Jon Chaiim McConnell was one of the founding Split Lip FAM members, so it's with sadness and admiration that we look back upon his tenure as Split Lip's first Fiction Editor. Over the last 3+ years, Jon has nurtured the fiction side of this little magazine, discovering kick-ass voices, many of whom have gone on to great success. For that and much more, we are grateful. -- KAR
What was the first story you accepted at Split Lip?
I came onboard with a handful of solicitations ready to go, so the first proper slush acceptance woulda been "No One Says the Right Things" by Mr. Dayton J. Shafer, who I saw just published a new piece at Bull the other month.
What line do you still think about?
Jessica Bonder sent me probably one of the best opening lines of all time: "There are some of you, and you know who you are, who will never set foot inside a robot whorehouse." I'd react out loud while reading submissions, at certain lines or whatever, but I remember this is probably the quickest I ever felt like "yup, this story's about to kill it." And it did.
What's one of the most memorable characters you've come across, and why?
I feel like I need to take my time and preface this one, since for me it's almost always about single characteristics. I consider myself very light on character opinions, regard, or whatever -- ie, lack of character never particularly bothers me. That said, Brandon Taylor's Hammond character is a huge exception in my mind, since he's superbly well-realized. I think about Julian Jarboe's time-pirated character a lot. Logan Murphy's transmutated child. Karen Munro's Pringreen, not least of which because she writes about him in a frantic warning.
What has been one of the more surprising things about being fiction editor?
Objectively, the random bouts of synchronicity in submissions -- when you get a dozen really similar bar stories at once, or all the "kids currently in process of mythologizing the recent death of their kid-friend" stories. Subjectively, the strong opinions you develop about the people on the other end of the submissions process, I think. As soon as you get your first all-caps, angry, entitled response to a rejection from a writer all the judgmental floodgates open.
What would grab your attention (i.e., was there a particular thing in a cover letter or something specific in the first few pages that always grabbed you)?
It's tough to describe, but just feeling that the writer's had the instinct to cut to the chase. Can I keep recommending people? Monet Thomas I accepted so quickly -- if you read it, there's no preamble or needless ramp-up, you're just in the story. It's that quality, where a writer has taken the possibility of boredom completely out of the equation.
As for cover letters, any attention I paid was always because of some weird negative thing (and so I did my best not to read them until after reading the actual piece).
What's one of your favorite memories of your time as fiction editor?
When the momentum of the work started to build upon itself, and a readership really made itself known. When I first started there was great work in place, but there wasn't much of a social following or anything like that to speak of. Seeing it eventually start to organically build, seeing stories get publicized and talked about by 3rd parties through no prompting of our own, and then the longlisting/awards and stuff that followed -- I think Jesi Bender and Marlene Zadig's stories were two of the first that I can remember taking on more of a life of their own a little bit - that was super gratifying. I felt like I had started doing right by people.
Are there writers whose work you've followed after reading their submissions?
Without accepting? Not so much. For the people I did accept, yeah - all of them. I just pre-ordered Eric Blix's first collection (with two Split Lip stories in it, I do believe!), and I think I may have helped convince Lucie Britsch to start a Twitter, in which she's been documenting probably the most rapid fire year-plus of really great story acceptances I've seen from anyone.
How did your tenure as fiction editor inform your own writing?
It made me a complete premise-first writer. I junked all of my work that fell into the domestic drama category because I would read so much of it in the submissions that didn't work for me at all, which bugged me because a writer like Alice Munro is an absolute favorite. But I was judging domestic work by that standard and came to the conclusion that basically "oh, it literally needs to be Munro quality or you won't like it," and that quickly applied to my own stuff.
So I switched up my approach to what I think the stories that I write should be, and probably-not-coincidentally that's what I actually started getting published. I guess you could consider it lowering the personal difficulty, in a certain (and not disparaging!) way.
But it was basically learning to assess what my tastes actually were and then adjusting accordingly.
Is there anything you'd like to share with the FAM?
Well, I hope people know that the cool stuff Split Lip is doing on the outside is powered by this huge amount of editorial torque on the inside. The effort needed to maintain this thing is probably way more than people would assume. The promotional stuff that you're kicking into high gear for contributors now makes me feel especially warm and fuzzy inside.
And let's see -- over the past few AWP's I've missed people coming by the booth asking for me, and yes I feel bad about it.
I have two things coming out this fall if people want to look for those.
And though I have no immediate plans to do anything other than write for the time being, there are a couple of pipe dreams, and I do have a bunch of people's emails now. Do don't be too surprised.