Tell us about Quail Bell Magazine. How did you found it? How did it evolve through the years? What do you publish? What’s real/unreal?
One night, I was sitting at my dining room table in the haunted city of Richmond, Virginia when I registered the domain named QuailBellMagazine.com. It was December 2009 and I was a student at VCUarts. I was studying film and creative writing and had always loved publishing. By that point, I had worked for three very different publishing companies: The first was The Grinnell Herald-Register, a small town newspaper where I reported on community news for the people of Grinnell, Iowa; the second was WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, where I interned as a photo editor in the multimedia department of WashingtonPost.com; and the last and most recent was richmond.com, where I wrote sarcastic blog posts for the then-independent website. Those internships, combined with my literary publishing experience and high school scholarship seminars with The Washington Post and USA Today, taught me that publishing was changing. But I didn’t just want to be a part of the evolving publishing world; I wanted to help lead the narrative, no matter how humble my contribution. For me, this meant merging some of the attention to detail found in print with the immediacy of the web. It meant empowering underrepresented artists and writers, and putting literature in the same space as multimedia. As an art student, I also wanted to choose a creative angle.
I founded Quail Bell as a place to explore the imaginative, the nostalgic, and the otherworldly. I really wanted to play with fiction and nonfiction instead of spearheading just another fantasy and historical fiction site. That’s why I established two departments--The Real and The Unreal. I began populating the site by uploading my own work and the occasional piece from other artists and writers I knew. It took about a year and a half before I decided to get other people heavily involved in the project. I flew solo there for a while because I wanted to build the magazine’s foundation, but once I posted calls on Craigslist and Facebook, people from all over the world immediately responded. They said they connected with the themes, aesthetic, and format. I came up with submission guidelines and handpicked my editors. At first, we created a lot of work specifically for Quail Bell, collaborating with other writers and artists to produce photo and video shoots, illustrated stories, poetry series, and more. There’s still some of that and I’d actually like to return to that model, but for the past couple of years, the magazine has mainly published unsolicited submissions.
We’ve been focusing more of our curatorial efforts on print work. Take our print ‘zine, which originated in 2011 and has been featured in Time Out New York, Washington Post Express, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. Every issue has a theme (our last one was feminism; our upcoming one is nature) and 10-15 stories from different writers, with a commissioned illustration for each one. In 2013, a small press in Richmond generously published two of our anthologies, The Nest and Airborne, which are available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and elsewhere.
Now that I live in Brooklyn, I want to bring Quail Bell to a wider New Yorker audience with readings and other events. Quail Bell Magazine read at The New York City Poetry Festival for the second year in a row in July, for instance. I have to decide how else we can get involved in the local arts scene.
I adore your mixed media art. They’re so surreal and yet very earthly. It’s hard to create movement in static things, but you’ve done that so beautifully. What’s your secret? And why do you use recycled material for your pieces?
Thank you! I began doing mixed media work years ago, but I think it was after I began studying experimental animation with Mary Beth Reed in college that my style really began to develop. Exploring animation reminded me that even static beings and objects possess a unique energy to them. I’ll never forget when the experimental animator Stacey Steers visited our campus and brought some of the collages she used in her films. Even as stills, her collages are so full of energy. She cuts out vintage illustrations from old books and manipulates them into works that are completely her own.
I began using recycled materials in my own work out of necessity. Quality art supplies are expensive and you can’t always get a grant or patron to cover your costs. My parents, who both experienced poverty early in life, taught me to reuse whatever I could. So even as a little girl, I often turned to recycled materials for my art projects. When I was at VCU, I relished venturing around Richmond, which is really a gritty little city, and reusing other people’s trash. Sometimes when I had extra cash or needed a specific item, I would go to thrift shops, which are plentiful in Richmond.
Even now that I’m financially comfortable, I’m accustomed to using recycled materials. Plus, trash is in abundance here in New York. If Richmond was a treasure trove, then New York is treasure trove upon treasure trove. There’s one nonprofit warehouse, Materials For the Arts, filled with "junk"--basically discards from businesses that moved, went out of business or need to get rid of merchandise they couldn’t sell. I pulled most of the materials for "Representations of the Feminine in Tissue Paper," an installation I made for chashama Gala at the Condé Nast Building in Times Square, from Materials For the Arts. I have to be cautious that I don’t fill up the two-bedroom apartment I share with my husband with finds from my treasure hunts, though. One of those bedrooms is our dedicated office and art studio, but sometimes I wish I had a warehouse to store my minds. The streets bear so much.
In a less literal sense, I use recycled materials as a comment on environmental waste as much as comment on personal history and nostalgia. For every piece I fish out of the trash, I have a personal photo or long-held piece of jewelry I’m happy to cannibalize for my next canvas. Some of my work does examine environmental issues--like a series I did for an American Rivers fundraiser in Tysons Corner, Virginia last spring--but I’ll examine other important issues, too. My piece, "Lady Tyger," for instance was a look at female athletes’s strength and history of discrimination that I made for SmokeLong Quarterly. That piece will be up for auction at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s annual fundraiser at 41 Cooper Gallery in Manhattan on Aug. 28th. The nonprofit provides legal services for the LGBTQ community.
