Friday, February 20, 2015

Six Questions for Maryam Piracha, Editor-in-Chief, The Missing Slate

The Missing Slate, based in Islamabad, Pakistan, publishes international visual art, literature (poetry, flash fiction to 1000 words, fiction to 7500 words), and articles (social commentary, op-eds, creative nonfiction).The magazine seeks to publish a diverse range of styles and voices and has published work from over 60 countries and translations from 20 languages. With a broad range of styles and a diverse readership, the magazine offers a home and platform to those not always in the mainstream. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Maryam Piracha: The Missing Slate was established to initiate a global conversation on literature and art, two areas that were rather under-developed in the magazine's originating country (Pakistan) when we first started. I had just wrapped up working with a writers' collective that focused on young South Asian writers and was looking for a change; my creative partner, Moeed Tariq, fresh from an arts collective, was looking at ways to develop a dialog with the country's artists and of bringing the work of more unknown artists to the light, much like I was for literature and essays. So The Missing Slate felt like the perfect vehicle for that. When we started, we didn't dream it would go as far as it was, though however much we've accomplished, we've always stuck to who we are and our original objective: the development of a cultural dialog irrespective of geography. With our joint focus on literature and the arts, we also prominently feature journalism and reportage on important socio-political and socio-cultural movements and issues around the world, conscious always to stay away from mainstream politics. We aren't newspapers and we cannot compete with the depth of their coverage, but what we can do (and have done) is provide reasoned arguments for issues that aren't always in the mainstream media or issues that were important once and have since fallen to the wayside.

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

MP: The top three things we look for in submissions, irrespective of genre (essay, poetry or fiction), is the purpose of the piece and context of the world it embodies, its underlying message and the quality of the prose itself. We also like to publish material that is international and yet true to its inherent nature, basically not international for the sake of being international. It must tell a story, a real story that we as editors can identify with. It must have purpose, a reason for existing that shines through in the quality of prose.

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

MP: The thing that turns me off the most in a submission is firstly aesthetics—there is nothing more insulting, I feel, than writers failing to research the past material we've published and thinking that we're a free-for-all collective willing to publish anything. I would advise writers to be respectful of the time editors take to read through their submissions. Though we cannot afford to pay for submissions, something we are actively trying to change, we do provide a very diverse readership and have helped further the careers of many poets, writers and journalists whom we've had the privilege to publish. So be aware of what you submit, is the message. The other thing that puts me off is when it's a carelessly put together piece, where (in the case of fiction) the plot lines are going nowhere, characters are insufficiently developed, and it's such an overall mess. There might be an underlying message but when it's lost beneath so much muck, and it's clear the author hasn't tried too hard (hello typos and shoddy grammar), there can be nothing more off-putting. A lot of this can be avoided by reading through the magazine and getting the feel of what we do. If it feels like the writer (or poet or essayist) hasn't tried very hard, I think: why should we? We're invested in the careers of the talent we publish but expect some investment in return.

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

MP: We try to be as specific as possible on why a piece was rejected and when we ran our first paying competition, wrote back to each of the people we read whose submissions did not make the cut, with feedback on why the piece didn't work. Due to the volume of pieces we receive, I acknowledge that this isn't always possible, but we try our hardest to write back at least a line or two of feedback of why a piece was rejected and what could be done to improve it.

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

MP: I have the privilege of being a writer and an editor, which I think has informed my abilities as an editor as much as it has on writing and being a writer. I graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing from Lancaster University (as have a number of staff on the editorial team, with related degrees), and was writing for at least nine years before I started editing the work of others. I think, for me personally, coming into the process as a writer first and an editor second has helped remind me of what it's like as an emerging writer, the work one puts in, where the sensitive areas are, how to deal with writers when they can't seem to see past their block (especially in the case of editing essays). It's helped make me a better editor. On the writing aspects of it, I look at the things that Maryam, the editor, would pick up and tweak accordingly, I'm not sure if that fully answers your question, though!

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

MP: It's interesting how this interview has gone to the heart of things. I'm not sure what I'd add into this, though I would speak to the importance of journals that encourage artistic and creative expression, across the world. There are only a handful of them currently and though that does create a niche market, it also speaks to the current status of publishing. I might ask whether we pay our contributors for the work they send us, a sensitive topic no doubt. As I've said above, we don't financially remunerate our talent, though we do try and get the word out about their work, collaborating with other magazines when required, reaching out to publishers and literature festivals (many of which we also live tweet and cover). As a non-profit, we're seeking donations in the attempt to get to the stage where we can offer a financial compensation for the hard work and due diligence any writer shows their work, and we're hopeful that we will reach the stage where all that is possible (and more). But for now, The Missing Slate offers a home to voices not often heard.

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

NEXT POST: 2/27—Six Questions for Eric Allen Yankee and Caseyrenée Lopez, Co-Chief Editors for Spring 2015 Issue, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal

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