Dancing with Words: Interview with Poet Janet Ruth Heller

Janet Ruth Heller’s writings range from poetry to essays to picture books to criticism, yet regardless of the format it all contains one thing in common: an ear for the musicality of words, the ability to make a sentence dance and sing.

A teacher at Western Michigan University, Janet has earned numerous awards, as will, I’m sure, her most recent publication, Traffic Stop–a collection of poems with themes encompassing nature to nontraditional women.

In the following interview Janet discusses how poetry can influence all types of writing, some of her favorite poets, and her plans for the future.

And be sure to check back this Saturday when Traffic Stop or Janet’s picture book How the Moon Regained Her Shape (winner chooses) will be given away as part of the Literary Giveaway Blog Hog.

I once took a fiction workshop from the author Lance Olsen who recommended that we all read at least one poem a day. He said our writing would improve by trying to emulate the cadence and feel of poetry. What are your thoughts on that idea?

I believe that writers cannot do their best work in a vacuum: all writers need to read both good authors of the past and good authors of the present. Reading poetry is one way to learn about different rhythms, images, structures, and patterns of sound.  My mother read me many good poems when I was a child, and these got me interested in poetry. Studying music is another way to gain knowledge of rhythm, structure, and repeated sounds. I took piano lessons for eleven years and have sung in choirs and as a soloist since I was a young child. This exposure to music has shaped my poetry and my prose. I wrote my book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, 2006), in musical prose-poetry.

Who are some of your favorite poets and why?

My favorite poets are British writers S. T. Coleridge, W. B. Yeats, Charlotte Smith, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning; American writers Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Adrienne Rich, Judith Minty, Lisel Mueller, Hart Crane, Alice Friman, Marge Piercy, Elizabeth Bishop, Jim Daniels, Edna St. Vincent Millay, T. S. Eliot, Maxine Kumin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alberto Ríos, Bruce Guernsey, Mong-Lan; Israeli writers Chaim Nachman Bialik, Yehudah Amichai, Rachel Bluwstein, Chaim Guri, Leah Goldberg; and Hispanic writers Sor Juana, San Juan de la Cruz, Federico García Lorca, Rubén Darío, Antonio Machado, Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, and Dámaso Alonso.

I like writers who have striking images, careful structures, lyrical use of sounds, and profound ideas. I like to read poets from other countries to get a broader perspective.

How has writing poetry influenced and/or improved your other writing?

Writing poetry has helped me to be more rhythmic and more concise when I write prose.  In high school, I learned about haiku poems and began writing them. This format has taught me to avoid wordiness. Working on poems has also spurred me to use more imagery in my prose.

As the founder of the literary journal Primavera, you were one of the first editors to publish work by Louse Erdrich. I think she’s a perfect example of a novelist/short-story writer whose prose reads like poetry. What other writers do you think have the same touch? What do you think it is about their writing that has the feel of poetry?

Poetic writers of prose use many images (similes, metaphors, etc.) and demonstrate sophisticated rhythms. Great playwrights, novelists, and memoirists adapt the dialects of real speakers but make the language more lyrical. I consider the dramas and stories of Anton Chekhov, William Congreve, Athol Fugard, Oscar Wilde, and Tennessee Williams very poetic. The fiction of Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, Madeleine L’Engle, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Patterson, D. H. Lawrence, Myla Goldberg, Jaimy Gordon, and P. D. James is also very poetic. I find the essays of Charles Lamb, the memoirs of Frank McCourt, and the dramas and memoir of Dylan Thomas very poetic. Of course, many of these authors also wrote/write poetry.

What are you working on next?

I’m writing a memoir, revising more manuscripts for children’s books, revising one-act plays, and revising a book of poems based on characters and events in the Bible.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about the connection between writing poetry and writing prose?

The line between poetry and prose changes over the centuries and is not always clear.  For example, William Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge wrote “conversation poems” in the 1790s that were radical because these two writers used more informal language and more prose-like rhythms than traditional poets did. Today, we are very comfortable with the British Romantic poetry that seemed so radical when Lyrical Ballads was published in 1798. Walt Whitman broke away completely from meter in Leaves of Grass (1855), using repetition and parallelism to create new poetic rhythms. In the twenty-first century, authors are experimenting by writing prose-poetry and using nonfiction writing in the middle of poems.

