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Editor Interview: Orca: A Literary Journal

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Engaging literary stories

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: The Buenos Aires Review, Territory, The Atlantic, Shenandoah, Triple Canopy, Belle Ombre, Saint Katherine Review, The Kenyon Review.

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: (Some of) the authors we love (in no particular order):
Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Ted Chiang, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Hempel, Nathan Hill, Kazuo Ishiguro, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Rebecca Makkai, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan Toni Morrison, Celeste Ng, Joyce Carol Oates, Breece D'J Pancake, Jose Saramago, Zadie Smith, Tobias Wolff...

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: We are a literary journal and we believe in the literary style of writing. We champion language that is erudite, beautiful, and thought-provoking and stories that are engaging and rich in their depth. We are NOT interested in polemics or stories that tell a reader how he/she/they should think. Instead, we appreciate work that is high concept, imaginative, thoughtful, even speculative, and open to possibilities. The world is shades of gray and our written word should reflect that.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: Ask yourself three questions before you submit:
1) Have I truly proofread my work? (You'd be surprised how many submissions are rejected just based on the number of typos in the first few sentences.)
2) Does my work effectively engage the reader from the first page, or does it take 20 pages to get to the meat of the story? (We publish short stories and flash, so if your story doesn't get started until page 20, that's probably where it should start.
3) Does my work demonstrate empathy? (That sounds vague, but any true writer should know what we mean by that. We will never publish something that is clearly written without an audience in mind. Nor would we give a chance to a story that isn't sure what it wants to say or even how it feels about its characters.)
*Bonus: Unless your piece is a work of staggering genius, please do not send us stories about funerals, mid-life crises, or bourgeoisie relationship drama. You wouldn't be the first, or even the 1,000th writer to send us that plot, so please try to be original.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: An ideal submission should grab us from the very first page. It should include at least a few instances where we have to stop and re-read a sentence, not for clarity, but out of sheer appreciation for the skill and craft of the language.
The perfect piece would feature diverse characters, blend genres, connect seemingly disparate ideas, and entertain us while it makes us think. It would be something that feels wholly original, and regardless of length, it should justify every word on its pages. For a great example of our ideal Flash and Short Story, please check out our first issue (available in print or PDF) and read “Scientifically Mapping a Missed Attraction,” "One Man Away," and “Daughter of Cups.”

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: We say on our home page that we publish "literary fiction" so it is always a surprise to see the number of submissions that have no literary merit. Not to mention the many genre fiction and creative non-fiction entries we receive. We aren’t terribly picky, but it is always disheartening to encounter an author who has wasted his/her/their time and ours.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: We love cover letters! However, a cover letter isn't going to elevate your work in our eyes. We judge each work without consideration of the author's identity or publishing history. A well-worded cover letter will serve as a nice companion piece to the work we like, and probably solicit a warmer response to the works we decline. A bad cover letter (one that is arrogant, insulting, narcissistic, or clueless) will not change how we view your work, but we will judge you.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: Every submission is approached with an open mind and a hope for its publishing success. That said, our decision is often made (subconsciously) within the first three pages. Rarely does a work that starts off poorly ever redeem itself. Those that engage us from the start have a much better chance of acceptance.
We endeavor to have at least two of our readers or editors read every piece, although the quantity of submissions sometimes precludes that.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: The staff convenes online at the end of the reading period and discusses the stories that have received the most positive response. Every reader's and editor’s judgment is valued.

Q: How much do you edit an accepted piece prior to publication?

A: Ideally, the editing of a published piece will be minimal. We respect the author's vision and would be hard-pressed to make any major changes to a work. Occasionally we will read a piece that really impresses us, but could be made better with a few revisions (trimming, more consistent POV, a few major tweaks to sentences). In those rare cases, we work directly with the author to make the changes and always insure the writer's complete agreement.
Note: We do not Americanize spellings and grammar native to other English-speaking countries, but leave them in their original form in order to fully convey the voices of our authors.

Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: The Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Prize Stories, Best Small Fictions, New Stories from the South (when applicable), and any other short story or flash awards we may become aware of.