Saturday, September 09, 2006
So you wanna be published in The Atlantic Monthly?
My interpretation of the C. Michael Curtis panel during Writers Conference at the Decatur Book Festival.
Facts: 12,000 subs/year. 3000-6000 words preferred (unless story is phenomenal. This year there were two that were longer, so only six pieces were published). He does send about 5-6 personalized rejections/day (!) and there are forms that “seem” personalized, but aren’t.
What he says he looks for:
A story with moral weight, interesting time/place, situation.
Evocative, distinctive language – something that will resonate, as though a “real person” is telling it.
Whole narrative – fully developed characters, plot and resolution.
A story that yields or strikes “true” in some way.
Watch grammar, punctuation, mechanics – all the basics. (I loved telling my students that!)
Grammar should only be “misused” if in context with development, character “thought” process, etc.
Take care with adjectives and adverbs – TRUST simple nouns and verbs, ie, find the right one!
Use fragments cautiously, as well as ellipses, blech on 2nd person unless astounding and well-done, and ease off the present tense unless the story really calls for it.
a) In regards to the elimination of the Atlantic Monthly carrying monthly fiction:
Short fiction isn’t dying, but the typical MFA style seems to be “more work than typical readers want,” Mr. Curtis said at the beginning of his talk. On the plus side for many writers, this year’s issue of Atlantic Monthly featured two (or three, I took poor notes) stories by authors who had never had major publication before.
b) Slush is good; but ‘tis better to have something even more meaningful behind you (I read into this). Although they read and accept from the slush pile, Mr. Curtis referred several times to the likelihood of getting a second glance if you have previously published with one of the established quarterlies or if you’ve attended a high profile workshop (BreadLoaf, Sewanee – both he mentioned- Iowa Summer, Tin House, I’m adding). And yes, the MFA will still garner you a bat of the eye as well. I will be applying next year for workshops; I had already decided this, but his confirmation of my inclination has cemented the idea.
Personally, I found Mr. Curtis to be a lot as I would have expected. He seems earnest and sincere in finding and cultivating new talent if he sees it, serious about his role as editor, and a very introspective man. He’s of that age/era when magazines and fiction were in their heydays, and I’d love to hear about that history and evolution, his story.
I bought “Faith Stories: Short Fiction on the Varieties and Vagaries of Faith,” a collection he edited, Mariner Books imprint. It contains shorts by authors including Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Elizabeth Cox. She was there and signed the book, as did Mr. Curtis. (I still wish I'd had enough money for Three Fallen Women, but I wanted the sig! God, what a geek).
Overall, yeah, chances are slim of getting in the Atlantic Monthly. But. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t even consider myself a writer, if I didn’t think there’s enough talent in me to do so, if I should so decide it’s on my “must have” list.
I never underestimate luck either.
Girl and Boy Studying (first pic)