Friday, April 23, 2021

Six Questions for Joshua Fagan, Founder/Editor-in-Chief, Orion’s Belt

Orion's Belt wants works with the elegance and introspection of literary fiction, combined with the wonder and strangeness of speculative fiction. From our website: "Orion’s Belt is a literary speculative-fiction online magazine. We specialize in the strange and poignant and awe-inspiring, stories that have a cosmic scale and intimate personal stakes. Currently, we publish fiction only, one story per month. All stories must be 1200 words or less.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Joshua Fagan: From the time I read H.G. Wells and Tolkien in middle school, I’ve been dazzled by science-fiction and fantasy. One summer, I practically lived in my local library, reading nothing but speculative fiction: old and new, formulaic and inventive. I loved the vivid descriptions of alternate worlds, but more than that, I loved the opportunity to imagine the inner workings of societies and the people within those societies, and I’ve carried that love with me ever since. Speculative fiction allows us to analyze ourselves and our societies in a way that’s not possible in purely realistic fiction.

In my experience, there’s still a tendency in literary-fiction circles to view speculative fiction as lesser, as though it were a neglected sibling. Conversely, in speculative-fiction circles, I’ve observed a tendency to focus primarily on the plot and only secondarily on the writing itself. Craft and form are as important to me as plot, so I’m trying with Orion’s Belt to bridge the gap between literary fiction and speculative fiction. Certainly, there are magazines that do this well—Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Strange Horizons come to mind—but there are very few flash-fiction magazines that do this adequately.

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

 JF: When I think about the speculative stories I most enjoy, the stories I still think about years after I read them, there are a few components that come to mind. The first is technical craft. You don’t have to be F. Scott Fitzgerald for your story to grip me, but there should be some flair, some lyricism, some magic. A story isn’t a scientific research paper. For science-fiction, the focus shouldn’t be on getting every scientific element exactly right. For stories based on myths, the focus shouldn’t be on perfectly replicating every detail of the original myth. Rather, the focus should be on polishing the prose until it shines. This could mean making the prose baroque and elegant, as in Tolkien, or it could mean making the prose sharp and succinct, as in Le Guin or Butler. There should be evidence that time was spent on the story on a sentence-to-sentence level.

In terms of the narrative itself, I want characters who have to make difficult decisions. There should be stakes. If a character wants to accomplish a certain goal, I want to know and feel not only why they want to accomplish this goal, but how devastating it would be for them if they don’t accomplish it. There should be risk involved. I’m reminded of a thought experiment that poses the question of whether Superman is really brave when he saves someone from a rushing train, considering he’s not in danger. I want characters who make—or perhaps, fail to make—brave decisions, meaning decisions with consequences, decisions that involve sacrifice.

My third parameter is more amorphous, and that is strangeness. One of the strengths of speculative fiction is how it allows us to access worlds—and thus states of being—normally beyond our comprehension, and I prefer fiction that takes advantage of that potential. A story that takes place on Mars or in a mystic forest shouldn’t feel the same as a story that takes place in contemporary New York City. A writer should ask themselves why their story needs to be speculative fiction instead of realist fiction, and for me, a significant part of the appeal of speculative fiction is how it estranges us from the familiar. This estrangement can be terrifying or beautiful, but it should be present.

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

JF: I have difficulty accepting stories that are nothing but plot and action, stories that offer little atmosphere or psychological introspection or philosophical insight. Worse for me are stories that strike me as insincere. Cleverness is fine and appreciated, but there should be a heart hiding beneath the artifice. While I love formal experimentation, it shouldn’t exist for its own sake. It should serve some greater dramatic purpose. Stories that are nothing but irony and jokes, with little of substance beneath the façade, are unlikely to grab my attention.

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

JF: As a writer, I speak from experience: opening paragraphs are the most difficult paragraphs to write. I once rewrote an opening paragraph fourteen times in order to ensure it laid the groundwork for the story to follow. Opening paragraphs are particularly vital for flash fiction. A novel, or even a long short story, can recover from a tepid or perfunctory opening paragraph, but a flash-fiction story cannot. An opening paragraph is a miniature submission in its own right: it must convince the reader that the remainder of the story is worth their time. It must establish a distinct voice while introducing us to a world and a set of characters.

