Interview by David Frankel
For readers and writers of the short story, literary magazines are an ideal platform. They give new writers an opportunity to show their work and build a readership, and give better-established authors a place to experiment with form and ideas.
Magazines and journals are often more inclusive and diverse than publishing houses – lighter on their feet, able to challenge and speculate. Each magazine has its own distinct identity, and each attracts a following of readers passionate about the short story. Few of them seek outside funding, fewer still receive it, often operating on a minimal budget, and yet they soldier on.
Their editors are the gatekeepers who spend their time reading submissions, producing the magazine, finding new readers and organising events. So, we decided to try and get inside the heads of these unsung heroes of the short-story world in a series of interviews. This month, David Frankel talks to Philip Elliot of Into the Void.
Into the Void is an award-winning literary magazine and small press publisher dedicated to providing a platform for world-class fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, reviews and visual art. It strives to be a home where diversity is valued and art is treasured. Founded in 2016, it has already gained both awards and critical acclaim.
Philip, how would you describe Into the Void?
A place where art lives. A reminder of our shared humanity in an age when it is too easily forgotten.
How did it start? What made you do it?
I’m an extremely impulsive person, often to a fault, and I’m extremely arrogant. I was new to the whole “serious writer” thing and, me being me, I decided the best way to improve my writing and learn about, not just the craft, but the whole industry would be to start a literary magazine! Luckily, it worked out, and has been fun from day one.
Into the Void is the new kid on the block, but it’s already won awards and gained a reputation for quality and for breaking new writers. How did you get established so quickly?
Again, sheer arrogance. But also, the other editors and I aim high and have done from the beginning. I live to a personal mission of giving everything I do my absolute all, so I’m always pushing Into the Void further, trying to take it to the next level issue-to-issue. The other editors, Heath Brougher, Laura Halpin, and Amanda Gaines, make it very easy for me, always choosing excellent, unique pieces that often do something new or express something so viscerally and purely, such as Laura’s recent flash fiction pick, “The Collector” by Lauren S. Marcus, which is a Best Small Fictions 2018 winner. And we have a great bunch of staff writers that contribute excellent pieces to our website regularly. So, I’m lucky in both of those regards. But, ultimately, if I’m to be totally honest, Into the Void owes everything to its contributors. It’s like that quote, “Build it, and they will come.” They came.
It’s kind of a dark title. Where did it come from?
It came out of the void! Which is to say I have no idea. I love Black Sabbath and there is a Sabbath song called ‘Into the Void’, so maybe it came from there but if so it was a subconscious thing. What is interesting is that I never considered any other name. From day one it was Into the Void and that was that.
What does a day in the life of the editor of Into the Void look like?
A circus! Because Into the Void is also a small-press publisher and a website with frequent content, it gets busy busy busy. I freelance edit on top of that and also try (and mostly fail) to fit in my own writing so, some days, when it gets really backed up, I wake up and work for 14 hours straight, stopping only to grab a snack and give the dog a quick walk. But, as the saying goes, when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. And I love what I do.
You don’t call for themed submissions but I sometimes detect an underlying theme in an issue, for example issue seven had a landscape thing going on? Am I imagining this, or do you have an idea in mind when you shape a given issue?
Interesting you should say that! I can’t say I noticed a landscape thing going on in Issue 7 but you are definitely right in that an issue takes a certain shape as it progresses. I think it’s more unconscious than carefully considered but I am aware of it all the same. Actually, it’s my favourite thing about curating the issues, seeing how it unfolds. Each issue of Into the Void is a collection of art pieces, but that combination of pieces and the order they are in makes each issue a piece of art all its own.
How personal does it get? Do the stories you select reflect your own taste or broader considerations?
Yeah, I mean, isn’t that the definition of art—how it moves you? Art affects us because it speaks to us and we relate to it—and we relate to it because of our own experiences. It would be impossible to appreciate a piece of art without it being in some way connected to life as we as individuals have come to know it. That said, I know a great story when I read one, even if it’s not the kind of story I would actively seek out. But that’s the other thing about truly great art: it reaches above the level of the individual and hits us somewhere deeper, expressing what it is to be human.
The work you publish is stylistically varied and includes some experimental and challenging prose, but the feel of the magazine is unpretentious and engaging. How do you strike this balance?
Into the Void is kind of an outsider of the whole literary world, probably because I’m quite the outcast type myself. We do things our own way and don’t care much for tradition or what’s standard. Essentially, we’re passionate and sincere, and don’t have ulterior motives or very much to gain aside from experiencing so much great art and getting to be the people responsible for sharing it with the world. Maybe it’s because we’re young, too, both as a magazine and as people. So many journals have the weight of history and legacy behind them, like so any of those university journals that proudly state how old they are. Which is cool—it’s great that anything literary can have such a life and legacy, and I hope it continues—but they can be intimidating and a little off-putting. As well as this, they tend to all have a very similar aesthetic and vibe. Into the Void goes a whole other direction. We’re interested in being fresh, energetic, and fun. Full of life. And there is a whole crop of new publications run by smart and creative young people that are doing something similar. The literary world is experiencing something of a renaissance in recent years—there’s an energy and creativity there that wasn’t there before—and it’s great to see.
You publish a lot of artwork in Into the Void, which is striking in its own right. How did the look of the magazine develop?
