>kill author is a new online venture from anonymous editor(s) who privilege words above the editor as personality. In this really engaging interview we talk about their manifesto, homicidal tendencies, haters, and the editors true identities (or at least, the first three things in that list.)
1. You have a manifesto explaining why >kill author. How did you come up with your four guiding principles of imagination, impact, individuality, and invention?
Trite alliteration. We’ve been influenced by far too many slick catchphrases from advertising.
More seriously, those four principles came together simply because they immediately described the kind of writing that engages us. We prefer imagination to everyday mundanity — not that the mundane can’t be imaginative when viewed through the right sort of cracked lens.
Impact is important to us — as we say in our manifesto, we love to be left shocked and reeling by a piece of writing, but that doesn’t have to mean resorting to cheap shock tactics. That’s too easy.
With so many voices competing for attention, so many words written where you can play ‘spot the influence’, individuality is essential — in truth, we probably prefer flawed writing that comes from somewhere new to something that’s much more crafted but which we’ve read too many times before.
As for invention — that’s the fourth and final principle because we love writers who experiment, especially with form and language.
2. The design of your magazine is gorgeous. It is dark and yet it isn’t. What influences your aesthetic, both in terms of design and content?
Thanks for the compliment about the design. To us, it’s been odd to read the many favorable comments we’ve received about it, because web design isn’t difficult. These days, it’s no longer a dark art that only a few can do. We think the look and feel of > kill author stands out mainly because, sadly, a sense of good design isn’t very noticeable across the world of lit mags — there’s rightly a focus on the content, but the appearance of the pages housing that content is too often forgotten or left as an afterthought. It’s like they’re saying “It’ll do”. We’re especially opposed to the popular design trend amongst many journals, which is to consciously or unconsciously try to echo the look of print. That doesn’t make sense to us, because the web is not print, and it never will be; it’s a separate medium that demands a whole different approach.
So our aesthetic is minimalism. It’s about colors and font choices that offer visually pleasing surroundings for the words we feature, that grab the visitor’s attention when they arrive at the site but then don’t put unnecessary distractions in their way when they begin to read. For us, design is very much part of > kill author’s overall approach because we want the ‘look and feel’ to be sympathetic with the content rather than not caring about it, or even worse jarring against it.
3. If you had to kill an author, how would you do it and what would push you over that edge?
In between producing issues of > kill author, we’re working on a drug that gives you writers’ block, which will be forcibly administered to victims of our choosing. They’ll be given a few lethal shots direct into their veins, and then we’ll lock them in a room full of other writers who are completely engrossed in their creativity, where they’ll have to listen to the sounds of rattling keyboards until it drives them mad and they take their own life. We wouldn’t directly kill an author — that would mean getting our hands dirty. We’d just help them towards doing the job themselves. And what would push us over that edge? Having to read yet another story set in a bar, no question about it.
4. What do you look for in >kill author submissions? What kind of writing excites you most?
We have this innocent and totally foolish belief in the phenomenon of the dropped jaw. Seriously. Every poem or piece of fiction we’ve so far featured in > kill author had something about it that made our mouths fall open, something that made us think “Where the hell did that come from?” – whether it was in the story being told, the language, the form of the piece, whatever.
The whole submission doesn’t have to be jaw-dropping either — and, to be honest, in no case has it been — but for us there needs to be at least one moment in it that provokes such a response. Because of this, we’re sure that we’ve rejected stuff that was great. If we did though, it was probably because we didn’t get the money shot.
5. Â What are the biggest flaws in the writing you reject?
Lack of imagination, particularly in scenarios we’ve read before. There’s some truth in the idea that every story has already been told a hundred times, so we don’t penalize writers for that. But that’s why we’re continually seeking imagination in the approach, in the telling, in the style. There also seems, in our inbox at least, to be a rash of childhood reminiscence tales and stories set in bars. We don’t want to hear about childhood — we prefer to hear about the here and now. As for setting your story in a bar, you’re not summoning up the ghosts of alcoholic greats like Hemingway, Faulkner, Carver or Bukowski, you’re just writing about drunk people. So these things have become a big turn-off for us, and any writer is going to have to work really hard to impress us if that’s what their piece is all about.
6. How do you feel about the skepticism your anonymity has engendered? Are you surprised?
More disappointed than surprised. Disappointed that we weren’t proved wrong in our weary belief that indie literature is becoming consumed by the ‘cult of personality’ and the lure of the gossip column, just like everything else in the early part of this new century. Disappointed that people think there’s some great conspiracy or agenda behind our anonymity. There isn’t. We just want the focus to be on > kill author’s content — the awesome words penned by some fantastic writers — and not the fact that it’s a literary journal run by X, Y or Z. Who we are, where we’ve come from and what we think isn’t important.
We’ve been treated very dismissively by some mainstays of the indie lit establishment because of our decision not to parade our famous or not so famous names around the ‘community’ for everyone to gawk at, and we can only imagine it’s because we’re not playing the ‘indie lit author/editor = cool alternative rock star’ game. We’re bored of that scene. Let’s get back to the writing.
7. >kill author and PANK meet at a bar, have drinks, hit it off. Do they a. go to a sleazy motel and have a one night stand or b. make out in the bar but leave it at that or c. exchange phone numbers, start dating, and live happily ever after? Show your math.
Sleazy motel. One night stand. Definitely. But a memory we could wistfully smile about in years to come. The drunken one-nighter would be the only way for us to remain anonymous and retain our impact. PANK would have to wear a bag over its head so it couldn’t see us, and that would surely set us on a downward spiral to exploring our other depraved fetishes. We don’t doubt the whole escapade would leave > kill author’s jaw well and truly dropped. And PANK exhausted.
