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A Conversation with Danny Judge

DANNY JUDGE’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Twisted Vine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Burningword, and The Portland Review, among many others. He is the founding Editor of The Indianola Review, a quarterly print journal, and lives in Indianola, Iowa (go figure), with his wife and son. Find him on Twitter at @dnyjudge.

Lori Sambol Brody talks to Danny Judge, writer and founder/Editor-in-Chief of The Indianola Review, for which Lori is also an assistant fiction editor.

LORI SAMBOL BRODY: Before we talk specifically about The Indianola Review, tell me a little bit about your background.
DANNY JUDGE: I guess everybody who finds his way into this business has to love literature, first and foremost. I’m one of those folks who went a different path after high school, installing furnaces for a few years before joining the Marine Corps in 2007, but I never lost the itch to write, or the love of reading. Finally, after marrying and having a son, I made the leap in 2013 and devoted myself wholeheartedly to writing. I was lucky to have the opportunity—not everyone has the G.I. Bill to pay for schooling or a wife with a nursing job to pick up the slack, I know. It was a challenge, especially starting a little later in life than most, but I devoted myself to the toughest and most demanding material I could find. I started with the classics and worked my way through them until I found Faulkner, who pulled me into this whole other world of literary possibilities—from there, I devoured Joyce, Woolf, Proust, Kafka, Nabokov, and Morrison. I was hooked from the beginning, and spent a possibly unhealthy amount of time reading, which has remained, to a lesser extent, a critical part of what I do with both my writing, and with the direction of The Indianola Review.

When and why did you say, “I’m going to start a literary journal”?
I’m one of those writers who always reads the guidelines and takes a long look at the websites of the journals to which I’m considering submitting. I quickly learned there are a ton of journals out there, and not all of them are doing things the way they should. So when the idea occurred to me in 2015, one of those “wait a second, why not?” moments, I realized I had a wealth of information on the market already. I’d reviewed thousands of websites, read every variation of submission guidelines out there, had good and bad experiences with editors, and I knew right away how I wanted to do things. My obsessive investment of my time, the hours spent writing, reading, and researching, really started to pay dividends in the early stages of The Indianola Review. I knew how important it was for a journal to treat its submitters well and, above all, to promote good literature in all its myriad manifestations, and these two ideas really guided my hand through the early stages. Ultimately, I viewed the journal as a way to tender a positive contribution to the industry and add to the stellar community of literary journals out there doing things the right way.

Does being an ex-Marine influence your writing or your management style as Editor-in-Chief of The Indianola Review?
Actually, I really try to keep that part of my life from infringing too much upon my writing. I view it as experience from which I can draw, if the story calls for it, but which must otherwise remain just that—a source—if I can expect to explore a meaningful range of ideas and perspectives. I don’t write military-themed stories, either, focusing instead on challenging points-of-view and unfamiliar territory. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but looking back, it could have started as a way to avoid being pigeonholed as a “veteran writer.” If so, that’s not on my mind anymore. I’ve fallen in love with the challenge of exploring diverse landscapes and characters, and if I draw from personal experience, it’s likely to have little to do with the military, which only spans four years of my entire life. I’ve always considered myself a writer, and the fact that I was a Marine as a part of my experience in the same way my marriage, the birth of my son, and my work before the military make up my collective experience.

Now, that’s not to say it doesn’t influence my philosophy or behavior in other areas—I’d be naïve to think I don’t approach the journal a little differently with that in my background. One thing most new editors will learn when they step into the role is that the administrative side really takes over your life, and you end up much less involved with the creative side than you expected to be. So, I’d say that the Marine Corps has influenced that side of things, sure—the organization and workflow of the staff. But again, this a completely different beast than the military, complete with its own set of challenges and expectations, and I try to approach it with that in mind.

There’s so many literary journals now, but most are starting online. We think of the Internet being more accessible to readers and having a sort of immediacy (as well as less expensive production)—so why did you decide to start a print journal?
That’s certainly a drawback to the print medium—when a contributor wants to share his work on social media and have it immediately available for his friends and family. However, I really believe that print is and will remain a vital and important medium for literature, and I wanted to contribute to the diminishing number of journals out there still publishing the old-fashioned way. Plus, come on, seeing your byline in a print journal and having the ability to shelve it with your collection of real, tangible printed matter, that just beats online publication any day. It’s a headache sometimes, but I really believe in it, and we’ll be printing on paper as long we can stay in business.

What makes The Indianola Review stand out from all the other literary journals?
That’s a tough one, because there are just so many wonderful journals out there. But I’d say our commitment to submitters really sets us apart. First of all, we pay our contributors. It was a token payment at first, but we’ve since raised our rates and will continue to do so. We aim to respond quickly and will never charge submission fees. In fact, I don’t ask for donations, and I’ve done away with our “tip jar” category. We run one premium category, entirely optional, offering “front-of-the-line” consideration, which results in exponentially expedited responses. I feel that if someone decides to support our journal and help us pay contributors and advertise, they should get more than a warm-and-fuzzy. As a small journal in a sea of other small journals, we’re more than prepared to work for the generous support of the community we serve.

