Friday, December 19, 2014

Six Questions for Rebecca Starks, Editor-in-Chief, Mud Season Review

Mud Season Review is an international literary journal run by members of the Burlington Writers Workshop. Each issue of its monthly online journal features one work of fiction, one of nonfiction (both up to 7,000 words), one portfolio of poetry and art. “We seek deeply human work that will teach us something about life, but also about the craft of writing or visual art; work that is original in its approach and opens up new ways of perceiving the world.” Read the complete guidelines here.

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

Rebecca Starks: 

  1. A strong voice—for me that indicates earned wisdom, something like James Joyce’s “out of how deep a life does it spring.” That life could be experiential, or stem from reading, but in either case it should be both well-considered and empathic.
  2. A view from elsewhere—a unique perspective, with some element of risk or challenge.
  3. That it be fully realized—that it have a point, whether or not it has a plot (as William Trevor says of the short story).

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

RS: Shallowness on any level, from verbal to moral: clichés, irony standing in for empathy, unconsidered assumptions. Mistakes don’t bother me—that’s what editors are for—unless they seem to stem from carelessness or a lack of effort.

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

RS: No, we want publication in our journal to constitute the first real “making public” of an author’s work. But if a work is shared among friends for feedback, in a limited way, that would not count as publication for us. And an author can always post the work on their personal blog ninety days after we have published it.

The one exception to this rule is art: we will still consider artwork that has been posted on a personal blog.

SQF: Readers unfamiliar with Vermont may not know about mud season. What is it? Is there a relationship between mud season and Mud Season Review?

RS: Mud Season is the early spring, throughout New England: the time when the accumulated snow begins to melt and everything turns to mud. Cars have been known to sink halfway down into dirt roads. People have “mud rooms” for taking off their boots before entering the house. It has countless poems named after it—e.g., “Mud Season” by Jane Kenyon, “Two Tramps In Mud Time” by Robert Frost.

We think of it as a creative season: the time when frozen experience begins to thaw into inspiration, ideas take shape, first drafts turn into final drafts. It’s a messy, unfinished time—and then we want the publication itself to feel celebratory of the finished work that comes out of this inner, private, painstaking work: spring proper.

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

RS: I love working with writers to get their work into its best shape: both the work we accept and the work that is sent us as a “feedback request.” I think all our editors have enjoyed both that and getting to know the contributors through our interviews.

And of course sending acceptances—I’m not sure it ever balances out the feeling of sending out rejections, but it feels very good to send good news to someone whose work you feel you’ve “found” and can help promote. And I love discussing submissions with the Mud Season staff—as a group we have eclectic taste, and it’s all the more rewarding when we converge on a piece.

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

RS: I’m drawn to one of the other questions I’ve seen on this blog: “Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?”

What I’ve learned is that it’s no good rationalizing, as a writer: the poem, the story, the essay—they have to work. Readers feel the flat lines, they puzzle over plot or characters that feel under-motivated, they are really looking for something in some way transformative. Once you realize that real people are reading what you’ve written—taking it very seriously, debating it, wanting to root for it—you realize that what you send out has to be able to stand up to that. You don’t abandon the work—you go back and finish it.

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

NEXT POST: 1/9—Six Questions for Marjorie Tesser, Editor, Mom Egg Review


  1. Hmmmmm. Really? There have been no comments to this post? (That's what it says above.) How strange. Here are several good insights by a founder of a sound literary publication, designed for and run by writers, and here is a wide open opportunity for writers to do what they do (write) about what they do (write) in regard to important comments by an expert in judging what we do (write). And no one has anything to say? Weel, I do. First, deep thank yous to Mr. Harrington and Ms. Starks for opening a few doors to the office into which we rarely see - the editor's. T.Y. also to Ms. S for detailing how and why it is about the work, and how she and other editors evaluate not only the result (as they see it, and hope the reader will see it) but the effort and learned experience that produced the result. I'm going to copy-and-paste this interview into my WRITING folder under Do It Better.
    Lance Mason

    1. I love this idea...having editors comment on what they want. I am just learning about Mud Season Review. I will be back.

  2. This is a wonderful interview with thoughtful answers given. It is 100% true that readers will know when something isn't working, when something just ain't right. I've always realized that as a painter; even if viewers can't identify exactly what is weak or missing, they know when something is off. It was most interesting to see this POV from an editor as well.

    Very good work here, on the part of the interviewer and editor.

  3. I came across this interview after using the word mud season in a poem. I often google or look up a word that I use just to play with it, enjoy it, and think about it. What a find to discover Mud Season and this helpful interview. Reading and re-reading Rebecca's top three guidelines for writers was like having her personally look over my shoulder and whisper edits to my poem in progress. I still struggle though with "getting my writing into the best shape" although I know when I have that giddy feeling of doing it. Thank you sincerely. Mary A.

  4. Follow up. The poem that Rebecca helped me with was accepted!!! by the publisher. THANK YOU. Now I am working on a few to be submitted to Mud Season Review. Mary A.

  5. A very insightful interview with Ms. Starks, whose personality shone out through it, as an admirable, welcoming, helpful empathetic human being and obviously this carries over to her editing profession. While not appearing as a harsh critic, I think, in this interview, she inspires us to review our work and submit our best to her, which is what I'll do now, rather than a hasty submission. Thanks. Really enjoyed the read.

  6. I've just discovered Mud Season Review. It's a joy to read and this interview sums up the heart of the editorial policy. Thanks for all your time and effort.

  7. I love this editor's philosophy. I'd like to get to know this person. As a struggling, emerging poet, I just wish I could come across more publications whose editors were of this same mindset.

  8. Your comment about making mistakes and not abandoning a work really stood out for me. Interesting read. Thanks