Friday, November 26, 2021

No Six Questions For. . . this week

 There will be no interview published this week. For those who celebrate it, enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Six Questions for Rosalind Moran, Nancy Jin and Chloë Manning, Editors, Cicerone Journal

Cicerone Journal publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. “A cicerone is a guide who shows and explains the curiosities of a place to strangers. We want you to lead us to interesting and unseen places, and help us to understand these places.” Issues may be themed. Learn more here.

SQF: How did this magazine come to be?

Nancy Jin: For a long time we had been interested in writing, arts, culture and would talk with admiration about the projects that we saw other young writers and editors starting. We got to a place where we were just thinking that if this was something that we were interested in, then we should really give it a go. For me, it was also really a chance to add to the plurality of voices in the writing community - we love to work with emerging writers and first time writers and making sure that our journal feels like a welcoming place that takes their writing on their own terms. Chloë joined our small editorial team from Issue 5, and she has provided knowledge and experience in putting together this speculative fiction issue.

Rosalind Moran: Nancy has summed it up well! Cicerone was very much born from a desire to contribute to a sector and community that we cared about. I would add that another driving motivation behind us founding the publication was that we wanted to give back to local writers. Cicerone publishes work by writers from all over the world, but it was founded in Canberra, Australia, and has links to the city both because of our team’s personal ties to the place as well as grant funding that we have received from local organisations. This has meant that we have been able to run in-person events for local writers while also offering a platform for writers from all over the world. The interplay of local and further afield has been an exciting aspect of managing and editing the publication.

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

NJ: For me, it’s definitely about a sense of curiosity, a sincerity in the work and memorable images. I want to know and understand what the writer wants to say and how they want to say it and I am always looking for a connection to the work.

CM: I think Nancy has a really good point with sincerity. It’s easier to avoid criticism if you only talk about what you’re not saying, but even genres like satire that are defined by irony and cynicism have to have a core of genuine meaning. You don’t need to snip off bits of your soul for public consumption, but you should believe in what you’re saying, whether it’s a grand philosophical statement or that baby dragons are really cute. So from me, sincerity, empathy, and an engaging voice.

RM: Leaving aside the excellent points Nancy and Chloë have already raised, I would say that I look for logic, emotional intelligence, and written flair. Even if a story doesn’t have a logical plot, it matters to me that the author has been deliberate and logical in the construction of their piece. Emotional intelligence matters both in the context of characters being well-written and their authors showing evidence of having thought about the emotional or thematic story they are telling. As for written flair, I am enormously fond of wordplay and wit, both of which can be difficult to capture on the page - meaning I get very excited when I encounter them.

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

RM: Bigoted beliefs. Bigoted characters can be fascinating, but it’s difficult to move past authorial prejudices that come through in the writing. 

NJ: Probably anything which doesn’t examine its underlying premises and assumptions - falling into unexamined clichés and stereotypes and tropes doesn’t endear me to a work.

CM: Not doing basic research. I don’t mean minutiae — I don’t care if it was raining in Sydney on the 5th of October 1996 and the writer makes it sunny — but if the opening paragraph tells me it’s a beautiful day in Vienna, capital city of Germany, and it isn’t an alternate history, we have a problem. 

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

NJ: This is a difficult question. A lot of things can grab me and make me keep wanting to read: it can be character, imagery or expression. I think I’m generally looking for good ideas and good concepts on a first reading.

RM: I think a certain degree of polish is good. There is no single right way of opening a story, but if you can make a reader feel confident in your storytelling abilities - through sound writing, good presentation, and a compelling tone - you are already off to a good start. Other than that, I appreciate when an opening paragraph provokes an emotion in the reader in a way that doesn’t feel excessively manufactured. Doing this well can help pieces stand out.

CM: Establishing the tone and voice is good. From a short fiction point of view, some writers do a kind of flash-forward where they bring up something from the main action/conflict/subject of the piece before going back to establish how the story got there. That’s not a silver bullet but it is worth experimenting with if you think your beginning lacks interest. I do think first lines can be overemphasised, though — a good first line won’t save a boring piece.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells (things you won’t publish) for your publication?

