Friday, November 19, 2021

Six Questions for Rosalind Moran, Nancy Jin and Chloë Manning, Editors, Cicerone Journal

Cicerone Journal publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. “A cicerone is a guide who shows and explains the curiosities of a place to strangers. We want you to lead us to interesting and unseen places, and help us to understand these places.” Issues may be themed. Learn more here.

SQF: How did this magazine come to be?

Nancy Jin: For a long time we had been interested in writing, arts, culture and would talk with admiration about the projects that we saw other young writers and editors starting. We got to a place where we were just thinking that if this was something that we were interested in, then we should really give it a go. For me, it was also really a chance to add to the plurality of voices in the writing community - we love to work with emerging writers and first time writers and making sure that our journal feels like a welcoming place that takes their writing on their own terms. Chloë joined our small editorial team from Issue 5, and she has provided knowledge and experience in putting together this speculative fiction issue.

Rosalind Moran: Nancy has summed it up well! Cicerone was very much born from a desire to contribute to a sector and community that we cared about. I would add that another driving motivation behind us founding the publication was that we wanted to give back to local writers. Cicerone publishes work by writers from all over the world, but it was founded in Canberra, Australia, and has links to the city both because of our team’s personal ties to the place as well as grant funding that we have received from local organisations. This has meant that we have been able to run in-person events for local writers while also offering a platform for writers from all over the world. The interplay of local and further afield has been an exciting aspect of managing and editing the publication.

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

NJ: For me, it’s definitely about a sense of curiosity, a sincerity in the work and memorable images. I want to know and understand what the writer wants to say and how they want to say it and I am always looking for a connection to the work.

CM: I think Nancy has a really good point with sincerity. It’s easier to avoid criticism if you only talk about what you’re not saying, but even genres like satire that are defined by irony and cynicism have to have a core of genuine meaning. You don’t need to snip off bits of your soul for public consumption, but you should believe in what you’re saying, whether it’s a grand philosophical statement or that baby dragons are really cute. So from me, sincerity, empathy, and an engaging voice.

RM: Leaving aside the excellent points Nancy and Chloë have already raised, I would say that I look for logic, emotional intelligence, and written flair. Even if a story doesn’t have a logical plot, it matters to me that the author has been deliberate and logical in the construction of their piece. Emotional intelligence matters both in the context of characters being well-written and their authors showing evidence of having thought about the emotional or thematic story they are telling. As for written flair, I am enormously fond of wordplay and wit, both of which can be difficult to capture on the page - meaning I get very excited when I encounter them.

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

RM: Bigoted beliefs. Bigoted characters can be fascinating, but it’s difficult to move past authorial prejudices that come through in the writing. 

NJ: Probably anything which doesn’t examine its underlying premises and assumptions - falling into unexamined clichés and stereotypes and tropes doesn’t endear me to a work.

CM: Not doing basic research. I don’t mean minutiae — I don’t care if it was raining in Sydney on the 5th of October 1996 and the writer makes it sunny — but if the opening paragraph tells me it’s a beautiful day in Vienna, capital city of Germany, and it isn’t an alternate history, we have a problem. 

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

NJ: This is a difficult question. A lot of things can grab me and make me keep wanting to read: it can be character, imagery or expression. I think I’m generally looking for good ideas and good concepts on a first reading.

RM: I think a certain degree of polish is good. There is no single right way of opening a story, but if you can make a reader feel confident in your storytelling abilities - through sound writing, good presentation, and a compelling tone - you are already off to a good start. Other than that, I appreciate when an opening paragraph provokes an emotion in the reader in a way that doesn’t feel excessively manufactured. Doing this well can help pieces stand out.

CM: Establishing the tone and voice is good. From a short fiction point of view, some writers do a kind of flash-forward where they bring up something from the main action/conflict/subject of the piece before going back to establish how the story got there. That’s not a silver bullet but it is worth experimenting with if you think your beginning lacks interest. I do think first lines can be overemphasised, though — a good first line won’t save a boring piece.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells (things you won’t publish) for your publication?

NJ: I think the things I don’t want to publish are fairly standard no-nos. Gratuitous violence, sexualised violence and hate speech among them. Another thing that has come up are submissions which have not heeded the submission guidelines at all (e.g. poems when we have specified short fiction). 

RM: I think Nancy has answered this question well. One hard sell I would add that may be more specific to our editorial team’s tastes is that of unwittingly regressive gender dynamics. By all means send us stories with flawed individuals and relationships. However, when a story unwittingly degrades certain characters or presents flawed individuals and relationships as actually being healthy and aspirational, I struggle to move past this. 

CM: The “absolutely not” that has actually come up a few times is romanticising suicide. It’s often shown as a symbol of rebellion or as a demonstration of devotion. What it actually is is the leading cause of death of Australians between age 14 and 44. There’s a really big difference between destigmatising mental illness and glamorising it.

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

RM: Where can I buy your book? (Cicerone Journal published a collection of original writing and art in 2020!). And the answer can be found on our website at

NJ: Second Rosalind’s question! And another one from me, what unexpected things have you learned from starting up a magazine? And the answer to that is that I have learned how much you should really be on top of emails! Always check the junk folder. Now that we have that sorted, please get in touch!

CM: What’s on and what’s next? Our speculative fiction issue, Curious Worlds, is available to read on our website. As for what’s next, follow our Facebook and Twitter to keep up with any announcements.

Thank you, Rosalind, Nancy, and Chloë. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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