Friday, June 16, 2017

Six Questions for Vivian Dorsel, Founding Editor/Publisher, upstreet

upstreet is an award-winning annual literary magazine which—in addition to its fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—includes an in-depth interview with an author in each issue. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Vivian Dorsel: I started upstreet, 13 years ago, because during the eight years when I had been the managing editor of a regional litmag, The Berkshire Review, I had increasingly come to feel restricted by the rules and practices of The Berkshire Writers Room, the organization that published the journal. Submissions were restricted to a geographic area and were evaluated by genre committees headed by the genre editors (Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, Scriptwriting), who had been elected to their positions by the membership. I wanted more control of the magazine, and when my late husband, who was thoroughly sick of hearing about the internal politics of the organization, suggested that I start my own journal, I was happy to do so.

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

VD: This is a difficult question, and the answer depends on whether the submission is fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry. The editors of these genres for upstreet have considerable autonomy in selecting what goes into the journal; their statements are on the upstreet website. (As of our thirteenth issue, we have begun taking poetry only by invitation because the volume of poetry submissions became so great that we were unable to read them all.) For myself, I like to see work that deals with an unusual topic, or with a familiar topic in an unusual way. Structure and style are also significant considerations. However, I think it’s more a matter of voice than of subject matter. I like to hear an interesting, distinctive narrative voice, one that will keep the reader engaged from beginning to end. There are no restrictions on language, or on explicit descriptions of sex or violence, so long as it is not gratuitous and plays a role in enhancing the overall effect of the piece. Any work that is obviously grinding some political axe is not welcome in upstreet.

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

VD: The number one thing that turns me off to a submission is that the author obviously didn’t bother to read the guidelines. The number two thing is when a writer is clearly writing in the service of some political agenda (whether I agree with it or not).

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

VD: Usually we don’t provide comments because we receive so many submissions it would be impossible to comment on all of them. However, once in a while the editor or assistant editor who reads a submission will tell me why he/she thinks a given story or essay missed the mark, and I will often pass that along to the author. When a story or essay has been shortlisted and therefore held for a long time before we turn it down, I will let the author know that his/her work has been on our shortlist and that is why it took so long to hear from us. (Sometimes the only reason it wasn’t accepted is that we didn’t have room for it, and it’s nice for the author to know this.)

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

VD: My own background has been primarily in fiction writing. After having seen literally thousands (!) of fiction submissions, I have found that even when a story has a great beginning and holds my interest throughout, very often it falls apart at the end. (The fiction editors of upstreet agree with this.) Writers have trouble with endings. A good ending is not forced or contrived; it arises organically from the events of the story, and makes sense in terms of what has happened and what the characters are like.

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

VD: What are your goals for upstreet?

My goal is to publish a high-quality literary journal that is a mixture of established and emerging authors. I am delighted when we discover a new writer and are able to publish his/her work for the first time. I am very interested in the creative process and how it varies from one writer to another, and I enjoy doing author interviews that I hope will enlighten serious readers and writers of literature. I am especially pleased that, beginning with the tenth-anniversary issue, we began paying an honorarium to the writers we publish. upstreet values its contributors’ work, and we want them to know that.

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

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