Friday, August 12, 2016

Six Questions for Tomovi Keoni, Founder/Editor-in-Chief, Heart & Mind Zine

Heart & Mind Zine publishes art from any genre/topic in the form of writing, images, audio, and video. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Tomovi Keoni: I started Heart & Mind Zine (HMZ), with the thought that publishers can better serve artists, and had one goal in mind:

To create a publication which is all inclusive, and transparent as possible.

It’s no secret that artists come in all forms, and express themselves in a multitude of ways, yet if you check through the hundreds of publisher listings you’ll find, again and again, restrictive guidelines which limit artists to a certain theme, genre, or media.  Limiting things further, the grand majority of publications accept written and image submissions only.  I thought to myself, “Isn’t this 2015!? Can’t we easily host media via website? Why is no one serving the bands, singers, dancers, street performers, directors, slam poets, rappers, etc.?” I searched for such a publisher, only to find that no such multi-media artistic publisher existed.  Musical artists are quarantined to music only sites such as BandCamp, SoundCloud, and ReverbNation which seek to profit from their work more than promote them.  Performers, and short film makers are stuck trying to promote work themselves which has been published on Youtube, Vine, or Vimeo. Writers have to search through dozens of publisher listings, reading samples and paying fees along the way, just to find a home for their piece. So I decided, if no one else wants to remedy these glaring problems, I will.

After that I got to work on crafting Heart & Mind Zine, creating the structure and guidelines in such a way that we would be able to host as much art as possible, and support artists rather than exploit them. Six months of reading, researching, and tinkering later I had the outline for HMZ, and began recruiting judges.  Another four months of speaking with the judges, and making final adjustments, we began accepting submissions for our first issue. I rely heavily on judges for their input and suggestions, HMZ is the product of a like-minded group of art enthusiasts (all of which are artists themselves), who want to help great art and artists share their work(s).

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

TK: Well, it would be difficult to narrow it down to just three things I look for, in fact, if you check our “Judging Process” page on the website, you’ll see an example of the scoring sheet we use when analyzing works of fiction. Those being originality, execution, flow, grammar, diction, and entertainment value. Each of these aspects are important to consider when reviewing fiction, and taking time to do so allows the judges to fully experience each piece they review.
Now, I realize I haven’t answered the question yet, so at the sake of belittling the importance of a multi-faceted review, here goes:

First and foremost, when I experience a piece of art, it must make me FEEL something, anything! Anger, disgust, love, entrancement, happiness, confusion, humor, the list goes on.  The difference between a piece of art and just another story, picture, or video is whether or not it makes you feel something. Art is meant to convey the artist’s intended emotion or idea, to everyone who examines their work. In this way, they can share their deepest thought and feelings with others.  So, if I examine any piece of art and am left with the same blank slate I approached it with, then the artist has failed to convey their message and it is not a good work of art.  There is a quote floating around that simplifies this thought “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”- Cesar A. Cruz.

The second thing I look for, is the artists’ intent which should be clear from examining the piece alone; that is, without a little white card to tell me its intent. This is where the skilled artists and the amateurs are really separated.  It is hard to convey intent, but as I mentioned in my first point, the transfer of emotion and thought is the very thing that makes something art. This applies to written pieces too, if an author meant to tell a sad story but it comes off as humorous or melodramatic instead, they need to make some changes. Don’t get me wrong, little white cards in an art gallery usually serve to enrich the experience, but any onlooker should get the gist of the artist’s intent within a few minutes with their work.

Third, I need to hear the artist’s voice coming through their work. Sometimes I read a story and can see the outline of a writer’s workshop in it; while it’s structurally sound it lacks originality and passion. Artists, need to find their voice amid the standards and expectations of whatever media they’ve chosen.  This is perhaps the most difficult aspect for an aspiring artist, or author, to contend with (though it comes naturally to some). At the heart of things, artists just want to express themselves but now they have to do it in single space, Calibri font, in under 3000 words, with all the rules of grammar in mind. But if they can’t do this, so often the person examining the piece can’t pick up on their voice at all, and the intent of the piece is lost in the artistic ether.

