AND NOW IT’S MY TURN, to answer the questions I put to my fellow On Spec editors. I hope these posts are helpful and give writers a better idea of what we look for in submitted work:
1). What kinds of stories appeal to you most? Do you lean towards a particular type of story or style? When I think in terms of what stories I want to see in On Spec, I think in terms of variety. Like some of my fellow editors, I prefer strong pieces told in a straightforward style, but I’m also as likely to choose prose that is more dense, more of a challenge to read, and—in my mind, more sophisticated in presentation. This also applies to point of view. I don’t prefer one POV over another. First Person works as well for me as Third Person Limited, Second Person, or (as long as it’s done extremely well), Omniscient. For me, variety is what it’s all about. I would hate for On Spec to be seen as one thing in terms of content or style. Differences in editorial taste mean a better selection for readers.
That said, I do have preferences. I love stories that make me laugh. We don’t get enough humor (and don’t tell me humor is hard to write. Like anything, you just have to know what works). I love fantasies set in historical settings in alternative or parallel worlds. I love pieces that mix genres, my personal favorites are Steam-punk and Weird West, but anything that’s unusual or new will catch my eye. Unlike Robin, I like a little romance thrown into the mix now and then, as long as the story stays true to its speculative nature.
Give me stories that are well-seasoned with vivid description, have a high emotional content and present characters who are quirky, passionate, and imperfect but not weak. Tell me a story where your protagonist wants something badly and risks a great deal to get it, where he changes as a result of succeeding or losing, and where I'm touched by his outcome (or entertained).
2). What types of stories don't appeal to you? What are your pet peeves writing-wise? Characterization is so important. I hate weak characters—those who waffle, are acted upon without taking a stand, let cruel fate toss them around, or who bore me with unimportant detail (exposition). Think of who you'd like to chat with at a party. I don’t like Mary Sue protagonists who are sweet and good (a beginning writer’s mistake if there ever was one, but I’ve also seen the same thing done by authors who should know better). I don’t like unfeeling killers of any ilk, mostly because they’re uninteresting. Any brute can kill. If you want to have a protagonist like that, show me what makes him or her tick. Give me a reason to agree with what they do, even reluctantly. (Reluctantly might even be better).
I can’t stand redundancy. Here’s an example: ‘They looked with their faces towards the moon shining in the night sky.’ If you don’t know what’s wrong with that sentence, send me a note and I’ll enlighten you.
3). What advice would you give to a writer submitting to us? Write every day, if you can. A writer’s ability improves over time in a strange, organic way that’s hard to pinpoint. Get feedback on your work, preferably from someone who writes at a higher level than you. Don’t be afraid to experiment—try working in different styles or genres; they'll broaden you. Take risks! (Write humor!) Make all of your work vivid and emotional, and let the reader in on your protagonist’s deepest thoughts and motivations. Most important: put your work away for a time before submitting it anywhere. A month’s absence often makes the errors stand out. Great work takes time to become that way. Trust your inner editor. She's probably right about what isn't working or what more needs to be done.
4). Please list any credits you'd like mentioned (ie. book pubs, editing/publishing involvement), followed by a small bio: I've been an editor with On Spec Magazine for over twenty years (since 1991) making me a member of the ‘old guard’. I love editing for two reasons: one—it gives me a lot of pleasure to look at a story and help the writer bring it to greater strength, and two, for some reason, I seem to be really good at this. I'm not sure why. However, I do see things others might miss, including what isn’t in a story and what should be. I see what’s outside the box.
As for my credits, I’ve edited two anthologies: Divine Realms (through the Ravenstone Imprint of Turnstone Press), Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales (Edge Books). My non-fiction book, The ABC’s of How NOT to Write Speculative Fiction (The Copper Pig Writers’ Society) has seen two printings, and I am revising it a third time as I present each section in this blog. I have had my short fiction published in On Spec, Northern Frights Five, and other venues, as well as in anthologies, A Method to the Madness (Five Rivers Publishing), and The Urban Green Man (Edge Books). Currently, I am working on the first draft of my third book, The Tattooed Rose. The Tattooed Witch, the first in the trilogy (of the same name), has been nominated for an Aurora award through the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. I released the second book, The Tattooed Seer, this August. All three books have been, or will be, published through Five Rivers Publishing.