Ezine weaves tapestry of excellent writing: Interview with YARN editor

 “‘I want to be abducted by aliens,’ Attison said as he shoveled a spoonful of tuna into his mouth.” From:  Swamp Monster Bonanza By Michele Tallarita

“The 7-11 is empty, so I count the hairs on the third finger of my left hand.” From: Stubb  By Arthur Slade

“Any minute Ms. Morris will call the girls up on stage.  The cattle call.” From: In the Spotlight by Emily S. Deibel

Whew! Does it get any better than that? First lines that pull you in, making the computer screen disappear until all you see is a story unfolding word by word. Yet, this is exactly what I’ve come to expect from YARN–an online magazine packed with essays, poems, and fiction for teens. And YARN never fails to deliver.

In the following intervew, YA Consultant and Reader Lourdes Keochgerien discusses how YARN got its start, types of stories she is looking for, and what to expect in the future:

What inspired YARN? How did it get its start?  

Back in the winter of 2008, Kerri Majors, co-editor, started writing a short story for young adults. After a little online research, she discovered how few venues exist for such writing. That story became a novel, so she didn’t wind up needing a YA literary journal, but ever since then, she’s wanted to start a journal that featured YA writing. After talking about it on-and-off with writer friends like Shannon, co-founder/co-editor of YARN, Kerri decided it was time to make the dream a reality in the summer of 2009.

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

The story should be for a teen audience and honestly portray situations this audience can relate to, without losing their respect along the way. It’s also important that the story ring true, reel us in from the first words, and keep our interest from sentence to sentence. There is no one way to do this, of course, and we want stories that are as quirky and unique as possible. And people say writing YA is easy!

Believe it or not, despite the popularity of sci-fi, fantasy, and steampunk in YA novels, we don’t see many short stories in those genres.

Why would you pass on a story?

We’ve passed on stories for many reasons: sometimes it was because they were more for a children’s or adult audience, and sometimes it was because the story wasn’t well enough thought out, and still other times it was because, well, it just didn’t float our boat. This is a very subjective process, and because we’re all writers ourselves, we know how frustrating it can be. The important thing for writers to remember is to keep working on their craft, and keep sending out their work.

What do you enjoy the most about editing YARN?

All the editors can agree that one of the most wonderful things about editing YARN is discovering new talent, adult and teen, and helping those writers shape their stories into publishable work. We are very hands-on editors, willing to work with a writer who has promise. With teen writers especially, it’s exciting to see exuberance in their prose. The love they have for reading and writing will live on for a very long time.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

There are so many wonderful YA writers today, it is difficult to narrow the list down to a few. All the authors that we have had the opportunity to interview and publish can be found on our favorites list including: Barry Lyga, Malinda Lo, Pete Hautman, Allen Zadoff, Arthur Slade, Mitali Perkins, and Tina Ferraro just to name a few. Each author offers such an unique prespective on adolescence with heart, humor, and honestly.

Anything new coming to YARN this year?

Well, we don’t want to give away all our secrets, but we can tell you that we will have new short stories by Kody Keplinger and John M. Cusick, an interview with Gail Giles, new editors’ blogs, and of course, new publications from the brightest new fiction, non-fiction, and poetry writers in YA.

New Christian YA Market Looking For Submissions

Untapped–a new imprint and magazine for Christian teens and tweens from Written World Communications–is on the hunt for outstanding fiction and non-fiction writers.

In the following interview, Executive Editor Christina Harris (Untapped.mag@gmail.com) discusses what she’s looking for, her favorite writers, and plans for the publication of the imprint’s first novel and magazine.

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you? 

Strong author voice, logical and original plots fit for the YA audience, and real characters. I’m a huge fan of YA speculative and I wish there were more out there in that genre that are better than the average or just non-occult. Saying that, I also would love to receive pretty much anything, be it set as wild west or contemporary, that fits my criteria that I mentioned before. It is definitely hard to find.

Why would you pass on a story? 

Weak voice, bad writing style, “bunny trails” in the plot, lack of conflict in the story, stories that are “written down” for YA teens (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen submissions that are geared toward too young of an audience), and the immoral depicted as good. (Please don’t send me something about a Christian Vampire or Witch! Although there can be evil vampires and witches if it’s part of the plot.)

What do you enjoy the most about editing? 

Exploring another soul’s unique God given gift. I get to be the first to review something that someone poured their heart into and I can help them live their dream of getting the manuscript published. It also makes that the hardest part of my job here because if I find I can’t publish it, I (because I also love to write fiction) know how it is to devote so much time and then find out your story won’t take off or that the entire novel needs a rewrite.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way? 

