Friday, September 25, 2015

Six Questions for Jason V Brock, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Nameless Digest

More a softcover anthology in size and scope (over 200 pages/issue) than a periodical, Nameless Digest publishes fiction and nonfiction (from 1500 to 9500 words), and poetry in the speculative genres of horror, weird, Magical Realism, and science fiction; it is a colorful, fully illustrated, pro-paying market in print and e-book format. It also features reviews of books and films in addition to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as interviews with leading practitioners in the dark fantasy and sci-fi fields (past interviewees have included filmmaker George A. Romero and artist Kris Kuksi, among others); it does its best to come out twice a year (though slippage happens).

Brock is the publisher/editor-in-chief (via his award-winning imprint Cycatrix Press [The Bleeding Edge; A Darke Phantastique]), and his managing editor is the scholar and weird fiction expert S. T. Joshi (H. P. Lovecraft: A Life; The Modern Weird Tale). Other contributors include award-winning/-nominated authors/editors/artists Nicole Cushing, Pete Von Sholly, Darrell Schweitzer, Matt Cardin, William F. Nolan, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Mike Allen, Gene O’Neill, Samuel Araya, and many others (notables and neophytes alike). The goal of the publication is to find the best and most challenging content from around the word in all categories of genre interest. The Digest maintains a website, a Twitter account (@NamelessMag), and a Facebook page. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Jason V Brock: It came about as my tenure at the well-regarded Dark Discoveries was coming to a close. I had been there as the managing editor and art director/designer for over four years, and the publisher at the time, James R. Beach, was thinking about getting out of the magazine business. Magazines are a tough way to make an impact, but we did for a while. It was simply time for both of us to move on. We’re still good friends, actually, and he is doing work with Dark Regions Press, as well as his own promotions (including the upcoming Living Dead Con in Portland, OR this fall, which I’ll be attending).

With regard to moving on, I felt that I had my own perspective to offer the field, and something more to say, just in a different format. I am a filmmaker (The AckerMonster Chronicles!), artist, and writer (Disorders of Magnitude; Milton’s Children), and my vision for Nameless really was as more of a perfect-bound book than a traditional slick magazine, which is what Dark Discoveries was. We go deeper into issues not just related to genre, but also politics and scholarship. Our interviews and nonfiction offerings are more expansive, too, as we cover all forms of media, not just writing primarily.

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

JVB: The top three things. Hmmm… Tough to say, but I’d list, in no order: 1) proper formatting of the manuscript following our posted guidelines, 2) a strong opening hook, as well as an avoidance of cliché elements and stock tropes, 3) good writing with something to say. Subtext. And by “good writing,” I extend that to proper punctuation and grammar, as well as characterization, plotting, and so on.

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

JVB: Boring writing with bad dialogue, weak characters, and the use of first person. This last aspect is a pet peeve, I’ll grant, but I see far too much of it. Writers tend to use first person as a way to lend immediacy to their stories. I think some of this is due to over workshopping, or even too many MFA degrees in writing. Also bad sex scenes: They are a real embarrassment when poorly executed. Gratuitous gore or cruelty to animals and people is also not good. The actions and the reasons for what the characters are doing must have an internal reality, so that the characters are not just pieces one is moving from plot point to plot point. With the MFA squad, they tend to write vignettes, not real stories with a structure. They overly rely on mood or internalization. I know that’s in fashion with some editors—just as others want the gritty urban fantasy stuff, which can be just as boring—but that’s all it is: a fashion of the moment. In my estimation, many writers don’t really benefit from the way some editors operate; these editors have a somewhat narrow view of the field, and they don’t “edit” so much as “compile.” That will kill the field over time, as will only allowing certain editorial perspectives to dominate. We need more varied voices in editorship—and authors who represent the strata of human experience, not just a skewed perspective looking downward from a pedestal, or through the cracked lens of so-called “identity politics”… We need holistic approaches to the artistic enterprise, not greater fracturing of it. Also, a lot of writers seem to feel that horror or other genre efforts are a kind of slumming, it seems; they are quick to embrace “literary” and don’t really get that “literary” is 1) tedious, and 2) no better or worse than any other genre. “Literary” does not necessarily mean better written; usually, it means arch and pedantic, I’ve discovered. Of course, all of these tags are simply marketing handles. Labels are fine for the short run; in the longer run, art should be about reflection and sharing, about trying to grapple with the other and understand them, in addition to self-expression.

Frankly, the POD (print-on-demand) revolution has democratized publishing to the point of absurdity; most people are not very good writers, even individuals who are making a living at it, and they never will be. Writers need editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders. They require feedback, and someone to challenge them. All writing is rewriting; half of writing is the engagement of the reader, too. Just because one may have a better-than-average grasp of their native language does not mean that they are a writer any more than a person who can draw a rectangle, square, or circle is an artist, or somebody who can whistle “Twinkle, Twinkle” is a composer. “Becoming” something accomplished requires diligence, patience, and focus… Discipline and tough-mindedness; a willingness to supplicate to the process of gaining experience. Also a part of fortune and talent, I reckon.

With the Internet, social media, video games, and other distractions, this sort of mindfulness and attention is in shorter supply than ever. The great glut of POD books and the proliferation of blogs have empowered people to “create” simply because they want to entertain, or reach an audience. It’s ego-gratification, and easier to do, say, than learning to draw, or take up an instrument, since we’re all taught language arts in school. It does not follow that most or any of these folks have talent, or will impart insight into the human condition, or that they even read very widely. As a result, they have nothing really to say. And even if they do, most of them will never be remembered, just as most of the creators in history are largely forgotten. Due to the explosion of technological means, writing today is just an enormous firehose spray of verbiage without much impact or consequence. The sheer amount of wordage drowns out significance, to include the trend towards lack of editorial interference and overwriting as a mode of expression.

I am looking for those few rare exceptions.

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

JVB: Sometimes. If I really think a writer is on to something, I might ask for a re-write. More than a few times I’ve taken the red pen to a story and shown them how to get a story that works. Editing is a skill set different from writing; most writers are not very accomplished editors. I also don’t feel that a writer’s work is sacrosanct; I’m not a fan of anyone’s work, including my own, and have no compunctions about reworking their manuscript. I just don’t have that much time these days to do it. Generally, my comments are along the lines of “well done, but not for us.”

SQF: If you could have dinner with three authors, who would they be and why?

JVB: Well, to be honest, I’ve been lucky enough to have met and had dinner with nearly every author whose work I admire. If I had to choose, I’d say Rod Serling, Shakespeare or Dante, and either Gabriel García Márquez, Emily Dickinson, or Charles Beaumont. I actually did a documentary about Beaumont.

Why? Because they represent, to me, individuals who mastered their craft, and had significant understanding to offer the human race. They had a wisdom that is hard to define, but which exists in their finest efforts.

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

JVB: You’ve covered everything pretty well. Thanks.

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

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. However, I'm terrified and in love with this editor at the same time.