Friday, July 21, 2017

SQF revisited - Toasted Cheese

Original post date: 12/28/2009.

The mission of Toasted Cheese "is to provide a place where writers can get honest feedback on their work and honest information about issues important to writers." The site publishes flash fiction, fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?

Stephanie Lenz: I look for a strong voice. A story with characters that aren’t fully realized, dialogue that’s not quite plausible, or a setting that’s just a little off, can be redeemed when the voice works. Voice also speaks to an editor from the first word. If your fantastic character doesn’t appear until the second paragraph, you can rely on your voice to bring the reader to that paragraph. This is also true in poetry and creative non-fiction.

Read the complete, revised interview here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Six Questions for John Amen, Editor-in-Chief, The Pedestal Magazine

The Pedestal Magazine publishes poetry, flash fiction to 1,000 words, and reviews of full-length poetry collections. Issues may be themed. This is paying market. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

John Amen: I had wanted to start a lit mag for several years, but had always thought it would be a print pub, as that’s what I was familiar with at the time. However, the more I explored the burgeoning world of online publishing (this was the late 1990s), the more excited I felt about launching a pub online. The first issue of Pedestal came out in 2000.

The other thing I should mention is that a big motivator for starting a lit mag was my desire to feature and interview a few writers in particular: James Purdy, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, and Philip Levine, among others. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to publish work by and interview the latter three, as well as others, including Ai and Michael McClure. I was never able to pull together the details with Purdy, however, who may have been the writer I most wanted to interview. I’d see him all the time in Brooklyn Heights, when we both lived there, and heard him read once at The Drawing Room in Manhattan. We’d have conversations on the street and on the phone, but we never got around to the interview. I still regret that sometimes. I was glad, though, to see his Complete Short Stories get published in 2014, though I wish it had gotten a bit more attention.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

JA: This is a difficult question. We tend to read in “rounds.” The pieces that make it to the third or fourth round, let’s say, tend to be quite memorable and unique, in terms of voice, language, even theme. At that point, the “critical process” becomes very subtle. How does the poem suggest and follow through with its apparent and less apparent intentions? Are there paradoxes in this poem (unity/disunity, theme/anti-theme); if so, how are they integrated; and, in turn, how is this integration itself paradoxical? Are images vivid? Is the language musical? Each poem is like a solar system. To go with that metaphor, how are centrifugal and centripetal forces balanced? How are orbits and counter-orbits created? Etc. Some of the evaluative process is done consciously and clearly and in articulated terms; some impressions are less tangible, though we work towards concrete commentaries and explanations. The editorial discussions are key. It’s this stage of reading that is most exciting to me, esp. when several editors are involved, as there can be illuminating conversations or correspondences about the elements of a poem—craft, vision, etc. How is a certain magic achieved? It’s this level of reading, editing, and assembling an issue that is most invigorating.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

JA: This is actually not that easy to answer either. I mean, there are obvious things: use of clichés, bad rhyming, awkward line breaks, lack of proofreading. And there are those folks who don’t read the guidelines and send their just-finished novel, all 500 pages of it, rather than a few poems. Things like this. But again, on a more subtle level, the driving goal as an editor is, at least to me, to suspend one’s own preferences and proclivities and encounter a work on its own terms. This is actually a much more interesting and engaging way to read, whether reading in an “editorial” role or simply for oneself.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

JA: We receive so many subs that it’s just not possible to offer comments on each. But we do try to offer comments for those subs that make it to a certain round before being declined. So, for a small percentage of poems, yes, we do offer comments.

SQF: The first issue of The Pedestal Magazine was published in December 2000. I’m sure there have been highs and lows. What keeps you going?

JA: Yes, there certainly have been highs and lows. Quite frankly, there have been times when the whole process seemed exhausting and demanding to the point that other areas of life were being compromised. What I’ve always found helpful, though, is to return to the original mission, which was to engage with the literary arts in an open and curious way; to seek excellence in its numerous iterations; to practice a love for the art (of reading), and not be overwhelmed by the mechanics and routines of actually sustaining a pub. That has meant, at one point, that we transitioned from publishing 6 issues a year to publishing 4. I enjoy encountering diverse work from diverse writers, as do the other editors who are involved with the magazine (as do, I think/hope, most editors), as well as studying poems, discussing poems, compiling an issue, watching that process come to fruition. Love for lit, and a desire to promote a full range of aesthetics, is what keeps me going. If I ever reach a time when that’s not there, or I’m simply too overwhelmed to be able to access it, or the project just seems like it really has run its course, then it will be time to move on, which will be ok too.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

JA: I think your questions covered a great deal of ground, so I can’t think of another specific question that I’d suggest. Thanks for bringing up such fertile areas!

