Friday, September 6, 2019

Six Questions for Tevis Shkodra, Editor-in-Chief, Raconteur Magazine

Raconteur Magazine publishes fiction and non-fiction under 2,000 words. “Our main priority is that the story is engaging and memorable. We aren't averse to many subject matters, but anything intentionally offensive or distasteful is unlikely to be accepted. Additionally, work intended for children is not suited to our readership.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Tevis Shkodra: We’ve seen a resurgence in the short story in recent years, a promising notion. In reply, a flurry of different magazines have started, each with their own messages, tones, and purposes. Raconteur's goal is simple: to provide a further platform for aspiring authors to showcase their work--an outlet to promote encouragement and discussion among readers. We wanted thought-provoking fiction that straddles the literary and the commercial, that makes us feel, but also think. In addition to that, we wanted artwork. We wanted a beautiful magazine, simple and elegant in its style.

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

TS: This is an interesting question. I think the top things I personally look out for is a good hook, a compelling reason to keep reading, and of course I am always on the lookout for well-developed characters. I'll dive deeper into the first two points on the hook and the stakes in the question regarding the first paragraph, because that's where both those components should appear. I'll take this section though, to talk a little about character development. Regardless of whether your story is plot-driven or character-driven, you must have strong characters with fundamental morals and opinions and judgements about the world around them. Think: what does this character want and why? What will happen if this character does not get this and what are the consequences of that. Strong characters, when done right, also help with exposition. Often, in the submissions we receive, I see stories fall into two sections. The first have weak characters who are supported by lines and lines of backstory thrown at the reader who, at this point, is not emotionally invested enough to keep reading through that. As a result, the character can feel wooden and stiff, and a reader doesn't really care one way or the other what happens to them. The second section of stories have the character fully fleshed out, but do NOT give them all away to the reader at once. They sprinkle in small details here and there and slowly expose more and more of the backstory, letting readers piece together the reasoning behind their actions. These stories, the ones always leaving the reader wanting more, are often the ones that are selected.

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

TS: When writers do not follow submission guidelines. Plain and simple. When I was writing stories and submitting them to magazines, an editor friend of mine claimed about 50% of submissions were thrown out on submission guidelines not being followed. I thought that stat was ludicrous. Only when I began receiving submissions of my own for Raconteur did I understand. Want to improve your chances of getting accepted into a magazine? Take an extra 5-10 minutes to read the submission guidelines and format your work into an accepted format (usually William Shunn format). Think of it this way -- most magazines want work in a certain format. You've spent entire days if not weeks working on this story, what's an extra 5 minutes to ensure it at least gets read?

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraphs of a submission?

TS: Okay. So here let's talk a little about a good hook and compelling stakes. At every point in your story you must ask yourself why a reader would keep on reading? What is the promise that was made in the opening paragraphs, or the payoff that a reader will receive at the completion of your story. Without a compelling conflict, without tension, there is no story. Take the Hitchcock example. I'm going to paraphrase it here. There are two men at a table talking about baseball. After 5 minutes a bomb goes off. There is a big explosion which induces there is fear and shock in the reader. It's something unexpected. Now imagine the same scenario, with some tweaks. The narrator shows you there is a bomb strapped underneath the table where two men are talking about baseball. You know this bomb will explode after 5 minutes, yet the main characters (who don't know this) are still sitting, talking about baseball. In your mind as the reader, the second scenario makes for a better story. Why? Well, the shock of the explosion happening is the same. However, in the second scenario you have tension. You know something the characters don't. In the back of your mind you're yelling to the characters through the pages to run, to get away, and this effect that stories have on readers is what will set it aside from the rest. Stakes and tension should always be in the back of your mind when writing, in order for your story to be the most compelling it can possibly be.

SQF: If Raconteur had a theme song, what would it be and why?

TS: Not sure as to a specific track. I'm picturing something classic rock at heart, with a modern spin to it.

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

TS: A question with regard to reading. In order to accurately answer how a potential story can get picked up by a magazine, one must think about what makes that story compelling enough, or emotional enough, or tense enough to break through and leave an impression on its reader. The reader must feel a connection with the piece at their very core. This comes with practice, of course, but also with technique. Let me try (and probably fail) an analogy. Imagine you are cooking a savory dish. The ingredients are the tools at your disposal (plot devices, characters, setting, stakes, tension, conflict archetypes etc.). Since, in this analogy, a perfect cookbook does not exist, you are left with trial and error. You can practice for years at mixing the same ingredients in a multitude of different ways in hopes of making your dish the best it can possibly be. Now imagine you can see and taste the finished meal of someone who has also cooked the same dish. You can recognize all the ingredients in the meal, and you even think you can see what order they're composed in. Think how much easier you can cook your own dish (and improve upon it) if you've seen it being done before. That's what reading is. It is one of the secrets to successful writing, for it is what points the writer in the right direction, what shows them where they should be looking.

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

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