Friday, April 7, 2017

CLARE MACQUEEN

Clare MacQueen is founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher of KYSO Flash, and a member of the General Advisory Board of The Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books), consulting on haibun stories and tanka tales. She served as Assistant Editor, Domestic for The Best Small Fictions 2016 and as roving editor for the 2015 edition (both of which were published by Queen’s Ferry Press). She has also served as copy editor and webmaster for Serving House Journal since its creation early in 2010, and she is co-editor of Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life (Serving House Books, 2015).

Ms. MacQueen’s short fiction and essays appear in Firstdraft, Bricolage, and Serving House Journal, and her essays appear in the anthologies Best New Writing 2007 and Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging. Her nonfiction won an Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Editor’s Choice Award and was nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize.


What have been some of the challenges you have experienced juggling being Webmaster and Editor for KYSO [Knock-Your-Socks-Off] Flash and Serving House Journal as well as a writer of fiction and nonfiction yourself? How have these roles fed or interfered with one another?

Two confessions, upfront: First of all, I grew up in the North American South—and a good number of us Southerners love to chat and tend to ramble, freely making associative transitions along the way. ;-)

(As the narrator in my flash story, “Probability Conundrum,” says: “But please, forgive me for chattering. All roads lead to enlightenment, at least eventually—it’s just that mine meanders along the scenic switchbacks. After all, I’m South, a navel-gazing Clementine from Carolina, and Joe is North, a Red Delicious from D.C. who prefers the shortest distance between Point A and Point Z.”)

And second, I’m unfortunately not among the two percent of humans whose brains are actually wired by Nature to multi-task efficiently, nor is juggling among my talents. Instead, I create most happily and produce my best work when focusing on one project at a time.

Which means that the production schedules of Serving House Journal (SHJ) and KYSO Flash (KF) are staggered to avoid overlapping, so that I can focus mind and heart and soul on each journal separately.

By the way, I’m in the habit of abbreviating “KYSO Flash” as “KF.” I believe the KYSO acronym was trademarked when it was under use by Standard Oil of Kentucky, and it also refers to Kingston Youth Sports Organization and Knoxville Youth Symphony Orchestra, among others. The trademark for “KYSO Flash” stipulates that I reference the full name rather than KYSO. Of course, who wants to spell out, or read, the full name every time the journal’s mentioned? KF will do just fine instead.

My roles at SHJ and KF differ in significant ways, but still are complementary. To begin with, my background as a detail-oriented copy editor came in handy 18 years ago when I began learning design principles and coding while building my first website. Which, by the way, I tackled on my own—my frustrations as a web surfer led me in 1999 to figure out how to design and build a user-friendly website that was easy on the eyes and easy to navigate.

The skills refined while building subsequent sites over the years, artistic as well as commercial, for fun and for an income, are now vital in my role as webmaster for both SHJ and KF.

I’d like to define three terms briefly here, since folks are commonly confused about the differences between web designer, web developer, and webmaster. Basically, the web designer is responsible for the graphic design and layout of a website. The web developer writes the code behind the site that makes it function properly. And the webmaster knows a bit about design and coding, as well as SEO (search engine optimization), and is also responsible for updating and maintaining websites.

Both SHJ and KF are custom-designed websites, unique showcases built by hand—unlike quite a few online magazines based on commercial templates. One drawback, of course, is that updating and troubleshooting SHJ and KF take longer, especially as they include features that many other literary journals do not, such as the contributor index, stats for each issue (KF only), data about each work, and resource links in KF, “More on the Web,” which appear below the majority of contributor bios.

However, those resource links are omitted from KF-7, the spring 2017 issue, which brings me to the most challenging aspects of my compulsion to over-achieve: lack of time, energy, physical stamina, and money to do everything I would like, while managing health issues and maintaining certain standards of excellence in my work.

My editorial roles at each journal significantly affect the time required to put the issues together. I devote the months of April and October to SHJ, and launch the issues on the first of May and November.

On the other hand, KF projects (two issues of the online journal, an annual print anthology, and two smaller books by individual authors each year) consume 8-10 months of the year. Probably a good thing I’m no longer employed, aside from occasional freelance editing projects, and I have fewer family ties these days—so I’m free to immerse myself in my little journal, a privilege which is both lifesaver and blessing.

Another confession: When founding KF three years ago this May, I would have run for the hills in a panic had I known things would grow so fast and so far beyond my original modest dream: to publish three issues of the journal online and one print anthology, in memory of my daughter Kelley who passed away five years ago.

Amazes me that I’ve been able to stretch the small inheritance received from my dad, may he also rest in peace, supplemented by smaller but much appreciated contributions from KF supporters as well as income from a few editing projects, to produce seven issues of the online journal and seven printed books.

Still, the journal and the press have a long way to go to break even! The anthologies have truly been labors of love, created with gratitude for the authors and artists whose works appear in them, each of whom has received a complimentary copy. All my digits are crossed that Book #8 will finally put KF in the black, generating revenue for its author and for its publisher.

Drum roll, please! Enter Here, a full-length collection of erotic literary poems and photographs by Alexis Rhone Fancher, is scheduled for release by KYSO Flash Press no later than mid-June.

“Prepare to savor a whirlwind of a ride. And it is quite a ride,” as Laurel Ann Bogen, poet and author of 11 books, writes in her blurb for Enter Here. And Pam Ward, author of Want Some Get Some and Bad Girls Burn Slow, concludes in her blurb: “Mixing heartbreak and hilarity, these poems deliver an emotional wallop with the ease of a woman rolling down her nylons. Welcome to Los Angeles.”

Enter Here is among my favorite contemporary collections, and I include more about Alexis Rhone Fancher’s kick-ass, most excellent writing in my answers to the third set of questions below.

Back to my editorial role at SHJ: Duff Brenna is founder and editor-in-chief, while I serve as one of two associate editors. He selects the short stories, associate editor R. A. Rycraft selects nonfiction works, guest editors now select the poems, and I copyedit and format all selections for the website. I also comb the web to populate the pages for our Featured Authors and to compile materials for any special issues—such as SHJ-12, the Steve Kowit Memorial Issue, a team tribute to our treasured friend and esteemed Poetry Editor, himself a poet nonpareil and self-proclaimed “all-around no-good troublemaker,” who passed away on 2 April 2015.

With his signature wit and enthusiasm, Steve Kowit published 371 poems by 152 poets in Issues 2 thru 12 of SHJ, and how I miss working with him! Hard to accept that he’s gone and I may never stop grieving. His poetry selections, as well as Brenna’s fiction choices and mentoring and the example of his own lyrical fiction, have been instrumental in preparing me to evaluate submissions of multiple genres for KYSO Flash.

Of course I’m still learning, still building on my relevant formal education (BA degree in English in 1990 with a minor in Creative Writing, plus graduate-level study in British Lit). And the much-appreciated feedback from my KF co-editor Jack Cooper, an award-winning poet and fiction writer, also helps codify and refine my aesthetics.

While I’m a supporting team member at SHJ, I’m editor-in-chief and publisher at KF. And while Cooper evaluates and votes on all submissions as I do, and we co-adjudicated our most recent writing challenge on the theme of climate change, “One Life, One Earth,” I’m responsible for all other aspects of producing and running the KF journal and micro-press. Which includes administering our submissions via Submittable, preparing publishing agreements for authors and artists via Right Signature, designing and creating the books, and reading and writing tons of email—tasks that SHJ’s operating model does not require of me.

And thank goodness for that, because I simply cannot keep up with the volume of emails related to KF! Literally thousands of them for each issue. That I’m miles behind on replying causes me no end of chagrin.

As for my own flash writing, well....

As you might imagine, KYSO Flash has taken over my life, leaving me little time and energy for other things—although I did manage in 2015 and 2016 to write tanka for publication, two each in Ribbons and in Skylark. Beyond that, I have maybe a dozen flash works and other poems of my own languishing on my computer, pieces that have been declined several times already and no doubt need more polishing before submitting again.

But please don’t get me wrong—I love working on SHJ and KF. In fact, I would be bereft without that work, and without the relationships with my colleagues and friends. Both journals are profound blessings in my life, and I offer prayers of thanksgiving for them every day. Especially during times of grief, they help keep me sane and grounded and willing to continue living this dream.

And showcasing the works of others in the online journals and in the books I’ve created is hugely gratifying—satisfying more than one creative urge, in fact. The most recent anthology is in itself “a work of art,” as poet and visual artist Patricia J. Machmiller wrote after receiving her contributor’s copy.

As for my own nonfiction writing: I’ve lived quite an interesting life, not always of my own choosing, and my pull-no-punches memoir has simmered on the back burner for what seems an eon. Duff Brenna, my former professor who’s now my SHJ colleague, a mentor and cherished friend who’s like a big brother to me, has been waiting 20 years to hold that book in his hands.

