If you could sum up your magazine's vibe in six words or less, what would they be?
Matt: The work takes priority over all.
Jake: I'm calling you if we publish.
Editors notoriously don’t get paid much (if at all) and tend to take a lot of flack. So, why do it? Is there a moment you can remember in your time with your magazine where you thought: ‘this, this is why I do it’?
Matt: Jake Hargrove, the editor in chief, and I would frequently complain about how the literary scene was getting too cute, too navel-gazing. People were publishing for clout and the work would feel hollow, almost like the publication was a transaction between two social media accounts and everyone would hop on the bandwagon in their respective orbits. Don’t get me wrong, there’s so much brilliant work out there, but it’s not getting appreciated. I see work by my peers that is constantly rejected and it’s fabulous writing. I’ve been fortunate to have stories and poems out there. I want to be part of a platform, giving space to writing and art that deserves a fair shake.
Jake: I remember when I called the writer Catherine Parnell––which I do when we publish anyone––we ended up having maybe an hour long conversation that went pretty much everywhere. Sometimes the "we want to publish you" calls can be very brief and sort of uncomfortable, but we really hit it off and I remember getting that really elevated feeling you get after you do some solid writing or creative work. Just kind of locked the hell in. Then, maybe a week later, we published someone else and I called them and the call also went great, and it turned out that they were a friends of Catherine's. And I think those connections and moments are what it's all about for me. We're trying very hard to make a space that's both riskier and more intimate than what we've seen in other publications and to have that resonate with people feels amazing.
Other than that, we've been running a gofundme to help fund our first print edition and we have ended up getting a lot of support. It's nice to get kind words about what we're doing but to have people literally spend their money on it feels wild. It just feels like there are a lot of people that have our backs and want to see us succeed.
Who are four or five writers you see as typifying the kind of work you look for at your magazine?
Matt: I know we can never entirely rid ourselves of literary bias. I can never shake off Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Thomas Pynchon, especially not Emily St. John Mandel. But when I look at a submission, I try to separate my influences’ aesthetics, and only carry over my recognition for their attention to craft. Effort and command of the sentence. That’s what I look for. If something’s reads like it’s phoned in, it’s rejected. Full stop.
Jake: It's hard to say. We want to publish as wide a variety of "types" of writing and art as possible but I guess I still have my tastes no matter how hard I try to be objective. I think the thing I personally look for in an artist is an ability to stand on one's own and make art that feels necessary. I think now more than ever that's a very difficult thing to do because there can be an incredibly high risk in making work that is not in tune with sentiments of the popular market both professionally and socially. On top of that, people's appetite and understanding for art as a thing "detached from its maker" is probably at an all time low. So, if you're an artist making work that examines the faults of a popular understanding, or that brings forth characters, perspectives, and material, that are challenging and not easily digestible, it is an incredibly risky thing to do and something that I admire quite a lot when I see it. To that that end (and sorry for the long-winded answer) the five writers that typify the work we look for might be the following: Cormac McCarthy, Joan Didion, Michel Houellebecq, Don DeLillo, and Paul Beatty.
Are there any common mistakes writers make when they submit to your magazine?
Matt: They don’t polish their work. We’re not your professor looking at an initial draft. Your mind blowing narrative concept is not going to overshadow the fact you didn’t look at your work carefully. Use Word, use Grammarly. Keep yourself in check. Show us the best version.
Jake: Not sending their work to our submission box and sending it to me directly. Other than that we aren't that picky.
The lit mag scene is massive. What did you want to bring to the community with your magazines that is different from what others are offering?
Matt: A place where risk taking and an attention to craft is welcome regardless of any factors having to do with the author or artist.
Jake: We want to make a space that is as open as possible and offers some semblance of a real artistic community. We want to create somewhere to house legitimately risky and daring work and which functions as something more than a stamp on your resume. I feel like a lot of us at some point have been sold the idea that getting "big publications" is the way that you become a successful artist. Thus everyone runs around trying to imitate the growlingly narrow demands of these bigger spaces and collect publications like their puzzle pieces or something. Like if I just get published in X and Z and Q this year I might have a chance of making it. The impact of this thinking is bad in two ways: one, it's bad for art because it lessens the demand of truly creative expression. And, two, it covers up the real fact that the way you "make it" as an artist, I think, is through community. Actually knowing people and actually sharing a vision on what art is and does. Thus we're doing our best to steer clear of the like business-ification of the lit mag and make a place where we are legitimately getting to know our artists and aren't putting up such artificial barriers on the work we put out. And I think both those things are pretty unique.
What is your ideal cover letter to see for a submission? Simple and sweet? Professional? A few kind words peppered in?
Matt: Say who you are, where you’re from, and that you appreciate the opportunity. For me, I don’t care what you’ve done or what you think outside the piece you gave us to consider. I’m going to respect you by cutting right to the chase and ask myself, Is this piece a good fit? If we like it, then we’ll want to know more about you because we want to give our contributors a space they can return to.
