An Exclusive Interview with Bonnie Mauck
This month we are pleased to welcome Bonnie Mauck, Executive Editor of Amoré Magazine, a publication dedicated to the romantic short story. Please settle back and enjoy Bonnie's delightful sense of humor and literary expertise.
Ms. Mauck, your new publication, "Amoré," has caused a flurry of excitement in the romance genre. What prompted you to create a magazine of short stories for our popular market?
I don't know about causing "a flurry of excitement", but the response has been greater than I ever expected. The decision to create Amoré came at a time in my writing life when I felt I'd exhausted the market for my work. I use short stories primarily to jump-start the creative batteries when they start to run down. I give myself a few key words that must be in the story, the basic premise, a word limit and deadline, then let my imagination run wild. I had so many shorties lying around and no place to send them, I decided to change direction. I'd found that many magazines, such as the incomparable Romantic Times, Cosmo, and others, had a lack of available space beyond news, reviews and interviews. I felt there were many other writers like myself swimming upstream, fighting against the same seemingly overpowering current. So I thought there might be a niche for a publication dedicated to the romantic short story and those who create them.
Have you always aspired to be an Editor? Were you a writer first?
I never in my wildest dreams aspired to be an Editor. I imagined an editor to be that faceless and unfeeling entity who holds an unpublished writer's fate in her cold and busy hands. It's amazing how walking in the other person's shoes can alter that opinion. I'm discovering how hard it is to use the word 'rejection' when you're talking about the result of someone's blood, sweat and tears. It has given me a whole new slant on our industry. I've been telling stories in one form or another for as long as I can remember. Then when my three children came along and Mother Goose didn't work any longer, I would entertain them with tall tales of my own. Their favorites were the rather warped "Adventures of the Tooth Fairy." Now my daughter is repeating those same tales to my grandchildren, adding her own imaginative touches along the way. But it wasn't until I retired from nearly twenty years as an Over-The-Road truck driver that I finally found the time to sit down and do some serious writing. Now with Amoré coming along, my writing time has been curtailed again to a degree. But I don't mind in the least. It is a labor of love.
What are you looking for in a submission beyond the guidelines found on your web site? What is that special spark that will interest you in buying a story?
Like any other editor, I'm looking for that unique slant on an otherwise not-so-unique idea. Like an unusual twist or phrasing. That special voice that the writer put into his or her work. It's like buying a car. You may not know what you're looking for when you step on to the lot, but when you spot that one perfect vehicle, you just know, "This is the one!" A fine example came in the form of a submission we received a few weeks ago. I hadn't read past the first three paragraphs, and I knew I had to have it. It's just that simple.
Do you find short stories to be more intimate than the full-length novel? If so, how?
I don't know about more intimate, but certainly more difficult, I believe. With a full-length novel, the writer has upwards of 300 pages to tell the story. It takes a lot of skill and imagination to create the same degree of passion, conflict and resolution one finds in a novel and still do it in less than 6,000 words.
What characteristics make up an excellent short story?
"Less is more." With a short story, one doesn't have the luxury of using several pages to get the hero and heroine together, or delve deep into their thoughts and feelings. The writer has to convey the passion is as few words as possible. A really good short story writer possesses that unique talent. This is not to say that a short story writer is better or more talented than a full-length novelist. They simply have the ability to condense it down and still get the point across.
What is the most serious flaw in rejected stories?
I consider myself fortunate in that the submissions I have received so far have been excellent examples of the best in short story fiction. I haven't had to send out that many rejection letters. But the most common flaws I've found in those I've had to turn down have been simple errors that the writer either overlooked or didn't consider bad enough to bother with. Like spelling mistakes, or over-using a passive voice instead of an active one. Amoré may not be as well known as the large publishing houses, but we still expect the same quality in the work we buy.
What is commonly left out of a story that the author believes "shortens" it, but actually weakens it?
