We gotta learn to shut up and just let these awesome people speak for themselves.
Let’s kick it off with a little background about Blink-Ink. Where did the idea come and how has it evolved to where it is today?
Sally- I’ll defer to Doug on our origin story because he is Blink-Ink’s founder. As to our way forward, our goals are always Quality and Inclusion.
Doug- In the early, or maybe mid aughts, I was writing a great deal of 50/55 word fiction, and was getting published regularly. Within six months the three e-zines that I liked most, that were publishing me, all closed their doors. I can’t even name them now, but then they were very important to me. Blink-Ink filled that void certainly, but also to expand on and explore some new ideas and possibilities in short fiction.
If you could sum up the vibe of Blink-Ink in six words, what would they be?
Sally- Sparkling microfiction in your mailbox, quarterly.
Doug- We are inclusive, rather than exclusive.
Blink Ink publishes only 50-word stories. I’ve seen 25, 100, 101, and so on but never gave much thought to why beyond it being a challenge. Why did you land on 50 as the sweet spot?
Sally- Again, I’ll defer to Doug for the genesis of that choice but first, for clarity, we publish stories of approximately 50 words or less. We don’t insist on an exact 50 words because we feel that bends toward being a kind of parlor trick and away from being literature. Flash fiction is usually approached as something that starts out too long, then gets compressed and pared down. We like to see work that was conceived whole, in brevity. At approximately 50 words or less that different way of working is the sweet spot.
Doug- Sally makes a good point. Some people feel writing 50 word is a parlor trick. The real challenge is to write something worthwhile, something good in 50 words.To answer your question, I guess we started with 50 words because I was familiar with it, and had found there was so much a writer could do.
How do you feel about the way publishing has moved increasingly online? Blink-Ink has stuck to printing the work you publish. Do you feel that some of the magic or potency of a story gets lost when you can’t hold it in your hand, or is it more of a simple preference?
Sally- Online publishing is just the pragmatic choice so I don’t really have feelings about it. An online pub involves almost no cash outlay; print journals are expensive. You can always hold a device in your hand while you read a story so I don’t think that’s at the heart of the magic. I think the magic is just that every issue has it’s own real physical place in the known universe, that it is an artifact, that it has independent thingness, embodies a history, has prospects for a future.
Doug- Online publication is too ephemeral for me. It’s here one second on my screen, then gone. Maybe I can find it again when I have time, and if I remember. Given the additional costs, and all the extra work involved in print publication and distribution, I can certainly understand the appeal of online publication. Often that is the option available. Blink-Ink is small physically at 5 1/2 X 4 1/4 inches and about 20 pages. People tell us how much they like taking it with them in their pocket, purse, or bag to read on mass transit, when waiting somewhere, or on their break from school or work. We have one reader who drives for Uber in California. He keeps his old copies of Blink-Ink with him to read between gigs.
Blink-Ink nominates for Pushcart Awards, Best Small Fictions, and Best Micro Fictions. Copies of Blink-Ink are also held in The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. It seems you’ve put a lot of effort into making sure the stories published in Blink-Ink are cared for and promoted well. With the rise of so many online journals, are you concerned at all about print or Pushcart going out of style, or will it be something that sets Blink-Ink apart going forward?
Sally- Chasing the ephemeral is not our superpower. What does concern us is sustaining the expense of a quality print journal. We have no outside funding beyond our subscribers and are not personally wealthy.
Doug- Blink-Ink has been in continuous publication for 14 years now. While completely underfunded, and always short-staffed we are bigger now than ever before. We have a larger, and wider base of contributors and subscribers than ever before. We are a creative little lit journal that puts out a high quality publication containing some very solid short fiction. Are we concerned about the future? We are always concerned, yet some how keep finding our way forward.
People might see ’50 words’ and think, “oh, easy!” but I suspect it is a lot harder than it looks. Are most submissions an easy yes/no or are there things people should focus on that you’ve found make a micro-piece shine where others fall short?
Sally- What we love most is writing that has found that preternatural detail of thought or thing that cracks the story open and allows it to matter or to reveal a truth. An easy “no” is a submission that ignores our guidelines or approaches microfiction as some kind of gimmick. We like urgent and human, love funny, dislike cheap snark, don’t tolerate meanness or bigotry.
Doug- One of the things I love most is when someone tells us that we are their first publishing credit. A small percentage of submissions we receive are immediate yeses, and about as many are immediate nos. The more challenging and interesting part of our work as editors is all the other submissions. We look them over closely, work our way through, and pick very good work that I feel other publications may not understand or see the value in. It’s part of being inclusive. We could publish the same couple of dozen or so people, who are good writers, over and over, but why? It would be like a club newsletter. Who’d care?
Kinda bouncing off of that, what do you think sets a fiction 50-word story apart from a prose poem (since you explicitly say you don’t publish poetry)? I always find this line to be hard to navigate and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Sally- From the outside, certain mannerisms of form, the body language of the text—things like line breaks, stacked refrains, eccentric indents etc.—say, “poem.” What does not necessarily signal a poem is lyric language, imagism, certain moods or tones; all these have their own place in prose.
Doug- I think this is the hardest question I have ever been asked in an interview. Everything Sally says is correct, but for me it is a little different. I often read things aloud to gain a better understanding. Both my own work as well as submissions. We print everything that comes in, and maybe I’ll carry it around with me and read it aloud to myself a few times during the day. Get to know the piece better. Does it sound poemy? Does it feel like a poem? Would it be better as a poem, or worse? Is it just prose that’s formatted like a poem, or the other way around? That’s how it works for me.
How do you choose the themes for each submission period? Do you have them planned out in advance or does it become a discussion as open periods approach based on your current interests?
Sally- We freestyle it but prefer to have a few future themes planned. We also start looking for art or photos or epigraphs before we open for text submissions. Infrequently art we want to use suggests a theme.
Doug- We try and stay two themes, that’s six months, ahead. We bounce many proposed themes off each other. Is it too specific? is it too general? Would we want to read submissions for it? What if it only makes sense to us? We have had people request a list of our previous themes to use as writing prompts.
If there were one question you could add to this interview, what would it be and how would you answer it?
Sally- I might ask, “What sorts of projects is Blink-Ink thinking about for future?
I would answer that we are thinking of offering some weekend workshops inspired by things we see as editors. The first would probably be on titles because about 20% of submissions we receive come to us untitled.
Or, I would mention that we have a blank page on our website called Performance Space. We have Blink-Ink podcasts, videos, and zoom readings to upload there and plans to produce more mixed media & the ilk. So we are gently seeking a Performance Space Editor.
Doug- I like Sally’s response , and I’ll riff off that. I’d like to see us grow. Not just bigger or better in some specific way, but grow with more staff, more projects, new ideas.You might then say what kind of new projects, what kind of staff openings, and I’d have to say that I don’t know. Could be we find some compatible folks, and see what they bring to the table. One thing I do know is that we have no desire to pursue the dead end of social media. Maybe we should talk about having an “anti-social media director”. There’s a thought.