Continuing our streak of interviewing editors of prominent literary journals in the United States, this time we break away from Illinois and venture into one coming from the Southwest, namely Haydenís Ferry Review, where Fiction Editor Jennifer Spiegel gives us more wonderful insight into the world of reading, writing, and publishing contemporary fiction.
Haydenís Ferry Review was established in 1986, is ranked within the top fifty markets for fiction writers, and stories originally appearing there have gone on to be included in Pushcart Prize anthologies.
We are grateful to Jennifer for the time she spent here, and we also thank Salima Keegan, Managing Editor of HFR, in helping to make this interview happen. The Haydenís Ferry Review web site is at www.haydensferryreview.org.
The Summerset Review: Firstly, weíd like to say we loved the short stories in #31. We are used to reading journals such as StoryQuarterly and Other Voices, dedicated completely to fiction and containing from fifteen to forty stories per issue, but we felt all five in HFR #31 were very compelling.
Jennifer Spiegel: Thank you - Iím a little impressed when I read it too. We had a truly wonderful staff working on this issue, including my co-editor in fiction, Robert Johnson, Jr. Salima, our Managing Editor, has a lengthy history of making this journal work.
Can you talk about your role on the staff of HFR and how long you have been there? Do you work closely with other members and do you get involved with any of the work that goes into an issue other than the fiction?
I began working on the staff at the same time that I began my MFA at Arizona State. That was in the fall of 1999. I began as an Associate Editor and then, for the 2002-2003 academic year, I was the Fiction Editor (along with Robert). So, in some capacity, Iíve been working on HFR for over four years.
As Fiction Editor, I do work closely with other members of the staff. We rely heavily on our Associate Editors, trusting their ďaesthetic sensibility,Ē if you will. We trust in our Copy Editorsí keen eyes for details. We work closely with the Poetry and Art Editors to create a solid and unified issue. And our Managing Editor is a regular Renaissance woman, who manages to really keep it all together.
One of the best parts about working on HFR is having the opportunity to delve into other areas. Iíve really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at a literary journal. Iím not sure how I once regarded the literary landscape, but I would imagine I had this notion that I was sending off my stories to some very mysterious entity. Turns out, itís normal people running the show.
In putting together an issue, the Fiction Editors have a voice in other arenas. The Art Editor, for instance, presents artwork to the entire staff, and then we come to some decisions together. We also try to give the Associate Editors the opportunity to decide on the final fiction selection. We aim for democracy.
Do you have readers who take the first cut at the slush pile, and if so, are there some general rules that have been set up to help identify a piece worthy of further consideration?
Actually, we all take the first cut at the slush pile. And itís terribly subjective. This should be very encouraging to emerging writers, I hope. And, I suppose, faith is required. Some people may love your stuff; others may not. Weíre all taking our turns at the stories. Stories are dismissed or passed on to the next level for different reasons. One person, for instance, may tolerate typos. Another may not. You gotta keep trying, I guess.
How do you yourself contribute to the decision-making process on story submissions? What would be some of the things you particularly like to see in a story?
Hmmm. Well, O.K., if I were to just blurt out my own likes and dislikes Iíd have to list a few things. I donít have a huge tolerance for typos and grammatical/mechanical errors. I think the best stories are submitted in an ultra-professional way. Aesthetically, I like fast-paced, sometimes quirky or eccentric writing. I like pop cultural references. I like stories that expose the underbelly of contemporary culture - that sounds ominous and melodramatic. I donít know. I loved the movies ďPulp FictionĒ and ďAmerican Beauty,Ē if that gives any indication of my tastes. I like the darkly comic, the absurdly tragic.
Of course, another editor will have entirely different preferences. Again, this should be encouraging to emerging writers. A good friend of mine is interested in eco-criticism. A concern for landscape and the environment is much more pronounced in her tastes. Itís tough to say what any individual will value.
Iím really excited about issue #32ís fiction selections. In this upcoming issue, we have the quirky, the comic, and the profound. My favorite things.
We noticed a Flash Fiction section in the latest issue. Can you tell us a little on how this came about? Has HFR published a lot of short-short fiction in the past, and do you plan to in the future?
To be honest, I think it was Robert Johnsonís idea! Bob expressed an interest in short fiction, and we followed through. I donít think HFR has published a lot of it, but I donít think itís been excluded from consideration either. As with any submission, we just want the writing to be excellent. I donít know how much word count has to do with that.
How different is the review process for shorter works?
For the special section, Bob and I took a look at all submissions. Thatís one difference. But, really, we made our decisions in the same way we would make them for longer works.Tell us a little about the last story you read that really impressed you. What was so incredible about it?
You know, I see from my previous answers that Iíve ignored one of the biggest standout features of any great short story: Language. A short story that impresses me has that something special in terms of language - a flair, a finesse. It may be poetic like ďThe English PatientĒ (Michael Ondaatje); perhaps itís a dynamism as in ďThe Feast of LoveĒ (Charles Baxter). But that attracts me immensely.