Though I have a relatively high tolerance for exposition dumps in novels and longer stories, there’s no place for them in flash fiction. There’s not enough time. Every sentence should immerse the reader further in the story. Does the reader immediately need to know a piece of information? If the answer is no, don’t include it in the narrative. This is especially relevant for writing an opening paragraph. It is the writer’s opportunity for unveiling the story; not just what it is about plot-wise, but who the story will be following, what their struggles are, and what is the story’s perspective on those characters and their struggles.

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

JF: I have nothing against explicit sex and violence as long as they’re not extreme. R-rated scenes are fine. I’m not squeamish. Hardcore erotica, or stories featuring extremely graphic violence, will likely not be published by Orion’s Belt. Additionally, lengthy descriptions of sex and violence will decrease a story’s chances of being accepted simply because of the constraints of the flash-fiction form. These lengthy descriptions have their place in longer fiction—Carmen Maria Machado, for instance, is a great example of a writer who does erotic content intelligently—but in flash-fiction, there’s simply not enough time. I’m not going to accept a 900-word story if the writer spends 500 words on a sex scene or a description of a mutilated corpse.

The hardest sell for me, however, is second-person narration. There are smart and emotionally impactful stories that use second-person, but 99% of the time, it becomes a too-cute gimmick that detracts from the core of the story. I’d like to kindly advise writers who specialize in second-person to take their stories elsewhere.

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

JF: What, from your perspective, is the future of speculative fiction?

Speculative fiction is finding more acclaim and acceptance than in previous decades. While speculative fiction has been extremely popular in the United States and Britain since the end of World War II, it’s rarely attracted significant critical attention. I don’t wish to overgeneralize; there was, of course, philosophical and celebrated speculative fiction in the past, from Wells and Bradbury to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, but in general, speculative fiction was rarely afforded the same level of respect in highbrow circles as realist literature. That appears to be changing, thankfully. Fantasy stories win bevies of Oscars and Emmys, a development that would have been hard to imagine only a few generations ago. Even highbrow literary circles have demonstrated an increasing respect for surrealist and magical realist elements in recent years.

This, from my amateur perspective, has much to do with the increasing strangeness of our times. From climate change to COVID-19, our world increasingly resembles the alien worlds of speculative fiction more than it resembles the worlds of conventional realist novels, and our tastes are changing accordingly. I wouldn’t go so far as to say literary fiction and speculative fiction are merging, but they’re certainly closer together than they have been in recent memory. It is my hope that this magazine, Orion’s Belt, helps facilitate the continuing crossover of literary and speculative fiction. 

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

Friday, April 16, 2021

Six Questions for Youngseo Lee, Editor-in-Chief, Pollux Journal

Pollux publishes literary submissions to 15 pages, and non-literary works (visual art, film, music, etc.). “As a literary journal dedicated to multilinguality, Pollux seeks to be home both to work that are multilingual themselves (written in two or more languages, including English) or centered around multilinguality (work in English that is about being or learning to become multilingual).” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Youngseo Lee: Long story short, I wanted to curate a space for the type of work that I wanted to see. When I tried to research multilingual literature while trying to write my own, I found that it’s really hard to find any out there. Most bilingual/multilingual work that I found were either side-by-sides of the same piece in different languages, and the websites I came across were only dedicated to bilingual literature concerning only one non-English language, when I wanted to learn more about the mechanics, limitations, and beauty of moving across languages, especially those that aren’t written in the Latin alphabet. It seemed to me that the logical thing to do from here was to create the space that I wished existed! There’s this convoluted metaphor that I’ve told my editors: pretend that you’re at an art museum and you walk into a special exhibition, and it’s about horses, but there’s so many different types of art about horses, from little clay horses from prehistoric times to video art about horses. And the horses are all so distinct from each other but are all in the same room because they’re tied together by the common theme of horses. That’s kind of what I imagine for Pollux — rather than having a set vibe or tone, I want to be continuously surprised by what more can be done with language and multilinguality.

