Rachel Kendall: editor/publisher of Sein und Werden
Over the years, I’ve developed an unabashed love for getting published overseas, as well as the curious habit of submitting my work to publications with names that intrigue me.
Sein und Werden fits the bill on both counts; not only is it one of the coolest DIY literary journals I have ever had the pleasure of reading, but both the online and print editions contain some of the best contemporary writing from around the globe. Rachel Kendall, writer, novelist, and editor of SuW, has taken the time from her busy schedule to answer my questions. Thank you, Rachel.
pd: Why did you decide to start publishing Sein und Werden?
rk: For the same reason most editors decide to turn their home into a small press – supply and demand. Or, to put it another way, most large publishing houses are not willing to take risks with experimental/non-commercial work. The small press has always been the backbone, in my opinion, of the literary world, often spring-boarding new writers into a wider field of publishing.
Sein und Werden was put into motion simply because I was coming across this plethora of really wonderful writing and artwork online and I took it upon myself to gather it up and publish it in one ‘volume’ online. That one volume turned into an ongoing project.
pd: Why do you have both an online AND a print issue? What criteria do you use to determine which submissions go into either issue and why?
rk: For a couple of years Sein was only online. I had never planned to take it into print because I didn’t have the financial resources or the DTP know-how. But then a photographer-friend and regular contributor, Spyros Heniadis, offered to create the zine as a paper publication, while I would continue to put together the online issue. He is no longer the print editor as he had other commitments, but the magazine continues in that medium because it proved popular. It has changed format a few times and currently I am putting it together myself so it’s more raw/punk/DIY than it was. I am a big font and type nerd. I especially love the appearance of the early avant-garde small press zines such as The Little Review, Minotaure and Cabaret Voltaire. So now that I am formatting and printing it myself, I get to play around with the "type-setting" and just basically have fun.
Regarding what goes in print, generally I will only stick to themed pieces for continuity’s sake. Unless I’m particularly blown away by an un-themed piece. Often shorter pieces will go in. And sometimes it’s just what works best lay-out wise.
pd: You started off with unthemed issues, and then moved into themed issues, that mostly deal with one broad-based topic of a surrealist or existentialist variety. What circumstances made you decide to shift into this format, and how has it been working out for you as an editor and publisher?
rk: It started off as an experiment. I guess it still is, except I now have more control over the outcome. I didn’t know how things were going to work out, so to start with I just threw all the good stuff together. When I got some positive feedback and submissions started to filter in (to begin with I was coming across work I liked and asking/begging/blow-jobbing to use it in the zine) I was able to shape the zine more in line with my own ideals.
I enjoy coming up with themes and have been told that writing something specific helps contributors to focus, so it’s partly a directional/inspirational device. I like writers to use the theme creatively. I am more likely to accept a piece that cleverly manipulates the theme, rather than a plot centred around the most basic idea that comes to mind.
Also, it means the zine can keep moving. I like to keep the thing evolving, changing, mutating. It keeps things interesting. Past themes have included “the dismembered text,” “die maschine,” “rejectamenta,” “duende,” “artifice”… and the next theme is “cinematique.”
pd: You publish a diverse mix of writers in each issue. What are your feelings on UK/EU writers v/ American writers, both pro and con?
rk: I’ve had submissions from all over the world, thanks to the Internet. But re. UK/EU vs. American writers I don’t think I could pinpoint any differences, because I often go for style over plot and it’s the use of experimental language, patois, etc. that interests me. I usually don’t know where a contributor is based when they first send work my way so I read it from a completely unbiased angle, and usually all that might give it away is the American spelling.
pd: How has editing SuW affected your writing, your career as a librarian, and your views on literacy in general?
rk: Well I don’t have a career as a librarian. I have to say that. Although I’ve worked here a while, it’s just part-time and it’s just to pay the rent. It is, of course, the perfect job for a writer, with access to hundreds of thousands of books as well as electronic resources, and it’s not exactly a McJob, but I don’t plan to be climbing up any career ladders in here. As long as I can reach the top shelves I don’t feel the need to go any higher! It’s simply that my ambitions lie elsewhere. The more time I spend at work the less time I have to write, edit, etc.
SuW has affected my writing in only the best way. Although it takes up a lot of my time, it keeps me creatively focused. Also, it’s an outlet apart from my own writing which, if left unchecked, can suck me under. And, of course, the best advice I’ve ever been given is to read and read and read, if I want to be a good writer. So I feel really privileged to get to read all the work sent my way.
My views on literacy in general? I guess SuW has just made me more aware of the high standard of writing out there.
pd: What is the weirdest poetry or prose submission you ever received, and why did/didn’t you publish it?
rk: I can’t immediately think of anything weird that’s beyond the Sein und Werden remit. I want weird! I get a lot of annoying submissions though, by people who haven’t bothered to read the guidelines. Okay, so we’ve all done it, but it’s not like you have to buy a copy of the magazine to read them, or to get a feel of what I’m after, or to read exactly what I don’t want.
pd: As an editor, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who wish to submit to SuW?
rk: READ THE GUIDELINES! And, if you have a spare few minutes, read a bit of Henry Miller, Georges Bataille, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Artaud; take in some Chirico, Witkin; watch some David Lynch, Quay Brothers, Bunuel… get rejected by mainstream publishers, that kind of thing.
pd: What plans do you have for SuW, a year from now? Five years from now?
rk: This is actually a serious period of transition for me, as I’m expecting my first child (alien, puppy, octopus, whatever) in April. So, this will of course necessitate some changes. But then, that is not a new concept for Sein. It may be that the format will change and guest editors may be involved (for instance next year will see an issue entirely on disc, edited by the visual artist John Brewer). I certainly have no plans to stop publishing the zine and see it continuing in the future as it has in the past, morphing from one format to another, dictating to me which direction it will take.
BIO: Rachel Kendall, 33, lives in Manchester, UK, where she writes fiction and edits Sein und Werden. Her short story collection – The Bride Stripped Bare – is due out next year and her novel – The Blush – will be published in 2010, both with Doghorn Publishing (www.doghornpublishing.com/).