or another, we are more likely to offer commentary.  On occasion, we have requested the author make changes and resubmit.  In those instances, our comments can be extensive.

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

BT: There are many styles, approaches, and ways to tell an amazing story.  Formulaic approaches may help an author trim bad habits, but writing is artistic in nature and true works of art are not made when one paints by the numbers.

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

BT: Which Deep Magic Board Member has the best beard?  That would be me, Brendon Taylor.

Seriously, a question we sometimes get from authors is, "Why should I write short fiction if there are so many more marketing options for novels?"  First, we believe short fiction is alive and thriving.  With the increase in electronic publishing, stories of different lengths can make it to market.  Also, our readers have commented on many occasions that they enjoy reading the short stories in our e-zine because not only are they fantastic stories, but it is a wonderful way for readers to discover new authors.  If a writer wants to market a book or series herself, or boost his exposure and draw more readers to the small publisher novels bearing his name, having short fiction published in a professional e-zine is a great way to garner that attention and be introduced to new readers.

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

Six Questions for Rob Pockat and Signe Jorgenson, Co Editors-in-Chief, Stoneboat Literary Journal

The biannual Stoneboat Literary Journal publishes fiction and nonfiction to 5,000 words, poetry, and artwork/photographs. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Stoneboat Literary Journal: When our founder, Rob Pockat, was a student in the writing program at Lakeland College, he learned that the college used to have an active, student-run literary magazine. He was interested in reviving it and recruited a classmate, Jim Giese, to assist. Lakeland required the magazine to have faculty/staff advisors in order to receive funding, so Rob and Jim recruited essayist Signe Jorgenson, who taught writing courses, and poet Lisa Vihos, the institution’s alumni director.

As we considered our hopes and goals, we realized that a campus magazine was too limiting. We quickly scrapped Rob’s idea of being affiliated with the college in order to reach a wider audience, solicit a broader range of submissions, and allow Rob and Jim to remain involved after graduation. Instead, we launched an independent literary magazine that is funded 100% by subscriptions, donations, and sales.

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

SLJ: The only thing we look for in a submission is good literary writing. We don’t care about theme, subject matter, or writing style. We just want to be engaged from the first sentence or line, and we want that engagement to carry through the entire piece.

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

SLJ: Bad writing is a huge turnoff. Most often, this means work that’s full of grammatical/mechanical/usage/spelling errors, but it can also mean plot holes, flat characters, unsatisfying endings, and a whole host of other things.

We have other turnoffs, too. A lot of writers start the story in the wrong spot, opening with paragraphs (or pages) of uninteresting backstory. Others create an opening that’s so confusing the reader can’t get oriented. Some writers submit genre work, not realizing that we’re a literary magazine and only publish horror/sci-fi/romance/mystery/et cetera if it contains a strong literary element.

If we can’t get into a story or essay within the first few paragraphs, our readers won’t be able to get into it, either. And if the writer doesn’t take the time to learn what type of magazine we are or send polished, well-crafted work, then we won’t take the time to publish it.

SQF: Do you provide feedback on the stories you receive?

SLJ: If we see a lot of potential in a piece, we’ll let the writer know what s/he could have done differently and offer some brief feedback. More than once, we’ve invited writers to make specific changes and resubmit. If the revision successfully solves the problems we’ve pointed out, we’ll publish the piece.

That said, we don’t provide feedback on the majority of pieces we reject. If a story/essay/poem exhibits any of the “turnoff” qualities mentioned above, the author won’t receive a personalized rejection letter.

We wish we were able to provide feedback to every writer, but we can’t. We are a small four-member team, and we aren’t paid for our work with Stoneboat. We each spend dozens of hours reviewing submissions per reading period; this happens at night and on the weekends, and it takes time away from our families, our personal lives, and our own writing. We don’t have hundreds of hours more to spend writing personalized rejections for pieces that aren’t even close to being publishable or that aren’t aligned with our aesthetic.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

SLJ: Nothing is explicitly off limits in Stoneboat. However, sex, violence, and foul language have to be purposeful to be included in our journal.

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

SLJ: What do you wish that writers knew about literary journals?

We wish writers had a better understanding of how journals operate and how they make their publishing decisions. Most editors are also working writers, or were at one time, so they have a solid understanding of how it feels to receive a rejection letter (including the dreaded form rejection). Editors at literary magazines have amassed hundreds of rejections, just like their submitters. However, because of their experience sending rejections, editors know not to take them personally.

Editors realize that that there are dozens of factors influencing the decision. Sometimes a story just isn’t good—but quite often, that’s not the case. Maybe the magazine just published a dog story in the last issue so every dog story will be rejected this time around no matter how well-written it is. Or maybe the magazine has received 20 stellar stories but only has enough room to publish 10. Or maybe the writer was just published in the last issue so the journal passes over an excellent story in order to get a new voice onto the page. Or maybe the story exceeds the stated word count or otherwise violates the submission guidelines. There are many, many reasons for rejection other than the quality of writing.

Editors don’t take delight in saying “no.” We’re not sadistic people who take pleasure in crushing dreams. We just want to put out the best magazine we can. That means saying “no” to the majority of the submissions we receive, and it means we can’t spend scads of time on personalized rejections—if we did, there would be no time left to design, edit, and proofread the journal, maintain our website and social media accounts, organize readings, sell subscriptions, solicit donations, and participate in interviews like this one.

