Thursday, May 14, 2015

Q&A With Leopold McGinnis, publisher of Red Fez

In my literary travels, I’m fortunate to e-meet lots of interesting people. Sometimes they even reach out to me. Earlier this year, Leopold McGinnis and I started communicating. He’s the founder and publisher of Red Fez, an online literary journal. (Full disclosure, this week they published a piece by me, though he and I had agreed to do this interview before I’d written anything for Red Fez, and he was not involved in the decision to accept or reject my submission, for which – like all Red Fezers – I wasn’t paid.)

Elephant’s Bookshelf Blog: What is Red Fez and how did it begin?

Leopold McGinnis: Red Fez started as an online literary ‘zine in 2002. We were looking to explore and exploit the strange new world of online publishing. At that point in time, we were digital cavemen and the biggest concern for writers of the day was ‘but what if someone copies my stuff?’ Nowadays people can barely be asked to read work, let alone steal it, so it’s non-issue.

Publishing very long work (because it was cost-neutral on the web) and using yellow text on a red background were two other innovations that didn’t really pan out as ‘good ideas.’ I think we can put that second innovation squarely in the 'bad ideas' box, actually. On the other hand, having a searchable database of authors, and the ability to categorize and find work by themes and genres has worked out great.

Nowadays, we’re somewhere between a literary magazine and social media hub for people who read and write. People can participate in the ancient art of reading in a very modern way: follow authors, comment on work, like, share, make lists and engage in all sorts of technicoliterary wizbangery.

EBB: I like wizbangery. What do you publish?

LM: We publish fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, film, and audio works. Stylistically, we’re quite open-minded. We believe art should be interesting and engaging at its first level, but, ideally have a further depth to it, beyond its yummy outer layer. We try to keep a healthy mix of high-brow/low-brow and have published those who have been highly schooled in making art to those who’ve learned it on the streets. You can think of us as fans of Mad Magazine who went on to discover great literature. We have an appreciation for the range...and especially those things that can bridge both extremes.

EBB: When did you become a monthly publication?

LM: We started publishing monthly (except January – that’s our break) back in 2011. I was initially against it, but our editor-in-chief at the time, Michele McDannold, convinced me (and the staff) that we could do it. We’re totally volunteer run, so that’s a lot of work, and I always kind of freak out that we’re not going to make it. But after four years of freaking out I guess that I have to accept that we’re pretty equipped to do this! Our 78th issue just came out today.

EBB: How many of your authors are frequent contributors?

LM: Oh boy. I could probably give you an exact number if you gave me some time to do research. But I’d say about half of each issue is people we have published before, and half are new to us. We have been publishing for twelve years so we’re increasingly seeing repeat offenders, which is natural. If by frequent contributors you mean people who submit once every two to four issues, I’d say maybe 10 percent?

EBB: Have any of your authors gone on to literary fame or infamy?

LM: We have definitely published some heavy lifters, both in the underground and academic circles. Whether we were responsible for their fame, or whether they carried fame with them when they came by is up for debate. Definitely people have gone on to find book deals and increased infamy after publishing with us.

Last year, we published the guy who wrote the screenplay for Kickboxer (Glenn A. Bruce), and a couple of our other authors have had Hollywood level film scripts produced. Comic artist/writer Jeff Lemire published with us before he was big. We have a lot of infamous undergrounders in our published ranks as well – Misti Rainwater-Lites, Noah Cicero, Josh Olsen, William Taylor Jr. On the academic side, we’ve published Richard Kostelanetz and a couple of others.

EBB: Looking in your crystal ball while wearing your red fez, what do you see in the future for your publication?

LM: Great fame and infamy! Actually, we have grown tons in the last few years and we have begun introducing a members system. Currently it’s only available to authors who have published with us, but it really expands the kinds of things readers and writers can do on Red Fez. I’m super excited to launch that to everyone in the not-too-distant future, as it will allow authors to promote themselves and their work, and help readers wade through everything we publish to find the work they will really enjoy. But right now we’re just really focusing on making sure the experience is simple and error free – so my crystal ball just looks like a lot of work for the next few months. I can’t really see through that work fog at the moment, but I’m sure behind that lies fame and infamy. Or a handsome stranger riding a horse. The ball is not quite clear on that front.

EBB: So, were you named after Leopold Bloom?

LM: Funnily enough, yes. My father was a big fan of Ulysses (plus he was Irish). My mother had loved the name Leopold from a Cary Grant movie called Talk of the Town. Strangely enough, they found each other and I emerged. Thankfully I was a boy, otherwise I would have been called Leopoldine. True story.

EBB: As they say, truth can be stranger than fiction. Thanks, Leopold for sharing with us!

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