Thank you, John. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Six Questions for Dana Mele, Editor-in-Chief, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal

Kaaterskill Basin publishes short and flash fiction, poetry, word art, and artwork that can be considered “strange and beautiful.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Dana Mele: I was writing a lot of really weird stories about people turning into trees, seeing their dead selves in mirrors, and starting religions based on human taxidermy. At one point I noticed that not too many journals focus on strangeness as a selling point (though some do). I was a first reader for a speculative literary fiction magazine at the time, and I decided I wanted to start a journal for both art and literature that’s hard to categorize. Our second goal was to prioritize underrepresented voices in the publishing world, including marginalized writers, new writers, and students. Most of what we select isn’t quite speculative, but it walks the line. There’s almost always something just a little odd about it. Sometimes it is speculative. But there’s always a decided oddness about it, and it’s always literary.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

DM: I don’t specifically look for anything in a submission. If I read it through and am drawn in enough not to note anything at all, it’s most likely to get my vote. I would say three of the most important things for all of us are a strong voice, a beginning that commands our attention, and an ending that logically concludes the story. For some reason recently we’ve seen a flood of vignettes with no real ending. The writing may well be beautiful, but we don’t generally consider vignettes, especially when they’re submitted as short stories. Clearly I’m just focusing on fiction. I’m much less involved with the poetry.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

DM: Racism, sexism, ableism, any kind of hate speech embedded into the cover letter or story. We do not consider any of these. And again, stories that don’t really have endings. We really don’t care for erotica, but we don’t get it very often. Also: we really do not like when people don’t read the submission guidelines.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

DM: When we’re able to. Sometimes it’s just impossible. We make every effort.

SQF: If Kaaterskill Basin had a theme song, what would it be and why?

DM: Maybe the Twin Peaks theme song. KBLJ is named after a waterfall in the great northern Catskills. There’s an aesthetic similarity to Twin Peaks, and they’re both a bit eerie.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

DM: Maybe what do we wish we had more of? Submissions from women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and neurodivergent writers! And more art submissions!

Thank you, Dana. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Six Questions for Kenny B, Editor, DECASP

DECASP publishes humorous stories to 800-ish words, real fake ads, cartoons, one-liners, limericks, etc. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start DECASP

Kenny B: Humor is everywhere these days but much is just scattered around, which is okay. Sites dedicated to humor though tend to focus on political humor. MAD Magazine comes to mind. I personally, and I think others, would like a respite from that "humor with an agenda". So I created DECASP with the goal of presenting absurd humor in the vein of Monty Python, minus the politics and implied social commentary. I like the idea of comedy that appears stupid but is actually very well planned.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why? 

KB: I'm looking for absurdity, more absurdity, and a hint of smarts. I don't care if it's a fart joke, a fake ad for microwaveable shoelaces, or a story riffing on ancient Chinese history. Have fun, go nuts, be absurd. Just don't be mildly humorous. I want DECASP to be like Chris Farley - a wrecking ball of joy.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

KB: I've placed calls for submission ads in Poets & Writers. And the submissions are mostly exactly what you'd expect -  too literary. I can tell the submitter, just like with a serious literary site, didn't check out DECASP and didn't actually read the guidelines. Here's the bottom line from the submissions page: two parts Monty Python, one part Jethro Bodine, one part Parks & Rec, two parts pork shoulder (lean), BLEND, WRITE/DRAW, SUBMIT. And yet I still get mildly humorous, I guess, submissions ("the worm tickled my toe and made me giggle"). And I know though that some submitters are in fact crazy funny, but they just seem to be afraid to let go. Here's my advice to them: drink a lot of water, eat a lot of burritos, then wet your pants and fart out loud in a mall while reciting the quadratic formula (well, metaphorically speaking). When people laugh at you, fart some more and declare "Long live Algebra!" Then write about your experience and send it in.

SQF: Who are a few comics/humorists/cartoonists who really make you laugh? 

KB: I think there's the problem. I'm not really looking for humorists. I'm looking for comedians. Stephen Wright, W.C. Fields, The Oatmeal, Andy Kaufman, Rodney, Monty Python, Benny Hill, Louis CK. They're nuts. They're absurd. And they're brilliant. And every one of them makes you think at the same time. "Because of overdraft fees, my bank account is actually negative. I mean if something was free, I couldn't even afford that."

SQF: If DECASP had a theme song, what would it be and why? 

KB: A symphonic orchestra playing the Benny Hill theme song, complete with slide-whistle and timpani shots. It'd be absurd yet classy at the same time, especially if they taught a penguin to hit the triangle.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it? 

KB: What does DECASP mean? I literally bought a domain for something entirely different. That project fell through, but I'm stingy and didn't want to waste money on another URL. So I went with it, created a couple cartoon characters, De and Bo Casp, and off went I. And by the way, Ignore the Gorilla!

SEE ALSO: Calling All Writers, where publishers list calls for submissions.

