Friday, March 23, 2018

Six Questions for Camille Griep, Editor, Easy Street

Easy Street publishes flash fiction, fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, reviews, interviews, editorial columns, news, and opinion pieces.

We're looking for literature that blends the borders of genre and classification. If you've ever been asked:
"Is this poetry or flash?"
"Is this essay or fiction?"
Or even, "What makes you think you can just make your own genre rules?"
Then try us.

Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Camille Griep: Easy Street is the younger sibling of The Lascaux Review, a gorgeous, traditional literary magazine. Over time, its aesthetic has coalesced into something quiet and stately, and though that's nothing to be ashamed of, we found ourselves as editors wishing to welcome all the work we loved that wasn't quite as tacit, polished, or classifiable. We started Easy Street to embrace literature between the margins, including opinions, reviews, columns, and satire.

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

CG: Voice. Nonfiction without voice is journalism, something I value highly but am not looking for at Easy. Fiction without voice is bland, and I'm not looking for that either. This is not to say I don't appreciate a distant 3rd person (think fairy tale) narrative, just not one that is generic. A lot of folks ask, "What is voice?" and while that question would take longer than this forum might welcome, I'll say simply that voice has to do with the quality of the way the writer presents their words, a cadence, a personality, a stamp that says only that writer could have put those words together in this way. While it's easy to overanalyze, voice can be as simple as writing the way you write and think, not the way you think someone else might want to read.

Organization. I want to follow what you're writing, in any genre, be it segmented poetry or braided essays. Sometimes, so much of a story is present, but information comes at the wrong time or not at all. Often this is not a story problem, but one of organization. It's also frequently a problem of over-editing and trying to integrate too many critiques into a piece. In nonfiction, I find this is a problem when we write passionately and quickly. I have submitted a fair number of pieces from my heart that had no business near an editor until I'd found a clear narrative line for my thoughts. I want writers to write while the fire is there and organize as the embers cool. I'll wait for your timely piece as long as it's polished. We all have that friend who can write perfect first drafts and have them published the next day, however, it's worth your own piece of mind to not have to cringe over your crimes of literary passion six months down the road.

Fresh Metaphors. Because we humans share so many common experiences -- even though we experience them as individuals -- editors tend to see similar themes arise over and over again. We lose our parents, find ourselves alone, and grow older. While common word pairings, clichés, etc. are not necessarily out of place in longer work when we need to keep a reader at pace, in short formats I'm looking for new ways of seeing and feeling. If the writer tells me "this heartache cut like a knife" - I've already connected to that metaphor countless times, but if you give me a new metaphor, one I haven't been able to put in words yet, (for example, "this heartache was the breath I could not take") then I can say, as a reader, "Yes! That's it!" The reader knows you know exactly how they feel, and will trust you to guide them. If they don't share that experience with you, fresh metaphors give them a roadmap to follow - a gift beyond the story at hand, a way to orient themselves.

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

CG: I don't often stop reading submissions. I generally will read a story through even if I don't think it starts strong. However, when I do stop reading, it's generally due to some glaring male gaze. If the first quality a writer lists about a woman is the quality of her breasts, I typically know what sort of story it will be and it's not one that is for us at Easy. I don't mind being told about breasts if they are important to the story, however, males apprising females in paragraph one isn't going to do much to pique my interest. 

I want to be clear, here: male gaze is not the same as male perspective. I'm not saying I don't want stories from men. The problem with male gaze is not that a male is appreciating the features of a woman; it's the objectification of women solely as objects of male desire. As a reader, I'm ideally supposed to sit down beside the author and appraise the world through their eyes. I do not and cannot assess women - or humans in general - with a male gaze, and, for me, it becomes difficult not to allow my distaste for the protagonist to color my opinion of the author, particularly when the language is egregious and/or abusive. There are a thousand other ways to tell me your characters are beautiful (or less so), so use them. I want to hear stories from men; I have zero interest in critiquing the features and flaws of an imaginary character.

All that said, there was one particular story at Easy last year where the author used male gaze as a way to redeem his character. I liked the idea of protagonist awakening to and having an epiphany around the concept, and the tale worked on several levels (satirical and otherwise) due to its inclusion.

SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a "regular" basis?

CG: I'm so often spying on new magazines, too, because I want to see how the world is changing. I love visiting AWP every year to see how the literary landscape continues to change. But my favorites tend to be:

Black Warrior Review
Fairy Tale Review
The Rumpus
Split Lip
Paris Review
Los Angeles Review

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

CG: Stories from the point of view of children are tough for us. Children's voices rarely bring the resolution necessary to the kinds of stories we're looking for, and as survivors of varied childhood traumas ourselves, it's difficult to not bring a lot of baggage to the table as readers. We find childhood narratives frequently underinvested or overwrought, and it's always a challenge to get into an authentic childhood headspace.

Gotcha! stories and twist endings, unless done really well, aren't what we're looking for, either. This is not to say there aren't markets for stories that are neat, tidy, and cute. Or are the traditional shaggy dog tales, but I don't know that we're necessarily that market.

Finally, we also seem to garner quite a bit of writing geared toward jilted love in our slush pile. I feel these pieces so deeply because I wrote a lot of them myself in my younger years. The problem with these - not always, but most of the time - is that they are unsparingly personal. When your poem is so filled with anger and heartache and vitriol, it's hard for a reader to come try and share that space without getting burned. There has to be space for the readers to see themselves and connect. Despite often containing powerful and brilliant metaphors, hermetic, confessional fiction and poetry doesn't lend well to connection. I wish these writers would pick the brilliant pieces from these intensely personal narratives and craft something even more beautiful around them.

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

CG: How do you feel about cover letters?

I'm glad you asked! I don't read cover letters until I've finished deciding on a piece. Submittable's system has a marvelous tool where an editor can hide the cover letter from themselves. I do this because every editor seems to have a different idea of a nice cover letter, and it's hard to keep straight these days. Some editors ask for everything from a summary of the story to tests of whether or not a writer read the sub guidelines.

 I prefer a cover letter to say my name or the magazine's name or even a cursory attempt at our entity (we get a lot of cover letters addressed to other magazines, contests, editors) and something like "Thank you for your time considering my 1000-word short story." And that's it. I don't mind if the writer includes something they liked about the magazine or how they found it.

What I do mind is an explanation of the story or a declaration of what they've done with the work. I have to make that discovery as a reader and I often feel that if the work cannot stand for itself, then it is probably not finished. Go ahead and tell me why you love whales so much that you wrote a sonnet for them, but don't tell me how the poem is the single greatest piece of whale literature since Moby Dick. It might well be, but you have to let the editor say that. Otherwise we get our little, red-pen editor feelings out of sorts. 

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

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