Jake: Simple is better. Kind words are always appreciated if you have resonated with work we've published in the past but your work will always speak for itself. I think providing prefatory material about the piece is also best.
Is there a specific kind of project you haven’t seen in your current submissions that you’d love to see come in?
Matt: I would love to see some longer fiction.10-15 pages. I love flash but want to resist the informal label we are a poetry and flash magazine.
Jake: We haven't gotten too many visual submissions or longer form non-fiction work. If you have a deep dive on something or some interesting visual work we'd love to see it.
Are there magazines you see as literary siblings, mentors, aspirations, besties, etc.?
Matt: I would say The Militant Grammarian and Santa Ana River Review are cousins of ours.
Jake: Sybil Journal. The Militant Grammarian is run by a peer of ours from grad school and has some similar aspirations from what I can understand.
What do you see as a deal-breaker in a submission, regardless of the quality of the writing? (For example, poor formatting, vulgarity, etc.)
Matt: If I can sense a clear lack of effort in the work.
Jake: Nothing. That's kind of our bit. Beyond not having basic competence in the chosen medium, the idea that there can be anything like a 'deal-breaker' when submitting art or writing is something we're working hard to fight against. There's really no reason to have walls up like that in my mind, especially at smaller publications. Vulgarity, disturbing content, or strange formatting are welcome as long as it's being done well.
Is there a part of the submissions process that writers tend to fret over that isn't all that important?
Matt: I’m not sure. I think taking the time to sit down and actually submit work is the most troublesome. Sometimes it even stops excellent writers from letting their work breathe.
Jake: Cover letter probably. As long as you send it to the right place and follow the guidelines that's all that matters. If you have a reference from someone that's been published with us previously you should include that though. We put in a lot of work trying to get to know our artists so if they recommended you send us something we really value that.
If you could bring one writer back to life to write a story for your magazine, who would it be, and why?
Matt: Probably James Baldwin. Because his writing, in terms of American authors, is so incisive and clear-headed and right, you walk away knowing how your heart must change. You recognize the mirror held up to you and it becomes a litmus test for your soul.
Jake: W. G. Sebald. Rings of Saturn and The Emigrants are two of the best novels I've ever read and I really think no one has made anything like him since he's passed. Truly a singular writer. I don't know if there would be much of an appetite for him nowadays, but he died at 57 and who knows what he would have written if he stuck around through the 2000s. His work seems more relevant now than ever as well. I'm not sure if he wrote any short form fiction but he was certainly capable of achieving monumental things in small spaces.
What is a recent piece published in your magazine that you think would make a great short film?
Matt: Gary Fincke’s The Day of the Triffids. Just read it. Masterful work by a flash fiction wizard.
Jake: "Otter" by Meg Pokrass is super good and pretty cinematic. It would probably adapt to a short film pretty easily honestly. It's a flash story but it has three incredibly distinct images and moments that provide so much narratively.
Many writers struggle to decide what to say about themselves in a bio. What is an example, either made up or from a writer you've published, of the ideal literary bio?
Matt: William Literary is from Nantucket and lives there year-round. Some of his work can be found [here], [here], and [here]. Keep it short. If you give me a bio longer than your poem, it comes off as if you’re in love with yourself. Now, if the piece is great and the bio stinks, we’ll publish it, of course.
Jake: I personally think you should keep it really simple about yourself and background and maybe include some work or cause you're involved with that you want to direct people toward. Like "John Smith is from Writertown and writes fiction. He's been published in X, Z, and Q. His novel, "Escape from Writertown" will be published this spring," is probably best way to go about it. I sort of don't like when people include personal things like "I love spending time with my cat," or, "In my free time, I go on walks at the park." I just don't like how it looks.
There are the well-worn (for good reason) pieces of advice like "read submissions guidelines" and "read the journal you're submitting to," but do you have any other advice for prospective writers looking to get their work published?
Matt: Understand what you are about to share. A story, poem, or essay is no trifling thing. Remember why you want to share this. Is it for you and your ego? Or is it because you want this extension of your worldly outlook to connect with people? If it’s the former, then we’ll probably reject it.
Jake: Talk to people. It can be really hard to find places that are the right fit on your own, though Chill Subs does make the process a bit easier than it used to be. (Was not paid to say that. Legitimately appreciate you guys.) But the best move is just to talk to the people that know you and your work best and see where they're looking at. Matt will send me stuff all the time that I didn't even know existed but I'll resonate with the space.
If you could add one question to this interview, what would it be, and how would you answer it?
Matt: What do you write about? I write about sad, lonely people in situations beyond their control. They’re normally problematic but with slivers of goodness. Usually that’s where I insert humor to either further warp the perspective, or it allows the reader to relax before tragedy and/or absurdity reaches the apex.
Jake: Is there anything you want to promote? Yes, there is! We're trying to raise money for our inaugural print issue. We're very close to our goal but if you would like to help us out your donation would be very much appreciated. You can check it out here: https://gofund.me/2bba5716