I try to submit a few pieces to charity auctions and other fundraisers every year. That way my art can make a more immediate impact. Sometimes I’ll donate the full amount raised to the nonprofit, but more often, a percentage of the amount raised will go to the nonprofit and the rest will go to me. I have to be compensated for my time somehow, even if it is always an honor to have my work shown. One of my favorite nonprofit collaborations to date was with the Ground Zero Hurricane Katrina Museum in Waveland, Mississippi, which is about an hour outside of New Orleans. I made a piece called "Bayou Gator" to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It was, unfortunately, the only piece to sell at the show, but every dollar counts and regional publicity of the event was huge. I hope that more people learned about the museum and the long-lasting effects of Hurricane Katrina as a result of that show.
A few of your stories focus on pregnancy whether it’s a woman coping with her loss by making multiple photo copies of her lost fetus child and decorating the baby room with them in "Copied" or a family trying for the n-th time in the hopes of the child not dying, again, in "Desert Storm." There’s not much published work--fictional or otherwise--about abortions or miscarriages or the unpleasantness of pregnancies overall. I’m glad there are people who speak out and there are venues that publish. Why do you think it’s important? How has the feedback been on your work focusing on the issue?
In all that I make, I want people to think or feel. I strongly support Rilke’s idea that art should change the viewer. I hold that same sentiment in mind when I write fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction.
In addition to other works, I have an entire collection of short stories that focus on the female body. When I set out to write those stories, I knew it’d be a huge oversight to avoid abortion and miscarriage. The image of the happy pregnant woman holding her big belly is one we’ve all seen. But what about the woman for whom pregnancy causes pain? Even when a woman decides to carry a pregnancy to term and is able to do so, there is no guarantee that the child will be born healthy and survive (just read my story "Panda"). There is simply no guarantee of happiness, whether you’re talking about motherhood or life in general. And when happiness does come, it’s not a constant. Happiness will go, but happiness will come again. That’s just the human experience. I want my writing to be vulnerable and honest, the same way life is.
Thus far, the feedback of my feminist fiction has mostly been positive, yet that’s not a massive concern for me. I’m going to keep writing, submitting, and publishing regardless of the feedback. If an editor or publisher doesn’t like the politics of my work, that’s on them, not me. These are still the stories I want to tell and I’m going to tell them.
Your Christine Stoddard Loves Dragons is an amazing album--it’s magical, psychedelic, storylike. My favorite song is Glass Bead Game. While it’s in a cappella, it’s very melodious and your voice is very siren-like. Do you plan on making any more albums in the future? Any particular genre in mind?
Thank you so much. I began making this album while a student at Grinnell College in Iowa. That’s where I went to school before I transferred to VCU. I wrote a lot of poetry while at Grinnell, but I wanted to push myself to do something else with it. That’s why I turned to singing. I’ve always enjoyed singing to myself. Even today, I have zero musical training, but I did have Garage Band on my laptop. So I just began taking my poems, coming up with melodies, and recording whatever I sang. My freshman roommate wasn’t often in our dorm, so I had a lot of freedom to sing without getting on anyone’s nerves. I took full advantage of it. I submitted the raw recordings to the Grinnell College radio station and one of them was selected for the annual campus album. An upperclassman named Josh Lindgren, who now works in the music industry as an agent, approached me about mixing and producing the songs into an album after I had already transferred. I gave him the files and let him do what he wanted with them. The result was what I call Dragon Love for short.
I may make an album in the future, but I first want to do something with this one. After Josh and I finished it, we uploaded the songs online and did absolutely no promotion. At the time, I saw the endeavor as more of an experiment. Lately I’ve been toying around with the idea of burning copies and leaving them around Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and the Lower East Side. We’ll see when I actually get around to doing that.
In the course of teaching creative writing to children and teenagers, what resources can you recommend to people who would like to learn to write creatively but who may not necessarily have the means? What should one work at to be a good writer--imaginativeness aside?
I’ve never been a full-time teacher, but I do have some experience leading art and creative writing workshops for underprivileged communities and girls and women from all socio-economic groups. In general, I recommend reading a lot. It costs nothing to get a public library card. Never let your education level prevent you from picking up a pen and just writing. They may be clichés in the age of the Tumblr social justice warrior, but art really is for everyone and everybody truly has stories to tell. If you don’t know where to start, begin with a vivid memory. Write it as a scene and see what unfolds from there. Your imagination is yours to unlock. Apart from exercising your imagination, exercise your ability to tell the truth. Even if you’re writing fiction, be real. Write what hurts. Remember that every character, no matter how virtuous, has flaws. Imperfection is part of what makes humankind so beautiful.
On a final note, please read "On Becoming A Good Writing Mentor To Teen Girls," which I wrote for Quaint Magazine. I hope it’s useful for anyone who plans on teaching teen girls creative writing, now or in the future.
Christine Stoddard is a Brooklyn-based writer and artist originally from Virginia. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, Bustle, the New York Transit Museum, Cosmopolitan, The Brooklyn Quarterly, the Condé Nast Building at Times Square, and beyond. In 2014, Folio Magazine named her one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s for founding Quail Bell Magazine.