Friday, September 20, 2019

Six Questions for Doug Mathewson and Sally Reno, Editors, Blink-Ink

Blink-Ink publishes fiction around 50 words. Issues are generally themed for each submission period. Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why a 50-word limit?

BI: We ask for stories of approximately 50 words. There have been 53 word stories where it would be a crime to loose a single word, and conversely 47 word stories where neither the author nor myself can imagine anything else to say.Blink-Ink is about the stories we publish, the rules  are secondary.


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

BI: We like new. New voices, new outlooks, new subjects and story lines. A new take on an old tale. Something fresh, you read it once, or come back to it several times. A story you can not stop
thinking about.


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

BI: People who can’t be bothered or do not care enough to read our guidelines. We only have a few. Write approximately 50 words on our theme, and  send it in the body of an email.  No poetry, no attachments, no bios.


SQF: Many editors look for a strong opening. Given each submission is only 50 (or so) words, is the opening sentence that important?

BI: The first sentence is crucial. Just jump right in, you don’t need a long involved set-up. Trust the reader, they are your partner in this journey and will get up to speed very quickly.


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

BI: There are “hard sells” and there are “no sales” as well. No sale to rape, torture, sexual violence, child molestation, racism, pointless violence, and mean spirited attacks. Like everyone we have our preferences. “Hard sells” include talking animals, people wearing capes, or speaking in unintelligible dialects. No go on zombies, vampires will be considered on an individual basis.


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

BI: “Why do you do this?”

I am not sure I know how to answer this question. We are coming up in September of 2019 on ten years of publication and distribution. That is ten years of long hours and losing money to put out our  two publications, Blink-Ink and  its sister press The Mambo Academy of Kitty Wang (coming in September 2019 issue). Over the years we have met so many new and interesting people. By accident we have antagonized a few, but in large seem to have made many people happy. Happy when they read us, and happy when we take a piece they have written. It is such a pleasure to have someone say “Thank you, this is the first story of mine that anyone has ever published.”

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

Friday, September 13, 2019

Six Questions for Benjamin Hackenberger, Anna Pedersen, and Hannah Walhout, Editors, Headway Quarterly

Headway Quarterly publishes previously unpublished fiction, poetry, essays, and other written work on any theme. The editors also publish an idea of the writing process for each published work. “Readers don’t usually see much of what goes into a published piece, and we want to explore the possibilities that unfold when we publish product and process side by side.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Headway Quarterly: As a group of writers with experience in writing pedagogy and composition theory, we are instinctually intrigued by the process of writing and are used to examining it when working with students’ writing (or our own). The idea came up when we were tossing around possible concepts for the journal, and it immediately made sense. Once we articulated the possibility, we realized how little “writing process” we see in our daily lives and in other literary magazines. We hoped that by publishing process alongside product, we could break down the fourth wall a bit between reader and author to both bring the author’s voice to bear on their own work and allow the reader more context into the creation of the piece.


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

HQ: For us, a certain level of technical skill is necessary in order for us to consider a submission. Obviously, this is hard to define; we love writing that challenges conventions, but there’s a certain amount of intentionality necessary for us to stick with something we’re reading. In discussing entries, we try to challenge our internalized ideas of what “good writing” is, but effective writing is always important. A lack of command of the words is the most common reason we choose not to publish a piece.

Given a clear command of words, we each look for and discuss moments that make us think (or laugh, or cringe…). It’s hard to come up with an original thought these days, but we’re so thrilled by how many truly rich, nuanced, challenging things we’ve published.

We do pay attention to the process materials (or the potential for them). Usually, people don’t include these with their initial submission—but sometimes they’ll indicate what they’re thinking, and certain types of writing have interesting process almost built in (collage poetry, pastiche, memoir, etc.)


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

HQ: When the author doesn’t seem to be in command of the voice or the words. It’s not easy to explain what this means, but you can tell when you see it—it’s about intentionality. In a poem, are these words really doing something? Or is there a clear reason they’re not doing something? Does the point of view of the work seem consistent? It sometimes feels like words are used arbitrarily. From a reader’s point of view, trust in the author can be shaky for the wrong reasons. Words that seem empty are typically not effective, unless there’s something being said by the emptiness of them.

Further, while we generally prefer pieces that are free of errors, this is not necessarily a turn off. We strongly encourage proofreading, but we like to practice sympathetic reading and won’t reject submissions based on errors unless it becomes an impediment to understanding the piece.


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

HQ: We want to believe that there are no set rules for an opener, but the truth of the matter is that the first lines set the reader’s expectations and prime them for what’s to come. There has to be something that sets a mood, or subverts, or piques, or provokes, or raises a question, or winks. It’s not that an author has to be super punchy or show their hand completely—but the first words are really important, and there has to be something there that lets the reader know you have something to say.


