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Editor Interview: Storm Cellar: A literary journal of safety and danger

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

A: Safety and danger.

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

A: Ninth Letter, Tin House, Glimmer Train, Black Clock, Forklift: Ohio, Fence, Coppernickel, The McNeese Review, Cemetery Dance, Stop Smiling, Gulf Coast; Birds LLC, Black Ocean Press, Dalkey Archive Press, Graywolf Press.

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

A: Lydia Davis, Carole Maso, C.D. Wright, Rae Armantrout, Evie Shockley, Elizabeth Bishop, Octavia Butler, Kathy Acker, Danzy Senna, Eula Biss; David Foster Wallace, Neil Gaiman, Percival Everett, Haruki Murakami, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings, Tomas Tranströmer, William Gass, David Sedaris.

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

A: It bears repeating: read a back issue before you decide what to send. Understand what your piece is doing, and edit ruthlessly to achieve that goal. Show us something we've never seen before, something that surprised you when you wrote it.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Cut diamond. Precise detail and negative space. Craft, inevitability, surprise. Bravery and play both.

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

A: Cover letters are not necessary. We have often chosen work by authors who did not list previous credits beforehand. Other things equal, we prefer work and/or authors somehow connected to the midwest; we are inclusive of this region, not a regional magazine. We make an effort to choose work by women, by people of color, by LGBTQ and disabled people, and by other people who are underrepresented on the literary scene; we are not seeking content "about" being a person who is underrepresented, though we have published such work (for example, a twelve-step confession about homelessness, and a story that defenestrates artificial beauty standards).

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

A: For unsolicited submissions, the first editor can often tell within a page, or even a few lines, if a piece isn't going to work out. Pieces that meet a basic threshold of publish-worthiness (a vague standard based partly on craft and partly on what we like and don't like, admittedly) are commented on, then read by at least two other editors who also comment. Pieces that pass to our final rounds of decision-making are re-read and voted up or down.

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

A: We have to enjoy what we publish, for a wide range of meanings of "enjoy"; we don't assume the general reader will give pieces the benefit of the doubt (or a couple of pages to build momentum). Sometimes we rule pieces out because they are technically accomplished examples of things we've seen many times before (Everybody Gathers for the Funeral, Divorce with Bitters, Alcoholic Writer/Professor Behaving Badly, New Yorker Readers' New York Adventures, First Wuv, Cancer!!!) and sometimes because of style and theme (Bathtub Story, Revenge Fantasy, Exposition Factory, Still Life with Kitchen Item, Screengrab, First Person Present Tense White Middle-Class Family-Style Psychological Realism). Rather than hold a large queue of the to-be-published, we often reject pieces we like very much, because of space considerations.

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

A: In short: very important. While we are a print magazine first, we embrace electronic submissions and distribution, and social media, as ways of expanding and engaging a wider community of readers and writers. We do think that there is a tendency to move aggressively into untested platforms and technologies, which can render the work published there ephemeral; we aim to give our authors' works staying power while being available to the widest audience, so we make our electronic archives permanent and free after a couple of years.