Friday, December 2, 2022

Six Questions for Mark Teppo, Editor, Underland Arcana

Underland Arcana publishes fiction from 1,000 to 5,000 words. “We like these stories to be mildly speculative, fantastic, mysterious, and/or horrific (if you prefer genre tags).” Read the complete guidelines here.

Mark Teppo: I'm about halfway through my annual reading period as I answer these questions, which I think is an interesting time to be reflecting on what I like and don't like about submissions. Generally, I prefer not to get too specific about the guidelines because I find that it unnecessarily channels the submissions. For instance, back in the day when I did XIII, the first Underland Tarot anthology, it was framed around the Death card and I was looking for stories of transformation. The first market listing that picked up the guidelines was one of the horror aggregators, and as a result, I got inundated with "skinwalker" stories over the next few weeks. These types of stories are, to me, the low-hanging fruit of the guidelines and weren't something I was seeking. Instead, I got them all out of the way right up front. Hooray! 

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

MT: Following XIII, we did a second Major Arcana anthology. This one was XVIII, the Moon, and the book launch party was supposed to happen the day after the world went into lockdown. Needless to say, that book never found its audience. I love the idea of transforming the tarot into a series of anthologies or collection of stories that are thematically arranged, and while we were all sitting at home, I pivoted to the idea of doing the Minor Arcana through a seasonal journal. And so, Underland Arcana is an attempt to produce a living tarot deck of stories that are mapped to the cards. 

I intend on turning the website into a thing that will play tarot with you, giving you readings where the cards will be interpreted by related stories, but I need at least three years of stories before that can be fully realized. And so, while the world spins and fractures, I'm quietly building a library of strange and wonderful stories. 

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

MT: Voice, confidence, and a bit of the "I'm going to trust that you can keep up" vibe from the author. I don't mind competent and functional writing, but if that is all that it has going for it, well, my brain turns off. I get bored. I start skimming. Worse, I start wandering around the house, thinking about snacks. There are many, many more stories in the queue (as well as books stacked around the house), and I need to read engaging things. 

Look, there were two things I know I didn't want to see when I first launched Arcana: flash fiction and stories that went all Cormac McCarthy with their punctuation. But then I got Jon McGoran's "Dog Sitting" and "Stephen O'Donnell's "Landfall," respectively, and I was all: "Well, so much for those restrictions." But if I had explicitly said "no," then I never would have gotten those stories. In both instances, the writers wrote with such assurance and strong voices that I set aside my own preferences. 

It's not so much: "Hey, do you want to come by and have a beer? We could, you know, make BBQ or something. Or not. Whatever you want, really. If you want to come by.” Rather: "Yo. BBQ later. My great-aunt's recipe. I'll have ice. You should bring some beer." 

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

MT: A lack of awareness of the Shunn Manuscript Format. Bill Shunn has done us all a great service by making this, and yes, it's hoop jumping, but for crying out loud, it makes parsing a story easy. And I've got a lot of stories to read. 

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

MT: Two things. The first is a thing I used to do which made a well-practiced and much-published author (who I was collaborating with at the time) roll his eyes often, and that is writing a paragraph backwards. Don't write all the set-up for the hook and then give us the hook. Start with the hook. 

The follow-up to that is once you've given me a hook, don't tell me a bunch of stuff that isn't related to that hook. If Davy hooks a sea monster in the pond in his backyard, I don't care what he's wearing, or what the weather is like, or if he's using a spurious spinner with an elaborate tie made out of ostrich feathers and greased giblets. I want to know if Davy is going to land that thing and whether it is going to eat his dog or not.  

More simply: Each sentence should answer the question asked by the reader in the previous sentence.

SQF: If you could have a meal with three authors (living or dead), who would they be and why?

MT: Anthony Bourdain, Umberto Eco, and Donald E. Westlake. Because it would last all night and would generate at least a dozen movie or book ideas, but none of us would remember any of them in the morning. Nor would we care. 

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

MT: How should an author prepare to write for your market? 

I recognize that the guidelines for Underland Arcana are somewhat nebulous, which can be frustrating for an author who is attempting to discern whether a market is good for them. Generally speaking, a writer should familiarize themselves with a market just so they know if it is a reasonable match for their work. In most cases, this is pretty self-evident. And in other cases, like Arcana, it's a little complicated. Fundamentally, however, the best preparation is to have confidence in your work. If it feels like a fit, then step forward and share it. If it isn't a fit, that's okay too. Try again (and definitely try that story somewhere else).

Every editor wants to thrill their readers with stories, and readers of a publication like the editor's taste in material, even if they can't always anticipate it. As authors, we get caught up in the "I'm going to make a sale!" mindset, and that's certainly reason enough to do it, but for an editor the thinking is "I'm going to provide content to an audience who is eager to see what I curate." 

Now, given that this is a tarot-influenced project, it would be easy to think "Oh, hey. This story is totally a Three of Swords story. I'm going to mention that in my cover letter." (And some do.) But what the writer doesn't know is how many Three of Swords stories I already have. Why put that in my head before I've even read the story? Instead, consider the suits: Coins, Wands, Swords, and Cups. What are the emotional correspondences to those suits? What are symbolic correspondences? Does thinking about these things (or researching them) give birth to a story idea? Great. Write it down. Send it to me. Don't tell me what card you're thinking of. If I buy it and pick a different card, we can argue about it later over beers, and in doing so, might understand some nuances that neither of us had considered. And that, frankly, is what all of this is about anyway, right? Telling stories and having stories told in return.

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

Friday, November 25, 2022

Six Questions for Sarah Levesque, Editor-in-Chief, LogoSophia

LogoSophia Magazine: a Pilgrim’s Journal of Life, Love & Literature publishes articles/nonfiction, original fiction, poetry (all to 5,000 words), and artwork.  “LogoSophia Magazine is a quarterly magazine and a community dedicated to creating and cultivating connections, unity and understanding between Christian denominations.” Issues are themed. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Sarah Levesque: The short version is that God slowly prepared me to begin it, giving me the skills, the ideas, and the people to make it work, then He gave me a shove to get us started. The long version can be found here: (feel free to link or to copy and paste the whole thing).

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

SL: First, it should not disagree with the Bible or Christian tradition. Second, it should focus on the good, the true, and/or the beautiful. Third, it should be well written.

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

SL: We have had very few submissions I have been turned off by, but these include stories where Jesus was not portrayed as the same perfect God-Made-Man that He is in the Bible, and some true but dark works of poetry that I deemed too depressing to publish.

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

SL: In an article, a clear idea of where the author is headed is always appreciated. Stories should be set up quickly, for we do not typically publish long stories, and if we do, it is serial format. Poetry is quite hard to put in a box, and I cannot say there is anything particular I look for in the opening line.

SQF: What are no-nos for your publication?

SL: Anything anti-Biblical, strong sexual content, and swearing (though I've been known to allow "damn" on a rare occasion).

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

SL: 'When do you accept work, and what themes are coming up?' We are always accepting submissions of all sorts for our blog - poetry, stories, Christian apologetics, reviews, and more - and we accept submissions for our seasonal themed issues until two months before the issue is due to be published. Our 2023 overall issue theme is God & Country, with our Winter issue focusing on Life, our Spring issue focusing on Liberty, our Summer issue focusing on Patriotism, and our Autumn issue focusing on The Pursuit of Happiness. In addition to the written word, we are also open to accepting artwork, particularly for the themed issues.

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

Friday, November 18, 2022

Six Questions for Adrienne Marie Barrios, Co-Editor-in-Chief/ Founder and Dorian Zimmerman, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Reservoir Road Literary Review

Reservoir Road Literary Review publishes photography, poetry, literary short stories, flash fiction, and lyrical creative nonfiction. The editors want works that ask difficult questions and provide difficult answers. Stories that examine the truth in the bitterness, in the anti-heroes. Heavy stories full of grit and discomfort that shed sympathetic light on the questionable, the unfavorable..” Read the complete philosophy here and the submission guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Adrienne Barrios: I started this magazine in the depths of a severe depression when I needed a reason to stay alive. That may sound dramatic, but it’s as close to the truth as I can come. I had fallen down the stairs several months prior and could not walk; I’d been told I might develop a serious chronic condition often morbidly referred to as “the suicide disease.” I was in excruciating pain all the time, on top of the chronic pain I already experience. I needed an outlet, a place where others like me could express the places our minds go when our bodies begin to fail us.

Additionally, I started this magazine because I often write things that are too difficult for most literary magazines: too blunt, brutal, callously honest. That’s where the name originates. I wrote a short story called “Reservoir Road,” named after an idyllic street near where I live, that will maybe never see the light of day because it is too much; it’s too dark. If I could publish it myself, I would. Instead, I hope to publish similar works by others.

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

AB: The first—which surprisingly doesn’t vary by category, though you might think it would—is a story that gets right into it. I prefer stories that find a way around setup, even when those stories are long. Dive into the action and give me details along the way. Setup, and especially long setup, tends to negate the emotional, experiential quality we’re seeking at Reservoir Road.

The second is whether or not it deals with something aligned to our philosophy and vision. We have received many good stories, some great, but that’s simply not enough. We don’t publish just anything. We want stories that examine difficult things, whether those things are dark and heavy or mundane and monotonous to the point of throwing yourself off a bridge. We’re looking for stories that don’t allude to events but talk about them in painstaking (albeit not arduous) detail. We’re looking for pieces that don’t state the way a person felt but that take us there and make us feel that way, too.

The third is avoiding what is trite, saccharine, overdone. As Dorian will say for poetry, it’s not that a topic or focus can’t be reused and made new—it’s all in the way someone reuses it. For example, we receive many pieces about cancer. Most, though, are about people sitting at bedsides of sick loved ones, watching the cancer progress. Yes, that is sad. But what is there to say beyond that? Why does this story stand apart from the countless others on the same topic? I don’t mean to sound callous or uncaring. I have family members and dear friends struggling with and dying from cancer as we speak. I want to ache alongside our authors; I don’t want to read a sob story that could be in a newspaper.

Dorian Zimmerman: First and foremost, I look for the creative use of language and how the piece comes alive off the page. A poem can cover a topic or ask a question that others have tread and retread over and over throughout centuries–many of our submissions touch on similar themes, in fact–but still succeed and surprise us if it does so with an inventive turn of phrase, unique metaphors and attention to sonic and rhythmic quality. I read most submissions aloud and the ones that make me savor their syllables are my favorites.

Second, I look for a point beyond the poem. Given Reservoir Road’s mission and thematic tone, we receive many pieces that are frankly little more than rants or complaints, full of anger (albeit often justified) or a desire for revenge about something bad that happened. It hurts to be hurt, to be treated unfairly, or to witness the infliction of pain. The poems we want to feature go beyond all that and ask why or so what, maybe coming to terms with the fact that one may never know why but still finding a way to locate the trauma in a broader context.

Last, I look for empathy. Humans are imperfect beings, but still human. It is in the asking of how a human could be capable of something terrible where we find answers to help avoid further tragedy–or find the means to heal from it, at the least.

Now, let me be explicitly clear that I’m not asking poets to condone or forgive the unforgivable–and there are many true tales I’ve encountered as an editor here that have challenged my belief in the immense power of forgiveness. But I feel strongly that the difficult work of confronting our past pain and trauma, if successful, results in the expansion of empathy. That, in turn, helps stop or at least slow the continuation of cycles of violence against one another, against ourselves, and against our planet and the other creatures who call it home.

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

AB: Essentially, the things mentioned in the first question: saccharine or cloying tone, laziness of “death is sad so I don’t have to try to be original,” lazy character development, overuse of metaphor or common turns of phrase that we’ve all read a million times.

DZ: The laziness of God. I do not mean the exploration of spirituality or faith–you’ll note we’ve published several poems that wrestle with the personal or societal implications of a deific worldview–but rather the tendency to stand-in the word ‘God’ for any force we do not fully understand, for what we cannot comprehend, for what we feel we do not control.

We’re asking for submissions that confront our most difficult questions, not sidestep them, and I find much of the use of the word God to be a form of evasion.

Similarly, while we do not forbid them, I find an overabundance of quotes, lines modified from other works or references to be a turn off. We are most interested in relatable, wholly original works.

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

AB: Action. A reason to keep reading. Something that pulls me in, sets the piece apart, whether tone or setting or character. Fresh perspective. But really, I look for the absence of all the things that drag me down. Openers are not as important to me as endings.

DZ: Openers are overrated. There, I’ve said it—and I believe this especially true for poems, less so for fiction perhaps where there is a greater required investment of time to read it. If a reader is so impatient with a poem that they’ll give up in the first stanza, well… That’s a “them” problem, not a poet problem.

I’d rather a lackluster hook to a dribbling ending. If you’ll permit me a metaphor: a lover who starts strong and finishes terribly is a much poorer lover than one who does the reverse.

So I want a pithy, powerful end and I pay far more attention to that than the opener. However, to answer the question, I look for poems where the story is not entirely told or encompassed in that opener. If I can read your first stanza and get the gist of the rest of the poem, why write the rest? Just make that stanza better and have it be the whole poem. Poetry has no need to go on and on, as much as poets themselves are known for lingering.

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

AB: I ask for antiheroes, and I mean it, but the hard sell for me is the glorification of those antiheroes. A hard sell for me is a story from the perspective of a mass shooter, a story glorifying and gratifying incest. A hard sell is a mother who only goes as far as “I guess I have to accept that my child has a different life” when they have a queer daughter, and that’s supposed to be the pivotal climax of the story that we celebrate. The first two, I cannot support. The third isn’t enough. Although we tend to walk the line of what is and isn’t okay to publish at times, I will always protect our readers and vulnerable and/or marginalized groups.

And while I won’t say that it’s limited to sex, if anything seems to be added for the sake of it—violence for the sake of violence, death for the sake of death, drugs for the sake of drugs—it’s going to be a hard sell, but only because it feels lazy. Each piece of the story needs purpose.

DZ: It seems to me we’re the market for hard sells. Be it graphic descriptions of trauma, sex, violence—you name it, we’re asking writers and readers to confront the hardest sells.

I will say, however, that the hardest sell for me is sexual violence. To take an act so potentially creative, so beautiful, and distort it into destruction… I’ve never been able to understand it. Every submission period I brace myself against encountering more of it, but I believe that we cannot reduce or end it without confronting it. As they say, light dies in darkness and we’ve pushed too many survivors of sexual violence into the shadows of society.

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

AB: Perhaps the focus here should be on what we plan to do to elevate marginalized communities in yet another industry mostly dominated by white writers and editors. The staff and readers of Reservoir Road are no exception. I would tell you that I don’t fully know, but I know it’s an issue. We’ve done (and are doing) some things already to address this unbalanced staff and contributor pool: We’ve added an optional identity statement to the submission form that will help us know who’s who and elevate marginalized communities. We’re also opening two additional editor positions—Managing Editor and Photography Editor—exclusively to people of color. We believe it’s important to give people of color in particular the opportunity to step into those roles and other future roles. That exclusive chance is a step toward equity, I believe, because equality and equity are not the same, and writers and editors of color deserve more than they’ve received in the past.

DZ: Where is Reservoir Road going next? What’s on the horizon? We’re an online-only, decentralized, volunteer-based publication that has found a strong resonance among a talented community of writers and fascinating panoply of readers. We’ve toyed with the idea of funding a print publication or anthology. But, in truth, I’m unsure of where we go from here as much as I am sure that I’m headed there alongside Adrienne, our wonderful other editors, our writers, our readers. The work is simply too important.

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

Friday, November 11, 2022

Six Questions for Fox Auslander and Bug, Editors, Delicate Friend

Warning: Adult Content

Delicate Friend publishes prose to 2,000 words, poetry, visual art, video and audio, and more. “Delicate Friend is an adult (18+) quarterly arts and literary magazine highlighting romance, yearning, eroticism, and other forms of desire and intimacy.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Fox Auslander & Bug: We were inspired to create Delicate Friend after someone tweeted, “all of the poetry that needed to be written already was […] you don’t need to f—- up this grand tradition talking about having sex with people you met on your iphone [sic].” We thought this sounded like a great idea for a magazine. Creating space for love and intimacy from the smallest bit of spite.

