I should be clear about this right from the beginning. I LOVE The Molotov Cocktail being freakishly keen on the strangely, darkly weird. I enter all their comps and won their last themed Flash Fiction competition in May – Flash Felon. This interview with its creator, Josh Goller is therefore more starry-eyed big-up than incisive critique. Having said that I can genuinely think of nothing not to like about the darkly whimsical retro-styled badass flash zine based under gloomy Portland skies in the USA.
- Hi Josh, what is Molotov Cocktail, both the on-line mag and the themed competitions?
The Molotov Cocktail is a flash fiction zine that is published online twice monthly. We seek out very short fiction that’s either dark or offbeat. For the past two years, we’ve also been hosting quarterly contests that revolve around unique themes. Since our inception, The Molotov Cocktail has shifted gears a little bit. We’ve been flash fiction focused since the start, when we primarily focused on the dark stuff. We still like a dash or two of the macabre, but now we’re into anything weird—flash that makes us laugh, cringe or even feel inspired in a roundabout, twisted kind of way.
The contests are a big part of our shift. In the fall of 2014, we hosted our first contest. We weren’t sure what kind of reception we’d get, but it exceeded our expectations and became a quarterly feature of our zine. The contests—which each have a different theme and can be very genre-oriented or far more open to interpretation—really stoke a lot of excitement, not only for our readers and contributing writers, but for us as editors. The judging process is arduous but thrilling for us. There’s a lot of chatter on social media when a results announcement is imminent, and our contest mega-issues are by far our most heavily read issues of the year. And now hell has even frozen over and we’ve hosted a poetry contest.
- Who are the editors of Molotov Cocktail and what is their background?
The Molotov Cocktail has always been a very DIY operation. I founded the zine in 2010 and ran it myself for several years. In 2014, my partner, Mary Lenoir Bond, came on board as an associate editor and has been an integral part of our quarterly contests.
I was born and raised in Wisconsin, lived in Chicago for a while, and then moved out to the Pacific Northwest about eight years ago. I earned an MFA in Writing at Pacific University (where I met Mary, actually), and I now reside in Portland. In addition to lurking behind the curtain at Molotov, I critique music, film, and books for Spectrum Culture. I freelance for various magazines and websites and watch far too many horror movies.
Mary Lenoir Bond spent most of her life in California, where she worked as an actress in Los Angeles before studying fiction, poetry, and theater at USC. She went on to earn her MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Along the way, she fell in love with San Francisco, where she lived for many years, but now dwells under the gloomy skies of Portland, where she makes jewelry, perfume and other sensory products. Her poetry has been published in Prairie Schooner, december and Silk Road.
- How and why did you set up Molotov Cocktail?
The Molotov Cocktail was conceived of as projectile for explosive flash fiction. Until our recent poetry contest, we exclusively published flash fiction twice monthly throughout our six-plus years of existence. I started the mag while I was in the middle of my MFA in Writing program at Pacific University. As I was submitting my own flash fiction and short stories to different markets, I noticed how there were plenty of formal journals supported by universities as well as the hipper, edgier independent mags. Both options seemed to take themselves pretty seriously. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I wanted to create a space for dark and offbeat flash that could irreverent and even a little absurd.
- Why the name and subject matter?
Part of the reason for the name is simply that a Molotov cocktail is a makeshift device with an explosive impact. I didn’t have university backing or a big pile of grants when I started the lit zine, and I wanted to kind of celebrate the makeshift origins of the publication. Back in 2010, I was just learning the ropes, after all. I also like the name because it implies a short, powerful burst, and that’s what we want from the flash pieces that we publish.
The dark and offbeat subject matter has always just been the kind of fiction I most like reading, so that was a no-brainer for me. There’s plenty of lyrical beauty out there; I wanted to publish some beautiful ugliness.
- Who are your main influences?
If the tattoo on my right calf is any indication, I’d have to say Kurt Vonnegut is my #1 influence. I’ve read all his novels and most of his short stories, and he’s definitely my literary idol (and I’m sure I’m not alone here). I’ve also read a ton of Philip K. Dick, and I really appreciate the retro-futurist aesthetic his work creates when reading it in the 21st century. How he blends the metaphysical (whether it’s through psychedelic drugs, alien encounters, or powerful experiences with the supernatural) with frightening technological and societal scenarios is really fascinating to me. I also very much appreciate the work of Haruki Murakami, Denis Johnson, Cormac McCarthy, Brady Udall, and Joyce Carol Oates to name a few.
