Friday, June 11, 2021

Six Questions for Tahlia McKinnon, Founder/Editor-in-Chief, Hecate Magazine

Hecate Magazine is an online journal and bi-annual anthology that publishes poetry, short prose and creative non-fiction. Submissions are open to women writers and other marginalised gender identities and expressions, including bigender/polygender, non-binary/gender-non conforming and two-spirit writers. Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


Tahlia McKinnon: Hecate Magazine was founded during the current pandemic and born out of a particularly bleak period of my life. After years spent striving toward an editorial career, I found myself in a stagnant marketing role within a corporate company. A suit of skin that really didn’t fit me. And working in that pressure-cooker environment during the heightened anxiety of lockdown, it caused me to hit some catastrophic mental lows.


It was so overwhelmingly daunting to me, to realise that I had been existing on autopilot for quite some time. Silencing my creative impulses. Denying myself time to write. The one thing I truly know how to do. The absolute basis of my identity. 


Hecate was something I had to get out of me – almost compulsively. It’s a project that gave me purpose throughout the pandemic. Faced with such a hostile period of isolation, I craved community. I needed to reconnect - with my own self too.


I actually ended up quitting my job in December of 2020, and despite economic uncertainty, I can confidently say that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Hecate breathed life back into me, and making this magazine my focus has been soul-food. In so many inexplicable ways. 



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


TM: I’m not sure I can pinpoint particulars, but to any writer looking to submit to us, I would say this: Capture and captivate us. Tease us with twists and open endings. Weave a web of lies. Make your tales dark. Make them light. Embrace archetypes. Rewrite old myths. Birth your own legends. Make us gasp. Give us chills. Gift us with the flesh of character. The bones of brooding tension. We want horror, magic, shadow, heartache, whimsy, dreams. We want to be broken. We want to be lifted.


Our bi-annual anthologies act like bookends; they mirror the light and shade of the human experience, much of what Hecate as a goddess represents. For our summer issue, we still invite darkness but with a euphoric edge. For our winter release, we want to be shaken to the core. 


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


TM: With set themes, we often receive many literal interpretations – but we’re looking for writers that bend truths. Who boldly invert our prompts. We’re also not particularly compelled to read retellings, unless they’re from a blinding angle. We seek word weavers who conjure alternate fairytales of their own. Who inject magic into the mundane – because we’re always hungry for spiritual undertones.



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


TM: You really don’t need to deliver a hook with your first line. For me, personally, I think that’s an over-egged misconception. I think a slow burn can work just as well. If a tone is set, an ambience created, and a point of view established, I’m a very happy reader. The obvious choice is not always the most compelling. And, in fact, it’s often a closing line that stays with me most.


SQF: What types of submissions would you like to see more of (e.g. poetry, memoir, flash fiction)?


TM: I love reading creative non-fiction. I have a very personal relationship with my own writing and there’s something so transporting, so transformative, when you read of another’s suffering or grief or joy and exultation. I’ve commented on this before, but it thrills me, the blurred line between truth and fantasy. Writing can be an incredibly healing and cathartic process, so reading these recounted memories – it’s almost like bearing witness.



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


TM: What do I admire most in other writers? And that’s an endless list, really – but I think the bravery behind what we do is often undervalued or dismissed or – actually - outright exploited. This relationship between writers and editors and readers is built on trust, in all directions. Creation relies almost entirely on holding space. In my mind, anyway. Words are powerful, and it never fails to move me – witnessing what other writers do with this gift.


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

Friday, June 4, 2021

Six Questions for Andrew Leon Hudson, Editor, Mythaxis Magazine

Mythaxis Magazine publishes “speculative fiction without distraction”, seeking original sf, fantasy, horror, and permutations thereof between 1,000 and 7,500 words. You can find submission guidelines (and some editorial observations) at https://mythaxis.co.uk/submissions.html


SQF: How did you become involved with Mythaxis Magazine?


Andrew Leon Hudson: The first editor, Gil Williamson, and I became friends through a book-lovers forum named Palimpsest in the mid-2000s. He had a professional background in software and created the Mythaxis site from the ground up, publishing 21 issues over ten years. I contributed a few stories to the zine, in fact my first “sale” was there, although back then Gil would compensate his contributors with books from his extensive library. My copies of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun were payment for flash fiction - I think I got the better deal!


Sadly, Gil passed away in 2019, but he asked (before) if I would take over the zine so it could continue without him, and I was proud to do so. It took some time to achieve, transferring the site proved tricky for “internet reasons”, but with the help of a friend (Mythaxis’ tech guru Marty Steer) we untangled that knot and resumed publishing in April 2020. Since then we’ve set about updating the site to a more mobile-friendly platform, as well as opening the zine up to submissions from a wider body of authors. We now plan to release four issues per year.



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

 

ALH: According to our guidelines we seek four things - “tight plotting, engaging characters, quality of prose, and believable dialogue” - but that’s a bit like saying “we want good stuff”, isn’t it? Instead of trying to pick one of those to discard, I’ll suggest three other things I like to find:

 

Voice. This isn’t the same as “just” delivering stylish prose or authentic dialogue, it’s about an author having a distinct way of working with words that sets them apart. We all have favourite authors whose style we come to know, but sometimes you encounter a story by someone you’ve never heard of before which already has that in place. That’s always a good feeling.

 

Difference. It’s easy to say to authors “read what we’ve published to learn what we want”, but I’d much rather be exposed to something unlike what we’ve included before. Please do read past issues, but use them as a jumping off point for sending something new to us.

 

Authenticity. I’m a firm disbeliever in the adage that authors should only write about what they know. They should be free to look for and explore the unfamiliar as much as the familiar - but the onus is entirely on the author to do the hard work necessary to make what they write authentic. It’s doable, but it takes effort, and if the unfamiliar subject is a different culture or life experience to the author’s own, then the importance of doing them justice is all the higher.

 

 

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

 

ALH: Wry grins. Any author who sends me a story in which someone grins wryly should also include a photo of themself doing the same; first so I’ll know what they think it looks like, and second so I can print it out and pin it to my dartboard. 


I don’t actually have a dartboard, but I do have a private spreadsheet in which all stories containing wry grins have a checkmark against them. You’d be surprised at the bar charts.


That’s all true, but more seriously, I’m in the game of looking for narratives. No amount of beautiful writing is going to make it into Mythaxis if there isn’t an actual story going on within the text as well. Be stylish, be experimental, be anything you want, but always be a storyteller, not just a wordsmith. 



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

 

ALH: A single, short, declarative sentence, an island set apart from the story that follows.


No, wait: that’s something that I absolutely don’t need to see, because it’s become so prevalent in genre short fiction that there must be a hundred thousand How To Write ebooks out there telling everyone that’s the only way to do it. So many submissions start like this, and I often think to myself, What is that tiny little line doing for this thing exactly - other than following the trend? I’ve encountered a few where that first “paragraph” basically paraphrases the story’s title, or gives away what the whole story is about before I read it, in both cases I can’t think of anything more redundant.


For me, there isn’t a particular thing I look for positively in an opening paragraph, at least not at first sight; maybe come the end of a story I’ll look back and think, That really worked, good choice, but when I’m making my decision I’m looking at the whole story, not just the start of it. More common is when an opening fails in some way: early stage typos are a bad sign, first impressions do count generally, so of course the beginning should be given close attention by the author. But trying too hard to deliver a knock-out first sentence that’s going to blow my socks off looks like exactly that: trying too hard.


Opening on a good hook is fine, but not every story needs to signpost itself up front. Sometimes a slow burn start is the right choice. Subtlety works. There is no single way of doing short fiction.



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

 

ALH: Well, we’re not a market for erotica so I don’t anticipate receiving any and haven’t to date. Sex in fiction is like sex in life: nice if it’s good, but there’s a time and a place. I’ve no problem with a sex scene, if it fits into the context. And if it happens in a submission, sure, the same…


However, there are a few other things that are going to struggle to find a place at Mythaxis, and first amongst them (despite our name) is retellings of Greek mythology. We get a lot, especially Persephone and Hades for some reason, and I always have to steel myself to go at one again. We did publish an example in our Spring 2021 issue, so it’s not impossible, but authors might want to consider that the exception which proves the rule has already happened.


Contemporary religious themes are not out of the question, but in my experience that’s a delicate line to walk in spec-fic, and it’s not a topic I have a personal interest in. Self-harm or suicide as a subject is also exceedingly difficult to handle well, though I wouldn’t exclude either because important discussions can be had, and the scope for how any subject can be explored is wider in fantastical fiction than in more realist modes of writing.


Of course, there’s also needlessly extreme content, sometimes the kind of thing you’d imagine would barely warrant listing: bestiality crops up from time to time, please no more. I’m perfectly fine with violence in fiction, but graphic torture and stories that trivially incorporate the killing of children are not going to find a home here.



