Friday, January 31, 2014

Six Questions for Adam Berlin and Jeffrey Helman, Editors, J Journal: New Writing on Justice

J Journal publishes fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry "that examines questions of justice." Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: There are a number of fiction magazines that publish crime stories. What makes J Journal different?

J Journal: We don’t publish crime stories and we don’t look for them.  We are interested in stories and poems and narratives that approach questions of justice from any angle.  We’ve found our best work looks at these questions tangentially, not head-on.  The work we publish can really be found in any good lit mag (because justice lurks in every story), but within the justice frame of J Journal, the work takes on a particular resonance, a layer of meaning that might not be apparent in a non-thematic journal.  

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

JJ: Stock genre fiction is the first thing that turns us off.  Too often, first paragraphs contain so many apprentice flaws—overly detailed writing without an identifiable voice.  Also, too many stories start too soon; that is, there’s a lot of revving up before the real conflict, the real uncomfortable places are introduced.  In poetry, experimenting with language for experiment’s sake doesn’t attract us.  And for the personal narratives we receive, we want to see the veil lifted—too often, there is an overly journalistic, less-than-personal quality that does nothing to reveal.  

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog? 

JJ: Probably not. We find most blog entries to be quick drafts and the work we favor is more carefully revised. We have re-printed a few stories, ones that did not have much prior visibility.  With these few pieces, we’ve often worked closely with the writers to refine their submissions beyond the previously published version.  

SQF: What advice can you offer authors hoping to have a story published in J Journal?

JJ: Don’t send an early draft.  Don’t send a genre story.  Don’t send an excerpt from a novel unless it’s a completely developed story in itself.  Read for cliché and commonplace ideas and language and work the piece until you have control of voice, image, theme.  We want character-driven fiction.  Plots can be low to the ground.  Our favorite stories are ones where not much happens but everything happens.  We’re really excited by voices that are authentic, unusual, vulnerable, honest, sure.  There’s no greater pleasure as editors than reading the start of a story, looking at each other and knowing this writer has hit it.  Voice, language, movement all come together and we’re right there.

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

JJ: It’s hard.  We’ve become more careful critics of our own work.  It’s easier for us to see the false notes or the fat.  We both feel that editing J Journal has helped us see through to a writer’s intentions, and this has made us more skilled teachers in our creative writing classes.

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

JJ: What does an editing day look like at J Journal?

We usually work for eight hours on Fridays when our week’s academic work is done.  We’re a two-man operation, so first we take care of correspondence and business (we’re currently updating our web presence).  And then we get to the work we really like—reading and editing submissions.  Often we divide a stack of envelopes in half and read work to each other.  We know pretty quickly if something has resonance—we then mull over that work, or copy it for a closer individual reading.  We also work very closely with our writers, often providing extensive comments and going back and forth for a few drafts.  In six years of publication, and 1400 pages of text, we have few misgivings—the journals contain the work we want to read.  And one rare but complete pleasure for us is to find and work with a writer who goes on to bigger publications.  The day ends with a drink.  Jameson in a plastic cup.  

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

NEXT POST: 2/4--Six Questions for Lynn Ellen Wolf, Editor in Chief, Calidum: A Literary Magazine

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