The Slush Pile reader's story

Viet Dinh (no, not that Viet Dinh; not the one who helped write the Patriot Act!) got his first degree from Johns Hopkins University and his MFA from the University of Houston, his stories appear in many superb literary journals; and my favourite of his that’s available online is Lucky; a complex, layered tale about culture, love and lies. He's got a completed short story collection I (Heart) Disaster, looking for a publisher and is working on a novel (like most of us slush readers and editors!) but what really impressed me about working alongside Viet is his ability to spot a winner. He’s a great talent picker at Night Train (much better than me!) and has an unerring sense for stories that we’re going to all agree should be published. So I wanted to find out how he got into slush reading, and why he bothers ...

How did you get into being a slush pile reader/associate editor?

I started out as a reader the University of Houston's Gulf Coast and slowly clawed my way up to become fiction editor. After graduation, I saw that Night Train was recruiting Associate Editors. So I figured why the hell not?

What’s the best thing about reading slush?

Digging through the pile and finding gems.

And what’s the worst thing?

Digging through the pile.

What’s the one mistake you made, when starting out, that still haunts you?

Not mentioning "please include a 5-dollar bill with each submission" in the guidelines. Slush readers gotta eat too, you know.

Who do you most admire as a writer, and why?

I believe in the "gestalt" theory of reading and writing, so I pick up things from all the writers I read. But currently high on my admiration list is Deborah Eisenberg and Witold Gombrowicz.

What advice would you give somebody who is thinking of becoming a slush pile reader?

Wear finger protection when opening envelopes. Paper cuts are no joke!

And what advice would you give writers hoping to be published?


Professionalism counts. Send your manuscripts in 8 x 11 envelopes and make sure the copies are clean and legible. Always include an SASE, and pay attention to guidelines and reading deadlines. If you send your work electronically, make your cover letter clear and concise. And, always, send out your best work. Readers can tell from the first page, oftentimes the first paragraph, whether or not a story will make the cut.

Where will reading slush lead you; what do you gain from giving so much time to other people's writing?

Slush reading is a by-product of putting out a great literary magazine. It's unavoidable, but with friends and copious amounts of liquor and pizza, it can be quite fun. As for benefits -- there's always the possibility of being able to plagiarize a particularly good story that comes down the pipes. (Just kidding! Take off those copyright symbols from your work! That's just tacky.)

If you were abandoned on a desert island, with just one book for company, what would it be?

It would be a blank book, and I'd make an ink out of blood and urine, if I had to.