8. Do we have a responsibility, as editors, to think about race, gender, sexuality and other manners of difference when we make decisions about the work we include in our publications? Or should we only focus on the writing that comes to us?
We’ve definitely noticed the white, male, educated middle class domination of the indie lit scene. We’ve thought about it a lot and we’re not surprised, because the white, male, educated middle class is at the root of so many developments in society and culture because of their prevalence and their power. We hope that diversity increasingly makes its presence felt in our sphere, just as it’s done in other areas, but we don’t believe in positive discrimination or in letting it guide our decisions about the work we select. What’s important is the writing.
9. Your issue names imply you’re well read. If you had to create a literary canon of ten extant works or less, what would you include?
Can we go for extinct authors with extant works too? Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure for being the first truly modern and truly shocking novel, and Strindberg’s A Dream Play for being the same in drama just five years later. Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Donald Barthelme’s Snow White, Kafka’s The Trial, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Amy Hempel’s Collected Stories and Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behaviour. And we’ll controversially finish up with J.T. Leroy’s The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.
10. What reality television are you currently enjoying? Talk to us.
We don’t enjoy reality TV. We know this makes us sound like snobs, but for the same reason we don’t enjoy the ‘author/editor = rock star’ equation, we don’t really enjoy the sight of desperate people embarrassing themselves just to get their 15 minutes of fame.
Do space shuttle launches count as reality television? We get a kick out of them. The drama, the uncertainty, the mostly anonymous people thrust blinking into the spotlight, the knowledge that it could all go spectacularly and disastrously wrong or be an equally spectacular triumph.
11. Other than PANK, what magazines are you currently enjoying?
Robot Melon was a key influence on us when we were planning > kill author. We love its style — both the beautiful designs and the characteristic content. It seems to have a real ethos in what it features, that puts it out there and says “this is a Robot Melon piece”. And though Stephen Daniel Lewis is not anonymous as the editor, he also doesn’t loom large over the journal as a personality. Perhaps because of its air of mystery and its unpredictable publishing schedule, every new issue feels like an event.
We always dig DOGZPLOT for the breadth of what they publish across fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and the various print and online activities of Airforce Joyride / Greying Ghost / Corduroy Mtn always strike us as really elegant. My Name Is Mud is a must too, because we like little notes, glitter-covered fruit and vegetables, and words written out of carrots.
For us, what these magazines possess is an undeniable individuality. There are no other places quite like them. In a crowded scene, that also gives them an unquestionable sense of cool as far as we’re concerned, and if > kill author can get even close to their level we’ll be happy.
12. On our blog, we’ve been having a great discussion about the editorial process and several writers have lamented that the editor/writer relationships of old have largely fallen by the wayside. Why is that happening? Is developing longer term, intensive relationships with writers something you’re interested in?
It’s happening because of the deluge of writing out there, and the sheer number of places to submit to thanks to the internet. Writers know that there are thousands of magazines looking for content, and editors know that even though their magazine is just one tiny dot among many, there will always be more writers out there than there are journals. It’s time and pressure and noise — noise that we’ve added to with > kill author, of course.
We’d like to see those longer relationships happening, yes — the back and forth of polishing a writer’s work — though we’ll admit there might be difficulties with this because of our anonymous approach. However, in our favor is that our anonymity doesn’t come with the baggage of being a ‘name’ editor. We know, because we’ve done it ourselves as writers, that you can get obsessive when dealing with an editor — What does this editor want? What are they thinking? What does that extra comma in the last sentence of the rejection email mean? You can end up driving yourself crazy. With us, what you see in > kill author is what you get. That’s why we think it’s more important than ever for anyone who’s submitting to us to be aware of what we’ve published so far.
13. Does >kill author have aspirations for moving beyond the Internet?
This always seems to mean ‘into print’, doesn’t it? We don’t deny that there’s something special — magical — about seeing your words on the printed page, but > kill author is so much a product of the web that we’re more interested in going down that route. Yeah, we could put together a print journal with a run of 100 or 150, even 200, but what about if we could get a > kill author phone app that would let people read selected content on their iPhone, Blackberry or Nokia? Wouldn’t that get our featured writers work seen by so many more pairs of eyes, and maybe reach people who don’t get so committed to the lit scene that they take the time and trouble to send off for journals? We’re really excited by what Featherproof Books are doing with their forthcoming iPhone app — and if the developers would like to get in touch with us –
We’re thinking about podcasts too. We’d like to offer readings by the authors and poets featured in > kill author, if we can, but we don’t really want to resort to stories read down phone lines. So we’re trying to figure out a way that writers can record themselves with mics and computers. Anyone got any suggestions?
14. What do you like most about the online publishing community? What do you dislike?
We love the cliqueyness, we hate the cliqueyness. We love the fact that the online publishing community appears to be so supportive, but we hate the fact that we have to use the word ‘appears’ there. Because a lot of it is just that — an ‘appearance’ of support.
We love that the online publishing community builds up its own agenda, its own concerns, its own self-mythologising, but we hate how this often makes it too inward-looking and too samey. Everyone has to be seen to be reading the same books by the same writers. Can a scene be supportive while not becoming incestuous?
15. What question should we have asked?
Easy. You should have given in to temptation, pushed us up against the wall, roughly grabbed our collar, spat in our face and demanded to know who we are. But we’re glad you were more original than that. (Ed. We could do something more productive against a wall than figure out who you are.)