When I was young, a local television station ran what they called "Cowboy Quickies" on Saturday afternoons. They'd take a 90-minute film and cut it down to 15 minutes of air time. All you saw was the outlaws' challenge, the cutoff at the pass, and the hero riding off into the sunset. Everything else was gone, and with it the story. Without those middle sections to bring the viewer (or in our case, the reader) into the story, the enjoyment of it is lost. If you must shorten by a few words, cut out the words. Not the heart.
How can a short story capture the immediacy, the intimacy of the moment?
A great romance story reveals its greatness, no matter how long or short it is. The Taster's Choice coffee commercials never lasted longer than 30 seconds per episode, yet they had sexual tension, passion, conflict and mystery. It can be done. And judging by the shorties I've read and selected for Amoré, it is being done very well indeed.
Which techniques can a writer use to develop a short story character quickly? Realistically?
Developing any character requires the same techniques no matter what market your aiming for. First; know your character inside and out. Know what makes him or her tick. Write their story. Write from their hearts. Then when that's finished, go back and study what you've done. Think about where you can make the cuts. Can your character convey the same passion with a look as with three or four sentences of dialogue? If so, then make it so.
Does "Amore" require romance genre qualities similar to romance novels? Such as an alpha hero? Self-reliant heroine? Happy ending?
Absolutely! We're no different from Harlequin or Avon Books. We require the same larger-than-life men and delicate-as-dynamite women as they do. And romance wouldn't be romance without a happy ending, now would it?
"Amore" has a wonderful web site. What are your plans for online activities?
I'll convey your accolades to my talented Webmaster. The site is a Netologist project, created by D. S. Warner & Associates of Santa Catalina Island, California. (Forgive the shameless plug, folks.
What short stories are your personal favorites? Why?
O'Henry, of course. Who doesn't love his work? In high school I read a piece by an author whose name I've forgotten, entitled "The Valley of the Blind" about a mountain climber lost in the Andes. I can still remember many of the phrases in that marvelous work. I have a new favorite by one of our Amoré writers called "The Elopement." We will be featuring it in our November issue. In all three of these examples, the writer's unique voice is unmistakable.
What advice would you give to writers? Editors?
Advice to writers? First; never ignore that inner need that compels you to put words to paper. Listen to your characters. As you get to know them better, they will almost write their stories for you. Second; read, read, read. Then read some more. Read works by famous authors and not-so-famous authors. Read how-to books, for example the wonderful "Goal, Motivation & Conflict" by Debra Dixon. Never stop honing your craft. Perfect the old tried and true "Butt-In-Chair" technique. One of my favorite stories is about a young man who met Ernest Hemingway and asked him how to become a great writer. The old master leaned back in his chair, stared deep into the young man's eyes, and said, "Write!" If your story is rejected, that's okay. It happens to the best of us. Go ahead and have that 15-minute cry, dig into the Godiva chocolates, and start another one.
Advice to editors? None. I'm too new at the game to tell them how to improve on what they do so well.
How about writing an ultra-short short story for us right now? 100 words. A luscious hero. An admirable heroine. So we may best know Bonnie Mauck by her writing!
You want a shortie? Now? Right this minute!? Oh, the pressure. Let me see.
"Caroline's heart stopped as she stepped from the truck. Before her stood two magnificent male bodies, a single aura of animal magnetism radiating from them. Two pairs of brown eyes challenged her for control of the moment. She gathered her composure and approached. Ever since purchasing the C-Bar-C Ranch with her Lotto winnings, she'd looked forward to this day. Now that it had finally arrived, she found herself in a battle between her lifelong dreams and her secret desires. A form of mental tunnel vision took over, fading everything else into oblivion. Only two thoughts remained. She had to possess the stallion and be possessed by the man."
Of course, she doesn't know that he helped deliver the stallion when it was foaled and hates the thought of this insolent woman stealing part of his very soul, and he doesn't know that the stallion will help her redeem her father's good name after is was destroyed by an unscrupulous corporate president. But that's too much to fit into a hundred words. Come to think of it, that's not a bad plot line. Excuse me, I feel the need to put fingers to keyboard.
You can find Bonnie at Amore` Magazine