NJ: I think the things I don’t want to publish are fairly standard no-nos. Gratuitous violence, sexualised violence and hate speech among them. Another thing that has come up are submissions which have not heeded the submission guidelines at all (e.g. poems when we have specified short fiction). 

RM: I think Nancy has answered this question well. One hard sell I would add that may be more specific to our editorial team’s tastes is that of unwittingly regressive gender dynamics. By all means send us stories with flawed individuals and relationships. However, when a story unwittingly degrades certain characters or presents flawed individuals and relationships as actually being healthy and aspirational, I struggle to move past this. 

CM: The “absolutely not” that has actually come up a few times is romanticising suicide. It’s often shown as a symbol of rebellion or as a demonstration of devotion. What it actually is is the leading cause of death of Australians between age 14 and 44. There’s a really big difference between destigmatising mental illness and glamorising it.

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

RM: Where can I buy your book? (Cicerone Journal published a collection of original writing and art in 2020!). And the answer can be found on our website at

NJ: Second Rosalind’s question! And another one from me, what unexpected things have you learned from starting up a magazine? And the answer to that is that I have learned how much you should really be on top of emails! Always check the junk folder. Now that we have that sorted, please get in touch!

CM: What’s on and what’s next? Our speculative fiction issue, Curious Worlds, is available to read on our website. As for what’s next, follow our Facebook and Twitter to keep up with any announcements.

Thank you, Rosalind, Nancy, and Chloë. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Six Questions for Alisa Golden, Editor, Star 82 Review

Star 82 Review publishes short fiction/creative nonfiction to 750 words, flash fiction, combo word + image, art, erasure text, collage poems, and hidden gems.  “Star 82 Review especially looks for humanity, humility and humor.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Alisa Golden: I wanted to share writing with artists and art with writers and to create a new community. Ten years later I am happy to report that the categories have become more fluid, and more people are creating both, as well as hybrid forms. The communication with accepted contributors has been extremely positive.

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

AG: In a story I look for a meaningful interaction between at least two people, sometimes in relation to a place, animal, or an object. In this way the reader can experience how characters deal with their challenges. Interaction in relation to someone or something is the “show" part of the ubiquitous advice, “show, don’t tell."

In both prose and poetry I look for thoughtful reflection, an emotional truth, and connection to the wider world. A piece can be very specific, with concrete imagery, but also ripple outward as we notice how we are all connected. An emotional truth is something humans can share, we can feel it; this emotion provides an entry point for the reader. 

In art I look for that entry point; it could be the back of a person, a landscape, or object rendered with emotion, skill, and care. How can the viewer relate to and be part of the image? For everything I’m looking for something ultimately positive, a little bit of hope, if possible.

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

AG: In addition to the usual things that editors mention (hate, violence, isms), a tone of judgment, self-satisfaction, or viewing a character as Other or exotic.

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

AG: Right away the language tells me where I am. Lyrical language and attention to sound relaxes me immediately; I can trust this writer. Expletives early on suggest the story will not be right for *82. If I see the word “o’er,” or other archaic language in the poetry, I am worried the poem is stuck in the past. I hope to read honest language of the present, and true to the writer.

I also hope the setting isn’t a café or—since the pandemic— the inside of someone’s home with only one person in it. I would like to be taken to a new place, learn something, or see something or someone in a new light.

For artwork I look for access for the viewer: landscapes, cityscapes, seascapes, nature, buildings; good abstract work; no portraits. I’d like to be able to say, “Wow!” and wish I had seen or thought of that.

SQF: Are there particular genre/categories that you’d like to see more of in your submissions?

AG: I would love to see more compressed prose, prose poems, and short fiction that contain lyrical language and imagination. That is not to say fantasy, but does say stories I haven’t read before, self-aware, perhaps about overlooked, everyday subjects, the kinds of things that stand-up comedians notice. I’d like to see the work dig deep and push further. Even so, I still may admire a piece and not publish it for other reasons, usually subject-related.

The stories I want to see less of: the unrequited infatuation, the dying relative, the road kill or crash stories, the hospital stories, the memoir unconnected to the wider world. And anything just too sad. But this is one editor’s opinion. There are so many other magazines and homes for all kinds of works.

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

AG: What do you like about compressed forms?

Part of what makes flash, poetry, and compressed writing so interesting is that little leap of inference the reader gets to make, filling in the spaces between actions. There can be a chuckle in the “aha” moment when the reader is in on the joke.

