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  • Writer's pictureElliot J Harper

A Brief Chat with The Molotov Cocktail

The Molotov Cocktail is a Portland, USA, based lit zine. Self-styled as a projectile for incendiary flash fiction and the purveyors of the dark and offbeat since 2010, they encourage surrealist and experimental fiction – “the kind of prose you cook up in a bathtub and handle with rubber gloves.” The online magazine is curated by Josh Goller and Associate Editor, M. Lenoir Bond. They run a quarterly themed competition inviting writers to send their strangest work.

Hello, Josh. Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions.

Who is your favourite author?

Hard to pick a favourite, especially since preferences can shift over time. But I’ve read every novel by Kurt Vonnegut and most by Philip K. Dick, so I would say that those two authors rank quite high on the list. There are times when I can’t get enough of Haruki Murakami. And I went through a pretty bleak Cormac McCarthy phase for a while there too. Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates--problematic as some of the latter’s tweets may be--would also rank highly on my list. And I’m also quite fond of Brady Udall’s work.

What is your favourite book?

Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is the kind of book I can read over and over again, and it has had the greatest impact on me. The seamless blend of science-fiction elements with hard, cold truths about humanity and its penchant for violence and war is one of the most remarkable feats in literature. Not to mention its compelling philosophy on the perception of time. It almost sounds cliché in this day and age, but George Orwell’s 1984 is another book I can return to time and again. When I’m looking for something really dark, McCarthy’s Child of God or Oates’ Zombie really do the trick. And one of the more unique and moving novels I’ve ever read is Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.

What was your inspiration for creating The Molotov Cocktail?

The idea for the lit zine came in grad school, as I was working toward my MFA in Fiction. This was back in 2010, when print journals were still king, and the internet was a different place than it is now. But more and more online journals were popping up, and I wanted to create a space that would feature dark and weird fiction, the kind I wanted to read. Whether literary or genre-oriented, artsy or pulpy, the focus of The Molotov Cocktail has always been to showcase dark and offbeat flash fiction that may not easily fit in other markets. Since I was running the site solo at first, flash fiction made the most sense as it was a manageable length, and flash seems to fit especially well online, where attention spans can be somewhat limited.

After several years of publishing flash fiction, we started hosting quarterly contests in late 2014. My then-partner and now-wife, M. Lenoir Bond, came onboard to co-judge the contests. She’s a very talented poet, and we even stepped outside of our usual flash fiction focus to run three annual poetry contests.

The quarterly contests really helped create an online community of writers with similar aesthetic tastes. When contest results are announced, it’s always a pleasure for us to see how much encouragement writers give to each other through social media. As a result, these contests, while they take a lot of work and judging them can be somewhat stressful at times, have been a source of great joy.

What is the best advice you can give someone who is planning to submit work to the zine?

Every editor and journal seems to say this, but familiarity with the type of fiction we publish is crucial. We often will receive submissions that are clearly the result of carpet-bombing as many journals as possible. While we always encourage simultaneous submissions, it’s important to ensure writers send us work that fits our aesthetic. The other bit of advice I have is also fairly rudimentary, but following the submission guidelines is important. You’d be surprised how often we receive work from writers who clearly didn’t pay much attention to the guidelines.

As for content, it’s important to hook the reader quickly in flash fiction. If it takes more than a few sentences to draw our interest when reading a submission, that’s often going to greatly hurt that piece’s chances for publication. A strong voice or vivid atmosphere are essential. And lastly, since we seek weird fiction, making sure a story doesn’t use well-worn tropes and instead presents a unique and unconventional imagery or concepts will greatly improve our interest in a story.

Thanks, Josh.

Josh and Mary provide a space for unusual, speculative fiction, all online and free to read! They encourage the surreal and the weird, which I did to great effect in 2021 when my short story, In the Garden, won the Flash Vision competition. You can check out the latest edition of The Molotov Cocktail here, as well as their annual print and digital books here.

Thank you for reading this month’s Brief Chat.


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