Friday, October 27, 2023

Six Questions for Lee Pearson, Editor, God’s Cruel Joke

God’s Cruel Joke is looking for works of fiction, poems, essays, memoirs, reviews, and visual art that explore the stranger, possibly more dangerous waters of the human condition.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Lee Pearson: I’d been stuck in limbo submitting my personal work to other publishers for well over a year, and I couldn’t figure out if I was just a bad writer or if nobody wanted to publish the kinds of stuff I tend to write about. I figure now that it was a bit of column A/column B, but I still felt there was a big gap in the ‘market’ in regard to publishers that focus very broadly on the more out-there, transgressive, anti-high-brow side of literature.


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


  1. Connection. I always look out for things that have something to say about the maze that is human connection. It’s enough to write about this or that, but I really crave things that dig into emotional connection in unexpected ways. Words that weave the reader through the depths of that human experience and have us in tatters once we’re out the other side.

  2. Insight. Profound introspection, things that evoke complex emotions and takeaways. I love reading work that provides an author’s real life experiences and insight into things I know next to nothing about.

  3. Subversion. Meaningful bending of form and theme into unique shapes. I especially look for work that explores cultural underbellies and taboos, as well as work in which the writer’s vision in some way opposes the reader’s expectation. I think the way author intention and reader bias synthesizes in very subversive work is what makes it so unique and special—it draws a reader into altered ways of thinking and perceiving that requires a deeper engagement with the work.


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

LP: Aside from things that don’t align with the mag aesthetically,and reactionary BS that only exists to cause harm, I try to steer clear of blunt ideological work because it often comes off as very dry and preachy. The mag is overtly left-wing politically,and accepts a lot of politically charged work, but I’m not interested in stuff like political satire or propaganda. I very much value advocacy and representation, but the mag isn’t a pulpit.

Any writing that tries way too hard to be smart at the expense of authenticity. That isn’t to say I don’t like ‘smart’ writing, but one can kinda feel when the writer is trying to convince the reader of how intelligent they are, and it’s just hard to connect with because it makes me want to tear my hair out more than anything else.

I might have doomed myself to receive these types of submissions forever by naming the mag God’s Cruel Joke, but I get plenty of very surface-level refutations of religion, and I just don’t really dig that for a lot of reasons. There isn’t anything particularly revolutionary about flatly stating that God isn’t real.

I’ve never found myself, or anybody else, to be enthralled with writing about writing. A lot of people write about their creation process as if the process is more interesting than the creation itself.


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

LP: I make sure to read every submission from beginning to end, so a catchy first paragraph isn’t super important. In short fiction I generally believe it’s pretty imperative to get to the point quickly, so maybe something that draws up the mood or rhythm of a piece immediately, starts up a pace that will carry on for the whole thing. But that varies from piece to piece.


SQF: Are there topics/genres that you would like to see more (or less) of in your submissions?

LP: I’d like to see more experimental and just totally out-there batshit insane stuff, things that play around with presentation and forces the reader to warp their perception outside their comfort zone to try and understand it.

I get quite a bit of horror and sci-fi—God’s Cruel Joke doesn’t generally put out speculative fiction. I’ve occasionally accepted work that is somewhat adjacent to the genre, but never spooky monster stories or dystopian poetry. That isn’t to say I don’t occasionally dig those things personally though. I try to take a little time to redirect submissions I find particularly interesting towards other publishers I know are open for those types of submissions.


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

LP: I thought all the questions were open-ended enough to allow a pretty robust rundown of what God’s Cruel Joke is all about. A question I often ask myself whenever I submit to someplace, especially a smaller operation, is: how long will this magazine actually be around? It’s a sad fact that lit mags are hardly ever lucrative in any way whatsoever, and a lot of publishers end up falling apart as soon as they start. I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that God’s Cruel Joke will never not be a massive money drain. It’s okay that the mag doesn’t make any money because I don’t really care to make any money from it. Being able to read and feature work I’m really into and putting it all together in issues to share with others is what gets me stoked to keep going with the project. So long as I can keep paying people for their work and not go broke, the mag will continue to exist in one form or another.

As the mag approaches its second year of existence I’m having to really, really consider how it’s going to keep going while being sustainable both in regard to money and the massive amount of work it takes to keep it rolling as a one man operation. I’m probably going to have to make some pretty substantial changes to how I’m operating in the coming months,and I’m equal parts optimistic and utterly terrified. But it’ll all work out—probably.

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

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