Friday, June 26, 2015

Six Questions for Clare MacQueen, Editor-in-Chief, KYSO Flash

KYSO Flash publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and hybrid forms, up to 1,000 words (including the title). Read complete guidelines here.

(Ceased publication)

SQF: Why did you start this journal?

Clare MacQueen:

1.     Because I adore flash literature, especially micro-fictions and prose poems.

2.     Because I wanted to compensate authors financially for rights to publish their creations of flash literature.

KYSO Flash is an independent publication, funded thus far from my personal resources. Although my pockets are tiny, even a token amount like $30-$60 per original piece (depending on word count) is considered a “pro” rate, and makes me feel as if I’m making at least a small difference.

3.     Because I’m not getting any younger!

Last spring, I felt compelled to pour the energies that I still have into creating something that both my daughter and my mother, as voracious readers with an artistic bent, might appreciate were they both still alive. For years, I had a nebulous hope of someday publishing my daughter’s writing and art, but she passed away suddenly four years ago in July.

I think it was Harry Polkinhorn, former director of the San Diego State University Press, who first gave me the idea of running a press. Two decades ago, I took his graduate-level course in literary editing and publishing at SDSU. We students set up a press, brainstormed our first project, and then created and published a 157-page anthology of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art—in about four months. That we managed to do so still amazes me.

Although the course was intense and demanding, it was work that suited me, especially the editing, formatting, and book design. I got involved in most aspects of the book’s production, except for marketing (which has never been my strong suit).

My enthusiasm and work ethic impressed Harry, and the following semester he asked me to keep the student enterprise running, which was named aptly enough “Hard Pressed Press.” But by then, after many years of drought and economic downturn in California, my plans were set on moving to Seattle. (Where daily drizzle was heavenly, at least for the first ten years of my stay.)  

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


1.     Number One: That the author or artist has made the effort to follow our guidelines, which tells us that he or she respects and takes seriously our publication, and our time.

Our guidelines are detailed and freely available online. In particular, our formatting guidelines are designed to help save us time and to simplify our job of creating a quality online publication to showcase the work of our contributors. If they cannot be bothered to read and follow guidelines, then why should we spend valuable time and resources to consider their work?

2.     Our holy grail is this: We’re looking to publish literature that knocks our socks off. Ideally then, the writing should grab attention from the beginning: that is, with the title. Or at least with the first sentence, to make readers want to continue reading.

Whatever the genre, I read flash submissions all the way to the end, even if my interest wavers. However, I note how many times that happens, as well as any “bumps in the road” such as tortured syntax, or typos, or grammar mistakes that distract from the flow. If I find only a couple such red flags, and if the rest of the piece is promising, then I might suggest specific revisions to the author.

3.     As one who especially enjoys prose poems, I appreciate lyrical language, even in fiction and nonfiction pieces. Plus, I ask myself these questions: Does the work resonate for me? Does it elicit emotion? Where’s the pain? Where’s the joy? Does the last line linger in my mind?

If not, then what’s the tradeoff that makes me want to publish the piece?

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


1.     Number One: When it’s obvious the author or artist has not read our journal, either the specific formatting guidelines or the works we publish. Unfortunately, even the small payments offered for publishing rights seem to attract “scatter-shot” submissions of work that’s inappropriate for KYSO Flash. 

2.     Gratuitous use of clichés, violence, and demeaning and/or obscene language. Four-letter words are fine, when used appropriately and sparingly—however, their overuse weakens the work.

3.     Unpolished, or even sloppy work with run-on sentences, typos, grammar mistakes, awkward syntax, etc. While it’s true that KYSO Flash is an edited publication, it’s the author’s job to rewrite and revise until the piece shines.

And I’m impressed with fellow writers who are unafraid to hyphenate compound adjectives, who understand the importance of the Oxford comma, and who realize, despite Kurt Vonnegut’s disdain, that the semi-colon is actually our friend. After all, Vonnegut was referring to the use of discretionary semi-colons in order to combine, say, three brief sentences into one longer sentence that flows better. He preferred the short sentences to stand on their own. But what worked for Vonnegut’s terse style does not necessarily work for every writer.

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

CM: Typically, we’re too pressed for time to include comments when we decline work.

However, if we’re interested in publishing a piece, but believe that it needs more polishing or that it’s close-but-not-quite-there for whatever reason, then I will personally email the author to offer feedback and specific suggestions for revisions.

