"A Patchwork of Multiple Cultures Working Toward a Common Goal"
The Missing Slate assembles not only writers, but also editors from all around the globe. The staff that spreads over many parts of the world cooperates to produce this magazine. The Missing Slate believes that it is time to think outside of the box of the small office; to give the chance to those who live overseas to take part; and to bring all the possible talents regardless of their location to, as Chinua Achebe puts it, celebrate “the variety and distinctiveness of the offerings.”
From the editor:
"The Missing Slate began as a magazine focused on Pakistan and the South Asian subcontinent but now embraces literature and art irrespective of geography, a reflection of its team and the vision shared by everyone on staff. Our team has gone far beyond Pakistan to Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Romania, India, China, Malaysia, Bosnia, Serbia and Austria. Through our internship program, this team will contract and expand as the internees / next generation of writers and editors cycle in and out."
Interview by Khalid al Hariri
You hold a masters degree in creative writing. How did it help you as an editor?
I received my MA in Creative Writing (from Lancaster University) long after I began my career—such as it is—as an editor. Though I have an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing, I graduated at 19 and was thrust into the professional world ahead of my time, into a field that wasn’t a choice of passion as much as it was of practicality. For about five years before the MA, I co-owned, managed and set up (using my academic background) an online writer’s community and biannual magazine. So much of my editorial experience was learned on the job, which fed into the MA and serving on the editorial board of the university-wide magazine. One develops a tougher skin, I think, when your work is being brutalized by anonymous people in cyberspace. It’s a lot harder in person.
The MA did, however, help in giving me perspective by reminding me that the talent we published and would publish in the future were a lot like me – writers with a fire lit under their collective asses. However, I think the degree really fed more into my trajectory as a writer than an editor, though I would also argue that both are codependent. The degree made writing and editing a more personal journey again which I think is also important – the relationship between editor and writer is a fragile one so perhaps, it fed into that a little bit.
Do you think there should be a special masters for editing?
I believe there is a postgraduate degree for publishing which covers editorial but as such, no. I think editing is something that you develop over time – an editorial style or “flair” or whatever you’d like to call it is, a lot of the time, intuition. I do think you can’t be an editor without being a reader and though it isn’t essential to be a writer to be a successful editor, I think it lends perspective. But really, at the end of the day, it’s your love for words that really carries you forward. A postgraduate degree may help in getting your foot into the publishing world, so it’s definitely worth considering although inevitably it’s what you learn on the job, the mistakes you make, learning what works and what doesn’t that defines the experience.
When did you feel it was time to start your own online magazine?
It’s been a dream for a long time and after I left the biannual magazine I spoke of earlier, and because I still wanted to be involved in literature and the arts, my creative partner (Moeed Tariq) and I formulated a magazine that would cater to both. But instead of focusing on South Asian literature only, we wanted to bring quality literature and art to the subcontinent, less focused on geography or origin. I think that being in the UK at the time did help in giving me this perspective of sorts, forcing me to look outside of that bracket I’d been involved with for so long – something that only being away can give you.
The editors of the Missing Slate come from different parts of the world. As an editor-in-chief, what criteria do you use to choose your editors?
That’s a good question and I guess the best way to answer is by taking a look at how this group of editors was assembled. Most of these people are people I’ve known or who know me through my involvement in other outfits, and that personal kinship and affinity is important to me. The mix of people, much like the content lineup in a magazine, must have a commonality in terms of purpose, goals and visions but also disagree with what’s been done or said, and pushing back one’s own judgment especially if it’s for the betterment of the magazine.
I’ve been lucky in that the magazine has attracted people from within my professional and personal circles who are avid readers and, more often than not, writers too. So when selecting editors, it’s really about having a one-on-one conversation and just seeing what this person’s goals are, how they mesh with the overarching vision for the magazine and, ultimately, what they can contribute.
We welcome diversity – The Missing Slate is really about a patchwork of multiple cultures working toward a common goal, but usually, an editorial “flair” or style that complements my own or another member on staff, is another important part of selection.
Why do you think a writer would choose to send her/his work to a magazine that is not located in the USA or the UK? Don’t you think that s/he would get more exposure if s/he publishes in an English speaking country or do you feel that the internet has been able to break these borders?
