Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Editor's Pick

M. Scott Douglass is the Publisher and Managing Editor of Main Street Rag Publishing Company founded in 1996 with the publication of his quarterly literary magazine, The Main Street Rag. His company has since blossomed into a bindery and publishing house that has produced a multitude of books under its own label as well as designed, produced, or coordinated magazine and book projects for other publishers. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and he was the recipient of a NC Arts & Science Emerging Artists Grant in 2001 that was used to publish his first full-length poetry collection, Auditioning For Heaven. In 2003, he published, Balancing On Two Wheels, as well as a how-to publishing manual, Book Building 101. STEEL WOMB Revisited and Dip Says Hi were released in 2005, the latter published by Rank Stranger Press. A former 20 year dental technician, he has a degree in Graphic Arts and has taught Graphic Design at Central Piedmont Community College. Among other occupations, he’s worked construction, demolition, coached baseball and basketball, and bred rats for the University of Pittsburgh. He’s also owned an independent bookstore.

What are the ideas behind your magazine?
Our magazine is the root of what we have become, but it is only a small part of what we do any more. The idea behind it at start up in 1996 was-like so many new publications-to be unique, to be the voice of Main Street America. We started out as a poetry-only journal that published mostly edgy poetry. But as we grew and became better known, we had a wider variety of material offered to us by a greater number of authors. We started publishing short fiction, reviews, interviews, essays, photo essays-pretty much whatever was offered to us if we thought it would interest our readers.
In America, the literary scene is broken into factions that take turns leading the way in terms of what is literarily in vogue. For most of my life, academia has decided what is and isn't poetry. As a result, if you were a part of that faction, you could get anything you wrote published, even if it was a lifeless list of words on a page. And then there was the non-conformist crowd that was most closely related to "Beat Poets." They were not much on revision of their work, they were edgy, but not much on polish. Still, there were places that would publish it simply because it was non-academic. Main Street Rag resides somewhere in the middle.
In our magazine, we prefer material with an edge, but we like it to be refined somewhat. We want it to be involved in life-the good and the bad-not counting the petals as they unfold through the filter of the kitchen window.
But we are no longer just a magazine. Main Street Rag is the most prolific publisher in the state of North Carolina-which may not mean much to your readers, but it gives us some amount of bragging rights. Since we are now both a print house and a bindery, we produce our own magazine as well as 60-120 books each year under one of our own imprints, but we have also produced books and magazines for over 100 other small press publishers.

While making an editorial decision what do you look for in a write-up?
I'm pretty eclectic. I like things with a political and social bend, but I also like humor-usually dark humor. As far as style goes, it's always nice when writers use good grammar and know how to spell, but I'm open to pretty much anything that flows well. For essays, I like it when a writer gets to the point quickly and provides evidence, but I'm not much on repetition. If a writer circles through the same reasoning more than a second time, I usually set it down and ultimately reject it. Publishing space costs money. My time to tell a writer how to edit it is also has value-as a matter of fact, my time is my most valuable asset, so I don't give a lot of writing advice. It's either something we like or it's not.

How important do you think it is for a writer to know her audience/reader?
I don't think there is a single answer for this question that would apply to all writers. I am a poet first. A poet, much like a musician, must do what he or she knows best and let the audience find him or her.
That said, every writer will be more effective within a certain audience, but unless he or she is writing commentary or editorials for a living, a writer should NOT put the audience first. The ideas, the story, the craft of writing should come first. If a writer does his or her job of crafting a product well, an audience will find him or her-especially in today's age of electronic communication.

Sir VS Naipaul has talked about separation of the man (the person who writes) and the writer. How do you view the issue?

I apologize, but I am not familiar with Sir Naipaul; however, I believe a writer must be able to step outside the material and read it from that perspective in order to edit and refine the work. When I used to offer advice on submissions, this was one of the biggest obstacles to helping a writer refine his or her work. I would identify a weak spot, they would tell me, "But that's what really happened." Unless you are reporting an event, writing a memoir or historical text, what "really happened" is irrelevant to telling a good story or conveying the emotions within the framework of poetry. So many of us use our personal or familial experiences as a basis for what we write. Often that's enough to warm an audience to our work, but when we are able to transcend the actual and put our work into a plane where others can relate to it, become a part of it, then it stays with a reader like a song or a piece of music that you can't get out of your head.
Do you think the world has become a dangerous place in which to live?
The world has always been a dangerous place and will remain such until people learn to respect other peoples' rights and sovereignty. Whether it's my country sticking its nose where it doesn't belong for the sake of oil, the Chinese insisting on one China or the Taliban trying to inflict their beliefs on everyone within their borders; until the people of this planet learn to respect the rights of others to be different, to have their own beliefs, their own ideas, their own culture-and allow it to flourish within the greater society-their will be conflict; until we, as a world are able to break the chain of Newton's Third Law (For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction), this world will always be a violent and dangerous place. It is, unfortunately, human nature to mold the world around us to our own wants. There are currently more than 6 billion of us. We don't all have the same wants.