Spy in the Slushpile #3: After the Pause


Spy in the Slushpile #3 After the Pause

Psssst! Over here! 
Notebooking Daily snuck agents into the offices of your favorite literary magazines to bring you—the potential submitter—the sweet low down, the inside track, the full two scoops of raisins. Everything you need to know to make as successful of a submission as possible will be here, but remember that the number one rule to putting your best foot forward is to take the time to read the journal you're submitting to and FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. This is vital to show the editors that you respect their time and effort, and because some journals will reject submissions that don't extend the simple courtesy of following guidelines, without even reading it—and no one wants that.

Today we check in with our spy who was sent to the offices of the literary magazine After the Pause.

Our spy's dossier: 
After the Pause is an experimental online literary journal, based in Indianapolis, IN (with strong ties to other parts of the Midwest) that is published quarterly. They feature experimental poetry, flash fiction, visual poetry, and visual art from new, emerging, and veteran writers. 

Their editorial statement is as follows: 
We believe art and writing are born from life experience: the terrible, the traumatic, the happy, the wondrous, the completely mundane. From the worst tragedy to the most blissful joy, we think art is an incredible byproduct of everything that happens. Life throws pauses at us; art follows the pause. Everyone has a voice worthy of being heard and everyone has something worth saying. We welcome diversity of every variety. We want freshness, engagement, vitality. We want words and stories that are real, gritty, outlandish, linguistically beautiful, meaningful, etc. We love ideas and invention, taking risks with form, being experimental. Above all, we want things that make us think and stick with us.


Disguised as an alpaca, our spy was able to get close to Editor-in-Chief Michael Prihoda—in addition to being a poet and editor, our research uncovered is also a notable llama enthusiast—and was able to secure the answers to their assigned six questions. The transcript follows.

1) I always recommend that potential submitters read the most recent issue of a journal before submitting there (at least the genre which they're submitting), but if you could recommend, say three or so pieces (or however many) that you feel especially exemplify for one reason or another, what you're looking for, or that you are especially proud to have published and think everyone, whether they plan on submitting or not, should read? 
TL;DR Pieces that exemplify the journal. 

I’m going to indulge a bit and highlight all five of the pieces we nominated for the Best of the Net in 2019. The first is flash fiction, the remaining four are poetry and ought to give anyone a fabulous tour through what we’ve delighted in elevating in recent history.  

“These Dreams are Fists” by William Lychack (Winter 2018)

“These things are (not) alike” by Milla van der Have (Winter 2018)

“July 23, 1990-Present” by Marya Layth (Spring 2019)

“The reviews are in” by Samuel Wronoski (Spring 2019)

“Ennio’s ocarina heralds my demon on a black horse” by Kate Garrett (Summer 2019)

2) Is there any genre, topic, theme or stylistic that you are surprised you don't see more of, or that you would like to see more of? For instance prose poems, stories about organized sports (or one in particular), non-conventional family narratives, non-standard typography, alternate history, high sci-fi, hybrid pieces utilizing white space... 
TL;DR I wouldn't kick these submissions out of bed for eating crackers. (updateable, if the interview results in an unwanted flux of submissions)

I always wish we would receive more submissions of experimental flash fiction in what areas that I think of as typically genre-bound, such as fantasy, science fiction, etc. Much of the flash fiction that hits our inbox is literary in nature, which there’s certainly a place for and we’ve published some of it. Yet I have an un-sated desire to unearth some gems of experimental fiction that play with elements of fantasy and science fiction, even romance and horror. We know people are out there writing it and some journals are even solely dedicated to that concept, at least for single genres, but we’d love to feature some too in all our eclecticism. 

3) Hard sells—and not just the standard (though very important) "don't send hateful, misogynist, racist etc" work. Is there a plot, trope, character, motif, idiom or even phrase you would like people to think twice about before using? One that you see a ton, or that stick out when you're reading, in a negative way for whatever reason.
TL;DR Hard sells.
We’ve mentioned it before in interviews, though I’ll repeat here: we have yet to publish a poem that rhymes or has structured rhyme scheme. That poetry just isn’t for us. Cliché phrases are also a major turnoff and as a writer I get that sometimes they just feel like the path of least resistance. But in short forms like we publish they really stick out and make it easy to reject a piece. The other thing I’ll note is to be wary of passive voice, especially in your opening line. We read a lot of flash fiction that starts with passive voice and it’s generally the snooze button when you start that way for us. Meaning, rejection. Not saying it’s impossible, but you’ve already made a mountain to climb with that sort of opening sentence. 

4) If you could pick 2-3 pieces of writing that you just love that are already out in the world and somehow have the ability to have discovered it in your slushpile, itching for you to publish them, what would they be? 
TL;DR Wish I could've published that!