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

TK: More than anything, sloppiness turns me off of a submission.  There a two reasons for this, first, as an editor, I don’t want to pick through a piece adding commas and changing verbiage. It takes a long time, and I always feel like I’m violating an author’s creation. I wouldn’t go to an art show start adding lines and color to paintings, yet so often writers submit pieces which are obviously rough drafts, and are asking me to do the equivalent.  Second, I am an editor in the sense that I want to help make a piece look its very best before publishing it, I am not interested in re-writing whole sentences so a story is readable.

SQF: Will Heart & Mind Zine publish a work published on a personal blog?

TK: Yes! Heart & Mind Zine is here to support great pieces of art and their artists, not limit them.  Artists retain the complete rights to their works, and we do not request first publication rights.  It doesn’t matter to me if you submit a story which already has a million hits on your blog, if you think HMZ is a good place to further promote it, then we’ll review it.

SQF: If you could have dinner with three authors, who would they be and why?

TK: I would love to sit down with Brian K. Vaughn of Image Comics and discuss his current series titled Saga. His writing in this series is some of the best I’ve ever read, he maintains around a dozen main characters, in a trans-galactic story in which everything has depth, and manages to seem realistic and magical at the same time.  Every time I turn a page I’m not sure what I’ll read next, but then it makes perfect sense when I do. Of course I’d love to talk with Fiona Staples, who is the artist for this comic series too.

My next choice would be Stephen King (a unique choice, I know). I’m not a big fan of horror writing, so I’ve read only a few chapters of his gruesome novels.  However, my favorite series of all time is his seven book series The Dark Tower, which is a sci-fi/western with very little horror elements.  He started the first book of this series when he was in college in the 1970’s and didn’t finish the last book until the 2000’s.  In fact, many of the books he wrote in that time frame have some interaction in his The Dark Tower series.  It is truly a masterpiece of writing.  I mean, I have enough trouble keeping the stories I write consistent over the course of months, much less decades.

Finally, I’d like to sit down with any author of a book on mythology.  I love the old stories of Gods and men and monsters, and so many of them were never written down until someone dedicated themselves to research oral traditions and write them down.  When I think about how long humanity has been telling stories, compared to the amount of time we’ve been writing them down, it makes my head reel.  How many great stories were never written down and are lost forever? The oldest writings we have are around 5,000 years old, written by the Sumerians, but it is thought that humanity itself is 1.8 million years old. Not even 1% of human history is recorded anywhere! A chance to speak with an author who has spent decades dredging up a single story from the past would be fantastic.  How intimately must they tell that tale, and how passionate must they be?

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

TK: I wish you’d asked me: “What do you look for in a publication?”

Whether I’m reading, or looking for a place to submit my own writing, I am choosy when it comes to spending my time with a publication.  I look for sites and zines which do not require large fees (in the writing world anything over $20 is exorbitant), while I understand a fee is a good tool to limit submissions to “serious writers only,” it also keeps out serious writers who can’t afford them.
Also, I rarely read or submit to themed publications.  Again, I understand the purpose is to appeal to a specific reader audience, but personally, I don’t want to buy a zine or go to a site, and read the same type of story page after page.  As a writer, themed publications often ask you to read their samples and then, if you don’t submit something that sounds just like their samples, you have no chance of getting published.  It limits creativity, and the last thing a writer wants to hear is “It’s good, but, make it more like this one because that’s what I like.” Don’t get me wrong, constructive criticism is a great way to improve writing, but when the only criticism is of personal interest, then the piece of writing is only being criticized subjectively and not objectively.

Finally, I look for publications which support their artists rather than exploit them.  If there are a lot of ads, or more information about the publishing team, and their endeavors, than the artists’, then I avoid engaging with them.  For publishers, marketing is hard, but they shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to market their editorial over their artists.

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

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