Yet, although I am interested in seeing more humor, a humorous short work should not be a joke or have a punchline. I’m looking for the “funny always,” the funny you feel in your gut and that makes you nod your head or perhaps wince in recognition. That’s the human condition.

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

This is an updated interview. The original can be found here.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Six Questions for Bupinder Singh, Associate Editor, The UNIverse Journal

The UNIverse Journal publishes fiction (1,000-7,500 words), poetry (up to 1,500 words), articles (to 5,000 words), research papers (no limit), book reviews and interviews (1,000-5,000 words). The UNIverse Journal publishes fiction which captivates with its intriguing language and characters; non-fiction in a variety of voices and perspectives; and poetry from emerging and established poets. Read the complete guidelines here.

 SQF: How did The UNIverse Journal come to be?

Bupinder Singh: When we look at the Literary Landscape of India, we find only a handful of Lit-mags and journals. Some of them are very reputed with a very low acceptance, while others start and stop, are irregular, and the publishing cycle is largely dependent on whether they get a submission or not. Also, the reach is limited to niche-audiences due to the magazines being largely confined to traditional means of acquiring submissions and publication dispersal. 

We wanted to create a journal magazine mix with a wider reach, all-encompassing genres, using modern technology, dispersal and reading systems and still not compromise on the quality or the credibility. With an ISSN inclusion and indexing at major journal repositories, we aim to make the journal a highly indexed and referenced one.


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

BS: To keep it short and crisp, the top three things are, 

  • Adherence to submission guidelines; means you take your own writing and our time seriously.

  • A higher meaning, value or purpose in fiction/poetry/non-fiction; though we are open to all sub-genres, we love a submission that has a value other than its literary merit.

  • Language: We are die-hard fans of good language. We hate grammar mistakes, misplaced commas, erroneous syntax, and spelling mistakes. Please proofread before sending.

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

BS: The primary thing that we hate is completely ignoring the submission guidelines; which we see a lot—pasting your submission in the body of the text. Improper formatting of the document, and you would be amazed—submissions in entirely different languages—that is just obliterating the guidelines. 

If we read blind, you should not put your name anywhere in the submission. If we ask for DOCX files, you should not send in PDF or at least not in JPG—that is plain disrespect. I know a lot of writers want to submit everywhere, but the primary thing for a writer is reading. You cannot read through the submission page properly, and then expect us to read your whole submission! TURN-OFF.

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

BS: If I say a hook, I would be totally lying. An opening is like a face; if it is smiling, it is inviting. The opening lines we want are Finnegans Wake or Invisible Man, or Moby Dick. Not the 'once upon a time.' 

The paragraph, on the other hand, can be a simple scene-setting or exposé, something grave, or just a descriptive text, but it should tell us about the use of language, the words, the structure, the syntax, the grammar, and the style. A weak first paragraph disconnects you from the story, it feels a burden to read through the rest, and with that mindset, a reader is destined to reject the story.

SQF: The UNIverse Journal is the first one I've interviewed that offers to publish research papers. Are there particular topics you are most interested in?

BS: We love any social/political/moral critique of an existing text. A new angle to a very famous text. Data-driven research papers which talk about some new happenings in the literary world or qualitative literary criticism which brings to light a facet totally ignored by the literary community are welcome. We are expanding our horizons as and when the paper submissions happen. And we are keeping ourselves open to any kind of submission. 


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


BS: The question I would love to be asked would be the one I want to ask every editor out there: What are your personal biases and prejudices toward submissions, and how do you overcome those?

And my answer is; I am biased in language and literary merit. I have a very biased view of what consists of good literature, and that, despite being a POC, is prominently a white, cis-male, heteronormative literature; the classical Dickens and Austins and Hardys. That parameter in itself is against an inclusive literary view. The literature that comes from BIPOC, LGBTQ, and disabled people may or may not always adhere to those parameters, for want of MFA's, financial and social upbringings and other allied factors. 

To mitigate it, I read a lot of literature from such people to familiarise myself with what they write, to recreate my definition of literary merit. 

And with that, I thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak out and to contribute positively to this dialogue. 


