Massive People (11): Peter Cole
Peter Cole is the editor of Keyhole Magazine and Press, an entity that has gone from start up beginnings to massive and all over perhaps quicker than any other literary magazine that has ever existed. Based out of Nashville, Keyhole is not only a magazine, a website, a press for full length books, it also continues to push its horizons with any way it can get words into peoples hands, such as the Nashville is Reads project, which tapes poems to random locations in publics, and Keyhole Digest, freely distributed online and in real life.
In around 2 years they’ve released 7 full length print issues, maintained a steady flow of content on their website, released a full length book (William Walsh’s fantasticly odd and oddly moving Questionstruck) with plans for many more already lined up, several chapbooks, contests… so much output I can hardly even remember to list it all.
I asked Peter if I could ask him some questions about the start up of Keyhole and its ever expanding umbrella, and he kindly agreed.
BB: Peter, you have said you aren’t much of a writer, which is exciting to me in that Keyhole does so much and you put so much of your time and self into it. What is the primary motivator to you, as a publisher? What made you start, and how did you realize you would be doing so much so fast?
PC: Thank you. Yeah, I’m not really a writer at all, though I’d like to give it a shot some day.
I’m really anal about doing what I say I’m going to do, and that’s primarily what keeps me on schedule. But an outside root reason is the writing I’ve found since starting the journal. I wouldn’t have found it otherwise. I didn’t even know what a literary journal was two years ago. I’ve always read a lot, but I never heard about journals in college, and I don’t read magazines so I never came across one in a bookstore. So that’s probably my primary motivation. Journals seem like a great way to introduce new writers to people, and I care about that a lot. I keep trying to find ways to get the writers in front of non-writers, and that’s how we ended up doing so much so fast, just adding on projects trying to do that. It seems the consensus is that journals are read mainly by writers and are basically only used by writers and agents to work out book deals–if I thought that’s all they were good for, I wouldn’t be doing it.
It’s also the only creative outlet I have. And I hate being bored.
It was Jon Bergey’s idea to start a journal. I knew how to make websites, so I just kind of made it happen with the internet.
BB: I think that ingenuity of you knowing and not knowing at once what to do made some interesting results, one of them being the multitongue approach. Keyhole is a print magazine, a web magazine, a press, a digest, and also does Nashville is Reads, which puts up poetry around the city. What are the differences in results you’ve seen in these different areas? Is one more successful than another?
PC: The digest and IsReads are mostly untraceable. Sometimes you stick a poem up and the next day it’s gone. Did someone hate it, or like it and want to keep it? The digest disappears and I restock, but are they taken by individuals or thrown away by employees? Technically the most successful of the projects is the website–if 10% of visitors bought something, I could do this for a living, or at least downgrade from full-time job to part-time–but I consider it a failure, because the submissions are low, so few write articles, and my original plan for the website was to post new stuff every day and have it fuel a free monthly newspaper, crossing over content. The Rumpus format is pretty much the format I was hoping for, but with fiction and poetry too. Site design was probably part of the problem there. But that’s what started the digest. It’s the cheapest way to work into doing a monthly print thing. Long way from a newspaper, but it’s a start.
Success really depends on perspective. Since I’ve got my head buried in all this stuff, my opinion is probably the harshest and I’m not really good at being objective in that area.
BB: In the time you’ve been around, what have you learned about trying to get those non-readers and readers connected?
PC: I’d be lying if I said I’ve solidly learned anything about trying to connect with readers. I’ve developed ideas which I haven’t tried yet. Location seems to be important, despite the internet being everywhere. I think we’ve sold something to two people in Nashville. I figure mimicking larger cities that have literary interest might help, so I’m trying to start a monthly reading series, but so far every venue has said no. I think my ideas on readership is skewed by my location. My theory is new directions equal new readers.
BB: I’d say you’ve been definitively successful. I’ve never seen such high quality come out so regularly so fast from a magazine. You always continue to amaze me.
So, in the terms of Keyhole, what really grabs you as an editor? What clings you to a piece of writing? Also I know now you’ve added other associate editors. How does the submission reading process work at Keyhole as opposed to how it might elsewhere, if at all?
PC: Are emoticons acceptable on HTMLGiant? If so, :)
Language is probably the thing I am most interested in as a reader, or well editor. I try not to be an editor when I read submissions. I try not to think about anyone, including the author. If I find myself thinking, I’m reading a story, then it’s probably not good enough. Really, I don’t look for certain styles or anything in particular, I just like to feel something. And my tastes change. This new issue has some stuff that we accepted a year ago, and those couple of stories probably would’ve fit better in issue 4. Not that I dislike the stories now, I’m just saying. It feels a little off, but it’s probably only to me. But I do think things we accept for each issue are somehow related or building off of each other, and not on purpose.
I’m not sure how other places read submissions. We’re trying to leave them open year-round, but we’re getting really backed up. Having a bunch of editors is kind of confusing. The associate editors do most of the reading it seems, and they send me lists of stories they like. I also send them stories I like to see if they have the same response. Jon is listed as fiction editor and Brandon is listed as poetry editor. They’re the ones that started with me, and we’ve been friends for years now. Anyway, we thought having multiple opinions would result in a better read, so Jon can veto any fiction and Brandon poetry. They don’t keep the same schedule I do, so now they have a week to get back to me or I send to Micah Ling to decide. That’s pretty much not happening anymore, and I just send to Micah and/or Molly for input, then I decide. But that’s only for things I like. Things I don’t like I just reject.
The other projects I select on my own, not including IsReads.
BB: What author(s)/book(s) was it that got you into the love of words? Do you have a favorite book or books or authors?
PC: I’m not sure a particular author or book is the reason for my love of words. Reading in general, I’d say Ray Bradbury was first. But word appreciation is probably a reaction to the lack of appreciation for the language in religious and philosophy texts, which I studied in college. I guess reading any amount of technical text could make any story enjoyable in comparison, but religious texts and the books about them are supposed to convey some deep sense of meaning, yet to me they are probably the blandest language there is. In the case of religion, there’s also a lack of esteem for human existence, based on the fact that the current state of being is less than what is to come. I find human interaction and motives/functions fascinating and very much worth existing for. And you can’t accurately duplicate that level of complexity with other art forms. Some lyrics come close, but I think that’s rare…rhyming and music and genre get in the way. Maybe movies can, but for me the actors and film score or even camera angles are a distraction. These are just my opinions now. But I think language is the purest way to convey both the overall culture of a society and at the same time get deep into the complexity of a single mind and its relation to that society.
BB: What do you forsee for the next 1-2 years of Keyhole?
PC: I hope to get Keyhole off the internet and into more stores, and I don’t want to wait more than two years for that. Hopefully Apple will eventually let Keyhole onto the iPhone without having to censor everything. It’s hard to say with a tanking economy and apparently a dwindling number of book readers (though I haven’t read any of those statistics myself). I have a couple of project ideas, or mediums at least, that I’d like to pursue.
Maybe a reality show. Everyone likes those.
Keyhole 7 is out now for $7.77, and the most recent book release is William Walsh’s Questionstruck.