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

YL: As a lit mag dedicated to multilinguality, it’s perhaps a little obvious that multilinguality must be at the core of any submissions. We want multilinguality to exist within the pieces in thoughtful ways, interacting with the subject matter at hand with intention. Specifically with pieces that are multilingual themselves (as opposed to only about multilinguality), we often find ourselves asking “Why is this specific part in a different language? What does the multilinguality add to this piece?” and if we can’t think of a good enough answer, we usually pass up on the piece. This isn’t to say that every segment of multilinguality must have a super profound reason behind it; after all, “I think in a jumble of languages” is a perfect reason to write a story that is a jumble of languages! However, at the end of the day, we want to see work that feels like it simply had to exist in its multilingual form.

On a similar note, we value intention in the language and form as well. No matter how interesting a piece is from a multilingual perspective, it just doesn’t work if the writing is not fleshed out to its maximum. Especially with poems, we want to feel that the piece is fully utilizing the poetic form and language.

Last but definitely not least, we want fresh takes! I’m careful to say this, knowing that a lot of our submissions concern language’s relationship with heritage and diaspora, and I would hate to discourage literature about these topics. I am of course aware that dismissing nonwhite narratives is a function of white supremacy within the publishing world. That being said, though, Pollux wants to make space for the nuances and variety in people’s experiences with multilinguality, and we prioritize works that explore beyond the conventional, dominant narratives of language.

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

YL: We don’t consider any submissions that are not (1) multilingual or (2) in English and about multilinguality. However, I don’t think there’s anything that particularly turns us off to submissions that do fit our guidelines!

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

YL: We want to have a solid grasp of the emotion that is to be discussed. Of course, we’re not looking for a thesis statement or anything formal like that, but we want a good preview of the vibes that will be put forth in the rest of the piece. Works that spend too much time building up the momentum to get to its core just aren’t as much fun. 

SQF: If Pollux had a theme song, what would it be and why?

YL: Hollywood” by The Black Skirts. There’s no real reason, I just really like the song.

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

YL: I’d love to talk about the types of submissions we want to see more of in the future! Here’s a thread of some of our staff’s suggestions. To add onto it, we’d love to see more multimedia and prose in general, because our first issue was heavily concentrated in poetry. Personally, I’d be super interested in video essays or creative nonfiction from translators’ or language teachers’ perspectives. And any pieces that deal with the geopolitics and/or history of a language or dialect (including dialects of English!) are always more than welcome. We want to be surprised: we want to expand our understanding of language and move beyond the conventional narratives of our relationships with it. Even if you don’t think that your work is really Pollux’s vibe, send it over! Perhaps our vibe will learn to encompass yours.

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

Friday, April 9, 2021

Six Questions for Ruslan Garrey and Elena Malkov, Editors, Sublunary Review

Sublunary Review publishes poetry in all forms, fiction to 5,000 words, flash fiction, and art. “We enjoy writing that’s dream-like but tactile—something that lets one feel the moonbeams between the fingertips.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


Elena Malkov: We'd been talking about starting a magazine together for quite a while, but at the beginning of the pandemic, we found ourselves with some extra time and decided to finally go for it.


Ruslan Garrey: Elena, [Art Editor] Alex [Nowell] and I have been putting out work for years now, and I think one night we came to the realization—we have a writer, an artist, and poet here together, all talking about what sort of publication we would like to see. That’s really when I think everything came together; realizing that we were three friends with a common vision, the necessary skills, and the energy to create the journal we really wanted to exist.

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

EM: Striking imagery; clear, sharp writing; and an original concept. I want to read something unlike anything I've read before.  


RG: In poetry, I like to see a concrete idea. I hate things that are opaque for the sake of being opaque. Language and structure are a must, of course. It has to be deliberate, but unique, exciting, and spontaneous (a high bar to meet, but easy to see when it’s met). Poetry is a skill, but also an art of capturing a thought or a moment. The last is relationships (to things, to people, to places, to ideas, to stories, etc.); I don’t like to read drawn out ruminations about self that lead nowhere, and I suspect many others don’t either.  

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

EM: Heavy realism. I'm looking for work that could've been a weird dream, so I don't want anything too realistic, though I’ll make an exception if the writing style itself is more experimental. Conversely, I'm not interested in genre fiction, so anything that's obviously speculative or fantasy isn't likely to be accepted.


RG: Again, I don’t like ruminations of self that lead nowhere, especially when they are vague in nature. A poem about a relationship, experience or friendship can be quite moving, but vague allusions to being happy, sad or hurt are tedious. Any story can be told well, but many aren’t.  

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

EM: Hard to say precisely, but I'm looking for strange, surreal work. I love a first line/paragraph that plunges me into a weird new world.

RG: It’s hard to hit a home run in the opening line, but it’s easy torpedo an entire submission up front, in my regard. An original first line is always good, but how can that be defined? As long as it’s not something that I find turgid, I will keep reading with an open mind.

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

EM: I'm always looking for more flash fiction. I think it's the perfect format for the kind of surrealism I'd like to see.


RG: Dreams journals written into poetry and translations.  

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

EM: What writers best typify the kind of work you're seeking? My answer would be Clarice Lispector, Franz Kafka and László Krasznahorkai.


RG: What is your favorite poem? If I had to say, it would be Borges y Yo, or Kublai Khan.

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

Friday, April 2, 2021

Six Questions for James Diaz, Editor-in-Chief, Anti-Heroin Chic

Anti-Heroin Chic publishes poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction to 20 pages, and art and photography. “This journal strives for inclusion and a diversity of voices, not to disparage others but to lift them up.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

James Diaz: Quite simply; to give people hope. I believe that so much of our despair stems from having no one to really tell our story to. The first place I found, where those stories could be told, risked, and received with generosity, love and a circle of caring, were in the church basements of 12 step meetings. My idea was to found a space that felt like a recovery support group. A place where despair and hope are forever in dialogue with each other, and where people can feel that their story, while uniquely theirs, is also equal to everyone else's. We're not competing with each other here, we're all just kind of sharing the ride home. It's really hard to create certain works, mainly the ones that bear on often unworked through traumas, the ghosts and violations of the past, let alone to entrust those stories into the hands of others. And so it's been really important to me to try and cultivate a space that feels genuinely welcoming, vulnerable and approachable. The idea of a commune very much fits alongside this. I've come to think of our issues as potluck gatherings. Anyone who has ever cooked a meal for others knows that you sometimes do it distractedly, angrily, gracefully; no matter the state you're in, love is the main ingredient, I think. Art too, feeds a crowd. Potlucks are 'come as you' are events. So are meetings. My goal has been to just hold a space open for artists that feels very much like all of that, and more. The only  requirement for membership is a human yearning to tell your story and to listen to the story of others. No matter how dark or difficult the story, it's worth telling and receiving. 

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

JD: I'm not sure I can ever really know beforehand how or why something will move me. Often it's the encounter with it that moves you, you know. A lot of editor's say they're tastes and selections are subjective, but I think if that were true, if we only ever went off of what we know, we'd only ever publish what we know. Diversity, to me, at least means this; you make yourself willing to be transformed by what you don't know or even fully understand yet. Empathy is honed through encounters with those we don't see coming. What I look for in a submission is the sense that I must open the door to a stranger's knock in the dead of night, and I cannot know beforehand what shape that encounter will take. This is hospitality, hosting the stranger, the tired and thirsty traveler who has come a long way and often with a story much different than mine. I know this might seem like an odd way to answer this question, but it truly is how I operate. I care less about what a person has accomplished, or failed to accomplish, than what it is they're trying to tell me in that moment. Because I believe everyone has a story to tell, and because it is so elusive; the knowing of why some things connect and some things don't, it all comes down to the moment of meeting. I try and stay as open to it as possible. I am always surprised by what I connect with. But that's a really great thing, because it means that there are voices in the room I might never hear otherwise than by opening myself to the unknown and to the encounter.

