Brand New Lit Mag Seeking Boundary-Pushing Writing
Driftwood Press is a quarterly literary magazine founded in Tampa, FL in 2013. The editors "strive to provide our readers with the highest quality content." James McNulty is the fiction editor; Jerrod Schwartz is the poetry editor.
Interview by Andrew Hemmert
What inspired you to start Driftwood Press?
James: Having worked for an undergraduate press in college, I’d always dreamed of starting a literary journal. I went to a friend, Jerrod, whom I trusted with the poetry and asked him if he wanted to start one with me. Jerrod’s a phenomenal poet. He’s soon to be published in Squalorly, so be sure to check out their new issue.
Jerrod: I have always held to the belief that poetry is sharpest and most engaging when viewed as a collective art form. Who of us has not been inspired by other poets, been urged on by talented writers to perfect our own craft? Simply, I was inspired to help start Driftwood Press because it is such a unique and important avenue for poets to see how their contemplatives are working within the medium.
Why name a literary magazine after floating debris?
James: We sat on a few titles for a while.
Jerrod: Our original name was Intact Boat Press. We thought the name was a little too long, so we sunk that idea, and just used what was left.
You recently released your first issue online. Was there a big submission turnout?
Jerrod: Our first turnout was bigger than we could have hoped for! We received over three hundred submissions, and we cannot express enough appreciation to everyone who submitted.
Aside from full issues, Driftwood Press features a monthly contest called “Sea Log.” What is the benefit of having monthly contests, and are contest winners featured in full issues?
Jerrod: I have seen too many online literary journals that have almost no contact with their readers and submitters. The Sea Log lets readers know that we, the editors, are actively interested in our journal and in our readers.
James: The contest winners are not featured in the issues, but we’re considering publishing them in a collection once we get enough of them. The Sea Log contests, recommended readings, and announcements help to keep artists and writers involved in their respective crafts. We try to keep a lot of the contest prompts open so that folks can submit previously created works, but we’re always pleasantly surprised when someone tells us that they made the piece specifically for our contest.
There are always those who love dead and experimental styles; I hope they find out that we’re an avenue for their work.
James, in your fiction submission guidelines, you discourage writers from submitting “young adult, fantasy, romance, novel chapters, and mainstream mystery fiction.” Why?
James: There are a few reasons for this. Unfortunately, we have to narrow down our aesthetic focus a little bit, or else we’d receive far too many submissions than we are staffed for and the issues would be a hodgepodge of clashing genres. At the same time, we didn’t want to limit ourselves to one type of genre. I think our first issue presents a pretty wide spectrum of fiction. It ranges from Tom Liskey’s emotional story, "Lovers" to Alysson Parker’s noir, "The Name of the Blues." Hopefully, this range won’t discourage readers, but keep them interested by not offering more of the same (our guest editor system contributes to this variety, too). Ranging from noir to romance to fantasy, however, seems like too wide a spectrum.
While we’re talking about guidelines, I would like to ask your readers for stream of consciousness submissions; the guidelines list them as one of our interests, but I haven’t received many. It may be a fairly dead and challenging experimental style, but there are always those who love dead and experimental styles; I hope they find out that we’re an avenue for their work.
We’re searching for fiction with rhetoric; fiction with a focus on form and aesthetic, rather than fiction solely made for entertainment; fiction with extreme care placed in developing a plot, character, theme, symbols, etc; fiction that will stick with you beyond the moment you’re reading it. The typical romance novel, for example, doesn’t tend to have much of this, but some romance novels do. As the quote on our site indicates, Jerrod and I are both huge fans of Updike. Updike’s novels (the Rabbit series in particular) are very focused on their romantic elements, but we wouldn’t consider him within the genre of ‘romance’ because of the apparent amount of care and literary value in his writing. The symbolic meaning of the color green, for example, develops throughout the Rabbit series; this is the type of care we’re looking for- care in the crafting process.
I think the strength of any editor lies in understanding your limits; I don’t feel qualified enough to judge some of these genres we’ve advised against submitting simply because they aren’t my focus. I haven’t read enough romance or young adult to feel qualified to judge them. My undergraduate fiction thesis was a work of fantasy that developed from whimsical to stream of consciousness in an attempt to focus on progress, among other things. I share this in an attempt to show that I don’t disvalue these genres we’ve decided to disinclude; we simply can’t accept everything.
We’re still a small magazine, after all. Perhaps one day we’ll be large enough to open submissions to more genres and categories. I’ve always thought it would be wonderful to help revive the novella by publishing installments of select novellas every issue, but, so long as Driftwood remains a labor of love rather than one of profit, we can’t handle that sort of submission volume.
