What We Look for in Poems: Sizzle & Steak

Dana Johnson, the Final Judge for our 2012 Fiction Contest  (which closes on October 31st, fictioners!), told us in an interview that she has no patience for “stories that are clever but have no heart.” She went on to explain that, though linguistic fireworks are important to a piece, what’s most important (to her) is whether or not the piece is trying to initiate a larger conversation with the reader and the world. In poetry, I think about this as a distinction between sizzle and steak.

You know how, when you go to Applebee’s, somebody always orders that dish that comes out sizzling and smoking, and it smells great (by Applebee’s standards), and everyone thinks, man, I should’ve ordered that? I’ve always been intrigued by that dish, but I suspect that the steak leaves much to be desired. In the same way, while I love sizzle in poems—dynamic use of language, surprising lines, dope images, lovely music—I’m also concerned about the steak. The ideal poem has both, I think—sizzle and steak, dazzle and stakes—and that’s one of the main things I look for when reading for Indiana Review.

(Read more after the jump!) Read more…

On Openings and Intrigants

With this blog post I’d like to return to the subject of wading through the slush pile, though I’m on a less curmudgeonly mission this time.  Once you’ve read enough submissions, it’s fairly easy to diagnose the many ways stories can fail.  It’s far more challenging, however, to explain why successful stories are, well, successful.  My project with this blog post is to try to identify at least one shared trait of successful stories, with the hope of helping some of you as you revise and refine your work to submit it to IR and elsewhere.  (Speaking of submitting, don’t forget that you still have time to submit to our fiction contest.)

As far as I can tell, every good or great story must have a good or great opening.  Perhaps this is a fairly obvious observation, but I can’t think of a single good or great story that opens with a mediocre first page.  When you submit your fiction to journals, the opening pages of your story are absolutely essential in determining whether or not your story makes it beyond the slush pile.  The opening convinces a reader to devote his or her time to reading the rest of your story, rather than moving on to another story, and editors are readers with a virtually limitless supply of other stories to move on to. Read more…

Inside IR: Meet Fiction Editor Joe Hiland

Clockwise from top left: Mark Twain, Ron Swanson, Sean Connery, Topper Hiland and Joe Hiland

It’s true, Fiction Editor Joe Hiland has discerning taste in literature, whisky, and canines, but he also has a soul. Despite his dry wit and carnivorous tendencies, Joe is a true Duke Silver: sensitive, compassionate, and as tender on the inside as a medium-rare steak. Read on to see for yourself.

JL: What is the last piece of writing that knocked the wind out of you?

JH: We usually think of writing knocking the wind out of us (or whatever image we want to use) when we read something for the first time, but it’s interesting when a familiar piece of writing knocks the wind out of you.  I recently had that experience with Bobbie Ann Mason’s story “Shiloh.”  I’ve read that story at least a dozen times, and I was rereading it the other day in preparation for a class I’m teaching.  I was taken aback by the precision of Mason’s language and the richness of even the simplest details in her story.  I’d forgotten the first line, and it caught me pleasantly off-guard during my reread:  “Leroy Moffitt’s wife, Norma Jean, is working on her pectorals.”   So much of what’s at stake in the story is encompassed in that simple opening line.

JL: What do you look for a good story to do?

Read more, after the jump!

