SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Joseph P. O'Brien: About two years ago my wife expressed concerns that I seemed extra-disturbed as of late, so I decided I'd try transcendental meditation again. I read David Lynch's Catching the Big Fish, and after a few weeks of practicing what I'd read in the book, FLAPPERHOUSE came to me & told me it would help relieve much of my disturbance—it would help me amass a freaky chorus of bold literary voices to sing together in the kind of genre-fluid, sanctimony-free space I'd seen too rarely in literature, and it would provide for me the kind of personal & creative fulfillment I'd been lacking for far too long. And so it has.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
- Above all, the right tone: a tone which I describe as "flappy." (Sometimes other writers & editors at our zine use the word "flappy" too, though I suspect many of them may just be humoring me.) "Flappy" essentially means "surreal, shadowy, sensual, satirical." A submission does not necessarily need all those things to be flappy, though at least 2 of those things would be ideal, and sometimes just one of those things is needed if the piece is powerful enough. (Also, a regular old sense of humor will often suffice in lieu of actual satire.) Examples of our flappiest fictions include "Ghost-Sick Jarvis" by Eric Siegelstein, and "Chicken Sandwich" by Rebecca Ann Jordan. Our flappiest poems include the ones by Jessie Janeshek and Emily O'Neill.
- We like to see at least a glimmer of a plot in our fictions. Of course, we do publish flash fictions & short prose pieces that are plot-free vignettes, but if the writer is attempting a narrative, we want to see it go further than point A to point B. For instance, we receive a lot of revenge tales that are basically, "Once upon a time there was a sex criminal, and then one of their victims (or a family member of a victim, or a supernatural being sympathetic to the victims) made that sex criminal die a gruesome death, The End." Now we won't deny that we feel a bit of catharsis imagining horrible people die gruesome deaths, but we still need more from the stories we publish. This summer we published a story called "Terrible Fish" by Dora Badger that was about a woman exacting revenge on a horrible person, but her method of revenge was intricate & clever & rooted in her character in addition to a mere thirst for vengeance—all of which made the eventual resolution that much more powerful.
- We like our poetry musical. We always read poetry submissions aloud, so we encourage the use of interesting-sounding words & intoxicating rhythms. We may also be one of the few publications out there that still digs rhyming poetry, so we always enjoy seeing work with clever end-rhymes (think Dorothy Parker, Emily Dickinson, Leonard Cohen, MF Doom).
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
JPO: Personally, I have a big hang-up about most 2nd-person narration in fiction, because to me, it usually doesn't seem to help the story. If I'm reading a narrative in 2nd-person present ("You do this, you do that"), I tend to feel like I'm wearing one of those clunky virtual reality helmets from the '90s, like it's trying extra-hard to immerse me in its world, but instead it just keeps calling attention to itself and dismantling my suspension of disbelief. With 2nd-person past tense narration ("You did this, you did that"), I'm left wondering why the narrator is telling a story to someone who already experienced it, because usually those stories don't tell "you" anything "you" shouldn't already know.
That said, we don't automatically decline all 2nd-person pieces. Last year, for example, we published a story called "Buried Treasure" by Ashley Lister, which was a dark yet playful spoof of "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" stories, and therefore had a good reason to use 2nd-person present-tense narration. Also, I don't mind 2nd-person in poetry, because the "you" in most poems feels like a specific person being addressed rather than some kind of empty vessel that readers are supposed to immerse themselves into.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
JPO: I wish we had the time to comment on them all. We'll generally comment only if a rejected submission comes very close to what we're looking for but doesn't quite hit the mark. In that case, we'll try to offer feedback that'll give the writer a more specific idea of our tastes, should they care to submit more work down the road.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
JPO: By reading all these unpublished submissions, I've become more aware of certain trends that are bubbling up in the lit world. I've found this very helpful because in my own writing I prefer to avoid doing things everyone else is doing (or at least find a smart-ass way to poke fun at what everyone else is doing).
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JPO: Do you ever have particular themes in mind when compiling individual issues?
Aside from the aforementioned flappiness, the only thing we have in mind when we start to compile each issue is the upcoming season. We like each issue to feel like the season it represents, and while it's not a stiff rule, we probably won't be looking for a story set in the dead of winter to appear in our summer issue.
We appreciate why other publications would want to have a specific theme for each issue; constraints can very liberating, in a delightfully paradoxical way. But we prefer to have the themes come to us, to see what's brewing in the minds of the collective consciousness (& subconsciousness) and then we begin to assemble a kind of collage based on that. When compiling our Summer 2015 issue, for instance, we got a lot of violent stories, so that became unofficially known as the Violence Issue. Our latest issue features a lot of different characters flying, through the sky and through the cosmos, so that's like our Flight issue. Though come to think of it, we're always extra-partial to pieces about flight. And magic, and metamorphosis.
Thank you, Joseph. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.