Friday, January 11, 2019

Six Questions for Tiffany Key, Editor, Mercurial Stories

Mercurial Stories publishes flash fiction to 500 words (though sometimes that word count is doubled for a two-week issue). A prompt is posted on Monday. Stories are due on Thursday. The next issue is published on Saturday. “The concept was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s advice to fledgling writers: write a short story every week. Mathematically, he reasoned, it is nearly impossible to write 52 terrible stories.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Tiffany Key: I started Mercurial Stories to give writers a regular, structured challenge so they could get out of their own way. Too often, creatives procrastinate with their work, usually because they are perfectionists or afraid of failure. When the work becomes too precious in our minds, we neglect to do the gritty toil of writing, which is actually where the story shines through. Responding to a prompt quickly and tersely undermines the fear that our creative well is finite. The more you write, the better you become at your craft. It is that simple.

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

TK: Our submission requirements are a little different from most magazines. As the editor, I check if the story responded to the prompt. This is the most important aspect because it means that the story was written specifically for that week’s prompt. I reject stories where it is obvious that they just recycled an existing story but tossed in the prompt’s word or phrase. 

Word count is our second screening measure. I always make the word count very clear when posting the prompt. It is usually 500, though on occasion will be doubled if the prompt spans two weeks. I have been flexible with this aspect BUT the stories are usually not as good. See, the magic of flash fiction is that restriction of 500 words. You don’t get to that number by simply writing until the counter reads 499 words. What you do is write a story, realize that you are way over the allotted amount, then begin to trim away the excess. Editing is just as important as writing (especially in flash fiction) but the trick is not to let the editor-self know that.

Time is the third point. If you miss the deadline, you will not be included in that week’s issue. Having a deadline is another crucial part of the challenge. Many people find themselves unable to write without a deadline, especially if they are free from typical time restraints such as work or caring for loved ones. And if you miss the deadline, you can simply try again next week with a new story.

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

TK: Mercurial Stories accepts any story that meets the requirements regardless of how I feel about a story. That being said, I do don a more traditional editor’s cap when it comes to the print edition. I am currently selecting stories for our quarterly publication, which will come out next month. This volume is carefully curated and will feature stories that I believe work well beyond the context of the weekly prompt. Stories that will be excluded are those that I don’t want to read a second time, honestly.

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

TK: I have subscriptions to The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and London Review of Books. I read LitHub and Catapult, McSweeney’s and Oxford American. I listen to podcasts, mainly interview shows with writers and artists as guests such as First Draft, Monocle 24, and Library Talks.

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

TK: Again, we don’t discriminate at Mercurial Stories. Really, the requirements work as a filter for the slush pile. My main requirement is that it is a story and with only 500 words at your disposal, you would be hard pressed (ahem) to include gratuitous violence or sex. Frankly, I would be rather impressed with the writer who manages to meet our requirements and include some random gore or erotica, just for kicks. Might make for an interesting read.

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

TK: This seems a bit cheeky, asking your interviewee to ask and answer their own question. To be a good sport, though, I suppose I would ask about the forecast for the magazine. And in turn, let me answer: Mercurial Stories is really just getting started. With the print volume in the works and our podcast featuring stories read by selected writers along with interviews, Mercurial Stories is expanding in all directions. We will continue to provide writers with growth opportunities while giving readers an interesting collection of stories every week.

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

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