This is the first in a series of four interviews with the Stoneboat editorial team. Check back soon for interviews with Rob, Jim, and Signe.
How did you get involved with Stoneboat?
I remember sitting in Paradigm with Rob, Karl Elder, and several other writers one summer evening. There was coffee and sandwiches and talk of doing a chapbook using the work of Lakeland students who had just participated in a poetry class with Karl. Rob in particular seemed interested in publishing their efforts. I believe Karl encouraged this whole-heartedly. Maybe a week later, there was a meeting scheduled for Rob’s backyard; a real Sheboygan grill-out with beer and brats and guitar-playing around the fire pit. That sounded fun to me, and I decided to go and see what might evolve out of this chapbook idea, even though I was not a student in the class. The next thing I knew, we were thinking of potential names for a serial journal (not a one-off chapbook). We had a list of about 75 names, none of them could we agree upon. The only two I can remember are Angry Dog and Mergatroid’s Dream. Fortunately, the day after that meeting, I met a Zen master/organic farmer/physics instructor who happened to be clearing his land with the help of a stoneboat. “Excuse me,” I said. “Did you say stoneboat?” The word had such a nice ring to it, and I loved that its practical purpose on a farm is to cart stones out of the field so that the crops can grow. That seemed to me to be an extremely fitting metaphor for a journal dedicated to creative expression, because what is creativity if not clearing away the dross to get to the gold? At least, that’s what it is for me. I took the name back to Rob and the gang and every single person loved it. So, I take great pride in having had my antenna up on that fated day, and for locating the name Stoneboat.
What is your role at Stoneboat?
All of us read submissions, and then each of us does have a special role that is inextricably linked to our particular personalities. I am the “people person” in the group, so I have taken the lead on setting up the contributors’ open-mic readings that we do at Paradigm with the release of each issue. I also tend to be the one to suggest we call editorial meetings, and to be the slave driver by asking the question, “and when is our next meeting?” It may be because I like hanging out with Signe, Jim, and Rob so much, or it may be because I want an excuse to make Jim cook for us. I generally try to time these meeting requests when there is important work to be done, but sometimes, I just call a meeting for no good reason other than I want to see the three of them. I also help Signe with copy editing, although she is the real queen of that. I do have a good eye and I am always happy when I find some small thing that she missed. I love when she says to me, “Good catch, Ms.Vihos!” That always makes my day. Last but not least, I always bring salad to our editorial dinners.
What do you look for in a submission?
With the poetry, I look to be surprised. I look for poems that use language well and wisely, that are not cliché, that touch my heart (which is cliché, sorry) or my mind in some awakening way. I like a poem to show me something that is basically familiar to me, but in a way that I have never considered it before; a poem that makes me sit up at the end and say, “Whoa, I gotta read that one again.” Not because it was incomprehensible, but because it was so compelling.
As for the prose, I want to be grabbed in the first paragraph (the first line, even) and be pulled into the world of the storyteller. I want the characters’ emotions to be real, raw, and clear. I am learning how to be more discerning with the prose, thanks to Signe. Like, for example, please don’t change the p.o.v. midstream, okay? Because Signe will jettison a story that exhibits otherwise fine writing but that has a confusing point of view. Be consistent, be surprising, use your words well.
As for the visual artwork, again I want to be surprised, shaken, awakened. I look for that which is unlike anything I have ever seen before.
What is the surest way for you to give a submission an automatic "no"?
Language that is cliché, concepts that are cliché, writing that is boring, overly-wordy, or otherwise not surprising and unique.
What has surprised you the most about working on a small literary journal?
First of all, how much hard work it is. Reading every single submission is hard, but it has to be done. Secondly, how rewarding it is to put forward great work by other writers and artists. Putting together an issue of Stoneboat makes me nearly as happy as when my work is accepted by other journals. It is a very gratifying feeling to promote creativity.
What have you learned from your experiences with Stoneboat?
Being on this side of the editorial divide has taught me to be less hurt if my work is not accepted by a particular journal. Just because a certain poem is not right for Stoneboat does not mean it won’t find a home somewhere else. I understand that better now and I can apply that awareness to my own work and my own submission process. I also see how important it is to get the editor’s attention. Second rate poems just won’t cut it. Only send the best. For me, it means revising and cleaning up my own work so that when I read it and ask myself, “would I put this poem of mine in Stoneboat if I was reading it at midnight and my eyeballs were falling out of my head because I am so tired reading submissions?” My answer darn well better be YES before I send it off to an editor.
Just for fun
What do you do when you're not working on Stoneboat?
Write my own poetry, read, talk to my 13-year-old son (when he will deign to talk to his mother), cook yummy food, watch DVDs, write long, epic emails to friends around the country, waste time on Facebook (not too much). I would say I exercise, but it is the middle of winter and I am not exercising at all right now, although I did take a nice walk yesterday by Lake Michigan. Does that count?
What's on your iPod?
Cake, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Buena Vista Social Club, Iron and Wine, Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Beck, Keb’Mo, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, Muse, System of a Down…the list goes on. I’ll stop there.
Who are your favorite writers?
For prose: Annie Proulx, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ann Patchett, Geraldine Brooks, Yann Martel, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger, Jane Austen
For poetry: Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Mark Strand, Kay Ryan, Philip Dacey, Billy Collins, Todd Boss, Maxine Kumin, Nancy Willard
For memoir: Bill Holm, Peggy Shumaker, Michael Perry
For silly fun: David Wong, for his book John Dies @ the End. It was crazy, gory, and scary, but I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and the fact that it is the first book to come to me on the recommendation of my 13-year-old son. Gotta love that.
What are you currently working on?
Poems, always. Poems are brewing in my head all the time. I would like to see myself work in series more and to play with some poetic forms: sestinas, pantoums, ghazals, sonnets, villanelles, abecedarians. I am intrigued by poetic forms because they create a challenge. I love that. I also need to work on sending stuff out in an organized and systematic fashion. Last but not least, I am secretly gathering texts (some written anew, some found in journals from the past 15 years) to write a memoir. I think I have potential in this area.
What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?
I have a few: Gilligan’s Island, Laugh-In (which I did not fully understand but I loved it anyway) and the Smothers Brothers. My mom was visiting me recently and she said I was always eager to watch a show called George Perrot Presents. This was, I believe, a local Detroit guy who had a travel show. I have no real memory of watching this show, but she claims I would never miss it. Perhaps this would explain my wanderlust that as yet remains mostly unfulfilled. Travel is in my future. I will just be careful not to go on any “three-hour tours.” Ginger or Maryann? I always loved Maryann. Ginger was too glittery for me.
What is the worst job you've ever had?
The summer I was 16, I worked at a Greek restaurant in Southfield, MI. I am half-Greek but I do not speak the language. The staff was horrible to me. They would gather in little groups and stare at me, mumbling in Greek and sniggering. I hated that job and I only lasted three weeks. I wrote a poem about it called “Good Greek Girl.”
What is something that people would not know about you based on your resumé?
I love to dance.
What is something your fellow Stoneboat editors don't know about you?
I want to go spelunking.
If you were to cast your fellow Stoneboat editors in your favorite movie/TV show/musical/novel, what parts would they play?
This is a hard one. But, let’s be consistent with the favorite TV show question above. I’ll go with Laugh-In. Rob can be Dan Rowan and Jim can be Dick Martin. Signe can be Lily Tomlin and I will be Joe Ann Worley. We will take turns being Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzie, and Arty Shaw. Very interesting….but stupid!
What should the Stoneboat fan club know about you?
I am extremely grateful that they exist.