We launched the 34thParallel in 2007 when we were both living and working in that latitude north and south, Tracey Swan in Irvine, California US, and Martin Chipperfield in Adelaide, South Australia.
This is an interview, or perhaps more of a discussion, with Tracey Swan and Martin Chipperfield, and Sean Merrigan of EditRed. It’s an edited version of an EditRed Forum Interview which ran on 5/6 September 2007, the first in a series of Forum Interviews where EditRed members are invited to participate in question and answer sessions with respected literary magazines, journals, and zines. The three-way interview was held over a range of time zones with Martin waking up to Thursday morning in Adelaide, Australia, Trace enjoying a sunny Wednesday afternoon in California, and Sean trying to stay awake around midnight in London.
Martin: Sound check...1-2-3-4
Sean: Morning Martin, evening Trace—thanks for participating in the inaugural EditRed forum interview. I for one am quite excited...
Trace: Good morning! We are very excited too!
Martin: Hey Sean, hey Trace, g’day!!!!!!!!!!! The Thursday sun is just hitting the window.
Sean: G’day mate. Right, let’s get cracking. Martin how did you and Trace meet, and what prompted the ‘vision’?
Martin: Well, Sean, we met right here on this forum. We were reading each other’s stories, commenting, just like everyone else, and then one day Trace said how about doing a magazine and I said yes.
Trace: And...if I may cut in :) we were both a little frustrated about the whole publication process and how difficult it is for ‘unknowns’ and relatively unknown writers to get work published.
Sean: There’s a lot about rejection letters in the blurb on your site, was the impetus behind starting this magazine a feeling of being let down by conventional publishing routes (be they zines, journals or books)?
Trace: Oh, well—since we are both writers—we have received a fair amount of rejection letters. I think this is par for the course when you are trying to write seriously. Still, when looking through ezine/journals contributor blurbs—I noticed that very few had first-time authors represented in their magazines.
Sean: You mean they all start looking a bit ‘in house’?
Trace: Most magazines say they are open to first time writers—but are they really? So, to answer your question—yes, we wanted to address those who may have slipped through the publishing cracks (so to speak) and those who have been let down or overlooked by the mainstream presses. Ultimately, we believe that an individual’s publication history is not necessarily an indication of their ability as a writer. Believe it or not, a lot of editors are impressed by which magazine has published a writer’s work—even if they won’t admit it.
Martin: You read stuff on EditRed from really great writers and you realise there’s a lot of stuff that never gets published.
Sean: And so, behold the lavish first issue of 34thParallel Magazine, and it’s a beauty. Was this the first time you guys had produced something like this (individually, I mean)?
Trace: Yes and No! THANK GOODNESS Martin solely is responsible for the wonderful design of our magazine! He has a background in print and web design.
Martin: I’ve been in magazines and newspapers all my life editing and designing mainstream and also little magazines of my own. I wanted to make use of the technology we have now but I wouldnt have ever started into it on my own. I needed Trace to get it together.
Trace: So, this was right up his alley. Thankfully, his experience and talent gave us the creative vision and expertise needed to produce the magazine—and really made it stand out!
Martin: We want the mag to be a kind of a tabloid for writers. We want to make writing look as glitzy as it is and we want to treat the writers like pop stars.
Sean: It does look great. You must be very pleased. It’s a very eclectic mixture of genres - is there an overriding thematic when you choose your work, or do you just judge in terms of quality?
Martin: Yes the theme is that it has to touch us. The best writing is when you get lost in it.
Trace: I love reading literary magazines but sometimes find the straight text on plain white boring. We both wanted the magazine to be visually appealing. And as Martin mentioned—we wanted to focus as much on the writers as we did on what they’d written. We look for stories that take us some place—
Martin: We have this story in the next issue and I reckon another literary mag would reject it but we’ve accepted it because we lived the story and both of us said to each other we were thinking of it for days after.
Trace: We don’t have a specific theme or genre of story that we look for—and we hope that this is reflected by the variety of writing we published last time. The best sort of writing is the kind which is memorable—it’s the story/poem you can’t stop thinking about.