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

B: I really like things that put me in a space—when there’s something specific to see and feel, where I don’t get lost in a sea of concepts. 

FA: I enjoy pieces that play with cliché. We don’t agree with the sentiment that every “necessary poem” has already been written, but we also want to avoid publishing similar work in every issue, you know?

Finally, if you can make us belly-laugh, that’s an instant acceptance—but this sounds more like a response to a dating app prompt.

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

B: When someone only addresses one of us in their submission email. We’re the only two permanent editors, and we don’t even suggest cover letters, let alone require them. 

FA: People waxing poetic about “saving” sex workers… or praising themselves for finding trans people attractive. Before you submit to Delicate Friend, ask yourself if you’re the villain in your story. Then, and only then, send us your work.

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

FA & B: This might sound repetitive, but we like to feel like we’re reading something fresh! We like strange settings and unexpected turns of phrase. How does your lived experience shape and guide your work?  

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

FA & B: Cbat” by Hudson Mohawke—no, we’re kidding, but we are a pair of clowns. “Verbatim” by Mother Mother feels much more representative of our contributors’ work. Is it straight? Is it gay? Who knows—but it’s loud, fun, and a little bit cocky.

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

B: How do you decide upon your alternating themes?

FA: Bug and I alternate responsibility when selecting themes and/or guest editors. 

Our themes can be split into two broad categories: those driven by aesthetics and those centering marginalized creatives. Issue #8: "ANTIMATTER," guest-edited by ale canales, blends them both well, though none of our themed issues necessarily lack one or the other. Above all, we’re creatures of impulse, and pursuing what feels good in the moment has brought in some amazing contributions.

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


Friday, November 4, 2022

Six Questions for Curtis Deeter, Editor, Of Rust and Glass

Of Rust and Glass publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, artwork, photography, music and film from creatives with roots in the Midwestern United States. Select issues are themed. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Curtis Deeter: If I’m being honest, Of Rust and Glass started as an idea in a bar. As an author myself, I’ve always been passionate about the arts, and I saw a thriving (visual) arts scene in our area. I didn’t, however, have any connections to a greater lit scene. As most ideas in a bar go, I forgot about it for almost three years. Then, with a loving wife and newborn baby, neither of whom were overly interested in hearing about my protagonist’s character arc or the second scene’s flow in chapter twelve, I realized I needed writer friends. Thus, Of Rust and Glass was officially born, and we published our first magazine issue 1/15/2020 with no idea what we were doing.

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

CD: Since we’re a Midwest regional pub, we first and foremost look for Midwestern voices. This is incredibly diverse and expands every year, but it’s the foundation of everything we do. Then, we look for passion. Last, we want to publish works (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, etc.) that show an individual creator’s handle on their craft. This is important because if you’re going to break the rules (especially the submission guidelines) you better d--- well know what you’re doing.

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

CD: Misogyny (which we’ve gotten too much of, surprisingly) and pretentiousness. We’re circling a flaming ball of fire with nearly 8 billion others. We don’t need to know how much you hate women or think you’re better than us. Thanks 😊

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

 CD: Everyone always says hook us with your first sentence/stanza. For us, we read everything in its entirety. If the first paragraph needs a little work but the rest is phenomenal, we’ll work with you. What we really look for is cohesiveness. Does where you start jive with where you end? 

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

CD: Negativity against any category of person for negativity’s sake. A lot of our writers are blue collar, but we don’t discriminate based on class, race, sexual orientation, color of hair, attitude towards different branches of literature, etc. We have a bit of everything, like most families do, and don’t tolerate hate for hate’s sake.

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

CD: Why Of Rust and Glass?:

We’re a relatively small publishing company run by four people who work full-time jobs, raise families, and don’t make a dime in profit. We’re building a community (we’ve always branded as “more than a publisher, a community”) and have people from all walks of life involved. Contributors become part of the family, so to speak, and we get work across the creative spectrum. From art and photography to fiction and poetry to nonfiction and biographies, we’ve featured a little bit of everything.

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