Spy in the Slushpile #10: Ghost Proposal

Spy in the Slushpile #10 Ghost Proposal

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 Ghost Proposal.

Our dossier: 
Ghost Proposal is an online journal of innovative writing that does not label the genre of pieces they publish. They say "we’re into writing that is aware of its own topography. We like work that engages with thought process. We think of writing as “a letter from a stranger that you can’t bear to throw away. It haunts you. It strengthens you.” (Mary Oliver). We want to publish your strange objects; the whispers sitting in between your shoulder blades". They emphatically do not publish narrative fiction or nonfiction. Their next submission window? Reading period: May 1-July 31, 2021

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. 
The excerpts from F. Daniel Rzicznek’s Leafmold in Issue 11 are an excellent example of the kind of essayistic poetry we seek. Erica Trabold’s hybrid/lyric essay “Notes on Handedness” is a strong example of the kind of poetic essays we seek. We look for pieces that call themselves one thing while masquerading as something else; within those crossing of boundaries, discovery occurs. That’s what we want to publish.
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)
Honestly, I think we’ve seen it all at this point! (Though please do keep surprising me!) But in the ~10 years that we’ve been operating this project, I still don’t see as many lyric essays as I’d like. We don’t publish narrative nonfiction / personal essays, but we do publish essays in the true sense of the word: pieces of writing that are an attempt, an experiment, an investigation, a quest; explorations of ideas. I’d really like to see more of these essays submitted in the future.

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 would recommend that writers don’t try to tailor their submission to something they think we want to see. We’d rather accept something in the writer’s true voice, in a form that’s authentic for them, than simply “looking” like something they think we would publish. For example, we receive a number of prose-block submissions because we do frequently publish prose blocks, but what is the prose block doing in your submission? Does it illustrate an investigation of some kind, and the prose block made the most sense for that as a form? If it’s unclear to you why your submission uses the form it uses, you just think we might like it, I would advise taking more time to consider the relationship between form and content in your work.
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 wish we could have published Sophie Calle before she was Sophie Calle—something like The Address Book or Venetian Suite or Ghosts (I know, I know… but it’s about the paintings that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in the ‘90s.) We have a pretty strong focus on emerging writers, so we like to serve as a platform for people to publish early experiments they might expand or revise later on. And I love everything that Mirene Arsanios is doing these days—using the essay as a malleable space for investigating the placelessness of language. Her Notes on Mother Tongues is out with Ugly Duckling Presse and her next book, The Autobiography of a Language, is forthcoming from Futurepoem.
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'.
It really is a tough question. We have an intuitive sense of what we’re looking for, and we always know it when we see it. It’s usually more of a quality that the piece possesses, rather than it having a certain recognizable form. For our purposes, “experimental” means that we want the piece to show its seams in some way. We want to be able to see behind the curtain, to witness the process unfolding within. As I mentioned earlier, we love seeing pieces that call themselves one thing while masquerading as another, like a play in verse or an essay in the form of a long poem or a new form forged through erasure. But above all, we’re looking for the piece to somehow demonstrate that it’s an experiment; that it doesn’t know all the answers, and that it may not even discover them by the end of the piece, though it will certainly keep searching. We don’t want a report on something you found but a documentation of the process of trying to find it. There also has to be something grounding about the piece so the reader understands why this matters to the writer and therefore why it should matter to the reader. We often turn down work where the experiment took such precedence that it was too difficult to see the heart behind the writing; the goal; the purpose. This happens especially with the most visually experimental work. We get it—it’s fun to explore those visual modes! But sometimes it’s too difficult to see the overall goal beyond something looking cool on the page. Or the visual experimentation is so complex that it becomes distracting and the reader can’t find their way into it. We also end up sending quite a few encouraging rejections when we can see that the writer just needs to spend more time investigating this mode they’ve created on the page. Sometimes you need to let the material sit for a while without you paying any attention to it. When you come back to it, it might have a better idea of what it’s trying to be.
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 would ask them very kindly to please not submit ghost stories. We do not publish ghost stories. The biggest misconception about our journal is that we publish ghost stories because the name of the journal is Ghost Proposal. But ghost stories are the #1 thing we are not looking for. I realize that may sound disappointing to people who made an assumption about the journal based on the name. But a quick perusal of the submission guidelines will clear up that confusion. For us, “ghost proposal” means the whisper of an offered attempt; a reaching out into the beyond, into a new space. We have certainly published essays and poems that investigated the idea of a ghost in some way, but that’s not the main reason we accepted those pieces. We accepted them because the form of the piece was in some way an investigation. It’s almost a coincidence sometimes when the investigation is related to some kind of ghost. So, please don’t send us ghost stories.


The editors then realized just how generous they'd already been with their time and immediately dissipated into the very air leaving just the echo of "DON'T SEND US GHOST STORIES" ringing in our spy's ears. Content that the thorough answers would really give readers the inside track, the spy took an extra moment to write this 'outro'. This has been another installment from the Spy in the Slushpile.