Friday, October 16, 2020

Six Questions for Gauraa Shekhar and Elliot Alpern, Founding Editors, No Contact Mag

No Contact Mag publishes bi-weekly issues of fiction, CNF, poetry, and everything in between, up to 1000 words. "Contributors strive to write today’s strange new experiences, and put their inside voices on the page — at a careful distance, of course." Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

No Contact Mag: Well, the short answer is that we were both Columbia MFA writers who had seen their classes suddenly morph into Zoominars one day, and we also happened to share the same quarantine space (we are married, so perhaps this isn’t random chance). And as we cast lines out to our friends and peers in isolation, we realized that so many of us were just sitting on our thumbs, waiting for the next step to open up. All this artistic energy just, percolating, with so few reliable places to spill out. We began reaching out, collecting work — and even then, it was selfish to some degree. We were giving ourselves an outlet, too. And it’s expanded rapidly from there! 

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

NCM: 1. Ingenuity of context; 2. Strong control of detail; 3. Sense of play

Maybe this is all the same one thing, in a way. We want to read a piece and say, “I’ve never seen a version of this piece before.” Of course, we’re not asking contributors to re-invent modern writing. We just mean, we want some sense that this could only have come from that writer, in that moment, and we have no chance of predicting its entire shape — even what it looks, sounds, smells like, the rhythm of its telling, until the moment it’s told to us. And then the sense that the writer knows why they’ve made those decisions, too. That’s important. 

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

NCM: Outside the obvious (e.g. poor use of grammar/diction; offensive material; etc.), we’d say — writing that does not justify the way it’s been formed. That’s super vague and airy, so more specifically: you can describe to us the way your grandmother kneads dough, in gorgeous imagery, as if we’re there. But, if the only feeling we get is, “Wow, we’re in awe of the way your grandmother kneads dough”, this isn’t a successful piece. There’s nothing below the surface. A thousand words gives you ample space to paint a neat portrait, but it’s tricky to complicate that with another layer (or layers). If we see potential for that complication, we’re hooked — but it becomes quickly apparent if the piece is flat. It has no lift.

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

NCM: Again, we want to be surprised by something — a detail, a situation, even just the way a concept is framed. We’re not looking to be shocked, but simply — “oh, that’s nice, I’ve never looked at it that way.” It’s nice to see a forward lean, too — is this piece going somewhere? If it’s meandering, does it promise some momentum in how that stasis will evolve? 

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

NCM: For us, it has to be superficial “virus writing,” or “pandemic writing.” We get it — we’re a publication started in quarantine, and we make that clear, so why wouldn’t we want any and all fiction concerning this global outbreak? However, we do see a lot of “COVID writing” that feels exploitative of this moment in time — as though this fatal virus is a simple plot device, or background scenery. The best “virus writing” we receive often doesn’t mention COVID by name, because it’s true to the experience; it’s not name-checking this calamity as detail. Put it this way — we don’t want virus for virus sake. 

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

NCM: Since your logo seems to feature Ben Affleck incorrectly wearing a face mask: What is your favorite Ben Affleck movie?

That’s a brave question, Jim, because there are some obvious choices and some terrible choices, with very little in-between. You can’t go wrong with “Dazed & Confused”, a movie where nothing happens, and yet, everyone goes home happy.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment