Posts Tagged ‘daikajuzine’

When we as writers are working on a story, we tend to focus intensely on only that story. We read it over and over, we post it for crit or send it to a few trusted readers, we dissect every word and phrase to make sure they say exactly what we want them to say. We seldom see it in any other context.

Editors aren’t reading that way. Most of us would like to be able to sit down with one story at a time, read it slowly two or three times, ponder what the writer was trying to say, and offer really insightful critique to make a perfect story. But the reality doesn’t happen that way. The reality is that life, family, work, and our own writing take up most of our time. We let the slush pile up, knowing every day that we should get busy. Finally we set a block of time to tackle it, and we sit down and do it.

That means we’re reading in a bunch. One story after another. Unlike many other editors, I’m not dealing with the really crappy stuff; our slush wrangler has already screened out the stupid, the incompetent, and the hapless. So I’m reading mostly pretty good stories.

One right after the other. In a bunch.

By the time I get done reading through that pile, they all start to sound this same. “Oh, dear God, not another amoral female sellsword who left her home under suspicion and…” For example. Even stories that are quite different in story and character wind up sounding like all the others. Daikaijuzine always gives personalized comments. When I go to write them, it’s extremely difficult to find something to say. Because really there’s nothing wrong with the story. If I had read it by itself in a crit group, I probably would have said it was excellent.

But one right after the other, in a bunch? It’s just like all the rest.

This, I think, is what most editors mean when they say, “It just didn’t grab me.” There’s just not enough right about it. Not enough special, not enough strong and insightful, not enough deep and moving, not enough wild and crazy, not enough warm and inspiring. I turn it over, go on to the next one, and when I try to write the rejection, I feel bad but have nothing more to say than a wordy version of, “it just didn’t grab me.”

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In addition to my own writing, I pass judgment on the writing of others as science fiction editor of a small speculative fiction e-zine called Daikaijuzine. At first I wanted to accept everything that came in, because most of it is pretty decent (we have a pre-screener who gets rid of the stuff that makes you want to poke your eyes out) and I seldom felt like I had wasted the time I spent reading. But now that I’ve been at it for a while, it’s become much more of a chore. The stories haven’t changed, and that’s the problem.

The vast majority are rather ordinary.

Quite a surprising number of the interesting ones are fatally flawed in areas such as grammar, syntax, and common sense. The vast majority of the ones that show some command of the language, some story structure, and evidence of having been through a crit cycle are, well, just plain dull. Competent, but nothing more. And it’s very difficult to find anything to say about a story like that. It’s hard to find a polite and encouraging way to say, “It’s boring.” Because there’s no one thing wrong, no single area the writer needs to work on, very little in the way of feedback I can give.

I now perfectly understand those comments I get back that say, “It didn’t work for me.” Even harder is realizing that if one of my stories came across my desk while I have the SF editor’s hat on, that story would head right back with “It didn’t work” stamped across its forehead like a brand.

Ah well. Back to work.

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