My apologies, because I meant to have this up on my usual “Fiction Friday”. However, I’ve spent the week sick as a dog, and fell a little behind. Sorry about that. However, things are better now, and I’m very pleased to introduce you to a very intriguing and interesting species — the ezine editor. The species is not endangered, but they are notoriously misunderstood. Ezine editors are a strong, unique breed all their own. That’s a good thing!
Women Like You appeared in the April 2006 edition of Skive Magazine, and that’s how I met editor Matthew Ward. He was great to work with; no nonsense, knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it. No coddling, no bullshit.
As of 2000, Skive Magazine is one of the ten largest literary magazines in Australia, publishing over 400 authors. A great accomplishment, and I wanted to know more about the mysterious, crazy Aussie behind the pages. Dynamic, interesting, and driven, Matt Ward also has a little bit of the romantic in him, as evidenced by the last question and answer. He also clears up the mystery of the vegamite sandwich.
A big thanks to Matt for his participation. Well done, mate!
How did you get started as editor with Skive Magazine, and what made you take on this kind of endeavor?
Skive was hatched at the beginning of 2003. It was originally going to be an online zine run by myself and my buddy from Newcastle University (Australia), Brian Birkefeld, renowned local muso, playwright and steam aficionado. Brian and I had run an all-male printed fiction magazine called Heist! (originally called Lord – 1998-2002) that was an answer to an all-female uni literary magazine called Lunacy. Newcastle University’s Student Association funded Lunacy. We paid for Heist! ourselves. Heist! was put together using photocopiers, staplers & guillotines. Funny that when I went to shut Heist! down in about 2000, it was female readers who asked me to keep it going. Heist! was modeled on the boys own adventure mags of the 1930s-’50s that lads of our fathers’ generation would have read (think: African safaris, hunting whales in longboats, westerns, bank robberies).
Brian was employed at the university and work became too much that he couldn’t make time to lay out Heist! anymore so we stopped doing it in 2002.
My next plan was an online zine that would take minimal work to maintain. We would accept only electronic submissions. I would create a webpage. It would be a ‘randomly’ as Heist! was (i.e. some years a quarterly, other years, 2 copies or 5 or more). Well, Brian’s workload meant I took over the new ezine as my project. I chose a dozen cool words as maybe titles for the ezine, and the consensus was Skive (pronounced ‘Sk-eye-v’, and meaning ‘getting out of work’ in Australian & British slang), and the new publication was born.
Stepping back to 1998. I created an online ezine called insomAniac (1998-1999), named after a line in the Marx Brothers’ film, At The Circus. insomAniac featured short stories & poetry. That publication lasted two years and it was ceased because I had too much design work on at the time.
Going back two more years to 1996. I created Mockfrog Design. Mockfrog (named after a Monty Python sketch – I was president of a university Python society called Dead Parrot’s Society in the mid-’90s) was created to lay out poetry books for talented poets with no design sense.
In 2003 I harvested writers from Heist! and insomAniac, and spread the word through newsgroups and the university to get submissions for Skive.
Why did I take on this endeavour? Well, I had survived an Arts degree in Classics / Film studies (minors in English & Philosophy), but my love of design came about through the promotion of several socities I was involved with at university. There was the aforementioned Dead Parrot’s Society, The Irish Society (plenty of whiskey and Guinness), Classics, The Republican Society (not Republican as in the American, conservative sense, but as in Australia possibly shaking off the British constitutional monarchy and becoming a nation with a president. I did promotional posters for the above societies and became drunk with desire for design, rather than for university essays that by 3rd year were not inspiring me at all.
I taught myself MS Word, then Pagemaker (had a brief course in it and had the occasional hints from more experienced designer friends), then QuarkXpress. In the middle of this, I taught myself Photoshop.
I finished university in 1996 and then scored a job with the local city council designing a promotional brochure for the region. But the day I got that job I was accepted to do a brief business course in how to run a business, in my case to edit, lay out and publish poetry books. I took the course, and designed a poetry book for a friend that year.
In 1997 I took on a basic knowledge of website design and became the university students association magazine Opus website designer, when websites were in their infancy compared to today. So by then I was getting paid to create books and also websites. By the end of 2002, I had designed many advertisements for Heist! and a few other small mags, so I was confident enough to take on the then new Skive Magazine ezine.
You have accomplished quite a lot in your five years as editor. What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years with Skive Magazine and Skive Magazine Press?
In 5 years Skive has changed. From website ezine (late 2003 – early 2006) to ebook (early 2006) to printed monthly (March – June 2006) to printed quarterly (September 2006 – the present). I’ve published 450 authors, and approx. 750 stories. That’s a lot of reading and proofing mostly on my own. Many late nights.
Where will Skive be in 5 years? Jesus, I’ll be 48! I am hoping I’ll be a famous writer by then and I’d have sold Skive for a lot of money. Who knows… It’s a year to year thing. Skive Press & my other press, Mary Celeste, have been running for a while now and I have published some poets and have novelists and novella-ists in the wings. I like doing both Skive & the presses but I’d love to be able to have other trusted people on tap as well. Would make it a lot easier I think.