Sean: This is interesting—I feel you’re right—but why was focus on the author (rather than just the writing itself) so important to you?
Martin: For me the focus on the author is a visual thing. To some extent when we read mags we look at the pictures of the celebrities. I wanted a mag that was full of people.
Trace: We’re writers :) And I think writers are interested in other writers, what motivated them, how they came to write, etc.
Martin: We are always interested in people and so as well as their photos I wanted to put in as much stuff about them as possible and so we do these interviews with writers and some of the stuff they say is as extraordinary as their writing and in doing the interviews the writers have said to me they have been as much inspired as we have.
Trace: And you know—one of our goals is to help little knowns become known. By focusing on the author (in addition to their writing)—we hope folks will remember them.
Sean: OK. This leads me on to a question BrindleyHD raised: Should we, as writers, be trying to get editors to publish what we have to say? Or be trying to write in the way that they ‘recognise’?
Martin: OH!!!!!!!!!!!! You should only write what you write. Forget the editors. If you want to please the editors get a job as a copywriter.
Trace: I might add though, that the key is to find the right magazine for your work. Sometimes it isn’t that the story isn’t written well—it’s that it isn’t a good fit for the magazine where you’ve submitted. And this could mean they already have a story for their next issue that is too close to what you deal with in yours. You should read the magazine and get a feel for what the editors want before you submit.
Martin: And also when you get a rejection don’t ever be disheartened because sometimes what you write could be Shakespeare but it might not necessarily fit with what the mag wants. That really happens. Maybe you write the best detective story in the world but the mag already has another one and can’t use any more.
Sean: Karjon was curious about first impressions: How important are titles? If a title doesn’t grab you, will you wade on, even though you have hundreds of submissions to get through?
Martin: You know a title doesnt even figure on the radar when I read a submission. I have to read it whatever its title is. But once we accept the story then the title becomes really important. I suppose the most important thing with a submission is those first few paragraphs of the story. It’s like any other thing. When you’re reading a mag or a newspaper you read the first few pars of a story and then decide if you want to read further.
Sean: Have you ever stopped reading a story before finishing it because of the first few sentences? This from babpul.
Martin: As soon as my mind blanks out I stop reading... There was one exception to this only the other week. We got this story and it opened so badly my mind blanked out totally but for some reason I kept scanning down and suddenly this story came to life...like WOW!!!!!!
Trace: No—we read all the way to the end! I should say I do! :)LOL HAHAAHAHAH!
Martin: Yeah, Trace is a good girl, she reads everything right through.
Trace: We have a collaborative approach to reading stories. First off, we understand that we’re getting stories from folks who may be building their writing—developing authors. So, we go back and forth—there are stories where we see potential and discuss if it can be worked with or not.
Sean: OK...on a more general note, Kerosene enquires: Do publications overlook a few minor typos or errors as long as the story/poem is super duper?
Martin: Yes we rewrite the whole thing if it’s not super duper.
Trace: KIDDING, he’s KIDDING!!!! we don’t :) HAHAHA!
Martin: Trace doesnt notice the typos anyway.
Trace: HAHAHAHAAHAHAH! OMG! Do NOT listen to him!!! I think publications vary. Some are hard-nosed and your work goes to the slush pile the first typo they find. But we are a little bit more forgiving. If you’ve got a really great piece—we can work with you, to a degree.
Sean: OK.. and here are two related questions from two EditRed stalwarts: Is it advisable to submit the same work to a magazine more than once? (From Lapoeta) And if a writer you’ve previously published refers a piece to you, do you show a bit more preference or pay more attention to it? (Teri)
Trace: I’ll take the first one: No—Unless they ask you to, move on, there are other places you can send it. For the most part, you have one opportunity with a particular piece and if they pass on it, for the most part, that’s it. But you can always wait a year and try again. Magazines have turn over and they might get a new person who loves your story or poem.
Martin: Okay, well if the work has been rejected I don’t really see the point of submitting it again. And yes, I am all in favour of publishing work by someone we have previously published. For instance, I loved Dave Morrison’s poem in the first issue and I just emailed him the other day asking for something else. 34thParallel should have a certain flavour that people can rely on.
