Spy in the Slushpile #9: Whale Road Review

Spy in the Slushpile #9 Whale Road 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 Whale Road Review.
Our dossier: 
Whale Road Review is a journal of poetry and short prose founded and edited by the awesome poet Katie Manning. Their website gives the scoop: "The journal takes its name from an old kenning. The ocean is the whale road. Whale road. Those words conjure an image of whales moving in patterns through the waters of the world. “Whale road” makes me re-see the ocean. Whale Road Review publishes poetry, flash fiction, and micro essays that don’t demand too much time up front, but somehow leave readers changed. We hope readers of all sorts will enjoy these short pieces in stolen moments—waiting in line, using the restroom, riding a train, steeping tea."

For the Whale Road Review there was only one choice of operatives: Viktor, the Russian Beluga Spy Whale. I pulled some strings and the FSB—er, I mean, not them... the Russian Federal Research Institute Of Fishiries and Oceanography allowed me to transmit the dossier and questions for Katie Manning, Whale Road Review's editor. The transcript follows. 

1) I always recommend that potential submitters read the most recent issue or two 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. 
We're looking for creative work that's memorable and meaningful. We're not afraid of grief, but we also love playfulness. We think everyone should read all of the pieces we've published, of course, but here's a quick list that might show some of the range of styles and subjects that we're drawn toward publishing...

"Arcadia Revisited" by Jordi Alonso
"Submerged" by gina marie bernard
"Dear Alicia," by Jenn Givhan
"Dios Mío" by Shemaiah Gonzalez
"Funerary" by Sonja Johanson
"What I Don't Know" by Aaron Magloire
"Destination" by Luci Shaw
"Morning After" by Sarah Broussard Weaver 

As a bonus, here's one of our pedagogy papers that readers have found especially useful: "A Case for Workshop Alternatives" by Karen Craigo. I've been using it in my own classes for a few years now too! 
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 joked at our 5-year anniversary reading that I wish we got more dinosaur poems, but I'm not joking. I think McKenzie Lynn Tozan's "Shopping for T-Rex" in Issue 1 is our only one so far. Otherwise, we get a really good variety of submissions, but we would always love to see more pedagogy papers.

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 can't speak for all of our peer reviewers, but I can tell you one of my hard sells: I'm so tired of reading from the perspective of a man describing a woman's appearance. I see this more often in prose, but it happens in poetry too, and it's almost never done in a way that I enjoy. I'd also be happy if I never read another lazily ableist cliché again: "turning a blind eye," "falling on deaf ears," etc. 
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, so many! Here are a few I've read or re-read recently...
"The Mother" by Jen Stewart Fueston
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'.
We're definitely open to experimental writing. We don't get many submissions that I would call experimental. I think "A Glossary of Fathers" by Morgan Eklund in our latest issue moves into experimental territory, but hermit crab prose isn't too far out there; the chart form it takes is still familiar. It's always hard to speak of writing hypothetically, but I think one of my "lines" for experimental writing (or any writing) is this: If it's interesting in the moment but instantly forgettable, then it's not doing the work that I want a piece of writing to do.
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.
Oh, I would love to be someone's bookish shoulder nerd! :) I'd whisper: Read the guidelines. Don't say "Dear Sir" or insult your own work in the cover letter. Just be friendly and let us read your work. We're excited to read your work. And if we ask you to submit again, we really do want to see more! 
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'm so glad you asked! I've given presentations about this in the past, and my understanding has evolved over the last several years. I think what differentiates prose poetry from flash fiction is the genre label. :) Seriously, I've seen pieces labeled prose poetry that I thought, "Why isn't this flash fiction?" and vice versa. What I've come to realize is that I don't care about deciding if a piece is really poetry or fiction; I care about how those genre labels affect readers' expectations and reception of the piece. I've experimented with this in my classes: if I give students a piece called "Clean Dead Leaves" by Forrest Roth and tell them it's poetry, then they tend to focus on the diction, the intense repetition, and the imagery. If I tell them that the piece was published as flash fiction, then they focus on different details, especially asking questions about the narrator, setting, and situation. 
8) What other journals do you really enjoy reading, or do you feel especially akin to?
Oh, there are so many! I'll shout out to some fellow online journals: Stirring, Glass, THRUSH, Brevity, Rogue Agent, Waxwing, The Adroit Journal...and the brand new perhappened mag seems like a kindred spirit too.

Viktor was a very good spy and he received many treats for doing such a great job, and editor Katie Manning was a lovely host. Because not every journal will be quite so accommodating we'll keep reporting back from the various assignments of our Spy in the Slushpile.