As soon as I knew I wanted to start a literary magazine, I knew visual art had to be a major element in it. The visual art is where the energy comes from. It’s vivid and colorful and takes up so much space on the page. And, importantly, it’s instantly effective; it draws the eye to it immediately, and, unlike literature which takes some time to read and digest and ponder, the visual art is experienced immediately and demands a reaction in the viewer. I think of literature as needing participation from the potential reader in order for it to work but visual art is a different beast and screams off the page. It has an important function also of framing the literature and breaking up chunky pieces of text. The visual art influences the written pieces, and the written pieces influence the visual art. In short, it makes the issues a lot more fun to read.
Into the Void was founded in Dublin, now it’s based in Toronto. It has a very international feel. Was this something you set out to achieve or was it just circumstance?
Definitely something we all set out to achieve, constantly. As mentioned, I think the literary world, and especially literary magazines, are experiencing a renaissance, but the world of today is vastly different than even a decade ago. The idea of nationality has less importance than ever, and although this has bred a horrible resurgence of racism and xenophobia as backlash, I think most of us are becoming aware that we are all citizens of Earth, and that all borders do is limit freedom for us all. It’s very important to us that Into the Void reflects that.
You publish in both print and digital formats. Does the digital publication help you reach a wider international audience?
I think so. Not so much because it’s digital but because it’s considerably cheaper. And it’s instant—often people want something immediately. And, although I find it baffling as I love physical books, some people only want to read on their tablets! I know, weird, but I hear those people are out there somewhere . . . Anyway, it’s 2018, we live in the Digital Age; there’s no reason to not have issues available in digital format.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
hat moment when I read a story/poem/essay or come across a visual artwork and the breath catches in my chest and makes me feel something deeply.
You have a team of editors working with you. How does this work on a practical level?
Very well. We use the software “Submittable” to manage submissions and it makes it very easy and efficient. Each editor gets pieces from the right category assigned to them automatically and from there we can comment on them, rate them, accept or reject them. Heath, Laura, and Amanda do a great job and communicate effectively with me, so really they make it very easy for me.
Running a magazine can be difficult financially. How does the magazine fund itself?
It is difficult financially, largely I think because our target market is of course writers, and we writers are certainly not rolling in money. I think lots of writers would love to buy more literary magazines and more subscriptions to them, but we all have bills to pay. Unlike a lot of magazines, we don’t receive any outside funding so I just have to be creative in how I run this business. In some ways it’s just a time thing; as Into the Void grows so does the money it brings in, and it gets a little easier to print that next issue. I am constantly putting that money back into it to expand it further, focusing heavily on the small press aspect of it currently, but those investments pay off in the long run. A main goal for us in the near future is to get to a point where we can pay our writers. That will be a major milestone when it comes.
You have launched new competitions for poetry and short stories. That means a lot of extra work! What made you go down this path?
Tell me about it! It’s a necessity, really. Those competitions go a long way in paying for the many costs of running Into the Void. I’m hoping to funnel a lot of the money received from the upcoming Fiction Prize into the small press side of things and really build that up. The contests are a lot of fun, though, and bring a lot of extra eyes to Into the Void. And I’ll never turn down a chance to read some world-class writing.
You’re a successful writer yourself. Has your experience of being an editor changed your views on short stories in any way?
Absolutely. Being an editor has pushed my own writing and analytical reading skills far beyond anything I could have accomplished in the same period of time without being an editor. Through reading hundreds of stories per month I have become very quick at spotting strengths and weakness and seeing what a story needs to improve, what’s holding it back, what can be cut, what can be added, etc., and this certainly informs my own writing. However, I find it difficult to turn on the editor hat for my own writing, and I think I’m a far better editor than I am a writer.
Yes! Vividly. ‘Car Crash While Hitchhikin’ by Denis Johnson from his collection Jesus’ Son, which is the book responsible for my chosen career path, and is therefore responsible for Into the Void. I’ve talked about Denis Johnson at length far too many times so I’ll link you to a recent piece I wrote about him for The Cardiff Review that mentions Jesus’ Son.
What is the last short story you read (voluntarily!)?
‘Rose’ by Andres Dubus. To the person reading this right now: If you have not read Andres Dubus, you simply have to. Raw power.
You’ve already mentioned the magazine’s small-press. Despite the magazines youth, you’ve already begun to publish other publications, both poetry and fiction. Was this always something you intended to do?
For sure! It’s been a dream of mine for as long as the magazine was an idea in my head to run a publishing house and see it grow. I’m hoping that one day it becomes a successful publishing house in its own right, separate to the magazine, with a reputation for publishing amazing books. We’ve made the first major step in that direction with our upcoming release, the short story collection The Middle Ground by Jeff Ewing, a writer whose stories I’ve published twice in Into the Void, which is how I came across him. It’s a phenomenal book, without a doubt one of the greatest short story collections I’ve ever read, and a lot of love and care has gone into its design inside and out. We’ve also just signed a contract with a major North American distributor, Small Press United, so I’m very, very excited for what the future holds for Into the Void Press.
Where can we find a copy?
In our online store. Readers can also subscribe and get sixty percent off the cost per individual issue.
Philip Elliot is the founder and editor-in-chief of Into the Void. He is also the award-winning author of a short story collection, Hunger & Hallelujahs, a novella, Dreaming in Starlight, and a poetry chapbook, The Impending Heat Death of the Universe & Other Things that Stop Me from Caring which has just been published by Ghost City Press. His work can be found in dozens of journals.
David Frankel’s short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines including Unthology 8, Prole, Lightship Anthology and The London Magazine. His creative non-fiction and reviews have been published in various journals and publications both online and in print. He also works as an artist and edits work for other writers.
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