In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we are launching a series of short-form, 5-question interviews with editors, writers and other "bookish" people. To begin, we caught up with Summer Block, freelance writer and founder of the online humor magazine The Foghorn.
In addition to editing The Foghorn, Summer Block has published essays, short fiction, and poetry in McSweeney's, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Identity Theory, DIAGRAM, Monkeybicycle, PANK, and many other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and one and a half babies. You can find her work at www.summerblock.com. Some people follow her on Twitter.
1. Why did you start The Foghorn?
I write mainly comedy and found that there were comparatively few places online to place it. There are a few high-profile literary sites like McSweeney's Internet Tendency; a few smaller but excellent sites like The Big Jewel, Yankee Pot Roast, and The Revolving Floor; and a few places that publish a mixture of comedy and other things, like Swink, The Nervous Breakdown, Opium, or Monkeybicycle. Moreover, most of the comedy sites that do exist publish fiction and parody in the McSweeney's/"Shouts and Murmurs" mode, and while I love reading and writing that sort of thing, I'm particularly partial to amusing nonfiction essays in the David Sedaris style. But every time I wrote something like that, I had no idea where to send it.
2. Does the name have anything to do with the Ray Bradbury story "The Fog Horn"? (If not, where did it come from?)
It doesn't, though now I have to go check that story out and try to find a connection. The name came out of a conversation with my good friend, the excellent comedy writer Grant Munroe, who initially came on board to do The Foghorn with me but then was drawn away by other commitments. I find the sound a foghorn makes both amusing and melancholy, a mixture of silliness and sadness, and that's sort of the tone I was going for with the magazine. The first thing we chose for the magazine was the sketch of Voytek, our bear mascot, drawn by my sister-in-law Julie Kumar, and that's still my favorite part of the site. That great expression on his face - a mixture of hopefulness, doubt, confusion, and resignation - I suppose it reminds me of a foghorn.
3. How did your experience writing for other online magazines inform
the way you handle soliciting -- and rejecting -- submissions?
This is still something I'm struggling with. My response times have not been what they should be, though we are getting better all the time, and as a frequent contributor to online magazines, I know firsthand how maddening slow response times can be. I'm also a Fiction Editor at Swink, where I also struggle with response times. I think being on both sides of the editorial divide, though, has made me more aware of the problems with the process. On one hand you have enthusiastic, well-meaning people with full-time day jobs and other commitments trying to give their full attention to hundreds of short stories a month; on the other hand, you have hardworking writers who are waiting more than a year to receive a one-line rejection note. It's a hard process and I'm not sure I have the answers yet.
At least, I try to make everything as absolutely user-friendly as possible. We have an online submission manager, simultaneous submissions are certainly fine, and in general I have a pretty relaxed submission policy. There's no special thing you have to write in the subject line; there are no submission periods and theme issues and special policies. Just send us stuff. Also all our authors sign off on their pieces at all stages before they're posted and even after, I'm happy to go back, change things, make edits. The great thing about publishing online is that the process is ongoing.
4. The Foghorn's been around for a few years now (since 2008). Do you feel like the reasons you launched the magazine are the same as the reasons you continue to publish it?
That's a great question. There was a long hiatus period where we weren't posting anything - I was drawn away by other commitments, we were redesigning the site, etc. - and I considered just closing it down. What made me decide to keep it up was the commitment I felt I had made to the writers whose work was already included. I didn't want to have them posting dead links in their portfolios. When I went back and read some of my favorite stuff, I realized it would be a great shame for the site to go defunct. Then I co-founded the Hot Dish reading series in Los Angeles with my very talented and highly motivated friend J. Ryan Stradal (who writes for The Foghorn), and listening to our readers present so much great work, I was really inspired to get this new stuff down and relaunch the site. Also - and I mean this seriously - I didn't want that picture of Voytek to go to to waste.
5. If you had to recommend just one story from The Foghorn, what would it be?
That's a very hard one, of course. Some of my very favorites have been Grant Munroe's "Opening Speech at the Emergency Closed Door Meeting of German-Speaking Kafka Scholars," Ralph Gamelli's "Excerpts from 'The Road,' by Woody Allen," Aharon Levy's "A Few Disclaimers Essential to a Proper Reading," Dyske Suematsu's "The Works of George W. Bush," J. Ryan Stradal's "Otis Redding, Cubist Author," and Sommer Browning's "That's So Ancient Greece" comic series. And of course, absolutely everything ever written by me. (Had to end on a joke.)