Spy in the Slushpile #5: Gulf Stream


Spy in the Slushpile #5 Gulf Stream

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 Gulf Stream.
Our dossier: 
Gulf Stream Literary Magazine 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.

I poached the following helpful bits of information from various places on their website: 
Gulf Stream Magazine champions vibrant and eclectic literature and art. Based in beautiful Miami, Florida, we publish emerging and established writers from the USA and beyond. Past contributors include Sherman Alexie, Steve Almond, Jan Beatty, Lee Martin, Robert Wrigley, Dennis Lehane, Liz Robbins, Stuart Dybek, David Kirby, Ann Hood, Ha Jin, B.H. Fairchild, Naomi Shihab Nye, F. Daniel Rzicznek, and Connie May Fowler. Gulf Stream Magazine is supported by the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.


I decided to take this mission on myself, I've built up a little rapport with the fine folks at Gulf Stream Literary Magazine so via messenger pigeon I was able to interview editor Natalie Satakovski. The transcript follows.

1) I always recommend that potential submitters read their most recent couple issues 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 so glad that you recommend people to read current issues—it’s amazing how many submitters don’t do this. As an editor reading through the slush pile, it’s obvious who hasn’t read our magazine.

Because Gulf Stream Magazine is run by MFA candidates at Florida International University, we have a revolving door of managing editors. I think each editor has their unique approach to what they choose to publish. In my case, I defer to my genre editors to make the final call on which pieces we accept or decline.

That said, there are definite trends to what we publish based the culture of our program. Here are a few examples.

Not trying to suck up or anything, but I think that your poem "[START AT THE BEGINNING]" is a wonderful example of what we tend to like because of its clever form. It was chosen by our 2020 Summer Contest judge Ashley M Jones, who was formerly on the editorial team of Gulf Stream but has gone on to become a superstar poet in her own right.

Another piece I was proud to publish was the creative nonfiction piece "Bayou Oysters, Bayou Oil", because of how evocative it is, while seamlessly weaving in historical detail. I think anyone can enjoy this piece. It was chosen by judge Dawn Davies as a 2020 Summer Contest finalist.

In fiction, "Street Parking" by Ashley Hand reveals our feminist streak. It was chosen as winner by contest judge Laura Lee Smith and published by editor Sam Leon.

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)

We always want more submissions in creative nonfiction. If anyone out there reading this writes CNF, please submit to us! 

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.
Let me speak to fiction submissions as that’s where I have more expertise and influence compared to poetry and creative nonfiction. 

We get sooo many fiction submissions that are written in pedestrian prose. When your competition has sparkling prose, with gorgeous evocative details that the reader savors long after reading, then why should we finish reading your piece? I'm not saying it needs to be flowery⁠—I'm a big fan of minimalism myself. But the quality on the sentence level often signals the piece will have issues with character and plot too, and generally fail to give a satisfactory reading experience. 

Also fun fact: Titles tend to give a lot away in terms of the quality of the piece to come. I would never decline a piece based on title alone--I will always read some or all of it--but more often than not a weirdly awkward title presages an amateur unpublishable submission.  

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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'.
For our Fall 2020 issue, I’m making a gutsy move by publishing an experimental and explicit piece called “The Joy You Feel”. When it came up for discussion, this high-octane piece polarized our fiction team. But Fiction Editor Michael Sheriff and I love transgressive and queer literature, so we decided to accept it.

For me, experimental language should be appropriate to the content. "The Joy You Feel" has a stream of consciousness narrative that is as fragmented and tormented as the protagonist mind set, so the style really pulled me in and helped me feel this character’s experience.

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 think emerging writers are accustomed to reading high quality published pieces, and ironically, doing so doesn’t give them perspective on the quality of their own work. You really need to trawl through a slush pile yourself before you gain awareness of what mediocrity truly is and how to make your own work stand out.


Natalie Satakovski was a gracious host, 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.