"Stories Can Offer a Reader a Very Good Time." A Chat With April Gray Wilder, Editor of Flock
Flock was founded by author, musician, artist, and UNF faculty member Mark Ari, and UNF students in 2002. The journal seeks to publish all varieties of fiction (traditional, experimental, and everything in between) and is based on the premise of literature as an addictive experience. Since its inception, the journal has been a part of a growing literary community in North East Florida and has attracted authors from across the United States and world. Flock is used in UNF literature courses, has showcased author readings, and has hosted its own workshops. Current editor April Gray Wilder was kind enough to answer The Review Review’s questions.
Interview by Noah Friedman
You've stated that stories are addictive. What is it about stories, as a form or genre, that leave you coming back for more?
All the elements of writing have potential to be addicting ingredients in a story. Some of these are obvious—plot, for example, can offer mystery or intrigue that will keep a reader coming back for more. Dialogue may be funny or witty. This addiction is entertainment—stories can offer a reader a very good time. There’s another kind of addiction which I think of as a kind of pleasure. This has more to do with the use of language (a beautiful rhythm can be very seductive) and the presence of shimmers of profound reality that surprise the reader and offer a deeper understanding of what it means to be alive in this world (a deep, experienced “lesson,” if you will—see next paragraph).
Storytelling goddess Jan Blake says that stories are a bitter pill with a sugar coating, and the bitter pill is a lesson. I think if we take enough of these pills, we continue to crave the sugar coating, while also hoping in our deepest of hearts that within that coating we’ll find a powerful pill.
What qualities do you look for in the poetry and prose submitted for publication?
Flock looks for work that is emotionally engaging, surprising in some way (language or content or structure or etc.), and that has a sense of wholeness—by whatever “wholeness” seems to mean for the piece at hand. I’ve asked Fiction Editor Elise Burke and Poetry Editor Grant Kittrell to answer this question for the genre they edit.
Elise Burke, Fiction Editor: “I read for stories I can sink my teeth into, though I also read for the ones that are sonic and intangible. For stories, that despite lack of mass, you chase and grab for anyway. I like surprises, in language and scene, but I like to leave every story as if, despite the swerves, there's nowhere else I could've ended up. I read for work motivated by character, work that makes me feel like I'm looking at a human cell, up close with what we're all made of. Anything that holds darkness and light in one hand—anything that promises to haunt me.”
Grant Kittrell, Poetry Editor: “For one step ahead of me. To be momentarily or perpetually upended, bewildered, relocated. I look for patience, love U-turns in logic, color, syntax. For contradictions—for quiet, for laughter in one place.”
Flock was originally founded in 2002 under the name Fiction Fix. Recently, Fiction Fix merged with its sister-journal, Poetry Fix. What brought about this merger? How has working under a single banner changed or refined your approach in putting together a publication?
The practical reason for our new name is that we wished to merge the genres together within the body of each issue. What we publish has never felt a binary (fiction vs. poetry), but rather a continuum. Some works in our fiction issues read like poetry, some poems we’ve published rely on the elements of fiction, and creative nonfiction pops its head in everywhere. Combining the genres is truer to our understanding of genre, and, we think, offers more reward for the reader we are trying to reach.
Regarding your second question, the works in a single issue speak to each other, so we must now consider the balance of an issue across the genres, which is probably the main way (and a deeply satisfying way) that composing issues has changed.
For poets submitting to Flock (up to five poems at a time), is it important to consider the order in which they appear? Do your readers consider poems within the context of the entire submission or do they appraise their merits on an individual basis?
The order of the poems won’t make or break a submission for us.
Sometimes a poet’s submission asks to be read as a whole—that is, the poems speak to one another and the submission is stronger read that way. But other times this is not the case and so we engage with the poems individually. We enjoy and appreciate both types of submissions.
What are your guiding principles when arranging the artwork in an issue?
Arranging the artwork is an intuitive process. We look for images that resonate with certain texts. And there’s a kind of rhythm or pacing that we think about for the whole issue. The main guiding principle is to be respectful of each work—we wouldn’t want to pair a whimsical piece of art with a heartbreaking story, for example.
You mention that you look for original works that are "accessibly experimental" and "soulful." Who are some authors, published at Flock or elsewhere, who embody these attributes?
