Friday, February 8, 2019

Six Questions for C. P. Dunphey, Editor-in-Chief, Hinnom Magazine

Hinnom Magazine publishes fiction, poetry, and artwork primarily in the weird fiction and cosmic horror genre. Horror, science fiction, and fantasy are also welcomed, as long as they include the realms of weird and cosmic. “We seek authors who have a unique voice, interesting writing styles, and unparalleled storytelling talents.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

C. P. Dunphey: Back in 2016, I started branching out my reading catalog, and in the process stumbled upon a collection titled The Nameless Dark by T. E. Grau. From start to finish, I was utterly enraptured with each tale, and the part that bugged me the most was how little I’d heard of this author. I’d read short stories before, primarily the works of Weird Fiction authors like H. P. Lovecraft, Robert W. Chambers, and Robert E. Howard. Before The Nameless Dark, I’d primarily focused on novels, and more so in the field of Science Fiction than Horror. With this collection, it was like discovering a new world. When I finished reading it, I told myself, “I want to publish works like this.” Not just for the sake of putting good stories into print, but because I wanted to help authors like Grau find readers, to help them reach wider audiences, and to achieve more success. So many “indie” authors are so damn talented, yet it seems very few have read them. With Hinnom Magazine, my goal was to help authors, and remains to help authors to this day. The only reason it exists is as a platform for emerging writers to find readers, and I like to think we’ve succeeded in that during the first two years of its life.

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

CP: If I had to break it down, I suppose it would be the following:

  • Originality – This goes above everything else. I think that too many authors try to emulate or copy styles/ideas/concepts from other writers. It’s why Hinnom Magazine has never published stories that resemble anything that’s been published before. As we say in the guidelines, we don’t want stories about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc., unless it is an original take. Now, what do we mean by original? Well, if it’s something you’ve never read or heard of before, it’s very likely to be original. We understand the difficulties and pressure this presents, but it is also a test for the writers themselves. In a world of remakes and sequels/prequels, it’s a breath of fresh air to read a story unlike any other. I think you’ll see that we have several chapbooks and novelettes forthcoming that will be unlike anything you’ve ever read, and each issue of the magazine (I like to think) remains true to this as well. So, to simplify, if you’ve read anything before that is similar to what you’re writing now, it’s likely not going to make the cut.
  • Editing – Yes, publications have editors. But if your story has errors in the first sentence, first paragraph, first page, etc., it shows us that you don’t take this seriously. If you don’t take it seriously, why should we? Writers need to understand that it is your job to convince us to invest in you. We are paying you for your stories, not the other way around. With these mechanics, a certain level of professionalism is expected. If we find glaring errors that could be eliminated with a single read through, that is grounds for automatic rejection, no matter how well thought-out or original your story is.
  • Passion – It might sound silly, but I have an astute eye for stories that were written without passion. I know authors like Stephen King can write several thousand words every day, but this doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, it’s incredibly rare. There is nothing worse than seeing a piece of fiction that likely took days or weeks to complete and being able to tell that the author’s heart wasn’t into the story. It’s small things that many might overlook, but to me they have always been obvious. It can be compared to a great artist or band releasing an album that feels lazy. The saddest aspect of this phenomena is that often you can see the genius in between the lines. Certain parts of the story where the writing is of the highest quality, before it falls flat. My advice to writers regarding this is to let the story write itself. If you have to force your passion, the work will suffer. 

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

CP: There are two primary things that turn me off: 

The first being a lack of originality. Despite our blatant guidelines, I can’t tell you how many stories we’ve had that fit exactly in the columns of what we don’t want. Usually stories that resemble the Twilight series, that are so far from being anything that we’ve ever published, or ever will publish for that matter, that it is practically a waste of both the author’s time and the editor’s. Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror are fantastic genres due to the fact that they defy genres. There is no definitive system of characteristics or traits that define Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror. Rather, they are defined by being impossible to define. When you throw in a story of a vampire in the Victorian era that falls in love, well, that can be defined incredibly easily. The most original stories are the ones that go against conventionalism.

The second is always going to be editing. I have received stories before that had blatant errors in the first sentence. As someone overwhelmed on a constant basis with a plethora of projects, this grates my nerves beyond anything else. It shows that the writer didn’t even do a single read through of their piece before submitting, and it is in a way disrespectful. It’s the literary equivalent of being late to your first day at work, or not showing up for an interview. If you ever want to succeed in any field, you need to take it seriously. If you don’t have the common sense to proofread your own work, even once, then you will not be taken seriously by publishers or editors, and therefore, you will not succeed in this field.

SQF: What do look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

CP: A hook. The beauty of short fiction is that it is concise, and, in my own opinion, much more difficult to perfect than long format fiction such as novels or novellas. You are confined to a small window of time to entirely tell a story, and because of that, every sentence needs to be perfect and each word needs to have a purpose.  The pacing is difficult in short fiction, and the structure of opening, conflict, climax, resolution, is all there. If a reader can hook me within the first page, or even better, the first paragraph, this is a good sign. You don’t have fifty pages to grab a reader’s attention like you do in a novel, and the basic understanding of this sense of urgency in crafting a narrative shows a writer who takes the job seriously.

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

CP: I suppose the one question would be: What should writers do more often to help their chances of acceptance?

For this, I would say to always put yourself in the shoes of the editor. This type of thinking can completely change your handling of the submission process, and I think in any business, you should be able to separate yourself and to identify the differences that are pertinent to the players involved. A writer should “know their editor,” as they say, but more than that. They should be compassionate enough to remember how difficult and thankless the job of an editor can be. We work on editing and reading submissions often more than our own full-time jobs. Because of this, it always helps when writers are understanding and do their part to quicken the process. It’s kind of like a machine, in the sense that all parts interchangeably work together. A writer should proofread, in the understanding that an editor will have a short window of time for each submission, and with deadlines, excessive editing can lead to delays. They should also edit their own stories at least once in the understanding that it will show professionalism and their seriousness toward being published and finding success in the field. A writer should be respectful and knowledgeable about the guidelines in which they are submitting, as it will not only help with their chances drastically, but it will also leave a good impression on the editor. An author should treat editors like a relationship, as with most businesses, since connections are just as important for authors as they are for editors. An author should be respectful of the editor’s decisions, as they are the ones running the publication, and more often than not, editors will be helpful to the writers for their future endeavors.

I see each author as a potential investment, but more importantly, as a potential friendship/relationship. I am also always willing to help authors in any way that I can, even if they seek advice for how to improve (which I always deeply enjoy when an author is open to advice, since this is a sign of a person who is passionate and determined). We are all in this together, and I think the more we treat each other like humans rather than means to an end, the more success we will achieve together.

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

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