"A cappella Zoo (ISSN: 1945-7480) is a print journal & ezine of magical realist & experimental writing from around the world. We're interested in shaking up traditional ideas and assumptions about truth and art, whether to challenge our intellects or just to play, but always to contribute to the on-going universal discussion on humanity." Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
CM: I've always wanted to piece together a publication like this. Perhaps it was all those years of critical analysis and creative writing workshops—I was no longer content with leisurely reading and needed the thrill of wading through slush piles to keep me literate. I love every bit of it. I love reading the submissions, good or bad, boring or boggling; I love debating their worth and appropriateness with my board members; I love designing the issues; I love knowing that I've provided an admirable vehicle for memorable work; and I love this quest I've embarked on to discover what magical realism and all its cousins can accomplish within communities of readers and writers.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
CM: I look for something memorable:
My favorite stories are the ones that haunt me. I want to be jealous that I didn't write it first. I want to feel like this specific story was aching to be written.
I look for concrete imagery:
Props can do a lot for a story, especially with a healthy balance of mundane objects and odd curiosities. What do I remember from Eliza C. Walton's tiny little story, "Ambulance for the Selkie"? A kitten and a spinning red spongy ball. I look for that same concreteness in the form of figurative language that compares two physical things or characteristics that I haven't compared before, or figurative language that expresses more familiar comparisons with fresh emotion and language. Objects. Animals. Body Parts. Colors. Textures. Smells. Sounds. I like these Things.
I look for risks:
Balance between experiment and familiar ground, or between magic and restraint—these are difficult equilibriums to achieve, but the effect is beautiful and worth the work. We recognize that a lot of the surreal or bizarre elements of the stories that have wowed us have often been played with before in other literature, but I think I can still tell when an author has set out on an honest exploration of his or her own, and when the story itself has grown a limb and taken an extra step further. I love that feeling.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
CM: If a story uses cliches or stereotypes AND seems unaware of them, I'm turned off immediately. I'll repeat something from earlier here: yes, new stories, no matter how fresh, often contain a collage of ideas and images that taste familiar, but it's when an author is a master sculptor of these ideas, rather than a cut-n-paster, that a story becomes a more worthwhile read than the next one.
If I don't feel like either pondering or obsessing over the story afterwards, it probably won't even make it to the rest of the editorial board. A story that does not spark some intellectual, sensual, or emotional intrigue in the reader is simply not worth reading.
One of our most common types of rejections are "failed" experiments. We love experiments, but some don't amount to what we consider a "story." If we're just scratching our heads and can't find anything to anchor ourselves on, or if we're not convinced by the characters or what's at stake, or if we're pretty sure that there are plenty of better ways of accomplishing what an author has attempted, then chances are the story isn't ready for publication (or just isn't right for A cappella Zoo).
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
CM: Characters that grab a hold of me do normal things and strange things. The normal things they do are not always the things that I've paid attention to people doing before. Sometimes they're things that I didn't think anyone other than me ever did. These characters seem to be dishonest with themselves, or unpredictably honest with the reader, or both. These characters remind me of people I know while maintaining their autonomy as the potentially breathing, terrified, hungry, embarrassed people I could meet tomorrow on the street.
SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?
CM: Yes. We're not really big on exclusivity, and we love to cater to our contributors' requests. More important than creating a pretty book of interesting stories and poems is getting those stories and poems into the hands of people who want to read them, whether in book form or by means of alternative venues. A story's simultaneous presence outside of our publication—whether past, present, or future—will only help connect those readers to the great writing they're after.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
CM: What do you read when you're not reading submissions?
I read a little of everything, not just the sort of literature that might be reminiscent of what A cappella Zoo publishes. I'm always in a lovable tug-o-war between reading books that friends and colleagues recommend and finding my own little gems. What I love most of all though, believe it or not, is following the work of past contributors to A cappella Zoo. I certainly don't forget them the minute the issue is in print. One of the best books I read in 2009 was by an author that we had published in our debut issue.
Thank you, Colin. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 5/3--Six Questions for Alison Ross, Editor, Clockwise Cat