Of course, the author is free to decline our suggestions—and choosing not to revise is a legitimate option! Even so, I would appreciate the professional courtesy of a reply within a few days, so that we can close our Submittable file on that piece and move on to the next one. Ignoring my email is rude and leads me to conclude that the person is immature and unprofessional. Which means I’m likely to decline any future submissions from that author.

My motto: If at all possible, burn no bridges! Even through neglect. After all, it takes less than a minute to write a simple note of acknowledgment: “Dear Clare, Thank you for your time and suggestions, but I’ll pass. Best regards, J. Doe”

And yes, it’s important to address an editor by name, especially when they’ve taken the time to write to an author personally. And especially if they’ve shown the author the courtesy and respect of addressing him or her by name. After all, editors are people, too, and often they’re hardworking writers. I imagine very few people want to be treated as a nameless, faceless object floating in cyberspace.

SQF: Is there a particular genre or theme that you’d like to see more submissions of, or conversely, that you see too often?


1.     We would like to see lots of spiritual flash pieces such as Brian Doyle’s “Joyous Voladoras” and Dana Tierney’s “Coveting Luke’s Faith,” both of which appear in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2005.

(Doyle’s piece is also available online in The American Scholar:

And I would love to see more submissions from women writers and artists!

Unfortunately, women generally tend to take rejection of their work so personally that after the first time, some may never submit another piece anywhere. As a woman writer myself, I can understand this to a degree. But as an editor, I realize that rejections are not personal.

There could be a whole range of reasons that the work was declined. Maybe it wasn’t that particular editor’s cup of tea—and, no matter how strongly an editor professes to be objective, it simply ain’t so! An editor’s opinion is subjective and often idiosyncratic. Or maybe the declined piece wasn’t right for that particular publication on that particular day. Ask the same editor a week later, and he or she might see things differently, depending on the time of day and how rested and hydrated he or she feels.

I like to use this shopping analogy to reframe “rejection”: Let’s say I’m bored with a pair of my jeans and want a different style. I may visit several stores and try on 20 pairs before finding just the right one to suit me. But that says nothing about the quality and merit of the other jeans that I “rejected.” In fact, those I decided not to buy could be of better quality, but they were simply not for me. Maybe the fabric wasn’t soft enough. Or maybe the thread color of the seams didn’t match my favorite blouse. Or maybe they just didn’t fit me right that day. Whatever my reasons, wouldn’t it be strange if the clothing companies took my decisions personally and never tried to sell another pair of jeans?

2.     Please, no more previously published works being passed off as original.

If a piece has appeared in a small magazine of limited circulation, on an author’s website, in a blog, on social media such as Facebook, or at sites such as Fictionaut, then from legal and ethical viewpoints, first publishing rights are no longer available.

And although we do personally solicit selected works for republishing, we do not offer payment for reprint rights.

By the way, we research publication history of original pieces before sending payment. This is because we discovered that a few writers had committed fraud by signing our contract, attesting that their work had never been published. I find this both distressing and interesting: that the introduction of even a small amount of money into the publishing equation—thirty dollars for the shortest pieces—can induce some people to commit petty theft!

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

CM: “How do you respond to writers who say they don’t have time to read the works of other writers?”

If these are the same writers who make time each evening to veg out in front of a huge-screen TV for hours, watching games and mindlessly munching popcorn, then I say their priorities are skewed. Even accomplished writers take time to read the works of other writers. And they didn’t become accomplished writers by lounging in front of a TV!

To use a sports analogy: In addition to regular physical and mental work-outs and practicing their moves on the court or on the field, professional athletes also watch how their teammates as well as their opponents play the game, in part to analyze their own performances and to see how they can improve. And, in concert with advice from their coaches, to develop strategies to help their team win consistently.

Of course, the same principle applies to individual athletes. And to individual writers, especially early to mid-career. Beyond having your own master author at your beck and call to critique your manuscripts and to coach you along, the best way to learn what works in writing and what doesn’t, is to read and analyze the writings of others. Voraciously, in fact! And widely. Figure out their strategies and which tools in the writer’s toolkit they used to create particular effects.

Even experienced writers would be wise to keep up with what their peers are doing—if only to ensure they’re not producing essentially the same story an editor has read 27 versions of this week alone.

Thanks so much to Jim Harrington for asking these questions! As requested, I’ve provided answers “in excruciating detail.” :-) I do hope that folks will find my answers informative and useful. And we look forward to reading your submissions to KYSO Flash.

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

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