Friday, May 7, 2021

Six Questions for Natasha Lioe and Carolina VonKampen, Capsule Stories

Capsule Stories is a print literary magazine published once every season. It’s owned and operated by two women: Natasha Lioe, founder and publisher, and Carolina VonKampen, publisher and editor-in-chief. Capsule Stories publishes poems, short stories and remarkably written essays under 3,000 words. “We have a penchant for pretty words, an affinity to the melancholy, and an undeniably time-ful aura. We believe that stories exist in a specific moment, and that that moment is what makes those stories unique. We believe that words shape us as individuals. Words stay with us as we go through life, and the words we kept sacred yesterday may be different than the words we need today. Whatever you may be experiencing right at this time in your life, there are the right words for it. The right words comfort us in need. They breathe life into our beings. They show us how we feel. And we are here to give them to you.” Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Natasha Lioe: Capsule Stories started from Capsule Books, which was a book subscription box company that I founded in 2017. Capsule Stories was one of the goals I had when making the company. I wanted to publish and develop a community of writers and readers and find emerging writers who wrote about the human experience. It was really a selfish endeavor; I just wanted to see how other people felt in their own experiences, and I wanted my own writing to grow from that exposure as a result. I was lucky enough to have Carolina on when I first started, and I feel that she’s really added so much value with her experience in editing and publishing and made Capsule Stories her own.


Carolina VonKampen: We’ve worked to make Capsule Stories a literary magazine that provides a positive and encouraging experience for writers. I’ve pulled from my experiences being published with other literary magazines and picked out details or processes that I liked and implemented them at Capsule Stories. For example, we aren’t afraid to edit pieces if we like them but they’re rough around the edges. We share these edits with the writers and ask them for their feedback, and we proofread all our pieces thoroughly to ensure a high-quality book. Another personal touch we add is sending each writer a note thanking them for trusting Capsule Stories with their work and encouraging them to keep writing.


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

Carolina VonKampen: Remarkably written. I want to feel the lushness of the writing, to read a line out loud and go “Wow! That sounds beautiful.” I want to be intrigued by line breaks and formatting and engaged by word choice.


Emotional connection. I also need to feel the heart of a piece and feel a connection to it. It’s very tough to edit and promote writing that you don’t personally connect with, so I’m looking for someone to bring me into their world and show me what matters most to them. That vulnerability and openness is often what connects me to a piece.


Fit for our theme and vibe. We work to create an edition that feels cohesive and evokes a specific mood, so it’s vital that pieces fit both our theme and our Capsule Stories vibe as described on our About Us page. I’m looking at whether a poem or story speaks to our theme in an interesting way, engages with it, and makes me think about the theme in a different light.


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

CV: I don’t like it when submissions feel creepy, sexist, or gross—for instance, a story about an older man hooking up with a college student, or gratuitous violence, or pure sexism. We’re not interested in publishing that type of content, but unfortunately we see it in our submissions queue. Beyond that, clichés and clichéd stories/plots are a common reason we pass on pieces—we’re interested in writers who are writing stories and poems that only they could have written.


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

CV: In stories, I generally want to be in the present at the beginning of a story—not the past, or in background info. Your space is limited in a short story, and it’s tough to grab a reader’s attention if you start off with a page of backstory before getting to the present moment. There are exceptions, of course, but I want to immediately be introduced to the character and feel what’s at stake for them. For poetry, I want to be engaged, whether it’s an interesting image, a clever line break, or a turn of phrase I haven’t seen before.



SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis.

CV: Honestly? I struggle to regularly read literary magazines. When you put so much of your creative energy into one form of art, it can be hard to then enjoy that same type of art in your free time. I do often read pieces by authors we’ve published when they pop up in our Twitter feed. I used to read lit mags more when I was focusing on my writing before I joined Capsule Stories, but now a lot of my creative energy goes into editing Capsule Stories.


But for leisure, I regularly read novels and nonfiction; two recent favorites from 2020 were the novel Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami and Real Life by Brandon Taylor. I’ve also been trying to listen to more audiobooks (usually narrative-driven nonfiction) and read more poetry collections.


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

CV: How do we organize the pieces in each edition of Capsule Stories?


I put a lot of thought and consideration into the ordering of pieces in each Capsule Stories edition. This starts with our theme description, which is always tied to the season it’s published in and speaks to a feeling or mood that we feel in that season. As we read and accept submissions, we’re trying to put together a collection that feels cohesive and feels like that season and mood we’re going for. For example, the theme of Capsule Stories Spring 2021 Edition is In Bloom, so the pieces explore new life, growth, budding and blooming, both figurative and literal.

When we’ve selected all the pieces and it’s time to place them in order, I try to start with a piece that sets the tone for the edition’s mood and speaks to the season of the edition. From there, I aim to create an emotional narrative for the reader as they read through the edition and to connect each piece to the pieces before and after it. For example, in Capsule Stories Spring 2021 Edition, we start with a few poems about the transition from winter to spring, then shift to the idea of planting seeds and pregnancy, to tending to your houseplants and to yourself as self-care, to the idea of crown shyness (trees not touching each other), to a story about a girl who was born from a tree and falls in love with the girl next door.


I am so intentional about ordering the pieces and structuring the edition because I want to build a smooth reading experience for the reader. Often it can be tough to read lit mags or short story collections because you lose momentum after a piece ends. My intention with ordering the pieces is to create momentum so that the reader has a cohesive reading experience that evokes the mood of our theme.


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


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