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Editor Interview: Cholla Needles Magazine

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

A: Work that reflects desert

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

A: There are many great publications out there we admire. Locally we love Howl, World Split Open, and San Pedro River Review.

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

A: I'm guessing this is a trick question. Like asking a mother "who is your favorite child?" I love every writer I publish, as well as every artist I publish. All are definitely my favorites. And being a stubborn old mule of an editor, I imagine that this philosophy will continue far far into the future till my mind is totally gone gone gone.

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

A: Our focus is to accept material that reflects the sparseness of the desert around us. The work we accept does NOT have to have the theme of desert - that would make for a very boring litmag. The work simply has to move at a steady, unrushed pace and leave lots of space for the reader's mind to appreciate the material they are reading. There are many great urban magazines that publish fast-paced and sophisticated imagery that reflects city spaces. Think of us as a rural desert, because that's where we're located. Our tastes are world wide, having published work from Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America - that's not unusual because each of these great areas have deserts of there own. Add to that our deep held belief that all humans have a place within their mind that resembles the desert and craves for the solitude of the desert. So, if you happen to be living in a metropolis - that fact would net keep you from being published here. If you write a piece that finds that place in your mind satisfied, then please feel free to submit it here.

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

A: Many writers include in their introductory email a note that informs me of how many times they've lost the Pushcart Prize and the Best-of-Net Prize. As an editor and a human, I really don't need to know how many prizes you've missed out on in your life. And to be totally honest, I really don't care how many prizes you've won or plan on winning. I want to know about your current writing state, and the audience you want to reach. Share your heart. Those letters give me a great reason to open your manuscript. When you tell me "I've been nominated 43 times for the Pushcart", you're telling me you're a loser and not encouraging me to open your manuscript to see how you're going to excite me today. You also are admitting rather loudly that your ego is more important than your manuscript. While it's not going to stop me from reading what you sent, you do need to know you've got that "strike against you" when I start reading. That's not really a happy place to be if you're looking for acceptance from an old curmudgeon. And, just so you know, I have been pleasantly surprised from time to time, and I have accepted work from folks who lost the Pushcart Prize 43 times. So, it's not 100% rejection. Just sort of a weird way to introduce yourself. What I want you to take away from tis sermon is I am looking for writers who want to continue to write for our audience year after year. Writers who want to be a part of a literary family and are interested in having consistent readers who will learn to love their work and buy their book and talk about them with their friends, and support your literary career.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: A 3,200 word story or esay, or 6 500 word flash stories or essays, or 6 one page poems, or one 6 page poem, or 42 haiku or 16 pieces of art to include throughout the magazine, or any combination of all the above. I'd rather you send more than less work. Each accepted author gets a lot of space in the magazine, and if you send only one poem I have no real way to judge the overall quality of your work. So, don't be shy. We give our audience 10 writers and at least one artist per month. Send enough material to wow the audience. Key word: audience. Send work that others will want to read and you'll find a good home here.

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

A: Most submitters are pretty spot-on. We do get the occasional writer or artist who feels that we made a big mistake by rejecting them and glory in writing nasty letters and threats. A rejection is not personal, it's simply an acknowledgement that the pieces you sent this time are not right for the magazine at this time. We also keep a list of those who sent us a group of poems that are accepted, and then receive a note from them a few months later after we've laid out the magazine stating "I am withdrawing my submission from your magazine because Big Shot magazine, who is So Much more Important to My Career accepted it yesterday." I definitely will not ever accept any work from those folks again - not because I don't like their work, but because they are wasting my personal time and I can't trust them. I'm not sure when the simultaneous submissions thing started, but it is not a nice thing. The good news is there are many magazines who openly advertise they want simultaneous submissions. If that's your thing - you'll find the right place. Just don't expect respect from old guys who believe your word is your bond. The good news? 99% of submitters are spot-on, and do not play these games.

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

A: I do like cover letters. Tell me about your day. I've mentioned before though - your previous publication credits don't mean anything here. What matters here is the submission at hand, and is it coming to the right magazine. Most folks who have read this far already know there's another magazine they'll submit exactly the same material to that will accept it. And that's good!

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

A: Every submission is different. If the first few lines wow me, of course I'll read on. If it's a poem - I'll definitely read to the end. If it continues to wow me, it gets accepted. That simple. Stories and essays are different for me as a editor/reader. If you haven't grabbed me in the first 100 words, I probably won't read till the end. I do try my best to keep my email box clean of submissions, so you should hear from me rather quick.

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

A: If I am wowed by any material, it is returned to later in the day. If it still wows me, you will hear from me in a positive manner. I do suggest re-writes if something is a bit off and the rest of the material is sound.

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

A: I read submissions for 3-5 hours per day. In the afternoons I work on laying out the magazine and current books for several hours. Then I sneak in time to read books that arrived in the mail. Many writers send their current books for our library, and I love to read good portions of the books so when folks come to borrow books I can steer them to material they will enjoy. And somehow or another I find an hour a day to keep up with our facebook and web postings, as well as planning events for the month ahead. Just like everyone else, this pandemic year has turned us into zoom zombies, and we had 42 zoom events before becoming burned out on them. Now that things are opening up a little I am leading Poetry Walks outdoors through our beautiful desert in small groups of six so we can socially distance and not need amplification. At the same time I am planning and dreaming about the larger poetry events we'll be returning to as soon as possible. We have one large event every month to celebrate the new issue and new books we've published each month.

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

A: We are a "traditional publisher" in that all of our work appears in print and not on-line. That's only because I love the permanence of books and being able to carry them everywhere and being able to have copies available to everyone and not just those privileged enough to have on-line access. That said, I embrace modern technology in many ways. 99% of our submissions are through email. All are events are well attended because of facebook and our web page. I've been publishing monthly since 1973, and can say without an ounce of hesitation the POD has made my life much easier. Where we used to type, layout, print, collate and mail each issue every single month, now all I have to do is layout the issue and someone else prints, and coallates the issues for us. I admire publications who have stayed "tradiitional" - especially those who are still doing letterpress. We love you guys! Just holding those books is a joy. We grew up as a mimeo magazine who later transitioned to an offset press (printing process was faster) and have now transitioned to POD so the printing process is mysterious and invisible. How the heck they print one copy and have it appear in my mailbox in the desert 2 days later is a fine mystery of modern life. I never did letterpress - bit always admired them and still do. There's a place for all of us!

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

A: Everything is individual. I can count on two hands the writers whom I've never had to edit at all. Some writers I do substantive editing. And, for sure - I never accept work I've edited. I send it back to the author as suggestions, and they get final say. Sometimes they come back with even better improvements, sometimes they accept the eits, and sometimes they simply reject the edits. But I do not accept my suggested edits for the magazine without the author's knowledge. In all cases I work very hard to maintain the authors words - meaning I never add words - I usually simply delete words. It's all good. Many writers are grateful to see their work, and there are a few who have conniption fits because someone dared to suggest their work wasn't perfect. And it's all good. I love you all for having the guts and the determination to send your work out to the world to be inspected and rejected time and time again. If not for you, mags like Cholla Needles wouldn't exist. And I'd be an old drunk instead of an editor. So, bless you for blessing me every day with your work!

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

A: Yes, of course. I love each person I accept and want to do my best to make sure they get further exposure if I can help them do that in any way as an editor. I am still old-fashioned and do not list the authors who have been nominated, nor do I let them know. I only want them to know when they have won an award, not when they've lost. All my writers and artists are winners for being published here in the first place, and if we can beef up their popularity even more by helping them win an award from outside of our circle, I'm all for that!