Friday, October 5, 2018

Six Questions for Rick Ollerman, Editor, Down And Out: The Magazine

Down and Out: The Magazine publishes quality crime stories of 3,000 to 5,000 words, sometimes more. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Rick Ollerman: The simple answer is that I thought could do something unique, something that I hadn’t seen done quite the way I’d envisioned. Another magazine had just called it quits, and I thought that magazine may have been a victim of the strength of its identity. They had a very definite image that may have turned some people off. So at Bouchercon I was talking with Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books and I told him, “You should do a magazine.” And he told me funny I should bring that up, he’d just been thinking about it. I told him that if it were me, I’d do it like this and like this and like this. He asked what we’d call it and I said, “Down & Out: The Magazine, of course.” I don’t know if that’s a good title or not but Eric has a great reputation in the community and this name gives the magazine some sort of head start. Anyway, two months later Eric phoned me and said, “Let’s do it.”

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

RO: I really only want one thing, and that’s quality. Sounds trite, but it’s true. That leads to a few tributaries like writing things we haven’t seen ad nauseum, and a writing voice that’s real. But it all boils down to having me read a story I haven’t read before, told in a compelling fashion. Even when I have bought a story that doesn’t necessarily break new ground as far as the plot is concerned, it’s been told with a certain strength that’s been compelling enough to overcome this.

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

RO: Typos are always bad, but usually not enough to get me to reject a story by themselves. Giving me a story I’ve read a million times will do it, or cliché, or having cops not behaving like true cops. If you’re going to write a cop story, learn about cops. Or blenders, or whatever else you’re going to write about. I don’t think “write what you know” is necessary advice; “write what you don’t know” is wonderful because it gives you the opportunity to go find out about something before you actually write the words. But you can’t guess at them, or go off TV or movies. I’m not a cop, but I’ve given a workshop on cops at a writer’s convention. One has to care enough about what they’re doing to learn.

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

RO: I can tell you what I hope not to see, and that I’m seeing kind of a lot of lately: sentences that begin, “You can always tell…” or “You know that x is going to happen whenever Bill does y…”—why are you telling me I should know these things? There is no basis for me to know these things. It sounds like the writer is trying to take a shortcut by making me feel ignorant. Don’t put on me, the reader, your inability to paint a picture of what it is you’re trying to arrange. You have to work a little harder than that, I’m afraid.

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

RO: Sex for its own sake is a hard sell to me simply because it’s not what I like to read. As Mary Higgins Clark once said, “I prefer my sex in the bedroom.” If it needs to be in the story, then I’m fine with it. I don’t need the details, and if those need to be in the story, then it probably doesn’t suit with the crime fiction mission of what I’m trying to do. Overt pedanticism would probably be difficult for me (I prefer my preaching in church…?), as well as graphic violence, aka violence porn. If you want to shoot someone in the face, go ahead and shoot him in the face. If you feel the need to describe the hot, spinning bullet pierce the cornea and shred the iris as it whips the vitreous humour into a whirlwind the same time it burns it away— I think you’re better off finding a straightahead horror market with that one.

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

RO: I would probably ask how married I was to a specific genre and how far I was willing to step outside it. My answer would go back to quality is everything and that so far we’ve been very lucky to publish some hardboiled fiction, as well as noir, science fiction, and stories from such tremendous talents like Jen Conley, Patti Abbott and Suzanne Solomon whose work sometimes is only borderline related to crime. It’s all about the stories: good voices, good writing, and something I haven’t seen a hundred times. Crime fiction or kinda sorta crime fiction, I’m going to try to find a way to publish you.

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

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