Spy in the Slushpile #6: Apple Valley Review


Spy in the Slushpile #6 Apple Valley Review

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 Apple Valley Review.

Our dossier: 
Apple Valley Review is an online literary journal.  It is published twice each year, once in spring and once in fall.  Each issue features a collection of beautifully crafted poetry, short fiction, and essays. They read emailed submissions year-round. They tell us "We prefer work that has both mainstream and literary appeal.  In other words, please send us work that is both accessible and finely written." And they have official hard sells before we even asked! Don't send them 1) true genre fiction (though literary pieces with genre elements are welcome); 2) work that is scholarly or critical, inspirational, or intended for children; 3)  erotica or work containing explicit language; or 4) anything that is particularly violent or disturbing.  

I poached the following helpful bits of information from various places on their website: 
The Apple Valley Review, a semiannual online literary journal, was founded in 2005 by its current editor, Leah Browning.  It is published in the spring and fall of the year.  Each issue features a collection of poetry, short fiction, and personal essays.


I outfitted my spy as an applepicker and sent him off deep in the virtual hills to speak with 
editor Leah Browning at Apple Valley Review headquarters. 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. 

This is really difficult to narrow down! I’m going to recommend a few pieces that stick in my mind for one reason or another, but there are many, many others besides these. 

Before Rehab,” a memoir excerpt by Tove Ditlevsen, was translated from the original Danish by Michael Goldman (Fall 2018). This segment is from Dependency, the third book in an autobiographical trilogy by Ditlevsen. (The trilogy is currently scheduled for release by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the United States in 2021.) The piece is very intimate, almost uncomfortably so, yet it speaks to the experiences of many other people. 

I typically prefer standalone pieces, not excerpts from longer work, so Tove Ditlevsen’s segment is not representative in that sense, but it does have an immediacy that I like. I am also particularly interested in translations.   

I’ve published a handful of pieces by Robert Radin over the years. “Noche Triste,” an essay (Spring 2018), and “Waiting on Celebrities,” a short story (Fall 2013), are my two personal favorites. He has a very strong and distinctive writing style.  

The Spring 2009 issue, for whatever reason, happened to contain several pieces of fiction that I have never forgotten. Those include stories by Matthew Grice (“Family Style”), Tai Dong Huai (“Backwards”), and—in an example of the way that, despite these issues having no particular theme, every issue contains surprising overlaps in content—Arrie Brown (“Goose Eggs”) and Jozefina Cutura (“The Egg Thief”).  

This issue also showcases many things I like in fiction: traditional and slightly more conceptual forms, flash fiction and fuller short stories, domestic and international writing, and variety in general.

We publish more poems than anything else in the journal, so these are even more difficult to choose. There are a lot of different lengths, styles, and topics that I find myself drawn to, so much so that I can’t think of anything that is truly representative of the whole. I’m going to single out two poems by Vince Corvaia: “Love and Reading” (Spring 2010) and “Optometrist” (Fall 2008). They are both short and, to my mind, perfect. Again, though, there are so many more selections that I’d like to highlight, both in poetry and prose—but I’ve obviously gone well over three here. 

Early on, I said that one of the reasons I choose to publish something is because I read it and immediately want to give it to someone else to read. The journal is my way of sharing those pieces.

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’m often looking for nonfiction prose (personal essays, creative nonfiction, memoir). This is a terrifically difficult form, I think. 

Personally, I have a strong interest in translated work. Though the majority of what is published in the journal is original work in English, I am always open to translations, especially from writers who don’t already have a following in the United States and from languages that are less frequently translated into English. I would like to see even more work by contemporary writers that has been translated into English (with the author’s permission, of course). 

Although I tend not to read strict genre fiction, I often like writing with genre elements (i.e., fabulism, magical realism). It doesn’t always sing to me, but in a general sense, I do like to read surrealist writing. 

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.
I do not like violence. That is the first thing that comes to mind. However, I also do sometimes read (and publish) work that has some violence in it, so there are exceptions. Anything really graphic, though, is probably a hard sell. 

In everyday life, I’m not opposed to swearing, but I prefer not to publish anything that is too blue. I’m always mindful that this is an online journal with no paywall or other restrictions, and it is widely available all over the world. I’ve gotten letters and messages about the journal from people of all ages. It is intended for adults, so of course there is going to be content that may not be appropriate for your six-year-old, but it does tend to be on the cleaner side. 

Also rhyming poetry. There are exceptions here, too—in the past couple of years, for example, an issue included sonnets—but I tend to prefer free verse. That’s just a personal preference. 

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!

Oh, wow. This is another question with a million answers. I apologize in advance for going over three again. 

Here are a few short stories and poems that just knocked me out:  

Adrift,” a piece of personal history by Dianne Belfrey (The New Yorker, November 7, 2016): 
He pulled off the tarp to reveal a beautiful wooden sailboat. I said he must be a sailor, and he replied that, no, he’d never been on a boat before he’d made this one, adding that he’d found a book at a stoop sale which had instructions for how to build a model boat, and thought that it would be fun to try to build a full-sized boat using it as a guide. I didn’t especially care about boats, or about sailing, but I did like stories such as this one. When I asked him whether it worked, he laughed and looked down and said that he supposed it did, as he’d sailed it on the Hudson. I blame everything on the boat. If it hadn’t been there, none of the rest would have happened. I wouldn’t have left my husband and run away with the man—I’ll call him William—who had built it.  

