Friday, December 6, 2019

Six Questions for Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Editor, 34 Orchard

34 Orchard publishes fiction of 1,000-7,500 words and poetry of any style or length. “[W]e like dark, intense pieces that speak to a deeper truth.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Kristi Petersen Schoonover: I was always a writer, but I was also passionate about “publishing” things. When I was little, the short stories my dad read me—dark, sad things like “Light of Other Days,” in particular—made an impression on me. I’d spend my spare time writing stories and then making books out of oak tag. In high school, I’d spend my lunch money on the library copy machine (at five cents a page, in the early 80s, that wasn’t cheap!) so I could “publish” books for my friends, and I did all the programs for the school plays. I did this for years, just rolling and changing with the technology: I went from typewriter to word processor to PageMaker to Publisher. One of my first jobs was in layout at my hometown newspaper (back when it was all manual and you were basically pasting pieces of paper onto huge templates using hot wax). In college, I worked on the newspaper and literary magazine—both writing and layout/editing, and in grad school I was Editor-in-Chief of the Pitkin Review. It was that experience that made me realize that, although I also went on to work as an editor for other journals, what I really wanted to do was publish my own literary journal, featuring what I liked to read, giving undiscovered writers who might not fit into one genre another opportunity. The timing, though, was never right—until recently, when a good friend was joking around with me. ‘You should start your own literary journal!’ and a light came on. When I called her back a week later to tell her everything was in the works, she said, ‘I was joking!’ I answered, ‘I wasn’t.’ As I look back on my life now, I’m realizing that just about everything I did—even all of the chapbooks I send out as Christmas cards every year—was leading up to this. It’s always been in me.

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

KPS: The first box that gets checked is the opening sentence/paragraph: did this suck me in? If yes, I move on to box number two: presentation. How clean is it and did it follow guidelines? Clean meaning really tightly polished and professional in appearance. Then, guidelines. I’m a writer too, and I understand how crazy it can get when each market wants different formatting or asks its submitters to jump through what might seem like an unreasonable number of hoops. But guidelines—specific formatting, et cetera—are there for two reasons: work flow (to make the journal’s publication process smoother) and a better chance at getting the slush-pile reader immersed. Our goal as writers is to make that reader forget the real world exists, which means we need to get him to stop seeing words on a page and start watching a movie in his mind. Incorrectly formatted or unpolished manuscripts can pull a reader right out of that. If the piece isn’t clean, and if it didn’t follow guidelines, I might get the sense that the work wasn’t a priority, and that’s not what I want to publish. Box three is the aesthetic. It varies depending on the publication I’m working on, but for 34 Orchard, I’m looking for that story or poem where ecstasy and grief, beauty and decay, and light and dark co-exist, in addition to being a good fit. Better yet, am I jumping up and down thinking, ‘holy cow, I need to buy this right. Now?’

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

KPS: I don’t ask for much in the way of guidelines, so it’s a little off-putting when they aren’t followed. It sends the message that acceptance might mean a difficult working relationship. I can also tell if the story just isn’t “publication ready”—it’s got some plot or character issues, feels rushed, isn’t well fleshed out in terms of mood and atmosphere, and/or is generally not a tight polish. For example, one red flag indicating the piece needs more work is a word used two or three times in the same paragraph. Typos—I’m a writer, too, so I understand there are always going to be one or two. But honestly, more than one or two, and I’m done. My personal pet peeve, though, is the interrobang. There’re people that love it, but I, personally, think it telegraphs “lazy.” It also makes my brain think of a panel in a graphic novel, so if the work I’m reading is serious and intense, having colorful images unrelated to the story popping into my head is not only a distraction, it completely breaks the mood. What’s more work, but better for the reader, is the use of either an exclamation point or a question mark with an ensuing action to illustrate the emotion. Oh, man. I just hate interrobangs. They make my toes curl. I’m sorry.

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

KPS: A compelling conflict or mystery to keep me hooked. Solid grounding—the who/what/when/where—established succinctly. Something that grabs me—an opening so striking I forget I’m reading a story. I’ve noticed that this usually happens when the opening sentence is its own paragraph. There’s something about that technique that can strengthen the impact of just about any opening, although it shouldn’t be overused and it’s not a great fit for every piece.

SQF: If 34 Orchard had a theme song, what would it be and why?

KPS: Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Musically and lyrically, it’s edgy, sad, unsettling, and haunting, and that’s what lives at 34 Orchard.

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

KPS: How does it make you feel to send out rejection notices? Terrible. Mean. Afraid I’m crushing some writer’s dream or worrying my letter is the last straw that’ll push him over the edge. I’ve been submitting my work since I was about 13 years old, and so I know what that can feel like. When I was running writer’s groups, we used to have annual rejection slip burning parties to remind ourselves that rejection is often tied to an elusive something that’s impossible for a writer to gauge: the piece doesn’t match the publication’s tone, aesthetic, or theme that may have emerged from the slush pile; it’s one too many of similar other pieces that have already been accepted; the subject matter isn’t in a particular editor’s wheelhouse. It’s important not to give up. If you receive a rejection, cry in your favorite beverage and get upset with your friends if you need to for the evening. Then, the next day, get up and send it out again. A polished, well-written piece is always going to find a home.

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


  1. Great interview, and now I know what an interrobang is.:-)

  2. Love this. I’m working on a submission so this interview with the editor is really helpful!

  3. Insightful. Agree that know a little bit more about the guideposts.