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

 

ALH: “What genre of story do you wish you saw more of?”


I have a great interest in utopian fiction. There’s a perception that dark, sharp, sexy Dystopia has the monopoly on drama and Utopia is, therefore, the boring, too-nice, wallflower sibling. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Typically, dystopias present a terrible world and show the fight to bring it down, but they rarely hang around for the rebuilding that inevitably has to follow. Utopias offer a different perspective: not necessarily being set in a perfect world, sometimes far from it, their point is to present the challenge of improving our collective lot, moving humanity a step forward, so we can look around, evaluate our new circumstance, and try to move us all forward again.


This kind of generally positive perspective doesn’t eradicate the need for conflict. I have no burning interest in reading The Rough Guide To My Fantastic Future World, but describing how the participants of an exciting, unfamiliar environment overcome their obstacles is far from dull (and often allows just as much potential for critiquing contemporary society as dystopias do).


Send me stimulating utopias!


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


Friday, May 28, 2021

Six Questions for Jessica Kim, Founder/Editor-in-Chief, The Lumiere Review

The Lumiere Review publishes fiction and nonfiction to 3,000 words, poetry, and all mediums of art. “We are intrigued by the inextinguishable sparks of truth and connection, the effervescent meddling of narrative, and the luminous creations that expand on perceptions of genre, language, and form.” Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


Jessica Kim: I started The Lumiere Review on a whim—designed a WordPress website, made an Instagram account, and from there it just blossomed. Originally, Lumiere started as a youth-focused publication to give underrepresented and emerging creatives a platform to shine. Now, we’ve widened our horizons to accommodate the larger literary community, but the core of our magazine stays the same: to prioritize, preserve, and promote the voices of creatives from all backgrounds.



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


JK: Voice, clarity, and emotion, not necessarily in that order. We’re a magazine that hopes to be the epicenter of diversity, and so a fresh and unique perspective always intrigues me. Truth is, there’s no concrete way to describe a submission with a strong voice because any and every aspect of it can encapsulate this idea. Maybe the poem approaches an ordinary subject from a new angle, maybe the writer is experimenting with a nonce form or self-created structure. Maybe the story transports its readers into another world, maybe it’s a character who is so awe-inspiring but simultaneously relatable. Maybe it's a painting we can’t quite decipher; we just want a raw but unparalleled point of view. Because this “voice” is a dynamic force, it’s ultimately up to the submitter to find their own—and that’s the beauty of the submissions we receive.


On the other side of the spectrum, we want to see submissions that give just the right amount of detail and the right mixture of language. While we want to see narratives that explore the unknown, we don’t want to be baffled for eternity. We believe that individuality and coherence can (and should) coexist. Usually, submissions that have this clarity have gone through several revisions, and the dedication truly shines.


I want to constantly be surprised, even challenged by a poem, story, or piece of art, which naturally draws me into the emotional arcs of a piece. Ultimately, we hope the pieces we publish in our magazine will channel our readers to feel inspired, riled, compassionate, or ecstatic. I am most excited by pieces that are in conversation with the audience through their emotional trajectory. The ones that tear, devour, and heal their readers. That said, we aren’t particularly fond of submissions that overdo these sentiments, so ultimately it’s about balancing feelings with concrete and concise details.



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


JK: Pretty sure this is a common sentiment to many editors, but submissions that are sloppy or don’t follow our guidelines. The list is endless: submissions that clearly haven’t been proofread, exceed our word limit, have identifying authorial information in the document, ones that are pasted into the body of the email, etc. Additionally, I’m visually impaired and have a hard time reading certain fonts. Usually, a quick manual readjustment does the trick, but I’m a little put off by submissions in undecipherable fonts or colors.



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


JK: An opening that is nuanced, startling, eye-opening, breathtaking, packed, strong, haunting, clear, or simply flawless. Honestly, it’s not so much of what I’m looking for, but what the author wants to convey that draws me into a submission.



SQF: What is the Light Bulb series and how are interviewees selected?


JK: The Light Bulb is an interview series that I started out of my own interests, to be candid. I wanted to have conversations with some of my favorite writers without having to bombard them with questions. I’ve always been interested in the backstory behind the construction of a writer’s identity, and our interview series is the space to explore that. Other than that, The Light Bulb is another manifestation of our desire to be an inclusive publication. I try to converse with creatives who offer insight on the various realms of the literary world, from literary magazines and publishing a chapbook to just the small intricacies of being a writer. We always like to include a discussion on uplifting young, emerging, or marginalized writers and artists as well.