Trace: Let me say this though about going with writers we know— they can be anyone—we aren’t basing this on where they’ve been published before as much as we are trying to continue to nurture the relationship we’ve started with them. We want 34th to be a ‘writers’ magazine—and to be a collaborative effort on every issue.
Sean: Now we’ll take some questions from the rest of the community. *wields huge boom stand* Any takers?
Decaturboy: Yes, Sean. I’m Jim Duley, long time listener, first time caller. Trace/ Martin, you live on different continents spanning a number of time zones. How has that affected your ability to collaborate effectively, if at all? Any tricks you can share?
Martin: Well it’s as if the internet was made for this kind of thing. We can work together almost as if we are in the same office. We use emails and instant messaging (IM), and call each other on the phone.
Trace: Hi Jim, you know gmail has also made it easy for us to set up a virtual office, this in addition to our magazine website. Using the gmail account as our working mailbox we can open and edit pieces at the same time, leave messages, and even use the gmail IM to discuss a story or poem in real time. This is helpful. I also never sleep. HAHAHAHA
Decaturboy: Thanks to both of you. Continued success on your publication.
Trace: Thanks Jim!
Sean: Yes. The whole ‘global community’ idea becomes a lot more plausible once you give up sleep... Who’s next?
Informal Grae: Thanks, Trace and Martin. Is your 34thParallel Magazine something that fits in smoothly with your day-to-day writing, work, families? Are you looking/ have you planned for a long-term viability?
Trace: Well Grae, my 2-year-old just jumped off a plastic table, rolled over his big fluffy Elmo chair, and bounced onto his toddler bed...we make it fit—like we make everything else fit. :) As to the long-term plans for the magazine—we plan to continue as long as we can. Initially, we wanted to just do a magazine. Now, our plans include eventually publishing books. So, stay tuned.
Pat Browning: Yes. Great mag guys. Just a quick question regarding submitting stories—where do you stand on the issue of ‘risque’ material? Is it ok if it’s aesthetically justified?
Martin: We dont want erotica for the sake of it but if it’s a part of the story we’re not prudes.
Trace: Send it and we’ll read it. See if it fits—
pat browning: makes sense! props to you for launching a great project. Good luck.
RJWilliams: How do you avoid falling into the same trap as other mags (who accept pick pieces from previously published writers only)? I’m sure many zines at one time had the same ideals as you’ve stated here in this forum, but inevitably have fallen into doing what was safe (accepting contribution from a limited pool of writers).
Martin: In the next issue of 34th we are carrying a feature on other ezines and all that and as part of it I was talking to Matt Ward, the editor of Skive, and he mentioned that same problem. Anyway he decided to keep his mag open to allcomers and that’s what we will do always. But, rj the mag will always have a kind of flavour that we bring to it, it will always reflect our own mag style in the same way that you pick up the New Yorker and you get a certain style.
Trace: Even though we don’t have a set policy say something like not running the same author twice in a row, we are always open to writers we haven’t read.
Nonalienabductee: How are you funding your magazine? A lot of the short story magazines are going under due to lack of reader interest and rising costs. Do you plan on publishing ads to defer things, or what are you planning?
Trace: Blood, sweat, and tears.
Martin: We are funding the mag through sales at the moment but we intend to carry advertising. But you’re right, Niccole, we want to make a mag that people want to buy.
Trace: Thanks nonalien, good question. Seriously, eventually we will most likely do ads—Martin’s background will be helpful in this effort (and mine as well in PR) so we’ll see. Funding for these sort of things is always challenging—and of course what we are doing—we do it for free, right now. Let me mention though, we hope to change this.
Ash19640: I have to ask guys: where does the name of your magazine come from and who thought it up: what is the mystery behind the “34thParallel”!!?
Trace: We’re fighting just now on IM about whether to tell or not HAHAHAHAHA
Martin: Hey Ash, first of all we wanted a name that went to the top of the links lists so we had to have a number. HAHAHAHAHA And you know what???? I never knew it until Trace told me, we live on the same parallel, 34th, except she’s in the northern hemisphere and I’m in the south.
