On Stepping in as Fiction Editor and Advice to Our Submitters

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

I’m extremely lucky to be Blue Mesa Review’s new Fiction Editor. I have the good fortune of immersing myself in the worlds you’ve created through your stories. The writing world is a community of talented, tenacious artists, and that I’ve found myself in a leadership role of sorts within this pocket of the community is something I take seriously. Each story is a new mystery to solve, a unique conflict to navigate, an opportunity to learn something about people.

Our magazine receives a staggering number of fiction submissions, and for me, that’s enthralling, because every story contains the possibility of showing me something I’ve never seen. But often, stories with monster potential are still a draft or two away from publication, or simply haven’t done enough to stand apart from other submissions. So how can you make your story stand out in a submission pool this large?

For starters, the basics matter. Standing out through fresh prose or scintillating dialogue is one thing. Doing so through over-the-top cover letters is another. We don’t read them prior to reading your submissions, so you’re better off spending your energy revising your draft rather than trying to sell us on the story via the cover letter. Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced manuscripts are what I prefer, and you should take care to read and follow our submission guidelines.

When someone asks me to tell them what a story is about, I inevitably wind up describing its characters. Characterization is paramount. I’m not interested in labeling characters as “likable” or “unlikable.” I deeply admire writers who, instead, show me the varied possibilities for human behavior. Unshackle your characters. Do not keep them neatly tucked away, safe and removed from the conflict’s stakes. Let their flaws and desires drive the story’s plot. Have them take you where they want to go, not where you want them to wind up. I like being able to answer two questions when I can’t get a character out of my head: what makes them interesting and why do I care about them?

Above all, I gravitate toward stories with heart. It’s no secret that our current political climate is chaotic, haphazard, turbulent. I’m of the mind that every piece of writing is inherently political. So, to me, it makes sense that stories published today depict characters grappling with the many social dilemmas in our society as they are manifesting today. Show me these conflicts under new, fresh lights through the senses of characters with flawed, genuine humanity.

Lastly, thank you. Your writing and readership make this magazine possible. Reading your stories is a joy and I can’t thank you enough for submitting them. Your efforts make this Fiction Editor position exciting and rewarding. Best of luck with your submissions.

Ari McGuirk