Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interview with Robin Stratton

Today my guest is Robin Stratton. She’s the Editor-in-Chief of the fabulous Boston Literary Magazine.

JG: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Boston Literary Magazine is a wonderful journal. How long you been running BLM? How did you originally get involved?

RS: I started Boston Literary Magazine in 2006 after spending a week in Virginia at a writing workshop. I didn't know anything about the on-line community until then; came home, checked it out, and decided to become part of it by starting my own, and then sending my own stuff out.

JG: I thought it was originally called Boston Literary Review. Was there a name change?

RS: No, but we are often called that!

JG: What other journals have you been a part of?

RS: Only Boston Literary. One is enough!

JG: You have a few different categories of stories and poetry. What distinguishes them? How did you decide upon these particular categories?

RS: In the beginning we considered everything... but the longer pieces were just taking up too much time... I get hundreds of submissions a week, and if someone sends in three short stories that are 3000 words, it just gets to be too much. We now have a word limit of 250 words.

JG: Tell us the difference between dribbles and drabbles?

RS: Dribbles are EXACTLY 50 words... Drabbles are EXACTLY 100 words.

JG: Are dribbles and drabbles a BLM invention or do other Flash Journals have something similar?

RS: Drabbles have been around for a long time... I think there's a Wikipedia article about them... one of our editors came up with the name Dribble for 50 words, but I have also heard that genre called a Half-Drabble.

JG: What do you look for in a piece of fiction? What do you look for in a poem?

RS: I always look for a strong sense of character... I love feeling as if I am meeting someone whose fate interests me. I think it takes a lot more skill to craft scenes that show dynamics rather than a piece of writing that explains/analyzes characters.

JG: What turns you off?

RS: Anything titled "Untitled." Instant pass! I don't like when a pivotal line is in a foreign language— my rule is that I refuse to google anything... I don't have time for that. I pass on material that clearly makes a lot of sense to the writer, but no one else. This is just a personal preference, but I usually pass on stuff that's very global— "love is this" or "life is that" – and I also got tired a long time ago of stories/poems about characters from Greek or Roman mythology. And as much as I love a good deathbed scene, I've gotten so many that I've had to start passing on them.

JG: What impresses you?

RS: When I send someone feedback about how I think their piece could be stronger, and they rewrite it and turn it into exactly what I was looking for, and they say how much better it is now... I love when writers are open to comments... that tells me so much about them. I have a hard and fast rule that I never ever send a form rejection - every single person who writes gets a personalized reply - and I love when someone writes and thanks me for that... some have the grace to thank me even when I have passed on their work. That means a lot to me.

JG: Define story.

RS: Character, conflict, and satisfying resolution.

JG: Besides BLM, who else is going places in the Lit Mag World?

RS: I wouldn't even know where to begin! There are soooooooooooo many great mags out there!!

JG: Who is your readership? How large?

RS: What a great question— I wish I knew the answer! What I do know is that I've had to start taking breaks from submissions, which I didn't have to do for the first three years... we close for a month and a half after an issue comes out. Gives me a chance to go back to my other life. We also just started putting out a print issue, which has been a real blast!!

JG: How many souls in your staff?

RS: I have the most amazing webmistress who ever lived, and another editor who offers feedback from time to time. So three.

JG: How many submissions do you get a month? What is your acceptance rate?

RS: We get well over a thousand a month... probably 1500 or so... our acceptance rate is low... about 15%. We're fussy.

JG: Do you and the other editors ever clash about which pieces should be published? How do you resolve your differences?

RS: No, I am the only one who makes those decisions.

JG: Besides literature, what is your second greatest passion?

RS: Science... music... the internet!

JG: Any parting words?

RS: Advice to anyone wanting to be published by BLM or any other magazine... I can't stress this enough: Read the Submission Guidelines!! It's such a huge waste of when someone sends in something that's not suitable (non-fiction, a novel excerpt, stories that are longer than 250 words.) It's a waste of their time, too!

Robin Stratton is the editor-in-chief of Boston Literary Magazine. You can check out their Spring 2011 issue which is available now

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hail to the Guitar Heroes

I just saw the Guitar Heroes exhibition at the Met and it got me thinking about craft again. How you like them apples? When you look at the beautiful ebony fingerboards and the spruce body you get that strumming sensation. What really surprised me was that much of what is considered modern guitar-making owes its shiny frets to some of the most hallowed luthiers like Stradivari and Guarneri who are often most noted for their exquisite violins. The care and attention given to each instrument was unparalleled.

But as much as I wanted to draw a profound connection between word-building and guitar-making it became apparent to me that I should consider the art of bookbinding. That was the ticket. Of course guitar-making has more in common with bookbinding than writing. I’d been the exhibits at The Center for Book Arts in Chelsea so I’d seen some of it firsthand. They actually have courses in bookbinding. Their exhibitions are a treat. I’ve had the privilege to check out a few of their special events. If you love machines, cool implements and have a penchant for parchment this might be a fun way for you to kill some time. They have a collection of over 2000 books and a healthy archive. So if you’re one of those worrywarts who think paper books are doomed you’ll be pleased to know these special museums will keep cloth and binding alive.

What did strike me as interesting was that bookbinding doesn’t seem to have legacy of famous craftsmen. We know certain locations that produced great work like Nag Hammadi in ancient Egypt and that the monks during the Middle Ages spent a lot of time binding codices, but generally speaking the artists aren’t singled out. Writers have always seemed to play second fiddle to musicians even when classical music rocked the house. Naturally musicians get more hype, but the instrument-makers were also revered. Take a look at a Christie’s auction. Watch the movie Red Violin to get a taste. I’m sure you’re familiar with the names Stradivari and Guarneri. And if you’re a rocker you’re gaga for the genius of Monteleone, D’Angelico, and D’Aquisto (which are a bit more obscure) although you have probably heard of Gibson.