Slush Surfing: Crying Hard

Crying baby

Yes, you CAN overdo it.

As authors, we’re always trying to make an emotional connection to our readers. You could argue that emotion is the real driving force of any story. Plot may get your characters from A to B, but emotion is what makes us care.

But you can’t be too heavy-handed. People are smart. They know when someone is trying to play on their emotions.

Most of the stories I voted down had that kind of problem. One story was about a husband dealing with his wife’s death. The father’s grief was written in such grueling, meticulous, painstaking detail that after the third paragraph I was rolling my eyes and skimming the page (This may seem hard-hearted, but remember these are fictional characters we’re talking about).

You can direct emotions the wrong way, too, which ruins a story just as much. One “motherhood” story had the main character actually treating each of her child’s milestones as if they were funerals! She even used the words “death” and “die” at several points, to emphasize the loss of her child-that-was. I would never think of Avi’s milestones that way, and it offended me that the author would even say something like that! I didn’t even need to think about rejecting that one.

Approach the reader’s heart properly, and you can tell him anything. Case in point: one submission’s plot revolved around a middle school girl coming home every day with multiple stab wounds. Brutal and graphic, I know. But the emotion was handled so artfully that it won over most of the staff.

Even though I read a lot of stories that didn’t make it off the runway of emotional connection (and some that took a dive straight into the ocean), I’m not condemning their efforts. I’m trying to find that same balance in my own writing, and I know exactly how hard that is.

The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to dial it back.


Slush Surfing: The Winnowing Part 1

Huzzah! The next part of my slush reading adventures is here! For those of you who missed it, please check out the first post in the series.

[and the story continues…]

I felt a tad bit nervous when Suzanne (my EIC at FFO) sent us all an email that began with “Winnowing is coming! Winnowing is coming!” I have no idea if that line was lifted from GRRM, but it sounded just as ominous (to me, anyway). But hey, this is what I signed up for. If you don’t want to sky dive, don’t get on the plane.

The Elimination Round

I don’t know how it works in other online fiction houses, but at FFO we’re divided into multiple “slush teams” (not as icky as it sounds). The slush gets divvied up and distributed among these groups—and believe me, there is more than enough to go around. Pretty soon, my Submishmash desktop was flooded with stories for me to review. I have to admit I almost panicked at the sight. Being the new guy, my team leader Suzanne offered a one-time pass if I couldn’t finish (which was nice of her), but I didn’t want to have to let it get to that point.

One thing that helped was the fact that I didn’t have to finish every story. I did have to read them all, of course, but if a story wasn’t good enough to hold my interest, then chances are it wouldn’t hold our readers’ interest either. Stories like that would get an automatic “no” vote. Anything above that would be rated “maybe”, and I was under strict instructions to reserve my “yes” vote for stories that I absolutely, truly loved. Stories for which I would be willing to go up against my fellow readers in a gladitorial (or editorial (hah! sorry)) fight to the death. Pointy weapons optional. Stories that got more than one positive vote (“maybe” is positive in this context) would move on to the next round for more in-depth discussion and review.

The First Vote

Right, that’s the rules out of the way. I was pretty pumped up at this point, so I dove into the pile, wondering if the first story on my list would also be my first “yes” vote.


It wasn’t.

It wasn’t even a maybe.

In fact, I was left scratching my head as to whether it was a story at all. I read it again. I checked FFO’s submission guidelines, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. The guidelines were very clear: we accepted stories from every genre. STORIES.

But the dude (or dudette, I don’t know—it was a blind submission) had sent me an essay. It wasn’t a very good essay either. It could’ve been a story in essay form—I’ve read stories like those—but they always had recognizable plot elements. This was just… weird. Like he (or she) had tried submitting it in class but then, after the teacher graded it with a big fat F, sent it to us because we had a better chance of “getting it”.

Well I didn’t.

First vote: No

[to be continued]

Please note that all opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect those of Flash Fiction Online or those of its staff (except me).

Slush Surfing: In the Beginning

Flash Fiction Online.

So a couple of weeks ago I applied (and was accepted) for a spot on Flash Fiction Online’s editorial staff as a part-time slush reader. If you know what slush is you’re probably slapping your forehead and going “are you f***ing nuts?” Those of you who don’t will need to read these handy links to help you appreciate what kind of hole I just jumped into.

For those who don’t know what flash fiction is, here’s a good backgrounder, along with some great examples. But if you’re too lazy to click through (and you call yourselves Internet users? For shame!), flash fiction is basically a literature format that is less than 1000 words in length. Imagine the literary equivalent of a sushi roll. Plot, character, and theme all compressed into one bite.

Suzanne, my friendly and oh-so-accommodating editor-in-chief at FFO, has given me permission to blog about it. I’ll be posting my reactions to the whole experience, but I won’t be posting the stories themselves, or info on their authors (which I don’t have access to anyway, because we only do blind reading). Privacy, people.


My first surprise came in the form of a website, submishmash, which we use as an online portal to read, rate, and recommend stories. Writers also use it to manage their submissions to FFO. I just started on it, so long-time users might be jaded, but I find that it’s a pretty effective tool for sifting through slush and distributing them to their assigned readers. It definitely saves time and hassle over, say, working off individual Word docs (just the thought of this makes me want to crawl under a desk and hide). It also lets the editorial team work remotely, which is a huge thing nowadays.  

My second surprise came in the form of the slush itself–which, unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for my next update to read.

Trust me. It deserves a post of its own.