Monday, February 1, 2010

Six Questions for J.W. Wang, Editor, Juked

Juked accepts stories of any length as long as they fit the magazine's editorial style. Any author wishing to submit a work to Juked should read a few issues before sending a story. A note on the web site states that longer stories have been preferred by the editors. Read the submission guidelines here.

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

JW: I don’t think anyone goes into a story with a specific checklist of things they look for. Or maybe I should just speak for myself: I go into each story with as open a mind as I can. We publish a wide range of material.  Sometimes it’s more “experimental,” sometimes it’s more “traditional,” which I take to be mostly a categorization of form. I suppose the best thing a story can have going for it is a strong, compelling voice.  You look at all the rules being broken by various stories, and if they get away with what they’re doing, nearly all the time you can attribute it to voice. There’s a reason for that: a strong, compelling voice denotes sympathy and understanding for a major character, and if you have a complex and compelling character, we’re likely to follow and see where the story goes. That said, I do look for well-crafted sentences, something to suggest care was put into the actual writing. The language is our set of tools, after all, and it’s pretty apparent whether a writer has spent time working with it. I suppose related to both is the complexity of the writing, whether the sentences reveal nuance and aren’t just direct statements.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?

JW: Much of the time a story gets rejected because the writing’s just not very strong; there’s a lot of overt and direct telling and little subtlety, or the writing consists of clichés and other familiarities. Another big turnoff is this obsession with cleverness that’s really popular for some reason: many people are more interested in sounding clever than they are in constructing a story. There’s little sympathy towards the characters, who feel like they’re just little pawns being pushed around by someone who is more concerned with showing off their wit or writing skills. Closely related to this are stories that are highly conceptual, so that the story’s less a story about people than it is about some great metaphor. And I mean, it could be a great metaphor, but if we don’t care about the people in the story, then there’s little reason to read on. Poor spelling and grammar is always a good reason; chances are if the writer can’t spell or put together a correct sentence, the story’s not going to be any good either. I realize all the things I just said are more or less flipsides to #1, so I’ll offer a couple of other things (that aren’t “top three reasons”): zombies or vampires or other genre elements that do nothing to challenge our conception of these tropes; starting off a story with a line of dialogue is typically risky business; second person storytelling is also risky and hard to do, but apparently quite popular.

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

JW: This is more or less the same as #2, no? On the sentence level, I can offer a few more specific things. People often try to write simultaneity with sentence constructions like “As he sat down in the passenger seat, she slammed the door.” This as-something-something, something-something construction is overused and pretty dreadful, because most of the time it’s used incorrectly—if she slammed the door at the very moment he’s sitting down, he’d be wedged in and feeling great pain. It would be much simpler if people just wrote chronologically:  He sat down in the passenger seat, and she slammed the door. Another thing is describing how people look at another; a lot of weaker stories have abundant lines that read like, “He looked at her,” and “She cut him a look.” The instinct here is to put in something interesting, but looking by itself isn’t enough most of the time. Funny fonts are no good; stick with Times New Roman 12 point. Don’t use all caps to suggest louder voices. Or exclamation marks and question marks together. 

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

JW: No, unfortunately we don’t have the manpower (humanpower?) to do so. 

SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?

JW: We’ve gotten plenty of responses that were “less than professional.” I think once someone wrote back and said, “Eat shit.” Rejections are hard, and I feel bad whenever we send one out, but it’s necessary and a part of the process. You don’t ever need to respond to a rejection, but if you do, it can only help you to be gracious. I personally don’t mind when authors reply with questions, but again, we don’t really write comments, so there’s not much more we can say. And no, we don’t keep a blacklist. People change over time, right? The author who wrote us two years ago is not the same author today.

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

JW: Can’t think of any. I’ll offer a thought instead. I personally don’t think it is beneficial for an author to flood a publication, sending in something immediately after a rejection, even if it’s a positive rejection. I believe in waiting some time, revising and working, before sending out something else. These days a lot of journals use Submittable or some other online system, and the readers can see immediately every story you’ve submitted and when you submitted them. If there’s a long list of rejected manuscripts and there’s little time in between, it’s only going to make the reader think this is just going to be another one in a long line of crappy stories.

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

NEXT POST: 2/3/10—Six Questions for Wendy S. Delmater, Editor, Abyss & Apex Magazine of Speculative Fiction

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