Sunday 17 August 2014

Going over to the dark side

Something Hidden
This is Bridge House’s latest anthology and came out just before Christmas last year.  It is a collection made up of entries to our 2011 short story competition. We asked for darker stories and we sure got them. Each one of them leaves you feeling slightly uncomfortable. This poses two questions. Why do we read? Do we always expect a good outcome?
Common answers to the first question include “for escapism” and “to feel better about yourself”. And maybe reading about something darker makes our own lives seem lighter? Or justifies us in being cynical and asserting that good does not always overcome evil? Certainly all stories had to be dark and pretty well all of the ones entered for the competition were. We selected these particular ones for their good writing and engaging narratives. They all have strong voices.

2014 Anthology
For this we wanted 24 stories between 1000 and 5000 words. They had to be stories that make you think. They could be “feel-good” or darker. The majority of writers have picked the darker side.
The book is released in November 2014 and the idea is that the reader reads one a day during Advent. This was the pattern for our very first anthology Making Changes and it seemed to work well. Not that the stories have to be in anyway religious, though they can be.
We’ve come a little unstuck on this as one writer has withdrawn their story and we’re still trying to decide what to do – slot in one of the ones that almost made it or put in one of our own? Or just leave it at 23?  We’re still pondering.

Reasons for rejection are not always dark
In effect we lost that one story because both we and the writer refused to budge over a significant aspect of house-style. In this case, it was over the use of speech marks.  For our Bridge House anthologies and Red Telephone novels we use double speech marks. In another imprint we both work on we use single ones.
This writer wanted no speech marks.
The text in this case worked without them but worked better with them, we felt. We could quite see that a lack of speech marks in a complete collection or in a full length novel by this author would be fine.
In some stories in our anthologies we use different fonts and formatting to display an email, a text message, a letter or some instant messaging. We’ve even used quirky fonts and formatting to show quirkiness in the content.
The story we’ve lost had an interesting voice, partly evoked by the lack of speech marks. However, it would have looked strange amongst the other stories. The voice could have been retained even if speech marks were added.
Here the artistic reason for the lack of convention, in our view, didn’t come across strongly enough. The writer thought otherwise.
We’ve agreed to part but we’d gladly look at other material by this writer.
Recently, I too have had a story rejected. “I enjoyed reading it,” said the editor. “It just doesn’t fit this collection.”
I can hand on heart say that this is the main reason for rejection. Only very occasionally do we see dire writing. A little more often we see works that just do not fit the brief – the writer hasn’t read the call to submissions closely enough. Often we have, say, thirty stories that are fine but we only need twenty.  So we take the ones that need the least editing, that have the strongest voices and the most firmly structured stories. Sometimes several stories may be very similar so we’ll just take the best of the crop. It all remains competitive.
Therefore, rejection or even impossibility of editorial compromise, should never be taken personally.                                                    

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