Friday, April 15, 2022

Six Questions for Brenna McPeek and Abigail Wessel, Co-Creators and Editors, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine

Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine publishes fiction and nonfiction of 1,000 to 7,000 words, flash fiction of 100 to 1,000 words, poetry, and visual art and photography. “We are an international online magazine publishing unexpected, topical writing and photography that considers the world through a cracked lens.” Read the complete guidelines here

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Brenna McPeek: The idea for Fatal Flaw originally began as a reading series, actually, back before the pandemic. Abby and I were looking to create opportunities for writers to share their work–the imperfect, oddball, write-wild-take-chances type of work. We are writers ourselves and were workshopping together at the time, really pushing each other creatively. We wanted to get more involved in the NYC writing scene and create a community that fosters creativity and experimentation in writing and art. But obviously, the pandemic hit and a reading series wasn’t really doable. So, we decided to turn it into a literary magazine. 

Abigail Wessel: Since then we’ve tried to stay as true to that mission as possible by creating new avenues for contributors to share their unique work–be that through new sections of the magazine such as poetry, photography and visual art, to hosting virtual and in person readings and showcases. It’s always been about getting different perspectives, voices, styles and language out into the world for us, and building a supportive, creative community.

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

BM: From the very first line, I look to see if the voice grabs me. I particularly love unassuming, honest, and wry narration, but really I’m just looking for a narrative voice that immediately draws me in. From there, I like to see a writer push themselves structurally, thematically, emotionally–I just love reading a piece where you can feel that the writer is really working through something. I also can’t resist a good rule break or genre-bend. I love when a writer flips the bird at convention and does something unexpected. A couple of pieces we’ve published that have done this include the essays “Special Topics in Relationships” and “Eating the Body, Consuming the Self.” Both of those pieces broke the rules of essay-writing in breathtaking ways (I think I literally gasped at one point my first time reading the latter.) Risks don't always work, but when they do, it’s thrilling.

AW: Voice, plot, language. I want something that forces me to pay attention. From a voice perspective, the piece doesn’t have to be urgent or spellbinding, but it does need to take hold in some way. Plot is important to me, and with that comes pacing. For a story to feel complete (although there are always exceptions, and I do love to be proven wrong) it usually needs to excel at both. And lastly, language. I absolutely fall in love with pieces that do something completely different, or use language as a tool to further their piece in unexpected ways. Give us a challenge–Fatal Flaw is up to it.

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

BM: I’m open to a lot of different things, but I don’t love weird just for the sake of weird. We’re big fans of absurdity and experimental writing at Fatal Flaw, but it’s important to me that the story still be grounded in something real, messy, and human. If the piece isn’t trying to do anything beyond the oddity, it usually doesn’t work for me. Also, from a more basic standpoint, I don’t like when I can tell a piece is clearly a first draft. Even if it has interesting elements, an unpolished story or essay can tarnish its intrigue.

AW: I agree with what Brenna said above. My personal pet peeve is basic grammatical or spelling errors. We make sure to take a lot of care and time with each submission, and it’s evident when that care hasn’t been spent on the other end. Especially when a piece has the potential to be great but is in its first or second draft, it’s frustrating to see a writer doing themselves and their work that disservice! 

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

BM: Like I said before, voice is huge for me. Beyond that, I love a first line that knocks me off my axis a little. It doesn’t need to be an earthquake of a first line by any means, just something that shows me the story is going to be more than just words on a page.

AW: Something that I can’t draw my eyes away from, and, more importantly, something–be it language, a character, a choice in form–that makes me think right from the start. 

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

BM: Graphic sex or violence definitely need to be warranted. We also aren’t huge on pieces that are just straight description. Even if the language and imagery is striking, we still prefer it to be grounded by plot.

AW: Sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, anything that even remotely resembles white supremacy, ableism, ageism, plagiarism. Additionally, and these aren’t hard hard sells, but we have a very strong preference for pieces that take our submission guidelines, especially around format and word count, into perspective.

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

BM: Perhaps, what’s on our wish list that we have yet to encounter? For me, that would be some socially critical or satirical literary horror. Something in the vein of Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians, Victor LaValle’s The Changeling, or Carmen Maria Machado’s story “The Husband Stitch.” Oh, and I’d also LOVE to see some comics or graphic short fiction come in. 

AW: I second all of that, especially the graphic short fiction and comics! I would also love an excellent short or flash fiction piece grounded in historical fiction or magical realism. I’d love to see some pieces come in like Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, Catherine Lacey’s Pew, or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. I’d also love some narrative nonfiction that gets deep, strange, and daring.

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

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