Magazine: City Slab http://www.cityslab.com/
Editor(s): Scott Standridge
Pay rate: Sliding scale, 1¢ to 5¢/word
Description (from the editors): We’re looking for taut, intelligent horror fiction in an urban setting. The city should be an integral part of your story if you want to publish it with us: give us a sense of place, a sense of your city’s identity.
1) What authors do you enjoy and what is it about their writing that intrigues you?
I read very widely. Lately I’ve been really into Cormac McCarthy. I like the fact that his style and voice are so distinctive. There aren’t many authors who you could take a page or even a paragraph out of any of their books at random and be able to say, “Yeah, that’s written by so-and-so,” but McCarthy is one. And such a bleak, brutal outlook too–if he didn’t write so beautifully, it’d be impossible to take.
Genre-wise I like the classics – Poe, Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood. Richard Matheson is great. I should name some more recent ones, I guess, but I honestly haven’t read a horror novel published in the last few years that I felt would really stick with me – unless you count The Road by McCarthy, or No Country for Old Men, or Blood Meridian. Man, Blood Meridian’s a great book.
Oh, wait, Max Brooks’s World War Z was great, written by someone obviously obsessive-compulsive about zombies! I recommend that one too.
2) What are your favorite genres? Which of these genres would you like to see incorporated into submissions to this market?
Well, we’re a horror market, and I like stories that have a definite supernatural edge. I’ve got nothing against a good serial killer or normal-guy-goes-insane story, but what I really like are ghosts and monsters and weird happenings. With City Slab’s focus being what it is, I see an awful lot of Jack-the-Ripper updates, rape/revenge stories, and “oh-my-god-the-narrator’s-a-serial-killer!” type things. It gets very clichéd. Bring on the spooks and monsters!
3) What settings most intrigue you? Ordinary or exotic locales? Real or fantasy? Past, present, or future?
This is an easy one. City Slab has a very specific focus: we only want stories with an urban setting. If I can quote our own guidelines: “The city should be an integral part of your story if you want to publish it with us: give us a sense of place, a sense of your city’s identity. If it’s a real city, make us feel you know it. If it’s fictional, make us feel it’s real. Show us that the story you have to tell could not have been told in another setting. There’s a certain grit and unique quality to life in the city, with a million wonders and horrors waiting around each corner. Seek them out. Find them. Show them to us.” Writers hoping to publish to us should pay close attention to this. You may have written the best rural cornfield cult story ever, but I can guarantee you it will not appear in our pages.
4) Explain the type of pacing you enjoy, e.g. slow building to fast, fast throughout, etc.
We like for our stories to start with action. If I’m two or three pages into a story and nothing has happened yet? I move on. We like stories that get you interested quickly–reach out, grab you by the collar, and pull you in. It’s hard to do that if your character’s sitting on the couch, mulling over his pathetic life. It doesn’t always have to start in media res, but something should be happening fairly early in the story.
That something should be interesting too, naturally.
5) What type of characters appeal to you the most? Any examples?
This is another thing: we see an awful lot of what I call “EC Comics” stories, in which the main character is an unrepentant bastard nobody could like and the whole story is about this terrible person getting his comeuppance. Now obviously there’s nothing wrong with that – I love Tales from the Crypt, which pretty much cemented the mold for this kind of story. But I don’t find those kinds of stories particularly scary. I’m not frightened when a bad guy gets eaten by the monster; I’m rooting for the monster. I find it much more frightening when the author gives me a reason to care about the characters he or she is about to put through hell, characters I really don’t want to see bad things happen to. I mean, I know bad things are going to happen, obviously, but I’m halfway dreading it. What I’m trying to say is, now and then I like to read horror stories about characters who I’d like to see survive the horrors they experience – whether they do in fact survive or not.
6) Horror and violence can be blatant a la Romero, or suggestive a la Hitchcock. Which one do you prefer and why?
You mention two masters there, and position them as if they’re at opposite ends of a gore scale – but I would imagine that if Hitchcock thought it would serve his storytelling goals in a given project, he’d have been just as gory as Romero. And vice versa – in something like Martin, for instance, Romero kind of goes the other way, because it’s a different kind of story. What I mean is, I think that probably for both of them the first consideration in how to use violence is how to do it in such a way that it generates the reaction they want and serves the story best.
