Over the course of a few weeks, I had the pleasure of interviewing two talented women: Christine Stoddard, founder and editor of Quail Bell Magazine, and Kristen Rebelo, the magazine’s Art Director. Both were generous enough to share with me some insights about the business of publishing a magazine. QuailBellMagazine.com is an international web magazine. There are quarterly print editions, as well as, two anthologies available for purchase at their web shop. Their latest print edition, Issue 5: The Social Issue, premiered at the recent Brooklyn ‘Zine Fest. It is available at Bluestockings in the Lower East Side, New York City. Quail Bell Magazine is a rising star publication. I’m looking forward to watching it grow and succeed.
Christine Stoddard is a Puffin Foundation emerging artist, Southeast Review featured artist, and Cyberpunk Apocalypse visiting writer. Her writings, collages, films, and photo media have appeared everywhere from The Feminist Press at CUNY to The Huffington Post to the New York Transit Museum to WashingtonPost.com to local PBS stations and beyond. Christine will be participating in the BUNKERprojects’ First Performance Art Festival in August and Figment DC in September. Images of America: Richmond Cemeteries, a book Christine co-authored with Misty Thomas, comes out this fall, along with the companion documentary, Richmond’s Dead and Buried.
Kristen Rebelo is a graphic designer by day and a ‘zinemaker, illustrator, and book devourer by night. She recently won an award of distinguished merit from the 3×3 International Picture Book Competition for the covers of The Nest & Ariborne, Anthologies of the Real and Unreal by Quail Bell Magazine. Her work has appeared in Richmond Magazine, Richmond Weddings Magazine, Bittersweet Creative, The Rear Gallery, and The Anderson Gallery.
Quail Bell Magazine, established in 2009, receives 18,000 -25,000 unique page views a month. Tell us about your magazine, what challenges you faced when you first launched Quail Bell, and how the magazine continues to grow.
I bought the domain name for Quail Bell in December 2009. After getting my writing and art published in books, lit journals, ‘zines, and websites starting in my teens, I had this urge to begin steering my own ship. I spent the next year and a half casually blogging at QuailBellMagazine.com, posting pieces I’d created for my college classes and posting submissions when they came in from classmates or Internet strangers. Then I brought on a team of fellow VCU students and “interns” in May 2011. The team and I amped up the content and premiered the website at the Richmond Zine Fest in October 2011, when we released our first print ‘zine. At the end of the month, our managing editor, Josephine Stone, died in an accident and the team gradually fell apart (though former associate editor Jade Miller continues to help to this day). Josie infused us all with a sense of enthusiasm that was hard for us to maintain when she met her fate at age 23. Luckily, I had the pleasure of meeting Kristen Rebelo in May 2012. We shut down the site from January-May 2013 and relaunched the blog as a full-fledged website in June that year. The magazine now receives up to 5,000 – 6,000 page views a day and about 40,000-60,000 page views a month.
When I first envisioned the magazine, I planned for it to focus on fairy tales, history, and folklore, but I wanted it to be both literary and journalistic. Most magazines are either or. I called the two sections of the site The Real and The Unreal. As my interests expanded, I decided to more broadly encompass “the imaginary,” “the nostalgic,” and “the otherworldly.” Yet even those words seemed to limit the interests and aesthetic that Kristen and I had fine-tuned. So we recently simplified the mission statement to revolve around The Real and The Unreal. We’ve known for a while what we’ve wanted but the challenge had articulated it. Our current mission statement reflects what we aim to create, curate, and present.
Kristen and I have also experimented with producing a special Quail Bell print ‘zine and its caught the attention of Time Out New York, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and others. When Josie, Jade, Julie DiNisio, Ashby Nickerson, and I printed the first Quail Bell ‘zine in October 2011, it was clearly that: a ‘zine. Even though it had a glossy, color cover, it was saddle-stitched and black and white on the inside. We had it done at Staples. When Kristen and I teamed up, we aimed for higher production value. Now Quail Bell‘s print version is a perfect-bound, full-color, beautiful little book. Getting there has been a process, of course. Undergrad art and creative writing programs don’t usually teach you how to do this kind of thing on your own, but we had to teach ourselves by using Kickstarter, going back and forth with printers, registering for different ‘zine and arts festivals, and talking to bookstores about carrying it. It has been well worth the effort.
