SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
SS: I started Monkeybicycle way back in 2002 as an attempt to provide a platform for the really great writers that didn't seem to be getting book deals or any publication at all back then. I also wanted to start a bit of a community around it in Seattle through events and interaction. I think both worked out. And while the times have changed and everyone seems to have their own lit mag these days, I think Monkeybicycle has tried really hard to stick to what it set out to do all those years ago, and people still come to us with great work to publish. More than ever, in fact.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
SS: The editors at Monkeybicycle are excited by a lot of the work that is sent to us, but we really love things that are well-written, tell a great story, and are somewhat unique. We've published things about siamese twins who run an internet porn company, a talking penis that wants to go to space, and one about the ghost of the late chief justice William Rehnquist. Those were all stories we found to be exciting and interesting because of their individuality, and because their characters were built well enough to make us care. Plus, they were all done by incredibly capable writers who we knew could do magic with their words.
I just realized that those examples are pretty out there. We've also published things about everyday ordinary situations and people, all gripping and unique in their own right.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
SS: I think when people look at Monkeybicycle they see a lot of humor, a lot of absurdity, and a lot of off-the-wall types of stories. But while we do publish things like that, it's not all we do. We try to be well-rounded and not paint ourselves into that corner. But some people see those crazy and silly stories and send us things that just make no sense, or despite having those ideas in mind, just don't fit in with what we are. We encourage people to read through our archives or pick up a print issue before sending, because that will save everyone a lot of time if the piece just isn't the type of thing we do. What we publish is always evolving, so it's a good idea to see what we've been up to recently to know where our interests are focused.
There might not be two other reasons other than the answers in question two above that we reject something. We are open to everything, and if it's well-written we'll happily consider it.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
SS: For me, one of the things that makes a character jump off the page is a struggle. I guess that's the point of any story; the hero's journey. But I like characters that really wrestle with things. I also like characters who do strange things, like the ones I mentioned in my answer to question one. It takes a great writer to make characters convincing, so that's what we look for the most in what we publish at Monkeybicycle.
SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?
SS: We'd rather the things we publish show up nowhere else before we make them available, just because we often dig into the editing and development aspects of some of the things we accept, so seeing them in different forms on personal pages is a bit of a bummer. I suppose in this day and age where everybody has their own website, we're going to need to reconsider that position.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
SS: I wish you had asked about Monkeybicycle's reading events. Of course, you probably didn't even know about them because they haven't happened for several years and are just now starting up again. But if you had said something like Why do you hold readings? What do people get out of them? I would have answered like so:
When we were doing monthly readings in Seattle back around 2002-2003, there was a deep sense of community present. Not a lot of literary events were going on around that time and I think people actually looked forward to them every month. We tried to do fun and wacky things so people wouldn't get bored throughout the evening, and those are the things, coupled with some amazing readers and works, that made for a great time. Now, with the flood of new journals has come a flood of events, too. That might be part of why we stopped doing them; everybody else had them covered. Plus, I relocated to NYC and my co-editor, Shya Scanlon, was still in Seattle.
Now though, Shya and I have decided to go at it once again, since we're both around NYC. This time around, because there are already so many readings on any given night here, we're doing it quarterly. And we're also doing it fast. Because it seems like almost no one has much of an attention span anymore, we're offering up 20 readers, each doing a 2-3 minute piece, in rapid-fire succession. It's a format we've not yet tried, so we don't know how it's going to work out. But I have a feeling it's going to go over pretty well. 20 stories from 20 different people seems like a pretty good formula to me. It's kind of how we approach our print editions, too, so I have a good feeling about it.
Thank you, Steven. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 11/1--Six Questions for Randy Streu, Editor, A Flame in the Dark