In fiction, I think the same rule should apply. If you’re going for a reaction that you can get best by homing in on the violence and showing it in glistening close-up, do that; if you’re looking to creep under the skin and stay there with disturbing suggestion instead of out-and-out gore, do that. The important thing is that it suits the story. You’ve got to be your own toughest editor. Think about what you’re trying to do, and make sure your use of violence serves that.
As to which I prefer, I like either one, as long as it works. There are plenty of filmmakers who try to imitate both Romero and Hitchcock, and fail because they don’t understand how to tell a story like those two do. If it works, I like it.
7) In fiction and in life, what do you find most horrific?
In fiction it’s a certain bleak outlook, stories in which the characters are fighting against some malevolence – be it fate, or a monster, or shadow government groups – that in the end they can’t overcome. The idea that you can strive for something better, but in the end it’s futile, the forces against you are just too powerful. I guess that’s what scares me in real life too: having no control over your own life, not being able to protect those you love or realize your dreams – I find that horrifying.
That doesn’t mean I necessarily want to wallow in that, however. I love a good tragedy, but I also like escapism. That’s what I love about fiction: the good guys win every once in a while. 🙂
8) What are the top three things submitters to this market should avoid?
One: don’t submit anything without reading our guidelines. We lay out some very specific dos and don’ts in there, and it will become obvious very quickly if you haven’t paid attention to them. We post guidelines on the web for a reason.
Two: avoid submitting without proofreading. We’re not going to reject a great story because of one or two typos, but pervasive and distracting sloppiness in your draft will definitely turn us against you. Same for grammar – you don’t have to be Strunk and White, but you do have to know how to put a sentence together. Neatness counts. Make sure you’ve polished your manuscript before you send it our way.
Three: avoid sending us non-horror stories. You’d be surprised how many writers forget this. I sometimes get stories that are well-written, well-put-together pieces, but they’re just NOT SCARY. Police procedurals, crime stories, sci-fi, etc. You can use elements of any of those genres and others in your story, but if it’s not a horror story, it won’t work for us.
Also, never send me a story with an “It was all a dream” or “None of it really happened!” ending. You’ll be amazed how quickly I reject that mother.
9) What are your top three pet peeves as an editor?
I only get three? LOL
I’m a grumpy old grammarian at heart, so one of my big pet peeves is getting soundalikes wrong. It bugs me when people who claim they want to be writers can’t seem to learn the difference between “its” and “it’s,” “there/their/they’re,” “role/roll,” “peak/pique.” That first one especially: one means “belonging to it,” and one is a contraction of “it is.” Seriously, how hard is that to remember?
Another thing that bugs me is over-reliance on sentence fragments, especially as their own little “dramatic” paragraphs. You know, something like this:
Jimmy sat on top of the old creaky crate, trying to get his breathing under control. He had to come up with a plan, or he was dead meat. Suddenly, around the corner, something grunted.
Don’t do that. I hate it.
Finally, I’m not a big fan of inflated, Latinate language. A lot of writers, especially beginners, seem to think that complex sentence structure and polysyllabic diction equals sophistication in writing; maybe they’re trying to imitate Poe or Lovecraft or something. They forget that if Poe or Lovecraft were alive today, he’d be writing in a modern voice. Keep your word choice simple, direct, and real. I’m not saying don’t use big words, just that if you do, make sure you’re doing it because it’s the right word, not just to show off.
10) What quality are you seeking most in submissions to this market?
Truly terrifying stories with an urban setting, told in a memorable voice with original ideas and a meaningful theme. Is that too much to ask? 🙂
11) Any last advice for submitters to this market?
If your story doesn’t quite fit our guidelines, but you still believe it’d be right for us, go ahead and send it–but tell me in your cover letter why you think it will overcome our prejudices. If you’re going to break the rules, let me know you know that’s what you’re doing. I’ve said a lot about rules and guidelines here, but the fact is, if the story is good enough, the rules become flexible. If you believe in the story, send it. Just be prepared for the worst if I don’t agree with your reasoning!
And it should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Read The Magazine. Nothing will better demonstrate what we’re looking for than a look at what we’ve accepted in the past. Know the market. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time for both of us.
Courtesy of D.L. Snell, who is an Affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association, a graduate of Pacific University’s Creative Writing program, and an editor for Permuted Press. Snell’s first novel, Roses of Blood On Barbwire Vines, pits vampires against mutating zombies in a post-apocalyptic setting. For more information and to read sample chapters, visit Exit66.net. To read more scoops, go to Market Scoops