Friday, February 23, 2018

Six Questions for Josh Hrala, Editor, The Arcanist

The Arcanist publishes literary science fiction/fantasy flash fiction to 1,000 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Josh Hrala: We started The Arcanist because we love science fiction and fantasy. We also love ‘high literature,’ too. Because of this, we’ve noticed that ‘high lit’ crowds typically shun genre fiction because they think it isn’t to the same standard as lit fiction.

So, we set out to help change that by offering a new paying market for writers to submit their work. While there are many great SFF magazines and publications out there, being able to offer another place for writers to turn to, especially for shorter works, is important to us.

At the same time, flash fiction is the perfect length for people to read on the bus or when they have a spare moment, which we hope will help us expose more people to SFF who may have shied away from longer pieces.

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

JH: When a submission comes in the first thing we look at is the word count to make sure that the writer followed the rules. This also lets us get a sense of pacing too.

Secondly, we want action or - more accurately - activity. There’s no room for passive characters in flash fiction, which has to move very quickly for a story to take place. In fact, the number one reason we end up rejecting stories is that they aren’t actually stories at all because nothing happens in them. Great settings and a great concept is wonderful, but the story element has to be there for everything to come together.

Finally, I’d say a big thing we examine and debate between ourselves is how the story ends. With flash, there are a few different endings we love. The first is the ‘turn’ ending where the story takes on a new meaning when it ends, which always delights us. The next would be the ‘choice’ ending where the character takes action and we know there is a cost. This is the more traditional short story ending. Either way, the end of a flash story should make us feel something. Whether that something is laughter, terror or love, it doesn’t matter.

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

JH: Either the story is too long and over the word count or nothing actually happens in the story. I touched on this in the last question so I’ll elaborate a little more here.

Quite often we get extremely clever premises submitted where someone thought up an ultra-imaginative world or plot point that impresses us. However, many of these stories stop there at the starting line. Instead of taking us on a character-driven romp through their idea, world, etc they just explain the premise or describe the beautiful setting. Unfortunately, this doesn’t add up to a story and we have to reject them.

SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis?

JH: I try to keep a pretty wide media diet in general. I read Clarkesworld, Tor, 365 Tomorrows, and a bunch of others. I typically check in and binge read flash sites like Every Day Fiction every once in a while.

I also read a lot of longform stuff like novels, short story collections, and things like that.

My day-to-day online reading typically cycles through The Atlantic, Wired, Electric Literature, Tor, and PopSci.

In general, I’d say that I just try to stay current on everything and it’s a struggle.

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

JH: I think a lot of the time ‘sex for sex sake’ is really the editors saying: “this doesn’t progress plot, character or the overall narrative.”

With that in mind, some hard sells for us are meta stories - stories about writing stories - and gratuitous horror stories. Meta stories are typically boring because the act of writing isn’t interesting to read about and comes off more as a cathartic exercise than an actual story. Horror stories, on the other hand, tend to rely on shock value over narrative.

The funny thing is that we’ve accepted both meta stories and gory horror stories, though they are definitely a lot harder to nail down.

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

JH: I’d have to say: “how does someone know they were close to being accepted?”

While it’s not always the case, if you get a written note from an editor with their feedback, you were probably on the cusp of getting accepted. Any editor will tell you that slush piles are daunting. This means that if an editor took the time to write feedback, provide insights, and try to push you in the right direction, you were probably really close and you should try to take their advice. Editors really do want every story to reach its full potential and feedback is always meant to be helpful and encouraging.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment