Friday, October 30, 2020

Six Questions for Jackie DesForges, Nonfiction Editor, The Coachella Review

The Coachella Review is a publication of the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts. We publish fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, drama, reviews, interviews, and more. The Coachella Review accepts original work that is vibrant, thoughtful, and precise. Whether your work is innovative or traditional, we strive to celebrate writing that holds readers in awe. Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: A large majority of Six Questions For. . . readers are knowledgeable about fiction, but perhaps not as much with creative nonfiction. How would you define this genre for those who are new to the form?


Jackie DesForges: Creative nonfiction isn't a news article or craft essay; it should be personal to the writer in some way, but it's also not necessarily like a diary entry. It should look out into the world in some way, and should provide some sort of perspective that only the writer can provide because of their personal experiences in life. It also doesn't have to be 100% true! Obviously you shouldn't flat out lie in a nonfiction piece, but you can exaggerate some details for effect or draw connections that might not actually exist, as long as you aren't rewriting someone else's story or claiming that something is true when it isn't. I often find that when I am writing a personal essay that draws on some memory, I often have to guess at some of the details because I've forgotten them. I try to focus on the emotional resonance of the memory and recreate the actual circumstances from that, so that even if I am describing a blue room when really the room might have been yellow or green, my description still honors the emotional significance of that memory and the effect it has on my story. 



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


JD: A really engaging first paragraph—it's true that you can tell from the start of a piece if you want to keep reading it or not. Usually I try to read at least the first couple pages of a submission to give it a fair shot. I also look for an original perspective—a million people have written about the ocean, so what makes your essay about the ocean different and why are you writing this essay at this particular time in your life? And then I really do care about grammar and spelling. A small mistake here or there is fine, we're all human, but several in each paragraph? Nope.



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


JD: I've seen several pieces that look like they might be first drafts. I recommend only submitting pieces that are as polished as possible. 



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


JD: An original point of view, most importantly. We all write about the same things—love, loss, fear, family, relationships, home—so it's really delightful to see someone introduce a familiar topic from a completely new or unique point of view.



SQF: I know it’s hard to play favorites, but during your time as creative nonfiction editor with The Coachella Review are there any pieces that stand out?


JD: Ha, I'd rather not answer this one! But our summer issue this year was pretty great. It's still available to read on our website.



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


JD: Maybe something about rejection. Rejection is normal for writers and shouldn't make anyone feel like their work isn't worthy of publication. There are a lot of people submitting out there, and your piece won't be the right fit for every single publication. I have to tell myself this often—I too am submitting and getting rejected all the time! We are so grateful for every piece submitted to us; it takes a lot of courage and hard work to keep putting yourself out there. The key is to keep doing it. 


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



Friday, October 23, 2020

Six Questions for Mary Elizabeth Bardsley, Leslie Caton, and Laura Johnson, Editors, Backchannels

Backchannels publishes poetry to ten pages, prose to 3,500 words and visual art. “All told, we like a bit of everything: surrealism, realism, post-modern, Victorian, post-post-modern…whatever label you’d like to use.  Intrigue us. Inspire us. Confound us.” Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


Backchannels: We started this magazine to offer a platform for authors and artists that was truly accessible and provided for real connection. We feel it is important to give adequate time and care when responding to each submission so that we can honor the efforts that went into the writing/art in the first place. Ultimately we desired to create a high quality, unique literary magazine that we could be proud of.



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


Backchannels:


1. Strong voice/imagery—regardless of the genre, there has to be a grounding and strong voice that carries us through the piece, and we want to fully experience and picture what we're reading too.

2. Authenticity—particularly if it's a personal essay, we want to feel that the piece is genuine.

3. "X Factor"—Something that moves us, makes us think more deeply about something, or something we feel will resonate with a wider audience.



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


Backchannels: If the biography is way too long (after we've indicated that it needs to be a short bio), that is off putting. Also, if there are multiple and obvious grammatical errors in the piece, that will quickly cause our interest to wane in the submission overall.



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


Backchannels: There's no one thing we look for, though an opening that is engaging and draws you in immediately is always helpful. This answer is hard to articulate because we publish such diverse work, and all three of us look for different elements.



