Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Six Questions for Justin Lawrence Daugherty, Managing/Founding Editor, Sundog Lit

Sundog Lit seeks to publish active, vibrant, earth-scorching literature. We mean it. We love characters acting, reacting, fighting (in whatever way that happens), living. Navel-gazing is not our thing. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

JLD: I was tired of reading so much literature out there that's all about people idling, shoe gazing, drifting through their lives. I wanted a place for lit with action, with movement, with life-or-death consequence. I didn't want any more quiet epiphanies or lives of unspoken desperation or suburban malaise. The "scorched-earth literature" idea came about as a result of that. I wanted literature that was active and that really was serious literature (whatever that is), that really burned its way into the reader and left an impression. I didn't want literature that you could just put down easily after you read it. 

I wrote a piece for the Passages North blog that talks all about the reasons for doing this thing. I wanted to create, mostly, a venue for writers, underserved and emerging writers, established writers, writers doing new and exciting things. We wanted to create something new, something that would stand out. I hope we did that. I hope we keep doing that. 

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

JLD: First and foremost, we want stuff that fits our idea of our aesthetic. A sundog is an illusion that creates dual images of the sun, sometimes appearing as a halo of light around it. We named the journal after it because we wanted REAL literature that also "scorches the earth." So, there's this dual-image, this two-pronged idea of what everything we publish will hopefully have: serious literary clout (again, whatever that is) and movement. 

Next, we want vibrant, beautiful stuff. We want peoples' words to really get inside us. We think literature ought to affect you in some way, ought to make you feel something. 

Third: happening. Things have to happen. No bar stool sitting, no kitchen table discussing, no characters waiting for life just to happen to them. We want action. Not Michael Bay action. Please not that. But, we want stuff that stirs, that rebels, that breaks walls and shatter cages. What does that mean? I guess it just depends on what it is when we see it. One example. Blood Meridian. There are a lot of discussions about stakes in the pieces we read. What's at stake? What can be lost? How dire are things, how important is it things are righted? Blood Meridian might be too extreme an example, but the point is that we want literature in which lives are at stake.  

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

JLD: First, obviously, we encounter some stuff in which nothing happens. That's the most important thing to me. Action, movement, earth-scorching. You can tell right away if something's going to be too quiet, too idle for us. That doesn't mean submissions need to be full of explosions and wars and violence and drug use and sex and maniacs. There can be a lot of happening in a story about fireflies. Trust me, we have one in the first issue. 

There's other stuff, too, but I think those things are common to most lit mags. Action is the most important thing. Make things happen. 

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

JLD: I do encourage our editors to comment on things as much as possible. To be very specific about something that's not working - an ending, a line in a poem, whatever. We received a lot more submissions in the first two months than I anticipated, so that wasn't possible with everything, but I'm hoping to get back to providing feedback as much as possible. As writers, I think we always appreciate just a note about why something isn't working. It doesn't have to be a workshop-like response. Just a note. I know it's tough to get a form rejection in your inbox. It makes a writer feel hollow, I think, a little bit.  

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

JLD: I definitely examine every line I write for happening-ness. Is anything happening? Is there plot? Is there forward movement and character development, even if the story is 200 words? I definitely have started editing as I write. I am examining - even more than I used to, if it's possible - authors' work I admire for structure and technique a ton, also as I write. I have learned, too, that everyone really does value different things in literature. We've rejected things or didn't like things that were accepted quickly elsewhere. We published something for which we received this long, scathing email detailing the faults of. We stand by that piece firmly. But. We're not perfect. We just know what we love. That's different for everyone. 

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

JLD: I guess I would ask: where do you want to go? And, I would answer by saying that I want to expand this thing into a larger presence. We're already doing well, but I really want Sundog Lit to be a place the literary community & writers & readers know they can go to to find excellent writing and vibrant literature. I want people to be able to say, "hey, these guys always put out awesome stuff." I want to start a press. That's the next step, I think. We're looking into it. We want to be at AWP in March in Boston. We want to build new projects: themed issues, reading series, book review sections. We want to include more art/photography. We want flash fiction comic collaborations. We want to grow. That press, though, I really want that press.  

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

NEXT POST: 12/7--Six Questions for Ryan Swofford, Editor, The Weekenders Magazine

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