We also wish that more of our submitters read our journal—or any literary journal. It’s clear from so many of our submissions that the writers simply don’t know what we do and don’t understand what “literary” means. No matter how well-written your sci-fi cowboy story is, it’s not going to find a place in our literary magazine because it’s not what we do.

We’ve also noticed a dynamic where writers expect literary journals to support them but don’t realize that the support has to go both ways. If writers don’t support literary journals by subscribing to them, donating to them, and/or promoting them on social media, the journals will disappear. Independent magazines like Stoneboat are funded 100% through sales and donations. If the money doesn’t come in, we can’t print our magazine, which means that we can’t publish any work. The audience for literary writing is almost exclusively literary writers, so it’s on the writers to keep the journals afloat to maintain a plethora of publishing venues. The fewer magazines you support, the fewer magazines you’ll have to submit to. It’s that simple. (Writers, subscribe or buy a single issue here.)

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

Friday, January 5, 2018

Six Questions for Andrew McCurdy, Editor, Gallery of Curiosities

Gallery of Curiosities is a speculative fiction podcast specializing in retro-vintage stories, such as one would find in the steampunk sub-genre.  Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Andrew McCurdy: This project is Kevin Frost’s, from the concept through to production, and while I know bits and pieces of how the Galleries Podcast came into being, it remains his story to tell. The earlier, or “old format” shows were public domain horror, produced for Radio Riel. I think he got tired of sifting through Gutenberg looking for new material, so he decided to buy new fiction to see what would happen. What I can say is that there are a number of us that have been tagging along for the ride since then because it is fun. I’ll get up on Saturday morning, pour myself a coffee and jump into the slush pile, our Google Docs submission folder, and chat stories with Jed and Kevin.

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


  • Does the story hold my attention? A story doesn’t have to be linear to hold my attention, in fact, strictly speaking, it doesn’t even need to be a story, but it has to be good. Making me care about the characters and objective is important but entertaining me, start to finish, is paramount.
  • Is the story well written? I’m not a grammar freak but if a story comes in and the opening sentence is incomplete with two spelling errors, I tend to become more critical of the content. Don’t send in drafts, or ideas, send in something complete that you are proud of.
  • Does the story surprise me somehow? Stories don’t have to end with an O. Henry-style, twist ending to surprise. Did the plot go in an unexpected direction? Did a mystery intrigue or trick me? Is it a subject I haven’t considered before? Did I smile at any point while reading it? Am I still thinking about it a day later?

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


  • The incorporation of historical figures as characters in works of fiction. While it can work, I find too often it is either gimmicky or forced. Almost always it is unnecessary. We keep a scorecard because it can get that ridiculous.
  • Glued on gears. This is what we’ve come to call unnecessary steampunk elements tacked on just to sell the story. So, you think you have written a riveting story based on your last messy break-up, but figure it’s not the right genre for our podcast - adding the word ‘steam’ to common objects (like steam+phone, steam+cab, and steam+gun) doesn’t  change anything. It is still a cheesy break-up story.
  • Any form of political/religious/social agenda.  I’m not referring to controversial storylines or diverse characters and situations, I am referring to thinly veiled allegories where the focus is the underlying ideology rather than the story. While I have my own views and beliefs, and I appreciate those of others, that is not what I feel this podcast is about.
  • The pedantic weeds. One of the hazards of historical fiction is going for a documentary level of detail. We care that the hero took off his coat, but not that it was a Columbus Depot shell jacket with the gutta-percha buttons. Historians and reenactors get into this, but a general audience will tune out quickly. Which brings us to:
  • The writing style does not transfer well to the audio format. This is a fairly new medium for short stories, and there is a difference in how the story should be told. You can’t skim through the boring parts. Transitions between scenes need to be thought out. Try reading the story aloud before sending it in. If we lose the listener, there isn’t enough time to get her back. The story will run out as background noise until the next track cues up. The rule we came up with is no one rewinds while driving. 

SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis?

AM: I like to read a lot but I would not say there is any particular magazine I read on a regular basis. One of the benefits of editing for this podcast, and seeing where authors have previously been published, has been the discovery of a number of online sources of fiction that I hadn’t been aware of. I always bookmark them, and while there may not be any I read on a regular basis there are several I do like to come back to from time to time.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?


  • The problem with sex scenes isn’t so much that they are a hard sell but that they are hard to write. Most sex scenes kill a story because they are awkward and more comical/improbable than erotic. That is not to say erotic elements can’t be used creatively or subtly to help sell a story.
  • Excessive violence, or sadistic acts, even when written well, can be a hard sell. Some excellent stories have explored these themes. You have my attention when you push the envelope, but if it comes across as gratuitous torture it won’t get a second reading.
  • Swearing can be an effective tool for character development and mood. My thoughts on swearing are very much in line with my thoughts on violence. Many of our stories have historic elements to them. Be creative. In a period piece, why describe someone a fucking piece of shit when it is more entertaining to call them a festering heap of steaming midden.
  • Space!  We get way too many “mainstream” science fiction stories. Only about a quarter of what hits the inbox are stories we might be interested in. 

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

AM: Q: What do you like best about editing a podcast of speculative fiction?

I like hearing the final production of the stories we have accepted. Some fantastic stories arrive in the slush pile. We can’t take them all, in fact, given the volume we receive, some really good stories will not make the cut. All of us take this part seriously because we know what it is like to be the writer, waiting to hear if a submission has been accepted. So we chat about the short list, we reread stories and we sometimes pair stories together. Then we discuss possible intros for each episode of the podcast. Any of us could write the intros, but Kris does an amazing job giving voice to Osgoode, the show’s host.

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