The Tusculum Review editors "want writing that takes risks while still paying attention to craft. We are happy to see prose poems, stories that burst into poems, poems that burst into stories, etc. Mixing genres doesn’t scare us. Of course boring, self-involved, over-inflated pap turns us off. We publish poems, fiction, nonfiction, and plays." Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
WT: First, I look for attention to craft. I’ll read two pages and stop. In two pages, it’s usually obvious whether or not a writer is concerned with craft. Second, also in two pages, I expect the writer to spark my interest. If I’m not interested in the poetry, prose, or script, then I’ll stop reading. Once I feel there’s an attention to craft and I’m interested, I’ll read the whole submission and cross my fingers that there’s still that awareness of craft, there’s that feeling of something at stake in the work. If I’m still thinking about the submission a few days after I read it, I usually end up publishing it. I’ll read it again, but I usually publish the submission if I’m still thinking about it days later. That’s third. I want work that makes me think. I want to think about an image or a character or a twist of language. Or an idea, a new idea—not yet another recycled idea. It’s surprising how often I come across well-crafted writing that never provokes a thought.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
WT: Right now, we still only accept submissions via snail mail. You learn a lot about writers just by the way they send you something to read. Seriously, there’s no reason to spray perfume on each page. There’s no need to send submissions via certified mail. There’s no need to bind your submission in cardboard. Almost always, if a batch of poems comes in unfolded, we might as well reject them outright; folding the pages of your work doesn’t make your work any less valuable. Also, we honestly don’t need a professional headshot. So, I’d say the way writers package their work is a reason. Cover letters are probably a reason. I hardly ever read them, but some of our other editors do. There’s a particular length of a bio that, once reached, feels as though the writer’s trying to badger me into a publishing decision. This might just be a pet peeve of mine, but I don’t like a writer to outline the submission in the cover letter, and I especially don’t like a writer to tell me how important the submission is to literature and the literary world at large. Third, I dislike it when writers don’t appreciate the difference between an editor and a publisher. Nine out of ten times, writers who want to “protect the integrity of my original vision” are simply too arrogant or have no real idea about how to go about revising.
SQF: Which of the following statements is true and why? Plot is more important than character. Character is more important than plot. Plot and character are equally important.
WT: There are great works out there that prove all of these statements true—and false.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
WT: More so than a lot of journals, I think. Of course, and I don’t mean this to sound as ugly as it probably will, but most work that comes in doesn’t warrant the time to write comments. Also, we often get too busy to write comments. But we sure like to offer notes when we’re able. There’s so much rejection in the writing life, and, as editors, we take seriously the need to converse with writers we believe in. Young, talented writers often fail to appreciate they have any talent at all. Editors should be able to spot the next big thing whether or not the next big thing currently has something worth publication. Most importantly, editors should want to encourage and help promising writers. Editors who aren’t interested in such things should reconsider their motives for being in the business.
SQF: What do you consider to be the primary responsibilities of an editor?
WT: Probably just to protect the vision of whatever publication you edit. I mean, there should be a vision for each publication in the way that there’s a difference in purpose, say, between Time and Newsweek. We at The Tusculum Review aren’t so interested in publishing as many big names as we can get, as editors at other journals tend to make their mark. Journaling began as a testing ground for new writers, and that’s what we’re into. We want to primarily publish writers who’ll have books tomorrow. We’re also deeply interested in the way that one can bring convention to the unconventional. We’re looking for something brave. Despite that too many folks don’t pay any attention to it, craft is teachable and learnable. Courage isn’t easy.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
WT: Again and again, I run through this dialogue with myself about the purpose of journaling. I worry about how the literary world has learned to self-perpetuate. I like to joke that only writers in literary journals read literary journals, and half of them only pretend to read them. And there are so few of these magazines that look any different than the rest, even the ones that’ve been around for decades. And they’re all filled with the same names and basically the same poems and prose. If you’d asked me if proponents of “the literary” are killing all things literary, I’d say I don’t know.
Thank you, Wayne. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 6/14--Six Questions for Joanne Merriam, Editor, Seven by Twenty