Even though I’ve said I love speculative fiction, there is one book that always sticks in my mind that is not speculative at all: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montegomery. Most people haven’t heard of this novel, but I picked that little book up and couldn’t put it down until the end. Set in the early twentieth century, the story is about Delancy Stirling who is 29 and an old maid. She never really lived life. One day when she finds out she only has a year to live, she throws caution to the wind and even asks a man to marry her! I laughed, got angry with the characters who treated her unfairly, and cried for Delancy during her adventures. The ending is absolutely beautiful!

Anything new coming to Untapped this year? 

We’re hoping to release for the first time a magazine and also publish our first novel.

Make ‘Em Laugh: Leading Edge Wouldn’t Mind Seeing More Humor

Started in 1980, Leading Edge Magazine has taken their speculative fiction worldwide with international contributors and readers. Leading Edge–based at Brigham Young University–publishes established authors like Orson Scott Card, Dave Wolverton, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells, yet still welcomes newer writers.

In this interview, Marketing Director Jessica Landry talks about what the magazine is looking for and plans for its 30th anniversary.

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

We get a lot of serious science fiction and fantasy. We like to have a good mix, so we wouldn’t mind seeing more humor pieces; but we’re not specifically looking for humor.  If a story is clean, creative, and solidly written, we probably won’t pass it by.

 Why would you pass on a story?

Leading Edge does not accept stories that include sex, profanity, or excessive violence, or that belittle traditional family values and religion.

If we need to decide between two stories that are equally well written, we will probably choose the one that best draws the reader in emotionally. We want to feel what you are writing.

What do you enjoy the most about editing Leading Edge?

Leading Edge is a student run publication at Brigham Young University. It’s a great way for students to get involved in the production of a magazine. We have so many resources here. Plus, we get to read wonderful works of science fiction and fantasy. Working here is amazing.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?

Some of our favorite authors include Orson Scott Card, David Farland, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and L. E. Modesitt, Jr.  All of them have donated stories to Leading Edge over the years, and several of them worked on the journal themselves.

We have been privileged to have many excellent stories over the years.  Some of our favorites in the last few years include “They Scream When They Hurt,” from Issue 56; “Mulled With Sky-Souls,” from Issue 57; “Redemption Songs,” from Issue 58, and “Cryonic Sushi,” from Issue 60.

Anything new coming to Leading Edge this year?

It’s Leading Edge’s 30th anniversary! For the special 30th anniversary issue you can look for stories and articles from famous authors, including Dave Wolverton, Dan Wells, and Brandon Sanderson!

Stories for Children: On the Hunt for Strong Characters and Contemporary Multicultural Voices

Stories For Children Magazine, an ezine for 3 to 12 year-olds, knows  how to make every word count. Each issue brims with a wide selection of fiction and nonfiction stories, ranging from beaches and goldfish to watermelons and zoos (check out the June/July issue to see the stories connected to these topics).

In the following interview, Fiction Assistant Editor Roxanne Werner, reviews what she’s looking for, reasons she would pass on a story, and SFC’s plans for the future. Roxanne also offers writing advice and insight through her blog and critique services.

And from personal experience, I can say that Roxanne is a pleasure to work with. My story,  Better Than A Zillion Zoos, appears in the June/July issue, and her thoughtful suggestions made the final version a tighter, better story.

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

Strong believable characters always draw me into a story. As a reader, I want someone I can root for. Then the writer has to give the characters trouble. Too often, I see stories without conflict or tension. They are flat because the characters have nothing to challenge them and nothing at stake.

I would love to see more contemporary multicultural stories. We live in a global world, but I do not see many stories reflecting the great variety of cultures. We also receive many more stories for our youngest readers–3-6 year olds. My wish list would include more submissions for our 10-12 year old category. I prefer to see ‘human’ characters. I see too many ‘talking animals’ representing children, especially for our youngest readers.

Why would you pass on a story?

A lesson thinly disguised as a story will be an automatic no for me. A good story may contain a take away message, but it must be a story first. Preachy, heavy-handed stories turn off editors and readers alike. I will also pass on stories with adult main characters, stories lacking a plot and conflict, episodic stories and descriptive vignettes.

What do you enjoy the most about editing?

