Friday, August 19, 2022

Six Questions for Cormack Baldwin, Editor, Archive of the Odd

Archive of the Odd publishes fiction of 500-8,000 words, nonfiction of 500-1,500 words, and art.  “[A]ll submissions must relate to the current theme and also be found-fiction.” Issues are themed around the horror genre. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Cormack Baldwin: I'm a big fan of found-fiction, so naturally it's a decent portion of what I write. And what I found while submitting is that it's really hard to place, at least compared to traditional prose. It's generally regarded as "quirky", and the things I love most about it, like the tendency to eschew singular narrators, drawn out action sequences, and linear time made it a turn-off for many editors. I remember going through the archives of places I wanted to submit to see if they'd ever even accepted any.

Archive of the Odd is meant to celebrate these narratives, while asking the question, "What is a story?"

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


1. Worldbuilding. We often refer to it as micro-worldbuilding, as we're usually only getting a tiny peek at the world we're reading about. It's less about rigorous detail and more about feeling like a complete world.

2. Characterization. This is an odd one, because we publish things that frequently don't even have characters. Who's the main character of a WikiHow article? But for things like texts, forums, anything where characters interact, we want to know who's speaking instantly, just by the way they talk. It helps readers relate, and it's easier to keep track of who's who.

3. Truth to form. Do emails feel like emails, or prose shoehorned into an email format? Does the small town newspaper read like a smalltown newspaper? Every form has its own character.

A good example for all of these, actually, would by Andy Tytler's “The Comments Section” in Issue 1. As the title suggests, the story is in the form of a comments section on an advice column. And it has that inexplicable draw of reading YouTube comments when you really, really know you shouldn't. There's random arguments. No one's sure who's on whose side. Someone keeps correcting grammar. And it seems like a bunch of non-sequiturs at first, but as you read, the story develops naturally. You get a glimpse into the fear, anger, and humanity of a dystopian world that comes out not in exposition, but in how each person experiences it. You connect with characters whose names are obscured by complicated screen names. It feels like seeing people respond to real world news, and hits all the harder for that.

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

CB: We like humor, and we like horror, but generally things done for shock value are turn-offs. I think part of that is that neither of the editors are easy to shock, given that we both have at least some medical background, and we re-read, so anything that can't hold up to at least two reads isn't going to work. This also means that twist endings have to be developed well, because pieces will be read three, four times. Twists for the sake of twists often lose their impact. 

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

CB: Throwing us right into deep water. The great thing about found-fiction is that it doesn't feel the need to explain itself- if you're filling out a form for a library card, for instance, does it explain what a library is? What your town, state, country is? Some good examples would be Rhonda Eikamp's “The Year's Best Blood Diseases” (read here), which doesn't stop to explain biohacking blood performance art, it just launches into why the bloggers like these ones best. That's not to say you're out of the loop, as a good piece will make clear what is going on, just not through exposition.

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

CB: The good news is there aren't hard sells when it comes to genre, as long as it’s speculative. Hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, urban fantasy, high fantasy, every form of horror, we want it all. And we don't mind sexual content (except, again, for shock value). We have in our guidelines that we don't publish pure pornography (no plot, no characterization, just sex), but given the form I don't know how big of an issue that would be, anyways. If you can find a way to write found-fiction erotica, be my guest. I want to see how you do it.

One hard sell is pure humor. We don't put that in our guidelines because we love humorous, light-hearted pieces and we don't want people to self-reject. But if the entire point of the story is to make us laugh, it has to be really, really good. In our first issue, we have two pieces, “The Securities and Exchange Commission v. The Undying Sea”, and “Welcome” that are definitely on the spectrum of horror-humor, but they also have engaging stories and characters. (Plus, they manage to make us laugh on every re-read, so, all around wins.)

An odder hard sell is epistolary stories, like diaries and letters—strange, given that two of the longest pieces in the first issue, “Goblin Universe” and “Skipping”, are epistolary. Obviously, we're not going to outright reject them! But it will be more difficult to get one in. Part of this is that they're just so common, and we try not to have multiple stories of the same format. Also, when making final decisions, one thing we consider is "how likely is this to be placed elsewhere". Epistolary has a decent shot with most publishers. A collection of road signs? Maybe not so much. So, if we like both equally, we'll tend toward the road signage.

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

CB: Since we're so niche, I'm going to ask (and answer) "Do you have any advice for writing found-fiction specifically?" because outside of #3, the things we look for are pretty common across spec fic.

The first thing to remember with found-fiction is that you aren't bound to many of the rules of prose. You don't need characters (again, WikiHow) or even necessarily plot—stories can go somewhere and be great reads without having a character create action. Sometimes it's just about the wonder of peering into a different world.

One of the most common things we say when deciding whether to reject a piece is "It's not sure what it wants to be yet." Usually that means something like "there are characters, but they're not strong, and they're not relevant to what the focus seems to be", or "there's exposition that makes us think it's worldbuilding, but then it swerves and there's this miniature plot in said world that feels tacked on".

With that in mind, if you're sitting down to write a piece, ask yourself what exactly you want to get across and focus on that. Don't complicate things because you feel like a story has to have this, that, or the other thing to be good. Is this a worldbuilding piece with evocative prose? Focus on making a beautiful, interesting world. Is this a character-driven plot? Focus on your characters and moving the story along. We don't need exposition. You want a dread-soaked horror story? Bring the dread!

We’re not bound by the same restrictions or expectations as other magazines. We want every permutation, from rich prose to sharp humor to complex story and world. If you make sure your work shines, we’ll see it. Thank you!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment