Interview with Crazyhorse Fiction Editor Dr. Anthony Varallo

Joseph Frare, Fiction Panel Editor

Dr. Anthony Varallo is not only the fiction editor for Crazyhorse, but a professor at the college of Charleston, and an author of the novel The Lines, as well as three short story collections. His first collection, This Day in History, won the 2005 John Simmons Short Fiction award. He’s also written stories in Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Epoch, and American Short Fiction, to name a few.

JF: Dr. Varallo, Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions!

When and why did you decide to take on the role of fiction editor at Crazyhorse? Was it your writing career in short fiction that prompted you to take on the task? 

AV: I became the fiction editor of Crazyhorse in 2005 when I was hired by the College of Charleston as an assistant professor of English—the editorship came with the job.  Prior to coming to the College of Charleston, I had been a senior advisor and contest editor for The Missouri Review, from 2000-2005.

JF: As someone who is working in a literary magazine myself, I have to ask: What do the specific duties of a fiction editor for CrazyHorse consists of? Also, how many people are you working with in these roles?

AV: As fiction editor, I am responsible for reading every story submitted to Crazyhorse, except for the times when we’ve had an associate fiction editor, which has been more the exception than the rule. Right now, I’m reading everything. In addition to reading all of the fiction submissions, I meet with our editorial team every three weeks or so (that’s our managing editor, poetry editor, associate poetry editor, nonfiction editor, and editor emeritus, so six total) to discuss the magazine, submissions, website ideas, contest ideas, advertising, reading series considerations, selecting the cover art, proofreading the issue, and more. Right now I’m reading contest submissions, getting ready to send them off to our guest judge, Rick Bass.  

JF: I’m sure things have gotten crazy in the past when deadlines come creeping up. Were there any problems that put a halt on finishing any progress you were making for the magazine, and if so what was your course of action to fix them?

AV: If you mean have we ever had to stop something because of too many submissions, the answer is, well, sort of.  When we switched to online submissions in 2007-08 or so, we were reading year round with NO reading fee, which resulted in us getting about 12,000 submissions a year—for a magazine with three editors at the time. So, we wisely switched to reading Sept-May, and added reading fees, a good idea and fair practice for every journal.

JF: Did you ever find yourself at times to be doing more roles in the magazine than what you’re used too?

AV: Not really.  We select the cover art in a “round robin” style, where one editor selects it for one issue, then another for the next, and so on, and sometimes that can be difficult to find a cover that everyone will like. I just picked the cover for our Spring 2019 issue. It looks great, but I had to go through a lot of possibilities to find the right one.

JF: What are your personal preferences for a good short story? What have been your favorite stories so far in Crazyhorse?

AV: My favorite story we ever published in Crazyhorse wasn’t one that ended up getting anthologized or launching the writer on a huge career (although she’s published a book) is Molly McNett’s “The Baby Cage.” That story knocked me out on a first read, and I still think about it, years later. That’s a good sign to me, that a story is memorable years later. I want the story to stay with readers long after they’ve read it. Other top stories include Karen Brown’s “Galatea” and Ben Fowlkes’ “You’ll Apologize If You Have To,” (both reprinted in Best American Short Stories) and Michael Kardos’s “Animals,” which won a Pushcart. I’m also glad to have published early stories by Celeste Ng, “Parallel,” and Rebecca Makkai, “The November Story.” But I’m leaving a few dozen others out—too many to name!

JF: What do you find difficult about editing short fiction? 

AV: It’s hard to make it to page 23 of an otherwise amazing 28-page story and just see the whole thing fall apart. There’s not much we can do with a story that’s just not ready to go out into the world yet (we rarely, almost never ask for a rewrite) so we have to find stories that are working from the opening line all the way to the closing sentence.  

JF: What advice do you have for those submitting their stories to Crazyhorse magazine?

AV: Submit only your best work. Remember that nothing good comes from sending out work before it is ready. If we say no, try us again next time.

JF: And lastly, where do you see literary magazines heading in the next few years?

AV: I have no idea! Hopefully, there will still be enough readers and subscribers to keep them going. We have about 3,500 subscribers at Crazyhorse, and that number has actually been rising in recent years. Like nearly every magazine, we have a strong online presence, but we want our online component to serve as an advertisement for the print journal, not a replacement of it. Still, readers read online these days, so we’re trying to meet them as best we can.

I want the story to stay with readers long after they’ve read it.

-Anthony Varallo 

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