Friday, May 26, 2017

Six Questions for Jake Schneider, Editor in Chief, SAND Journal, and the editorial team

SAND Journal is a biannual print publication containing short stories, poetry, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, translations, photography, drawing, painting, and other art forms. Learn more here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Jake Schneider, editor in chief: Actually, I didn’t: our founding editor in chief was Becky Crook, and you sent this questionnaire to my recent predecessor, Lyz Pfister. In a city as transient as Berlin, the secret to our eight-year survival as a volunteer-run literary magazine is that we’ve always been an evolving, collaborative effort defined by the passions of our current group of people. It’s never been a private project, and each successive group has had its own tastes and definitions of what SAND should be. But that’s exactly what expat Berlin is like: marked by arrivals and departures, driven more by common cause than by personal ambition, inheriting the city and redefining it.

So, long story short, I can only speak for myself and my own goals: I’d like to see SAND bring together more underrepresented voices from more places, especially in the Global South. Berlin is one endpoint on many people’s migrations. As transplants, we are always looking farther afield for inspiration. Just as our own lives don’t match what we were raised to expect, we are intrinsically interested in poems and stories that defy those expectations. That includes translations.

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

Florian Duijsens, fiction editor: I look for three things: surprise (not in terms of twist endings, but in terms of surprising voices, observations, textures, and also surprising choices in where stories start and stop), confidence (a cohesive, effective style, conscious stylistic/linguistic/narrative decisions), and truth (characters and settings that not only feel true to life, but also true to themselves; not necessarily likable, or even realistic, but alive and singular). So anything but the cliché, the wishy-washy, and the fake, basically.

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

Andrew Scheinman, nonfiction editor: A story of any sort needs a raison d'être—not a moral, not necessarily even a delineated plotline—but some searching or wandering, some exploration that occurs or is at least suggested between the beginning, middle, and end. Too many memoirs, essays, and the like proclaim their meaning from the get-go, delivering something akin to a news lede, and then elucidate the details as a matter of course. But literary writing is narrative—exciting only when it entertains or perplexes throughout the reading process, factuality notwithstanding. A simple record of events, however true or profound to the author her/himself, does not a good story make. Good nonfiction should be more about seeking than finding and should take the reader along for the ride.

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

Jake Schneider: Because of the hundreds of submissions we receive, we can’t always provide comments. But we always send personal responses to writers from our shortlist who don’t quite make into the issue.

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

Andrew Scheinman: Hemingway said “the most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” Well, I may not be built-in, but as an editor, I suppose this sort of thing is my job vis-à-vis other writers. As I grow a bit more practiced at seeing others’ prose plainly, even bluntly, I notice how much of writing is really just that—the simple act of being attentive to lapse of voice, to strength of story arc, to depth of character, and refining these features draft after draft after draft. Whatever happens to the blank page is only the beginning. The metamorphosis that comes afterward—the “getting the words right,” as Hemingway put it—this is where writing becomes extraordinary.

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

Jake Schneider: I don’t necessarily wish you asked it, but you might be wondering where our name comes from. The answer is the 1985 song “Sand” as performed by Einstürzende Neubauten, which is a radically altered cover of this 1966 version by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. The lyrics go “I am a stranger in your land / wandering man / call me Sand.” The shoe fits.

Thank you, Jake, Andrew, and Florian. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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