But we often also indirectly celebrate the cinema at The Molotov Cocktail. The works of Terry Gilliam, Tarantino, Cronenberg, Corman, Kubrick, Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and early Darren Aronofsky have all had an impact on me. But above all, I’ve been influenced by David Lynch. Mary shares my love of all things Lynchian, and she’s cited Hayao Miyazaki, Michel Gondry, Guillermo del Toro and Akira Kurosawa as other film-based influences. As for writers, she’s been shaped by the works of Aimee Bender, Charles Simic, Kelly Link, Anna Journey and Gabriel García Márquez.
- Your style is very distinctive how did you come to it?
There are enough hoity-toity journals out there; I wanted something a little stranger and a touch more irreverent. The work we publish still has a literary bent, but we’re also interested in writing that isn’t afraid to play around with genre conventions as well. Simply put, we publish the kind of stuff that we like to read ourselves—and we’re weirdoes.
- What you are looking for, or not looking for in submissions?
We want to see flash fiction that surprises us, writing that grabs us by the collar and pulls us up into the clouds or down into the murk. This might involve trying something entirely new, or taking something familiar and transporting it to a strange, new place. The kind of stuff we publish uses stark language to create vivid images that linger in our minds long after we’re finished reading the piece.
What we are definitely not looking for is the conventional. The work we are likely to accept has to stand out from the crowd. We hate clichés, and we’re not a huge fan of too much dialogue either. With flash fiction, there’s so little room to create a world that we don’t want to see that space clogged up with too much idle chatter between characters. We’re typically not a fan of stories written in strong dialect, and we don’t care much to see stuff that’s set in high schools, colleges, bars, coffee shops, etc. And our biggest pet peeve is seeing writing about writers.
- Your Twitter presence is very distinctive with a clear Voice how did you develop this?
Twitter has been big for us. Facebook was an okay way to interact with people and promote the zine when we first started out, but once we joined Twitter in 2013 (better late than never), we were better able to add some personality to our outreach about the publication. I’m a pretty sarcastic person, so Twitter was a perfect place to have a little fun and to more directly interact with writers and readers. It’s also been a great place to get the word out about our contests to make sure we get as much visibility as possible, and to get creative with how we do that.
- Your illustrations are also very distinctive who does them and do you have a style brief you stick to?
The Molotov Cocktail is truly a two-person operation, so we don’t contract those out or anything. I do them myself. The general images from the covers are culled from public domain sources and then refurbished and remixed. We’ve gone through a few different iterations of our cover style. When the zine started, it was simply weird vintage photos that we found. Then it became more B-movie poster oriented, with the idea that Roger Corman and the like churned out film after film on a shoestring budget that utilized a lot of makeshift methods. While we don’t think of the quality of our content as B-movie, we do appreciate a kind of grindhouse aesthetic and my philosophy has always been that we should produce new content on a more frequent basis than more elaborately-financed journals. Nowadays, we’re not so much B-movie poster-oriented as we are vintage pulp cover oriented. Again, it’s the idea that we’re frequently putting out a lot of content and that the content is going be strange and vivid and memorable and perhaps even a little bit lurid. Plus, we like being able to put our contributing writers' names on the cover as an added perk of getting published with us.
- You recently launched your new poetry competition, how is this going and have you any new developments in the pipeline?
The Shadow Award poetry contest ended up being a hit. Going in, we weren’t sure what kind of turnout to expect, but we ended up with more entries than a couple of our quarterly contests. So that was exciting. Mary took up the reins on that one, and she did most of the judging, and we were once again bowled over by the quality of the work we were reading.
I’m always tinkering with new ideas. Right now, we’re running our Flash Icon contest, which requires writers to include a famous person, place, or thing in their entries. And we’ll have another Halloween-y contest come the fall. I’d really like to do a podcast in the semi-near future. And I even have some crackpot ideas about starting Choose Your Own Adventure-style sister zine, or a daily micro-fiction site, but that’s probably biting off more than we can chew. Ultimately, though, we’d like to one day start a small press to publish strange and surreal novels and chapbooks.
The editors plan to put these anthologies together annually. The next will be released this coming October (no specific release date is set yet, but it’ll likely be mid-month) and will include the Top 10 from The Shadow Award poetry contest in addition to the regular quarterly contests. If print isn’t your thing (for shame) you can also pick up electronic copies for Kindle.