Friday, December 19, 2014

Six Questions for Rebecca Starks, Editor-in-Chief, Mud Season Review

Mud Season Review is an international literary journal run by members of the Burlington Writers Workshop. Each issue of its monthly online journal features one work of fiction, one of nonfiction (both up to 7,000 words), one portfolio of poetry and art. “We seek deeply human work that will teach us something about life, but also about the craft of writing or visual art; work that is original in its approach and opens up new ways of perceiving the world.” Read the complete guidelines here.

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

Rebecca Starks: 

  1. A strong voice—for me that indicates earned wisdom, something like James Joyce’s “out of how deep a life does it spring.” That life could be experiential, or stem from reading, but in either case it should be both well-considered and empathic.
  2. A view from elsewhere—a unique perspective, with some element of risk or challenge.
  3. That it be fully realized—that it have a point, whether or not it has a plot (as William Trevor says of the short story).

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

RS: Shallowness on any level, from verbal to moral: clichés, irony standing in for empathy, unconsidered assumptions. Mistakes don’t bother me—that’s what editors are for—unless they seem to stem from carelessness or a lack of effort.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog? 

RS: No, we want publication in our journal to constitute the first real “making public” of an author’s work. But if a work is shared among friends for feedback, in a limited way, that would not count as publication for us. And an author can always post the work on their personal blog ninety days after we have published it.

The one exception to this rule is art: we will still consider artwork that has been posted on a personal blog.

SQF: Readers unfamiliar with Vermont may not know about mud season. What is it? Is there a relationship between mud season and Mud Season Review?

RS: Mud Season is the early spring, throughout New England: the time when the accumulated snow begins to melt and everything turns to mud. Cars have been known to sink halfway down into dirt roads. People have “mud rooms” for taking off their boots before entering the house. It has countless poems named after it—e.g., “Mud Season” by Jane Kenyon, “Two Tramps In Mud Time” by Robert Frost.

We think of it as a creative season: the time when frozen experience begins to thaw into inspiration, ideas take shape, first drafts turn into final drafts. It’s a messy, unfinished time—and then we want the publication itself to feel celebratory of the finished work that comes out of this inner, private, painstaking work: spring proper.

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

RS: I love working with writers to get their work into its best shape: both the work we accept and the work that is sent us as a “feedback request.” I think all our editors have enjoyed both that and getting to know the contributors through our interviews.

And of course sending acceptances—I’m not sure it ever balances out the feeling of sending out rejections, but it feels very good to send good news to someone whose work you feel you’ve “found” and can help promote. And I love discussing submissions with the Mud Season staff—as a group we have eclectic taste, and it’s all the more rewarding when we converge on a piece.

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

RS: I’m drawn to one of the other questions I’ve seen on this blog: “Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?”

What I’ve learned is that it’s no good rationalizing, as a writer: the poem, the story, the essay—they have to work. Readers feel the flat lines, they puzzle over plot or characters that feel under-motivated, they are really looking for something in some way transformative. Once you realize that real people are reading what you’ve written—taking it very seriously, debating it, wanting to root for it—you realize that what you send out has to be able to stand up to that. You don’t abandon the work—you go back and finish it.

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

NEXT POST: 1/9—Six Questions for Marjorie Tesser, Editor, Mom Egg Review

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