Editor Interview: Vastarien: A Literary Journal

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Nightmare made Normal

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: Nightscape Press, Word Horde Press, Martian Migraine Press, Tartarus Press, Wormwood, Hippocampus Press, Dunhams Manor Press, Thinking Horror, Cadabra Records, PseudoPod, Lovecraft eZine

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: VASTARIEN is a journal grounded in the writing and influence of Thomas Ligotti, so obviously he's the first writer we have to name here. In addition to him, and in addition to the other writers included in the first issue of our journal (whose table of contents can be viewed at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/867956165/vastarien-a-literary-journal), we very much like the work of -- in no particular order -- Livia Llewellyn, S. P. Miskowski, Junji Ito, Matthew M. Bartlett, T. E. D. Klein, Kelly Link, Helen Marshall, Gemma Files, Ramsey Campbell, Gwendolyn Kiste, Laird Barron, Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan, Nicole Cushing, Victor LaValle, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin, and quite a few others that we could name. As for artists, we like the work of, among others, Dave Felton, CV Hunt, Yves Tourigny, Andrea Bonazzi, and Aeron Alfrey.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: VASTARIEN is a nexus for Ligottian writing and art. This means it encompasses not just the massive influence of Thomas Ligotti's work on the current generation of writers and artists, but the veritable galaxy of writers who have influenced Ligotti himself, such as Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Bruno Schulz, Vladimir Nabokov, William S. Burroughs, Thomas Bernard, Paul Valéry, Arthur Schopenhauer, Peter Wessel Zapffe, Douglas Harding, and Jorge Luis Borges. Our overall zone of interest is thus broad and focused at the same time. It includes not just supernatural horror as such, but Buddhism, Gnosticism, nihilism, philosophical pessimism, antinatalism, aberrant psychology, sociocultural criticism, film and literary criticism, surrealism, decadence, dark spirituality, and more. But the place and presentation of these matters is refracted through the lens, as it were, of the Ligottian sensibility.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: Read our submission guidelines at https://grimscribepress.submittable.com/submit/134933/vastarien-women-in-horror-month and make an honest assessment of whether or not your work resonates with the vibe there. It would perhaps be an easy mistake to think we're simply looking for horror fiction, poetry, essays, and visual art in general. We are not. We're looking for such things as they intersect with the types of subjects, themes, interests, concerns, emotions, and issues laid out in those guidelines and discussed in our response to the previous question.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Our ideal submission is one that flat-out transfixes us with its vision and voice. It also helps if technical literary and artistic skills, and a real commitment to the craft, are blindingly evident. Highly polished manuscripts, for example, that are free of careless errors -- including on the stylistic level -- elicit the best reception.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: We receive an unfortunate number of submissions that are sent to our email address, as opposed to being sent through the submission portal at our website. Our website contains a clear submission link, along with a clear notice of when we are (and are not) open to submissions. All submissions should be sent through there.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: The more 1) succinct and 2) informative the cover letter is, the better. If a submitter can achieve the perfect fusion of these two qualities, that's a winner. The briefest of self-profiles, listing the briefest of relevant credits and personal background info is what we're looking for. Additionally, cover letters that observe standard rules of etiquette -- without, for instance, being inappropriately joking, folksy, or forward/familiar -- are appreciated.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: We can sometimes tell from the first few paragraphs, or even the first few sentences, if a story, article, essay, or poem is going to be right for us. There's something about the literary tone and quality, and about the voice, that can readily identify itself as right, or not, for VASTARIEN. However, we do read all submissions through from start to finish, and the editors confer quite seriously with each other over all matters of acceptance and rejection. We're well aware of the time, effort, and self that go into producing any piece of writing, not to mention the courage and initiative that are required to submit such a thing for someone else's editorial assessment and judgment. So we're grateful to everyone who decides to take a chance on us, and we make sure we respect that decision by devoting full attention to all submitted work.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: It's our goal to produce a pleasing blend of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork for each issue, so to a certain extent the pieces that we accept early in the reading process shape our decisions about pieces that we come across later in the reading process. We generally evaluate submissions in the order in which they were received. This has no particular bearing on whether it's better for someone to submit early or late in a given submission period. It's simply a fact about our editorial process.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: Submittable makes the reading process streamlined and easy, so when we have time -- which has to be carved out from the full-time professional and family commitments that occupy the non-VASTARIEN portions of our lives -- each of us individually cues up one or more submitted works and carefully enters into them, deliberately giving them a full opportunity to capture us and demand that we publish them. This may take place at any time of the day or night. We have vigorous conversations with each other by leaving comments on each piece in the Submittable system. Each editor also enters a vote -- yes or no -- for each submission. In the case of disagreements, each editor makes a case for her or his decision. Once we have achieved a consensus, whether by unanimous initial vote or through conversation and persuasion, we notify the submitter and then continue the process for the remaining items in the pile.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: Obviously, we endorse embracing modern technologies by the mere fact that we use Submittable for our submission system. We also promote and advertise the journal via social media. For a small publisher like Grimscribe Press (the newly founded press for which VASTARIEN is the flagship publication), the use of such technologies would seem to be almost non-negotiably necessary in the current sociocultural circumstance, as there's no more practically available and affordable way to publish and distribute content, and to let people know about it. Still, we really respect any publisher that continues to take the purely traditional route.

Q: How much do you edit an accepted piece prior to publication?

A: We engage directly with all authors on the matter of content revisions. We provide substantive editing as part of a collaborative exchange with our authors. We also provide line and copy editing. Each piece that appears in VASTARIEN is the product of a substantial editorial back-and-forth between us and the writer. Our goal is for each story, poem, or essay, in both form and substance, to be the most perfect embodiment of what it ought to be. We do not, however, assume totalitarian control of any piece. All submissions belong by moral right to their respective authors, who are therefore given the opportunity to approve the final edits.

Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: Yes -- so far we've submitted works for HWA's Bram Stoker Awards, the Shirley Jackson Awards, and the Best American Short Stories/Essays/and Poetry anthologies for consideration. We'll be submitting work for the World Fantasy and the British Fantasy Awards as well once they are open for submissions.