Friday, December 11, 2015

Six Questions for Meredith Counts and Lisa Schamess, Founding Editors, Dead Housekeeping

Dead Housekeeping publishes very short (250 words) literary micro-essays about how the dead did things. We generally run two 250-word “entries” of specific advice from the dead per week, and run occasional related items on our secondary blog (Noteworthy). We focus on the person and their process – not so much our reflections on Uncle Jim thirty years later, but Uncle Jim in the moment, making his bomb barbecue ribs or cleaning grandma's fridge or commandeering the LP turntable in the specific way only he could. Read the complete guidelines here.

Responses to question two were opened to members of the entire board of twelve contributing editors: Ashley Nicole Black, Jacqueline Bryant Campbell, Nichole Cordin, Jennifer Cumby, Stefanie Le Jeunesse, Erica Hoskins Mullenix, Sade Murphy, Shabnam Nadiya, Deborah Pintonelli, Asha Rajan, and Diana Saez.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Meredith Counts: Lisa has written about our origins, but in short: we both write about the dead. During a months-long conversation in early 2015 we invented the Dead Housekeeping form: the 250 word how-they-did-it very short essay. We invited a dozen writers we love to serve as contributing editors, and here we are.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why? We asked our editorial team:

1) Is the person dead? 2) Is there a how-to? It isn't so much that the how-to has to be something brand new, but that the way of doing it reveals something about the person. 3) the right length, which sometimes means more than 250 words, but not often.
- Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

Something revealing about the departed. Preferably something juicy. The right length, or something that makes me forget there is a right length. A how-to that I didn't already know or know really well and feels suddenly universal.
– Stefanie Le Jeunesse

I love that exact moment when the domestic chore is connected back to the dead. When I know the dead in one intimate way that is implied and clear by way of doing. When we are invited into homes where life comes and goes and then must keep going.
- Nichole Cordin

1. A personal introduction to the departed; something that gives me a clear sense of who they were, how they were different to everyone else, an inkling of their voice/personality.
2. Writing that makes me not worry about word count (I don't want this to be my primary concern and find myself looking at word count when the writing isn't what it could be).
3. A clear sense that the departed one is giving me a direction of how to do something, whether that's something I'm ever likely to replicate (a recipe, use of napkins, folding linen), or not (mowing a lawn, recycling egg cartons)
-Asha Rajan

This is conflicting advice, but I want to read writing that feels both familiar to me and also unique or unheard of. The best pieces feel “true” and “new” at the same time. I love stories about people who surprise us, who were unpredictable except by the people who really knew them. And then to make it even more complicated, I think we get to the universal through the concrete. I favor submissions with a lot of concrete detail more than authorial reflection.
- Meredith Counts

I am a stickler for the how-to. It's not just because I want to see a person's pecan pie recipe, but because that requirement forces people to talk about their dead in evocative, fresh ways.

I also really want to make sure the dead person gets to "speak" through their actions. We have turned down essays or asked for revisions of beautiful work that is *only* about the person writing, their grief, and not the dead one. It's okay to have those things interact, but the center has to remain on the act of imagining the loved one's life by resurrecting their habits.
- Lisa Schamess

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

MC: It’s clear when a piece has been sent blind by someone who hasn’t read our site. If it doesn’t fit, we can’t use it.

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

MC: If an author has worked within our guidelines, we’ll usually explain why we’re rejecting or accepting a piece.

SQF: If Dead Housekeeping had a theme song, what would it be and why?

MC: Oh, we made you a whole playlist.

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

MC: Please know that my editing is fueled by coffee with milk and sugar and hot buttered toast.

LS: "Why did this idea appeal to you so much over all the other ways to honor the dead?"

A: If you read the bios of the editors, you get a sense of how each of us has met loss in our own lives with honesty, openness, and -- yes -- humor and curiosity. I want Dead Housekeeping to stand for those things. There is no right or wrong way to mourn, and no timeline. Every grief is unique and alive, just as the dead ones once were. I love the camaraderie that comes from bringing our very different experiences together. The thread that runs through them is also unique and alive, and hard to describe."

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

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