As for novel chapters, marketing a larger work is not our aim; we want readers to be able to complete pieces they begin with Driftwood.
Jerrod, you discourage poets from submitting: “overly romanticized, antiquated, or colloquial poetry.” What do you mean by “colloquial poetry,” and why don’t you want it at Driftwood Press? Conversely, you encourage poets to submit “poetry of literary importance.” What makes a poem literarily important to you?
Jerrod: Driftwood Press is searching for poetry that pushes the boundaries of and evolves the medium. We would never exclude a poem that has themes, images, or symbols that could be classified as romanticized, antiquated, and colloquial. However, Driftwood Press is not looking for the next Shakespeare, Eliot, or Kerouac. We want each poem we receive to resonate with individuality, and we want each poet to write the poem that only he or she could write. Subsequently, I do not believe that there is a single definition of a “literary” poem. I simply suggest that great poems are written by poets whose unique voice is undeniable.
James: I completely agree. This goes for the fiction, too; we’re looking for original voice.
On your “About” page, you list a number of literary magazines for content comparison. Some of these include Sweet: A Literary Confection, Saw Palm, Crazyhorse, and Squalorly. What about these magazines appeals to you?
Jerrod: Sweet: A Literary Confection is a local magazine run, in part, by Katherine Riegel. She has been influential in my own career as a writer, and her ability to discern wonderful poetry is a personal inspiration. Crazyhorse and Squalorly are also wonderful journals, and their respective selections have inspired us to create a journal that is on par with their level of literary excellence.
James: Saw Palm is another local literary magazine edited by a fully rotating staff in conjunction with the University of South Florida’s graduate English program. USF’s creative writing program consistently puts out editors who are fully capable of picking great work for Saw Palm. We’re also friends with the founder of Saw Palm, Dr. John Henry Fleming. My copy of his new book, Songs for the Deaf, just came in the mail; check it out!
Along with fiction, poetry, photography, and literary criticism, Driftwood Press seeks graphic narrative submissions. What does Driftwood Press look for in a graphic narrative?
James: More or less the same thing we’re looking for in every other category; artistic and aesthetic excellence. We’re looking for graphic narrative that tests the boundaries of the medium and takes full advantage of everything that the unique mixture of art and dialogue has to offer.
On a related note, Driftwood Press does not accept creative nonfiction submissions. Why feature graphic narrative and not creative nonfiction? Might you feature creative nonfiction eventually?
James: Again, I think this comes down to realizing our limitations. I’m well-versed in fiction and Jerrod is well-versed in poetry. Our debut issue’s fiction editor, Rebecca Jensen, also suggested we open submission to creative non-fiction. Perhaps we’ll bring her aboard one day to help us realize that, but for now, we’re comfortable with the already broad range of categories we’re accepting.
Jerrod: I love reading creative nonfiction. However, we feel that it is inappropriate for us to judge creative nonfiction, when neither of us have sufficient experience.
You give every published author the opportunity to be interviewed. What does this add to the included pieces?
Jerrod: The interviews are a way for writers and readers to interact with one another, in a way that benefits both parties. In many ways, the interviews act as lessons, suggestions, and instructions for our readers who, most likely, are writers themselves.
James: I’ve often been told that the only people who read literary magazines are the writers who publish in them. If this has any kernel of truth in it, then the interviews are perfectly suited to literary magazines. Not only is it a great form of self-promotion, but it’s a wonderful way to frame a piece or share your craft, which may benefit others through added perspective or new methods of writing. And if they want the work to stand on its own, that’s fine. They can do the interview without even mentioning the specific work, or opt out of the interview entirely.
All of the interviewees last issue were extremely thankful and excited to be given the opportunity to speak directly to their readers. A few of them shared that they were genuinely excited about the opportunity:
“They really prompted me to think critically about my own writing and thinking processes.”
“What a lovely idea to include interviews with pieces (I know I'll certainly enjoy reading other writers' interviews)!”
“Thank you so much for offering an opportunity to interview. I've never done that before and it's amazing to see a journal taking so much interest in writers. I really appreciate it.”
So these interviews help the authors and the readers; we’re proud and excited to offer a feature that other literary magazines don’t.
Where do you see Driftwood Press going in the future?
James: To the Pacific. We’d love to be self-sustaining, to be able to pay our published authors a small sum, to continue to offer guest editorship opportunities to up-and-coming authors, and to continue to share incredible work with aspiring writers and readers.
Jerrod: To the Atlantic. Aside from continuing to publish the best in literature and visual art, we would love to see Driftwood Press’ readership grow. We have currently started a Kickstarter, which will allow us to run a print edition of a second issue and pay our accepted artists.
Andrew Hemmert is an intern with The Review Review.