New Online Lit Mag is a First Stop for Flash Fiction

Review of First Stop Fiction, Fall 2014 by Stefanie Trout


First Stop Fiction is an online literary journal publishing flash fiction that ends at the earliest possible moment. That is, there are no neat conclusions where the reader knows what happens to the characters after the story has ended. Instead, First Stop Fiction readers are left to ponder, speculate, and marinate in the last words, perhaps reading the story over again from the beginning. In the editors’ own words, “First Stop Fiction is dedicated to publishing stories that spare no opportunity to end. We like things left messy. We like resonance achieved, then left alone.” In that sense, First Stop Fiction specializes in publishing something like poetry-in-fiction’s clothing, and it does so very well.

Too well, it appears, given how much the literary journal is struggling to handle its submissions load and publication schedule. As of the time of this writing, First Stop Fiction is closed for submissions. They have been closed since September 1st and “hope” to reopen by December. Earlier this year, they closed submissions for the month of June. And in April the journal’s founder, Justis Mills, brought on a second editor, Gwen Beatty, to help manage the deluge of submissions they must be getting.

For a literary journal that only began publishing in January 2011, their success is very exciting. But there’s also something troubling about their needing to close submissions for at least a third of 2014 (after not having ever closed submissions before) when the frequency of publishing has gone down too. Their About page states, “We aim to publish a story every other Thursday. If we have lots of great stories to publish, we may do every Thursday sometimes instead. We may also sometimes miss a Thursday. Don’t worry. We’re still here.”

They need to reassure would-be readers and submitters that they are still there because in the past four months they’ve only published at a rate of one story per month. It’s disconcerting to know that while First Stop Fiction has closed submissions twice and essentially doubled their staff in the past year, the large quantity of work they are receiving must not be very good (or, at least, both good and within their guidelines) since they are publishing less frequently than ever. Or, it might just be too much for the editors to handle.

Perhaps it isn’t just reading submissions that has gotten First Stop Fiction behind, however. According to their Facebook page, they are in the process of publishing a downloadable anthology of their first two years. The last update on this was August 2013, and there’s still no anthology to be seen, but given that they’ve been posting about “an unprecedented volume of submissions” since October 2013, it seems like the anthology had to go on the backburner to allow time for the journal’s first responsibility: to read and publish new work.

Another exciting but potentially overly ambitious enterprise First Stop Fiction is attempting is a radio show called Flash Fiction Live. Information about this reading series can be found on a static page hidden at the very bottom of the website (“Flash Fiction Live Sign Ups”). There, the editors say the project is “currently in the planning stage” and the first reading will take place when they have “gathered enough pieces,” though there have not been any announcements about the venture aside from on this page, which takes some digging to find. That’s probably for the best until the journal finds a way to manage the workload they already have.

Regardless, First Stop Fiction is a high quality online lit mag. The website’s design is simple in a way that focuses the user experience on reading the work itself and rightly so because it’s good work that they’re publishing. Also, their emphasis on brevity is perfect for an online journal. Their Submit page indicates that they prefer stories less than 500 words and only accept stories less than 1,000 words. An August Facebook post states that they might “move the 500-word cap from a recommendation to a definite maximum,” which they haven’t done yet—and I hope they don’t because they’ve published some really wonderful stories that fall between the 500- and 1,000-word marks—but it’s something to keep in mind when submitting. On that note, a story they published earlier this year was only eight words long, so they’re willing to publish even the shortest of stories.

Another strong point is First Stop Fiction’s commitment to giving personal comments on every piece submitted. Of course, this is certainly a contributing factor to their closing submissions in order to respond to the work already sitting in their queue, but it’s a rare feature among literary journals and one to be admired. It speaks to the editors’ passion for their work.

In July, the editors announced on Facebook that they have paid for webhosting for three more years, so they expect to continue publishing for at least that long, which is great news. Having only been around for just under four years, they are still figuring out what works for them, and I anticipate a bright future ahead for First Stop Fiction if they can find a way to commit to a semi-regular reading and publishing cycle. Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather a journal temporarily close for submissions than take an inordinate amount of time to respond to submitters or stop providing comments on submissions or not give every submission the time and consideration it deserves, so kudos to them for making that tough decision. But it’s been more than a year since they started receiving this “unprecedented volume of submissions,” so it might be time for them to realize that they are a journal a lot of writers are interested in and having a regular six- or eight- or nine-month reading period might be a better option than a year-round reading period that is frequently and unexpectedly interrupted. Likewise, if they can’t keep up with the every other Thursday publication schedule they aim for, it might be wise to recalibrate their goals. Or, maybe it’s time for them to bring a third editor on board.

Bottom line: This is a journal you want to publish in if you write flash fiction that resonates. Sure, I’ve discussed some issues with their getting behind—and it would be great if they were better at communicating, not just on Facebook but on their website, what’s going on with their submissions and publishing schedule—but they’re still a relatively new journal, and it takes time to figure out how to balance the workload of a passion project like this with, you know, real life.

I recommend submitting when they open because it’s uncertain how long they’ll stay open for submissions. Be patient. Don’t give up. Follow First Stop Fiction on Facebook for the latest updates. Read what they’ve published already because with flash fiction there’s no excuse not to. And when you do submit, make sure not to call Justis Justin. I gather he doesn’t like that.