Friday, September 25, 2015

Editor Interview: Rhonda Parrish

Good morning, everyone! This is Samantha, and I'm so excited that today I get to share my interview with editor and writer extraordinaire Rhonda Parrish:

I first became acquainted with Rhonda's work when I read the anthology Fae, which she edited as the first book in her Magical Menageries series for World Weaver Press. (Just as an aside, "edited" crams tons of blood, sweat, and tears, into a demure, little word. You can read more about what an anthology editor does on her post here.) I loved Fae so much I found myself hugging my phone whilst reading. (I read on the Kindle app, so that makes more sense, right?) Then--THEN--she followed it up with two more awesome anthologies, Corvidae and Scarecrow. And now? NOW! She's accepting submissions for a fourth, Sirens. More details below.

Hi, Rhonda! Thanks for joining us today. You were the editor of Niteblade Magazine for eight years, and you’ve edited six anthologies. Obviously you love short stories! Why is that?

I love stories in any format--poems, short stories, novels, RPGs, video games, movies, television--but one of the best things about short stories is that they are short. That means I can read more of them in the same amount of time it takes me to get through a book.

I totally agree, and for even more reasons why our readers should be writing short fiction, check out Terra Luft's guest post from last week.

You’re currently accepting submissions for the upcoming Sirens anthology (which everybody should write something for, so says Samantha). What else can you say about what you’re looking for that you haven’t already?

Nothing really. I haven’t read a high enough proportion of the submissions I’ve received so far to really see what shape this anthology is taking (and thus what kind of stories I’m seeing too much or too little of). I’m hoping to be able to do an update around the beginning of October though.

We’re about halfway to the deadline of November 15. You’ve said you want an equal balance of sea and sky sirens, so are you getting that? How many submissions have you received so far? Have you started reading? Any tidbits you want to share about the slush?

So far I’ve received about 65 story submissions, and yes, I have begun reading them.

I’m excited. The overall quality of submissions seems to be quite high, which is not always the case right at the beginning where every author with a shelved story they think might possibly, almost, may be a fit for the anthology sends it your way. I’m not seeing that with this anthology, which is pretty exciting. I am seeing about twice as many sea-based sirens as sky-based sirens, but I expected that.

How do you feel about adherence to word count limits? What if I send you a story that’s exactly 7,500 words? What if I send you one that’s 7,549, but I call it 7,500? What if I send you one that’s 20,000 (but every single one is important, I swear)?

I don’t usually read cover letters before I read submissions (because I want the story to speak for itself), and the way most manuscripts are formatted the word count is way up in the right-hand corner, so I’m unlikely to notice the word count before I start reading. If I notice it while I’m reading, it’s because I’ve thought, “This story feels long… how long is it?” which is usually a symptom of a problem with pacing/tension/conflict/something within the story rather than “ZOMG, there are 49 extra words in here! Where’s my big red REJECTION stamp?!”

That being said, if you’re going to send something significantly over my word limit, email me first. I’m not an ogre, I’ll probably agree to take a look at it, but it’s about respect. If I say nothing over 7,500 words and you send me 20,000 words, I’ll be miffed because either a) you didn’t bother to read my guidelines, or b) you read them but decided that obviously they don’t apply to you. [Samantha's note: Why do writers do this? Don't let this be you.] Either one of those things, depending on my mood before I start reading, might have me reaching for my big red stamp…

Do you have any pet peeves about stories or submissions?

As you may have guessed from my answer above, people not following the submission guidelines drives me up the wall.

Niteblade used to have a ‘No Indents’ rule. It began as a practical thing to speed up formatting, but it very quickly became our BrownM&Ms Rule… sort of. In our case it wasn’t about safety, it was about who reads and follows directions because I don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t.

We turned away a lot of great stories because they were indented.

And I really wasn’t an ogre about it. It’s not like I wrote ‘no indents’ in tiny text at the bottom of the guidelines in the same colour as the background so you had to highlight it to see it. Nope. The very top of the page said, ‘NOT indented,’ and then a little further down it said, “When submitting prose, please single space your work, insert a blank line between paragraphs, and do not indent them.” AND there was a .jpgexample of what we meant. And yet…

To be clear, Sirens stories don’t have to be formatted in any special way. My point is just read and follow the guidelines. LOL.

Yep. Do it. It's hard work being a writer. Give yourself as many advantages as possible--and that one is easy.

As writers, we always want to know about the magic an editor brews to pull stories out of the slush. Once submissions close and you’ve made a first pass, about how many stories do you usually have on your shortlist before you start paring down?

I don’t think there is a ‘usual’ number. The shortlist has fewer stories than the total number of submissions and more than the final table of contents. That sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but I’m really not.

Fae had 191 submissions in total; 39 of them made it on the short list and 17 onto the table of contents. I recently edited an anthology using my pen name, and every story on the shortlist made it onto the table of contents. You just never know.

