Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Six Questions for Celia Lisset Alvarez, Editor, Prospectus: A Literary Offering

NOTE: The editor is particularly interested in works submitted by the end of the current submission period on August 31, 2021.


Prospectus publishes poetry to 44 lines, short fiction (2,500 to 3,000

words). art/photography, and reviews by unpublished or

little-published authors/artists. “By ‘published’ we mean

traditionally published, self-published, or published anywhere on the

internet, including personal blogs and social media. If your work has

been published in any of these forms, we do not want it.” Read the

complete guidelines here.


SQF: How did you become involved with this publication?


Celia Lisset Alvarez: Prospectus is the dream of my old friend, Steve Stern, a lifelong poetry aficionado. He founded it in 2012 to promote the work of new poets, and asked me to be editor. At the time, however, I was teaching at a university, and did not have the time to do so. Moreover, neither did Steve, who had not retired yet. Despite the success of the first issue, which was originally a black-and-white, saddle-stapled affair, a second issue did not come out until three years after. At that time, Steve incorporated some very short fiction and artwork. And that was that. For five years, Prospectus lay dormant. In that interval, Steve retired and I became a stay-at-home mom. When he offered to resurrect the journal in 2020, I had the time to work as its editor. But I also had a big vision about what Prospectus could become: I didn't want a few short fiction pieces, I wanted at least 2-3 full-length short stories per issue. I didn't want black and white artwork--I wanted to go full color. And, I wanted to incorporate a few short reviews, all still supporting the beginning writer and artist. To my great delight, Steve was on board, and so the new, improved Prospectus launched in December of 2020: a full-color, 80-page issue.



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


CLA: I would start with clarity. Perhaps it's just personal preference, but I like both poetry and prose (and art, too, for that matter) to be accessible. Some people, especially poets, cringe at that word. But "accessible" does not mean "simple." Look at Billy Collins. His work is extremely accessible, yet also extremely complex in its representation of life. Work that is intentionally obtuse or that uses florid language is not appealing to me. I'm a big fan of the Hemingway style--direct, to the point, lean. Don't send us your luminescent illuminations. Send us your bright lights.


Second: Structure. Your work must show a consciousness of structure to catch our eye. In poetry, that means line and stanza breaks (or lack thereof) that add sound and meaning to the words. Blank space is just as important as words. In fiction, we prefer an old-fashioned story arc. I can't begin to tell you how many stories have me sitting at the edge of my seat, only to disappoint me with an abrupt ending that leaves the whole of the story untouched. A good story must have unity, and that begins with a clear sense of "the point" of the story, its central conflict. This must be resolved satisfactorily at the end for us to accept a story, even if its writing, characterization, and other elements are excellent.


Finally: freshness. If I get one more poem about the ocean and the sun and the stars all exploding and you being part of that creation . . . . We already have Walt Whitman, thank you. Love poetry must be very specific to be engaging. It must be bare of abstractions. Send us poetry about fixing your kitchen sink, cutting a tomato, or changing a diaper. Concrete, symbolic actions. In terms of short stories, our biggest problem is how few people can distinguish between genre fiction and literary fiction. I admit it's a fine line, but your werewolf, for example, doesn't have to just be a werewolf. It can be a metaphor for becoming a woman (see the excellent film, Ginger Snaps). Depth is the key; the genre writer is concerned with entertaining the reader, whereas the literary writer wants the reader to think more than to feel. Like I said, it's a fine line, but you know it when you see it. Therein lies the freshness of a story: it's not the same old coming-of-age, or the lover betrayed, etc. From the very first paragraph, it's like nothing we've ever read before.



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


CLA: I have more than one pet peeve. Centered lines in poetry remind me of greeting cards. Single-word lines are pretentious. Pretentiousness of any sort, in either poetry or fiction, such as bombastic language or abstruse references, is a turn-off. Lack of language skills--I'm not talking typos here--such as awkward sentence structure or paragraphing are a sign that a piece is not ready for publication. Finally, a sense of abandonment or incompleteness at the end. A poem or story must make me sit back and sigh with pleasure at the last word. I can forgive other failings if there is a wow ending.



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

submission?


CLA: Freshness. If you start with a dark and stormy night, you better have big plans to turn that around into something fresh. Starting with a clear image that captures the attention is best. And for Pete's sake, don't give it all away in the beginning. If your title is "The Day I Met My Husband," I pretty much know where this is going. You have to have a hook, something that compels me to keep reading. I like stories with a clear voice. "Generic storyteller" is not a great narrator. For this reason I tend to prefer first-person stories.



SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells.

What are hard sells for your publication?


CLA: The key here are the words gratuitous or intentionally offensive. Prospectus is not a magazine for children; we are not afraid of nudity, sex, or foul language, as long as there is a point to it other than titillation. Foul language generally belongs in dialogue. If you are cursing for effect, you need to get a better vocabulary. Stereotypes of any kind in terms of gender, race, class, or ethnicity will not be tolerated. Your character can be offensive if we are meant to disdain her; however, your story must be sensitive to the great diversity of humanity.



SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I

didn't? And how would you answer it?


CLA: Because of the nature of Prospectus as a journal exclusively for the beginner, I wish you would have asked about the level of proficiency we expect from our authors and artists. Some people may have the misconception that Prospectus publishes work that would be rejected elsewhere on the basis of quality. On the contrary, we exist to offer the should-be professional writer/artist an opportunity to be read, fairly evaluated, and published. The work in Prospectus is not sub-par; it is work that could be read side by side with well-published and critically acclaimed writers. The only difference between Prospectus and a traditional journal is that we are not concerned or impressed by long lists of previous publications or awards (in fact, such would disqualify you from being published!). We do not accept work from agents. We have no "slush" pile, and we don't solicit work from well-known authors or artists. That makes us harder to sell, because you might be tempted to pick up a copy of a journal that proudly announces it contains work from Rita Dove or Richard Blanco. What we are counting on is that you will pick up a copy of Prospectus because you, too, are eager to find new voices, to see what's coming down the pike. Maybe you're bored with the same-old same-old. Or maybe you're a beginning writer too, and you want to see what is getting published now, not what has been getting published for the last few years. But Prospectus contains professional-quality work, and we expect to see our contributors make it into journals that contain the best contemporary writers and artists of today.


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


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