What We Are Looking For: Fiction, Lumina XIII

Fiction Editor Kevin Zambrano on what makes for a great fiction submission.

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This is a difficult question to address. I want to be both as helpful and as honest as possible, but these options might be mutually exclusive.

I think something helpful would be a list of my favorite writers. Prospective contributors could know that I like so-and-so, and think, “Well, I kind of sound like so-and-so,” and they would send a story along, and I may very well like it. But I want to emphasize that I’m looking for original stories, not stories that are like other stories, and I don’t want to discourage anyone who may not like my taste.

So I’ll be honest—I don’t know what I’m looking for. Any attempts to describe an ideal submission would at best be merely inadequate; at worst it could make prospective contributors feel pigeonholed. Suffice to say I’ll know the stories when I see them. I realize that’s not too helpful, sorry.

And this may only be slightly helpful, but here’s some general stuff to keep in mind: I want your best work, I want strong and original voices, I want characters who might jump off the page and walk around, I want your story to surprise or frighten or amuse or sadden or enrapture me (or all of these things—or none of these things, but something better), I want emotional complexity and intellectual rigor and aesthetic brilliance, I want to be jealous that I didn’t write your sentences.

Allow me to underscore that last bit, because it’s the most important: I want to be jealous that I didn’t write your sentences. When we read fiction submissions for the upcoming issue, the only hard and fast standard we will have is that the story is strong on a sentence-to-sentence level. I will not be interested unless the language has received the writer’s most careful attention. This is the most concrete bit of direction I can give.

Please know that I’m extremely open-minded when it comes to stories. I want to feel something, but I don’t really care what specifically I feel. In fact, as long as the sentences are good, a story can be straightforward or complicated, realistic or a fantasy, extremely short or right up to our word-count limit. And a good sentence can be twisting and clause-filled, or a simple declaration. The world is big enough for all kinds of writing, and I would like LUMINA to be, too. Unfortunately we are bound to a finite length, so we can only take stories with the sentences we like best.

What I suggest is that before you head over to Submittable, you take one last, long look at your piece, and make that look the harshest one you ever given. Examine each sentence individually and ask yourself: Is every single word necessary? Is the language really 100% free of clichés and easy observations? Could you possibly make it any better, even in the smallest way? Does you sound like no one else but you?

And before you do that, read this—an essay by Gary Lutz from The Believer: “The Sentence is a Lonely Place.”

I’m looking forward to reading your stories. I hope they fill me with envy.

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