Thank you, Kenny. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Six Questions for Danielle Lowrey, Editor-in-Chief, 500 Miles Magazine

500 Miles Magazine publishes fiction, poetry, nonfiction, previously published works, and art. "We love writing that makes us laugh. We want our bellies to hurt. But sometimes we want our imaginations to wander. We love fantasy, getting lost in worlds beyond our own created by others. Write with a young adult slant? Love it! Enjoy creating experimental pieces or exploring wacky characters? So do we! Send us your weird, your funny, your happy, your fantasy, we will love and cherish them all.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this zine? 

Danielle Lowrey: I love words. I can't help myself. If I'm not writing, or reading, or talking about books, or thinking about books, then I'm lost. So when I tried starting a writing career for myself, in very small ways, I was disheartened. My writing style isn't conventional. I'll wake up in the middle of the night and a character will come to me, instantly questioning her current situation because she actually thinks it would be a great idea to go pick up a guy she's been crushing on at a complete stranger's funeral. Who publishes a short story like that? As rejection letters for my non-conventional pieces started rolling in, I realized I had no idea who published work like that and saw a hole in the market. If other writers are writing weird/non-conventional work, their pieces need a home, just like mine did. So I decided to start 500 Miles Magazine. I LOVE reading all these wonderful and insane submissions that come our way. I root for all our submitters to find that perfect home for their one special piece. Because that's what it's all about right? And through interacting with our authors, I've found the market gap 500 Miles was created to fill is still totally there, but at least it's a bit smaller than I thought.

 SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why? 

  1. Weirdness, in a good way. I know it's a vague answer, subject to personal bias, but I like weird things. Like, what if you pulled up your carpet and found a complete replica of your world, but it's mirrored and upside-down? 
  2. Funny. Outside of handling words in some fashion, laughing is my favorite past-time. If I'm going to tell a stranger they need to read 500 Miles and mean it, I need to tell them it'll make them laugh; bring them joy in some way. 
  3. Intrigue/well-written. If I can't stay inside your piece and stay captivated and enthralled by it, then what would make me think I can convince my readers to read it? But just because I personally feel an author's work doesn't fulfill #3, that doesn't mean the work is bad. It just means I honestly don't think it's a good fit for our magazine. 

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission? 

DL: Unnecessary violence, erotica, S&M, haughtiness, and truly terrible writing.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?  

DL: Of course! At the end of the day we're all just writers trying to get our work out there, get recognition for it, and maybe one day get paid to write. Who am I to stop a writer from trying to achieve this goal because they're trying to self-promote? I only ask that if you submit a piece from your blog that you hide the piece from view while you submit it to us and until after you hear back from us. If we reject you, no harm no foul. You can just unhide your piece. If we accept your work, please keep the piece hidden until the issue you'll be published in comes out. Once the issue comes out, please let people know the piece is now published in 500 Miles Magazine, just as we'll let our readers know your piece was originally published on your blog.

SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive? 

DL: I want authors with rejected submissions to know that I'm a writer too. I completely understand that sinking feeling or rise of utter frustration that comes from opening an email saying your work just didn't make the cut. So I don't reject anything lightly. I'm also not going to lie to an author. If I say, 'your work isn't a good fit for our magazine at this time,' there's no secret code hidden in there. I'm not trying to trick you, I don't secretly think your work is bad. I honestly mean, that in shaping our current issue, I didn't feel your piece meshed well with the rest of the magazine. Having said that, please don't re-submit something to us in the hopes it'll be a better fit for the next issue. If I just HAVE to have a piece from you, I'm not above contacting you and begging.

As far as polite questions go, I think it's important to remember that 500 Miles is crazy small at this point, which can be both good and bad for writers. The good thing is that I've personally read and taken notes on every piece. The bad thing is that there's only so much reading a small team can do. The last thing I want is for our inbox to get so overwhelmed with questions, we spend more time responding to them than fulfilling our actual purpose, which is reading submissions to create the next issue. So I'd say if you  have a few questions, that's totally fine. I'll be more than happy to answer them the best I can, but please be sparing with the amount you ask. Also, since answering questions isn't the top priority of the magazine, please be patient. We're not going to respond right away, and I don't want that freaking anyone out. On the same note, don't keep sending me reminder or inquiry emails because I haven't gotten back to you by when you wanted. I try really hard to be a nice and flexible person, but if you hound me, there's a really good chance I won't respond to you out of spite. I love this magazine, but it's not my whole life.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it? 

DL: I'm not quite sure what question I would create here, but there is one last thing I'd really like writers and readers to know about 500 Miles. We have a resources section on our website that I highly encourage writers to take advantage of. I got the idea from The Redheaded Stepchild. Looking at all the magazines authors had been rejected from, really helped me broaden my magazine submission search. Sometimes it's hard to find the right home for a piece. Hopefully, by seeing the magazines our authors have been published in, it will help writers find more magazines that could be a good fit for their work.

Thank you, Danielle. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.