Monday, April 4, 2011

Six Questions for Randall Brown, Founder, Matter Press and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

"Matter Press is a community-based, non-profit literary press that publishes an online literary journal (The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts), manages an annual short fiction and poetry chapbook contest, and supports a regular reading series. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

RB: I have an ongoing love affair with (very) short, compressed work. Part of the journal's mission is to have writers interpret the guidelines and surprise us with what they discover within both the guidelines and the form itself. Part of the reason I wanted to have the journal is that I often get sick of myself and my own kind of polarized ideas about these (very) short forms of prose--and I do get excited to see how others view the challenge of compression in their work. Also, it’s a form I want to support as much as possible, both monetarily and artistically.

SQF: From the website: "Matter Press obsesses over compression as a contemporary creative form, and we are much more interested in how compression matters to you than how it matters to us." Compression, in this sense, doesn't refer just to word count--although stories are to be no more than 600 words. My sense is you're looking for stories with the excess trimmed, something like dried fruit with all the moisture sucked out. Is this an accurate impression?

RB: I would say if your sense of “compressed” creative work is that they have “the excess trimmed, something like dried fruit with all the moisture sucked out,” then we would want that to be part of your submission cover letter. This “compression statement” will give us a sense of what compression means to you. That’s what fascinates us; it’s the desire that drives the journal into existence: to discover what writers working with compression think that means and then to see how it plays out in the work itself. I do think it is more than writing to a fixed, constrained word count, although that surely is a big part of it. One cannot have compression without the constraints of a small space; or maybe one can. In any case, we are looking forward to seeing how writers interpret that phrase “compressed creative arts.”

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

RB: I’m sure that will vary from reader to reader. But to answer your question and not be completely vague about it, I would say that what Jen Pieroni refers to in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash Fiction as the “smart surprise” is an important goal to shoot for in both the language and the sentence by sentence movement of the piece. Traditional narrative structure is a meaning-making machine, so I personally am interested in seeing how writers find that meaning-making mechanism with compressed narration or alternatives to that traditional narrative. Finally, I’m a sucker for the great title, the title that changes everything, that does more than the titles I used to be put on my college papers, such as “The Tragedy in King Lear.” Too many titles feel like that to me, a summary rather than a game-changer.

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

RB: Someone submitting to this journal should recognize that it’s being read by people passionate about (very) tiny things on the brink of exploding into something big and bang-like. So I’ll take a stab at it and say that the top three reasons (I’m having a Family Feud moment here) have to do with (1) a lack of passion/energy in the prose; (2) a piece that leaves readers with a “So What?” feeling at the end; and (3) too many notes.

SQF: You plan to run an annual short story and poetry chapbook contests. How will these work?

RB: Good question. Not exactly sure yet, but the winner will receive $500 and 25 complimentary copies. There will be a limited print run of 500 copies. The wonderful Flume Press Chapbook Contest lost its funding, so I’m just stealing everything that the amazing Casey Huff did with Flume. Our first two titles will be works we solicited, a collection from Kathy Fish and one from Carol Guess.

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

RB: What’s your journal’s theme song? I’m so glad you asked. It’s based on the Schoolhouse Rock “Conjunction, Conjunction.” Our version opens  “Compression, Compression, what’s your passion….” Yes, compression/passion isn’t exactly a rhyme, but, you know, we just hope it’s close enough.

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

NEXT POST: 4/6--Six Questions for Mandy Ward, Editor, Welcome to Wherever

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