A semi-regular series in which contributing editor William James sits down (metaphorically speaking) with the editors from some really dope indie lit journal, who – not unlike ourselves – are hard at work trying to bring the baddest-ass of literature for your eyes to feast upon. In this installment, we talk shop with Davis Land, co-editor of Alien Mouth.
WJ: So, it seems that Alien Mouth is a bit of a restart/rebrand of the zine that you previously published (in the end pretty much everything is mostly water) – what prompted that reboot, and how did the process go?DL: mostly water was largely focused on Bryan, Texas. We distributed the zine there for free, we tried to seek out submissions from Bryan artists and writers. We were able to publish people that hadn’t been published before or hadn’t even thought to submit stuff before. When the summer hit I moved to Massachusetts for an internship and James Leaf, the managing editor, went to study abroad in Germany, so it was no longer really feasible to do something that was Bryan based. We put mostly water on hold at the time.
Fast forward to about the beginning of June. I became restless with not creating and putting things out and I reexamined what my goals in publishing were. I realized that I really enjoy putting creative things together even if it’s not to serve a goal of any sort. So that’s what Alien Mouth is about—creating and showcasing cool and fun creative things. I moved the platform online for our monthly edition both to increase how many people have access to the content, and because it allows us to focus our resources on a higher quality print edition (in terms of the physical materials) for our quarterly edition. The name switched to Alien Mouth because of two things: 1) I actually hated the name, okay so you know how your body is mostly water and the world is mostly water well i’d be willing to bet that in the end everything is mostly water, it was fun at first but eventually became clunky and there was no good way to abbreviate it. 2) Alien Mouth is a different beast, hence the different name. I wish I had a cool explanation for the name that was about the work and artists we publish being different and important (and that’s true and our primary goal), the name just sounded really cool (it was James’s idea for our press) and it just ended up working for what we wanted to do with the new format as well.WJ: Along with rebranding as Alien Mouth, was there a shift in the direction you wanted the journal to go aesthetically? What makes Alien Mouth a different entity than …mostly water?
DL: I’m super excited by the monthly online/quarterly print. The print journal will be perfect bound with a soft cover you’ll want to rub on your face. Having an online edition means we can showcase multimedia stuff as well. I also want to focus a lot on reviews, articles, and general creative or journalistic non-fiction, which is something we never really did with mostly water, really it just became a monthly poetry collection. We’ll also probably solicit a lot more, not because we don’t get good submissions (we definitely do, and will always accept open submissions) but because I want to experiment more with what comes out of collaborating with writers and artists, building relationships out of publishing, rather than just copying and pasting work that I think is good.WJ: You could ask a million different journals what they want to publish, and they’d all say “good writing” – and they’d all mean something a little different. So, what does “good writing” mean for AM? Is there a purpose driving this journal above simply putting out quality work?DL: It’s so hard to answer this question, but I guess that’s why you asked it. We’re interested in writing that’s in conversation with the other writing in the world around it. That sounds really opaque. Hmm. We’re interested in the contemporary, in the way art claws itself out of life in “our time” while still understanding of the past. We’re interested in work that’s progressive, though not necessarily original (A distinction I don’t think that is made often enough, I think “originality” and “authenticity” are words that are used too often to exclude people that are honestly writing great stuff but that’s an essay for another time). We want to see writing that takes an understanding of language and uses it to craft something that goes beyond language. We want to see writing that is tender, that is self-aware, that is careful even in the moments that it becomes reckless. We don’t want journal entries. We want writing that is speaking to everyone.
I know I’m talking in abstraction a lot. I don’t know how much else to phrase it. On our submissions page we tell people to look at “have u seen my whale,” “Civil Coping Mechanisms,” “Bear Parade,” and “Boost House,” for stuff we like. We have tastes outside of what they are publishing, but that’s a little more concrete.
WJ: You’re publishing both a monthly online AND a print quarterly. How are you deciding what pieces are accepted for what version? Is there a different set of criteria, or a different tone you want to set for the print version in contrast with the online version?