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


Backchannels: Absolutely agree with this! From our website regarding submissions: 


We are always interested in strong story lines, characterization, and dialogue. Here’s the deal: we like sex as much as the next person, but we are not publishing erotica or pornography. Also a note about sexual violence: if it is a part of your work, it needs to be contextually and socially important; if you’re not sure what that means, you can always email for additional clarification.

 

We invite work from all voices and experiences, especially those outside the mainstream. If you create work about race, racism, or sexualities, we highly recommend you write from experience or use care and consideration of your subject matter and understand the complexities and social and historical context of what you take on.



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


Backchannels: We also publish original art, which has been a very rewarding part of this venture. If you are thinking of submitting art to Backchannels, consider the message that is communicated through your art, as well as the composition. We are very interested in your artistic process and artist mission too.


Thank you, Mary Elizabeth, Leslie and Laura. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Six Questions for Gauraa Shekhar and Elliot Alpern, Founding Editors, No Contact Mag

No Contact Mag publishes bi-weekly issues of fiction, CNF, poetry, and everything in between, up to 1000 words. "Contributors strive to write today’s strange new experiences, and put their inside voices on the page — at a careful distance, of course." Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


No Contact Mag: Well, the short answer is that we were both Columbia MFA writers who had seen their classes suddenly morph into Zoominars one day, and we also happened to share the same quarantine space (we are married, so perhaps this isn’t random chance). And as we cast lines out to our friends and peers in isolation, we realized that so many of us were just sitting on our thumbs, waiting for the next step to open up. All this artistic energy just, percolating, with so few reliable places to spill out. We began reaching out, collecting work — and even then, it was selfish to some degree. We were giving ourselves an outlet, too. And it’s expanded rapidly from there! 



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


NCM: 1. Ingenuity of context; 2. Strong control of detail; 3. Sense of play


Maybe this is all the same one thing, in a way. We want to read a piece and say, “I’ve never seen a version of this piece before.” Of course, we’re not asking contributors to re-invent modern writing. We just mean, we want some sense that this could only have come from that writer, in that moment, and we have no chance of predicting its entire shape — even what it looks, sounds, smells like, the rhythm of its telling, until the moment it’s told to us. And then the sense that the writer knows why they’ve made those decisions, too. That’s important. 



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


NCM: Outside the obvious (e.g. poor use of grammar/diction; offensive material; etc.), we’d say — writing that does not justify the way it’s been formed. That’s super vague and airy, so more specifically: you can describe to us the way your grandmother kneads dough, in gorgeous imagery, as if we’re there. But, if the only feeling we get is, “Wow, we’re in awe of the way your grandmother kneads dough”, this isn’t a successful piece. There’s nothing below the surface. A thousand words gives you ample space to paint a neat portrait, but it’s tricky to complicate that with another layer (or layers). If we see potential for that complication, we’re hooked — but it becomes quickly apparent if the piece is flat. It has no lift.



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


NCM: Again, we want to be surprised by something — a detail, a situation, even just the way a concept is framed. We’re not looking to be shocked, but simply — “oh, that’s nice, I’ve never looked at it that way.” It’s nice to see a forward lean, too — is this piece going somewhere? If it’s meandering, does it promise some momentum in how that stasis will evolve? 



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


NCM: For us, it has to be superficial “virus writing,” or “pandemic writing.” We get it — we’re a publication started in quarantine, and we make that clear, so why wouldn’t we want any and all fiction concerning this global outbreak? However, we do see a lot of “COVID writing” that feels exploitative of this moment in time — as though this fatal virus is a simple plot device, or background scenery. The best “virus writing” we receive often doesn’t mention COVID by name, because it’s true to the experience; it’s not name-checking this calamity as detail. Put it this way — we don’t want virus for virus sake. 



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


NCM: Since your logo seems to feature Ben Affleck incorrectly wearing a face mask: What is your favorite Ben Affleck movie?


That’s a brave question, Jim, because there are some obvious choices and some terrible choices, with very little in-between. You can’t go wrong with “Dazed & Confused”, a movie where nothing happens, and yet, everyone goes home happy.