So, off the top of my head, there are three stories that recently impressed me. ďMalachi the FiligreeĒ by Christian Michener, which appeared in #31, was a standout story. The language instantly drew me in. I believe that Bob felt the same way. Itís playful - but also controlled. One gets the sense that the author knew what he was doing. Julie Hensleyís ďLandfall,Ē which will be included in #32, impressed me. Itís written in the second person, and itís not uncommon to hear about all the pratfalls of writing in the second person. Hensley, however, writes a compelling and rich story that instantly dispels the myths surrounding this point of view. Michael Davisís ďCall Me Mr. Lucky,Ē also scheduled for publication in #32, is another favorite. The language pulled me in. Itís a matter of balance, I think. Itís quirky - lots of goofy detail included that I love. Itís funny - part of the quirkiness. But, again, itís a control thing. The author controls the language. The laughs are by design. Thatís important. I like to know that an author hasnít necessarily just stumbled into a great story; itís nice to see the work in its stitchery, in its brush strokes.
What are a few of your personal favorite literary fiction journals (whether they be print or web-based)? Why exactly is each one a favorite?
You know, this is tough to say because there really is a lot of good work out there. I genuinely like the look of HFR because a lot of attention is paid to the art, as well as the fiction and poetry. Itís nice when the cover is a big deal. I like Image because thereís a ďunityĒ present - the parts work together. I enjoy Puerto del Sol because they wrote me a nice rejection note. I heard the editor of Creative Nonfiction speak at AWP in Baltimore, and I agreed with his philosophy on that genre. I think that Hunger Mountain is a great name for a literary journal, and itís a pleasure to spend time reading Witness, Meridian, Black Warrior Review, and The Georgia Review. I like journals that give long short stories a chance, journals that take their artwork seriously, and journals that operate according to the highest aesthetic values. Many do, too. What literary events does HFR sponsor or take part in? Perhaps staff members have participated in fiction panel discussions in writersí workshops, or have held readings at local libraries, colleges, or bookstores? Have there been any recent fiction writing contests or awards?
Actually, HFR is pretty active on the literary scene. With each issueís publication, we hold a reading at Changing Hands, a fabulous bookstore in Tempe. Those are well attended, and we feature writers and artists from each issue. Most recently, fiction writer Ron Carlson and poet Norman Dubie read their work for us. Everyone loved it.
HFR is generally a participant at the annual Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conferences. We usually are somewhere at the book fair. I think itís safe to say weíre alive and well among the university literary landscape.
HFR was one of the participants in this past yearís conference sponsored by Arizona State in Tempe - ďDesert Nights, Rising Stars.Ē I know that Salima Keegan, Robert Johnson, Jr., and I were all involved in panel discussions. Also, we can claim poet Alberto Rios as one of our own. Heís HFRís Editorial Advisor, and - along with Salima - he conducted several workshops for ASUís grad students on the nuts and bolts of the writing life.
Also, HFR conducts the annual Prentice Hall fiction contest, publishing the winners in its issues.
On the submissions we personally have made to HFR, weíve noticed that along with the rejection notice we received back was a complimentary bookmark having the current issueís artwork on it. Is there any significance to this? (We are secretly hoping that youíll say if a writer gets a bookmark, it means the story got further along in the review process than most.)
Well, I canít confirm your secret suspicions - sadly. However, we do have snazzy bookmarks. Theyíre all over my house. Itís true. One of our big strengths is the way we make use of the visual arts. Weíve got the bookmarks.
Are you at liberty to say what percentage of rejections are accompanied with comments beyond the standard message?
Iím at liberty. But Iím not sure what that percentage is! If you get one, though, itís a big deal. Someone went out of his or her way to write it. If you donít get one, I wouldnít freak out. Sometimes, a reader only has ten minutes to drop the story off at the HFR offices, and there wasnít time for the personal touch.
Last year we stumbled on the Premier Issue of HFR in a used bookshop in Sag Harbor, New York. Needless to say, we bought it ($2) and read it (our favorite story being Cynthia Frederickís ďTraveling to a Land We Cannot See"). What do you recommend we do with it now? Where do you see HFR in the years ahead?
Sag Harbor is a lovely place, isnít it? I was there once . . .
HFR will be an important part of the literary landscape for a while. I keep my favorite journals on a special shelf. Admittedly, HFR is among my favorites. As a creative writing teacher, itís a wonderful resource. When one hears experienced writers talking about the importance of reading widely, one should perk up. Itís true. Read widely. Try to figure out if a journal has thematic preoccupations, or adheres to a particular aesthetic. Hold onto several issues of one journal, and try to notice what makes them the same. HFR started off well and I bet weíll continue demonstrating the highest standards.
Before I take off, thereís a great story in our history books: In an early issue of HFR, we published an early story of Catherine Ryan Hydeís - sheís the author of Pay It Forward. When we did our tenth anniversary issue (a ďbest ofĒ issue), we sent a note to ask her for recent work. This resulted in the publication of another one of her stories in HFR. Years later, when her second novel The Electric God came out, she sent Salima a copy of the book along with a note saying that when she had received HFRís ďbest ofĒ solicitation, she was going through a career slump of sorts. She credited HFRís interest with her career picking up - and she thanked us by naming her novelís protagonist, ďHayden.Ē We love this story.
So, itís probably a good idea to hold onto our early issues!
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