Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Six Questions for Madelyne Xiao, Editor-in-Chief, Vademecum Magazine

Vademecum Magazine publishes poetry, prose, and black-and-white photography. We're dedicated to promoting the work of talented high school writers and artists, with a penchant for poems in the style of the New York poets and the modernists (read William Carlos Williams and John Ashbery if you'd like an instance of stuff we really like). Generally, we like our prose the same way, though, as with all things VM, we offer a great deal of flexibility to our submitters. We like our photography like we like our news: black and white and relevant to a fault (see our website for examples). Read the complete submissions guidelines here. Happy submitting! 

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

MX: I'd been submitting poems to a few literary magazines as a high school sophomore--on a few occasions, I was able to find magazines that targeted a young audience of submitters. In most cases, however, I found myself competing against world class writers for a place in the publication. Even the best high school writers would be hard-pressed to out-verse a heavyweight who publishes regularly in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, etc. I'm not calling high school talent into question here. Exactly the opposite. High school writers and artists shouldn't need to feel self-conscious about their author bios when they're submitting. The work should speak for itself, and VM provides an open platform for this type of expression. VM's photography provides a gorgeous counterpoint to our written submissions (writing and visual arts really do go hand-in-hand). The frequency of publication and our rolling submissions system, additionally, encourage a continual inflow of creative talent. 

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

MX: If we had to choose, the editors would say:

  • something new. It's a terribly ironic cliche. Every editor looks for works that distinguish a particular journal from its peers. We've presented our submitters with an oft-wrought theme (transcendent in the commonplace), so our best submitters are able to present us with strikingly beautiful/grotesque/abstract interpretations of this premise. The same for our photography submissions. We're only too happy to recognize this kind of creative genius! 
  • attention to craft. Line breaks, word choice, voice, structure. Enjambment, space, meaning. We could go on and on. For a thing as concentrated and powerful as a poem, a misguided comma makes all the difference between the good and the great. The effort a writer puts into these kinds of decisions is palpable. If you've taken the time to consider the implications of each of these changes, we'll know. So, please. Do let us know. 
  • musicality. This may hold a note of personal bias. I think that in most cases, a well-written poem sounds as good in the air as it does on paper (obvious exceptions include poems that lean heavily on visual effect for a punch). And that doesn't necessarily imply euphony. If you're the Arnold Schoenberg of poets, we want to read your submission, too! We really, really want to read your submission. 

SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?

  • obvious disregard for submissions guidelines. The editors took the time to build a guidelines page--it's all geared towards helping submitters get a better shot at publication. It's one of those rare things that we like to call win-win situations. Attention to guidelines lets the editors know that you've researched the lit mag, that you've carefully considered how your work will be received. That isn't lost on us! 
  • basic errors in grammar and syntax. We assume that you care a great deal about your work, enough so that you've given your submission a decent edit for mechanics. Perhaps even had another person critique your work. If you're putting yourself out there, you're entering a playing field where correct grammar is a minimum and great ideas are the ultimate objective. Don't drop out of the race before it's even begun. 

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

MX: In some cases, we do. We have a tiered system of responses. If we don't have time to address everything we'd like to, we oftentimes send a simple rej letter encouraging future submissions. If we feel that a few tweaks would set everything to rights, we mention these fixes. We're a small staff, as lit mags go, so we don't always respond with critique, though we'd love to. 

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

MX: Too much. Much too much. There's a universe of forms, styles, voices, techniques out there, of which I've only skimmed a far-flung solar system. Everyday, I'm stunned by the ingenuity of some of the submissions we receive. Understand--these are high school students. They've got too much to say and not enough space to say it in. 

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

Q: Why aren't there more publications of VM's kind, and how can I support VM's mission? 

Quick answer: There should be. At the moment, a number of journals run by high schoolers like myself have taken the initiative in promoting high school/youth arts. To support us, subscribe, donate, submit, and the like. We love our submitters and subscribers and donors. Youth arts education should be encouraged to the utmost. 

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

NEXT POST: 9/27--Six Questions for Susan Anspach, Carlea Holl-Jensen and LiAnn Yim, Editors, The Golden Key

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