We’ve even had two Quail Bell anthologies picked up and published by Brandylane Publishers. The two titles are The Nest: An Anthology of The Unreal and Airborne: An Anthology of The Real. Distributed by Ingram, the books are available on BarnesAndNoble.com, Amazon.com, the publisher’s website, and in select brick and mortar stores. Preparing the manuscripts was a huge effort and tabling the books at events like the Virginia Festival of the Book and the New York City Poetry Festival has been no different. Running a magazine is as much a creative endeavor as it is a game of logistical wrangling. But we love it, so we keep doing it and delight in producing quality content that excites our readers.
Kristen, Christine covered most of the logistics in her answer, but I wonder about the visual mission of the magazine. The Real and Unreal feels like a high concept. How do you manage to corral the vision so that the look and feel of the magazine attracts your target audience, continues to evolve with each issue, and still remains economically feasible?
When Christine and I redesigned the website and print ‘zine in the spring of 2013, one of my specific goals was to solidify our branding and carry it throughout both our print and web platforms. An emphasis on storytelling unifies the parallel concepts of The Real and The Unreal. Pieces are accompanied by original art. Our design is purposeful, accessible, and is meant to complement writing content rather than overpower it. While our readers are artsy folks, they don’t necessarily hold us accountable for a slightly off margin or alignment slip up, so Christine and I are freer to experiment than I typically would be when designing a publication. Instead of looking to trends for inspiration, I am drawn more to alternative methods with every ‘zine festival Quail Bell attends.
Which leads to the budgeting question—how do we efficiently design a print issue that satisfies our creative goals and our reader? Well, we are still asking that question. For now, we print a small run of highly produced ‘zines twice a year and publish web content daily. Since last fall, each print issue has a theme. For the Spring of 2014, we made the issue longer and settled on a more selective color palette. In the future, we may use different methods of printing or publishing, always keeping the Quail Bell emphasis on storytelling in mind.
In reading your fiction anthology, The Nest, I expected to find fantastical stories with a fabulist bent. The variety of stories presented, such as: “The People Who Live in My Beard” by Neville Turner, “Breathe” by Caleb True, and “Rapunzel Man & Princess Charming” by Luna Lark are loaded. These fairytale-like works transport and leave you contemplating the order of fantasy and reality. Other pieces take deeper stabs in your psyche and keep you suspended with muddy feet. Some of these include: “Unreflected” by Peter Tieryas Liu, “Dancing in the Air” by Shweta Narayan, and “The Dragon’s Gate” by Shannon Wendt. Can you tell us what you looked for when making your story selections for this anthology?
Throughout its short history, Quail Bell Magazine has published a variety of stories that challenge what is real and what is unreal. Some of our authors have taken this challenge more literally than others. We have a record of running everything from parables and folk tales to psychological thrillers and more nuanced works of magical realism. In choosing stories for The Nest: An Anthology of The Unreal, my colleague Jade Miller and I wanted to show what Quail Bell is and can be. Unlike our themed ‘zines, we chose no theme. Or if there is a theme, it’s stuff we published on the website starting from its infancy through mid-2012, and really liked.
I’m a big believer in appreciating works for what they are and not shoehorning them into a space they’re not meant to occupy. The Quail Bell Crew takes the same approach in selecting and editing pieces for the website. That’s something that our readers enjoy: Reading QuailBellMagazine.com is never the same experience from day-to-day. There are certainly common threads, but you don’t feel like you’re reading a publication where everybody studied with the same professors and privileges the same storytelling conventions.
I find publications where all the writers seem to be “besties” who read all the same books and party together every weekend kind of annoying. That’s not to say that The Quail Bell Crew isn’t full of people who share the same alma mater or like to spend time with each other. But we’re a very diverse group and all of us (thankfully) write different kinds of pieces because we’ve led very different lives and read very different things. Ditto for our contributors. I love when each writer has a unique voice and the opportunity to shine for his or her particular talents. Our mission statement is just specific enough that it weeds out many potential contributors and submissions, but still broad enough to encourage fresh blood and experimentation.