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


Friday, October 9, 2020

Six Questions for Mac Merrick and Rick Hollon, Editors, From the Farther Trees

From the Farther Trees is a bimonthly, print magazine that publishes original fantasy fiction of 1,000-15,000 words. “We are open to original stories in all subgenres of fantasy, ranging from fairy tales to science fantasy, weird westerns to romantic fantasy, epic fantasy to urban fantasy, swords & sorcery to quiet character studies, and everything in between.” Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


FtFT: Small press magazines are a rich and exciting field full of diverse, emerging talents. They also tend to be almost exclusively online these days. Many small press magazines commonly have lifespans of less than a couple years, or even just a couple issues. Once they vanish from the internet, all the stories they brought to the public often vanish as well. Our goal is to create a physical, tangible printed work that won’t disappear into the ether. We drew inspiration from the DIY fanzines and home-printed publications of the 1970s and 1980s, which we collect whenever we find them.



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


FtFT: Quality prose, a sense of character and perspective, and a compelling fantasy element. Words are how writers pull their readers into the story they wish to tell; if your words are inert and inelegant, mechanically describing without imparting any sense of life or cadence, your storytelling will suffer as a result. 


Similarly, if your story is driven by some generic, emotionless plot device rather than by its characters, it won’t hold our interest. Even the most swashbuckling tale of adventure should be rooted in characters that have some life of their own. 


Finally, if it takes your story two pages to show its first inkling of the unusual or fantastic, that’s two pages you could probably trim from your final draft. In most cases, you don’t need to detail your narrator’s subway ride to get to where the action is. The fantastic element can be subtle, or it could dominate every aspect of life in your story. But the fantastic should always be present in some capacity.



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


FtFT: Poor quality prose. Ninety percent of submissions lose our interest within the first few lines thanks to lifeless prose. Deliberately nasty or exploitative themes are another immediate rejection. No matter how provocative or edgy you think your subject matter is, odds are professional fantasy authors explored it a hundred times in the 1980s alone.



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


FtFT: A reason to become invested in the story being told. It could be a compelling character introduction. It could be a intriguing glimpse into the fantastic elements that will shape the rest of the story. Ideally, it’s both.



SQF: Are there certain genres or story lines you’d like to see more (or less) of in your submissions pile?


FtFT: We’ve received surprisingly few sword and sorcery stories, or fantasy adventures in secondary world settings in general. Modern takes on these subgenres—using modern storytelling techniques—would be delightful.


Things we’d love to see less of: As you might imagine, we’ve received a glut of pandemic and apocalyptic narratives. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever publish any of these. Likewise, plots built around murder or revenge are rote, uninspired, and have been done a million times over.



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


FtFT: A section on favorite authors or inspirations could be interesting. Some of our favorite fantasy authors include Peter S. Beagle, Phyllis Eisenstein, Jeffrey Ford, N. K. Jemisin, Margo Lanagan, Ursula K. Le Guin, Sofia Samatar, Catherynne M. Valente, Jo Walton, and E. Lily Yu.


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

Friday, October 2, 2020

Six Questions for David Galef, Editor-in-Chief, Vestal Review

(David took over as EiC on July 15, 2020. -- JH)

Vestal Review publishes flash fiction of no longer than 500 words. It runs a few flash-related interviews and reviews, too, also limited to 500 words or fewer. We pay $50 to contributors. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What is the mission of Vestal Review?

David Galef: “Mission” is a high-sounding term. Let’s just say that we aim to publish excellent flash fiction, with an eye toward a diversity of voices across a broad spectrum of talents.


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

DG: First and foremost, we like to hear a distinctive voice; second, saying something we haven’t heard before. Third, we’d like the story to move along and not be some static set of observations or a prose poem.


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

DG: Tired or inexact language, well-worn or contrived plots, and nonexistent endings.


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

DG: We’re eclectic, so a lot of different approaches work for us. That said, we look for arresting sentences, exciting setups, or characters we want to watch.


SQF: What is The VERA award?

DG: VERA, or VEstal Review Award, is an annual trio of prizes for the best flash fiction of the year, sent in by editors of flash fiction magazines around the globe. There’s no entry fee. For further information, see https://www.vestalreview.net/vestal-review-flash-fiction-2014-award/.


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

DG: What aspect of Vestal Review sets it off from other magazines?

At twenty years old, Vestal Review is the oldest-running flash fiction magazine on the planet, which gives us a depth and breadth that a lot of other magazines lack. Check out our archives.

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