Write it down, make it happen, as Henriette Anne Klauser entitled her book of tips and exercises on how to achieve goals. So, I’m writing it down, making a public commitment to Duff here and now: I pledge to “fire it up” and finish my memoir, come hell and high-water migraines, with the goal of publishing it in May 2018 for my 63rd birthday.

Please wish me luck, y’all!


You recently hosted a KYSO contest focusing on the environment, specifically climate change—“One Life, One Earth.” Are you considering other similar contests, focusing on important issues such as racism or sexism that have been aggravated by the current administration? What are your goals with these projects?

Great timing—this very question has been on my mind for months! And my short answer is this: “probably not.”

Gotta give up the contests. Primarily due to lack of money—KYSO Flash simply doesn’t generate enough in entry fees to pay the first prize, much less the second and third and any honorable mentions. My own pockets are empty now and I can no longer operate at a deficit. Which bums me out because I do enjoy the contests!

Our goal with running them has been to gain exposure for the online journal, to attract attention and more submissions. But that’s tricky to do with a top prize of only $300. The figure simply isn’t competitive enough to trigger a flood of entries.

As for the question of focusing on racism and sexism, I believe that the importance of climate change Trumps all other issues, with a capital T—no pun intended.

Even so, we received far fewer entries for “One Life, One Earth” than I had hoped, which seems to confirm what my co-editor says in his essay for KF-7, Overwhelmed: Waking Up to the Mother of All Problems. The problems associated with climate change are so complex and frightening, and their solutions so challenging and even onerous, that many folks are unable to think about them, or even to accept that they’re real.

Having said that, I would add this: We would love to publish more literary works in KF that address a range of important issues, including racism and sexism. Not to mention ageism and end-of-life issues. More about this below....


What kind of writing moves you most? Who are some favorite contemporary poets and writers? What kinds of writing do you hope to publish in the future?

Lyrical writing with a strong emotional core resonates most for me. I want to feel the pain and the passion and the joy. And I absolutely adore writing that makes me cry and laugh at the same time—that’s the holy grail for me as reader, as editor, as publisher. Two of Duff Brenna’s novels, The Book of Mamie (University of Iowa Press, 1989) and The Altar of the Body (Picador USA, 2001), set the standard 20 years ago for resonance and lyricism by which I’ve judged countless works of writing since.

Although I happily read an eclectic mix, from novels to poetry collections, from medical mysteries to memoirs, from science-based books about microbial critters to faith-based books about spirituality, my favorite form of writing to publish is, not surprisingly, flash.

By the way, flash for me includes fiction and faction (i.e., nonfiction), along with poetry and hybrid forms like prose poems, haibun stories, and tanka tales. And, whatever the genre, the total word count of each work published in KYSO Flash can be no more than a thousand, including the title. (Our word count for flash at Serving House Journal is 1500 max.)

At KF, we enjoy quirky, unconventional works that also manage to balance the personal and the universal. And we look for writing that surprises us with fresh metaphors and imagery, a unique voice, arresting ideas, and compelling narratives.

Speaking for myself personally, I’m especially fond of rhythmic writing, prose that’s both artistic and functional. As visual arts illustrate the artist’s particular way of seeing, artistic prose reveals the author’s unique observations about the world.

And, like the majority of readers and editors, I’m delighted by writing that hooks me with an intriguing title and/or first sentence, and then haunts me with the last line. Here’s a list of 50 favorite works whose titles and opening lines sparked my interest, and delivered on their promise of an excellent read. (With only nine exceptions as noted after author’s name below, these works are published in KF online.)

1.  The Price of Red Buckle Shoes (Nin Andrews)

2.  What Happens Next (Arlene Ang)

3.  Marooned (Glen Armstrong)

4.  I Long to Hold the Poetry Editor’s Penis in My Hand (Francesca Bell, in Rattle)

5.  A Sunday Morning After a Saturday Night (LoVerne Brown)

6.  Immolation (Matthew Caretti, in Contemporary Haibun Online)

7.  The Third Time My Father Tried to Kill Me (James Claffey, in Mojave River Review)

8.  No Room to Rage (Jack Cooper)

9.  5 by (N°) 5 (Heidi Czerwiec)

