Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Six Questions for Joseph R.G. DeMarco, Mysterical-E

Mysterical-E is dedicated to presenting quality material and to providing a showcase for talent old and new. The magazine publishes "softboiled, hardboiled, not boiled at all; the traditional P.I. as well as unorthodox finders, amateur sleuths, police detectives, new age detective, magical Private Investigators, you name it; and we also seek tales with a supernatural or speculative fiction touch." Read the complete guidelines here.

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

JD: Plot – we’re a mystery, crime magazine (though we like to see stories that explore the mysterious in everything so that opens the magazine up to spec fic and more). Plot is a crucial component in the genre short story. Writers who submit stories to us should make certain that the plot is strong, makes sense, and is satisfying (which doesn’t mean you have to tie up every loose end but the main problem should have a satisfying solution). If it’s complex, that’s great. Simple is good, too. But a good story has to have plot. Another element we look for is intricately intertwined with plot and you might say that a good plot depends on what that item contributes to the mix. That next thing is…

Character – as important as plot is, good characters are equally necessary. Interesting people who have to deal with the intriguing problems in a story are what make a piece hum. Whatever plot a writer devises, the characters move it along. Twists, turns, and surprises in a tale come from what the characters are made of. Draw your characters well enough and they will make their own decisions on how to approach the problem the writer has set up for them. In addition I like to see some change or even growth in a character by the end of a story. 

Third place is a tie between good writing, atmosphere, and ability to hold the reader’s attention. A story with good atmosphere, a good sense of time and place, a feel for the things that make the reader get into the world the story creates will get noticed. Good writing is essential as well. Grammar, style, and other fundamentals will make a tale stand out from other submissions. Capturing our attention and holding it is something that depends on all the other elements and more. If I find myself drifting as I read the story, being pulled away from the piece, then something’s wrong. The story isn’t holding my attention. I’ll send the piece to another editor, if possible. I might put it away for a while and come back to it, which may prove that I was just having a bad day the first time I read it or may show that the story just doesn’t hold my attention.

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

JD: If a story gets attention because it meets the criteria for plot, character, and the rest, there are still a few points which will make us pause. This is not to say that a submission will be rejected (after all if it meets the three chief requirements it’s jumped a high hurdle).

That said, however, we will send a story back to a writer (sometimes with the understanding that it is provisionally accepted) for the following reasons:

The writer has not followed the submission guidelines. We provide a detailed list of things someone needs to follow before submitting a story. Our Guidelines page is specific and should be followed. 

A story has not been proofed thoroughly. Anyone can miss errors, so the occasional typo doesn’t bother us. But when there are too many, this will require a writer to re-do the story and resend.

A writer sends a story to us without having paid any attention to the type of story we publish. You’d be surprised how many times this happens. But we’re open to looking at a wide range of things, so if a writer thinks a story may or may not be for us, they can query us and we’ll be happy to discuss it.

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

JD: Questions 1 and 2 pretty much cover the range of things which will turn us off to a story. But some other things might include: 

Not telling us the story is a reprint (we do accept them but we need to be told). 

Trying to get our attention with nutty Subject lines. One writer tried to get my attention in some of the oddest ways. If I’d been in a different mood, his story might have been trashed because of the subject line looking Spam-like.

Peppering us with questions and demanding an immediate response. This is a sure turn off. We like it when a writer sends a query as to the status of a story. We, in fact, encourage people to do this. But only after two or three months have passed after submission. 

Bad grammar and punctuation, though infrequent, sometimes show up and make a bad impression.

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

JD: Sometimes. We don’t have enough staff to give comments. But we will give comments on occasion if a story has potential and we’d like to help get it into shape so it can be resubmitted.

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?

JD: What writers should know is that when we do make comments or suggestions, it’s because we think a story has potential. So suggestions or editing comments are made in order to improve the story. We want both the writer and Mysterical-E to look good.

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

JD: You seem to have covered all the bases. 

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

NEXT POST: 9/24--Six Questions for Lorina Stephens, Publisher, Five Rivers Publishing


  1. Another in a fine series and featuring an excellent mag. Thanks Jim and Joe.

  2. I LOVE these post, Jim. Thanks, Joe for being here. OH, and I love Mysterical-E, too!

    I have another question if you're up for it. Where did the name of your zine come from?

  3. Yeah, this blog is top shelf. Tons of really great interviews.

    And Mysterical-e is awesome. I really like the diversity of stories there. From dark to light, from novella to flash, from spec fiction-ish to cold, hard reality, they do it all.