(Yes, I was supposed to post this last Tuesday. Stop living in the past.)
So, after running out of space on Submittable last week (the second time since taking over in April; which, to me, is impressive), I had some downtime to sift through the slush pile, review things in my “Maybe” pile, and, in general, ruminate on what I was being given.
First, let me go over, quickly, how I go through submissions:
A. I review submissions only on the weekends (Saturday and Sunday); all other time is devoted to writing and my personal life (family, teaching, Satanic worship–the usual). Meaning, Person A may submit on Monday morning, and Person B may submit on Friday evening, but I’ll be seeing both submissions at the same time on Saturday afternoon. (I only mention this because it’s been commented on a few times on social media.)
B. Reviewing submissions means this: I read the first bit of text visible on the page (if the submitter follows Standard Manuscript Format, anyway; if you put a cover page on your short story submission or get real fancy with your text size, fuckin’ stop it–you’re just annoying slush readers and editors, i.e. the people you want to like your work). 90% of my rejections don’t get beyond this stage. Why?
- Most often, the story started slow (I don’t care about weather, clothes, or his thoughts from that morning; I’m also tired of stories that start with people waking up).
- Less often but common, the writer creates a decent to killer “Hook line”–the opening line that’s supposed to grab the reader by the metaphorical balls–but has no idea how to follow through on it; the writer immediately backtracks, or info-dumps, or some damn thing. There IS merit in hook-line theory, but only if the writer knows how to keep the pace going; essentially, EVERY line has to be a hook line.
- Less-less often, obvious wish-fulfillment: what? I’m seeing a story, by an unknown writer, where the protagonist is not only devastatingly successful–at writing!–but a Rico Suave Man-of-Action? Gee, that’s not fucking obvious AT ALL. Stephen King kinda spoiled it for us schmoes with books like MISERY or BAG OF BONES; even if we have a workable idea involving writers, we’re always going to be treated with some form of suspicion. The horrible thing is, often that suspicion is warranted.
- Least often (thank Christ), painfully easy typos, or immediately-obvious and thinly-veiled revenge fiction. Revenge is a common trope, particularly in darker fiction, but it’s easy as hell to spot the writer taking after a parent, boss, or ex.
C. If a story does get clear this hurdle, I review the cover letter to see if it’s a reprint–LampLight allows reprints, but it has to be THE BEST STORY I’VE SEEN THAT DAY to merit pushing aside an original–mark it “maybe” on Submittable–this is when it changes to “In Progress” for you submitters–and download it. I very rarely read on-screen; I download and print everything. Yes, it makes me painfully 20th Century. No, I don’t care.
D. I review the stories. If I like them, the file gets moved to a flash drive. If not, they’re the first rejected the following week.
So, what have I seen in the past two months?
A lot lost-in-the-woods stories. A lot of westerns. A lot of fantasy–not urban fantasy or magic realism (I like those a lot, hint-hint)–but dragons and wizards. During my tenure, you might want to hold onto those. I rarely like them. I like fantasy and westerns and naturalistic stories, but they’re apparently hard to pull off when I’m the editor.
I’ve seen a lot of almost-made-it type stories; stories that have a very workable idea but get bogged down by lack of clarity or info-dumps or the writer focusing on one detail that means dick to the story–essentially the writer focuses on one tree instead of the forest. These are the most tragic to me; if I’m doing my own thing, I often give a very detailed personal note of why it didn’t work and to send me something else. If I’m working under another’s system, I’ll stick to the form reject, but with a P.S. to send something else.
So…what do I want to see?
For this gig, there are two types of stories I like–types I bought before, and types that more fit LampLight.
The types I’ve bought before are, for lack of a better term, weird. Weird structures, weird premises, but all held together by taut writing and a clear narrative flow. Examples in stuff I’ve bought: Damien Angelica Walters’s “Floating Girls: A Documentary”, which I bought for Jamais Vu Issue 3 (the final issue)…a story that, incidentally, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in 2014. Lacking that, Kelly Link is an excellent example of the weird I like. (Other good writers include Tim Waggoner, who’s published in Black Static, among others).
Now, LampLight specific…their guidelines state an admiration for The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and, for that, I want stories I can imagine seeing in black-and-white on a drive-in screen. Not necessarily monster flicks–although those are always good–but if stuff similar in style of Matheson, Finney, and Ellison (Harlan, that is). Examples include Nick Mamatas’s “Burning Stones” in Volume 3, Issue 1 (September 2014) or Mercedes Yardley’s “A Love Not Meant to Outlast the Butterflies” in Issue 2 (December 2014). In my own edited work, Gary Braunbeck’s “Photo Captions” in Jamais Vu, Issue 1.
Overall, though, the stories have to have heart. I want the reader to ache for the characters, either in vain or not. Sticking with Issue 1 of JV, Cameron Suey’s “Shiva” and Sandra Odell’s “The Hydra Wife” are aching stories of love, loss, and possible redemption–even without the speculative edges. Damien’s “Floating Girls” is just achingly beautiful.
So, there you have it. I’m probably missing things, as I am wont to do, but that leaves me open to see things I wasn’t expecting.
My deadline is July 15th, the cut-off for the September 2015 issue (the month of my birthday, by the by).
Make it good.