10. Pregnant With Peanut Butter (Michael Czyzniejewski, in SmokeLong Quarterly)

11. Bless the Sniper (Anniken Davenport)

12. A Year (Kelsey Dean)

13. The Strindberg Tree (Kika Dorsey)

14. The Black Flags of Our Bodies (Sean Thomas Dougherty)

15. God as Ice Cream Vendor (Alexis Rhone Fancher)

16. this small rain (Alexis Rhone Fancher)

17. Hackmuth’s Mannequin Dream (Dan Gilmore)

18. Just Before Sleep (Dan Gilmore)

19. The Triangle Player (Dan Gilmore)

20. Prickly Heat (Deborah Guzzi)

21. Wabi Sabi Breakfast (Sheryl Holland)

22. Descent (Arya F. Jenkins)

23. Even Men Bleed (Janne Karlsson)

24. A Little Tale of Sunrise (Thomas E. Kennedy)

25. The Black Shoe (Steve Kowit, in Serving House Journal)

26. The Bus to Pomasqui (Steve Kowit)

27. Happy Meal (Kathryn Kulpa)

28. On the Other Hand (Wendy Lestina)

29. Finding My Way in Kichijoji (Bob Lucky)

30. Who’s Roosting in the Family Tree (Bob Lucky)

31. Jesus Incognito (Alison Luterman, in The Sun)

32. Once in a Meadow, Near Los Osos (Michael McClintock)

33. Limogne Revisited (Carolyn Miller)

34. Vincent in the Yellow House (Nuala NĂ­ ChonchĂșir)

35. The Neighbors Will Take the Chickens (Nancy Parshall)

36. Holy Shit (Peter Pereira, at Poetry Foundation)

37. Borborygmi (Kayla Pongrac)

38. Adam’s Curse (Bruce Holland Rogers)

39. Another Summer at the End of the World (C. C. Russell)

40. In the Language of (Liz Scheid, in The Collagist)

41. Stop Looking at Me Like That (Katey Schultz)

42. The Last Thing They Might Have Seen (Katey Schultz)

43. The Bris and the Brisket (Larry Silberfein)

44. Carnivores (Janey Skinner)

45. Vincent in Love (A. M. Thompson)

46. Canary Girl, 1916 (Pat Tompkins)

47. Memorare (Jim Trainer)

48. Whiteout (Paul Vega, in The Collagist)

49. Picking Sunflowers for Van Gogh (Harriot West)

50. Red Army Girls Go Battalion (Jajah Wu)

(For folks interested in VIDA (Women in Literary Arts) stats, the list above includes works by 26 women and 18 men.)

As you can see, I have lots of favorite works. In fact, I could easily think of a few dozen more, but my fingers are taking a break from adding hyper-links. ;-)

As for my favorite contemporary authors, that’s a tough question to answer accurately. Only after reading the complete oeuvres of hundreds of writers would I even attempt to compile such a list. Which is why I prefer to name favorite works instead. And even then, the list by necessity will be incomplete—I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed far too many to include their titles here.

So I’ll rein myself in and offer an additional 36, a list of books this time. Probably goes without saying that the books I’ve created through the KF press are also among my favorites, but it doesn’t feel quite kosher to list them here.

1.  Banned for Life / Arlene Ang

2.  The Altar of the Body / Duff Brenna

3.  The Book of Mamie / Duff Brenna

4.  Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life / co-edited by Duff Brenna, Walter Cummins, Clare MacQueen, and R. A. Rycraft

5.  A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain / Robert Olen Butler

6.  Across My Silence / Jack Cooper

7.  The Red Tent / Anita Diamant

8.  Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis / Joe Dolce

9.  The Small, Wild Places / Claire Everett

10. How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen: and other heart-stab poems / Alexis Rhone Fancher

11. Outlander [only the first novel, not the series] / Diana Gabaldon

12. Difficult Women / Roxanne Gay

13. A Howl for Mayflower / Dan Gilmore

14. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed / Karen Elizabeth Gordon

15. Snow Falling on Cedars / David Guterson

16. Living Buddha, Living Christ / Thich Nhat Hanh

17. Smilla’s Sense of Snow / Peter Hoeg

18. Clan Apis / Jay Hosler

19. The Hotel New Hampshire / John Irving

20. Greene’s Summer / Thomas E. Kennedy

21. Flowers for Algernon / Daniel Keyes

22. After the Ecstasy, the Laundry / Jack Kornfield

23. In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop / Steve Kowit

24. The Dumbbell Nebula / Steve Kowit

25. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life / Anne Lamott

26. To Kill a Mockingbird / Harper Lee

27. Beneath the Coyote Hills / William Luvaas (*)

28. The Best Small Fictions [currently only two volumes available, 2015 and 2016] / series edited by Tara L. Masih

29. Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child / as told to Ellen Mitchell by nine grieving mothers

