Thursday, June 9, 2011

Six Questions for Carolyn Zaikowski, Editor, Dinosaur Bees

"Dinosaur Bees: A Journal of the Carefully Strange welcomes poetry, short stories and flash fiction, creative non-fiction, hybrids, multimedia and collaborative pieces, visual arts, and creations that don’t lend themselves to being categorized. We invite both emerging and established folks to submit." Read the complete guidelines here.

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

CZ: I'm not sure if there are a clear top three, but the biggest thing that grabs me is when it's clear that somebody has engaged with the "carefully" part of "the carefully strange." Purely wacky or weird works sometimes; sometimes it doesn't. But if you give yourself to the "carefully," you can literally do pretty much anything with language. It's amazing. Really, being "carefully strange" is just about being a good writer. It's about creating novel and strange spaces in which readers can contact a new paradigm. In terms of content, this doesn't have to involve weird creatures and other worlds (though it might). It's more about using words to see in a new way. I like the idea of "strangeification," of making new. Anyways, sometimes people send things that just grab my heart because I can so tell that this is the wavelength they're on, and it's exciting to keep that kind of company.

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

CZ: This might qualify as more or less than three, but: If someone writes something that's racist, sexist, or classist, I will immediately be repelled. This includes uncritical gender and racial tropes, stuff that makes fun of the poor, violence against women or animals that's written into a story in a lazy way, etc. I generally get really turned off by things that are "shocking" just to be shocking. Being innovative and strange in content and form is not the same thing as being "shocking." I like truly subversive work, work that has clearly thought about itself and the energy it's putting into the world. Sometimes subversion is really subtle. I think people forget that. That's not to say there's no room for things that are bold. It's just that, like all good writing, bold writing has to be careful and not lazy.

SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?

CZ: If it's clear that someone hasn't read the journal, chances are a) I will be annoyed and b) their work won't be a good fit anyways because they don't know what we're about. I think every editor will tell you that. Also, when really simple things are spelled wrong, it's kind of a bummer. I can get past it if the work is good because I understand the realities of human error, but let's just say this: When someone writes "its" instead of "it's" a bunch of times, I can't help but wonder why I should take them seriously. I happen to know editors who are less uptight about this, so maybe you don't have to worry too much, but you know, just sayin.

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

CZ: Getting those aforementioned submissions that just hit me in the heart with their careful strangeness. Being able to accept those works and enable their public display. It's so important for good work to be out there, for language to consciously intervene in culture and the status quo. So I love being the enabler of a publication, a container, that is so specifically beautiful, that sends out such a specific energy into the world.

SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories 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?

CZ: Generally, there's no need to respond to a rejection. When my work gets rejected, I just say, okay, this is part of being a writer, and I remind myself that even the best writers get rejected again and again. And all publications have to reject things they like for sheer lack of space, time, and resources. You have to find a coping mechanism if you are prone to taking these things personally, otherwise you'll, at best, get discouraged and stop writing or, at worst, turn into an entitled a-hole. My friend Jacob Young says, "Don't get precious about your work." I think about that a lot.

As for feedback from editors, that is wonderful if they offer it, but understand that most editors simply don't have the time and resources, and you shouldn't feel entitled to feedback. If they give you feedback, that's a big compliment. It's fine to very politely ask, but again, don't feel entitled to a response, and don't take it for granted if you get one. If someone doesn't understand this, or acts out in someway, it is clear that they aren't a serious writer and don't understand how publishing works. Yes, I'll disregard them if they submit again and will probably mention it if the name comes up in conversation with other editors.

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

Q: Does an orange cat named Maude really help edit Dinosaur Bees?
A: Yes. And she types wicked fast.

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

NEXT POST: 6/13--Six Questions for Morgan Drake, Editor and Publisher, Pine Tree Mysteries


  1. Wow, talk about the PC police. Rejection for:

    "something that's racist, sexist, or classist, I will immediately be repelled. This includes uncritical gender and racial tropes, stuff that makes fun of the poor, violence against women or animals."

    Guess a "Gone withe the Wind" short wouldn't have made it here.

  2. I don't think that's unfair. It's her magazine, she can choose to put what she wants in it. Why should she accept things that make her uncomfortable when it comes to those things? Whether someone thinks of him/herself as "pc" or not, an editor is always going to look for something that resonates personally with them in some way, and she is just enumerating a few things that are major signs that something isn't going to resonate with her.

    I imagine a "Birth of a Nation" short wouldn't make it either. And for good reason.

  3. Interestingly, I've found that calling something "politically correct" generally functions as a simple way to shut down a conversation about pressing social issues.

    But in any case, you can publish what you want. I don't want to publish things that are racist, sexist, or classist. If that's a problem, someone can choose not to submit. All publications must make these kinds of choices. I will publish something race, gender, or class related as long as it's smart. Racism, sexism, and classism are lazy modes of thinking about the world. They never make for good writing.

    -Carolyn Zaikowski