Friday, November 21, 2014

Six Questions for Max Vande Vaarst/Founder and Fiction Editor and Katie Morrison/Photography Editor, Buffalo Almanack

Buffalo Almanack publishes fiction from 250-7500 words, photography, and other visual arts. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Max Vande Vaarst: The notion of starting my own literary magazine came to me at a vital point in my career. I was still relatively new to the writing game, but I had found some early publication success and no longer felt like a neophyte. My understanding of the online literary scene—and my place within it—was strong, built up on Twitter and in Facebook groups, and I felt like, by and large, I had completed the first step in my education. That’s probably not the best time to throw yourself into the editor’s chair, I know, but I had past experience running a digital publication outfit with my old football blog (“The Jets Kvetch”) and I’m the sort of person who rises up to a challenge. Once Katie was on board with the photography component, which I think really helps us stand out and differentiate ourselves from the field, I knew Buffalo Almanack was the right decision.

There’s enough talent in the writing world that much of it still manages to slip the crack. Being there to give voice to that talent has been an absolute honor.

Katie Morrison: I think a lot of young people, at one point or another, want to start their own independent publication. The level of creative and editorial control you have in a DIY publication is exciting because it is a chance to create your own narrative. Max and I weren’t seeing the Buffalo Almanack narrative in any other publication out there. There aren’t any significant literary magazines that devote equal attention to photography, but I think those two can be inextricably linked. At their core, both mediums are about storytelling and documentation. And in a historical sense, the development of photography in the 19th and 20th centuries had a profound effect on literature and vice versa, so why not continue to celebrate that connection?


SQF: What’s the top quality you look for in a submission and why?

MVV: I’m of the belief that every writer is a specialist. We can all put sentences together and tapdance along that dotted line from beginning to middle and end. What makes you as an individual writer stand out is that one advanced quality you possess that I don’t. You should know what your thing is, because I’m guessing that’s what brought you to the profession in the first place. The people we call “writers” rarely match the full scope of that definition. We’re often merely passionate language lovers, world builders, truth seekers, life reinterpreters or whatever you may consider yourself. We put up with the hard and dirty act of writing because that’s how we make our ideas digestible for others.

The number one thing I’m looking for is writing that bleeds its author’s thing. Know your skillset and put it to work. Don’t get trapped in the imitation game. True, palpable authenticity is as impressive as it is uncommon.

KM: There are two main things I look for in photography: a strong sense of setting or place, and an awareness of photographic references. Photography is so self-referential—there are millions of published photographs and their styles can be gleamed more immediately than in fiction—so when submissions play with identifiable photographic tropes that excites me. It shows the persistence of visual history. On a more personal taste level, one of the coolest things a submission can do is locate the photograph in place. This doesn’t mean it has to be landscape photography by any means. But the inherent time-melting that happens in the medium allows photographers to suggest a history as well as a present, and when that history evokes place it’s just great. I know these sound like very abstract or arbitrary terms, but judging art is hellishly arbitrary and abstract.


SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

MVV: Off the bat: poor writing, poor editing, dream sequences and stories that display an obvious deficit of imagination (i.e., writing about writers; writing about writers who have forgotten how to write; writing about writers with devastating student loans).

As with all things in life, the worst sin you can commit is to be boring. The second worst is definitely dream sequences.

KM: Cliché. Photography’s self-referential nature is a double-edged sword; sometimes it produces interesting meta commentary on, say, the tradition of social documentary photography. Other times it produces blurry pictures of plastic bags in the wind. While I think photographers should take their art at least semi-seriously, they should never take themselves completely seriously. And photographers are infamous for taking themselves very seriously. Other than that, poor editing is a pretty common mistake—overzealous use of filters, bad framing or cropping, and submissions clearly taken with a phone. I have nothing against iPhone photography, but if it just looks like a typical Instagram image I’m not going to publish it.


SQF: What is the Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence, and what additional qualities do you look for when selecting recipients?

MAX: The Inkslinger Award is a $50 honorarium we devised for our first issue to help us adhere to the ideal that all published artwork is worthy of professional compensation, while still accepting the reality that we, like most editors, are pretty much broke. You can learn more about the specifics of the prize on our website.

Deciding which of the four stories we run per issue ranks as the most exceptional is a subjective and occasionally masochistic process. Sometimes it’s the one I found most shocking. Sometimes it’s the one I found most inventive, or funny or odd. I’m afraid I’ll have to cite Jacobellis v. Ohio here in saying, “I know it when I see it.”

Newcomers to Buffalo Almanack ought to take a moment to check out our four previous Inkslinger winners: Ian Riggins, Jared Yates Sexton, Joseph Lucido and Andy Bailey. Their stories are all tiny masterpieces and serve as a phenomenal reflection of our editorial tastes.


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

MVV: I’ve learned that almost every writer has done a story set at a circus freak show. I’m being totally serious. I get about three bearded ladies a week. I have no idea how this became such an ubiquitous setting. Maybe traveling circuses are the best, most universalized representation of the encroachment of the “weird” into our everyday, domestic lives. Maybe there are a lot of Tod Browning fans out there.

When it comes to the overdone and overused, it’s freak shows all the way, with parents dying of cancer in a close second. I guess this speaks to my earlier point about avoiding the imitation game.

KM: For one, every issue we publish reinforces my belief that writing and visual arts should be considered together. An understanding of each realm enhances the other. I’ve also been heartened to learn that young people are still interested in film-based photography. Again, I hold digital images in high esteem—one of my favorite pieces we’ve published has been Melanie Clemmons’s food and animal montage—but it’s also reassuring to see that the traditional physical tools of photography are still being used. Dramatic cultural critics are terrified that tangible art-making is dead, but clearly that is a knee-jerk reaction.


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

MVV: What’s next for Buffalo Almanack? Well, our sixth issue is due for release on December 15th, featuring four all-new stories, a boatload of visually arresting imagery and an interview with The Girl in the Flammable Skirt author and all around genius Aimee Bender.

We’ve recently launched our new blogging site Bloggalo Almanack, which is full of even more delicious literary thought-nuggets and even a few guest posts. We’ve been growing by bounds with each issue and we expect things will only get better in 2015. We’re well on track for global domination. Might pick up a few Pulitzers on the way. Who knows?

If you’ve read us before, keep reading! If you’re new to Buffalo Nation, stick around! It’s only going to get better.

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

NEXT POST: 11/28—Six Questions for Mel Anastasiou, Jennifer Landels and Susan Pieters, Editors, PULP Literature

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