Also, we’ve worked very hard to produce a beautifully clean aesthetic in our print issues, one that I feel really stands up to the eye test with some of the upper echelon journals out there. Presentation is an extremely important part of the publishing process, and it’s another way we honor the hard work of the contributors we publish, by giving their work a home they can be proud of.

Writers love metaphors. If you could compare editing The Indianola Review and the process of putting together an issue to anything else, what would that be?
The whole process is a labor of love. I think it really compares well to the creative process, which any artist will understand. You drive through the ideas and concepts so fast, working through the meat and potatoes of it, then comes the revising, the formatting, the preparation to send your work out in the world—all the administrative things that go hand-in-hand with any creative undertaking. With a journal, you guide the issue through the process of assembling all these stunning individual parts, but then comes the real work: preparing the sum of these parts for print, which is no small task. It’s like the process a short story takes from idea to publication, only on a much larger scale. It’s a lot of work, but I love it.

What is your favorite emotion evoked by a piece of writing?
Honestly, I love uncertainty—ambivalence, that feeling like treading water in a lazy river, just knowing there’s an undercurrent you can’t quite touch with your toes, one that’s palpable and a little dangerous, even. A lot is said about Raymond Carver’s technique and minimalist style, his working class milieus, but the real reason I love Carver is that you’re in his world, and he doesn’t have to show you the riverbed if he doesn’t think you need to see it. He gives you something ethereal, something intangible but forceful, an emotion that destabilizes beautifully the sum of his technical parts. I love the uncertainty of powerful fiction, of knowing the undercurrent is there, that it’s deeper than you swim—deeper, maybe, than you want to.

It seems like you and The Indianola Review are doing more than merely publishing a literary journal, but building a writing community. Is that true, and what are you doing?
We just don’t let ourselves lose sight of the fact that we’re part of a community of individuals passionate about reading and writing. We stay connected on social media and encourage workshop participants to stay connected through the private Facebook page dedicated to them, encouraging a growing community and fostering access to our editorial team long after our workshops end. We love talking to writers, and they are a big part of our decision-making process.

How has being an editor of The Indianola Review influenced your own writing?
That’s a good question, because I think this is an underrated benefit to working on a staff of a good-sized literary journal, no matter if you’re a first reader or an editor. Having the ability to review work from other artists, to see what’s out there and, most importantly, what’s working and what isn’t, can really help a writer when evaluating his own fiction. Personally, I’ve made adjustments based off patterns in our submissions, although, again, I just don’t have the time to dive in anymore as much as I would like.

What would you like to see more of in submissions?
I’d love to see more creative nonfiction and artwork. We really love reading powerful nonfiction, but it’s our least consistent category. We’re always in the market for cover art, as well. As far as content, I’d really like to see more genre work. We’re open to any genre, provided it is well-crafted and compelling.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned from running The Indianola Review?
It’s amazed me from day one how relatively small and dedicated the literary community is. The power and usefulness of social media has blown me away: the ideas being shared and the questions being raised each and every day are extraordinary, and contributing to this community—connecting with and supporting writers—has been the most rewarding part of this journey.

What should we expect next from The Indianola Review?
We are currently reading submissions through the end of the year for our next four issues. We’re looking for fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and cover artwork, and our miscellaneous category is a great place for those hard-to-define creations nesting in your hard drive, waiting for a home.

Our online fiction workshops (poetry forthcoming) offer a great inside look at the guts of the industry, as well a wide range of feedback from our staff and participants. We’re keeping the cost low and striving to provide a unique experience with these workshops, something you can’t get in many programs. We “hire” participants for the duration for workshop, giving them a staff slot in Submittable and introducing them to the behind-the-scenes circuitry of the “machine.” We focus on providing pragmatic guidance to bolster participants’ chances of success with literary journals, even focusing on details like the cover letter and formatting. Together with the intensive, craft-focused commentary on participants’ work, I think this model really packs a punch and does what we set out to accomplish with it. And, of course, we maintain these relationships in our private social media group, because we love hearing about writers’ successes.

Our long-term goals are to raise our rates to pro-level, take AWP by storm with a booth—and, who knows, somebody in a big giraffe costume handing out copies of the journal—and to continue promoting new and emerging writers alongside a roster of established artists. Our submission guidelines are available at indianolareview.com. For updates on our Twitter chats, contests, and giveaways, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage everyone to check out our latest issue on Amazon.

LORI SAMBOL BRODY lives in the mountains of Southern California with her husband and two daughters. Her short fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Little Fiction, The Rumpus, Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody, and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

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