30. Joe Gould’s Secret / Joseph Mitchell

31. The Shipping News / Annie Proulx

32. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters / Matt Ridley

33. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature / Matt Ridley

34. Honeybee Democracy / Thomas D. Seeley

35. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation / Lynne Truss

36. The Beak of the Finch / Jonathan Weiner

(Stats: 36 works by 24 women and 19 men; see also VIDA (Women in Literary Arts).)

(*) Here’s the blurb used by the publisher from my review (forthcoming in SHJ-16):
With his third published novel, Beneath the Coyote Hills, master storyteller William Luvaas demonstrates once again his remarkable talent for creating over-the-top characters and tragic lives that feel entirely true and believable. And he does so in his signature lyrical style of writing, brilliantly enhanced here by grace notes of hyperbole and humor and anti-heroic irony, juxtaposed with imagery that’s realistic, viscerally affective, and relentless.

Finally, to answer your last question: As mentioned previously, we would love to publish more literary works in KF that address a range of important topics, including racism and sexism. As well as ageism, end-of-life, and spiritual themes. And I neglected to mention coping with disabilities.

Several of our issues already include such themes. For example, Issue 2 offers 14 poems and 5 commentaries by Jennifer Bartlett, Kara Dorris, Ona Gritz, Stephen Kuusisto, and Hal Sirowitz, previously published in the first-of-its-kind anthology: Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability.

Inside or Outside Meat, Terry Barr’s memoir about white privilege set in the 1960s, appears in Issue 6.

Dan Gilmore’s haibun stories on religious themes appear in KF-7 and KF-4 online, and in his collection, New Shoes, published by the KF press.

And we’ve published haibun on meditation and practicing Tai Chi, as well as several works about the abuse of power between men and women. We’re pleased to be first to publish playwright Leslie Powell’s poetry: Stuffed appears in Issue 7 and describes 50 years later an incident in which the narrator was shamed by a male doctor.

Plus, we’re thrilled (!) that fearless feminist Alexis Rhone Fancher has allowed us to publish a range of her works, including poems, prose poems, micro-fictions, haibun, and photographs. (For a complete, at-a-glance list, please see our index of contributors.)

Rhone Fancher’s work is frank, confessional, and pulls no punches, particularly when it addresses grief after the loss of loved ones, including her only child, who died of cancer at the age of 26—poems that appear in State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, a book so beautiful that it inspired many who purchased it at the launch event to hold it in their hands “as if it were a living thing.”

Her work also, and primarily, addresses power through the lens of sexuality:

“I write about women like me, women who own their sexuality and take responsibility for their choices. It may seem I’m writing about sex, but really, I’m writing about power. Who has it. How to get it. How to wield it. How to keep it.”
—from “Featured Fem” Alexis Rhone Fancher, interviewed in The Fem literary magazine (17 June 2016), and quoted here with her permission

As mentioned previously, Enter Here, her full-length collection of erotic poems, is scheduled for release soon. As Michael C. Ford cautions, “Any self-styled critic who characterizes Alexis Rhone Fancher’s written work as only sexy stanzas would be making an egregious mistake.” Ford, a music journalist and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet, goes on to clarify:

“Far more accurate to portray her poetry as grainy, gritty, noir images by a female version of Henry Miller’s bitter observation of the dirty word ‘relationships,’ or Georges Bataille’s eccentric business of the creative woman at times catering to the psycho-sado fantasies of her lover, or Stephen Schneck’s nightmare world of sensual dreams, but with an added dose of infectious humor.”

Of course, we would be delighted to publish writing by others on these themes and of this caliber as well.

On a different note, I would also like to include more work like Platelets by Sonja Johanson, which appears at Boaat Press. For me, the piece is a poignant example of the tendency among practitioners of Western medicine to disregard the wisdom and boundaries of the person they’re treating. Our popular and medical cultures dread uncertainty, aging, and death, and their phobic fears strip our elders of their dignity. I would love to see more submissions to KYSO Flash that address social/spiritual themes like these.


Photo of Clare MacQueen, by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Dec 2016
CLARE MACQUEEN
Photographed by Alexis Rhone Fancher, December 2016
(appears here with her permission)

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