Can you tell us more about the step between shortlisting and deciding on your table of contents? Besides lots of coffee, wine, and/or painkillers, how do you decide what goes in and what goes out?

None of the stories on my shortlist are bad, which makes this stage the most difficult stage in regard to decision-making. It’s easy to pick between a strong story and a less-strong story. It’s a different thing entirely to pick between two strong pieces. Unfortunately I have to.

Once I re-read my shortlist, there are usually a handful of stories that I love so much they are guaranteed a spot. After I’ve established those, it becomes a matter of figuring out what else to keep. What goes with them? How do I get the most diversity, the most variety?

If I have two stories about a polka-dotted panda bear saving the world from evil using the power of dance, I can only keep one. In that case the stories go head-to-head, but usually by this point I’m trying to figure out which stories work best together.

For WWP anthologies once I have my short-short list done, I pass it up to my publisher, Eileen Wiedbrauk. She reads the stories and sends me her notes. They are short things (“It’s good but that ending…” or “I LOVE this one.”) but definitely help me with the final decisions.

Agents and publishers talk about an author’s behavior on social media as a decision-making factor in working with them. Do you consider that for anthologies?

I haven’t yet, though anything is possible.

I mean, I’ve accepted work by people I don’t like or wouldn’t want to hang out with, because the work was good*. BUT it’s different when you’re putting together an anthology because that person is just one of 17 or one of 26 or whatever rather than being THE ONE as in the case of a novel.

And… after giving this question a lot of thought… once you get down to the short-shortlist, if I’m deciding between two stories and the author of one is an ass on social media… well, that might be enough to tip the balance in the other direction.

You just never know, really, so we should all follow Wheaton’s Law. I mean, just in general, not only because you don’t want to alienate editors, agents, or publishers.

*For the next week my inbox is going to be full of “Do you mean me?” emails, so let me just say, if you have my email address the answer is probably no. :-p

Once you’ve decided on your table of contents and the author has been signed onto the project, you send back a list of substantive edits. How much say does the author have in which updates to accept and reject? Have you ever worked on a story where you and the author had to walk away because you couldn’t agree?

Authors always get the final say in which updates to accept and reject. Always. I do ask everyone I work with to look at my suggestions with an open mind, and often there’s a bit of back and forth which goes on between drafts, but it’s not adversarial or dictatorial, it’s a conversation.

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I can only remember two times when the author and I couldn’t find a middle ground. One of those times was because the author really, really didn’t want to change a single word, and the other time was because the author and I had totally different visions for the story. Thankfully in both cases, the break was amicable, and I would happily work with either of those authors again.

You’ve said that you have to pitch each individual idea for Magical Menageries and I wouldn’t want to spoiler any announcements, but I’m terribly curious: Are you able to share any future anthology ideas? Are there any for this series that you pitched and had rejected?

I’ve been very lucky with the Magical Menageries in that so far each idea I’ve pitched has been accepted, but I’ve gathered plenty of rejection letters for other anthologies (with several publishers). It happens.

As for what’s coming next… I have some ideas, but nothing I’m ready to share yet. I will say I’m at the short shortlist stage, but I haven’t pitched anything to follow Sirens yet, and, really, I don’t want to jinx myself. LOL.

That's all right... if a bit mysterious. *eyebrow wiggle* How many more Magical Menageries anthologies will there be? Are you working on anything outside that series right now?

Yes. So many things.

I assume you mean specifically in regard to editing and anthologies? I’m in the midst of line edits on the third of my AlphabetAnthologies (C is for Chimera). I’ve also got a couple collaborative anthology projects looking for a home. I can’t talk about them much just yet, but they are pretty exciting.

I’ve also got an idea for a trilogy of anthologies I’d like to develop and find a home for--and I will, just as soon as I find where I left my time turner. ;)

As for how many more Magical Menageries anthologies there will be… that’s tough to say. I have lots of ideas (as I mentioned), and I enjoy working with World Weaver Press, but right now we don’t have anything planned beyond Sirens.

What are your long-term plans now that Niteblade is closing?

I intend to continue editing anthologies and such, but mostly I’m looking forward to having more time to write. LOL. Isn’t that what we all say?

Yep. "What would you if you had a million dol--" "WRITE." "OK, then..."

That’s all the questions we have for you. Thank you very much for your time!

Thank you very much for inviting me and for this interview. I appreciate it. J

Rhonda Parrish is driven by a desire to do All The Things. She was the publisher and editor-in-chief of Niteblade Magazine for eight years (which is like forever in internet time) and is the editor of several anthologies including, most recently, Scarecrow and B is for Broken.

In addition, Rhonda is a writer whose work has been in publications such as Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast, Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012 & 2015), and Mythic Delirium.

Her website, updated weekly, is at, and you can find her on: 
Check out all the details about submitting to her Sirens anthology here:

That's it! Don't forget next Friday is Operation Awesome's second flash fiction contest. I've been considering the feedback after the last one, and I'll have some details about minor changes in quick post on Sunday. Stay tuned for that!

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