Withdrawals,” a piece of flash fiction by Brian Crawford (Vestal Review, January 2020): 
A month later, someone started making small withdrawals from his account, from ATMs up and down Nevada. The amounts were not material, and anyway it was his own money. His wife had insisted they each keep separate financial lives. “You never know what’ll happen,” she’d said, “and I always want to be able to make it on my own.” 

Halflife,” a poem by Meghan O’Rourke (Poetry, September 2005):
The blue square of light
in the window across the street
never goes dark—

When in the Dordogne,” a short story by Lily King (One Story, October 26, 2015): 
The summer of 1986, the summer I was fourteen, my parents went to the Dordogne for eight weeks. My father had been unwell, and it was thought that France, where he had studied as a young man, would enable his recovery. Through the university’s employment office, my mother hired two sophomores to house-sit for the time they would be out of the country. As I came with the house, these two college boys were obliged to take care of me, too.

Indulgence,” a short story by Susan Perabo (One Story, May 3, 2013): 
My mother was thrilled to be dying of brain cancer after a lifetime of smoking. She had dodged the bullet of lung cancer after all, she triumphantly announced to me on the phone that summer afternoon. All those years my brothers and I had hassled her, lectured her, begged her, berated her (“Don’t you want to see your grandchildren graduate from college?”)—and for what? Her lungs were fine!

The Poltroon Husband,” a short story by Joseph O’Neill (The New Yorker, March 12, 2018): 
Our house, the very clever work of a local architect, consists of five shipping containers raised several feet above the ground. Half of one container functions as a garden office and the other half functions as a covered footbridge over the stream that runs through our land; previously, you had to negotiate a pair of old planks. 

Rosendale,” a short story by Paul La Farge (The New Yorker, September 29, 2014): 
She also has an extensive library of self-help books, which implies that, for all her intelligence and self-possession, Dara may have some problems. She is for sure a recovering alcoholic; one of the first things she told April P was that she doesn’t allow drinking or drugs in her house. Also, and she did not warn April P about this, Dara is a toucher. She keeps finding reasons to squeeze April P’s arm, pat her hand, give her a mini shoulder rub.  

The Cameras,” a short story by Jennifer Kronovet (Bennington Review): 
My husband had warned me about the cameras before we moved to Guangzhou, saying that there would or wouldn’t be video cameras hidden all over our apartment and that someone in the Chinese government would or wouldn’t be watching us at all times. He told me that there was no point in having a password on my computer because the cameras would see what was on my computer screen. That’s how good the cameras that did or did not exist were.

This was after I rolled the windows down, hoping rushing wind would rid my clothes of his cologne. This was after I slid into my car, having barely opened the door, as if I were afraid his neighbors would spot me.

Cosmopolitan,” a short story by Akhil Sharma (The Atlantic, January 1997): 
Mrs. Shaw rang the bell again. Gopal woke confused and anxious, the state he was in most mornings. He was wearing only underwear and socks, but his blanket was cold from sweat.

Service Station,” a poem by Danusha Laméris (Tin House, March 21, 2018): 
You’re beautiful, sister, eat more fruit,
said the attendant every time my mother 
pulled into the 76 off Ashby Avenue.

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), or perhaps a 1-10 scale with 10 fully embracing the avant-garde and 1 wanting no part of it at all. 
TL;DR The journal's place on the spectrum of 'experimental'.
In terms of form, I think I tend more toward the traditional. That said, though, I sometimes like unusual constructions or at least slightly blurred lines (as with, for example, prose poems or more poetic personal essays). It’s difficult to say what I look for in experimentation, since I think of experimental writing as something unusual or new, so it would be something I haven’t seen before. 

There is definitely a line where experimentation can go too far, though, at least for me. If the form of the story is so creative and different that I can’t understand or follow it, then even if I might appreciate what the writer was trying to do, it might not really work for me as a story. I’d say I’m probably a six on your scale.  
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.
Just do your best to follow the guidelines. I keep word counts slightly flexible on purpose. If I say I’ll read stories up to 4,000 words, and you've got your story exactly where you want it at 4,005 words, I don’t want you to shave off five of them to fit what is in reality a pretty arbitrary number. I like to see what people want to show me. 

That said, this is an online journal, and I typically publish shorter pieces. They are easier to read in an online format. Please don’t send me novels or other book manuscripts, a 10,000-word story, a series of twenty epic poems, or anything that goes too far beyond the bounds of what the guidelines suggest.  

Obviously, as with any journal, if you are simultaneously submitting, and one of your pieces gets accepted elsewhere, please withdraw it as soon as possible. 

Other than that, as long as it fits the guidelines, go ahead and try; I’m open to a lot of different topics and forms of writing. It may already be apparent here, but I appreciate both a “less is more” and a “more is more” aesthetic, in a lot of different ways. 

For less experienced writers, I just want to add that rejection is unfortunately a big part of the submission process, both for writers and for editors. I don’t like turning down work, but the fact is that I read hundreds of submissions for every one that I accept. If you submit to the Apple Valley Review, and your piece isn’t accepted, but you have another that you think might be a good fit, please feel free to try us again. You’re not bothering me! I like to read. 


At this point our spy realized that Leah Browning had slowly been walking backwards during their conversation and as she finished her final answer, expertly timed and in stride, she stepped inside her door and slammed it on our spy's face. I have done it, it's a spy after all, and in all honesty Leah Browning 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.