Friday, January 8, 2016

Six Questions for Jane Flett, Poetry Editor, and Ambika Thompson, Fiction Editor, Leopardskin and Limes

Leopardskin & Limes publishes short stories to 3000 words, flash fiction under 1000 words, and poetry. Read the complete guidelines here.

(Ceased publication)

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Ambika: We wanted a platform to bring together likeminded writers and artists (every piece is accompanied by an image). I think it's put best by an Australian writer who submitted to us, who wrote, “Women and queer friendly, Etgar Keret, riot grrl, Berlin and Kurt Vonnegut - definitely a journal to pay attention to!” Jane and I are both writers as well and publish a fair amount, so it's nice to be on the flip side and able to share others' works. It feels like being more a part of a community. It's a lovely feeling.

Jane: Absolutely. Also, I think we both were (are) frustrated by the predominance of certain characteristics of literary publishing in general—white, straight, male, heterosexual, etc., etc.—but we also both come from a DIY kind of background, where you're only allowed to complain about things for so long before you decide you have to do something about it.

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

Ambika: Clarity, substance and style. If a story comes in wearing a fabulous Vivienne Westwood blazer from the 70s, then it's in, fact. But imagine that a story is a person. So this story walks into a room, and they are fabulous. They aren't wearing something that's all the trend this year, they've put together whatever, and it works, and the whole is something exciting and brand new. When they talk, they aren't telling you what you want to hear, they're certainly not a people pleaser, nor do they just talk about themselves for the sake of hearing their own voice. They don't use fancy words and metaphors just to sound smart, they use them because they sound good, and they're gonna make sure that you understand what they're talking about, because they want to relate to you. They're interested in connecting with people. This is the kind of story you'd take home for a shag.

Jane: A sense of certainty. Having the confidence to use the simple, short word where the complicated big word with a bunch of qualifiers could do. And something weird—an image or idea that jolts me in some way, but that doesn't just feel like it was thrown in there for the hell of it.

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

Ambika: Abrupt endings, lack of backstory/character development, characters doing things for no apparent reason, a lot of mistakes, and casual racism and/or sexism. The latter can't really be classified as a mistake—it's more of a “What the!” and that story is gone.

Jane: Poems that are trying too hard to be grandiose. Complicated sentences that I have to read three times to understand. Poems, in general, that I have to read and re-read to understand anything of. Piles of adjectives. The idea that misery is somehow inherently profound.

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

Ambika: No. If I liked the piece, but not enough to publish it, for whatever reason, I usually ask the writer to send something else. What floats (or doesn't float) my boat, I'm quite aware, differs from other people's boat floating. If someone asked me why I didn't accept their piece, then I'd probably tell them, but otherwise I don't feel like it's my place.

Jane: Me neither. I don't feel like there's an objectively correct way to write a poem, and I'm well aware that my tastes are What Jane Likes, not some universal truth. Also, anything I've ever written with the intent to be 'more like X' has usually been a disappointment. That's not to say that editing isn't an essential part of the writing process, but I don't think it's the publisher's role.

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

Ambika: I don't think I've been doing this long enough yet to really say that I've learned all that much. I'm a slow learner.

Jane: Not so much a lesson about writing, but reading what comes in and seeing what I base my own decisions on has hammered home to me just how subjective the whole process of submitting to journals is. Of course, rejection sucks, but it's really, really not personal. It's also a good reminder that honestly? The people reading your work are desperate to like it. I—and I imagine most literary magazine editors—do this thing for free because I want to put awesome words out into the world. I want to be dazzled. These thoughts are nice to keep in mind when it comes to sitting down with my own work and looking for a home.

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

Jane: What do you think are your responsibilities as an editor?

I think there are the obvious things, in lieu of being able to pay contributors (which we hope to do one day): present the work beautifully, commission an artwork that represents it (obviously this is specific to our journal, though I think it's a great thing to be doing), publicize through all the social media channels, nominate for various awards, etc. But also, I've realised, if you want to see a difference in terms of the things you publish, you need to be active in making that happen. As in, discovering and soliciting things from writers who represent the aesthetic/demographic you want. Being vocal and repetitive about wanting submissions from a more diverse group of people, rather than just hoping what you want will appear in the slush pile. It's a bit more work, but for me it's also the whole point in doing any of this.

Ambika: I'm gonna agree with Jane on these points. It does make a lot more work though, and I feel that I could really use a whole other day in the week just to do that, get out there more and try and reach the people that we'd like to submit, or that we don't even know that we'd like them to. I also think it's really important to have good communication with the writers that we decide to publish, as in letting them know when we're going to publish and then telling them when we do. This may seem self-evident but it's happened to me before that someone accepted a piece of mine, published it but didn't tell me that they did. I only found out later because I googled myself. Yes, I admit it, I google myself.

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

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