Friday, June 2, 2023

Six Questions for Wade Fox,, Editors, New Feathers Anthology

With input from Caroline Chapman, John O’Leary, and Brian Dickson.

New Feathers Anthology publishes fiction and nonfiction to 4,000 words, poetry, art, and videos.  “We like writing and art that takes chances, risks failure, that explores both the big and the small. . .” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Wade Fox: There are actually several levels to this question. First, I have always been a great lover of literature, books, writing, and the arts. Starting as a young boy, I was a reader, and my favorite uncle was a painter. Throughout my life, I have admired the works and the people who produced them. Because of that love, I have always written and wanted to be a writer, but I also often fantasized about publishing and being a publisher. I used to work in bookstores when zines were hot, and then later, I worked for several publishers, all of which were created by people who just started them in their garages. I had thought about this for many years but either didn’t have the money to start my own venture or didn’t have the technical capability.

More philosophically, I wanted to create a space where we weren’t thinking about art as a commodity. A long time ago, I worked for The Whole Earth Review, which was set up as completely noncommercial, in the sense that they had no advertising and were supported only through subscriptions and donations. They did this because they wanted the freedom to do anything they wanted. I like the idea of that kind of freedom. We are not selling this. It isn’t a job where anyone can tell me I can’t do what I want to do. I want it to be as far from a job as possible. Probably because of that early experience at Whole Earth, as a teacher, I spent several years reading and thinking about the effect of commodification on art and culture, and I really believe that viewing art as a commodity harms and distorts it. So, that was part of it. I also like the book The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, in which he discusses gift economies. I like the idea of doing a journal as a gift, to the audience, to the artists, and to the people who create it. That sounds a bit grandiose. I know we aren’t really much different from other journals, but I see New Feathers as our small gift to the world and the arts. I like to imagine that publishing with us or winning our award will give an artist starting out a boost at the right time.

Another reason I created it was because I realized I could. I started it in late 2019 and early 2020, right before the pandemic. My child, Fiona (who inspired the name of the journal with a poem she wrote), had created a couple web sites, and I thought, well, shit, I think I can do this. We decided to include the print anthology when Caroline, our main fiction editor, asked if we would have a print edition. With print-on-demand technology, I thought we could do it, now, and we could distribute it worldwide. (This is one of my favorite aspects of our journal, that we include artists from all over the world). 

My last reason was just that I thought it would be fun. So, I brought on several friends who I thought were smart and creative, and more importantly, were people I wanted to work with and I knew I would have fun with. 

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

Wade: This is the toughest question, and I don’t really want to nail myself down. I think my answers will be somewhat obvious: First, I look for something new and surprising. What are they doing in any aspect of the work that I have not seen before. Second, I think I am interested in craft. How do they use the language and tools of the art in interesting ways to accomplish what they intended. Third, are they doing something that I think has meaning? This can be superseded by clever and engaging language. I am not a traditionalist. I like lots of experimental art, but I do believe art should communicate, and I like it when it conveys emotion or deals with issues in an interesting way. That said, I don’t like things that are too on the nose about anything. As John says below, I want there to be some questions to explore.

Caroline: If there’s one thing that grabs me and keeps my attention as a reader of fiction submissions, it’s narrative voice. Other elements such as character development and a well-shaped story must be there of course, but it often happens that, as I’m reading a piece for the first time, I’ll have some sense of the author working on the page, and perhaps this indicates some lack of experience on the author’s part—the conventional wisdom being that good authors make writing look easy—but I like to see the effort, and if the voice is strong, there’s a confidence that comes through.

John: I am always looking for an element of risk in a poem, a sense of the writer setting off to some quadrant of the great unknown. That could be in either form or content, but it needs to be present somewhere in the poem. I also hope to celebrate a writer who both embraces their identity, and who reaches beyond it simultaneously. This is difficult to explain or quantify, but as I reader, I know it when I read it. The most engaging poems have both a sense of genuine risk and a vivid voice. The language stretches and explores and reveals what seemed previously hidden. It is not a forced epiphany but a sense of an emotional insight or an experience that challenges the reader to see the world entirely anew. Also, I like a poem with some breathing room, some ambiguity, so that the reader’s autonomy is respected. In that sense, poetry is the polar opposite of propaganda, where all things are decided in advance. And finally, though certainly not required, a sense of humor is always welcome.

Brian: I look for a surprise in syntax, imagery and concision for poetry. The ideas/concepts for a poem will always be there, but the execution of them are key. Of course, there are always exceptions, especially if a poem is a more traditional narrative or if a poem is more sonic driven. 

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

Brian: Poems that are too tidy at the end along the lines of the lyric epiphany. Poems that obscure/obfuscate for the sake of doing so. Poems where the author doesn’t appear to risk anything.

Wade: I think my biggest turn-off is just things that are cliched or follow genre expectations. Poetry that sounds too poetic or that uses “poetic language.” I am wary of formal genres because they often lead to this.

In fiction we say we will take literary work with genre elements, but we often get things that hew too closely to genre tropes. We have published stories that were more fantastic or in the science fiction mode, but we liked those because of interesting stories or characters, not so much for the sci-fi elements. 

Another big turnoff is violence, especially against women. We seem to get a lot of stories involving that, for some reason. I am not necessarily against violence in a story, but first, it often feels misogynistic, and, on more aesthetic grounds, the stories often end up sounding like something I’ve seen on TV before.

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

Wade: I can often tell if I want a submission pretty quickly, in the opening paragraphs. I just look for some of the things I said above. Is it interesting? Is it unique? Is it meaningful? Is the artist skilled in what they are doing? 

I usually will look carefully at the ending, too, because we often have works (both in prose and poetry) that fall apart at the end. Sticking the ending is tough. I think writers need to take special care there. Often, I think the best thing a writer can do is end a story or poem a bit before they want to end it. I don’t like when people wrap things up too neatly, and the best ending is often before that point.

SQF: Submission guidelines are often long and boring. Is it really necessary to read them?

Wade: Yes. I’ll be honest. I read everything, even if it is submitted on the electronic equivalent of scribbling in pencil on the back of a napkin, but I think how you submit affects your chances (and I don’t mean this just with us). Part of the guidelines are to help us, and it is annoying if I have to figure out how to categorize your submission or if I have to do some of the work you should be doing. Other than reading the submission guidelines, I think it is even more helpful if you read a few issues and see what we like. We are pretty eclectic, it is true, but it is good to get a sense whether you will fit or if you are way off base.

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

Wade: I don’t really have a question, but I want to reiterate that we are very friendly to writers and artists, and I want to encourage them. I used to always think that if my work was rejected by a journal I never had a chance with that publisher, but it’s different on this side of the fence. Now, I know that there are a lot of reasons that work gets rejected. If we reject you, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Send us more work. We’ve had a few people who we have rejected multiple times but eventually published.

Thank you, Wade, Caroline, John, and Brian. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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