SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Philip Elliott: On an immediate level, I want nothing but a career in writing and editing and so launching a literary magazine is not only a logical step to take but it's me in my element, doing something I absolutely love and getting to see it grow, making connections with so many amazing writers and artists along the way and discovering their work and following their careers, gaining a unique perspective on and insight into the craft and publishing, learning all the while. More importantly, though, I know how hard it can be to get published, and I also know how much brilliant writing is out there that sadly might never find a home. Even though there has been such a rise in the number of literary magazine in recent years, they are still astronomically outnumbered by all the writers and artists on the planet, and I wanted to create a magazine that, while publishing only great pieces, offers a real chance for all, regardless of experience. And on a deeper level, I wanted to share with the world truly passionate writing that offers a glimpse into the core of the people brave enough to share a part of themselves to the world, making it a slightly less difficult place to live in for us all.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
PE: First, it's voice. This is particularly true for fiction. Right away I'm checking the first paragraph for that magic stuff, that power and flow of a writer in full control of the words, the sentences, the rhythm, the poetry, and the interaction of it all. That's the key to great writing. If you can find your voice--or more specifically, if you can find the voice of the piece you're working on--you can do anything. The first paragraph is key, grab my attention, with either the beauty of the words or the intrigue of the action, preferably both. Ignite my curiosity. Give me a sentence to swoon over. Pull me into your world.
Second, it's heart. Sincerity. Passion. I like to see that this story, poem or essay means something to you. I don't mean intensity or heaviness, just honest, real. There's a world of difference between a light-hearted humorous story written for the sake of being entertaining and a light-hearted humorous story written because that story needed to be told--a pulsing, breathing thing that comes to life on the page. Show me that story.
Third, it's great dialogue. Dialogue is a tricky business. It's often a fine line between cartoonish, unlifelike exchanges and flowing, natural ones. I think people can make the mistake of thinking that good dialogue has to be super-realistic but this isn't true. Good dialogue operates in a sweet spot between realistic and unusual. Good dialogue whispers of conflict, rustles with tension. Good dialogue is oblique. And, very importantly, good dialogue is minimal. It uses as few words as possible. This is true with all writing of course, but it's even more important in dialogue. The best advice I've ever read about dialogue came from Sol Stein's Stein On Writing: Imagine your characters are actors in a play and they've just taken to the stage. But they're only seeing the script for the first time as they do. And the catch: They both have a completely different script--but they don't know that.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
PE: I have a pet hate for passive voice and excessive adverbs. They irritate me. Let me be clear, though, both passive voice and adverbs do serve a function. They have their place, particularly passive voice. A well-placed adverb is very effective. But when they're overused, they destroy a piece of writing. And the worst thing is to see an opening paragraph littered with them. As stated before, the opening paragraph is where you pull the reader into the story by their collar, so it should, by and large, be active and economical.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
PE: Yeah, sometimes. I hate, hate, hate, hate rejecting submissions. I dread it. Which is funny because I have to reject about 96% of them every three months. So, I try to reject in a friendly way, and I will sometimes say something I liked about the piece and encourage someone to resubmit if I liked their work but it didn't have a home in this particular issue, because here's the thing: so much of what is submitted is really good, and in wildly different ways. Every submission has something good about it. But there's only so much we can publish, which is very little, and it depends on emerging themes. So, I like to say something nice if I can. Did I say I hate rejecting?
SQF: If you could have dinner with any three authors (living or dead), who would they be and why?
PE: Denis Johnson. My absolute favourite writer. I'm an atheist but if Johnson is a religion, I'm a disciple. That man can write. He more than writes. He plunges a hand through your chest and slaps your soul, and he does it with his own ribs pulled apart, baring his naked heart. Also he has the most unique and evocative voice of any writer I've ever read. And on a personal level, I relate to every word. Also, considering his revered short story collection, Jesus' Son, which he described as being 'recorded' based on his experiences rather than written, and with all his hardcore journalism in war-afflicted parts of the world, he would have some damn good stories to tell over a meal. Although, now that I think of it, I get the feeling he has a weird dislike of vegetarians . . .
Daphne du Maurier. She was a seriously badass lady. Her stories are, apart from being superb, utterly freaky, and even brave. She wrote what she wanted to write and didn't give a damn what anyone thought of it. She attacked gender roles, traditional notions of sexuality, marriage, romance, traditional writing. And she was a huge influence on everything that came after. Du Maurier is horror, but she is everything else too. That's why she'll never die.
E.E. Cummings. My favourite poet. His poems are so unique and strange and the visual aspect is such an important part of them. He would have a wealth of information to dispense over a meal. I'd keep his wine glass full to keep him talking and I'd hoover up every word.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
PE: If Into the Void was to be represented by a song, what song would it be?
Pink Floyd - Shine On You Crazy Diamond.