Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Six Questions for David Duhr, Fiction Editor, Fringe

Fringe publishes fiction, poetry, nonfiction, features, (de)classified, criticism, blog posts and art. Currently, new works are published on the first three Mondays of each Month.

(ceased publication)

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

DD: In keeping with Fringe’s aesthetic (, I lean toward stories that play with form. That’s not to say that I’ll accept an experimental piece just because it’s experimental, but if I have two stories of equal quality, one experimental and one that’s more traditional, I’ll give the nod to the former.

With short shorts (<1,000 words), I need to be grabbed in the first paragraph or two. When you’re working with such limited space, you can’t afford to dawdle. Sort of like what Mr. Vonnegut said: “Start as close to the end as possible.”

With longer pieces (we accept up to 7k), I need a strong protagonist, one character interesting and/or exciting enough that I’m willing to commit so much of my time. Character over plot, every time. Of course, that’s what most of us are looking for.

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

DD: This might seem too obvious, but it’s true: sloppiness will kill a story every time. Typos, poor grammar, cover letters addressed to a different magazine and editor. Sloppiness equals a lack of attention to detail, which, to me, equals a lack of respect for your own work. If you don’t respect your own story, I’m sure not going to.

We get a lot of second-person narratives in which the mode serves only as a gimmicky distraction. Second-person narration, in and of itself, does not make a piece experimental―there needs to be a reason for it. If you’re going to try it, read something like Lorrie Moore’s Self Help first to see it done right.

Anything between 5,000-7,000 words that doesn’t offer much of an arc or any variance in tone or, at the very least, some character development. If I’m going to publish something over 5k―especially in an online journal―it needs to offer some variety. Too many longer stories flatline.

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

DD: First lines that contain anything resembling “[Character name] woke up drunk/hungover on a strange floor, head pounding. [Character] didn’t know where s/he was, and couldn’t remember anything about the night before.”

Last lines that contain anything resembling “And they all lived happily ever after.”

“I am the narrator of this story. I am also a penguin / a dog / a cute little kitty-cat / a demonic being / yourself from the future / yourself from the past / yourself now but in an alternate dimension.”

SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

DD: I enjoy characters with edge. The protagonists of the last few stories we published were an illustrator who sheds her clothes at the workplace and allows her co-workers to run their hands over her tattooed skin; a scientist with agalmatophilia (sexual attraction to statues, dolls, figurines, etc.) who storms off the set of Buñuel’s and Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou; and violent schoolchildren on a playground.

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?

DD: If a story is close to making the cut, we’ll respond with comments and invite further submissions. I don’t mind an occasional follow-up question to those. Nor do I mind when a writer writes back just to say thanks.

But writers who respond with questions to what is clearly a form rejection irritate me. As a writer I understand the temptation, but as an editor I find it difficult to muster the energy to write back.

I do enjoy rejected writers who come back to me with pleasantries like “Your loss” or “Good―I didn’t want to be in Fringe, anyway.” Yes it’s unprofessional, but it gives me a giggle. On the other hand, while I don’t necessarily “blacklist” those writers, I do tend to remember their names, and am not terribly open-minded about future submissions.

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

DD: “Should a writer summarize his/her story in a cover letter, and should the cover letter ever exceed a couple of short paragraphs?” No, Jim, no. A thousand times, no.

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

NEXT POST: 2/4--Six Questions for Regina Williams, Editor/Publisher, The Storyteller

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