"It is a Joy to Fall Into a Powerfully Rendered Story." A Chat With April Bradley of Bartleby Snopes
There is nothing like a good story artfully rendered. So it was a great pleasure to talk with fiction enthusiast April Bradley, Senior Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes, about what constitutes great fiction, and how Bartleby Snopes has created not just an impressive fiction showcase, but a vibrant fiction writing and reading community.
Interview by Susan Lemere
April, I understand you came to Bartleby Snopes as Assistant Editor a year and a half ago, and are now Senior Assistant Editor. What initially attracted you to Bartleby Snopes, and what has your experience with the magazine been like so far?
I had been reading Bartleby Snopes for years and was impressed by the distinctive quality of the fiction they published. Shortly before they advertised the opening of several new volunteer assistant editor positions, I had favorably reviewed a flash novel from their press, The Louisville Problem by CS DeWildt, and this form of flash fiction intrigued me. I wanted to be a part of this exciting online literary presence that published compelling fiction for readers and influenced writers to inspire one another. I also had years of experience in academic and technical writing and editing but wanted more in-depth exposure to the creative process of producing a literary magazine, working closely with short fiction writers. So far it has been exhilarating.
You are a writer as well as an editor. How does your experience as a writer affect both your editing and your interaction with writers who submit their work to Bartleby Snopes?
It’s all about the writing, and at Bartleby Snopes we are all writer-editors. I tend to be attracted to a precise handling of language on the sentence level and appreciate expressive stories that emphasize complex characters and distinctive voice and demonstrate control over structure and pacing. It is a joy to fall into a powerfully rendered story. It is as much a privilege to read a writer’s first submission as it is to read a well-published prizewinner’s. During my time at Bartleby Snopes I’ve been astonished by work from all kinds of writers. I respect the writers who choose to trust us with their work and sympathize especially with those whose work we decline. I submitted my first short story to them, and it was rejected with excellent feedback that helped me to revise and publish elsewhere. The letter was carefully kind and encouraging. I end up agonizing over composing rejection letters in an effort to repay that experience.
We admire fierce prose.
Bartleby Snopes has an astonishingly fast response time to submissions, and also manages to publish two new stories online per week. I can only imagine the amount of work it takes behind the scenes to make this happen. How does your team pull it off?
A core group of volunteer editors read and evaluate submissions daily, and when submissions become especially numerous, some alumni editors drop in to help. We also invite two guest editors to read for our annual Dialogue Only Contest. Everyone who reads and evaluates a submission provides commentary that contributes to a discussion. Our discussion tone is respectful, serious, and playful. At this time we do not take any hiatus periods. We want quality fiction that grabs us and doesn't let go, and we also want to provide writers with the opportunity to publish their best fiction without having to wait on a prolonged response time, so we offer tight turn-around with a feedback option. Most writers take advantage of this option. Ours is a fast-paced, highly focused, intensive kind of reading, and we want to make sure every submission receives generous attention. It’s not uncommon for a submission to receive a second or third reading from several editors. Each of us brings diverse educational, professional, writing, editing, and publication backgrounds to the review process. Our Managing Editor, Nathaniel Tower, established the feedback option to provide writers some insight into why we decline a submission and sometimes some advice, but we try to avoid a workshop tone. Our comments focus on providing useful feedback for the writers.
Every literary magazine has its own unique flavor. What qualities does your team look for in a fiction submission?
What we look for is simple but uncompromising: we look for stories under 3,000 words that are original and compelling. We want stories with remarkable characters that leave us wanting more and remain with us after we have left the page. The concept of story is essential, and we expect a dramatic narrative with fluid pacing and momentum. We seldom publish vignettes and generally turn away character sketches, anecdotes, or narratives that do not include developed characters, dramatic tension, and a story arc. We admire fierce prose. Nathaniel Tower established Bartleby Snopes with the guiding principle that after we read a story we should think, “I wish I had written this.”
In a landscape of many and varied literary magazines, what do you think gives Bartleby Snopes an edge?
Bartleby Snopes continues to explore new forms of significant fiction across genre, form, and style. We thrive in a community of vibrant online literary magazines and small presses. It’s a thrilling time to publish fiction. This year we began to pay winners of our Story Of The Month competition, and we nominate for several prizes. We are delighted that two of our authors were selected to appear in Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best Small Fictions 2015 Anthology. We are always looking for the next great story.
Susan M. Lemere obtained her MFA in Creative Writing from the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College. In her ongoing attempts to squeeze more reading and writing into her day-to-day life as therapist and single mom, she admits to sometimes living vicariously through the dynamic editors she interviews for Review Review.