Interviewees are selected in a variety of ways. We have various categories, such as literary magazine editor or chapbook advice interviews, and I like to contact creatives who fit this role. Other times, we do have “free-style” interviews, in which I just reach out to writers whom I’ve been dying to have a conversation with. I’ve been conducting these interviews on my own thus far, but we’re always open to interview requests and we have some forthcoming interviews conducted by our recently-joined interviewers.



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


JK: How about “What’s next for Lumiere?” This question is something that’s perennially been on my mind these days. A fairly short-term goal would be to compensate our writers and artists which I think could be a possibility from late 2021. Another goal for us is to become something beyond just an online magazine. Perhaps print issues? But I was thinking more of being a greater vessel in the literary community by hosting workshops, podcasts, or mentorships. At heart, though, our goal is just to be the brightest magazine around!


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





Friday, May 21, 2021

Six Questions for Daniel and Elinor Clark, Editors, Briefly Write

Briefly Write publishes a micro zine of poetry 16 lines or less and fiction between 6 and 600 words. “Briefly Zine is a literary journal seeking bold, succinct writing.” Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


Briefly Write: The aim of Briefly Zine is to publish quality, meaningful writing. We are obsessive readers and devour a huge variety of novels, novellas, short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction and (especially) poems. Our choice to focus on micro poetry and prose is influenced by the falling modern attention span and a deep-rooted respect for the power of words. We want to celebrate careful, well-crafted writing, purposeful and subtle poetry, insightful and incisive stories.



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


BW: We don’t have specific criteria that we tick off. One essential requirement is that the writing is “brief”, which to us means concise and focused. Constructing a tiny story makes you value every word. This may sound like a cliché, but it’s not: in our first ten-word story competition some pieces missed out on the shortlist because of a single superfluous or clumsy word.

 

Three things we love to see:

  1. Innovative use of language. You have 16 lines / 600 words to impress us. Make them all count. Be inventive.

  2. Subtlety. A message that isn’t too obvious. A poem that weaves the reader into a web without them realising. If it makes us laugh, that’s good, but we like humour that is subtle or ironic; this may take place entirely beneath the surface.

  3. Authenticity. We want to feel something genuine. We want unique and well-chosen images and descriptions that feel like they could only have been written by you. We don’t shy away from the grit and dirt of everyday life; harsh can be beautiful, or it can just be harsh and that’s also fine. We like well-worked, not over-worked.

 


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


BW: We won’t consider anything hate-filled or discriminatory. Other than that, we don’t have specific no-go styles, themes or genres. We don’t shy away from serious themes, but we demand sensitive treatment of them.

 

A well-edited, typo-free submission which follows the submission guidelines and comes with a friendly greeting will make a good impression. We do still read work that doesn’t fully comply with our guidelines (unless it’s over 16 lines / 600 words – these limits are non-negotiable). We know that submitting can be a stressful process and everyone makes mistakes, so we like to give writers the benefit of the doubt. However, if you’ve sent your work as an attachment or submitted more than three pieces in a single submission, we know you haven’t been as patient and conscientious as other submitters. Therefore, in return, we may be less patient and conscientious when making our final judgement of your work.

 

For prose submissions, most pieces we turn down lack clarity and completeness. By completeness we don’t mean a happily-ever-after narrative that ties up all the loose ends; indeed, such an oversimplified airbrush of reality is unlikely to appeal to us. Our ideal piece tells a complete story (which may be a snapshot of a moment or half-moment or nearly moment), necessitates a second (third, fourth, fifth…) reading, and leaves a powerful image, thought or idea in the reader’s mind. Likewise, clarity does not mean everything needs to be fully transparent. We like subtle, fragmentary stories that leave the reader with work to do to piece things together.

 

For poetry, we consider formal or free verse (or something in between). We recommend you wait a few days (or weeks or months) after writing your poem before you submit: we often read poetry that doesn’t quite feel ready, work that could have been vastly improved with a little more time and care. Check line breaks, word choice, rhythm. Speak your poem out loud to make sure it sounds how it does in your head – this is good practice anyway because if we choose your poem we’ll ask for a voice recording!



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


BW: The opening paragraph of a prose piece is always crucial and even more so for flash and micro fiction. Quirky first lines stand out, but it’s authenticity that shines through in the end. If a unique voice is established quickly that is a big plus, as is an intrigue or emotional hook that makes us feel invested from the start. We are unlikely to be gripped by a clichéd opening (waking up, looking in the mirror, vague descriptions of the weather, etc.), but if it becomes clear you were using this for deliberate effect you might win us round. An untidy, needlessly drawn-out start won’t thrill us either: if it feels like it needs a good edit, it probably won’t appeal to our “brief” radar.

