Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Six Questions for Shawn and Justin Maddey, Founding Editors, Barge Press

The editors of Barge Press want "Stuff, not things. Work that bites and claws, does heavy labor with dirty hands, the hard work of thought without remorse for the institutions it challenges. We want writing from writers who have spent time learning their craft only to completely abandon it in search of the new. Barge isn't the place to send things you would see in other journals, just the stuff others might shy away from. Barge reads year-round, just about anything you can throw at us." Read the complete guidelines here.

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

SM: Do you get it (is it BARGE)? Barge has a pretty specific aesthetic, largely born of the aesthetic of brevity and innovation in online literature, but mostly just the delight we find in self-degradation, grossness, and our general outsider degeneracy. We lay this out in, frankly, uncertain terms, but take great care to make sure they're true to us. If you get it, you get it, what we're all about. If you don't, well, you won't know until you do, but we will.

New language. I want to read words I've never read together before and see sentence structures that just blow me away with their strangeness and look at pages that even without reading a word jump out at me. When people talk about a writer's voice, this is what they mean... we want and need in our faces the work of authors who've truly and unforgivingly found theirs and thrown the old this-is-what-a-short-story-or-poem-should-sound-like voice in the garbage next to the pizza box that was in the car for a few months.

Do I care/does it fit? Most of the submissions that have the first two have the third, but we need to get something from a piece -- it needs to affect us in some guttural way, even if it isn't intellectually coherent, needs to make us care about its existence as a work of art (and I'm not talking about caring about characters, we generally don't like characters too much.)  Beyond that, where do we see the piece fitting in with where this issue of Barge is going... what is it we're focusing on editorially, and does this work in that frame? In issue two, for example, we're trying to narrow in on more formally innovative works, whereas issue one was more about linguistic play.

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

SM: Most of what we receive is pretty high quality writing, from the academic or mainstream standpoint. They have good sentences and flow. And characters. And descriptions. And poetic formal cliches. And many, many things that they teach you in writing courses and workshops that tend to just bore us. More than anything else, we find there's this uber-voice that many writers seem to use -- this manner of sentence/line construction and word-choice that rings the same across the board; I like to call it the "author voice", when people try too hard to just sound literary, to sound legitimate or like other things they've read. If you don't have your own voice, you don't get far with us. Length is crucial, too. If you manage to keep our interest, we don't generally read past 15 pages (we've only done so once or twice).  It's not just in the guidelines because we get bored easily and have small attention spans and short windows of time -- Barge is roughly 120-140 pages per issue, and we simply are not going to dedicate a fifth of our book to a single author, I don't care who you are. Even 15 pages is pushing it; really 8-10 is a maximum number we would look at and consider seriously without major revision and reduction.

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

SM: People seem to like to submit their work in the wrong category... granted, we label things in a bit of a confusing fashion (which goes back to the "Do you get it" factor), but a category whose guidelines specifically say not to submit your narrative fiction will really earn you negative points for submitting your narrative fiction there. We don't like wolves in sheep's clothing or narrative fiction in non-genre categories.

We also get plenty of submissions from people who seem not to understand or care about professional formatting or courtesy. I would strongly suggest any author beginning to seek publication take the time to learn the industry standards as far as manuscript formatting, writing cover letters, and other such things. It never stops us from reading a piece and considering it for its merits alone... but it can put a bad taste in our mouths. If you submit 15 pages of prose and it's single spaced -- well, that's 30 pages of prose when properly formatted. Likewise, if you're sending multiple submissions, which we very strongly encourage, the limit is 15 pages total, not 15 pages per multiple submission. That's all we get really finicky and frustrated about, just a simple matter of being considerate of the time we put into reading your work, understanding that we all have full-time jobs on top of this, and many, many submissions on top of yours that we need to read as well.

Also, it frustrates us that we don't see enough comic sans.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a piece?

SM: For the first issue, every single submission received a personal rejection note. Largely, we've moved away from that. Once in a while when something catches our eye about an author or piece, we love to send a little note. But if a writer asks for feedback in their cover letter, we're always more than happy to give a brief or sometimes rather lengthy critique -- it slows down the response time pretty dramatically for those pieces, but being available to authors to help them improve is something, in our editorial ethos, we hope to always remain very committed to. And we do like the interactions we get to have with contributors and others submitting. That's one of the main reasons we encourage people to check out Barge Press' Facebook or Twitter presences, as well as to have some fun while we build our identity and aesthetic as a press.

We think the role of the editor, while being more important than ever, has also greatly diminished. We're in a position of some little itty bit of influence, and I feel like it's a duty to live up to that and offer advice or guidance, especially with many younger writers submitting and still learning. Nor do we consider that every single piece submitted is in its perfect final form (or that such a thing exists at all) -- in fact, many of the pieces we do accept we still edit and work on with the authors; whether it's a single line we'd like removed or a major overhaul, we want to be proud of our work not just as curators but as contributors to the refinement of the work and authors we present. This of course is not to say we should be fixing your grammar or spelling errors.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

SM: It needs more balls. Seriously. The more I see of so-called "well-crafted" work, the more I see the infection of political correctness in a medium it has absolutely no business in... craft is the neutering of an art form, and, in a way, creates a form of self-censorship and a sidelining of literature's say in the art world and forward-thinking. I'm not saying writing ought to be or even needs to be overtly political -- I still believe its primary function is humanity over any particular cause, but in order to achieve that, writers need to be completely honest with themselves and their readers, and I feel like craft very frequently gets in the way of that. Why not just say fuck it? Get wasted and put the craziest shit you can muster on a plate, then send us pictures of your sick dance moves. Learn the craft, then throw it out the window (defenestration being a favorite word of mine) and see what happens. If you worry about who you might insult or whose feelings you might hurt, you're not there yet. If your words sound like other things you've heard before, you're not there yet. If your work looks and feels rational, try enemas and laxatives and eat more bacon than you've ever imagined before, try planting a garden of vienna sausages, chase gin with more gin and chase that with a handful of cheddar, then rip down your neighbor's tree.

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

SM: How much time do you spend with each piece?

We feel like it's important (something we mention, even in our form rejections) for those submitting to us to know that we're not just skimming a few sentences and tossing things aside. Every submission, off the bat, is read start to finish by at least two editors -- even if we know two lines in it's not for us, we still feel it should be courtesy to give it a full chance and a full read, because you never do know where a piece might go. It slows us down a little bit, but we want to make sure we're doing things the right way and giving everything proper dues. This usually takes a week or so. Beyond that, anything that might have a chance gets a second round with a much closer reading and discussion. That can back response times for those up as much as several months -- and we still may hold on to those to consider a third or fourth time. All in all, we feel we spend more time with the works submitted to us than most other places, and we make sure everything we accept is what we really want and everything we reject has had as good a chance as possible.

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

NEXT POST: 7/29--Six Questions for Matt Shoard, Editor, Fleeting Magazine

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