I love when I find an original story with potential. It is exciting to work with the author to bring out the best in their work. At Stories For Children Magazine, we encourage new writers and it’s so much fun to watch a story evolve as we work on it together. My job is not to rewrite the author’s work, but to ask questions and make suggestions to help the author develop his or her own story. Even when I reject a story, I always try to give the writer a reason, so they can work on their story, grow as a writer and perhaps submit it elsewhere successfully.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?

My all time favorite author is Tolkien. I read The Lord of the Rings in middle school and have not found a fantasy to match it since. I’m still in awe of what a complex world he created including languages, alphabets, calendars etc. For personal reading, I enjoy epic fantasy writers like Tolkien and David Eddings.

I read many non-adult stories to keep in touch with the market. One of my favorite middle grade writers is Andrew Clements. I love the humor and voice of his book Frindle. I also enjoyed Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick. Jordan can make you laugh and cry in the same scene. Laurie Halse Anderson is a terrific writer in the young adult genre. I met her at a writer’s conference where her presentation inspired everyone.

When I read a good story, the characters stay with me. It’s as though I’ve made a new friend. I often will go back and reread stories I love to enjoy the character’s company again. I can’t point to a particular story that changed my life. I think reading has changed my life. Books have opened me up to new ideas and made me think. And as a writer, reading is like breathing. You have to read before you can write.

Anything new coming to SFC this year?

SFC has continued to evolve every year, developing new ways to entertain our readers and provide services to our writers. This year we reached one of our goals by becoming a paying market for our contributors. SFC could not have accomplished all that we have without our wonderful writers and their stories. We also launched the World of Ink blog talk radio network in April and are working on a show that will be called Kids Speak Out World with Virginia and her son Seth as co-hosts. SFC remains dedicated to providing a family friendly environment where children can be entertained, informed and develop an appreciation for the magical world of ink.

Besides offering quality stories for our audience, SFC strives to nurture new writers and illustrators. We continue to expand the services we make available to them. Many of our editors offer critiquing, proofreading and editorial services. We will be offering online writing workshops for writers. We also have World of Ink Tours and book trailer services to help writers reach a larger audience with their published books.

Swords and Sorcery to Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi: Silver Blade Wants It All

Silver Blade wraps its speculative fiction in vivid graphics, matching the writing for creativity and enveloping readers in imaginary worlds. The ezine layers its offerings with fiction–poetry, short stories, and serialized novels–that touch on almost every element of fantasy and sci-fi then tops the package with advice for writers.

And if that isn’t enough, Silver Blade, in conjunction with its associate site Silver Pen, has started Kids ‘Magination with writing games and stories for kids who love to write. Whew!

In this interview, Fiction Editor Sue Babcock, talks about Silver Blade’s plans for the future, her editorial preferences, and some of her favorite authors.

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

Silver Blade loves stories about swords and warriors, and about dragons and all sorts of imaginary creatures. We also love urban fantasy and science fiction. The stories need to be complete stories, regardless of their length, with a beginning, middle and end, with character development, with conflict and resolution, with rising action, and with all the other components of great stories. We do not accept stories with gratuitous violence or explicit sex. Our site is suitable for older teens and adults. Our favorite length stories are between 2500 and 4000 words, although we accept shorter and longer. However, often the shorter stories do not to have the completeness we are seeking.

Why would you pass on a story?

We pass on stories for the same reasons many publications do – incomplete story, poor characterization, lack of tension, lack of originality, nothing changes in the story. We also pass on stories written in a heavy passive voice. Excessive (and by excessive I mean more than one per page) grammar, spelling and punctuation errors indicate to me that the writer didn’t care enough to proof-read or workshop the story. If the errors become annoyingly distractive, we’ll pass on the story.

What do you enjoy the most about editing Silver Blade?

I love reading the wide variety of story submissions we receive, and I love working with the authors. Occasionally we find a story we love, but that has a glaring fault (such as a passive voice or a weak ending). These stories we are willing to work with the author to help him or her polish up the story. One of my greatest pleasures is to work through the issues with a receptive author, discussing changes, looking for better ways of saying something. I love this interaction with the authors, I love thinking that maybe I helped someone, made a story stronger, and made people smile when they see their stories published.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

Bernard Cornwell because he knows what he is talking about, he knows the history and the weapons and the way wars were fought. His descriptions astonish me in their detail.

Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear because they also do their research. Their stories are full of possibilities and contrasting good and evil.

James Clavell because his stories are lush, full of feelings and people I grow to care very much about. His stories take risks and have a depth and connection I love.