Skive in its current incarnation has short stories, also articles & poetry, and photographs. It’s more or less 2003 Skive but printed instead of online. It’s been well received and if I may say it is I believe one of the better produced independent literary magazines in the world in the way of story/poem/article quality and design. My policy with design is: Easy To Read & classic but not dull.
You’re also a writer, you crazy Aussie-man. What projects of your own are you currently working?
I love writing more than anything and spend too much time doing other things that bind my main work (design). I have had 3 books published: a novella (Australia, 2004), short story collection (USA, 2006), poetry collection (USA, 2008). I am currently writing short stories that I submit to magazines, both printed and online. Some are successful, others not. Don’t really care about rejection; I know the process and that some people have to be rejected.
Also, I am working on a more mechanised way of determining characters and plot. In the ’90s I wrote stories with a couple of ideas and then just went with it. Then, a few years ago, after seeing a story on The Dice Man, a guy who went through the US determining direction on a throw of a die; and memories of Stephen King’s book Tommyknockers (the self-writing typewriter); and also, Critters Bar founder and writer Bob Jacobs’ short story Shakespeare (story writing software); plus a photo of writer Henry Miller’s character wall (page after page of character breakdown); I decided to write stories more meticulously and ‘brush away the footsteps’ of the structure of the story instead.
Part I. was taking books from the university shelves, picking random words, then writing a story using these words to inspire me. I now use a dictionary to do the same thing, but also iTunes in its Shuffle mode to choose character aspects / plot.
I have tested this with short stories and it works a treat. Now, when I get brave enough I will write a novel.
Also, I am writing an off-off Broadway play for a NYC buddy. I have never written a play, so this could be a bomb but you never know.
As an editor, what do you look for in a story when considering material for publishing, either for the magazine or the press?
I’ll start with the magazine.
This depends on many factors. Interested writers, take note.
1. If I know the writer and I have published them before they have a better chance. This is not to say I will publish them but I already have a rating in my head. (Ditto if they are a bad writer, that their ranking will already be… well, rank.)
2. If a writer sends me more than one story, I will read the shorter one first. Takes less time. If that story sucks, I go to the next story. If I like a story, I don’t read any more of the stories sent in from that writer. This is just wasted time in my opinion.
3. Bad spelling / grammar irks me. Not the occasional typo, that’s understandable. This includes incorrect linking of sentences with dialogue.
“Dialogue,” Jack said, “more dialogue.”
“Dialogue”, Jack said, “More dialogue.”
Overuse of ellipses. The … that follows a sentence and is supposed to create suspense… You know what I mean… Yes, that’s right… But it doesn’t. There are better ways. (Ditto with hyphens.)
4. Go over the word limit by more than 20 words, rejected.
5. Send in after the deadline date, rejected.
6. Pornography, rejected. I’m no prude, and erotica is fine if it is part of the story, but not the WHOLE story. Bump and grind is boring with all it’s oo-ing and ahh-ing and accompanying hot fluids is Sleepsville. Sex is for doing, not writing about. Hinting is sexier than obvious.
7. Mindless violence, same thing, dull, rejected. (Rape stories rarely get through.)
8. I read the first page of every submission. I can tell if the story will be great, pretty good, okay, or awful. The awfuls get rejected right there. I then read the greats, pretty goods and see if I have enough for an issue. If I need extra stories, I’ll go to the okays.
Poetry gets accepted or rejected – poems that need editing get rejected as poets don’t budge and I used to write poetry so know how important each word is.
So, on judging submissions, I take a leaf from the old Heist! / insomAniac days. I read the first sentence and last sentence. That should grab me! I should also be enthused by 1/3 of the first page.
There should be balance. The story should be broken up into 3 parts. Intro / Middle / End.
Intro should introduce characters and situation.
Middle should have a crisis / problem.
End should solve or fail at solving that problem. This is a very old way of telling stories (read about Aristotle’s theory on writing literature) and it still works.
Stories written in the First Person (I am going down a corridor) narrative are put under Third Person (Jane is going down a corridor). Real daring people who send me Second Person (You are going down a corridor) go to the top of the list. Reason I don’t like Third Person? It’s often autobiographical, and that is nearly always dull. Also, writers are loath to remove anything from the story for fear of ‘betraying’ themselves and their loved ones / friends.
If a writer pulls a story at the last moment after I have accepted them, that’s really bad form and I take note of that person and never give them another chance. I also tell my publisher friends and they do the same. There’s a list, you see. If your story is accepted by someone else, that’s cool, just tell me before it gets accepted somewhere else.
Rude / pretentious writers, rejected, also, put in the above file (Whispers: “They’re usually the worst writers”).
I want writers who can work with me. If I say: this story should be written in 3rd person, rewrite it please, and they won’t I say sayonara dude.
I am never rude when I reject writers as I am a writer and know how fragile the ego is. I will say, on this occasion I must decline the opportunity … but encourage them to keep trying, and they usually get through after a few attempts.
