Spy in the Slushpile #4: The Collidescope


Spy in the Slushpile #4 The Collidescope

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 The Collidescope.

Our spy's dossier: 
The Collidescope is an online literary journal. They feature 'experimental' poetry, prose, and visual art from new, emerging, and veteran writers. They read no fee submissions via email all year round.

Our agent poached the following helpful bits of information from various places on their website: 
The Collidescope aims to publish writing that is subversive in nature, that is art for art’s sake. There is a difference between a writer simply telling a story (or telling a story simply) and creating a work of art. We love to see the mental fireworks of a writer wrestling with their imagination, with language itself. All one has to do is look at what Joyce accomplished. Ulysses alone broke every rule and then some. A century later, many writers are still afraid to step outside of the rules. Luckily, there are a kaleidoscope of other writers who have fearlessly gone wherever language has led them and have produced astounding works, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Angela Carter, David Foster Wallace, Wendy Walker, Salman Rushdie, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Clarice Lispector, Vladimir Nabokov, etc. Such is the kind of writing we live to read. We gravitate mostly toward magical realism and the surreal/slipstream. This is not the place for slice of life fiction, unless your language is experimental.


Disguised as a window washer with a mask of my face, for some reason, our spy was able to get close to The Collidescope editor George Salis and secure the answers to their assigned six questions. The transcript follows.

1) I always recommend that potential submitters read their most recent dozen or two pieces of a journal that publishes irregularly such as The Collidescope 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. 

Perhaps it’s partly immoral to have favorites among my published children, but like parents in denial, I do have favorites.

“Unmeasured Ages” by Will Cordeiro was one of the most linguistically-stimulating pieces to grace my inbox, with a prose that evokes Cormac McCarthy at his best and most eldritch, as well as echoes of Don DeLillo. Cordeiro told me that the story was something of a fluke for him. I can only hope, for the sake of fiction, that more of these flukes occur.

Most recently, I published “Trackless” by Rosalind Goldsmith. While the vocabulary and imagery aren’t as wild as “Unmeasured Ages”, the story excels in its meditative and strange quality via a fresh sentence structure and somewhat incantatory repetitions. This reminded me of Joseph McElroy, one of America’s greatest yet most unsung writers.

For the most part, these two pieces have an emphasis on language over plot. When considering submissions, plot is something I look for secondly if at all. I’m willing to forgo plot altogether for a feast of linguistic treats because style is substance; don’t believe what the mainstream literary community says.

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)

Most of what clogs my inbox consists of stories written in the first person, often with a meteorological report at the beginning, or some assurance that the sky is still there, and then comes the mechanical dialogue or solipsistic musings that are the furthest thing from stimulating. Written in brief, safe sentences that are almost completely anonymous. No voice, no style, no risks.

I want to see more work from writers who are willing to subvert expectations, eviscerate clichés, and write with the freedom of artistic vision, not the manacles of some m(ass) audience in mind.

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.

The only thing a writer should be thinking twice or thrice about is whether the phrase they’ve just written has been heard before, heard ad nauseum. Martin Amis said that writing is a war against clichés and, in many ways and instances, the war is being lost. Not all hands or trees need to be gnarled. Not all blood needs to boil or curdle. Not all tears need to stream down faces. Not all noses need to be aquiline. Synonyms for these clichés are often not enough. One needs to exhume etymology, masticate the bones of those dead words and phrases and expectorate vein-cutting diamonds and o-faced opals.  
I want to be shocked into life. So no, never think twice about things that might shock or offend. If it’s essential to the vision, then it must remain. Many readers these days confuse racist and misogynistic characters with the author. This is the downfall of literature. It’s not the author’s job to scold or instruct these characters, such people exist within the real world. There’s a difference between a story portraying a nasty character and a story that celebrates the nastiness. As long as it’s not celebratory, then yes, give me your misogynists, your misandrists, your huddled asses, the wretched refuse of your skeevy shore.

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!

I can’t exactly publish books online so I’ll go with short stories:
“Oono” by Patricia Eakins
“The Cleverness of Elsie” by Wendy Walker
“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez
I realize that’s more than 2 or 3 but if readers can track these stories down, they might thank me for it. Oh, and just about anything by Borges.

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'.
You can hold me to this, push my cheek against it: I’m looking for writing that is conscious of language, thus it produces unheard words and phrases. The term “experimental writing” sounds extremely humorless, but humor enhances a given reading experience and can even heighten tragedy. So yes, give me some scatology and clever wordplay while you’re at it too.

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.
It seems most submissions come from people who don’t read the submission guidelines, let alone read the description of The Collidescope’s aesthetic, let alone click through the site. If a potential submitter has made it this far into the interview, then I suspect they aren’t that careless type. Compared to some other journals, we don’t ask for much beyond standard formatting. 

My bookish nerd on the potential submitter’s shoulder does have horns, and his whisper is a wail: Don’t submit slice of life fiction or personal essays to The Collidescope or I will slice your life!

(pushing his luck, our spy was able to get George to answer two extra questions before the inevitable trapdoor opened beneath his feet, returning him via slide to the Notebooking Daily headquarters)

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.

I’ve published a brief chapter from my debut novel as ‘poetry’ once (it was reprinted so technically twice), which suggests there is little to no difference between the two. I expect most prose to be, on some level, poetic, so the taxonomy is negligible, I think, and could even be distracting at times. Perhaps this is why I don’t advertise on the site what’s ‘poetry’ and what’s ‘fiction’, aside from a tag on the very bottom of the page. Only the words matter.

8) What other journals do you really enjoy reading, or do you feel especially akin to?

I prefer books over journals, particularly because the novel is my favorite artform, maximalist encyclopedic novels of grand scope, such as Infinite Jest and Underworld and Darconville’s Cat and Midnight’s Children. However, small presses are as important as journals, so I’d like to mention Tough Poets Press, which is doing amazing work resurrecting literature that has been wrongly neglected by the so-called literary community. Similarly, corona/samizdat is starting to bring back the work of Chandler Brossard, alongside modern writers (disclosure: this includes the overseas edition of my debut novel). And of course there’s the once-great Dalkey Archive, a press that is beyond its golden years but is still doing admirable work. These publishers bring out literature that I would be delighted to have within The Collidescope. Read them, support them, keep literature alive, and be a part of the conversation in whatever capacity you can.

Thank you, Zebulon, for inviting me to do this interview. Keep up the great work, my friend.

George 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.