This Modern Writer: An Interview with Vaughan Simons and Joseph Scapellato

The editors of the much-loved online literary magazine > kill author put out twenty issues between June 2009 and August 2012. These editors, who chose to remain anonymous, “wanted writing that took risks: words that surprised us, shocked us and roused us from our slumber.” In the final issue, the editors revealed two things: that there was only ever one wizard-behind-the-curtain, and that his name was Vaughan Simons. Over the course of several emails, the very gracious, thoughtful, and eloquent Simons spoke with me about the pleasures and challenges of editing, literary magazine design, and the uncertain future of publishing.

1. Was > kill author your first crack at editing a literary magazine? I’d love to hear about your previous relationships with literary magazines, literary blogs, and the publishing world in general.

No, it wasn’t the first literary magazine I edited. From February 2009 to August 2010 (so yes, for a year it overlapped with > kill author– I clearly have too much time on my hands) I edited Writers’ Bloc. This was a weekly updated literary magazine, though perhaps more accurately described as a blog, on the subject of writing. As I admitted at the time, it was a rather pretentious idea. It sounds even more so now. The whole venture was a little hurriedly and, I’ll confess in retrospect, somewhat amateurishly done. For instance, if I’d planned it more thoroughly I’d quickly have discovered that there was already a very well-established online literary journal with the same name. I’m not disowning it, though: Writers’ Bloc featured some great pieces and a number of notable contributors during its short existence, while the whole experience also taught me a lot about editing a literary magazine which I then put into running > kill author. The reason I eventually stopped Writers’ Bloc was because I was investing much more time in > kill author and getting greater enjoyment out of the latter. To be honest, too, the idea of a site with a raison “writing about writing” was always going to have a limited lifespan. The site is still online – though the aging design is a little broken now.

Otherwise, apart from spending a few years avidly reading literary blogs, contributing a few guest posts to We Who Are About To Die and, I suppose, hanging around on the fringes of what people were calling the”online literary scene”, Writers’ Bloc and > kill author have been my only experience of publishing.

2. I’ve witnessed many readers rave about > kill author, so it was no surprise for me when, last year, I saw that your magazine was voted #7 “hottest lit mag” at HTMLGIANT. To what degree do you think that the editorial anonymity- and the mystery this evoked- increased the magazine’s profile?

To be honest, I completely missed that list when it was published. I’m surprised to see it that placed so high because, rightly or wrongly, I often got the feeling that HTMLGIANT, during the period when it was considered the hub of the online literary scene, didn’t really care much for > kill author. Its team of writers included some of the best-known faces in the literary community and a lot of the coverage pushed that community ideal. I suppose that placed it in diametric opposition to what > kill author was trying to do.

I don’t kid myself. I absolutely know that the editorial anonymity of > kill author was the USP that initially won the magazine its high profile, just because people were obviously wondering who was running it behind the scenes. When I decided to edit the journal anonymously I thought the idea might garner a little interest, but I honestly didn’t expect it to be quite such a talking point. However, once the magazine was established and readers could see it was publishing great fiction and poetry, the anonymity faded into the background and > kill author continued to be successful on its own merits, which was hugely gratifying. Continue reading