We had the pleasure of reviewing Hijito by Carlos Andres Gomez a while back and basically every poem in that book is something we wish we could have published. We also have published poems by John Sibley Williams and find his oeuvre in general just fantastic. Then again, what we wouldn’t give to have had the chance to publish Danez Smith or Ocean Vuong or Bao Phi when they were relatively obscure.

5) To your tastes, how would you describe the sort of "experimental" writing you seek? The idea of categorizing experimental or avant-garde writing is very slippery, as it means different things to different people, and it can even change over time from the same person's perspective. So in this moment, allowing that tomorrow you may feel differently and we won't hold you to it, what are you looking for in experimental writing? Is there a 'soft line' where it begins to lose meaning or goes too far (say, where you think the author/artist's intentions are subverted or hurt by the radical level of experimentation—of course allowing exceptions, we're not issuing challenges here) 
TL;DR The journal's place on the spectrum of 'experimental'.

We see experimentalism as moving away from a certain structure or form or mode of operation. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is to use examples of what we’ve published that immediately leaped out to us as experimental. One was a short story (barely more than a paragraph long) that purposely left each of its sentences unfinished, forcing the reader to infer the end of each. It was a neat trick, deftly done, and it didn’t frustrate because it didn’t overstay its welcome. Another was a short story (again, quite short) that was written as a recipe. We’ve seen others that take the form of a quiz or test. Another was written as a series of haunted voicemails. To us, the greatest downfall of experimental work we see is thinking that just doing something strange or weird on its own is enough, especially in visual poetry. If the words you array in some meaningful pattern are boring and on their own uninteresting, simply giving them an experimental arrangement or pattern won’t save them. The element of experimentation you add to literature has to elevate the piece and take it somewhere it couldn’t get on its own. Yet the material you start with matters. You have to be even more precise and careful because the smallest mistakes or missteps loom larger when analyzing experimental writing. 

6) If you could speak directly to a potential submitter as a voice in their head, like their 'submission conscience', neither angel nor devil but bookish nerd that wants the person to have the best chance with their submission as possible, what would you want them to be sure to do or consider when submitting? 
TL;DR Please consider this when submitting.

I hate to say this as basically every editor across time has said it and probably the audience who needs to hear it isn’t going to read this interview but, here goes: read the submission guidelines and follow them when you submit. I run a casual ship at After the Pause so I’m willing to put up with submissions that bend the rules to an extent but it’s downright stunning how many submissions I get where it’s obvious they have not looked at our guidelines page and all that ultimately does is put a bad taste in my mouth before I even have a chance to review. If you want to give yourself the best possible chance to be accepted, follow the guidelines for After the Pause, or any other magazine. 

If you want bonus points, read a couple of pieces from a previous issue before submitting. You do not have to mention this but I guarantee for mine or any other magazine, it will inform what kind of work you might submit or if you feel like submitting at all. It will also give you an idea of how your work will be displayed, which is a meaningful thing to consider since if you don’t like a magazine’s finished product, don’t bother submitting because you won’t be proud to in those pages. The first question in analyzing whether a magazine is the right home for your work is whether or not you would be proud to be published there. If not, move on. If yes, then spend the time necessary to ensure you set yourself up for success. Every submission becomes part of your reputation, every submission is a foot in the door toward a relationship with the magazine you’re sending to. 

I’ll go on a tangent for just a moment to mention something I feel strongly about. First, I am guilty of not always following the incoming advice, but I think it is so important. Maybe others are already good at this and I’m the only one who needs to hear it but I reckon it’s a common thing among writers. When you get published somewhere, do the journal, the other contributors, and yourself the courtesy of reading more than just your piece when the issue comes out. Or if they publish one-offs, read some pieces that come out around the same time. Your relationship with a journal should not end with publication. And it goes back to being proud of your publications. You should be curious about what your piece shares room with and you should want to become acquainted with the writers and the talents you have been lucky enough to share print/digital homes with. 

(at this point the editor was clearly onto the ruse and knew our spy was indeed not the Huacaya Alpaca he'd claimed to be upon their meeting, yet Michael hadn't called for security and was instead politely shepherding him out the door, so our spy wrote down one last question and received the answer as he exited)

7) What do you think differentiates prose poetry from flash fiction (or micro fiction), with the caveat that of course there will be exceptions to all 'rules' in writing, so it's something of a soft 'line' by nature.

The scansion is what unites them in my eyes. The eye’s flow in prose poetry and flash fiction ought to be similar. Roughly paragraph following paragraph. What differentiates them then are the flourishes that poetry generally allows vis a vi fiction. Meaning freedom in punctuation, internal line spacing, lowercasing, and, linguistically, the ability to not need the traditional story structure that even micro or flash stories mostly retain.

Michael was a gracious host, so perhaps the subterfuge was unnecessary of our spy, but not every journal will be quite so accommodating—because of that we'll keep reporting back from the various assignments of our Spy in the Slushpile.