Read more…

Notes Toward Apps To Reconnect Me (And/Or Other People) With (My) Childhood

Did you hear that the Paris Review now has its own iOS app? Here at the Indiana Review, we would also like to have our own iOS app, but, as winter approaches, we are still working on learning to make fire. Earlier this week, EIC Jen Luebbers got us really close to our goal of a warm workspace by leading group prayers to a horned god she learned about on Wikipedia and tearing up for kindling a set of felt-covered chapbooks her students had carefully bound last semester (poetry burns so well), but then a breeze came through the window and blew away the embers and now there is goat blood oxidizing across the walls of the office and nobody wants to clean it up. Recently I decided I don’t want to be an important literary figure anymore because I feel like continuing to do that “job” for the rest of my life will just involve me getting increasingly sadder and poorer and more self-involved until I die, so I’m auditioning new careers for myself now, and one thing I am maybe thinking about doing, especially in light of this new development from the Paris Review, is app designer, which seems like an important and potentially lucrative contemporary career and also still kind of “creative,” which is maybe important to my sense of self or what is left of it since my poetry collection “i noticed but it was too late and you were gone and i felt like i couldn’t do anything besides send an impotent text” was rejected by Muumuu House. Another thing I am considering being is a professional nostalgia facilitator, which is not actually a specific career yet but is only bound to become more and more important (and more importantly, lucrative) as Americans confronting the grim facts of contemporary reality retreat into nostalgia for their youth cultures (or earlier youth cultures) at younger and younger ages (I hear that Rookie is launching a new vertical for children who are preverbal but still can’t get over the fact that Freaks and Geeks was canceled after one season and Liz Phair did that album with the Matrix). Anyway, this week I “worked” on essaying both app design and nostalgia facilitation.

App that uses Google Maps API to require user, at a certain point in the middle of the afternoon, regardless of what “important” thing user is doing, to go outside for an hour. GPS functionality enables app to verify that user has gone outside; if user has not gone outside within five minutes of being asked or if user comes back inside more than five minutes before the hour time limit is up, app “takes away your toys” (randomly deletes entertainment apps from the user’s mobile device) and/or blocks access to user’s email and messaging apps (“time out” mode).

App for tablets that populates a high resolution three dimensional rendering of a beige shag carpet with a pile of Legos distributed through the weave of the carpet in randomly generated patterns of construction and deconstruction. User is not given functionality to build anything with the bricks because, given user’s age and general state of high anxiety and general state of low imagination, the pressure to build things with the digital bricks, so wonderful and infinite as a child, might seem frustrating or too much pressure or just pointless (designer does not want to inspire in user questions like “how can I monetize my lego creation?”). Instead of building, user, through multi-touch gestures and swipes, picks up the scattered bricks from the fake carpet and drags them into a large blue plastic receptacle for storage. User receives occasional achievement bonuses for particularly large drops. On having put away all the blocks, user is told by my mother’s voice, “Good job. Thanks!” and app is “put away” (locked by OS) until next day.

Read more…

Dating Around: On Simultaneous Submissions

In response to my last post on the advantages of submitting to literary contests, one reader asked:

Is sim-subbing to multiple contests a no-no?

The short answer:

No! (= Not a no-no = Sim-subbing a go-go)

Indiana Review‘s policy for simultaneous submissions, whether to be considered for a prize or regular publication, is:

We’ll take ’em.

IF, however, your piece is accepted by another journal or contest, we ask that you inform us immediately. We will shed a single tear, then send you our congratulations and remove your piece from consideration.

We publish only previously unpublished work, and we award prizes to previously un-awarded work.

Occasionally, our editors and readers fall in love with a poem or story or essay. We start imagining our future together, envisioning those words at home between the covers of the next Indiana Review. We propose publication—sure that this writer will say yes!–only to find out that the work has been promised to another.

As if the editors of literary journals don’t suffer enough.

Feel free to send out your work to multiple journals, but please tell us as soon as your work is accepted elsewhere. Quit playing games with our hearts. Tell us straight—we can take it.

What this means for simultaneously submitting to contests:

If you submit to and then withdraw from a contest after your work has been under consideration, Indiana Review cannot refund your reading fee.

If you break up with us, we can’t refund you for the cost of our first date.

Therefore, before you submit the same work to multiple contests, which usually involve reading fees, you must weigh your costs and benefits and decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

Take a look at my previous post discussing the advantages—and risks—of submitting to contests (and this smart post over at The Review Review), and consider submitting to Indiana Review‘s 2012 Fiction Prize, judged by Dana Johnson.

We understand you want to keep your options open. We don’t have to be exclusive from the start. If you give us a chance though, we promise we’ll treat you right.