I definitely think the Internet has helped in creating this “borderless” creative environment that The Missing Slate is perpetuating, where geography isn’t as central to exposure and awareness. Besides, and perhaps in a display of tooting our own horn a little bit, we’ve published among other brilliant talents from all across the world, the UK’s emerging poets including a Poetry Parnassus finalist and organizer, so I’d like to say: you’re in good company. We’ve been incredibly fortunate in the response we’ve been getting from these talented individuals. For the ninth issue, our literature editors are working on a feature on Pakistani writers and poets and we will be continuing to spotlight different countries, moving along.
Though we may not be based in any one geographic location – yes, The Missing Slate may have its roots in South Asia, but its editorial staff is pretty much spread out (the US and Canada, Southeast Asia, the UK and parts of Europe) – I think it’s exactly that that brings an accepting environment to work that may not be well-suited in more traditionally, geographically focused publications, while at the same time bringing awareness for both reader and writer.
What do you look for in a literary work?
It has to transport me – if it can take me out of my life and into its own world, I’m hooked. I’m not talking about genre though I do tend to gravitate toward literary novels versus any one specific thing. Of course, it does have to be well-written too but I like novels that delve into their people, though not necessarily at the expense of plot. Though I may have been a plot-first reader initially, post-MA I’ve been gravitating more toward character-driven novels.
Poetry is a completely different beast for me, partly because I’m not a poet but have a great admiration for the form, precisely because it’s so unattainable. I think doing more with less is fascinating so it isn’t (just) about the pretty wordplay – if a poem can take me by the scruff of the neck and make me care, I’m yours.
What is it that kills a short story?
The important thing to remember about the form is that it’s a “short story”, so you don’t have the space and expansiveness of a novel. There is a limited time to make an impact, whether it’s a soft or hard one depends entirely on the writer. For me, a story with a non-existent or far-fetched plot that leads to poor characterization is something I can’t stand. I spoke earlier that a story must be well-written, stylistically and that’s a given but it can’t come at the expense of a rambling piece or a plot that’s going nowhere, or has its characters making decisions that don’t adhere to what they were doing, or that don’t mesh with the characteristics and traits the story’s built up so far. That’s a no-no for me.
Since you receive submissions from non-native speakers of English, are you willing to rewrite a whole poem if it has some great ideas but lacks the good language?
While I acknowledge that English isn’t the native language for everyone, if the work is poorly written but has good ideas, I’m afraid we can’t rewrite it. Jacob Silkstone (formerly The Missing Slate’s Poetry Editor but who now manages both fiction and poetry as Literature Editor) is an avid judge of the form, so I largely leave it to his very capable hands.
That said, if a piece has good ideas Jacob or someone from his team will guide the poet a little bit but usually, we don’t rewrite poetry. Our editorial process is collaborative with writers and with the number of submissions we receive, we can really only work with people we intend to publish with some editing, but not extensive rewriting.
To remedy the situation (so to speak), we’re hoping to make translations a more prominent feature in the magazine. With the translators on staff along with the direction the magazine has begun to take, I am hopeful that this will result in a more inclusive environment for international writers.
Where do you see your magazine in the next few years?
We’ve already done more than I could’ve hoped for but where I see the magazine going is in making its mark more prominently in the literary and art worlds, either through its presence in literary festivals or festivals of its own. I see the magazine becoming a more cosmopolitan publication, continuing its policy of inclusion and rallying important but unpublicized issues the informed public must be made aware of.
The magazine will, in some form or the other, make it into print whether as an annual compilation or a quarterly and with the revenue it generates through its merchandising options, will (at least in part) pay the talent it features. I’d also like to see The Missing Slate supporting filmmakers and musicians who are part of the arts but rarely covered as much as the magazine can.
With our team being what it is—a mix of creatives of all types and backgrounds—I see accomplishing these goals easily (knock on wood). It helps when everyone’s on bard, irrespective of where they may be in the world.
Khalid Al Hariri, MA worked as a translator in the UAE between 2004 and 2006. After that, he received an MA in English Literature and Criticism in 2008 for which he wrote a thesis entitled “The Village as Mise en Scene in Modern Irish Drama.” He teaches English Literature and supervises a writers circle. He writes essays on literature and criticism like “The Status of Literature in a World where Writing Rules,” and has an ebook on writing.