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

Friday, October 29, 2021

Six Questions for Megan Cassiday, Editor-in-Chief, Dead Fern Press

Dead Fern Press publishes fiction and creative non-fiction (including flash fiction) to 3,000 words, poetry to one page, and art. “We are looking to publish all kinds of poetry, but prefer to stay away from clichés.” Read the complete guidelines here -

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Megan Cassiday: Dead Fern was an idea that I had toyed around with for quite some time after a friend whose writing I've always enjoyed and whose literary career I've watched since we met a few years ago, started their own lit mag. I created my website probably six months before actually going through with making it live and announcing DFP on Twitter, and during that time I had been submitting my own work to various places and I had gotten a few poems accepted which was really cool, but I was fairly new to the lit world and didn't know where or how to find magazines that fit my personal writing aesthetic; and I figured if I was having these kinds of issues, surely other people were too, and that's when I decided to finalize DFP. 

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

MC: The top three things that I look for in a submission are: 

Number One: is the submission sent according to our guidelines? If it isn't, I can only assume you didn't read them or, you did and just didn't care which leads me to believe you aren't that interested in Dead Fern itself, just in getting your work published somewhere. I've had people who aren't able to follow some guidelines due to one reason or another reach out to me about them and we work together to find a happy medium, but I can definitely tell when someone just saw an open submission call and threw their stuff into an email without caring. 

Number Two: does the submission reflect the aesthetic of the magazine and tone of work already published? If someone is having trouble deciding if their work will be a good fit here, I always suggest reading a few pieces that are on the site already. Dead Fern has a taste for the sad, dark, peculiar, and sometimes disturbing so sending over a love poem or fairytale might not be the best bet at getting accepted. That doesn't mean I won't give every submission a fair read, but it's always important to be mindful of a magazines 'vibe'. 

Number Three: language used. As said before, Dead Fern has a taste for literature on the darker side so I don't mind reading stories and poems with disturbing topics—in fact I'm happy that I've created a space where people feel safe sending me these kinds of things, but something I won't tolerate is purposefully harmful language or images. Thankfully it hasn't happened many times, but I have gotten submissions that are meant to be shocking upon opening and I think that's taking advantage of my openness and Dead Fern's unstated "send me whatever you want" policy (minus the blurb on our submit page that states not to send racist, homophobic, or sexist work). I often read submissions of death, trauma, sex, drugs, and the like so to go out of your way and send something harmful just isn't okay. 

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

MC: The biggest turn off is for sure not following the submission guidelines. If it's just something small like not titling your email correctly or forgetting a bio, I can work around that because I myself make mistakes and am forgetful too, but there is a line I have to draw in order to get through everyone's work in a timely manner. Following the guidelines also shows that the author respects not only me, but also the magazine and they are making an actual effort towards getting published by Dead Fern

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

MC: It sounds cliche, but I look for something that grabs my attention and signifies "hey, this is worth a reader's time". If it isn't engaging from the start, it doesn't make for a fun read to others who will be seeing it on the site. I get a lot of submissions and Dead Fern is a solo project so I'm the only one reading everything, and the pieces that have the best chance at getting published are the ones that stand out. Understandably though, not every piece goes from 0 to 100 in the first few lines, but I would hope that if the attention grabber isn't in the intro, it comes up pretty quickly in the body. 

SQF: Is there a type/genre of submission you’d like to receive more of?

MC: I would love to see more horror/ psychological thriller, and dark realism fiction pieces. I love every piece of fiction I've ever published on DFP no matter the genre and often go back and re-read them just because they're all so good, but these are the two genres that I really look out for. As a young kid, horror movies were my favorite to watch, and as an adult, dark realism is my favorite to read, so I have a deep appreciation for these two specific genres. I know that both of these can be kind of hard to place due to the topics that come with them and so writers don't submit them often (at least from what I've seen), so I always get excited when one gets sent my way. 

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

MC: It isn't a question as much as it is a statement, but I would like to remind writers to reach out to magazines if they aren't comfortable with something, notice a mistake, or even just have questions. There have been a couple times when I don't catch a misspelling in a piece or there are formatting issues upon publication and the writer reaches out about it and profusely apologizes to me for the inconvenience, but it's your work and you deserve to have it seen the way you want so never be afraid to bring concerns up to an editor. 

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