Northernoik: Can you tell us any more about your intention to publish books ?
Trace: Well, as writers we have both sort of struggled with whether to write books that ‘sell’ and thus find a publisher or to write what we want knowing that we may never be able to convince a publisher the book can sell. I think this is every writer’s struggle—if they are concerned about their book being published. Publishing books will allow us to publish and promote books that may not fit within the scope of popular publishing houses. We want to find that gem that’s been overlooked.
Teri: Hi, Trace and Martin. Great interview. Do you think you’d ever consider putting together a short story anthology?
Martin: Hey Teri, my local group of writers wants to do an anthology and we were thinking maybe we could publish it for them. So yes maybe we will do anthologies anyway. THE BEST OF 34TH!!!!!
Ash19640: The cover art in the first issue was very effective: do you plan to create a gallery within the magazine or include more pictures in future issues, maybe as graphics submissions in addition to the writing?
Trace: Good question Ash, we definitely will continue to include more pictures. We are always interested in accepting submissions of photography and graphic art in addition to the writing.
Martin: Yes we want more visual stuff, we’d love to carry comics too.
Gmarco: Hey! So, coming from EditRed to doing the magazine thing, I was wondering how you look at submitted works; what do you look for, what do you like, dislike? Also, how do you feel, having been in that same place before, but now turned around as the editors? Lastly, do you plan on keeping a firm root in the EditRed community?
Martin: ALWAYS ER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We look for stuff in the submissions that makes us go WOW!!!!!!! Bbeing turned around as editors has been inspiring because we get to know other writers and we love that we can make something good for them.
Trace: I know a good story or poem when—i think man! i wish i’d written that—EditRed is a place where i read stuff like that so—we’ll always be here. We’re writers first and foremost—we just do that editor gig on the side (smile).
Sean: OK one and all. There’s just time for one more question and then I’m going to have to wind this up. This is the last question please...over to you Martin and Trace. (My God! I’ve started sounding like a game show host—sorry)
Ash19640: Are you much influenced by other journals ?
Martin: We arent influenced by them but we see ourselves as part of that community.
Trace: We look at other journals—we read what they publish and study their design—we do this to admire their work and learn from what they are doing. We want to establish and help create this a community of journals/magazine—and really collaborate on some projects with them—that are all open to new and emerging writers. In our next issue we are interviewing the editors from Skive, Word Riot, blueprintreview, just to name three. And we are also publishing the writing of these editors—because like us they are writers too. Right now, I think we have an incredible opportunity to fill a niche that has been neglected, namely new writers. We look at what other journals are doing also to decide what we’d like to do differently. Ultimately, we want to stand out—after all there are hundreds of journals out there. Our goal is to make 34th something writers will not only submit to, but buy, and read.
Karjon: Just nipping in to say thanks, enjoyed the interview. Well done all involved. G’night.
Trace: Great questions y’all thanks for joining us! Many thanks to you Sean and all the EditRed staff for getting behind our little magazine and for the opportunity to talk to EditRed. THANKS!!!
Martin: THANKS EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!
Sean: And that wraps it up for the first EditRed Forum Interview. I’d like to say a very big thank you from all at EditRed to Martin and Trace for taking the time to talk to me, and also a very big thank you to all of you who’ve participated in this discussion.
Sean Merrigan is website editor for EditRed, www.editred.com. He says he is half-Welsh, half-Irish, and born in Zimbabwe. He arrived in London at the age of eight, and has been a Catholic altar-boy, a gentleman’s outfitter, and a musician. He once played drums in a sex-cult, though only on a part-time basis. “Last year I was paid a substantial amount of money by a large and acquisitive UK book retailer to go away and not work for them any more,” he says. “This suited me fine thanks very much. I have spent the intervening time writing and staring moodily out of windows.”
Somehow although I have always been a writer, writing something, it didn’t bother me to suddenly have no words. It felt as natural as having them and somehow I had this incredible peace that it was okay if I never wrote another word.