The Cruelest Month is proud to present an interview with Felicia C. Sullivan, founder and editor of the literary journal Small Spiral Notebook. Felicia is a New York based writer with an MFA from Columbia University. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has been published in Swink, Post Road Magazine, Mississippi Review, Publisher's Weekly, the anthology, Homewrecker: An Atlas of Illicit Loves (Soft Skull Press, 2005), among other publications. Work is forthcoming in the anthology, Money Changes Everything (Doubleday, 2006), and Pindeldyboz (Issue #6)
Algonquin Books will publish her memoir, The Sky Isn't Visible From Here, in 2007. She is also the co-founder of the Non-Fiction series at KGB Bar in NYC. Please welcome Felicia!
On your site you mention that Small Spiral Notebook has been an "immense labor of love," something maintained and cared for while dealing with the daily grind, yet from humble online beginnings it has become a respectable print journal with a consistently impressive list of contributors. How can you account for such a rapid and positive evolution? In line with that, who did you first turn to for material? And how has that initial pool of contributors grown?
I wouldn't necessarily call it rapid as Small Spiral Notebook has been around for well over five years and we're still struggling. What consistently motivates me is finding and publishing good work. The formula, I'm afraid, is quite simple. I used to get worked up about the journals that make a big splash, boast the big name writers and throw lavish parties replete with open bars and prizes, simply for the fact that I've funded the journal out of my own pocket and I couldn't afford to come crashing in. And I'll always remember what one journal editor told me - the trick is consistency, sustaining. Writers don't want to submit to a journal that folds in a year's time. There's a fundamental trust here - an unwritten conversation between writer and an editor that we're both in this for the long haul. So I've seen many promising publications come and go, but I think the success of SSN has to do with us working as hard as we can to put good work out there, whether it be online or in print. And hopefully people respect that.
We find our writers in two ways - the unsolicited manuscript pile & solicitations. I'm an avid reader of literary magazines and as many editors can attest, I often query them for their writers' contact information. I found Paul Yoon by reading One Story, I found several other writers from Swink, Post Road, Mississippi Review, Orchid, Ballyhoo Stories, Pool, 3rd Bed (now defunct, I think), Pindeldyboz, Goodfoot, Jubilat, Tin House, Quick Fiction and the list can go on. And I'm always discovering new publications (Spork, Alimentum). I also get referrals from writers I trust, folks who know what I like (although that keeps changing as I'm terribly picky). I find writers by reading their novels and story & poetry collections, interviews online and off - any medium where a writer can be found, I'm trying to access it. I'm also surrounded by talented friends who I've been privileged to feature in SSN.
And naturally, the best rush is finding that gem in the slush pile. For our third print issue, 50% of the stories came via our slush and many were writers who had few or no publication credits. I don't care where you've come from as long as you've got a great poem or story, that's what sells me in the end, not the fancy schools or credits after your name.
Your Fall 2006 online edition will be "All Poetry, All the Time" with special emphasis on Ekphrastic poetry ("the literary representation of visual art") in the section "A Conversation Between Poetry and Art." What made you choose this topic?
Being an on-line journal allows us a lot of room for experimentation, and we've always had a particular interest at SSN in art and how it can add a new layer of meaning to a story or poem when they're juxtaposed. We decided to take this a step forward to see what could happen when the genres were melded together. It's also incredibly exciting to think that we're involved in the creative process of our writers, even if it's only in a small way. We get to act as a catalyst for poetry, and, isn't that what part of the duty of a literary journal is, to spur on more art?
Aside from getting your fix of the Ekphrastic, what other factors convinced you to devote a full issue to poetry?
I'll be honest and say that poetry often gets downplayed. We no longer live in the days of Edna St. Vincent Millay where a poet commanded stadium-sized crowds and moved thousands of books. Poetry used to be an integral part of our literary community and celebrated among the masses. For me, this illustrious history has quieted down in recent years and if a poet moves 500 copies of his or her collection, it's a best-seller. Poetry feels as if it's a dying art and I'm thrilled that literary magazines, small publishers and fans are keeping it alive and kicking.
I wanted to celebrate the art form by devoting a whole issue to poets - profiling emerging writers and publishing the very best poetry we can find, in abundance.
Can you recall some of your favorite pieces published in SSN?
I love everything I publish in both the print and online editions of Small Spiral Notebook for a variety of reasons, however, there is something uniquely special about discovering new voices, publishing an author when he/she is just getting their feet wet; they're experimenting on the page on the level of language and story - stretching their style and imagination, and this is always thrilling for an editor to encounter. And since emerging writers are "new" in the sense of publication credits, they're hungry - they want to have a dialogue with an editor, they're receptive to new ideas and most of all, they don't take themselves quite so seriously.
Paul Yoon's "So That They Do Not Hear Us" - I read Paul's first published story, "Once the Shore" in One Story and I contacted him immediately. There is a musical quality to his prose, it's arresting, angry, beautiful and lush - you wan to get lost in Paul's stories.
Kira Henehan's poetry commands your complete and utter attention. They're visceral, potent; they grab you by the throat and you surrender to her world. I've know Kira for six years and her capacity to break ranks with language astounds me. It's as if the words in English language are toys for her - there are no rules for its use and there is endless play.
Other highlights: Judy Budnitz, Lisa Glatt, Becka Mara McKay, Elissa Schappell, Betsy Bonner, Gary Lutz, Steve Almond, Mark Cunningham, Katherine Darnell, Jill Carroll, and oh, the list can go on.
Who can we look forward to in the Fall 2006 issue? Or is it too soon to tell?
It is a bit too soon to tell. It takes me a great deal of time to assemble an issue, especially for print. The publication process - determining the sequencing of stories and poems and photographs in the issue, the countless rounds of editing and copyediting - takes up an enormous amount of time.
I can say that I am thrilled to be publishing Scott Snyder's "Dumpster Tuesday," a hysterically funny and brilliant story from his fine debut collection, Voodoo Heart. I just accepted a story by Mia Alvar - this will be her first publication and certainly not her last. Her prose is wonderfully elliptical and she offers up "Roundabout," a story set Bahrain about an ex-pat - three years after his wife's death due to a tragic car accident in Manila - who has to negotiate getting a driver's license, which could take anywhere between ten days and many years depending upon the instructor and his mood.