DL: We ask people to submit to the two separate editions on our submissions page, but if I’m really digging something for one I’ll ask to put it in both or ask for more work to publish in the other. If there’s repeats between the quarterly and monthly they are something we really enjoyed. We have a higher preference for longer prose work or multiple poems in the print edition. The print edition is also where I’d like to see more non-fiction work. Often times if I solicit a writer I’ll ask to put something of theirs in the print version. It’s not a very hard distinction. It sounds mystical but when I read something I’ll often know if it is right for online or for print and there’s not really a metric I can say that I hold it to. Honestly I’m still figuring out what Alien Mouth is, I’ve never been one to set too many hard goals with projects, and I’d like this to be an experiment in what comes about most naturally in the process. I don’t want to be limited by only submissions or only solicitations, I just want to create what is the most fun and beautiful for everyone involved.WJ: Is there anything you learned from …mostly water that is helping you navigate this new venture? Any challenges you faced your first time publishing that are easier this time around?So, so much. For one, I learned how to use InDesign properly and how to make websites that work well (read: look good for an online journal, I’m sure an actual developer would have a heart attack at how things are structured) (I asked Gene Morgan months ago for advice on writing and publishing, he told me to learn how to make websites, that’s remained really good advice) (Should I answer this entire question in parentheses?). I think the main thing I got frustrated with during mostly water was printing and distributing, we printed on a cheap laser printer in my bedroom, stapled, trimmed, and mailed everything ourselves which while fun got to be a pain sometimes. With our new format I’m able to focus so much more on curating, designing, and making something that really fulfills what I want to do.
I think I’ve also learned that Alien Mouth doesn’t have to grow into anything more than a fun project/experiment. Sure it would be nice to have this giant readership (and of course I want that for the people we publish) but that’s not the point. The point is to make something cool with some cool people, to have fun, and to see what happens. If we stop doing it in a year then that’s that, it would be sad but the idea is to focus on doing what feels right, right now. A lot of people who start new projects get focused on getting to the top of the game, but that’s not what Alien Mouth is ever going to focus on doing.
WJ: What does a ‘perfect’ submission look like to you? Take me on the journey, from when you initially receive a submission to the moment you publish it. What tips would you offer to first-time submitters?DL: Follow the guidelines on the site, follow the guidelines on the site, follow the guidelines on the site. I haven’t and won’t reject a submission based on something simple like that, but it makes it so much easier when a person specifies what edition they’re submitting to and includes a short bio in the third person. We also don’t need your blurbs, an explanation of your MFA thesis, or self-written third person praise. Your writing matters. That’s what I’m looking at. A simple “Hi :)” in the body of the email does just fine. I also like to hear what brought the person to Alien Mouth or what stuff they like that we’ve published previously. With regards to the submission itself, it is made so much easier for us when people attach a plain text, .docx, or just writes the submission into the email instead of attaching a pdf. Once again, the stuff I’ve mentioned above doesn’t hurt or increase any chances, it’s just nice.
When I first open an email I immediately open the submission and read the first few lines of each piece. Then I’ll go back and read each thing in full. I don’t have a rationale for why I do this, I just do. For me, it’s easier to tell more about the pieces and why I like them if someone submits more than one piece. I like to get a feel for their style in general. Sometimes I read stuff they’ve published elsewhere, but I never prioritize people based on what/where/how much they’ve published. I often let things sit for a day or so before doing a second read and deciding if I want to accept it or not. For visual art or music, I’ll normally know on the first view/listen.
For first time submitters I would say do not be afraid of rejection. Most people get rejections all the time. You shouldn’t get discouraged (even though it is very easy to be, I get discouraged by rejection all the time and it takes other people reminding me not to be to get back at it). I tell people to submit again, and I really mean it, come back in a bit with some newer stuff, I would love to see what you’re doing and experimenting with in the future. Other than that when you’re preparing stuff for submission you should think to yourself, “Why do I want to publish this thing in particular?” There’s no right answer there, but it’s helpful to remember to ask yourself that.
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BIO: Davis Land is a person from Texas. They make books and radio. Find them online at davisland.info
William James is a poet, punk rocker, and train enthusiast from Manchester, NH. His poems can be found in various journals, anthologies, and punk zines, but are most easily accessible at williamjamespoetry.com. Catch up with him on Twitter @thebilljim