 

In poetry, the opening stanza is important in setting the tone and style. An opening line that feels fresh and unique can have a powerful impact. Build a moment, a memory, an emotion, a place – or destroy one.

 

Often with poems, however, it’s not the opening line or stanza that lets a piece down but the final one. We’ve read many pieces we’ve been rooting for until the final lines. It’s very tempting to hammer home the key points at the end but doing so usually results in a sense of over-writing.

 


SQF: You also provide book reviews and challenges. What would you like readers to know about these aspects of Briefly Write?


BW: The Zine is the heart of Briefly and where most of our energies go, but we are also passionate about the Competitions and Reading sections of our site.

 

We love reviewing poetry, especially independent, small-press chapbooks, collections and zines. Likewise, we enjoy working on reading lists and challenges; these aim to encourage a wider and more purposeful reading experience. Briefly Read is definitely an aspect of the site which we aim to expand in the future.

 

In terms of competitions, the Briefly Write Poetry Prize will open for entries in May 2021. We will also be running the second edition of Write 10, Win 10 in December 2021. In future, we hope to increase this offering if we are able to raise more funds. We are committed to accessibility and will always strive to keep competition (and Zine) submissions free.



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


BW: Maybe: “What does Briefly mean?”

 

The OED defines ‘briefly’ as ‘For a short time; fleetingly. Using few words; concisely.’ We define Briefly as ‘good writing’.

 

The image must be fleeting because you only have a short time to paint it in your reader’s mind. Yet it should endure beyond the seconds or minutes it takes to read. The words must be well-chosen because you don’t have time to waste any. In many ways, writing briefly is akin to translation: in both cases, the writer picks minutely over every syllable and sentence to ensure each word is performing its assigned role.

 

Of course, we know there are many intuitive, seat-of-your-pants writers and we know a word often “just feels right” even if it’s not clear why. As we said earlier, we want well-worked not over-worked.

 

Finally, “brief writing” isn’t synonymous with “short writing”. We impose a word limit of 600 to encourage writers to work closely in tight limits. The short format exacerbates the need for precision, but brief writing isn’t unique to micro fiction: a 3,000-word flash can be more concise than a 30-word micro. Indeed, we intend one day to publish a special issue that showcases brief writing in longer pieces.


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


Friday, May 14, 2021

Six Questions for Kristen Simental, Editor-in-Chief, Five South

Five South publishes short fiction, flash fiction, and poetry. All genre are accepted. Works of hate, pornography, or pedophilia will not be considered. Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


Kristen Simental: I'd written an interview for Inscape Magazine with poet Adam Clay, in which he mentioned Typo, the journal he and a buddy started in college and were still running. It was a low-key project they worked on as they had time. It sounded great. I'd just finished putting together the Inscape fall issue, was about to start The LARB Publishing Workshop, and I don't know…everything coalesced. I talked to my friend Cass and asked him if he wanted to be poetry editor for this new project I was starting, Five South. He agreed and here we are. Magic. Magic and many sleepless nights. 






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


KS: What we're looking for can only vaguely be described as "you know it when you see it." Curation is part personal preference, part knowing what the current trends are, as well as a willingness to sidestep the trends and pick something entertaining, has an emotional impact, or transports us. If I can get a little dreamy here, I think we're all chasing that feeling we had as kids when we read that one story that turned us into writers. For me, it was Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day." At seven years old, I was filled with a sense of wonder and possibility. It's a mysterious, unquantifiable quality that I'm not sure many people can articulate. We hear nebulous words like tone, voice, and mood, but what does that mean? 


This question can never be answered to complete satisfaction because it's subjective. I grew up reading Bradbury, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls-Wilder, E.B. White, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. As a teen, I read the Beat Poets, Bukowski, classic literature, and occasional counter-culture novels like Lolita, The Graduate, and A Clockwork Orange. In my 20s, I was into pulp fiction and vintage science fiction. So, I guess that's what I'm looking for. All that. It's a feeling. It's like asking someone why you love your partner. The generic answers are: they make me laugh, they're reliable, intelligent, etc. The real truth is they give you a feeling. They make you feel good, challenge you, provide you with something no one else can. As Captain Kirk once said, "Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on."