Jonathan Kellerman because he knows evil and is willing to risk everything with his main character to conquer the evil he finds in people’s minds.

Anything new coming to Silver Blade this year?

Silver Blade is operated through the non-profit writing association of Silver Pen. We recently decided that having children’s and adults’ story in the same online magazine was difficult because of the limitation it imposed on the adult stories. We could not separate the children’s section from the rest of the site. Even though we do not publish gratuity violence or explicit sex, we wanted to allow more adult-themed stories.

We have now made Silver Blade “PG-13” to “R”. To fill the gap left behind for younger children, Silver Pen is developing a new site, Kids ‘Magination ,for helping and publishing young writers. In addition, Silver Blade is developing anthologies of their past issues. The sales of these anthologies help fund Silver Pen.

Writing Advice for the Christian Children’s Market: Interview with Kathleen Muldoon

In Sowing Seeds: Writing for the Christian Children’s Market author Kathleen Muldoon shares her years of writing experience, offering advice for both seasoned and novice writers.

A retired journalist, Kathleen has authored sixteen books in the educational and Christian markets as well as numerous magazine articles and stories for children and adults. She’s also an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature and various continuing education programs.

In addition, she finds time to pen a column for Action magazine and contribute as a regional writer for Guideposts. When not writing, she enjoys playing with her literary feline, Walter, and her uneducated but adorable parakeet, Abraham.

In the following interview, she discusses what drew her to Christian markets, gives tips to new writers, and talks about the rewards of Christian writing:

Why did you decide to write Sowing Seeds? 

Last year (2010), an editor from E & & Publishing approached me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book for this niche market. I had submitted a manuscript to her which she could not use, but when she saw my publishing resume, she thought I might be the right person to write such a book and she invited me to submit a proposal. Fortunately, she accepted my proposal, and Sowing Seeds: Writing for the Christian Children’s Market, was born—and launched later that year.

What drew you to writing for Christian markets and specifically for children? How did you get your start?

I had written quite a bit for the adult Christian market. When I decided to write for the children’s market (in 1989—before some of you were born!), I was delighted to discover the world of Christian children’s literature. As I child, I once received a Christian children’s magazine subscription as a gift. I treasured every issue! It’s long since ceased publication, but as I got more into writing for children in general, I began sending for sample Christian children’s magazines so I could familiarize myself with just what these publishers looked for in the pieces they published. I made my first story sale to a wonderful little Catholic magazine, My Friend, in 1990. Sadly, this magazine, too, ceased publication in 2009. But, they still have a book publishing division (Pauline Books & Media), and I’ve authored two books for them and had one of my stories included in an anthology.

Any words of wisdom for beginning writers?

Perfect your craft, be persistent, know your audience (Christian children), and study the markets.

What Christian children’s magazines would you recommend for short-story writers and why?

I like Pockets—it is a themed magazine, meaning each issue revolves around a particular theme, so you’ve already got a “leg up” knowing what those themes will be in advance (the theme lists are available on the website); in addition, they have two stories per issue, one for younger readers and one for intermediate (9-12) year old readers. They also have an annual fiction competition.

What is the most rewarding aspect of writing for Christian markets?

I love the idea that I can share my faith, either through fiction or nonfiction, when writing for this market. I consider it a ministry, a way of giving back and sharing the gift of writing that the Lord has given me. I especially like targeting children, who have just begun their faith journeys and are most open to learning ways they can be like Jesus.

U.K. Publisher Seeks Unique YA Stories

Wyvern Publications began in 2008 with the goal of championing “teen fiction that may have been rejected from popular publishing houses for being ‘too unique’.” With titles like The Faerie Conspiracies, Dragontales: Short Stories of Flame, Tooth, and Scale, The Voices of Ire, Mertales, and The Howling Moon, Wyvern has accomplished that goal. Their books promise stories infused with fantasy, mystery, horror, and romance. 

The publisher continues its mission to find unique voices with Wyvern Magazine, an ezine for teen fiction. In this interview, editor Holly Stacey talks about what she’s looking for, her favorite authors, and what’s new at Wyvern.

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?
I personally look for character led stories that fit the basic genre of what we have advertised for – teen!. For the magazine we get so many stories, it’s sometimes impossible to choose and of course, we don’t just have fiction. I always look for strong, well-rounded characters with an original storyline (or a new twist on an older tale) and well paced action. I want to feel what the main character is feeling and be taken through his or her story absolutely gripped and convinced that they are real. First person limited and third person limited are our preferred narrations, and all the editors on the Wyvern team will tell authors to not jump from one character’s point of view to another. The magazine usually has slots for two to three short stories, some flash fiction and maybe a poem or two.

