Monday, May 24, 2010

Six Questions for Jon Konrath, Editor, Air in the Paragraph Line

Air in the Paragraph Line publishes "fiction and non-fiction with an emphasis on outsider, absurdist, and experimental writing." AITPL is published twice a year, and each print  issue (also available for the Kindle) is based on a theme. Themes and word counts are posted online. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

JK: I did a music zine back in the early nineties, during the huge zine explosion back then, and got bored of writing record reviews for obscure European death metal bands, but really enjoyed reading some of the personal zines I got in the mail. There was an abundance of titles like Cometbus, where a person would pour out their heart in a 64-page photocopied booklet, and I wanted to do something similar to promote my own writing, or at least have a way to keep current with my readers between bigger projects in the pre-blog era. I also got my first corporate job in the tech industry and found a photocopier in one of our buildings that nobody knew about, and absolutely had to come up with some kind of project to burn up thousands of pages of paper and toner.

After doing a few issues of just my own writing and news, I realized I'd have a lot more cross-pollinization if I opened things up to a few friends who were also writers, so their loyal readers would see my writing and vice-versa. 

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

JK: Readability is a big factor in what I choose. Even though I'm a big fan of nonlinear and experimental writing, I enjoy a story with a strong narrative that keeps the pages turning. A big part of AITPL's focus is having a solid book of immersive fiction, instead of things that are completely asemic simply for the purpose of being complicated.

That said, I really do like something unconventional. There are plenty of lit journals out there within the academic-industrial complex that churn out a constant stream of MFA-produced Raymond Carver derivatives, and I like anything that's firmly outside of that box.

I also appreciate supporting writers who fall outside the herd, as far as people who are writing strictly because they enjoy writing, as opposed to people who are shrewdly career building and are more concerned about the art of self-promotion than the art of the actual story they're presenting.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?

JK: The biggest reason, something that I loosely define on my requirements page, is when something is "the usual." I get a lot of stories that are either incredibly genre-specific, or are very pedestrian; and they don't stand out. I think if I can easily categorize a story, I'll pass on it. When I find myself saying "well, it's sort of sci-fi, but it's sort of absurd, but it's sort of drunken modernist, but it's also part DVD player manual"... that's when I earmark it.

I really don't like when people don't read or follow our requirements. Like I get at least a submission a month by a different college freshman that's an extremely formulaic story about how her grandmother died. Even after I specifically called out in my requirements that I would not publish a story about someone's grandmother dying (unless maybe their grandmother dropped bad acid at Altamont, started dressing like Josef Stalin, and eventually got sent to prison for stealing sex machines from a local gray-market Japanese industrial robot reseller), I still keep getting these stories. I'm actually thinking of publishing a collection of them.

I also don't like it when a contributor makes crazy demands from a layout perspective. The best contributors are those who send Word documents with no special formatting, no spelling errors, and no special requests, so I can easily pour their work into the general template of the book. When I get a tone poem from someone who insists that it has to be triple-spaced, published in Comic Sans with right-justified text, and gives me a file in the Spanish version of WordPerfect 4.2 for DOS with a floppy disk of Corel Draw pictures, I tend to move it to the bottom of the pile.

SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

JK: We all know to not write characters that "say" and focus on characters that "do," but I've always enjoyed characters that did things, like little mannerisms or tics or oddities, that don't belong to the central plot or story, but define the character in some way that's compelling to me. And those stand out more when the writer adds some quality that's something I would do, but never thought of vocalizing.

One of my favorite examples of this is Richard Russo's The Risk Pool, and the way he crafts Ned's father, not only by his exploits, but how he moves, acts and does things with a certain groove that reminds you of someone you know from decades ago; but you can't remember who. Russo hasn't been submitting anything to me, but one of my favorite authors from AITPL's roster is probably John Sheppard. His book Small Town Punk is a study in describing characters from a run-down Sarasota of the Reagan era, and he keeps that going in a lot of the short stories we've published.

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

JK: I'm not that uptight about not having first publication rights or reprinting something that was on the web or somewhere else. My main red flag about stories that originated on a blog is that blogs in general are a much shorter form of communication and have such a fire-and-forget quality that they don't foster as much depth or quality as I'd like. I prefer something that's at least a few pages long, maybe around the 5,000-word mark, and I think the average blog post is probably only a few hundred words long. That said, there are some people who are taking quality writing that was carefully honed and edited and breaking it up into bite-size chunks on blogs, and I'm all for that. 

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

JK: I think everyone wants to talk about how horrible print-on-demand is and how it's a huge stigma and it will cause your teeth to fall out and give you adult onset diabetes and keep you in purgatory for a thousand years. We've used POD to publish, because it's a close analog to the web publishing paradigm; anyone can post, and there aren't insane up-front costs involved, but you get what you pay for. POD is not a magic bullet that solves the publicity issue, and maybe lowering the bar to enable anyone to publish a book does create some crap. But it lets me publish a lot of stuff by people who don't attract literary agents or huge book deals. And it lets me focus on writing as a craft, not trying to predict what the next big trend in lesbian vampire empowerment books or whatever's popular this second so I can make a sure bet and justify a huge print run.

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

NEXT POST: 5/26--Six Questions for Sue Babcock, Non-fiction Editor and Business Manager for Liquid Imagination

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