WIGLEAF: For an independent journal, Quick
Fiction has been around a long time: seven years, twelve issues. Is it
time to start mythologizing? An origin story, how about?
JP: I love origin stories, actually. PBS pledge season with endless
hours of Power of Myth are just about my favorite. Our beginnings are
probably not so riveting. We were walking around Jamaica Pond (in
Boston) one afternoon during the summer of 2001 and this thing came to
mind. See, if this were a good origin story I'd say that a squirrel
whispered the idea in our ears. Sorry to disappoint!
WIGLEAF: 'We' being you and Adam?
JP: Yeah, Adam is the Publisher and the Husband in this operation. In
2001 he'd just moved to Boston and in with me. He'd had a literary
in college. That my the first time any editor actually invited me to
submit my writing. He had ulterior motives. But when he moved to Boston
wanted to get a new project going and I really liked short shorts. And
that's that. Our origins.
WIGLEAF: At times, 'finishing' reading a
literary journal, even a very good one, can come to seem like a
responsibility. But no one we know has ever succeeded in making an
issue of QF last more than a weekend. Do you get this response from
readers often? That reading your journal is an intense and sort of
addicting experience? Is this a response that makes sense to you?
JP: We're lucky in that we do have a lot of loyal
subscribers. And we're definitely hooked too. I've always thought short
shorts were lots of fun. Not that I can't tolerate work that doesn't
entertain, but a good piece of "quick fiction" has to have fireworks
for words. You know, as an editor I always enjoy hearing people talk
about what they do with the journal (like read it in a weekend). We
were at a bookfair once and this woman rounded the corner and started
fluttering her arms and making these excited noises. I thought maybe
she was about to tell me that we'd published her work or something.
Instead she said "Quick Fiction! I have issue nine in my bathroom!" It
was a really odd realization for me—that Quick Fiction nine
was in that
woman's bathroom and probably others' too.
WIGLEAF: This will seem like a strange
veering, but have you ever, in declining a story, written that it was
'not a good fit' for QF?
JP: I really can't stand that phrase. It somehow implies that there is
a one-size-fits-all Quick Fiction story. And I think it implies it in a
pretty condescending way. I get the sense you feel similarly? Actually,
there was a woman who worked with us for a brief time who used it with
regularity so I can't really say we've never used the phrase. But I'll
go on the record as saying it irked me whenever I saw her use it. Right
now we have a couple of standard notes that go out. I hope the notes
kind. It's definitely my intention to be kind. I will occasionally give
writers feedback, but not always. Some writers really don't respond
well to it
and it basically ruins my day when I get hate mail from people who
misinterpreted my intentions.
WIGLEAF: It would have been a surprise to
hear you answer that the other way—because there's definitely
no one-size-fits-all QF story. In the new issue, for
example–and this is just one way of seeing
it–readers will find what they might be tempted to place in
all sorts of different boxes—fabulism, realism, lyric, faux
memoir, fable, monologue. Do you go for variety in your issues?
Or do you just pick the stories you pick? If that's the case, can you
say something about what you value in short shorts? Is it always the
same thing Adam values?
JP: I'm always looking for stories that surprise me or that lead me to
places I've never been. I obsess over strong beginnings and strong
which is asking for a lot when there's not a lot in between. Adam and I
both really appreciate humor in short shorts. I have a lot of pet
peeves, which we probably shouldn't get in to because many of them
rational and I've been persuaded to publish despite them in the past.
We don't always agree, but I think that's what makes it fun. I have
some fond memories of Adam and I and our Associate Editor (at the time)
Dana Burchfield having drag-out arguments over story selection. We're
all guilty of bartering, begging, and cheating to get a story in.
WIGLEAF: You've had a couple of great
stories of your own come out recently—"The Start to a Long
Weekend with My Husband's Old Friends," in elimae, and "Saddle," in
Word Riot. Do the editor and the writer coexist peacefully in you?
JP: I'm more at peace now with this than ever before. As an editor I
feel like I'm always in No mode. We get thousands of stories a year and
we publish less than 1%. That's a whole lot of No I have to deal out.
But when I'm writing I need to be able to shift into Yes mode. I need
ok with allowing things to be on the page even if they're not quite
right yet. If I'm not ok with it then everything gets deleted and
that. I also became a part of Kim Chinquee's Zoetrope group Hot Pants.
Actually both of those stories you just mentioned came out of Hot
Pants. Love the Hot Panthers.
WIGLEAF: You've sponsored some readings in
recent years, yes? Do you see writers of very short stories getting
'away from the page' and moving towards the kind of performance of
their work we may be more used to seeing in poets?
JP: Yeah, Quick Fiction is part of the Dirty Water reading series here
in Boston, along with Fringe, Redivider, Handsome, and Black Ocean
Books. Some writers enjoy reading their work to an audience and others
don't. I don't know if I could really generalize about it. But I do
know that audiences seem to really respond well to short shorts at
readings. It's probably that whole attention span issue.
WIGLEAF: Let's get back to the mag. One of
the (many!) things we love about QF is the sequencing. How much do you
think about the sequencing of an issue? Is it as fun as we imagine? How
does it work?
JP: This is a secret. Not any more though. We sort by street name and
then pagination comes into play. If we see obvious theme issues (one
dead dog story after another) we'll mix it up a little bit.
WIGLEAF: That's so wild! In the new one,
Mary Miller's "Los Angeles" seems such a perfect second
story—longer than Szilvia Molnar's "Mine," and possessed of a
little more sink-in-ability, maybe, but still light, full of
interesting spaces.... This is kind of
like mix tapes. You spend years trying to sequence the perfect mix,
only to discover that the iTunes randomizer produces something more
Next Q: Our guess is that there are more very short stories being
written than ever, and that there may be more of a culture of reading
and writing them than there was when you started QF, in '01. This may
be a hard one to answer, but what kind of changes, if any, have you
seen in terms of how people approach writing short shorts, how they
seem to view the possibilities?
JP: Well, I guess you can thank the Adam-izer for any enjoyment you get
of the story sequence of our upcoming issue 13.
To answer your question, people were definitely writing them before
2001. And a few really wonderful journals were publishing them. But the
great thing about now for writers is that there are lots more places
(print and especially online) interested in publishing them. It's
simsubs all the way for writers. And places like Rose Metal Press and
BOA Editions are making incredible investments in longer-length
manuscripts of short shorts by writers whose work I adore.
WIGLEAF: Are you ready for the 'looking
back/looking forward' question?
JP: As in what's next?
WIGLEAF: That's half of it. Looking back
over the seven years, what are the real highs? And looking
JP: At this point it's hard to imagine our lives without the journal.
In the past seven years I've had three different day jobs, we've lived
in four different apartments, and my hair has gotten long, short, then
long again. Honestly, when I think about it, the journal is one of the
most stable elements in my life. It has introduced us to so many
incredible people—people from all across the country and
world—who we would never have met otherwise and who have now
become friends. The number of people who submit to Quick Fiction
continues to rise every year, and we really are humbled by the fact
that so many writers want to have their work appear in the journal.
It's just cool.
We're growing up a lot as an organization right now. For the past seven
years we've been an all-volunteer project run out of our various
apartments and on shoestrings/the loyalty of subscribers. We're
currently in the beginning stages of launching an independent writing
center called The Parlor which will eventually become financial sponsor
of Quick Fiction. I like to think of it as the parent company for our
little baby journal. I can honestly say that I've never been as
confident in the future of the journal as I am now. And if Issue 13
isn't doomed by superstition, it should be out in March.
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