As for particular stories or plots, we are generally open and like to be surprised! As long as it fits well within our readership, has a strong narration and original voice, we’re interested.

Why would you pass on a story?
If a story was good but had so many grammatical errors that I wanted to give up reading, I’d pass on the story. I’d also pass if it was boring, switched viewpoint mid paragraph, was unoriginal, or just poorly written. Excessive foul language, graphic sex, or violence are also a no for us. For the anthologies, the editors will sometimes find stories that they like but need improving on. When this happens, we contact the author and tell them what we’d like changed if the author is willing. For main submissions, however, there are just too many to give personal feedback on, which is a shame because there are some amazing stories that come our way (and some very poor ones, but there is a learning curve for all writers).

What do you enjoy the most about editing Wyvern Magazine?
That’s a tough one to answer. I think when it all comes together at the end is when I’m most enjoying it, but I love the point of sending out acceptance e-mails (the worst is having to reject, but it comes with the territory). Of course, there are times when things seem to go terribly wrong. These are usually technical hitches such as images not uploading on the website properly, or my PDF deciding to reformat.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?
I absolutely love Neil Gaiman! Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins (I do love turn of the century fiction), Holly Black, Tolkien, Poe, Crissida Cowell, Diana Wynne Jones, ah, I could go on forever. Derek Landy also is one of my favourites. Aubrie Dionne, who we are lucky enough to have as one of our authors also keeps me gripped when I read her tales. I think it’s the magic in the stories that keeps me wanting more; there is something almost bewitching about the way they write and I end up getting so emotionally involved with the plot and characters that they will creep into my dreams.

One of my favourite short stories is by Poe – where the lunatics in an asylum break out and pretend to be the doctors. It always makes me laugh, but also reminds me that life’s ‘rules’ are always dictated by those in power, no matter how insane they are. For teen fiction, my favourite short story is by Alice Godwin called Clearskin. It was the winner of the short story competition for Wyvern Publications last year and it left me in gooseflesh for days afterwards it was so beautiful.

Anything new coming to Wyvern Magazine this year?
We’ve got the ‘Assistant Editor’s Corner’ which is good fun as it allows our assistant editor to use some of his own fiction to highlight some do and don’t for writing. Other than that, it’s the usual articles, fiction and interviews.

New YA Short Story Market: Interview with Verbal Pyrotechnics Editors

I stumbled upon Verbal Pyrotechnics–its name says it all–more than a year ago during one of my numerous internet searches for new YA markets. The humor on its blog made me chuckle, encouraging me to return for more, and I kept an eye on this promising online magazine as it worked its way to its first issue.

That day has finally come with its debut issue hiting the internet in March. So I’m especially pleased to have the following interview with the gang from Verbal Pyrotechnics–Poetry Editor Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz, Nonfiction and Comics Editor Benjamin Andrew Moore, and Fiction Editor Kathryn Holmes:

What do you look for in a submission? Are there any specific types of stories, poems or comics that you wish writers would send you?

Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz, Poetry Editor: In general I am looking for a poem that is impossible to ignore—a poem that even those who claim “not to like or understand poetry” will be drawn into. Sometimes it is the idea or emotion that engages me, other times it is a bit of sophisticated or witty word play. While I am open to all types of poetry, I find that narrative poetry resonates with teen readers more often than not.

Benjamin Andrew Moore, Nonfiction and Comics Editor: Frankly, I really couldn’t care less about the kind of story (or comic) I’m reading as long as it’s good. Obviously, ‘good’ can mean a wide range of things, but it usually involves originality and the general ability to write sentences that are pleasing to the eye and ear. In the case of comics, visual quality is a plus, to be sure, but I tend to give bad art a pass if the writing’s there.

Kathryn Holmes, Fiction Editor: I look for a compelling idea or a voice I haven’t heard before. Those qualifications can be found in any genre, of course, and the story can be structured in any way. I also want fiction that will speak to teen readers directly, or capture some essential element of the experience of being a teenager. I ask myself as I read submissions, “Why does this story NEED to be told?”

Why would you pass on a submission?

EDR: I would pass on a poem if there were no way for a reader to enter it.

