Today we are putting Carve’s associate editor, Suzanne Barnecut, under the microscope to examine her structure and composition. But as we are experiencing some difficulty coaxing her onto the slide, please enjoy reading in the meantime her answers to a few questions we asked her last month.
According to your bio, you wear a lot of hats: freelancer, mother, fiction writer, Carve’s associate editor. What’s your secret to managing all of these at once?
I’m still figuring things out, one day at a time. The main thing is that I stay busy. Motherhood has forced me to be more disciplined than I’ve ever been before. I do most of my work for Carve in the evenings and over the weekends, when my daughter’s asleep. Admittedly, I don’t write fiction as often as I’d like, but I basically know that I have a certain number of hours per week, and I prioritize from there, knowing that my overall progress is going to be of the slow and steady variety.
How did you get started as a reader for Carve? What led to your promotion to associate editor?
I applied for an extern position because I was looking for something creative to do part-time while I was home with my daughter. The externship involved a lot of research, and the work came in stops and starts, so in the meantime I started reading and leaving feedback on the stories that reached the Editor’s Desk. My promotion to associate editor came as a happy surprise. I’d read for literary magazines in the past and had always wanted to work for one in an editorial capacity, so I was thrilled when the opportunity arose to roll into a permanent staff position.
What do you think is the place of the literary magazine in the age of Flappy Bird, Tumblr, and Buzzfeed?
I’ll admit, I had to look up Flappy Bird. Since becoming a full-time working mom, my time on the Internet has been drastically reduced! But I think the literary magazine has as much a place today as it ever has. Which is to say that my expectations are modest, yet optimistic, with regard to expanding readership. Lit mags have always had their core audience, but I’ve never understood why the short story isn’t more popular. It’s my favorite form. A story requires as much attention and engagement as a novel, but less commitment. You can read an entire short story before bed and feel like you’ve accomplished something.
It’s our time and attention that lit mags have to compete for, but ultimately a quiz on Buzzfeed can’t challenge or inform you the same way a story can. You’re probably looking at Tumblr at work or on your phone while you’re waiting in line somewhere. A lit mag is something you sit down to read when you have a little more time. Actually, one of the things I most appreciate about Carve is the accessibility. You can read the stories online for free. But there’s more content in the print magazine, and it’s this beautiful thing you can hold in your hands or read on your iPad.
How do you know when a story belongs in Carve? Is there is a list of criteria the editors employ, or is it more of an intuitive “we know it when we see it” decision?
Writers and editors talk a lot about craft, and craft can refer to many things. When a story is great, it’s working on so many levels: layering of conflict, pacing, voice, dialogue that propels the story forward, imagery and metaphor, and so on. These aspects of craft are easy to identify when they’re there, but good writing alone is not enough. We read so many stories. The few we publish are the ones that resonate so much that we can’t stop thinking about them, and we’re willing to build a case for them. It’s an incredibly subjective, nearly alchemical process because, when we fall in love with a story, we’re sometimes willing to overlook flaws or work with the author on craft.
How do you feel about Thought Catalog?
Sites like Thought Catalog or Medium, which enable anyone to publish on the web, encourage writing and offer a platform for people to share their thoughts with the world. I think that’s great. I’d like to think the world becomes a more tolerant place, incrementally, the more we can tell each other our stories. Back in the day, you might have created a zine and left it at a coffee shop. Either way, your readership is maybe limited and unknown. It’s important to remember that the Internet has a memory; these sites encourage bravery, and I like that. Things find their way. Also, writers need samples and clips to get the next gig.
What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?
Hmm, I’m stumped. Specific writing advice from someone you trust can be useful. General writing maxims serve a more inspirational purpose. We’re all looking to hear something that’ll turn on a light. At the end of the day, writing is hard work, and you just have to do it. There’s no way to jump from draft two to draft ten except to write all the drafts in between. There’s no magic formula, so if anyone tells you there is, that’s bad advice. In writing workshops, there’s always going to be someone who says, after every story, that there needs to be more physical description of the character. Don’t take that kind of prescriptive advice blindly—every story has different needs.