SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
RS: There're more and more people speaking English in Asia, both because of the exponential growth of expatriates and the huge number of people studying ESL. So literature is a way to delve into that, to communicate in a way that's a little more interesting, to scratch the surface and find the things that make us not necessarily American or European or Chinese, but the things that make us human. After the success of HAL's first two books and scores of events, the community we've gathered in Shanghai and globally, it seemed like a good time to take to the internet.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
RS: I value honesty in writing above all else—not honesty in the legal sense, honesty in the literary sense. If there is a character, a scene, a phrase or a sentence that makes me stop for a moment, lean back, and think, "well ain't that the damn truth!" then the writer has me like I'm sixteen again.
Of course glimmers of truth mean nothing without coherence and cohesion; a piece that can stand up on its own is really important.
Above all, though, my favorite writing has two components: the reading of it is a pleasure, but the questions that are brought up are the kind that linger.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
RS: Improper formatting, grammar, etc., are all unpleasant but easy enough to surpass. The number one thing that will get an immediate "no" from me isn't exactly a mistake, per se, but anything that feels like cultural fetishism. Because of where we are based, and our interests, I've seen so, so many submissions that have these creepy, violent and/or sexual Orientalist themes throughout. It's one thing I really can't promote, this commodification of different cultures. There're ways to write across cultures that can be interesting but so often it is both false and ethnocentric; at this point it's antiquated, and the opposite of what I want FEE to represent.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
RS: Only when asked.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
RS: Mostly I've learned what not to do—I've seen tropes played out over and over that I try much harder to avoid. And the power of deletion, of implication. "Simplify, simplify, simplify," and all that.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
RS: People keep talking about the "state of literature" and "post-post-modernism" and all this other stuff, that to me seems a bit... I don't actually know how to answer this question, but I myself wonder a lot when places like the New York Times or The Guardian will be less interested in Bildungsromans by white dudes in Brooklyn and more interested in stories (coming-of-age or not) that deal with the rest of the world. I'm hoping that the next generation of writers are more diverse in both biography and perspective and more sincere in what they're saying without being saccharine.
Thank you, Robin. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 4/19--Six Questions for Jacob Denno, Editor, Popshot Magazine