BAM: Because the writing is bland, because the story is boring or unoriginal, because the author thinks he or she is hilarious but, in point of fact, he or she is not at all hilarious. That’s a big deal for me. Don’t try to be funny if you’re not. Suddenly, I’m feeling sorry for you instead of laughing at your jokes, which might actually be the complete opposite of laughing. Maybe.

KH:  I’d pass if I feel like I’ve read it before and the author hasn’t brought anything new. Also, though it may sound nitpicky, I have a very low tolerance for grammar and spelling errors; I might pass on a poorly-written piece even if the idea was great (though I’d give the author feedback to that end). It’s okay not to be naturally gifted in the grammar department, but please have someone read over your submission before sending it in, so that you’re showing us your best, most polished work.

What do you enjoy the most about editing Verbal Pyrotechnics?

EDR: Editing Verbal Pyrotechnics keeps me committed to my artistry. I can count on the emails, submissions, and conversations to connect me to myself as an artist and the community of which I am a part.

BAM: I love reading teen literature by up-and-coming authors, even when it’s not all that good. Plain and simple.

KH: I feel like we’re operating in a niche that needs to be filled—the literary magazine circuit isn’t so friendly toward writing aimed at a younger audience, no matter how well-written. Also, I wish that a magazine like this had been around when I was a teen.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?

EDR: Lately I have been reading a lot of Yusef Komanyaka, Emily Dickinson, Bob Hicock, and genre-bending authors like Kimiko Hahn, Michael Ondaatjee, and Laurie Sheck. Oh, and I also love a poem that makes me laugh. I think a poem that continues to resonate in my life is the classic Dickinson poem, “Hope is a thing with feathers”—or that limerick about the bucket.

BAM: I have a lot of favorite authors—Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Philip Pullman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Vladimir Nabokov, and so forth. Salinger’s “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” is possibly my favorite short story, but that’s a really, really difficult question for me to answer with full confidence on the matter.

KH: Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Audrey Niffenegger, Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde… just to name a varied few. In terms of work that’s unforgettable: though they aren’t short stories, per se, the segments of the book-with-a-book in Nicole Krauss’s “The History of Love” blew me away. Each is a little magical parable about the pain, anxiety, joy and beauty of relationships, and some of the imagery is just breathtaking.

Anything new coming to Verbal Pyrotechnics this year?

EDR: Your submissions! That’s what will be new to Verbal Pyrotechnics this year! Send us your stuff. We want to read it. And we hope to have Issue Two out in Summer 2011.

From Southern Stories to Gritty YA: Interview w/ Bethany Hegedus, Hunger Mountain Co-Editor

Bethany Hegedus serves as co-editor of the Young Adult & Children’s page for the VCFA literary journal Hunger Mountain. Bethany’s first novel Between Us Baxters was named a Bank Street Books, Best Books of 2010 (starred) and a Top 40 Fiction Books for Young Adults by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Her second novel Truth with a Capital T debuted at the 2010 Texas Book Festival.

Forthcoming, with Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, is the picture book Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma. A longtime resident of NYC, she now writes from her home in Austin and will be part of the YA Diversity in Fiction Tour when it makes it’s Austin stop.

Somewhere in her busy schedule, Bethany also finds time to write in her blog. Postings range from promoting friends’ books to saving Texas schools to writing tips. The tone is generous, the information detailed. The blog reveals an author and editor who truly cares about the craft of writing and cultivating readers.

That generous tone is also evident throughout the following interview:

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

For Hunger Mountain, most of the fiction we publish is jointly decided by myself and Kekla Magoon, after HM readers cull through the online submissions. Kekla and I are much different writers with varying tastes, which makes for a range in what we decide to publish. Sometimes we will convince the other to publish a story that we particularly feel strong about or bonded to, and when that happens it is a nice thing, for us, for the author of the work, and for Hunger Mountain readers. 

My tastes run the gamut to hoping to find a break out picture book manuscript, to middle grade—and you guessed it, I am partial to southern stories and those who use dialect well, regardless of location, to gritty YA. Kekla, though not a fantasy writer herself, enjoys finding the perfect fantasy piece as well as realistic fiction.

I am not sure either of us has any plot specific needs, but I am fond of character driven stories, a voice that leaps off the page, and a feeling that I am being taken care of as the reader, in good confidence, by the author of the submitted piece.

Our upcoming theme for Spring/Summer 2011 is a variation on shadows. We haven’t hit the exact phrasing yet—maybe “The Many Shades of Shadows” or something but we would love to see pieces that play with light and darkness (figuratively and literally), a fabulous piece with an unreliable narrator, or pieces where secondary characters are shaded so well that they not only support the main character but truly help flesh out the work. Those interested in submitting may see the submission guidelines here: http://www.hungermtn.org/submit/

Why would you pass on a story?

I personally pass on a story—as in turn it down—and not show it to Kekla for her take, when the writing rings false and not true. Or when the writing is static and not original or if a plot-twist feels too authorly and not organic to the situation and circumstances being depicted.

I do work with pieces that have potential, editing them and going back and forth with the contributor. This is the case with a piece that is about to go live, titled, My Real Best Friend by Linnea Heaney. The picture book manuscript had real voice, and had that intangible something special that made me want to share it with others, even without it having accompanying illustrations. I am glad that Linnea and I worked together until we got the piece where we needed it to be, and I am hoping that the piece being published in Hunger Mountain helps the manuscript become a tangible book. One to hold in our hands and enjoy the melding of art and text that only a paper picture book can.

What do you enjoy the most about editing for Hunger Mountain?

When I threw my hat in the ring to be an editor of the Young Adult & Children’s section of the journal I had no idea what I was getting into—work wise or joy wise. What I love most about editing the journal is envisioning an issue—reaching out to award winning writers such as Mitali Perkins and Tanita S. Davis (who did a fabulous flipside piece for us on race and covers) and seeing how having that out in the world causes other serendipitous occurrences to happen.  

This happened when we published an essay by Nikki Grimes, Color Me Perplexed, which Nikki Grimes sent our way after experiencing librarians at ALA still touting—“we love your work, if only we had the readership for it at our school.” As if all kids couldn’t or shouldn’t be exposed and find a friend in a character of another color in any and all schools. It is one of my favorite pieces and one where got an enormous amount of response from readers.

Along with the big picture creation, and getting to showcase issues and industry concerns I personally care about (IE: the upcoming special feature on Passion for the Picture Book) I love that our page on the journal—which is written by and for those in the Kid Lit community—is growing in esteem and is seen as literary, as viable, as important as those who write for adults. One will never hear the merit of literature for children or teens “poo-pooed”at Hunger Mountain. Other literary journals of merit should take note.

And, along with finding new fiction and new voices, I love the craft-centric focus of our page. Writers never stop learning—pre-published or post-published and I hope the essays written for Hunger Mountain are learning tools for those who turn to our site for ideas and inspiration.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?

I recently read a short story cycle manuscript, titled, The Pullout, for a friend and though my opinion was supposed to come as Bethany, friend and fellow critiquer, what I originally thought as I was reading is I have, have, have, to have one of these stories to showcase in the spring issue of Hunger Mountain. The one I choose, that I thought would resonate most from the collection VCFA grad Lindsey Lane is stringing together is a story called The Proposal. Lindsey, who has been known as a picture book writer, did something brave and beautiful in her short story cycle. She went deep and the work she laid bare had a profound affect on me.

This is what I wrote in my response letter to her:

“What you have created in the Pullout is a work of effortless human longing and searching, which is more about the journey—the pit stop—then the final destination. I say effortless because that is how the project reads but I am sure much effort—blood, sweat, and tears—went into its creation. The stories build on one another until your heart is broken and then at last with the last story, The Christmas Ornaments, it begins to heal and hope is present. Ah, my friend, what an honor to read these words here. The way you have strung them together, the silent transitions where the reader must fill in the gaps, the quiet attention to detail and the pain and ugliness of the darker side of the human condition. It really is a feat. Enjoy your accomplishment.”

And thankfully, after a little coercing and making sure Lindsey knew I didn’t want to publish the story since she is a friend, she said yes. I can’t wait to share it with HM readers.

And outside of anything I have published for Hunger Mountain—a girl’s got to love the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. I read this for the first time in college and have loved Flannery’s work ever since. Something about the southern grotesque more than appeals to me.

Anything new coming to Hunger Mountain this year?

I truly want to do more with illustrators, to showcase the visual side of this field, the painstakingly incredible and inspiring work illustrators bring to the page. I’d also love to have a conversation with a collaborative author and illustrator (who aren’t married or related) but who were originally paired by the publisher and enough magic and chemistry happened to raise the level of each other’s art to an even higher level. If you are that author or illustrator, please, please contact me.


Questions for Bethany? Leave a comment and I’ll forward them to her.