SQF: What piece of advice can you offer writers hoping to be published in Headway Quarterly?

HQ: First of all, please read our submission guidelines! Second of all, be creative, original, interesting, avantgarde, experimental—anything that will make you stand out. As editors, we want to publish works that make us think, that challenge our assumptions, and that promote goodness. We’re always happy to see submissions from authors we have seen before, either who have been published in a previous issue or who we were not able to accept, as we love to see how writing changes and grows with some feedback.

And that’s another thing: seek feedback! From friends, writing colleagues, anyone who can offer a second set of eyes. It’s generally evident when someone has taken the time to seek out and incorporate constructive criticism into their work. Writing is rarely a solitary act, and we encourage writers to embrace this spirit of collaboration. Our goal isn’t always to force an explication of process. We’re interested in writers who think about process, and one of the best ways to think more about our writing processes is to seek feedback on our work.


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

HQ: How we engage with our writers!

Our interest in process is about how the writing community “makes headway” and creates great work, so we have several ways that we try to engage our authors and readers. Follow our Twitter @HeadwayLit and sign up for our newsletter where we share what we’re reading and thinking about! Send us notes, comments, questions at editors@headwaylit.org, and check out our website for updates on contests, collaborations, new issues, and open reader positions. We love to hear from readers and contributors about what’s working and what’s not--like all writers (and editors), we’re constantly reviewing our own process!

Thank you, Benjamin, Anna, and Hannah. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Six Questions for Tevis Shkodra, Editor-in-Chief, Raconteur Magazine

Raconteur Magazine publishes fiction and non-fiction under 2,000 words. “Our main priority is that the story is engaging and memorable. We aren't averse to many subject matters, but anything intentionally offensive or distasteful is unlikely to be accepted. Additionally, work intended for children is not suited to our readership.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Tevis Shkodra: We’ve seen a resurgence in the short story in recent years, a promising notion. In reply, a flurry of different magazines have started, each with their own messages, tones, and purposes. Raconteur's goal is simple: to provide a further platform for aspiring authors to showcase their work--an outlet to promote encouragement and discussion among readers. We wanted thought-provoking fiction that straddles the literary and the commercial, that makes us feel, but also think. In addition to that, we wanted artwork. We wanted a beautiful magazine, simple and elegant in its style.


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

TS: This is an interesting question. I think the top things I personally look out for is a good hook, a compelling reason to keep reading, and of course I am always on the lookout for well-developed characters. I'll dive deeper into the first two points on the hook and the stakes in the question regarding the first paragraph, because that's where both those components should appear. I'll take this section though, to talk a little about character development. Regardless of whether your story is plot-driven or character-driven, you must have strong characters with fundamental morals and opinions and judgements about the world around them. Think: what does this character want and why? What will happen if this character does not get this and what are the consequences of that. Strong characters, when done right, also help with exposition. Often, in the submissions we receive, I see stories fall into two sections. The first have weak characters who are supported by lines and lines of backstory thrown at the reader who, at this point, is not emotionally invested enough to keep reading through that. As a result, the character can feel wooden and stiff, and a reader doesn't really care one way or the other what happens to them. The second section of stories have the character fully fleshed out, but do NOT give them all away to the reader at once. They sprinkle in small details here and there and slowly expose more and more of the backstory, letting readers piece together the reasoning behind their actions. These stories, the ones always leaving the reader wanting more, are often the ones that are selected.


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

TS: When writers do not follow submission guidelines. Plain and simple. When I was writing stories and submitting them to magazines, an editor friend of mine claimed about 50% of submissions were thrown out on submission guidelines not being followed. I thought that stat was ludicrous. Only when I began receiving submissions of my own for Raconteur did I understand. Want to improve your chances of getting accepted into a magazine? Take an extra 5-10 minutes to read the submission guidelines and format your work into an accepted format (usually William Shunn format). Think of it this way -- most magazines want work in a certain format. You've spent entire days if not weeks working on this story, what's an extra 5 minutes to ensure it at least gets read?


SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraphs of a submission?

TS: Okay. So here let's talk a little about a good hook and compelling stakes. At every point in your story you must ask yourself why a reader would keep on reading? What is the promise that was made in the opening paragraphs, or the payoff that a reader will receive at the completion of your story. Without a compelling conflict, without tension, there is no story. Take the Hitchcock example. I'm going to paraphrase it here. There are two men at a table talking about baseball. After 5 minutes a bomb goes off. There is a big explosion which induces there is fear and shock in the reader. It's something unexpected. Now imagine the same scenario, with some tweaks. The narrator shows you there is a bomb strapped underneath the table where two men are talking about baseball. You know this bomb will explode after 5 minutes, yet the main characters (who don't know this) are still sitting, talking about baseball. In your mind as the reader, the second scenario makes for a better story. Why? Well, the shock of the explosion happening is the same. However, in the second scenario you have tension. You know something the characters don't. In the back of your mind you're yelling to the characters through the pages to run, to get away, and this effect that stories have on readers is what will set it aside from the rest. Stakes and tension should always be in the back of your mind when writing, in order for your story to be the most compelling it can possibly be.


