James McNulty, co-founder of the literary organization Driftwood Press, recalls with admiration a contributing writer named Shane Page who separates his paragraphs with multiple spaces when he’s revising so that he can study each clearly on its own.
“There’s so much attention paid to each sentence and paragraph, and that gets to me emotionally…seeing really gorgeous writing,” McNulty explains.
Editors at Driftwood Press, a print and online publication now in its sixth year, look for beautifully crafted stories and poems. All topics and genres are welcome as long as the writing indicates time spent pondering each sentence and its effects on a reader.
McNulty urges potential contributors to look at their prose as if evaluating a poem. “In poetry, you think about where lines break, where stanzas break,” he explains. “A lot of writers don’t think about language and craft. They need to look closely at sentence and paragraph structures and how these contribute to executing the narrative, to tone and pacing.”
Tone, editorial content
While poetry editors at Driftwood Press consider lyrical poems, they prefer narrative pieces like Julia Levine’s “Ordinary Psalm with Assassination and Slaughter” (Issue 6.1), which begins:
“In that basement, before the RCA console, she stood the hissing iron on the board’s end, away from my father’s white collar, and wept . . .”
Fiction editors lean toward literary writing, with ideas presented in a complex and nuanced way. “If a piece is more content-driven, putting all its attention into plot and none into craft, then that’s not something we’re interested in seeing,” McNulty says.
He admires Nicole Zdeb’s “Honeycomb Beach” (Issue 7.1), a short story about the sexual awakening of two young women on the beach. “One likes the other, who picks up a dead turtle and starts scraping it out,” he says. “It’s grotesque and bizarre, and it brings out these complex, compelling feelings about loving someone while being made uncomfortable by them. It’s a beautiful story, told in just three pages.”
McNulty points to Susan Jardaneh’s “The One You Love” (Issue 6.2) as the type of fiction he likes to publish. “It’s about a daughter dealing with her mother’s illness, and the interesting structural premise is that the story is told in reverse,” he explains. “This enlivens the reading, as we get to see how the mother’s illness first started presenting itself toward the end of the story. It plays with our conception of traditional plot momentum; the structuring breaks all our expectations of how a story should evolve.” He also appreciates Joe Totton’s “The Starling Killers” (Issue 6.2), about a father and son embroiled in a difficult relationship and hunting starlings in the wheat fields. “The son is being forced to kill all of these starlings, and he doesn’t want to,” McNulty explains. “There’s this really gorgeous imagery of the birds coating the trees, then later of them raining down from the sky. Both pull you into the story.”
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He notes that the content of the two stories couldn’t be more different – a father and son hunting starlings, and a daughter going through her mother’s cancer experience. “But all of our stories have a similarity in that the writers pay particular attention to each sentence, to the crafting of really gorgeous language,” he says.
Issue 6.1 includes a story titled “Terminal Velocity,” by Claire Agnes, whose work impressed editors so much that they invited her to work as a guest editor on Issue 6.2 and then hired her on permanently. The story begins:
“Our last dinner as a family had been at Pizza Peddler. It was our Saturday night, post-Communion tradition. My mother liked the grilled chicken salad and my dad liked the cowboy burger and Billy King. I liked Billy King too. He always made Hershey’s kisses appear underneath our salt shaker and never laughed when I asked for a green balloon sword instead of a pink rose.”
“The story’s got this really emotional kick to it,” McNulty explains. “It’s about a daughter losing her father, who abandons her and her mother, and it also appeals to me on a craft level. It’s brilliantly intimate without ever being sentimental.
Advice for potential contributors
Driftwood Press editors accept pieces for publication with the understanding that the contributor must be willing to revise and perfect the work. “When we critique pieces, our goal is to explain what craft mistakes a writer is making, but not to overstep by telling the writers exactly how to fix them,” McNulty explains. “Whenever we edit a piece, I make it clear that nothing is a demand. Everything is a conversation and a collaboration, l all to make the piece as good as it can possibly be.”
Potential contributors can find sample issues of Driftwood Press online for free and order print copies as well, in order to familiarize themselves with the content and aesthetic of the magazine. The website includes information on upcoming contests and about online seminars taught by editors with the goal of teaching the craft of beautiful writing.
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart