Friday, April 2, 2021

Six Questions for James Diaz, Editor-in-Chief, Anti-Heroin Chic

Anti-Heroin Chic publishes poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction to 20 pages, and art and photography. “This journal strives for inclusion and a diversity of voices, not to disparage others but to lift them up.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

James Diaz: Quite simply; to give people hope. I believe that so much of our despair stems from having no one to really tell our story to. The first place I found, where those stories could be told, risked, and received with generosity, love and a circle of caring, were in the church basements of 12 step meetings. My idea was to found a space that felt like a recovery support group. A place where despair and hope are forever in dialogue with each other, and where people can feel that their story, while uniquely theirs, is also equal to everyone else's. We're not competing with each other here, we're all just kind of sharing the ride home. It's really hard to create certain works, mainly the ones that bear on often unworked through traumas, the ghosts and violations of the past, let alone to entrust those stories into the hands of others. And so it's been really important to me to try and cultivate a space that feels genuinely welcoming, vulnerable and approachable. The idea of a commune very much fits alongside this. I've come to think of our issues as potluck gatherings. Anyone who has ever cooked a meal for others knows that you sometimes do it distractedly, angrily, gracefully; no matter the state you're in, love is the main ingredient, I think. Art too, feeds a crowd. Potlucks are 'come as you' are events. So are meetings. My goal has been to just hold a space open for artists that feels very much like all of that, and more. The only  requirement for membership is a human yearning to tell your story and to listen to the story of others. No matter how dark or difficult the story, it's worth telling and receiving. 

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

JD: I'm not sure I can ever really know beforehand how or why something will move me. Often it's the encounter with it that moves you, you know. A lot of editor's say they're tastes and selections are subjective, but I think if that were true, if we only ever went off of what we know, we'd only ever publish what we know. Diversity, to me, at least means this; you make yourself willing to be transformed by what you don't know or even fully understand yet. Empathy is honed through encounters with those we don't see coming. What I look for in a submission is the sense that I must open the door to a stranger's knock in the dead of night, and I cannot know beforehand what shape that encounter will take. This is hospitality, hosting the stranger, the tired and thirsty traveler who has come a long way and often with a story much different than mine. I know this might seem like an odd way to answer this question, but it truly is how I operate. I care less about what a person has accomplished, or failed to accomplish, than what it is they're trying to tell me in that moment. Because I believe everyone has a story to tell, and because it is so elusive; the knowing of why some things connect and some things don't, it all comes down to the moment of meeting. I try and stay as open to it as possible. I am always surprised by what I connect with. But that's a really great thing, because it means that there are voices in the room I might never hear otherwise than by opening myself to the unknown and to the encounter.

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

JD: Well, there's a saying in recovery of those who are "fatally hip and terminally cool," putting on a show, or airs, you know. I don't really connect with that. Vulnerability and authenticity go a long way, and I also think they probably go together. We say on our website that 'imperfection is boring. ‘Don't be perfect, be the person you are when no one is looking.' I think a lot of the work we publish reflects the fact that people feel comfortable bringing in parts of themselves they may not otherwise, if it weren't for the ground, the soil that's been laid. There's something to tending a garden with others that feels the opposite of 'fatally hip and terminally cool,' it's more honest and more intimate and ultimately more rewarding. It reaps a harvest.

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

JD: You know what's really interesting is that often it's the closing lines that really pull you in. Ending poems can be really hard. I myself think I am much better at ending a poem than I am at opening it up. A lot of times I'll start out reading someone's work and it isn't really until the end that they get me, where I go; 'that's it, right there.' Sometimes it's one line or stanza that makes me fall in love with a piece. 

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

JD: Probably sci-fi or fantasy, though we have published a few things that straddle the border there. And of course we aren't interested in work that is racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ableist or hateful and disparaging in any way. But we are pretty open to all kinds of experiences and the telling of them. There have been essays we've published on sex and drug addiction written in often very shocking, honest ways. But the story telling was done in a very humane way. It wasn't written for shock value but because it was the person's actual life experience and struggle that they were talking about. Sometimes those things can be offensive, but that doesn't mean they're hurtful. So what I'm saying is, while we are a safe space, we are also committed to life in all of it's complexity and messiness. I like to think it's hard to pigeon hole what we'll publish, but that it's also apparent what we won't publish, mainly intentionally hurtful and hateful (dishonest) work.

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

JD: Perhaps; "what do you get, personally, out of editing a journal?" And I would say that it helps me to heal, to connect and to grow. I feel all of the pain, loss, joy and transformation that my contributors feel as they pass through our little journal. It feels like service. Paying it forward, you know. Pain shared, pain lessened. Hope shared, hope increased. I learn so much, everyday, from these artists, these survivors. They teach me how to reach the place; together. Knowing that we're not alone. Ok, it's hokey, but we really are all in this thing together. As an editor, that I get to feel and share all of that is really amazing and I am forever grateful and humbled by it. 

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

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