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

TS: Not sure as to a specific track. I'm picturing something classic rock at heart, with a modern spin to it.


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

TS: A question with regard to reading. In order to accurately answer how a potential story can get picked up by a magazine, one must think about what makes that story compelling enough, or emotional enough, or tense enough to break through and leave an impression on its reader. The reader must feel a connection with the piece at their very core. This comes with practice, of course, but also with technique. Let me try (and probably fail) an analogy. Imagine you are cooking a savory dish. The ingredients are the tools at your disposal (plot devices, characters, setting, stakes, tension, conflict archetypes etc.). Since, in this analogy, a perfect cookbook does not exist, you are left with trial and error. You can practice for years at mixing the same ingredients in a multitude of different ways in hopes of making your dish the best it can possibly be. Now imagine you can see and taste the finished meal of someone who has also cooked the same dish. You can recognize all the ingredients in the meal, and you even think you can see what order they're composed in. Think how much easier you can cook your own dish (and improve upon it) if you've seen it being done before. That's what reading is. It is one of the secrets to successful writing, for it is what points the writer in the right direction, what shows them where they should be looking.

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Six Questions for C. B. Auder, Editor/Illustrator, Claw & Blossom

Claw & Blossom publishes prose to 1,000 words and poetry. “Your work MUST also contain elements of the natural world.” Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

C. B. Auder: I’d been rolling the idea around for some time. My original concept was "Given that everyone is now squashed into a planetary Titanic, what last word-dances must we share?" and I squirreled away oodles of notes on nautical terms and icebergs. Fortunately, my superpowers are over planning and procrastination, because as the cynical years fell away I began to appreciate that, although the Western world is Sargassoed in a gyre of consumerist culture, there are also a heck of a lot of folks bobbing around out here who care deeply about sustainability, but who just feel too isolated or overwhelmed to contribute to momentum on that conversation.

A quote attributed to Arthur Ashe sticks with me: "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can." I hope Claw & Blossom will, in its small way, help normalize the notion that human dramas are neither modular nor orthogonal to the natural world. Every personal conflict we experience is happening not only within the context of planetary ecosystems but is often also affecting those ecosystems, and too many human activities--common plot points that we accept without a second thought--still produce irreversible costs down the line. I believe that if we ever hope to slow down real-life planetary damage, we need to shift our myths and stories away from characters who live in three-act vacuums. To that end, my goal is to publish pieces in which the camera has been slightly zoomed out, so that the natural world might bleed into the traditional narrative bubble.


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

CBA:
1) Urgency. It should somehow feel necessary for the eye of the story to be sharing these words with others. I don't want to feel like we're just killing time together waiting for a bus.

2) A confident narrative voice attuned to an audience. If readers are going to get invested, we need to trust that our feelings won't be handled casually or dropped. And confidence aside, there should also be a heart to the piece, a sense of humility. The best-chosen gerunds in the world won't save any of us if our characters aren't grappling with moments of genuine vulnerability.

3) Contextual complexity. For pieces that focus intimately on human conflict, I'd like to see narrative angles that illustrate an association to the natural world in a way that's not forced or incidental. For pieces that specifically lament environmental traumas, I'm interested in seeing how authors employ shades of gray--so as to invite readers to engage with the cruel complications--rather than sending work that's didactic or preachy.


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

CBA: Tough question. Every time I try to pin down the sort of thing people send that never works, somebody submits that exact thing and has found a way to make it pop.

I think I can safely say that pieces showing animals as good things to catch or tame or cage or ride unfortunately miss the point of the "natural world" element. Claw & Blossom also regularly receives poems that are essentially odes--sketches marveling at a creature's many wondrous characteristics. These portraits are always heartfelt, often have scintillating language, and I'm usually quite fond of the species myself--but for the piece to have a real impact on me, it also needs movement. Something to invest in, that's actually on the page.


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

CBA: Words that won't allow me to stop reading. I feel short pieces can't afford the luxury of throat-clearing. I hope to find strong, essential imagery and a compelling point of view from the get-go.


SQF: What one piece of advise can you offer writers and poets hoping to be published in Claw & Blossom?

CBA: Do what you can with the elements under your control (send things you're proud of, and submit to places where that work would be appropriate), but also understand that a love for your words isn't something you can calculate or mastermind.

The process of accepting a piece is unfortunately a lot like dating. To start, do I like how it smells, chews its food, treats its waiter characters--or are those verbs reminding me of a nasty narcissistic uncle? At a minimum, submitters should first read a journal's website, and browse issues, to better gauge a potential love connection.

