Monday, February 27, 2012

Six Questions for Nina Rubinstein Alonso, Editor, Constellations

Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction is looking for poetry, short fiction (to 2,500 words), and black and white artwork/photography. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

NRA: I look for solid, thoughtful, well-edited writing, full characters and descriptions, plot or plotless stories, that are fully developed in whatever style. I want people to look at the web site and read the samples there to get a feeling for what we do, even get a copy of Constellations. I reject writing with stereotypical images of women and men, cliches, political agendas that read like pamphlets, smut, slap dash pieces that are too excited to be self-reflective and do the work of revision. Sometimes these aren't artistically sensitive in any style. I'm not impressed by cursing as the wow factor is long gone with that sort of thing, as it's both easy and dull, demeaning the characters by reducing them to nothing beyond than that language level. Never mind if that's how some people talk. I know.

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

NRA: I reject a story that is sloppy, that is into bad-mouthing, that doesn't engage me, that is glib, pretentious or superficial, or if I'm just bored by the bottom of the first page. If I can't get through page one, I stop and say au revoir.

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

NRA: Common mistakes: haste and impatience, a writer submitting a piece with grammatical errors, non sequiturs, typos so that the document looks like no one cared enough to clean it up so it makes sense if not art. That's square one. Writing takes massive patience, persistence, development and clarity which means work and rework over time. Energy and impulse are only the start, and produce mostly raw stuff, not artistic fine wine.

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

NRA: Not usually, but on occasion if I sense that a writer might listen and not be offended or upset. I don't want to hurt anyone or get them all riled up. Usually I haven't got time to get into these things, which can be so personal. If I don't like a piece, I just say it's not right for Constellations, and that's the truth. Sometimes, however, if a piece is promising enough and looks like some editing would improve it, I'll comment. By then it's already at a certain developmental stage and I have a sense of the person writing.

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

NRA: I've learned a huge amount about patience, development of my own work, and how not to give up when I'm stuck on a piece. I write both poetry and fiction, so get space from one by shifting to the other for a while. I'm a slow writer, and I tend to over-write and have to cut, cut, cut, and revise. I also am more understanding of the editor's situation, as well as the writer struggling and getting rejections. The thing is to keep going and develop a sense of your own worth and validation which the world rarely provides.

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

NRA: I think the element of fashion and openness matters almost too much these days, and we're in a highly expressive time with people writing and speaking in so many styles. I think there's no one thread of excellence in these, and I think it's important to recognize the many voices, many styles, many cultures that are opening up and thriving, including those who aren't English speaking or literate, opening up to the pain and suffering in the world. Sometimes people who are highly literate get concerned that they're old hat if they don't speak hip-hop or whatever, and I think this is not true or fair, either. The point is that our own voice is the thing, our own existence is the center of our writing life, requiring all the respect, sensitivity and attention we can muster.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to sort out my thoughts on this!!

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

NEXT POST: 3/1-Six Questions for Michele Graf, et al. Co-founders, Poetic Muselings

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