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

JD: Well, there's a saying in recovery of those who are "fatally hip and terminally cool," putting on a show, or airs, you know. I don't really connect with that. Vulnerability and authenticity go a long way, and I also think they probably go together. We say on our website that 'imperfection is boring. ‘Don't be perfect, be the person you are when no one is looking.' I think a lot of the work we publish reflects the fact that people feel comfortable bringing in parts of themselves they may not otherwise, if it weren't for the ground, the soil that's been laid. There's something to tending a garden with others that feels the opposite of 'fatally hip and terminally cool,' it's more honest and more intimate and ultimately more rewarding. It reaps a harvest.

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

JD: You know what's really interesting is that often it's the closing lines that really pull you in. Ending poems can be really hard. I myself think I am much better at ending a poem than I am at opening it up. A lot of times I'll start out reading someone's work and it isn't really until the end that they get me, where I go; 'that's it, right there.' Sometimes it's one line or stanza that makes me fall in love with a piece. 

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

JD: Probably sci-fi or fantasy, though we have published a few things that straddle the border there. And of course we aren't interested in work that is racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ableist or hateful and disparaging in any way. But we are pretty open to all kinds of experiences and the telling of them. There have been essays we've published on sex and drug addiction written in often very shocking, honest ways. But the story telling was done in a very humane way. It wasn't written for shock value but because it was the person's actual life experience and struggle that they were talking about. Sometimes those things can be offensive, but that doesn't mean they're hurtful. So what I'm saying is, while we are a safe space, we are also committed to life in all of it's complexity and messiness. I like to think it's hard to pigeon hole what we'll publish, but that it's also apparent what we won't publish, mainly intentionally hurtful and hateful (dishonest) work.

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

JD: Perhaps; "what do you get, personally, out of editing a journal?" And I would say that it helps me to heal, to connect and to grow. I feel all of the pain, loss, joy and transformation that my contributors feel as they pass through our little journal. It feels like service. Paying it forward, you know. Pain shared, pain lessened. Hope shared, hope increased. I learn so much, everyday, from these artists, these survivors. They teach me how to reach the place; together. Knowing that we're not alone. Ok, it's hokey, but we really are all in this thing together. As an editor, that I get to feel and share all of that is really amazing and I am forever grateful and humbled by it. 

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Six Questions for Shyla Jones, Editor-in-Chief, Superfroot

Superfroot publishes poetry, fiction to 5,000 words, flash fiction to 1,000 words, artwork, and photography. “We love writing that makes us scream, confuses us, makes us laugh, makes us uncomfortable, weird art, pretty art, colorful art, black and white art, all art!” Issues may be themed. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Shyla Jones: We started this magazine after years of wanting to do something creatively together. The other three editors and I have been best friends for three years after meeting through a creative community online. Once I started to get more involved in the literary community, I suggested the idea of starting up a magazine and everyone loved it. We wanted to bring forth a magazine that values strong written voices, but also strong visual voices. We want the aesthetics of our magazine to show up just as much as the words. 

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

SJ: We've always been fans of stories that swallow you. We want to drown in the setting, befriend the characters, laugh along with the voice. While we don't usually look for genre fiction such as science fiction and high fantasy for our particular magazine, that isn't to say we would outright deny those types submissions. What really matters is that the story captures us completely and gives us a world so bright that it seems like we're inside of it. 

This also goes for our visual submissions. We love dynamic settings, bright colors, and unique character design.

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

SJ: While we can appreciate the more "obvious" storylines, we really love works that surprise us. Of course, we also don't want to read overly sexual or violent work or work that condones anything like racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. 

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

SJ: Capture us! Drag us into the world right away. The first few sentences are what people see first, and we want to read a first paragraph that stings and stays with us while we read the rest. 

SQF: If Superfroot had a theme song, what would it be and why?

SJ: Definitely "Superfruit" by Maude Latour. That's the song that inspired our name! It's also upbeat and fun like our magazine is.

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

SJ: What are future goals for Superfroot?

Our biggest goal is to start paying our contributors! We'd love to also go print and be able to provide contributors free copies and put any profit toward the magazine and our contributors. 

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