Each quarter we ask experienced writers from the flash community and beyond to join our staff as first readers. They read alongside our submissions editors. For issue 72 we were fortunate to work with Daniel Wiles, Fabián Buelvas, Tina Tocca, Chantelle Chiwetalu, Gillian O’Shaughnessy, Tang Fei, and A W Earl. Here are a few of their closing comments:
“I hadn’t read for a journal since I edited Inkwell during my grad school days at Manhattanville College, so it was refreshing to recall how different editors can see a piece in such distinct ways. I think it’s normal as writers to assume our work is either “good” or “bad,” all dependent on acceptance. Not true. Reading for SmokeLong reaffirmed for me that people of varying tastes and opinions can see stories very differently, yet validly, and that writers shouldn’t feel discouraged if their story is turned down by someone like me, another writer. There are many perspectives involved when it comes to choosing even one story.
If I could give any advice to contributors (again, I’m just another writer), it would be to make sure your story has punch. Not a surprise or shock, but something that makes the story hard to let go, hard to stop thinking about. I got really wrapped up in stories I sensed were important for the writer to write, ones that made me feel something deep down. Those were the stories that got yeses from me and that I can still see in my head. They were stories that made me think, “I wish I’d written that.”
“I have learnt so much reading for SmokeLong it’s hard to know where to start. Selfishly I would say, it’s far easier to improve your own writing by looking at someone else’s work, then applying the same observations to your own stuff. So this has been an invaluable experience. I was struck by the care given to submissions. If you don’t get a quick response, it really does mean your work is being considered. That said, I was surprised how many contributors clearly weren’t familiar with the journal, or had not read the submission guidelines. These basics are so important. Plus, a lot of submissions had good bones but needed more work. I’d strongly advise asking another pair of experienced eyes to look at your piece before you submit, or even paying for an editorial service if you can manage it.
There were only two stories I absolutely loved. Both transcended the realm of writing, in that they were bigger than the words on the page, so utterly believable you forget you’re reading, you’re lifted outside of yourself into another world that feels fully realized even though you are given only a fragment through the genre of flash. They are the stories and characters you can’t stop thinking about. It has taught me what I have always known as a reader, but am learning as a writer, to pay attention to those otherworldly out-of-body moments, chase them beyond anything else. It taught me to look at my work and ask if the reader could step past the glimpse on offer, would they bump into nothing or be immersed into more? That’s the difficult thing though, isn’t it? Good writing isn’t enough, you need to weave some kind of spell. ”
“Thank you for the opportunity. It was very interesting, I read excellent stories.”
“Loved it! I read amazing stories, cliche stories, good stories, okay stories, stories that made me pause, my mouth open, stories I didn’t want to end, stories whose end I knew from the beginning.”
“When submitting to SmokeLong Quarterly, think of the beauty of language, spontaneity, a break from convention. Imagine that narration is a palpable, corporeal thing. You can turn it upside down, inside out. You can roll it like a die, crumple it like paper, stretch it like dough. If you do it well enough, you’re in! I’m really excited for issue 72! ”
“As a reader in residence, I encountered loads of stories that could have been amazing, but fell down on very simple matters of structure, focus, or language. So my main advice would be – always give it another once over before submitting. Make sure your intention is clear and your stylistic decisions are deliberate, and your flash fiction is a focused and lean as you can make it.”