jimvanpelt (jimvanpelt) wrote,

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Editing Report #6: The Rush to Familiarity

Clearly many writers work on the weekend (like this should be news).  If I graph the days of the week where submissions come in, Sunday evening wins by a landslide, followed closely by Saturday, and Friday evening is a distant third.  The rest of the days are about even.

Manuscript #299 came in today.  Seven manuscripts arrived in my in box in less than an hour.  I find it interesting how many out of the country submissions I'm receiving.  England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa have made multiple appearances.

Also, I've seen most of the oddities in cover letters that other editors have spoken about: really long lists of publishing credits, invitations for me to edit the manuscript until it's good enough to accept, sad stories about parents who really want to see their child published, etc.  Not that the cover letters matter.  I read the letter when it comes in, but the story is stored in a separate folder.  When I read the story, I don't connect the cover letter with it.  It's not until I've already made my decision to send my to the author that I see the cover letter again.

This week I read an outstanding story by a woman who said in her cover letter that she'd received a Pushcart prize.  Wow!  Except her story wasn't close to being hardboiled horror.  In the rejection I mentioned how much I enjoyed the story, but that it didn't fit the guidelines.  She wrote back and apologized.  She knew it didn't fit, but she wasn't sure what to do with the piece.  Her justification was that the story was about the horror of growing up.  Okay, she was right about that.

An observation I've made before but reading slush has really driven home to me is how many rejectable stories rush to familiarity.  This starts at the sentence level where the beginning phrases take the reader to the most expected and comfortable concluding words.  Their paragraphs do that too, and, ultimately, the story falls predictably toward a denouement that fits like an old slipper (as familiar as the cliche I used to end this sentence).  This is why I think the better stories generate excitement in me before I get to the bottom of the first page.  Sentences aren't ending expectedly!  Word choices are fresh!  The connections between thoughts are intriguing!

A story that is interesting at the sentence level in the first couple of paragraphs has a much better chance of being interesting at the end than one that has no hint of freshness early.

This interest comes partly out of the narrative voice.  I don't know who it was who said it, but it always stuck with me: all that is necessary for fiction  to be interesting is an attractive narrative voice (or something like that).  A narrator with a solidly specific and individual point of view will make word choices and observations that aren't generic.  The reader will feel enveloped by a real point of view (which is, of course, also a fictional construction, but a good one).

And, before I bow out of this entry, a reminder that the deadline for the anthology is Sept. 30.  I won't open anything after that date, so if you are working on a story, keep that date in mind.
Tags: editing, publishing, writing

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