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


KS: During our last reading period, we came across many submissions that started great and ended on a record scratch or felt incomplete. It's as if the author was in the zone, looked up, saw the word count closing in on 1000 and slammed the brakes. This demonstrates a lack of vision and planning. I've learned from experience, being a pantser only gets you so far. Once you type "the end," your work is just beginning. 


Broadly, pieces that appear incomplete, unrevised, or hurried. On another note, my latest pet peeve is fancy dialog tags. I'd be perfectly happy never to see "she retorted" ever again. 







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


KS: Somewhere between "It was a dark and stormy night" and "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." All we want is something that begs us to keep reading. 


One of the best popular openings in recent memory is, "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." Rowling does a lot in a short amount of time. Dursley is an odd name. She could have used Anderson or Smith, but she chose something unusual. Dursley sounds like the word "dirty" to me. From the get-go, we know the Dursleys are going to be interesting people. They specifically live on Privet Drive. Our interest is piqued because these curious-sounding people now live on what sounds like a very prim and proper suburban street. These small details add heaps of information. If they lived on Main Street, we'd have a very different perception. 


Rowling next places an added emphasis on the house number. She could have just said, "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley live on Privet Drive." The number four shows an intention, a specificity, but it also tells us this takes place in a part of the world where they label houses this way. Not California, that’s for sure. It also illustrates a persnicketiness. OK, where are we going? They're proud to say they were perfectly normal. Because she calls it out, we now know they're not. She adds, "thank you very much," to seal the deal and make them sound extra snobby. These people are not as ordinary as they think they are. Rowling has convinced me the Dursleys are in for a rude awakening, and I want to find out what it is. 


It's a bit like when your friend or partner says, "The worst thing happened at work today!" Humans are curious and built for exploration. An opening paragraph should take advantage of that innate curiosity. It should ask questions the reader wants to answer. Who are the Dursleys, and what the heck is wrong with them? With Dickens' opening, he taps into a universal truth. Best of times and worst of times. We've all been there. Let me compare your best/worst time to my best/worst time, and if yours is worse, I'll feel better about mine. With "dark and stormy night," we're already conditioned by movies, TV, and literature to assume only bad things happen on dark and stormy nights, so what's this one going to be, and how bad is it going to get? This is the promise all writers make to their audience: "I know a secret, it's interesting, let me tell you about it." 





SQF: You recently published your second issue. What advice can you offer others who are considering starting their own publication?


KS: Take business, marketing, design, and editing classes. One of the biggest misconceptions about running a journal is that it's just reading and picking good content. If you're accepting submission fees, it's a business. Like any commercial venture (whether for or non-profit), a literary journal has many fast-moving parts. If you bring in staff, want to pay people, plan events, or merely maintain a newsletter, you have to be a good manager. A commander must know every bolt, every weld in their ship. 


Most of us went to school to reinforce what we're already good at: the artistic or mechanical side of writing. Most of us are already good readers. We get taught how to research and write papers, but never how to balance a budget, do market research, design a functional and nice looking website, write contracts, edit, proof, create a workflow, hire and fire people, or any of the numerous little tasks required to run a business. 


I know that sounds icy, but if you don't treat it like a business, it's just a hobby. Hobbies are great fun, but they cool off after a while, which is why so many lit mags disappear overnight. Business and marketing know-how isn't a guarantee for success, but it gives you an edge. It also helps manage the stress of figuring it all out as you go, allows you to anticipate pitfalls, and navigate what is basically American Ninja Warrior meets The Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride. Running a journal or magazine is always more work than you think it will be. 






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


KS: Jim, you're doing The Lord's work here. You're helping to unravel the mysteries of submissions for writers, and I wish I'd had this years ago. It's essential to understand how subjective the selection process is, and this site showcases just how different we all are. Even though trends and good writing help a piece stand out, it comes down to personal taste. You can be the greatest writer on the planet, but if an editor or agent was jilted on the altar and hates romance, it's not your fault. Even so, as a writer, it's important to keep learning and hone your craft like any good craftsperson. It's a lifelong journey. Each acceptance and rejection is part of the process, but it's also a numbers game. Not everyone buys a lotto ticket and wins a million dollars the first time. It happens, but it's extremely rare. Writing and submitting is a (sometimes painful) exercise in patience a lot like marriage. It's not all great sex and laughs. It's more complicated than anyone ever anticipates, but the benefits outweigh the struggle. And like marriage, if you want it to be successful, you have to put in the work. And maybe get some counseling down the road when things get rocky. 


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