With the presses, I want books that are ready to go, or almost ready to go. Add to this most of the above. They have to be realistic, too. I can’t afford to pay huge advances and supply them with a box of books. Small presses sell online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, not bookshops.
Publishing in general seems to be changing on an almost daily basis. Where do you think the future of publishing lies, and what do you think the industry has to do as a whole to keep up?
Unlike other publishers, I don’t think this ebook revolution is gonna clean up the printed book. This includes Kindle and other ebook readers. Paper books will always be with us until there are no more trees. They are portable, cheap, you can sit on a couch, on the beach, in your car waiting for traffic to move, in class etc… without fearing dropping and breaking / losing your $500 ebook reader, even though you can fit a thousand Pride and Prejudices on it. Print on Demand is still.. in demand. I use Lulu and CreateSpace (part of Amazon) and both send me $ every month when sales are there. We really need a CreateSpace in Australia or something like it. I’ve even sussed out China to get cheap printing done. The big US presses do it so why not me?
When you’re not wrangling the written word, what other activities take up your time?
2 years ago I took up blues harp, then a year ago, acoustic, and then electric guitar. The harp took a bit of practice but I got it eventually. Guitar was harder: calluses, teaching fingers to contort to make chords, remembering chords, starting to pick. Guitar is hard work but wonderful. I recommend it to everyone, especially those of us over the age of 30 (and I’m way over that) to keep senility at bay. Guitar for me is great too because I can play it in the dark, without electricity (the acoustic one anyway) and it is not a computer! When one does websites, books for a living, and writing stories for pleasure, the last thing I want to do is anything with computers, so guitar fits the bill.
Photography. I’ve been taking photos on and off for 22 years. First SLR, developing my own photos. Now digital.
Walking. The best exercise. No fractured ankles like jogging.
Watching DVDs. At the moment, Get Smart Season 1, 1965. Old school, as the kids would say, but really funny stuff. Other recent watchings: Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under. Anything by Woody Allen, Marx Brothers. I still watch a lot of TV (it’s on in the background while I’m on computer)
Photoshop, creating cool-looking mandala / kaleidoscope images. Painting, too, abstract stuff.
Can you explain just exactly what is a vegemite sandwich, and have you ever eaten one?
(Ah, the Men At Work reference.) I can and will. Vegemite is owned by a US company Kraft (it was originally owned by an Australian company). It is a food spread and is made of yeast extract, the end result of the beer making process. It is black, has a consistency like axle grease, smells a bit and it spread on sandwiches, crackers, English muffins, crumpets. Americans are afraid of it as they have heard it is awful, and the way they spread it on is indeed awful. They dollop it on like peanut butter and jelly and that’s just wrong. Because it is strong tasting, Vegemite should be spread on thinly. The best way is on white bread toast, while the toast is hot, and real butter, and then the Vegemite so it melts in with the butter. It’s a savoury taste, a bit bitter, but like beer, enjoyable after a few goes. Vegemite Toast, oh American reader, is a great easer of a hangover, believe me. Vegemite is a cousin of the Brit’s Marmite and Promite (both vegetable extracts) and Bonox (beef extract sipped as a soup). Americans get worried about Vegemite, but Aussies get freaked out by Beef Jerky!
Do you think there are differences between an Australian and American audience when it comes to literature? What are they? Why do you think they’re different?
Good question. Australians are more familiar with Americanisms than Americans are with Australianisms as Americans rule the TV / Movie / Newspaper / Magazine universe. That means we can read American books / watch American TV with no trouble at all. We get the jokes, even the regional references.
On what we read compared with our American cousins, I think it’s the same. Men don’t read novels but rather instructional books and magazines. Women read a lot more than men, and it’s literature, the expected romances but also literary fiction, memoirs are big still. Young guys prefer video games.
Is there one particular story, after all these years, that you still remember and had a special resonance with you? What was it and why?
There is a story, written (title escapes me), by Raymond Carver, that was featured in the film Short Cuts by Robert Altman. The story has a middle aged couple minding an apartment for people across the hall, people they hardly know. They agree, and the result is a fading relationship is ignited again. When I read the story I was in a bus and actually shouted, “No!” when I found out how the tale ended. Carver is perhaps the greatest of short story writers. Then again, maybe Poe, Joyce, Chandler?
One that comes to mind was told to my Year 8 class (grade school, age 14) by our English teacher, John Smythe. John, former Spitfire fighter pilot for Britain, said he’d seen a film when he was young. It was a silent film.
John told us this story to indicate that the passage of time is deceptive and that in that second or so between the lever being pulled and the man dangling at the end of the rope, he created a whole wishful escape scenario. That has stayed with me because it indicates hope and how humans can cope with even the most dire circumstances.
Books written by Matthew Ward:
Cats Creep the Fire To Art : Collected Pretentious Poems, 1992 – 1996
(NYC: World Audience, 2008)
Her Mouth Looked Like a Cat’s Bum (Short stories)
(NYC: World Audience, 2006)
Jake With a Snarly Smile On His Chops (novella)
(Sydney: Independence Jones, 2004)