INTERVIEW - Swim 'til You Find Me - Postcard Literature:
The Creators and Creation of HOOT Review
Amanda Vacharat and Dorian Geisler are the editors and co-Founders of HOOT Review, a literary magazine delivered to subscribers in the form of a postcard.
Both are published poets in their twenties. Vacharat, who has family in Vietnam, grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. She studied fiction at Johns Hopkins, attended Swarthmore College—which her bio indicates built her quirkiness, creativity, and eclecticism—and she interned at the Potomac Review. Geisler grew up in Texas, majored in Philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and worked his way east.
They met at a wedding and later became a couple. They combined their skills, energy and commitment to literary quality and launched HOOT Review.
If you think calling HOOT Review a magazine or using the word issue is futuristic, you would be right. But the future is here. Subscribers receive six issues for $14.00. And for just $2, Geisler and Vacharat will send the current issue of HOOT Review to a person of one’s choice and include a hand-written, personalized message.
Simple ideas can be the most successful. HOOT is a “wish I’d have thought of that” literary project. But, though it looks simple to produce, it’s not. Not for the writers who submit their work (Less than 150 words. Sound easy? Not on your life) and not for these two hard-working, dedicated young artists.
Here’s how their publication works: A writer submits literature, poetry, nonfiction or memoir under 150 words, narratives ideally infused with wit or mild pathos. They seek the audacious, the surprising, the zesty, and the good. If it’s right for HOOT, they accept it. The writer signs a contract leaving the visuals up to the editors. Vacharat and Geisler (V&G) are then inspired by the text, interpret the writer’s intent, and place their own visual spin on it. Visual possibilities are sought to match or enhance the writing, from internet stock items to objects they have around the house. Vacharat creates several mockups of the text with art, and they make the choice. Every month, they select one piece to be published on the front of a 4” by 6” postcard. This becomes that month’s issue of HOOT Review and is mailed to each subscriber.
To be sure, the editors are guided by the writers’ submissions, but the manner in which the text is displayed is up to V&G. And it is imaginative.
For example, from one of the postcards, Issue 4, January 2012: two raw carrots are next to prose titled “The Best Part About Breaking Up Is Going To Stay In A Monastery.” Here, V&G chose to photograph carrots from their refrigerator as the visual for Andrea Uptmor’s short-short. The veggies symbolize the writer’s text whereby the monastery requires that, to attend, HOOT Review is moveable art. The editors suggest it can be sent through the mail, left on the windshield of a friend’s car, placed in a mailbox, or placed on a refrigerator door.
I spoke with Vacharat and Geisler at the Moonstone Arts Café in Center City, Philadelphia, after an engaging workshop they presented on microfiction.
WRR: How did you come up with the idea for this?
VACHARAT: I was interning as an editorial assistant for the Potomac Review in Baltimore a couple of years ago. They had a competition of very short pieces. They picked one to print on postcards. The postcards, a one-time project which I don’t think included art, were handed out at the AWP (Association of Writing Programs) convention that year which I attended.
It seemed like such a fun idea. I wanted to see something similar ongoing, to have a piece and hang it somewhere. I thought about it for a long time, wrote up proposals and how it was going to work. Until I met Dorian, I never did anything with it. He fired up the engine.
WRR: How did you arrive at the name HOOT?
VACHARAT: Dorian and I sat for hours generating name possibilities, none of which felt quite right. And then HOOT just fell into place. It seemed to make sense, like “Twitter,” as a name, makes sense. It’s a small, yet distinctive sound. And that’s what we want our postcards to be: small, distinctive sounds in all the “noise” of text and information we encounter every day.
WRR: Who does your website?
GEISLER: Amanda does it all. Even down to the logo, the artwork. We use Wordpress as a template. She updates it. It’s important as a magazine that we display the esthetic that we want. Hopefully the spirit of that tone comes out in the website.
WRR: How do you go about designing the issues?
GEISLER: We have a workshop that demonstrates to others how we do it.
VACHARAT: We read the submitted text and talk about the things it elicits. And what we want to elicit from the reader. For our first postcard, if you read J. Bradley’s text by itself, it could have been a bit melancholy (“Are We The Dining Dead?” “Husband: You gotta eat the chicken; Wife: I don’t want to eat the chicken.”) We loved it but didn’t want our first piece to come off as melancholy. We wanted it to be fun, because it’s humorous. Then I came up with five or six mockups (until we got what we wanted), without taking away its meaning.
GEISLER: We wanted the element of collage and low tech. Partly font, craft-like, and personalized. Not anonymous internet type images.
VACHARAT: We also get queries from artists who want to contribute. A 15-year-old girl from England asked if she could submit photographs for our consideration. We rarely consider outside artwork, but I sent her a piece of fiction, had her send us a sample of what she would do for it, and told her we would keep her on file. We liked what she did so much, we used it that time. (She shows me the Triangle of Contentment postcard, issue five).
WRR: But what if someone submits text and they don’t think the image reflects what they were really trying to say?
GEISLER: The author is usually excited to both be published and also have their words matched with the image we chose. We recently went to a conference and met some of our authors. And it was very positive. That said, we really want to have the rights to do as we see fit with each piece.
VACHARAT: They sign our contract. And we know they look at what we’ve done so far, and at our credentials, and trust that we will not turn their work into something that they wouldn’t want it to be.
GEISLER: There’s a danger with this postcard magazine that it is just …’oh what a great idea, what an interesting concept’. But we don’t want it to be considered just a clever concept. We’re trying to make it an artistic endeavor.