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.