There are a number of enjoyable and thought-provoking non-fiction pieces in your anthology, Airborne: An Anthology of the Real, such as “From Suggestive Jesters to Sexy Circuses” by Paisley Hibou, “The Magic of Gore Lore” by Starling Root, and “Delving Into Aboriginal Dreamings” by Mari Pack to name a few, but I also noticed a few references to “Quail Bell(e)s” included here and there. Can you describe what this reference means and how it shapes or defines your readership and magazine?
Thank you! Especially in the early days of Quail Bell, many of our writers took on magical or whimsical pen names. Paisley Hibou and Starling Root were a couple of mine (though Mari Pack is the writer’s real name; she lives in Toronto now, but we met as students at VCU.) We did this partly to show a tone and create a world that felt like Quail Bell-Landia. In the process of shaping this world, I decided to call our fans and readers Fledglings or Quail Bell(e)s. A fledgling in this sense refers to a baby bird, not somebody new to something.
Quail Bell(e) is a play on the antiquated idea of a Southern Belle. Even today, people will spell Quail Bell Magazine as “Quail Belle Magazine” or ask if our magazine is for Southern Belles. While our magazine was established in the South and we celebrate many aspects of Southern culture, we do not promote the idea of the Southern Belle. I’d rather we weren’t associated with helpless damsels in distress types sitting on their plantation porches while their slaves picked cotton. I do want our Southern readers to reclaim the idea of Southern identity. Personal identity of all kinds is a matter often discussed in Quail Bell Magazine essays. Our staff writer, Jessica Reidy, in particular, regularly writes about what it means to be Roma in a modern world. I also want our readers to know that they are beautiful (belle) for their minds, their creativity, their loyalty to our publication, and, yes, their bodies, no matter their shape or form.
On that last note, I started using the term specifically for our Photo Tales—imaginative fashion shoots paired with poems or short stories. Our fashion shoots are popular in part because we photograph a diverse group of male and female models—black, white, chubby, skinny, tattooed, freckled, you name it. It goes back to our exploration of personal identity and emphasis on untold or under-told stories.
Quail Bell seeks submissions in “art, writing, and multimedia, including creative, journalistic, and (semi-)scholarly work.” Are there any particular subjects you wish to see written about more often? Are there issues that you find too controversial or clichéd to publish in Quail Bell? And lastly, is there a particular form of fiction that fits Quail Bell’s mission or are you open to all forms of fiction?
We would love to see more personal essays based on real experiences with cinematic scenes and rich details. We would also love to see more well-researched pieces that are smart but still conversational, perhaps even a little cheeky. Overall, we want to run stories that are, again, untold or under-told, stories written in a fresh way.
We run plenty of controversial material on the site, often labeling these pieces as op-eds to make it clear that we don’t necessarily agree with the content. That being said, we do not run homophobic, racist, sexist, or otherwise hateful pieces. As for clichéd content? Please don’t make us roll our eyes. Make the ordinary extraordinary or please don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with being a middle-class white man with a college education living in the suburbs. Just surprise us.
We prefer narrative, poetic fiction that goes somewhere and says something. Tell us a good story and uphold the sanctity of language and storytelling.
I would love to have as many featured artists as possible, including all mediums. I’m especially interested in what artists write about their work. While we don’t find any issue too controversial or cliché, articles on our site tend to come from a historic or feminist perspective and we emphasize storytelling and not click bait.
What’s in the works for Quail Bell in terms of content and visuals? Any upcoming publications?
Right now we’re working on our next print ‘zine (Quail Bell: Issue 6), which is all about feminism and womanhood. It will feature a combination of essays, poems, and even some fiction—all beautifully illustrated by a talented and varied group of visual artists. Issue 6 will première at the Richmond ‘Zine Festival in October, three years after we released our very first print ‘zine. We’ll also be tabling Bus 900, a graphic novella I wrote, Laura Bramble illustrated, and Kristen designed. We’ll have a range of previous Quail Bell projects (such as DVDs of The Persistence of Poe), plus personal ‘zines and original art Kristen and I have made for sale, too. We’ll be at many events before the RVA ‘Zine Fest, perhaps most notably the Crafty Bastards Arts & Crafts Fair in D.C. and the D.I.Y. Fest in Baltimore. Please come say hi!
In terms of what’s in the works for the website, just keep checking back! There’s something new everyday. We post behind-the-scenes on our About blog.
Thanks Christine and Kristen!