The pieces I invite on subsequent dates--the short list--are those that feel insightful and societally relevant, and that make me tingle in ineffable ways. Final pieces--the ones Claw & Blossom absolutely must go steady with, polyamorously--wow, this analogy is getting exciting! The point is, I want to accept submissions that will work together pleasingly as a whole. For the issue to feel cohesive, the works should complement each other in style and tone. That relationship simply can't be engineered.


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

CBA: What's your feeling on humorous subs? I'm glad you asked, Jim! I am a huge fan of irreverence and wit, and consider satire to be a vital force in troublous times. If we can't find ways to recharge from this world's record levels of frustration and sorrow, we won't be of any use to ourselves or others, never mind the orangutans.

Tone is the tricky part. Put it this way: after a long, crappy day, I need dumb diversions as much as the next idiot sitting on my couch. I also write my own goofy environmental allegories and sub them out to places that seek the odd and offbeat. For Claw & Blossom, however, I am not looking to capture a light, wacky aesthetic. After I finish reading a submission--whether it's laced with dark humor or peppered with aching tragedy--I want to feel humbled and stunned. I want to feel thankful that such a gift was sent my way, and I want to open that gift again and again.

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

Friday, August 23, 2019

Six Questions for Uma Menon, Editor, International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF) Publishes - Youth


IHRAF Publishes-Youth is new platform for writers under the age of 21 to submit poetry, creative nonfiction, short fiction, essays or any other format that comes from the heart, and focuses on social and activist themes. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Please tell us a little about the IHRAF mission and how IHRAF Publishes-Youth fits into the organizations goals.

Uma Menon: The International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF) is an organization that functions at the intersection of art and activism, founded on the belief that art can open hearts and minds while healing the wounds in our society. IHRAF empowers artists of all mediums to use their craft as a tool for activism, social justice, and human rights discourse. The organization has brought together powerful political and social leaders with artists and activists to make this world a better place.


IHRAF Publishes – Youth is a new platform that I’ve started to uplift young voices within the sphere of activism. We often see young people becoming the victims of terrible human rights abuses in our world; yet, our world rarely notices and listens to these young voices. IHRAF Publishes – Youth aims to get to the root of this problem by creating a platform where young writers, artists, and activists under the age of 21 can express themselves. We believe that young people represent the future of human rights discourse and practice. IHRAF Publishes – Youth cultivates tomorrow’s human rights leaders and defenders through its focus on beauty, vulnerability, sincerity, and engagement.




SQF: How did you come to be involved with IHRAF Publishes?



UM: I joined the IHRAF team in June 2019, as the inaugural Youth Fellow for the organization. As a writer myself, I realized that IHRAF Publishes is the platform that artist-activists and writer-activists like myself have always searched and yearned for.

As the Youth Fellow for IHRAF, I decided to take on the project of starting IHRAF Publishes – Youth because I understand how critical young voices are in activist discourse. There are thousands of talented young writer-activists across the world, waiting to be discovered.



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

UM: Before I get into the three specific things I’m looking for, I just want to remind writers of the four values that IHRAF is based around: beauty, vulnerability, sincerity, and engagement. These values are important in writing as well.

Apart from those values, I also look for a writer’s passion. An IHRAF Publishes – Youth contributor should be passionate about social justice and human rights. We’re looking for pieces that express the urgency of human rights, which is best achieved through passionate writing.

The next thing I look for is a message – a thematic concept or meaning that propels your work. What does the writer want to raise awareness of? What world does the writer envision? Why do human rights matter?

Finally, I’m looking for creativity. Central to IHRAF’s mission is its focus on art. Art is the communicative tool through which we can uplift human rights. I want to see creative and innovative language that moves beyond the confines. Express your message in your own unique way.


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



UM: Submissions that don’t adhere to our mission guidelines. We’re looking for pieces that strive to create a world of understanding and justice. We’re looking for works that express rather than works that preach. I’d encourage writers to consider the IHRAF’s core values of beauty, vulnerability, sincerity, and engagement when creating.



SQF: If IHRAF Publishes-Youth had a theme song, what would it be and why?



UM: I think that the theme song for the TV Show, Arthur, reflects IHRAF Publishes – Youth’s mission very well. As the song says, “listen to your heart” and “open up your eyes” as you create art and writing about justice.



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


UM: Why should I write for IHRAF Publishes – Youth?

IHRAF Publishes – Youth is a very unique platform for writer-activists. It’s the first, and perhaps only, organization of its kind, bringing leaders and artists across the world to uniquely inspire change. If you hope to make a difference in the world with your writing, IHRAF Publishes is the best platform and community. IHRAF Publishes – Youth is tailored specifically towards young people, which is rare in the art/activism world. We truly want to support your art.

We are extremely flexible. Please do reach out if there are any unique projects or pieces you have that fit our mission. Confines exist only as long as you think they do.




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