Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Interview with Associate Editor Signe Jorgenson

This is the second in a series of four interviews with the Stoneboat editorial team. Check back soon for interviews with Rob and Jim, and scroll down to read an interview with Lisa.

About Stoneboat:

How did you get involved with Stoneboat?
Rob, our editor-in-chief, was a student at the college where I teach. He began hosting a writers group at a local coffee shop, and he invited me to attend the meetings. I was a little hesitant about hanging out with students (even the non-traditional types, like Rob), but I needed a kick in the pants to jump-start my own writing, so I went. From there, things just sort of evolved. I think the original idea was to produce a chapbook of student work, but then Rob got the idea of reviving the college’s student literary journal and I agreed to be the adviser. We did a lot of work on that, even looking into how to recover the funding from the old journal, but that never came to fruition. Rob’s vision expanded into Stoneboat, and by then I was already along for the ride.

What is your role at Stoneboat?
We all read submissions and have input into publication decisions, and that’s a big part of what I do for Stoneboat. I also do a lot of other things, though. I do about 90% of our online stuff – updating the website, maintaining the Twitter account, posting updates to our Facebook group, emailing submitters. I am also the keeper of the Stoneboat bank account and the subscription database. Oh. Paper submissions also appear in my campus mailbox, so I scan those and forward them to our email inbox so that all the editors have access. Lisa and I share the copyediting duties for the print edition, and that’s also pretty important. If you spot a typo in the journal, it’s 50% my fault.

What do you look for in a submission?
Mostly, it just has to make me want to keep reading. Skill is a big factor—if something is poorly written, my desire to turn the page is pretty low. The “freshness” factor also plays a big role in making me want to turn the page. Surprise me with your use of language. Make me see things in new ways. Get me to wonder about something I’ve never thought about before.

What is the surest way for you to give a submission an automatic "no"?
Carelessness. Cover letters that are directed to an editor at a different magazine are a pet peeve of mine, as are cover letters that mention the wrong magazine. If the writer doesn’t care enough to get those simple things correct, then that writer doesn’t take his/her work seriously enough for me to want to publish it. I’m tempted not to even look at these submissions, but I always do, hoping that they will contain an unlikely gem. So far, though, not a single one has.

What has surprised you the most about working on a small literary journal?
How easy it is…and how hard it is. Let me explain. When I say that it’s “easy,” that might not be the right word – maybe “natural” is closer to what I mean. After having been on the other end of it for so long (submitting my work), it doesn’t seem like a big leap to be the one making the decisions and putting the whole thing together. That said…putting the whole thing together involves a lot more than I ever thought it would. As editors, we can’t just be experts in finding good writing. We also have to be experts at marketing, sales, publicity, web design, social media, fund raising, accounting, event planning…. We’re just a bunch of shy lit geeks and writing majors. These things are not necessarily our fortes. We’re learning, though.

What have you learned from your experiences with Stoneboat?
I’ve learned how arbitrary and subjective rejection can be. A rejection letter doesn’t always mean that the editors didn’t like your work. It might just mean that the editors didn’t want to have too many pieces about death/parents/high school in one issue. It might just mean that your piece was too long. It might just mean that one editor fell in love with it but another was only kinda-sorta feeling it.

Just for fun:

What do you do when you're not working on Stoneboat?
Mostly, I grade papers and figure out what to teach my students. I wish I could say that I write regularly, but I don’t. Teaching and editing suck up just about all of my creative energy—all of my energy, period—so there’s not much left for my own work. I’m trying to change that. Oh. I also figure skate, but again there’s that energy problem. I only get to the rink once a week, and I’m so dead tired by the time I get there (8:30 on a Monday night!) that it’s mostly a frustrating experience because I’m not performing my best.

What's on your iPod?
Stevie Nicks, including—especially?—her work with Fleetwood Mac. I fell in love with her about 15 years ago and the affair has continued ever since. I’m also a big fan of Madonna and Cher, and more recently, Adele. Does anyone notice a trend here? Actually, I’ve got a really eclectic mix of stuff on my iPod, and what I listen to depends on what I’m doing. Cleaning the fish tanks requires a different soundtrack than updating my grade book. Let’s see…Simon & Garfunkel, Bon Iver (I've been listening since before the Grammy, FYI), Beck, The Shins, John Denver, The Beatles, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Yanni, Tracy Chapman, the London Symphony Orchestra…I listen to all sorts of stuff.

Who are your favorite writers?
Joan Didion and Annie Dillard are my nonfiction idols. Anyone who has not read “The White Album” and/or Holy the Firm should do so immediately.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a lot of essays that are in various stages of completion. One is about a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. (well, sort of – it’s really about stories), one is about my grandfather who recently died (I don’t know what that one is really about – it’s too new), one is about driving around in the country with my father (and that’s really about the ways that places define us). And there are others…

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?
Gosh…when? As a child, I loved Rainbow Brite but I barely even remember it now. I loved watching Northern Exposure and Pickett Fences with my parents when I was in elementary school. And in high school, my favorite was the short-lived My So-Called Life—but not for the reason that everyone else loved it (Jared Leto). I was attracted to that show because it was so raw. People had realistic problems that didn’t get neatly resolved, and the characters were believable. I still pop the DVDs in every once in a while, and as an adult I still find it to be good TV. Good writing, good characters. Lots of depth.

What is the worst job you've ever had?
I haven’t ever had a job that I disliked. There are pieces of every job I’ve had that sucked, but honestly, I’d go back to any of my previous jobs without any complaints. My favorite job was scooping ice cream at the Door County Ice Cream Factory in Sister Bay, WI. My sister and I spent a whole summer living together in a cabin right on the water, making decent money working full time scooping ice cream and making sandwiches. I had a strong preference for working the ice cream counter, though. Blue Moon is my favorite flavor to this day, but Harley Davidson is a close second.

What is something that people would not know about you based on your résumé?
I loathe vegetables…and if I have to eat them (sometimes Jim and Lisa make me), I prefer them either raw or out of a can. It’s somewhat embarrassing. On the other hand, I am a true Wisconsin girl and enjoy cheese in all of its varieties, although I find fried cheese to be the most delectable.

What is something your fellow Stoneboat editors don't know about you?
I was on the debate team in high school and had my senior picture taken with a stuffed monkey named Herb, the unofficial debate team mascot. I sometimes tease Rob about the sexy senior portrait I found in his basement (drumsticks! acid-washed jeans!), but mine is equally embarrassing, just in a completely different way.

If you were to cast your fellow Stoneboat editors in your favorite movie/TV show/musical/novel, what parts would they play?
I’m going to cheat and not cast them all in the same movie/show/etc. It’s more fun this way.

Rob: Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs…not because Rob is actually psycho (I hope), but because I think he’d do a marvelous job if he had to portray a psycho.

Jim: The Mysterious Stranger in pretty much any movie, film, or TV show. Jim’s got that air of intrigue. He’s very enigmatic and doesn’t put a whole lot of himself out there for strangers to see. Once you get to know him, though, you find out that he’s quite awesome.

Lisa: The voice of Strawberry Shortcake. She’s little and cute and has that happy voice.

What should the Stoneboat fan club know about you?
Our fans should find one another and form an actual fan club. That would be awesome.

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