An extremely incomplete list of authors “elsewhere” who our editors and I feel embody these two attributes: Donald Barthelme, Tiana Clark, Rikki Ducornet, Russell Edson, Rivka Galchen, Yona Harvey, Bob Hicok, Clarice Lispector, Tracie Morris, Maggie Nelson, Ocean Vuong, Jesmyn Ward, Joy Williams, and Terry Tempest Williams.
And to give a little love to our own authors, I would draw readers to Jeffrey Haynes and Amy Marengo’s work from our recent poetry issue; Mame Ekblom Cudd’s “Calling Out to Lizzie” and Tina Tocco’s “Reinvention” (issue 15); Susan Fedynak’s “Even When We Want to Most, We Cannot Hear the Falling Snow” (14); Ira Sukrungruang’s “Tell Us What You Want” (Issue 13); Jon Pearson’s “The Wheel in the Sky” and Anne Germanacos’ “Snapshots from a Facelift” (Issue 12); David and Petra Press’s “Postcards from the Hecatomb”; Kate Kaiser’s “Dessert and Sudden Death” (Issue 9); Tim Gilmore’s “Juan Alonso Cavale” (Issue 7).
How do you get your submission rejected? What kind of works should writers and artists avoid submitting to Flock?
Other than following our general submission guidelines, we don’t draw a hard line about any kind of writing. We’ve published the gamut and it’s our goal to cater to the adventurous reader by presenting works of great variety. There are common issues that many rejected works tend to have. Frequently, a work seems to not have found its ending yet. Many times, I think, the writing just isn’t quite finished. Other times the writing may be great but the shape of the work doesn’t feel well-defined. For fiction, we often get a submission with stunning language that feels underdeveloped in plot or character; or, the vice versa – a story with a nice arch and engaging characters that hasn’t found its voice yet.
Are there any writers or artists, living or dead, who have influenced Flock's mission and shape?
Mark Ari, our Editorial Advisor, has been with the journal since before it was conceived. He provided the spark that got it going. He has been integral as an advisor through the years. I think the most profound part of his influence has been his spirit. When we as a journal can sustain the spirit with which Ari (as he is known) has inspired us, that’s our definition of success. That spirit is: communal, empathic, honest, serious about the work at hand, not too serious about ourselves, improvisational, jubilant, attentive, fiery, and having a grand time.
Are there any literary publications that you look up to when conceiving new issues? If so, who and why?
That is a great question – and one that would take many pages to answer completely! For many different reasons – from exploring new work to searching for new voices to oohing and aahing over aesthetic beauty, we refer to a good many literary publications: Tin House, Rattle, Fence, The Fairytale Review, A Public Space, Bomb, Orion, Assaracus, Black Warrior Review, Gulf Coast, Brevity, Zyzzyva, Monkey Business, Crazy Horse, The Collagist, The Common, Agni, etc. etc. We also follow the great literary adventures that have been built by editors in our hometown of Jacksonville, FL: Mudlark, Perversion, Bridge Eight, The Talon Review. We keep tabs on the literary services/organizations that today are making the world of contemporary literature so alive and easier to navigate—such as The Review Review, LitHub, NewPages, Duotrope. And then there are the anthologies… Pushcart prize, the O. Henry Prize, Best American Experimental Writing, other Best American [Fill in the Blank]. Stepping back and thinking about this landscape—it’s an incredible time to be in the literary world.
What do you consider to be your proudest achievement as a journal? What do you look forward to achieving that you have yet to accomplish? How might those writers and artists who submit to Flock help you achieve this?
This year, we celebrate our 15th anniversary—a milestone we have reached while maintaining the core of our identity and community. It’s somewhat of an intangible “achievement,” but one, I think, that will help us to grow through another 15 years. We look forward to gaining greater recognition for our authors. The journal could not exist without them and so all we can ask of writers who gift us with their work is this: Be attentive to the muse; write the work that only you can write; remain steadfast, open, and wild.
Noah Friedman is a writer living in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and received his BA in English from the University of Rochester. In 2016, he founded Wordshop101.com where readers and writers of all tastes and talents can peruse podcasts, writing prompts, book reviews, critiques, and more. When he isn't reading, writing, or making art, he writes curriculum for Summer Learning Collaborative, an education non-profit based in Wilmington, Delaware.