Friday, October 22, 2021

Six Questions for Phillip Scott Mandel, Editor, Abandon Journal

 Abandon Journal publishes flash fiction, short stories up to 12,000 words, creative nonfiction and poetry of any length, graphic narrative, artwork, book reviews, craft essays, and more, including our experimental category, “Abandon Form.” We’ll look at any genre, from sci-fi to fantasy to westerns, but the vast majority of what we publish is so-called “literary.” Our ethos is that we want to showcase writing and artwork that has been created with abandon. That term is free to be interpreted liberally, but ideally it is the kind of work that takes risks, created in a space wherein the artist doesn’t care what anyone else thinks or what everyone else is doing. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Phillip Scott Mandel: There are several reasons, not the least of which is that I got fed up with $3 (or more) submission fees, which add up really quickly, and I wanted to provide an opportunity for writers to get their work read without paying for the privilege. We have a voluntary tip jar if people appreciate what we’re doing and want to support us, and if we ever do a contest we’ll probably have to charge a modest fee to cover the cost, but otherwise we will always have free general submissions to everyone and anyone.


From a personal standpoint, I’ve always wanted to start a literary journal, but never had the guts. I worked on Harpur Palate when I was in undergrad at Binghamton and Front Porch as an MFA student at Texas State (now called Porter House Review), but I kept thinking, who the hell am I to call myself an editor? When COVID hit and the world changed, I decided to put my imposter syndrome, reservations, and fear of failure into a lockbox and do it anyway.

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

PSM: We’re looking for work that has been written “with abandon.” As an MFA grad, I’m thinking of something that was not written so that everyone in a workshop will tell you what a good writer you are. As a son, brother, and husband, I’m thinking of something so devastating it might make family members upset. As a petty bourgeois capitalist pig, I’m thinking of something that other places wouldn’t publish. In other words, art that takes risks.


This also means that, while many other journals want you to read several issues before submitting to make sure your work fits in with their overall aesthetic, I can firmly say that doesn’t really make sense for us, since we don’t want to see a bunch of work we’ve already published. Don’t get me wrong, I do want you to read the journal before – and during, and after – you submit, but I’d prefer it’s because you like the work we’ve published, and not so that you can replicate it. If anything, read it so you can abandon it and make something new.


That being said, the quality of the work still has to be top notch, written with care and deliberation, and worthy of our audience’s time (that is, pleasurable or fun in some way to read). In addition, this doesn’t mean ultra-violent, sexually-explicit, or pointlessly transgressive work. We also are in no way interested in anything racist or bigoted.

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

PSM: Besides what’s written above, we also don’t want to see careless typos or submissions that don’t fit our guidelines.


Contrariwise, what makes a good submission (for us) is one that compels the reader to keep going: we have a lot of submissions to go through but it’s our job to do it, so we do. The casual reader, however, has about nine hundred million other things they can look at or do instead of read your piece, including everything on TikTok, Netflix, and Instagram, as well as what’s on their bookshelf, and anything interesting going on outside, such as a rainbow or a butterfly landing on a dog’s nose. So why should they keep reading what you wrote? (There’s no right answer, by the way—it could be that it’s shocking, or scary, or funny, or heartwarming, or thought-provoking, or mesmerizing. But it has to be something.)

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

PSM: Everyone says this, I’m sure, but you can almost tell from the first paragraph or stanza if something will be worthy of Round 2. That doesn’t mean it’ll get accepted, but it’ll at least be worth sending around for more readers, and this is because the opening of the piece grabs you in some way. Sometimes it is an arresting image or unique phrase, or the voice is right there immediately, but it signals to the reader that they can trust the writer knows what they’re doing. If the opening of a piece is just a boring set up, then delete it and go straight to the good part.


Also, opening up a piece of fiction with dialogue is… difficult. Not impossible, but definitely a hurdle to overcome that writers often needlessly set up for themselves.

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


PSM: Sex is fine, but anything for its own sake is probably a hard sell, be it violence, sex, or even lovely metaphors. However, since we are all about work that is written with abandon, I can’t definitively say that a certain subject or style isn’t for us. That said, I can firmly declare that hate speech and bigotry of any kind are automatic forever rejections.

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


PSM: Do you publish beginning writers?


Hell yes we do.

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

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