Today, I’d like to welcome Clifford Garstang, editor of the soon-to-debut online literary magazine Prime Number published by Press 53. Cliff is the author of In an Uncharted Country, a novel in stories published last year by Press 53, and the blog Perpetual Folly.
Full disclosure: Cliff and I are way-old friends, and the first issue of PN on July 19 will include a chapter from The Subversive Copy Editor.
Carol: So Cliff, what’s new or different about Prime Number?
Cliff: A few things, actually. First, we intend to take the name somewhat seriously in that we will from time to time publish math-oriented work. We like numbers, and while that’s by no means an exclusive focus for us, I think it’s new. In general, though, we’re looking for really distinctive work, which I hope will become apparent over time.
Second, we’re hoping to have a craft essay of some kind in every issue. We know a lot of our readers will be writers, and so we want to address them in this way.
Third, we plan to have regular updates between issues. They’ll consist of flash fiction and nonfiction as well as short poems. We hope the updates will keep readers coming back between issues.
And fourth, our tie to Press 53 gives us the opportunity to publish a print annual, which isn’t feasible for a lot of online magazines, and Press 53 is going to be looking at the stories we publish—it will be great exposure for writers.
Carol: Could you give me an example of “math-oriented work” you would consider? One of my friends has a theorem she proved in graduate school, and my niece is an accountant. Any hope for them?
Cliff: Uh, no. Think fiction about a mathematician—have you ever seen that TV show Numb3rs?—or some formal poems that have a fixed numeric pattern, like a Fibonacci or even haiku. Or maybe an essay about how old you’ll be when you publish your first story if you don’t submit to magazines simultaneously—acceptance percentages and long waits being what they are. Let me emphasize again, though, that we’re not exclusively, or even always, looking for math-oriented work.
Carol: I mentioned flash fiction to a friend the other day and was pressed for a definition. What qualities will you look for in flash fiction and nonfiction?
Cliff: There are many definitions of flash. For me, flash is . . . under 1,000 words, for a starter. It also usually has the concision that we normally associate with poetry—no wasted words. And yet there usually isn’t room to fully develop a narrative in so few words, so I like to think of Robert Olen Butler’s description of flash. On the one hand, he says, flash is distinguished from a prose-poem in that it has a narrative that moves through time. In other words, a “plot.” But it is also distinguished from the short story because rather than reaching a Joycean epiphany that may resolve a short story’s conflict, in flash there may only be time to discover what the conflict is about—what the main character yearns for.
Carol: I see—so they can be little slices of life, either real or imagined. In your novel and in your blog you show a love of narrative and story. In the interests of representing various kinds of writing, will you try to suppress your own preferences when you choose work for the magazine?
Cliff: Is that even possible? No, to me, narrative is the thing. There has to be a story. Style, on the other hand, is negotiable. I don’t do a lot of writing that I’d consider experimental, and I don’t read very much of it either, but I’d be open to a story told in an experimental style—if it’s telling a good story.
Carol: And I’m confident I’ll enjoy reading whatever you choose. Cliff, thanks so much for letting us have a peek behind the curtain of Prime Number. I can’t wait to see the first issue. Do you have any advice for readers who might want to send you something when submissions open?
Cliff: I’m looking for work that’s distinctive, whether in style or setting or subject matter. I read a lot of stories, so when I see something that’s fresh I usually take note. But maybe that goes without saying. So my one bit of advice is this—proofread your work one more time before you submit it.
Thanks for giving me this chance to talk about Prime Number!
Carol: My pleasure—and best of luck with it.
Carol: Whew—that went well! So Cliff, just between you and me, do you remember in high school when that student teacher told me I couldn’t be in Our Town because I’d forgotten to bring knee socks to the dress rehearsal, and my mom was so angry when she brought the socks she threw them at the teacher and I thought I would die of humiliation?
Cliff: Well, I’m not sure that’s exactly the way I remember it. By the way, is this thing still on?