Friday, September 29, 2023

Six Questions for Kristen Csuti, Founder/Editor, The Lit Nerds

The Lit Nerds publishes fiction (no word count limit) with feel-good or hopeful elements and nonfiction articles on writing and pop culture. “Send us your happy endings, your good triumphing over evil, your stories where the dog doesn’t die. Romanticize everyday life until we have no idea how we never saw the magic ourselves. Make us laugh, give us hope, restore a little bit of our faith in humanity.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Kristen Csuti: I started The Lit Nerds years ago to feature articles about writing, literature, and pop culture. Over the years, as I spent more time exploring other literary magazines, I realized there was a hole in the market for short fiction that wasn’t gritty, wasn’t dark, wasn’t centered around a sad protagonist getting sadder—for fiction that cared about all the technical aspects of writing and storytelling but was also fun to read. The final straw came for me when I found a story in a respected magazine that featured a plot point involving a man making puppies into coats. I knew there must be people out there writing stories with the same attention to detail and quality prose who focused instead on hope and friendship and joy. So I decided to start publishing those, and The Lit Nerds shifted into a fiction magazine that also occasionally publishes articles on writing and pop culture.

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

KC: Technical proficiency, a compelling voice, and an interesting concept.

Pretty obviously, I initially look for whether or not a submission shows proficiency in the technical aspects of writing: does the word choice seem intentional? Is all the punctuation in the right spot? Does it show more than tell? Does the piece make sense? etc. 

Since most people who are submitting fiction have a decent grasp on writing craft, the next two things that will pull me in are a compelling voice and an interesting concept. An interesting concept doesn’t necessarily have to be a new concept, it just has to be an author’s unique take, whether that’s accomplished through a vivid world or authentic characters or some other twist. A compelling voice is harder to define. I’m looking for pieces that don’t sound like all the other pieces, whether that’s through unexpected metaphors or word choice, musical language, or just a compulsively readable narrative.

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

KC: Weak writing and bad vibes.

The best story in the world can be ruined by unintentionally repetitive sentence structure, poor grammar, confusing dialogue, an abundance of telling, too much or too little worldbuilding, etc. I want to be immersed in a story, not told that this thing happened and then this thing happened and then suddenly this other thing happened while characters stand around either overreacting or underreacting.

Bad vibes is definitely more subjective. Since The Lit Nerds is focused on feel-good and hope-filled fiction, any piece that prioritizes pain, anger, hate, sadness, death, etc. is going to be a hard sell for me. There are definitely stories that can feature bad things happening or people experiencing negative emotions that still focus on hope and strength and love, but it’s a rarity. The key for me is if a story is going to include negativity, it can’t dwell there and it can’t glorify it.

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

KC: Similar to what I look for in an overall piece, I want the opening paragraph of a submission to show me that the writer has a unique and compelling voice and a proficient grasp of the technical aspects of writing. Do the opening sentences draw me in? Do the details matter to the story? If there’s a character in the first paragraph, are their actions/thoughts believable? If there’s not a character, is there a good reason for it? Is the word choice intentional or does it feel like the piece is regurgitating what’s popular in the genre?

I also want the first few paragraphs to give me a good idea of what the piece is about. This isn’t to say that I want to be able to predict how it ends or know exactly what’s coming, but if I’m confused about the setting or characters or conflict at the end of a few paragraphs, it’s going to be a hard sell.

SQF: If The Lit Nerds had a theme song, what would it be and why?

KC: It was way too hard to only choose one, so here’s a trio of songs that encompass the vibe of The Lit Nerds and the vibe of the types of stories we’re looking for:

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

KC: What’s your stance on literary fiction vs genre fiction?

There seems to be a misconception that fiction that deals with the dark depths of humanity is somehow more important or necessarily of better quality than fiction that deals with romance or magic or joy. When reading for The Lit Nerds, I hold all stories, regardless of genre, to the same standard: is it well-written? is it interesting? 

I love stories that bend genre and can’t be neatly classified. I love stories that fit perfectly into genres and are masterfully written. I think the world needs more romantic short stories, more cozy short stories, more quirky, fun, and fantastical short stories. I think the world also needs more literary short stories that don’t dwell on the horrors of humanity but instead glorify the strength, resilience, and compassion of humanity. That’s why The Lit Nerds exists.

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

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