#32 Atticus Review's Former Editor Dorothy Bendel on Erasing Shame [Replay]
“We’re looking for work that has an artfulness to it. I understand how, with everything going on in the world today we want to scream sometimes and it comes through our writing. Sometimes that kind of writing can come off as finger-wagging.” —Dorothy Bendel Hi, luminous writers. This is a replay of a conversation I had with the former Managing Editor at Atticus Review , Dorothy Bendel.I’m reissuing this interview as a companion to a piece that was just posted on my website, written by Lucy Wilde, a writer in my course and membership community, about publishing with Atticus Review in a series of articles called “How I Published With…”As Lucy, my student, writes, “There are two main reasons I wanted to see my work in Atticus Review, the quality of the writing and the fact that they are interested in publishing hybrid, unconventional work that pushes boundaries.”There is a lot to love and lot of helpful instruction about how to write publish and shine in the upcoming conversation with Atticus Reviews former Managing Editor, Dorothy Bendel.Atticus Review publishes writing that is unashamed, unadorned, and unafraid, and is a daily online journal that publishes fiction, poems, and creative nonfiction, as well as graphic art, mixed media, music essays, and, on occasion, blog posts, and interviews.Episode SponsorSubscribe to The Fiddlehead, Canada’s longest continuously published literary magazine, based in Fredericton, New Brunswick (on unceded Wəlastəkewiyik territory). We publish four times per year and run literary contests in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Forthcoming for Winter 2022 is a special issue on BIPOC Solidarities, curated by our BIPOC editors. To pre-order this issue, read submission guidelines, enter our contests, or to sign up for “The Frond,” our quarterly newsletter, visit www.TheFiddlehead.ca.Links and Resources from this Episode: Atticus Review “How I Published in Atticus Review” by Lucy Wilde “The Professor of Longing”, Jill Talbot Be With Me Always, Randon Noble “What ‘Twin Peaks’ Can Teach Us About Writing—And Experiencing—Trauma”, Dorothy Bendel Meander, Spiral, Explode, Jane Alison No Visible Bruises, What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, Rachel Louise Snyder What a Body Remembers, Karen Stefano Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/letters Episode transcript to come soon.The post 32 // Atticus Review’s Former Editor Dorothy Bendel on Erasing Shame [Replay] appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
24 Nov 2021
#15 The Threepenny Review’s Wendy Lesser on Picking Pleasure Over Ambition [Replay]
“I think there is too much pushing forward in a way that is not motivated by pleasure that is motivated by shaped ambition or greed or some sense that people have as to what they should want. Zooming over everything else. And to me that is not literature. That is careerism.”—Wendy Lesser, The Threepenny Review Hi, luminous writers. This is a replay of my conversation from back in 2018, a lifetime ago, with Wendy Lesser, the founding editor of the arts journal, The Threepenny Review. This episode is really popular on my website and so I thought it could do with a revisit. I do appreciate a lot of what she says about enjoying writing versus mimicking or hustling to be a writer. In our conversation, Wendy says she can always tell when a writer writes in their authentic voice.The Threepenny Review is a very popular journal for writers to submit to, in part because they have rapid-fire response rates for submission. Listen to hear more about that and also stick around at the end as I want to bring a little more reflection on “top tier” journals as the arbiters of your writing talents and skills. I think a lot of writers submit to journals like The Threepenny Review to ask the question, am I any good, and I will offer, not surprisingly if you’ve been listening to my podcast for a while, some reframing on this.This episode is brought to you by The Fiddlehead magazine. Subscribe to The Fiddlehead, Canada’s longest continuously published literary magazine, based in Fredericton, New Brunswick (on unceded Wəlastəkewiyik territory). We publish four times per year and run literary contests in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Forthcoming for Winter 2022 is a special issue on BIPOC Solidarities, curated by our BIPOC editors. To pre-order this issue, read submission guidelines, enter our contests, or to sign up for “The Frond,” our quarterly newsletter, visit www.TheFiddlehead.ca.Links and Resources from this Episode: The Three Penny Review Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/lettersRead the Episode TranscriptRachel Thompson: Welcome luminous writers to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast. I’m your host, author, and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to published author.Hi luminous writers. This is a replay of a conversation I had back in 2018. I know, a lifetime ago. And it was with Wendy lesser, the founding editor of the arts Journal, The Threepenny Review. This episode is really popular on my website, and so I thought, I could do with a revisit. I do appreciate a lot of what she says about enjoying writing versus mimicking or hustling to be a writer. And in our conversation, Wendy says, she can always tell when a writer writes in their authentic voice. The Threepenny Review is a very popular journal for writers to submit, to impart, because they have rapid fire response rates for submissions.So, you can listen to hear more about that. And also stick around at the end of the episode as I want to bring a little more reflection on top tier journals, like The Threepenny Review, and how they’re often seen as arbiters of your writing talents and skills. I think a lot of writers submit to journals like The Threepenny Review to ask the question,“Am I any good?”And I will offer, not surprisingly, if you’ve been listening to my podcast for a while, some reframing on this. So here is my conversation with Wendy Lesser. Welcome to the podcast, Wendy.Wendy Lesser: Thank you for having me, Rachel.Rachel Thompson: You are not just the editor at The Threepenny Literary Review, but you’re also the founder. I’m pleased to have you here today to talk about your journal that’s based in Berkeley. And I wanted to start by asking you about your own writing origin story. So, I know that your mother is also a writer. Do you think that’s what led you to become a writer?Wendy Lesser: Probably unconsciously, but on a conscious level, I avoided it at first, because as a child, I saw her shutting herself up in her room and struggling to get published and all the things that writers have to do. So, when I went to college, I majored in first Anthropology and then History and Literature but planning in a way to go on to be a city planner, and then I even applied to law school. And so, I thought I was going to do something else. But by the time I came back to California, having been on the East Coast, and then in England for two years, and entered a graduate program, I was pretty convinced I wasn’t going to be an academic. So that’s when I would say I started turning toward being a writer.Rachel Thompson: And do you feel like some of her writing has had influence on your writing?Wendy Lesser: Her name is Millicent Dillon. And I don’t think her writing directly influenced me. No, I think her mode of being in the world influenced me. Our entire family was highly critical. And this candidacy has been passed along to my son, who is not a writer, but a political figure in Brooklyn. But anyway, we all address the world as if it needs to be critiqued. And so, I think that came from her. And I think a sense that language matters, having a lot of books in the house, all that was a direct influence, but the style of her writing and the things she chose to write about, no, I don’t think there’s a direct influence.Rachel Thompson: You talked to you about how she locked herself up for a long times in the practice of being a writer. What is your practice of writing currently like?Wendy Lesser: Well, because I have this Threepenny Review, I don’t write full time, of course, I have to manage the magazine as well. So normally, I have between two and three days a week that I set aside for writing depending on, whether it’s a crunch period on the magazine or a crunch period on the book I’m working on. Some weeks, for instance, this week, because it’s layout week, when I have to figure out where everything goes on the page. I won’t do any of my own writing at all. But when I’m hard at work on a book, I will maybe set aside Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays or something to work on the book. And the rest of the time I’m working on Threepenny, it’s pretty much a seven day a week life. I mean, I do take time off, I go on long walks with my husband, I go out in the evenings, I’m not deprived in any way. But there is rarely a day that passes where I don’t do something on the magazine.Rachel Thompson: Yeah, that seems very true to the literary magazine editor life, especially when you’re the one that’s solely responsible for it too.Wendy Lesser: Well, I had a halftime deputy editor and he’s very responsible, but he only comes three days a week, and he doesn’t have to work on weekends.Rachel Thompson: It’s like we can be our own worst bosses. So, this podcast is mostly talking to emerging writers, so writers who are looking to get some of their first publications in journals or they’re in the early stages of their writing lives. And I’m wondering if you can think back to again maybe getting a bit into your origins around writing. What is the best advice that you received when you were an emerging writer?Wendy Lesser: “Have a day job”.Do something else to earn your living. There have been a few years in my life when I have coasted by entirely on what I earned from my writing and what I earned from Threepenny. But mostly, neither of those things, nor both together was enough to support me. So, everybody should have some kind of skill, whether it’s teaching or being a locksmith, or I don’t know, gardening, whatever they can get paid for, and then have their writing.Rachel Thompson: Yeah, I think it’s good to demystify the idea that even really successful writers are often still working on something else. I also wanted to ask what is the worst advice you received as an emerging writer?Wendy Lesser: I’m not the kind of person that receives a lot of advice, people take a look at me, and they don’t give advice. But so, I don’t recall getting any really bad advice. A woman who came to my party that my mother gave me for my PhD dissertation looked at the acknowledgments in the dissertation, and she said– and thank you to Christopher Ricks for talking me out of going to law school. And she said,“That man was responsible for the loss of millions of dollars in income to you”.But I don’t think it was bad advice. I think it was good advice. But she thought it was bad advice.Rachel Thompson: I guess I asked this line of questioning, because I want to get at mentoring as well. And part of it is because the magazine- I’m coming from is this magazine. And we do a lot of mentoring within, we have a whole collective of people. So, we’re a large group of people, very few of whom are getting paid for the work. So, I’ll make sure that that mythology is not out there, that there’s a big staff. But there are a lot of people involved in the project, and we’re mentoring each other. But then we’re also working on mentoring emerging writers too. And I’m just wondering what kind of mentoring you’ve had happened in your writing life and then within your writing community today?Wendy Lesser: Oh, well, people have helped me tremendously. I mean, Christopher Ricks, as I said, steered me toward being a critic, I would say, and then Thom Gunn, who was a poet in San Francisco, and who I really loved, and was friends with, basically gave me an example of the writing life, the disinterested, not controlled by anybody else writing life. So that has been an important model. Yeah, the writers I’ve met, have had an influence on me. I don’t take my job at Threepenny as being one of mentoring, there are writers who’ve I’ve published for 10, or 20, or 30 years, who would say that the magazine at least, and I suppose, have been a mentor in a certain way.I’ve encouraged them along; I’ve nominated them for prizes. I’ve told them when they need to cut the last sentence, things like that. But I pretty much want writers who already know what they want to say. And already have an interesting and unusual way of saying it. I’m not trying to shake people into some idea, I have in my mind as to what the Threepenny writers should be, they should come to Threepenny already, if not fully formed, because we published plenty of people in their 20s, are probably going to change and develop as writers, but they should come with their own sense of who they are, and present that material to us. And we’ll take it or leave it basically.Rachel Thompson: I think that’s the best kind of editor experience, where they’re trying to help you achieve the vision that you have for your own writing.Wendy Lesser: Right. And we do very little tinkering with the work we accept. I mean, every once in a while, with writers I know well, Elizabeth Tallent, for instance, who I’ve been publishing since the 1980s, and who gives me some of her very best stories and very best essays. With her, I’ve had sort of lengthy correspondences about-“On page 20, do you really think this character would do that? Everything you’ve said about him suggests otherwise”.But there are very few writers who I would have that detailed conversation about things that are central to the story. For the most part, I need to get to know somebody really well before I would dare to enter into that degree. Mostly, I would say to somebody,“This story isn’t quite right for us”. Or “This is a great story. Can I correct the grammar problem in paragraphs one and 17?” Like that.Rachel Thompson: Can you tell us a bit more about why you started The Threepenny Review? What was driving the need for a new journal at the time that you saw.Wendy Lesser: So, I was in graduate school at Berkeley, I was living in Berkeley, and there was something called the San Francisco Review of Books that I was writing for, because I had a lot of free time as a graduate student. And I would write book reviews. It came out almost monthly. And then there was something that friends of mine started in the academy, professors, started university publishing, and I wrote for that and did some editing for them. And neither of those magazines seemed to me to be what I thought a literary magazine should be. There also seemed to be a big gap between the intelligentsia if you want to call it that the intellectual readership of the Bay Area and any publication that appeared there. So, I thought the Bay Area needed a publication that was worthy of its readers and writers and being 26, 27 years old, I thought I was capable of doing that, you don’t have limits at that age. And then I called it “The Threepenny Review”.I had some other possible names; Washington Square was one, after the Henry James novel, and also after the places in New York and San Francisco, and Wigan Pier was another after Orwell, but I didn’t take either of those. I took The Threepenny Review because of certain principles that had been outlined by Bertolt Brecht, not in The Threepenny Opera, but in other things he’d written, but because Threepenny seemed to me that nicest name of anything he’d written, I adapted it for The Threepenny Review. All three of those titles, the intention was to have something that didn’t say, “Bay Area, San Francisco, California.” I didn’t want to limit the magazine to its geographical location. I had no plans to move it. But I wanted it to represent national and even international writers and to represent a world of letters that I thought was international, not local.Rachel Thompson: I want to follow up on the thread of not limiting the magazine to its geographical location and representing national and international writers. And part of– the point here, I guess, and part of the mission for us, too, is uncovering and an opening space for diversity and writing diverse voices. And what role do you think The Threepenny Review has played in that?Wendy Lesser: I think it’s played a reasonably good role. Everybody else is now on that bandwagon, too. So, it’s not as if nobody is looking around for new good, diverse voices. But we, over the years have just done our best to get interesting people into the magazine from elsewhere. So, for instance, a recent issue sometime in the last year had two different Nigerians in it. One who came to us through his agency, the Wily agency, already an established writer, a great short story that we published, and the other relatively unknown young poet who came to us from our online submission system. I mean, if by diversity mean, many countries, we have people, Javier Marias, who’s from Spain, writes for almost every issue, I have Margaret Jull Costa, on retainer, and she translates a lot of things that he’s written and gives them to us for almost every issue.Then, a Dutch doctor named Bert Kaiser, is somebody who has been writing for the magazine for over 20 years, I found his work in a Paris bookstore when I was there. And I was so impressed by this book, he wrote about death and dying and dealing with old people, which was his profession as a doctor, that I wrote to him through his publishers, and he’s been writing for us ever since. If you mean by the diversity, ethnic and racial diversity, we have tons of Asian American and Hispanic American writers that pop up in our pages all the time. But actually, I could sit down and categorize them that way, if you made me and grant proposals make you do that. But in fact, I don’t think of it in that way. I think,“Oh, this person is really good at writing essays. And that person’s a great poet”, or “I hope I get another story from this one soon”.So that tends to be the way I think about those writers.Rachel Thompson: What’s been the most rewarding part of editing for you? Like how has editing informed your own writing as well?Wendy Lesser: Yeah, that’s a good question. And it’s been very useful. What I find is, that the hardest part of writing is the first draft for me. And I’ve talked to other writers, and they feel the same way, especially with a book, not so much with an essay, because you know, okay, I can manage 10 pages, I can manage 15. But when you have a book project in front of you, you never know for sure if it’s going to get finished. Are you going to be able to climb that huge mountain and come down the other side? And so that’s the hard part. So, there’s a certain level of anxiety, even that is interfering with the writing process as you’re trying to get that first draft down. For me, once I have the first draft down, it’s all golden. After that, I love rewriting, it’s just easy for me because I’m an editor. And if I just set something aside for even a day makes a difference.But if I set it aside for a week or two, and then come back to it, I can read it almost as if I’m an outside person, as if I’m an editor reading another writer’s work for the first time, and I can see where the awkward sentences are. And I can figure out how to solve those knotty problems of transitions, it all becomes incredibly much clearer when I’ve had a week or two away from the writing even better a month away. So, in that sense, editing has informed my writing process. And my own belief is that, for me, 90% of the work is in that first draft. But 90% of what makes the book good is in that rewriting phase, that is people would look at my first draft and they would say who would ever publish her. But when I finished the rewriting, it’s all a million times better. And that process of making it better is the fun part.Rachel Thompson: And yet, you’re saying everything was there too in that first draft. So, it’s like everything’s there in the first draft, but then in the revision.Wendy Lesser: No, everything’s not there in the first draft. Sometimes I read through, and I read a whole paragraph and it seems to be written in cliches, “Okay, so that one goes out”, then something has to come in instead, or I understand that I got to a certain difficult point in the argument, and I quit, what’s there is okay. But there’s this big, empty place where I need to be thinking harder. But that level of thinking is not as difficult as getting down the first draft, it’s more fun. You just say to yourself, “Okay, well, where does this argument go, if I let it go somewhere?”, and then you can make five more sentences that completely improve the whole chapter.Rachel Thompson: Yeah, I love how you say “I got there. And then I quit.” Because I think a lot of times when we see emerging writers submit, they haven’t done that next stage of pushing back against the work and saying, “Okay, what am I really trying to say here? And how can I get deeper into the writing”?Wendy Lesser: I think that’s true. But I also think that least among the writers I’ve accepted, the real writers have a voice. And the voice is there from the first sentence or the first line of the poem if they’re poets, but it’s definitely the first sentence of the story or the first sentence of the essay, and you can’t mistake it. I mean, sometimes I don’t take pieces that have that voice, because they go wrong later on, badly wrong, or severely wrong in a way that I can’t with a couple of line edits fix. But I can always tell when a writer has her or his own voice. And that’s the thing that they need to bring to the project even before the thinking starts.Rachel Thompson: I want to ask you, over the years that you’ve been publishing The Threepenny Review, is there a piece that strikes you as the most important piece you’ve published since you began?Wendy Lesser: No, no, not any one piece. Not at all. First of all, I think the issues are accumulations of a bunch of different voices. And they matter in that way. Even regular readers tell me this, but also writers who are in the magazine, they love appearing between this poem and that story, or between this essay and that photograph or something They have a sense of being part of a community of voices that are all saying slightly different things but are tending not even fully in the same direction, but they’re part of the same world, part of the same general sense of how things should be in the world. So that I would say matters more than any single article I’ve published. I would say, high points that I remember from, you know, the history of the magazine are, the time we found a homeless writer, Lars Eighner, he’s not known anymore, but he couldn’t even submit the work himself.The friend of his sent me 60 pages of this stuff. And I called up the friend who I didn’t know, but who’d left a phone number. And I said, don’t send this anywhere else. I’m going to take something, and I edited that down to about 20 pages. And we published what became a piece of Travels with Lizbeth. That was Lars Eighner’s book. And he just went viral in the days, before viral- where there was no computer in those days, or there was a computer but there was no internet, but his work really went wild, and people loved it. And I remember the feeling of achievement in finding him. Not even in the slush pile, underneath the slush pile. And the just the tremendous feeling of accomplishment there was to publishing him. He had a wonderful voice. And then another great feeling of accomplishment was reading a few novels of Javier Marias and writing to him in Spain and saying“Is there anything you could send us in The Threepenny Review”.And getting back, I believe the first thing we published his was a short story. Since then, we’ve published articles, but just being able to publish this writer whose work I had so admired in book form, having him send work for Threepenny, that was a thrill, too. But I’ve had many such thrills sometimes, just Wendell Berry who sends us work now. Sometimes I read a story Wendell Berry has sent me and I can’t be satisfied with sending him a little note in the mail, he doesn’t have email, I have to get on the phone and call him up in Kentucky and say,“I can’t tell you how moved I was to read this story. I’m so proud to have it in Threepenny”.So that’s why I can’t single out any one thing. I get this feeling at least once a year, or I wouldn’t keep doing it.Rachel Thompson: I love hearing that enthusiasm. And actually, I’m thinking of a quote I saw attributed to you on Twitter, is that “I suppose if I have to give a one word answer to the question of why I read, that word would be pleasure”.Wendy Lesser: That’s definitely true that might come from a book I wrote called “Why I read”. I mean, it’s possible that I said it in person, because it sounds like me, but it’s also possible someone took it out of the book.Rachel Thompson: And so, it sounds to me that, that’s also why you’re editing people as well.Wendy Lesser: I’m a great believer in people doing what they want to do. And my friends think I’m terribly selfish. But I think that if everybody could figure out what they wanted, and what gave them pleasure, I’m sort of an Adam Smith’s invisible hand person in this way. And if all the people represented themselves reasonably and fairly, not taking too big a piece of the pie, not trying to deprive others so that they could get more than their fair share. But if they just would be knowledgeable enough about themselves to know what gives them pleasure, and let other people know that and everybody kind of negotiate it together openly, things would be a lot better. I think there is too much pushing forward in a way that is not motivated by pleasure, that is motivated by shaped ambition or greed or some sense that people have as to what they should want or shouldn’t want, and what they really do want.Rachel Thompson: Would you say that that’s true in literary circles as well?Wendy Lesser: I suppose so. I mean, I can’t say that so much for my friends. First of all, I wouldn’t dare to but also, I think I choose friends and probably writers who are doing what they want to, but I do see it in iconic literature. That is, if I read a book like James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Karl Ove Knausgård’s, multivolume work. What I see is ambition, zooming over everything else and saying,“I want to be a great writer. How can I be a great writer? Okay, I can triumph over everybody else by doing this”.And to me, that is not literature, and that is careerism. So, I love Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and even more, I love Dubliners. I think Joyce was a great writer. I think Ulysses goes off the tracks into, “I am going to be a great writer” and “Stomp out every other trend around me because people are so impressed by what I’m doing”. And I don’t think Knausgård is a great writer to begin with.So, he’s just doing the ambition part. But I think that people who are really great writers are in touch with the things that they care about. And they’re in touch with their own dark sides too and their own destructive sides and their own cruel sides. And some of that comes out in their work as well. But they are pouring their own selves and lives and unconscious desires and everything else into their work. Which is not to say; it isn’t very carefully shaped. It has to be, to work.Rachel Thompson: Wow. Yeah, I think you’ve really defined for me even what I like in writing, the writing that really does go deep and is revealing truths about someone and not like you said, just saying, “Oh, look at how wonderful I can polish this”.Wendy Lesser: Right.Rachel Thompson: I’m just hitting pause on my conversation with Wendy Lesser, to introduce the sponsor for this episode, The Fiddlehead magazine. Subscribe to the Fiddlehead, Canada’s longest continuously published literary magazine, based in Fredericton, New Brunswick on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory. They publish four times per year and run literary contests in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Forthcoming for winter 2022 is a special issue on BIPOC Solidarities, curated by their BIPOC editors. To preorder this issue, read submission guidelines, enter their contests or to sign up for The Frond, their quarterly newsletter, visit the fiddlehead.ca. That’s the fiddlehead.ca. And now back to my conversation with Threepenny Review editor and founder, Wendy Lesser.Speaking of literary giants, as you have been mentioning Joyce, you have some living literary giants who appear in the journal frequently and Sharon Olds comes to mind is one of those American poet that I love. Can you tell me about the choice to have people appear several times historically through the journal?Wendy Lesser: Well, Sharon Olds, she sent me like three poems, five poems at once. And I don’t think there’s ever been an occasion where I’ve turned them all down, and that’s true of other- Kay Ryan, who I also publish, Robert Pinsky. David ferry, Louise Glück, for sure. I am really lucky in my poets. They speak to each other, they see each other’s work in my pages. And so, they send me stuff. And writers of that caliber, when they send you five poems, you can pretty easily find one you want in that batch. So, I don’t really know Sharon Olds, I’ve been to her readings. I’m not even sure we’ve met personally, been introduced, but there have only been about four or five times, I guess that she’s sent me work over the years, I’ve taken something of it. And I’m really happy with the things we have in the current issue. There’s this wonderful poem called, “Bay Area Aria” that I really love. She just has wit, it’s fun to read a poem like that.Rachel Thompson: I want to ask you, or I want to switch gears to talk about the slush pile for the magazine and to some of the mechanics behind the scenes. So, what is your current acceptance rate of slush in the magazine if you know?Wendy Lesser: Well, let’s see. I think I’ve done the calculation; it comes out to be something like 0.02%, 0.0002 if you leave out the percentage sign, but basically, here are the numbers. We read manuscripts for six months of the year, January through June. That’s when our online submission system is open. We get about 100 submissions a day, every day on that submissions. Like I know for sure because I just calculated it. Yesterday, I cleaned them out. I had finished reading them all. It was empty at about five o’clock yesterday afternoon. By this morning. There were 49 more, and each of those submissions is one story, one essay, or up to five poems.In other words, it’s more than just the numbers suggest, out of those 100 a day that we receive, we probably take two or three poems a month, we try not to take more than four stories every quarter, because we only publish eight stories and we have to have room for all a– in other words, we’re accepting over six months, it has to last us for 12, you can see the numbers are very small. The percentages are slightly higher for nonfiction because we get a lot less nonfiction. So, I take probably two essays a month off of the unsolicited manuscripts. And I take even more table talk. That’s the short, really short essays that we publish, they tend to come in- maybe two thirds of them of the ones we publish come in through tabletop. So, nonfiction is a better route into the magazine, if you can write good nonfiction, because there’s just so much poetry and so much fiction coming in.I don’t know if this will get out to everybody needs to, but David, my deputy editor and I have a policy of trying to get to everything right away. He reads submissions, all three days of the week, he’s in, I read submissions, seven days a week, or six or five if I’m working really hard on a book. So, we get to everything instantly when it comes in. And we normally give people a response within 48 hours. I have announced every year on our Facebook page that this is what we do. We don’t let it sit around for three weeks. We don’t pass it around in any kind of committee. If there’s anything promising, we put it in the maybe pile and both of us read it and we get to it right away.So, when people get rejections after 48 hours, it is not because we have not read it, it is because we read it right away. But I can’t tell you, I get some nice comments saying thanks for reading so quickly. Because we require no simultaneous submissions, you have to submit exclusively to us. But I also get some enraged people saying“I know you haven’t read this”.And I feel like saying,“How do you know you’re not here looking at me. You don’t know how I run the magazine”.It’s just so infuriating that people think of you do it quickly. You haven’t read it.Rachel Thompson: Yeah, it’s funny because that was going to be my next question. I did read online, someone saying Threepenny Review must be the most wicked lit mag ever. You send them a story in the morning, and you get a rejection email by evening.Wendy Lesser: That doesn’t happen. Normally, that happens if I see a name that has appeared 17 times in submissions. If I see it, I read it again right away. So, I can send a rejection right away to send a message. If we get back to you that quickly, probably there’s been a real problem, like you’ve overburdened us with bad stuff. But 48 hours is our normal response time. There’s nothing wrong with your work. If you hear from us in 48 hours. Sometimes I accept something within 24 hours. And the writers are amazed at that. Sometimes, because David and I have to read the things in common it might take up to a week.Rachel Thompson: I want to pick up something you said before about the pieces working together to because I’m seeing your process, you’re getting the pieces, and you’re reading them rather quickly. And you’re saying no right away, within 48 hours, but then you have a maybe pile I assume.Wendy Lesser: We read those more carefully. And again, we accept them only on the basis of merit. In other words, we don’t accept them for thematic issues or anything like that. Somebody doesn’t get under the wire because they happen to be writing about a subject we’re interested in that day. We do have things called “symposia” in the issues, in every alternating issue. In the spring and the fall, we run a symposium and that is invited writers contributing something on a prearranged topic. So recent symposia have been- a symposium about neighborhoods, a symposium about shame. The next one for the fall is going to be a symposium about charm. We’ve had a symposium about Berlin, and a symposium about London, and a symposium about love, all different topics like that. But other than the symposium, people who are invited to write on a very specific topic, everybody else is chosen just on the merit of their work.Then, we sort the stuff vaguely into piles for different issues, we think this is going to be a spring story for a winter poem, roughly based on what the other things around it are like, but that can be resorted at any time. And then the rest of it is coincidental. I mean, always, when I sit down to put together the issue, I find that one thing leads neatly into the next. And if it doesn’t, I can put a poem in between that will bridge the gap, or I can put a photograph there that will bridge the gap. So, it might not be that these things were all chosen to go together. But when somebody sits down with the magazine and reads it front to back, it will feel something like a continuous conversation. And that’s chance or serendipity or whatever you want to call it. It’s not a result of choosing things that are meant to go together.Rachel Thompson: I’m really glad you clarified that because in my experience, sometimes we’re turning down good work, because at room, we do two themed issues a year, we do four issues a year to preset themes, and then the others emerge, more like what you’re saying. But then we end up turning down some work because we already have a story that’s like this and maybe we want to hit a different note here, like these kinds of decisions that end up being made. Do you find–Wendy Lesser: We’re not particularly topical. So, after the Parkland shooting, we had a million poems about school shootings. After Trump’s election, we had a million screeds about that. Of course, we’re not unaware of things happening in the world. And we want people to be aware in their own writing in a sort of sideways way of these real events in the world. But we don’t want thematic stuff like that. Because we’re a quarterly, for one thing, and because sometimes we accept something one year, and it doesn’t come out till the next.But also, I decided, when I started the magazine, that there were going to be no thematic issues, because one of the publications I’d worked on, university publishing, had only thematic issues, and they had exactly your problem, they had to turn down good things because they didn’t fit the theme. And they had another problem, which is that they couldn’t bring out the issue on time. Because these three people who were supposed to ride on the theme hadn’t gotten their work in and they were waiting and waiting. And the work would only be useful for that issue, not for a following one, so they couldn’t bump it over. So, I decided: No theme issues. That way, if someone’s late delivering, if some writer I really want, doesn’t get it in in time for the summer issue, I can use her in the fall, there’s no limit, because there’s no preset theme, except, as I say, for the symposia, which is a relatively recent development in the magazine, and not a large amount of space in the issues that it’s in.Rachel Thompson: Can you tell me a bit about what kind of writing you’ve seen too much of, that you never want to see again?Wendy Lesser: It’s not that I don’t want to see it again. Because as I said, in Why I Read, I was talking about editing a magazine and the kinds of things that I really don’t like, and then I said, and then here’s this Wendell Berry story, that breaks all these rules. It just does all the things that I just said, I don’t like perfectly, and I published it. So all these rules are meant to be broken by people who can be brilliant on the subject, but, A, stories about childhood, and particularly essays about childhood, but also short stories in the first person that talk about grade school, or what mom did when we went to the mall or any of these things, I can’t tell you how many of those we receive and how few of those are worth publishing.So, beware of thinking that your childhood is interesting to other people, for the most part, unless you’re Wendell Berry or a few other brilliant writers at which they are, I suppose, many, Rebecca West is another. But it’s very, very hard to do a good story based on a child’s perspective of something that happened to her or him as a child. Another one where people tend to go astray, they don’t do it so much anymore. I don’t know why but dating and sex. I mean, like I hated that cat story that was in The New Yorker, I just thought that was garbage and morally garbage too. The narrator was a total jerk, but she presented herself as a high and mighty person who was experiencing the other guy being a jerk. So, for the most part, I think people’s responses to actual real life, dating and sex are not good literature. Again, great writers can transcend this, and we have published stories, and in fact, just recently accepted one that’s kind of on this subject.But on the whole, there’s way too much of it and it’s not done. Well. As I said, extremely topical things aren’t good. We have a ban on the name Trump in the magazine, from the moment he was elected to the moment we get rid of him, which God willing will be soon, his name will not appear ever in The Threepenny Review, and maybe ever forever. In other words, this ban may last for the rest of his in our lives, but you’re not allowed to use his name in the magazine. You can allude to him as our president, or the present administration or whatever and people do. I don’t want poems or stories that are on the subject of Donald Trump. It’s bad enough I have to read about him in real life.Rachel Thompson: I guess I’m wondering why. And you maybe you answered it, you said, you read enough about him outside of the journal.Wendy Lesser: Well, part of that is just a visceral distaste, from the minute he was elected. And of course, even before because we had to experience him quite a bit before, I find him such a disgusting creature. And I don’t want to sully my magazine with his name. I’m just like everybody else. I read the newspapers three times a day to see what stupid thing he’s done now. And that’s the function of newspapers, and it goes away in 24 hours, and there’s a new stupid thing next, but I don’t want to have his name. That’s all I can say. My hatred of him is so visceral that I do not want to have his name in the magazine. My own article in the current issue, which is about a German theatre piece, that came to BAM in New York, ends with a paragraph that directly alludes to the Trump administration and to how we all feel about the Trump administration. I’m not saying that the subject matter of our hatred for this figure is banned. Not at all. It’s just his name that’s banned.Rachel Thompson: You’re talking about the function of newspapers, and then it got me thinking about the function of literature. What kind of thoughts do you have on the function of literature?Wendy Lesser: Well, Ezra Pound called it “News that stays news”. Now, Ezra Pound was a maniac and fascist but on the other hand, he was right about a lot of things. And I do think that’s true that literature stays current, when everything that’s just current events, drops away. And I do think that literature tells you things about the world that can stick with you and shape your sense of history in a way that regular old nonfiction accounts often can’t. I mean, most of what I know, about 19th century England, everything I know about 19th century Portugal, and at least half of what I know, about 19th century Russia, comes from novels.I have a sense of those worlds from reading the great works of literature that came out of them. I’m not saying that literature is separate from life. Literature is part of life, as TS Eliot said, at one point, but I think that some kind of transmutation has gone on having to do with the fact that it was sifted through an individual perspective, the author’s individual perspective, even if we don’t know anything about him, like Homer or Shakespeare, those are like anonymous people in a way to us. But something has been sifted through their perspective, and then has come out the other side in a way that is no longer personal. It transcends the personal, even though it’s gone through the person.Rachel Thompson: What kind of writing are you eager to see more of?Wendy Lesser: That’s a strange question to ask somebody who has to read 100 scripts a day, in a way I’m not eager to see any more of anything, there’s enough already, there’s a lot. Flannery O’Connor, when somebody said to her, “Do you think MFA programs are stifling young writers?” She said, “Not enough of them”. I mean, there’s a way in which the notion that everybody has something to say, is not healthy one, I think people should edit themselves more and not send out everything that touches the page. But what kind of writing do I want more? I can’t say, there’s a great Randall Jarrell poem, or a little boys sick in bed and he says, “If I can think of it, it isn’t what I want”. And that’s kind of how I feel about writing. If I’ve already thought of it in my mind, it’s not what I want. I want someone else with their mind and their take on the world to come in and show me what I’m missing.Rachel Thompson: That’s the trick in the challenge, the gauntlet laid down for writers who want to submit to editors, I guess part of how they discover that is by reading Threepenny Review.Wendy Lesser: I suppose, it can’t hurt to read it. And I probably do have tastes and prejudices and things that I like and things that I don’t like that I’m not aware of, and that I don’t list on our Submissions page. But I think- again, what I was saying about voice and originality, I think a writer who read The Threepenny Review and tried to copy a Threepenny article and send it in, I think I would spot it as inauthentic. I don’t think I would end up taking it. I think the writer has to have something to say and put that down on the page in whatever form, fiction, nonfiction poetry and then I will respond to that thing that he or she is saying and not respond to it because it fits our mold.Rachel Thompson: Thank you so much to my guest, Wendy Lesser, for talking to me about submitting to The Threepenny Review. Thank you to our sponsor for this episode, the Fiddlehead, Canada’s longest continually published literary magazine. You can preorder their upcoming BIPOC solidarities issue, read their submission guidelines and enter their contest, or sign up for The Frond, the cutest name for a newsletter I’ve ever heard, at the fiddlehead.ca.As promised, dear listening writers, here is a little love, maybe tough love, I don’t know, depends on what you believe about the top tier literary magazines. You see, nobody can tell you whether or not you’re a writer. And that doesn’t mean that your first draft or your 50th draft is perfect and ready to publish. I’m not saying this to get you off the hook of working hard on your writing. In fact, I’m saying this to get you on the hook, though, I’m not sure what that metaphor means exactly.Let me try to put it a different way: Writing takes a lot of work. It takes thoughtful revision; it takes reflection and a lot of self-understanding. It takes practice. And publishing your writing requires all of this, plus it requires timing, and connection with an editor who understands you and your unique voice. I do not subscribe to the idea that one editor can tell you if you’re a writer or not. And we know. We know that historically, a lot of writers have been left out of publishing because editors didn’t have the perspective or point of view, or just general cares and concerns that many communities have writers had.Does this mean that publishing and lit mags is irrelevant? Maybe, if your goals aren’t aligned with the benefits of lit mag publishing. I think for most of you listening though, and I’ve heard from so many of you, that you’re looking to hone your craft, to be read widely, to polish your work and publish it somewhere you can reach and connect with your unique readers. So, for that reason I continue to espouse lit mag publishing. But I don’t and will never espouse the idea that certain tastemakers can tell you that you are or are not a writer. The act of writing makes you a writer. The continuous work and development you bring to the page makes you a writer.Now, I’m not saying that top tier lit mag editors, and certainly I’m not saying that my guest in this episode thinks that they are arbiters of writing. But I do think it’s a myth in the writing community that there are tastemakers that can decide for you in that instant, whether or not this is a path for you. So, I urge you to shake off that myth if you can, and to continue to write, publish and shine and work on your own writing in your own time and in your own way. Okay, that’s the end of my rant about that. And I just wish you well in your writing journey.The Write, Publish and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers write, publish and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my writerly love letters sent out every other week, and filled with support for your writing practice.If this episode encourages you to pick pleasure over ambition, I would love to hear all about it. You can tag me on social media. I’m @RachelThompson on Twitter and @RachelThompsonAuthor on Instagram and tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish and Shine, wherever they get their podcasts. Thank you for listening. I encourage you to choose pleasure over ambition. And to not let anyone tell you whether or not you’re a writer.My guest for this episode spoke to me from the territory of Cochin, the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo Ohlone, the successors of the historic and sovereign Verona band of Alameda County, in a place colonially known as Berkeley, California. Myself, I am a guest in the South Sinai Egypt on lands, historically and presently occupied by the Al-Tirabin Bedouin.The post 15 // The Threepenny Review’s Wendy Lesser on Picking Pleasure Over Ambition [Replay] appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
9 Nov 2021
#55 Handling Rejection of Your Writing and Finding Strength in Community
Had I not had a community of writers around me to support me, I would not have been successful, because there are people who were pushing me. —Angela Wright You probably already know, or have heard, that rejection is a *big* part of writing to be read and submitting your work to lit mags.You probably also wish you could snap your fingers and become immune to rejection, but, sorry, it’s unavoidable. It just feels bad—we’re wired for that. And, unfortunately, were we to totally avoid feeling bad about rejection, it would make us pretty bad writers. To be blasé about being turned down would likely require turning off all our feelings. And feeling is an occupational requirement for us writers.Before we leap right into those bad feelings of rejection, I asked the writers with us today to go through some of the things they learned they can do to minimize the chance of rejection for their work.Links and Resources from this Episode: Ellen Chang-Richardson Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri Lori Sebastianutti Angela Wright Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other week and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/lettersA full transcript will appear here soon.Write, Publish, Shine Episode 54 TranscriptRachel Thompson: 00:01Welcome luminous writers to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast. I am your host, author, and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to publish author.00:26Welcome luminous writers. This is part two of conversations with four writers from my Lit Mag Love Course community. In the last episode and in this episode, we hear from Ellen Chang-Richardson, a poet, writer and editor of Taiwanese and Cambodian-Chinese or Chinese-Cambodian, as she puts it descent, whose writing has appeared in the Fiddlehead, Vallum Contemporary and Watch Your Head, among others.00:53Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri, a Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer, who had her first story published in English in 2013 and has since chosen that as her writing language.01:05Lori Sebastianutti, a writer and teacher and former managing editor of the Fertility Matters Canada (FMC) blog. She has published in The New Quarterly, The Hamilton Review of Books and Nurture.01:17And Angela Wright, a writer, historian, and political analyst based in Toronto, Canada, her creative nonfiction has appeared in the Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly and The Brooklyn Quarterly.01:28They are back this time to talk about rejection and resilience when it comes to writing and publishing in lit mags. You probably already know this or have heard that rejection is a big part of writing to be read and submitting your work to lit mags. You probably also wish you could snap your fingers and become immune to rejection. But sorry, it is unavoidable. And it just feels bad. We are wired for that. And unfortunately, were we to totally avoid feeling bad about rejection, it would make us pretty bad writers, to be blasé about being turned down, would likely require turning off all our feelings and feeling is an occupational requirement for us writers.02:13But before we leap right into those bad feelings about rejection, I asked the writers with us to go through some of the things they learned, they can do to minimize the chance of rejection for their work. This is not a bullet proof list again, sorry. But here are some mistakes from which you can learn.02:32You will recall last episode Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri, told us about how she writes in every genre there is from quite traditional to very experimental. So, she has tailored lists of places where she sends her work. But she was not always so clear in her submissions. Early on when she was submitting to journals. She made the mistake of forgetting to include a cover letter.Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri: 02:55I have done every single thing that you can do wrong, like send the wrong attachment, realizing afterwards that, “Oops, that was 50 words over” and easy to edit out. But these things happen. You just have to be kind to yourself and say,“I’ll try to do better next time”.There is no point in beating yourself up over something forever. The first time I did not know, I was so completely green here that I had no idea. I did not think to even sent a cover letter. I do not know what I wrote in that piece. It was on Submittable.03:29So, I did not know how to do these things. I had no idea what I was doing. I did on that first submission to route, I did receive a personalized rejection, which I think made it much easier for me to keep going. So that first encounter be sort of positive really helped me, but I am pretty sure I did not have an actual cover letter. I did have two pieces published at that point, but that was not completely empty. So, I think it the whole letter may have been just a bio, like a very short bio.Rachel Thompson: 04:01Now forgetting to send out a cover letter is not always a big deal. I find in general writers agonize over the cover letter much more than they need to actually, some journals want them, others do not mind either way. But Hege does touch on a mistake she made within those cover letters that I think is really important to note. And what she picked up after taking the Lit Mag Love Course in 2017.Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri: 04:26After 2017, when I learned how to do these things. I did certain writing, real cover letters. And I can see those, first one is how I sort of tried to exaggerate my experience which was not much and now sort of paring it down and tailoring it to where I am sending it, so, even stuff like my bio will change slightly depending on what corner of the market I am aiming at biggest. There are some names that will be a little more enticing and what makes them want to look at my piece, compared to others. So, if it is something really experimental, then I will name certain places I have been published. And if it is more mainstream, I will name certain others. I am not just tailoring whereas some stuff, but also the person myself that I mentioned in my cover letter.Rachel Thompson: 05:20That makes me so giddy to hear that she learned from those early submission fumbles, and she now tailors what she says in her cover letters, just like she tailors where she sends her writing. Lori Sebastianutti also found that when she did not reflect as much on her submissions, when she was not as careful and methodical, that got her into trouble early on.05:44In our previous episode, Lori talked about how her writing process evolved away from starting with looking at journals, and what they want to instead starting with looking inside herself for the story she wants to tell, and then finding the fit with the journals who have published those stories. But it took a while for her to learn how to look for that fit.Lori Sebastianutti: 06:06So, I wrote a prose poem that I was really proud of, and really happy with. And I thought, do not ask me why I thought this, but I thought I need to submit this to Brevity. And Brevity, I did inquire, they do publish the occasional prose poem. But Brevity is known for like fast pace because it is short form. It is 750 words, so, fast pace/nonfiction, so, real stories, but told almost like fiction in a way with like a narrative arc and all that stuff. And here I am submitting this like dreamy, circular prose poem, which is what a prose poem, I thought, is supposed to be. Needless to say, it was a rejection. But I think once again, this was back in 2017. I was just starting, and I was not really thinking through. Looking back really, should I have submitted that prose poem to Brevity? Probably not. But hey, it was a learning experience. So, I think once again, when editors say,“Read the journal, know the journal.”I mean, they are not just saying that to hear themselves speak. It is really true. So yes, I learned from that for sure.Rachel Thompson: 07:11“Read the journal”. Yes, that is vital advice for writers. And I hope it helps encourage you to do the same. If you have been submitting a while and starting to get those rejection letters, Ellen Chang-Richardson has another note, all writers should listen to, from editors.Ellen Chang-Richardson: 07:30I want to talk about like resubmissions. Like, sometimes you will get a form rejection, which is fine. And if you really like the magazine or the literary publication, then definitely resubmit your work to them. But then sometimes you are just like,“Okay, maybe I wait a few issues or whatever, see if my work really fits them or not”.But then sometimes you get a really personalized rejection, where it is something like, “This doesn’t fit the other pieces we’ve selected for this specific theme, but please send us your work again in the future”. And I was actually having a conversation with my poetry collective seven. And Margo LaPeer shared a really interesting article that was talking about how a lot of writers, primarily who identify as female wait, before they send their work back out again, they wait either six months to 12 months. And the article is saying, instead of doing that, just re-sent new work, immediate, like at the next submission cycle, do not wait two or three submission cycles to do it, especially if it is like, personalized“Send us more of your work”.Then they are like,“Oh, you actually took what we said to heart”.And they are also remembering you, because it is within a specific amount of time, instead of like three to five years down the line. So, I think especially with like form rejections from a literary magazine that you genuinely admire, or like, especially with personalized rejections submit that work again.Rachel Thompson: 09:01That is a hard agree with me for what Ellen had to say about submitting the work again. And you may recall, Angela Wright told us in the previous episode, how she really closely pays attention to lit mag editors, and often picks fit for lit mags based upon those editors’ tastes and experiences. She also shares this insight about what does rejection or acceptance even mean.Angela Wright: 09:26I mean, everything in terms of who gets accepted, you do not know the nature of that person’s relationship with the editor, or they could know each other personally, that person could know if they did not MFA, they could have all these other connections in network. So, there is just so many different moving pieces that go along with why a piece may be accepted or rejected. It is always really important to remind ourselves that we are professional writers and that- I know we do not always like, think of it this way. But writing is also a business in a sense. So, there are always going to be business decisions that are made that we may not understand or agree with. You also do not know who is fighting for you. I mean, it could be that your piece is rejected, but there was someone in the room who was like, I love this, it needs to be in there. And either there was another piece that was like just slightly better or that more people like or there could be that there was a piece that was recently published, that was very similar to yours. And it is really hard to know exactly what the conversation is. And so, you should never assume necessarily that a rejection means that people did not like it.Rachel Thompson: 09:46Lori Sebastianutti, again, describes an experience of being on that other side reading submissions, and affirms what Angela has to say. And also, my own experience as a lit mag editor as well.Lori Sebastianutti: 10:55That recently was a reader, not a judge, but I was a reader for the birth story contest out of the Doula Support Foundation in Kingston. And so, I was the first reader. And yes, like I have so appreciated, reading all the stories, and it was so hard. The organizers said I need your top five. And I think she gave me 15 to read. So those other 10, like, I felt heartbroken, but I get it right. And no, I did not laugh at anybody. Like I thought that their stories were awesome. And I learned so much from stories, even ones that I did not choose. So, I get it now.Rachel Thompson: 11:28Lori did not always have that insight. Listen to how when she first started submitting her work, she felt about getting rejected. And that is something that happens to all of us, as we know. And she had a very different notion about what a lit mag editor was thinking, and then her evolution to change that notion.Lori Sebastianutti: 11:46Well, my relationship to rejection has evolved. I guess, like every writer, like at first, of course, it hurts. You take it personally, but I think I was embarrassed. Like, when I get a rejection, I would be like,“Oh, my God, what did this editor think? Did they laugh their head off?”Thinking,“Who is she thinking, she can get into this journal?”,I really felt that sort of sense of embarrassment. But I have learned that that is most likely not the case, they are probably not laughing at me, they are probably admiring me for trying and putting my work out there. And, just talking with other writers about rejection, so helps. And just that there are so many people who want a spot, and there is not a lot of spots. And you have to understand that tough decisions are made. And it is easy to hear that, but I think I have really let that sink in, like, I got a rejection not too long ago from this journal in the US Image. I have a subscription and I read it. It never hurt, I did not feel embarrassed. I think I am over that. But it hurt a little bit. But then I moved on. And I am like, “Well, I got other essays I want to write.I will let that one sit for a bit. Maybe I will come back to it. Maybe I will change it. I’ll try another journal”. So yes, I mean, I think it always going to hurt a tiny bit, but I really do not dwell on them anymore. I used to dwell on them. And I have lost that sense of embarrassment. And I realized that, it is probably more admiration that editors are, and appreciation that you actually have an interest in their journal. So yes, it is definitely evolved. But what is helped, is talking to other writers, my writing group, like groups that we have in Writerly Love, or in Facebook groups, hearing about people saying like,“Oh, this was rejected five times, and then it got published”,or even just people saying,“You know what, it’s rejected. And I will wait and see what to do with it, or I am going to send it out again, right away”.All of that is very helpful.Rachel Thompson: 13:32Ellen Chang-Richardson, also found it hard to get those rejections at first, who would not? But then learned to appreciate getting any response at all.Ellen Chang-Richardson: 13:42Let us say we send out 10 submissions, and they go out there into the world. I mean, chances are that I am going to get eight rejections, maybe even nine, maybe even 10. When you get rejections, you get this feeling of like,“Am I alone? Does my work suck?”But then if you talk to other writers and other people of your community, you realize that it is just part of the damn thing. So, when I first started submitting, I would be devastated. But actually, one of the lessons– I do not know if it was part of Writerly Love, or if it was part of Lit Mag Love, it was more of a self-care perspective when it comes to rejections. And so, I actually appreciated that because that course was like,“Take the rejection, but don’t dwell on it”.Like celebrate the fact that you have gotten a response, because some of those places do not respond. There is like, two poems of mine that I submitted way back in 2019, still have not gotten a response from the magazine. And now the magazine. I am pretty sure it is defunct. But I am like, I do not think I have ever had a thing published in there. I am also not going to name the magazine because that is just rude. I am like,“Okay, well, I don’t know like a ‘No’ would have been nice or like not right now”.Rachel Thompson: 14:56Unfortunately, getting no feedback is not super are uncommon. I actually am a volunteer collective member of a magazine that never responded to all of my submissions in the early aughts. Lit mags are stretched thin and run by people often doing this work off the sides of their desks and lives. I love how Ellen though learn to appreciate just hearing anything back because of this. And I hope you are hearing what I am hearing from all these writers, which is being in community with other writers, connecting with other writers really helps them weather the rejection storm.Ellen Chang-Richardson: 15:36You feel alone in your rejection cloud, until you talk to other writers. Like “Yeah, yeah, it’s just part of it”. You got to take that, throw it away, move on.Rachel Thompson: 15:47And here’s Angela Wright again on this.Angela Wright: 15:50I would say that community is probably one of the most important things as a writer, I think, for me, had I not had a community of writers around me to support me, I would not have been successful because there were people who were pushing me. At one point, I had an accountability buddy, which is all about- even if we were not writing together, it was like, “What is your goal for this week? Okay, were you successful? Were you not successful?” Scheduling meetups with other writers, I also have someone who I would sit down with and will write grant applications for. We write different grants, sometimes it will be for the same grant, sometimes it will be for different ones. But to have people there just mostly for emotional support because writing can be very exhausting.So, I would say the most important thing is community, whether it is a big group, I had writing groups that were really helpful, especially at the beginning, it was really helpful to get feedback on my writing before I was published. And then also just having people who will read your work. So, you can do writing swaps with different people. But yes, and then ultimately, at the end of the day, like people who you can bend to it, when something is not accepted. And yes, who will listen to you and your angry rants? Yes, so I would say community is the most important thing, I would say, the most important aspect of getting through writing and just building your writing career because ultimately, we need each other as writers, and we need other writers as well. And it is super important to have, if not a major community of writers. That is something like created through an MFA programme, have other writers around you. Just because people who are not writers do not understand. They just do not, they will be like,“Oh, you haven’t published anything lately?”It’s like,“No, it takes time. It’s not just going to show up in a few weeks.”You tell your parents,“Oh, yes, I’m going to have a piece published in this thing.”“Well, when’s it coming out?”“Probably in six months.”So, it is really important just to have other people who understand the process because people who are not writers do not understand the process at all. And they will ask very ridiculous questions and not really understand when you explain things to them.Rachel Thompson: 18:17I am interrupting these four luminous writers, all of whom are alumni of my course called Lit Mag Love, to let you know that if you have benefited from what you have learned in this or other episodes of this podcast about writing, and submitting your work to journals, you might be a good candidate for my course that is all about publishing in journals. The Lit Mag Love course will help you get a big ‘Yes’ for your writing from a literary journal. The five-week course runs twice per year. Our first session in 2022 starts February 1, so you have time to plan your course sessions for the new year. Lit Mag Love comes with lots of support and feedback.You can learn all about the Lit Mag Love course, find out what writers say about working with me, and join the course waitlist to get exclusive enrollment offers at rachelthompson.co/litmaglove. Now back to the conversation with four luminous writers who are all alumni of the Lit Mag Love course, as they discuss handling rejection and writing community. We need other writers this is something all four writers in this episode agree upon. Here’s Hege again:Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri: 19:29Community really helps as I already explained in my daily Haiku practice. And having a group around me there has also taught me the importance of not stepping back from community when you get to rejection. The initial thing is that feeling of shame, and “Oh my God, I’m not good enough. I need to go back into my Rejection Grotto and sit there and ponder these things a little bit more”. When you do disclose this to a community, what happens is that it becomes just a thing out there in the world, this becomes this growth inside your head. And you can talk about it, and it becomes much less dangerous. But then when you have to grow out of that feeling.Having a committee that cheers you on, and where you cheer others on, helps you also let go of some of the jealousy of others. I mean, seeing that and seeing others, I mean, when somebody else succeeds after a long time, just nothing, that is a pick me up for a week for me. And that does not [inaudible 20:20]. And just to give you an idea, and I have not been submitting to Qantas in Canada, but I check every single one, the long lists to see if somebody I know that I can cheer on. And cheering people on and sharing their experience of who they send their stuff to. I mean, the beehive knowledge of where to send your things and where they might sit in, is a thing of really great value as a writer, because you cannot know all these things yourself.So, sharing the knowledge and sharing the successes and also the terrible blunders that we sometimes do. And normalizing “Yeah, you can really do something like that”. And still, the day after, it will be accepted by somebody great in a place where you didn’t believe it’d be accepted. There’s huge value in that. And I say that as somebody who would be an introvert in my writing, I would sit around it, cover my ears and eyes and not let anybody see it. I am genuinely happy for others when they have success. I do not feel that their success is making it more difficult for me to have success. It is almost a shared success. And having a group around you that you can share that, “Oh, I got a rejection. And I feel really sad”. And “Oh, what should I do about this thing?” It really helps me keep going.Rachel Thompson: 21:58Similarly, Lori Sebastianutti finds inspiration and not envy when she sees writers in our community succeed.Lori Sebastianutti: 22:07Being a part of Writerly Love, my own writing group, even Twitter to a lesser extent, knowing that, like we said, putting yourself out there, people will understand that people understand rejection, people understand the need to write the need to get your stories out. I think those are absolutely crucial, I think, too, what has been amazing to see is like, sometimes you start out with people around the same kind of, I don’t want to say level, but novice writers, and then you’re seeing some people, like go off and publish books, even like, and you’re seeing all the trials and tribulations in that, and you’re like, “Oh, one day, I hope to be there”, and you think “Okay, so I should expect this, I should expect that”. And so, I really do think it is crucial.Rachel Thompson: 22:54Still, each of these writers have their own personal, often really introspective ways of handling rejection. For Lori, her preparation for possible rejection comes even before she hears back from the journals, right when she hits that submit button.Lori Sebastianutti: 23:11I feel that a lot. I feel like I did like we talked about with CNF, I feel like I do need inspiration or kind of like a little push. And I usually go for a walk, I might say a little prayer. And I just kind of think to myself like “Okay, what’s the worst thing that can happen? If A, this gets rejected. B, it gets published, and people read it”, like, what’s the worst thing that can happen? And what is the best thing that can happen? A reader identifies with my story. So yes, I think it is a lot of thinking, a lot of reflection, prayer, and going for a walk, that really helps me, just looking at the trees and just thinking about it.Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri: 23:53So, what I do, first of all, I do not try to downplay the feelings I have. The feeling of hurt and of being rejected and worthless, I let them simmer for a few minutes. And then I tell myself to breathe, and I tell myself, “It’s okay to feel that”, and I put both the piece and the rejection away and go for a walk. Because walking helps me with almost everything. I usually do not- to reopen the piece again. But sometimes it is useful because I realized for instance, two rejections that was, ” Wow, how did that happen?” Last year, I realized I had sent the wrong version of the piece. I was supposed to send one and I sent another one, that was pre-edited one.So that made me feel both like an idiot. But also, these are things that happen, and this is part of explaining, why I got that kind of rejection. So, I actually did that four different- I mean, it was one piece and I sent it four different ones. I withdrew from the other two when I realized that I had sent the wrong version. Like months later. I usually try to concentrate on something else that are written and free-write a bit and get the flow. There is one thing that these reductions do all that self-doubt, will very often put you in a position where you start self-editing is doubting every word that comes out of your keyboard or pen. So, getting the flow going again, is one of the first things I need to reestablish after that hurt.Ellen Chang-Richardson: 25:26My process is that I have a sub folder in my inbox. So, it is a sub folder, and it is called ‘literary submissions’. And anytime I get a rejection, I look at it, and I immediately move it to that folder, and I just forget about it, or at least I try to do.Angela Wright: 25:44My strategies for rejection have been: One, I would say, is not to take things personal. It is always hard, especially when you are writing CNF. And you are writing about your own life, as I often do, it can feel like a rejection of your story or a rejection of your life. And so, yes, it is trying to remember that we are also professional writers. And so, this is like a professional rejection. It is not a personal rejection. And it is also not necessarily a rejection of the quality of the work. There is some people who- there are some editors who just do not get certain things. Not all editors are good. That is an important thing to remember. Yes, not all elders are good. Not all editors understand different ways of living in this world, just different ways of understanding and processing what happens in this world. Other than that, I would say, two is celebrating my wins, I think, a lot.Even if it is something that is published online, I actually have a binder of all of my publications, so copy and paste it into a Word doc, and I will print it out. And so, I have got kind of a portfolio with all of my publications. And so, I am having this ritual around. Every time that I publish something, make sure I put it in my CV. And so, it is kind of like, really getting into any sort of publication and really taking the time to celebrate and bask in any win, is very helpful when it comes to dealing with rejection, especially if you are rejected by an editor or publication that you really respect and admire, that can be certainly difficult.Rachel Thompson: 25:51I love what Angela does around really celebrating those wins. Those publication ‘Yes’s’ feel great. But you probably noticed, they are not as sticky in our minds as the ‘No’s’ we experience. So, whatever you can do to make them more sticky, to hold on to the celebratory moments is wonderful. Of course, sometimes the rejection gets to be too much. And it is time to take stock. Here’s Angela Wright again:Angela Wright: 27:56There have definitely been times where I have said,“Not now I need a break”.The hardest thing I think about being a writer is that it is very difficult to sustain a practice and also be able to live life. I lived in Toronto, which is where I kind of started my literary career. And it is a very expensive city. And yes, it can be very difficult when you are trying to devote enough time to writing while also trying to pay your rent and pay your bills. If it were not for grants that I got through the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts, I would not have been able to work as a writer full time. But what I found is that it can be very exhausting, and even if you are successful with grants, you have to apply every year.And yes, and so there has definitely been moments where I said, I need something that is more sustainable, I need something that will allow me to be able to take a break and not have to worry about whether or not I am going to be able to pay my bills, I would say on average, it takes me at least 10 to 15 hours to put together like a solid grant application. But for some of them, it can take up to 30-40 hours, which is a lot of time. It works out if you are successful, but it is a lot of time to devote to something that is not a sure thing.Rachel Thompson: 29:25So, there you have four writers, on how they handle rejection with lots of different approaches and ideas, but also one big underlying under community. I want to give the final word for this episode to Hege, about one of the big benefits of practicing submitting, of making mistakes of putting yourself out there of handling whatever comes when you do, as she describes her own personal development.Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri: 29:53I feel that, failing and showing that it is human and writerly human. If you are writerly human being. It is, okay. It is okay to do that. It is okay to screw up your cover letter. And you are not the only person in the world has done that. I think there has been a tremendous growth in me, as a person as I slowly start to let up on that control and allow other people in. And that is fair when I am writing. Writing and failing and sometimes succeeding. And yes, everybody has their own path. And I am sure there are others that and in a different corners saying,“I don’t care about validation”.So, I will self-publish, or people are so Zen, they do not even care about being published. They go to open houses and read beautiful poetry, but they do not care about that publishing. So, I think the path needs to be found individually, depending on where you want to go, that I want my writing to be out in the world. And I want the writing to be as good as possible and be in the place where it fits best. And for that community has been really crucial and my understanding of how to do that.Rachel Thompson: 31:07My Lit Mag Love course will help you get a big yes for your writing from a lit mag you love. Get ahead in your plans to publish in 2022 by joining the waitlist today, you will get special enrollment offers. If you do, learn more about the course and get on the waitlist at rachelthompson.co/litmaglove.31:27The Write, Publish and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers write, publish and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you are there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters they are sent every other week and filled with support for your writing practice.31:45Our podcast production assistant is Tamara Zhang, who patiently helped gather all the interviews for this episode. Thank you again tomorrow for being such an incredible literary citizen and inspiring us with your support of writers in our community.32:00If this episode encouraged you to join the beehive community of writers, to persist with your dreams, to publish in lit mags, or even to take a much-needed break, I would love to hear from you. You can tag me on social media. I am @RachelThompson on Twitter, and @RachelThompsonAuthor on Instagram, and tell other luminous writers about the episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast, or searching for Write, Publish and Shine, wherever they get their podcast. Thank you for listening. I encourage you to find that growth and feel all the feelings as you write and publish, what you are meant to write and publish.32:41My guests spoke to us from Oslo, Norway, from the land of the Algonquin Anishinaabe nation, colonially known as Ottawa, Canada, from the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples in so called Toronto, Ontario and the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississauga in what is colonially known as Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Myself, I am a guest in the South Sinai Egypt on lands, historically and presently occupied by the Al-Tirabin Bedouin.The post 55 // Handling Rejection of Your Writing and Finding Strength in Community appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
26 Oct 2021
#54 Four Writers on Finding Their “Lanes” and Publishing in Literary Magazines
Four actively publishing writers on writing what you’re meant to be writing and publishing in your own time and your own way. Ellen Chang-Richardson is a poet, writer and editor of Taiwanese and Cambodian Chinese (or Chinese Cambodian) descent, whose writing has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Vallum Contemporary, and Watch Your Head, among others—including Room, which you’ll hear about coming up.Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer. She had her first story published in English in 2013 and has since chosen that as her writing language.Lori Sebastianutti is a writer and teacher and former managing editor of the Fertility Matters Canada blog. She has published in The New Quarterly, The Hamilton Review of Books, and Nurture, which you’ll hear all about in this episode.Angela Wright is a writer, historian, and political analyst based in Toronto, Canada. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Catapult, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, and The Brooklyn Quarterly. She has performed her poetry in venues across the United States and Canada, including at Canada’s National Arts Centre.These are four writers who actively submit their work, who persist at it and who publish. Among what they have in common is that they each found their “lane” in writing, and that lane gave them the traction to publish in lit mags and succeed by their unique definitions of “success” for their writing.They didn’t necessarily start out in their lane, so you’ll hear from them about finding that sweet spot, that place where what they are writing and where they are submitting fit.Links and Resources from this Episode: Ellen Chang-Richardson Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri Lori Sebastianutti Angela Wright “Notes for the Babysitter” in Nurture by Lori Sebastianutti “Looking for You to Find Me” in The Brooklyn Quarterly by Angela Wright Ellen Chang-Richardson & Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri’s work were both published in Room issue 44.2. The FOLD Festival Program with Ellen Chang Richardson’s piece “Tundra Mist” Ellen Chang-Richardson mentions Black Squirrel Books in Ottawa where she purchased the book, The Pol Pot Regime. I Become a Delight to My Enemies by Sara Peters Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri participates in this #HaikuChallenge on Twitter. In Episode 11 (not 15 as she said in the recording) of this podcast, Alicia Elliott talks about the piece that Angela Wright published in The Fiddlehead. Angela Wright’s piece, ”Looking at Australia, Looking at Me” published in carte blanche and edited by Jenny Ferguson. Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other week and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/lettersWrite, Publish, Shine Episode 54 TranscriptRachel Thompson:Welcome Luminous Writers to The Write, Publish, and Shine Podcast. I am your host author and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to published author. This is a special episode of Write, Publish, and Shine all about writing what you’re meant to be writing, working on fit that way, versus writing what you think you should be writing.Four writers who are alumni of my Lit Mag Love course are here.You’ll hear from Ellen Chang-Richardson, a poet, writer and editor of Taiwanese and Cambodian Chinese (or Chinese Cambodian) descent, whose writing has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Vallum Contemporary, and Watch Your Head, among others—including Room Magazine, which you’ll hear about that in more detail coming up.Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is a Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer. She had her first story published in English in 2013 and has since chosen that as her writing language.Lori Sebastianutti is a writer and teacher and former managing editor of the Fertility Matters Canada blog. She has published in The New Quarterly, The Hamilton Review of Books, and the inaugural issue of Nurture, and you’re going to hear about that experience up first in this episode.Our fourth guest is Angela Wright is a writer, historian, and political analyst based in Toronto, Canada. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, and The Brooklyn Quarterly. She has performed her poetry in venues across the United States and Canada, including Canada’s National Arts Centre.These are four writers who actively submit their work, who persist at it and who publish. Among what they have in common is that they each found their “lane” in writing. I’m using scare quotes around the word lane there so insert your metaphor as you choose, and that lane gave them the traction to publish in lit mags and succeed by their unique definitions of “success” for their writing.They didn’t necessarily start out in their lane, so you’re going to hear from them also about finding that sweet spot, that place in what they are writing and where they are submitting fits.Here first, is Lori Sebastianutti on when she first started submitting…Lori Sebastianutti:Well, when I first started submitting, I would look at the journals, and then try to see if my work could fit with these journals so I would, it was more journal focused, and I would either write to a theme, a call out or I would see if any of my work fit, and I had zero success [laughs]. Either I didn’t publish the piece or I didn’t even finish writing it, you know like I remember Room had a food theme and I’m like okay I want to get in Room so I’m gonna write something about food, and I didn’t end up finishing the piece and I’ve had a few rejections too that way but then I started learning. No, I need to write what is inside me. What is calling to come out, and then see what journals might be interested in my work, and then I had a lot more success that way, because the work that I was creating to have published in a certain journal, it was forced, so that really changed my focus and I don’t submit to a ton of journals like I really admire those writers who submit, like 100, a year or 100 rejections a year that’s their goal, but I don’t work that way and I think that’s awesome but it’s just not my personality I get a little bit too attached to my work and so I really kind of think, oh, who would be interested in this, like, what journal publishes stuff like this, what editor might be open to this and so as a result it takes me a lot more time because I think a lot about it first, and then I let it out into the world, so I submit to both print and online. Luckily I’ve had success in both, but I do submit to a lot of smaller online journals with not like a huge following, and they have amazing editors like either they’re just starting out, you know great writers behind them great editors and I think, you know, even though they’re smaller you get exposure online and you meet like the other writers in that journal online of course, and that you start following them on Twitter so you kind of build community that way. I have submitted to some of the bigger ones, a lot of rejections, but a few acceptances from the bigger kind of Canadian print journals.Rachel Thompson:I so resonate with what Lori said about writing what is calling to come out of her instead of writing what she thinks lit mags want. Listen now to see what happened when she waited until her lane was literally created!Lori Sebastianutti:So I wrote a piece in 2017 in Nicole Breit’s Spark Your Outlier Story course, and we worked on it together and I remember her saying at the end of us working together, the piece is strong, it was a hermit crab essay, and she said, you’ve nailed it, there is a home out there for this piece, so that’s the first time I got really, kind of glowing feedback from a writer I really admired. So, I just started sending it out, you know, and I sent it here I sent it there I sent it to a contest, and it got rejected about five or six times over a period of like two years and I thought, I know you’re told that after three or four rejections, you should probably revise it but I believed in the piece and I had Nicole’s feedback to back it up. And I thought, maybe these journals just weren’t the right fit and so I just left it and I didn’t revise it. And then at the end of 2019, I saw on Twitter, it was a new journal starting up, a US journal, and it was called Nurture A Literary Journal and the theme was the complexities of care, and then a bell rang because that piece I wrote it was a hermit crab that I wrote as notes to a babysitter, which in this case was my child’s first babysitter, which was the embryologist in the IVF lab, and I wrote about those complex feelings of those first five days that they had to live outside my body and how that was a loss for me but at the same time I was so grateful to live in an era where that’s possible. So it was about the complexities of care and I thought okay, I’m going to submit this to this journal, and I got an acceptance pretty quickly so it took about two years, about five or six rejections. But it really was just waiting it out and seeing, almost like the Journal had to exist, for this for this piece to find a home because it fits the theme perfectly. Yeah and it was published in their inaugural issue and I was thrilled to bits and then the editor Colleen Rothman she was amazing. She did do a few copy edits, so it wasn’t like it was perfect, perfect, but she didn’t change form she didn’t change theme and so it found success that way, so I’m glad that I didn’t go back and think okay, something is inherently wrong with this piece I need to change it, I believe in it, I’m gonna see what happens in the future. That’s the direction my writing is going. I have to spend that extra layer of really looking into the publication, of really looking at what the editor has published before or the editor writers himself or herself and see is this a fit? Before I send it and so it’s an extra step but I think it’s worth it.Rachel Thompson:You can find Lori’s piece, “Notes for the Babysitter” on Nurture‘s website and I link to it in the show notes.Ellen Chang-Richardson’s story starts with starting to believe in herself as a writer. It was a meeting with her friend Sam Hiyate of The Rights Factory who told her about Room magazine, where I happen to be an editorial collective member, and by the way, Ellen is now, too. But that’s jumping ahead, here is what happened with Ellen at that meeting with Sam:Ellen Chang-Richardson:You know it had always been a pipe dream of mine to write and be a writer, whatever that means. So we went for coffee and he was like, Look, you’ve got talent, but if you want to get published, here are some strategies that you need to do, for example, you need to spend the next year, polishing your work submitting to literary journals, and then he named dropped Room, and he was like if you don’t know them, Room magazine is the leading feminist magazine in Canada. You should read their work read their issues familiarize yourself with what they do. And if you can get published in it, submit to them, and get your work in, and I was like, okay.And I didn’t know if I had anything that might fit. I was sending Room, all my best shit and getting rejected over and over and over again. I was submitting new poetry, at the time. And so, every single time there was an open call for submission, I’m like, All right, put together five poems send this bloody thing and another rejection [laughs], and then another rejection [laughs]. I was like okay that’s fine I’m just gonna keep submitting doesn’t matter because in the back of my head I could hear Sam Hiyate being like best feminist literary magazine in Canada, get your work in there if you want to be at that echelon.Rachel Thompson:So Ellen, like Lori, started with a focus on the journal itself, in her case wanting to publish with Room, but then she started digging into her personal history in her writing, finding a story that only she could tell. Here’s what happened next…Ellen Chang-Richardson:So, my father is a survivor of the Cambodian genocide and you know we have a very fraught relationship. I started researching into the psychology of surviving something as traumatic as that you know read Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning, great book. He actually looks at surviving trauma like that from a very clinical psychology, point of view, because I want to understand EQ development and that sort of thing and it’s still a project that I’m working on. I also wanted to learn more about the Cambodian genocide because no one teaches you that in school, it’s not taught hardly anywhere. You know, I went to high school in Shanghai and I had a very international curriculum, but it was still very American oriented, so I didn’t learn about it either. So I found this book called the Pol Pot Regime, buried in Black Squirrel Books in Ottawa, which is an amazing bookstore and cafe in the capital region. And I started reading this, and it’s about the rise of the Khmer Rouge. It’s a doozy. But then I started sort of trying to sort through my own issues by writing my story, tangled up with my father’s story or what I’ve been told is my father’s story. So the Pol Pot regime was like founded on lies. And I feel like a lot of that has trickled into, at least how my dad deals with surviving it. So, you know, I started writing this thing but I’m a poet… At the time, I was reading Sarah Peters, I Become a Delight to my Enemies, and it’s a novel that blows up the idea of what form might look like. There are no page numbers. There’s no chapters as we know them. There’s this marginalia all over the place. So I was writing this work on the side and thinking to myself well these are clearly nonfiction stories but I’m a poet who works very strongly with spatial form and concrete form on the page and I don’t want to lose that because I am trying to fit my work into what I know creative nonfiction to be so far. So I was like okay, screw it I’m just gonna play around, so I ended up writing a creative nonfiction essay to, actually, that fit side by side and I’m still working on the project, it’s kind of taken a pause, but I wrote them in the way that I write my poetry. So I submitted that simultaneously to Room, and The Fold program, and Room, wrote me back in like I think it was a couple weeks, which is a really short timeframe, they’re like, We want this. The Fold wrote and were like I want this.Rachel Thompson:So Ellen went from multiple rejections to having two places asking to publish this one piece. That is the magic of finding your unique voice and story, and also of connecting your writing to bigger events in the world. The FOLD asked if she had anything else for them to read and she produced a companion essay for the original submission, publishing both.I love that her writing both honoured her family story and also the form she intuited for her writing. You can find her piece “Tundra Mist” online in the FOLD program, which I link to in the show notes, and her work, “Storm Surge” appears in the print issue of Room 44.2, and I also link to that issue in the show notes.Next we’ll hear from Hege who also persisted with a piece until it was published with Room Magazine (side note: there are a lot of us reading for the magazine, and I do not believe I was a reader for any of her submissions).Here’s Hege A. Jakobsen-Lepri on what happened:My relationship with Room Magazine started in July 2014. I have since then sent 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 and on my 11th attempt I did get a piece in. So that is quite a list of attempts. And then I have, I actually have one piece that I’m still submitting after more than 20 rejections, because it has received positive rejections, almost everywhere and I think it’s just a question of finding that one place [laughs]. It was a piece that got personalized rejections from The New Yorker, and it still hasn’t been picked up anywhere. It’s been going around since, 2017, and I have now I think I’m on my 32nd submission, and I just sent it out to two different places.Rachel Thompson:By the way, I also link to Hege’s publication which happens to be the same publication as Ellen’s, again I was not editing that issue nor did I read for that issue so it’s just a happy coincidence that they were both published at the same time.Here’s Hege A. Jakobsen-Lepri:Hege’s belief in her writing, believing in the work I think happens more readily when you’re truly writing what you’re meant to be writing. When you’ve found your luminous voice something that Hege has really going for her in her work in general. Hege also has a pretty methodical approach to gauge good places to send her work. And she also had to adjust her strategy and expectations about lit mags during these pandemic years.Okay, since I write in every genre there is, and from quite traditional to very experimental I have tailored lists of places where I send certain pieces. Usually when I finish a piece, I will have an idea of which pile it goes into. And so I send out to, to do most of the Canadian ones, but possible. I think it’s a, it’s a three to four ratio of American versus, versus Canadian ones just because there’s so many more American ones and especially for stuff that is quite experimental. And some of them have shorter turnaround time so I will sometimes choose when I need a quicker response, I will tailor to a list where I know they have a shorter response time. That has backfired a few times when I did it during the pandemic because some of those truths that I had learned were truths were no longer so during at least the first year of pandemic where some of some of the readers and editors seemed to fall apart not and were not able to produce what they usually did so those things happened. So, I am pulling up now, my list of of places where I submit to. So, pretty much every Canadian one that doesn’t require to mail your, your submission in, because that usually is a huge showstopper for me so I don’t get around to it so I just don’t even aim at those. Then, when I have something that is they think is a fit, I will send it to The New Yorker because, who am I to stop myself from something, even though I know that with very hard, high likelihood they will not accept me. After that I will go for the top Canadian ones, if I haven’t been accepted or submitted there recently, like, The Fiddlehead, Grain, The New Quarterly, The Malahat, Prism, Room, etc. So what I figure will be top of my list will depend on both the exposure. Whether they pay or not. How they, ratio for certain prizes like the Canadian Magazine Awards, or The Pushcart or stuff like that. So it’s a long list, and there’s some that I were I like the answers I get better so I tend to send to those more frequently. One of those is The Missouri Review where I haven’t been accepted yet, but I keep trying and they usually give me a nice personalized note for whatever I sent them.I have been published in Grain but I haven’t sent stuff there for a few years but I did submit through Submittable at that point. The only two that I know require to mail stuff in is The Fiddlehead and The New Quarterly. There may be some others, but those are the two, and then there are a bunch of American ones that I have largely edited out of my list because it’s too much of a hassle and especially if I can’t get any kind of feedback from them because they require for me to send a self addressed envelope with their stamps which is this point impossible. I did a few at a certain point I don’t anymore so there’s some that would be fit for some of my work where I don’t send anything at this point because of the demand of having hardcopies sent, and the inability to get feedback. If there is any because they require you to do stuff you can’t do in a pandemic.Rachel Thompson:You’ll recall Lori Sebastianutti saying earlier that she looks closely at editors who might be a good fit for her work and Angela Wright is another writer who finds really looking closely at editors most helpful.Angela Wright:I found it a lot easier to research the editor and try to fit something to the editor, rather than trying to fit something to the particular publication. Because, what I’ve done, especially on Twitter if you see there are certain topics that they like to talk about. Twitter’s a really good place to find places to submit especially editors for Catapult they’ll say I want to read certain pieces here are the topics that I really want, here are some of the essays that I’ve worked with before that I’ve helped publish and I really liked them and so it really gives you a good idea of what might be successful so I found it’s really important to be strategic and not just blanket your complete piece anywhere because there’s going to be a lot of places that will just not like it, even if it’s great. Maybe that editor doesn’t like that particular topic, maybe they feel like that the form has been overdone like it could be a lot of different reasons why they might not accept it, so it’s, I would say to do as much research on the publication but also, especially on the editor before you submit.Rachel Thompson:I’m interrupting these four luminous writers all of whom are alumni of my course called Lit Mag Love to let you know that if you’ve benefitted from what you’ve learned from this and other episodes of this podcast about writing and submitting your work to journals you might be a good candidate for my course that is all about publishing in journals. The Lit Mag Love course will help you get a big YES for your writing from a literary journal. The five week course runs twice per year. Our first session in 2022 starts February 1st, so you have time to plan your course sessions for the new year. Lit Mag Love comes with lots of support and feedback. You can learn all about the Lit Mag Love course. Find out what writers say about working with me and join the course waitlist to get exclusive enrollment offers rachelthompson.co/litmagloveNow back to the conversation with four luminous writers who are all alumni of the Lit Mag Love course as they discuss finding their lane in their writing.Rachel Thompson:Angela talks about a specific piece she was writing that really required the help of another editor and I most appreciate how she sees editors as collaborators in her work and how she looks for that extra layer of care and sensitivity when she’s writing about communities that are not her own. Listen to this publication experience Angela had with editor Jenny Ferguson at Carte Blanche that was crucial to her piece, “Looking at Australia, Looking at Me” and it’s success.Angela Wright:Because I know that Jenny Ferguson is indigenous, and that piece was also very much about what I learned about the history of indigenous people in Australia. How I essentially went to Australia to study trauma, and I was looking at the history of convicts in Australia which is more widely noted that I kind of tripped over or I might say fell flat on my face and this kind of story of intergenerational trauma of Indigenous people, and so because I knew that she’s Indigenous, I was like this would be a good place to put this piece because I would want to work on this piece with an editor who’s Indigenous to ensure that there’s a good enough sensitivity, and I’m making sure that I’m approaching it but also she would be able to give me good feedback in terms of kind of how I’m understanding and working through some of these issues. Rachel Thompson:You can find Angela’s piece, “Looking at Australia, Looking at Me” in the show notes for this episode up at https://rachelthompson.co/podcast/54/Angela also found her writing best fit with lit mags looking for pitches or excerpts of her writing before she even wrote the full piece. Also note how Angela’s description of her writing is an example of, like Ellen, digging into her personal history to find that story that is uniquely hers, in this case about her grandmother.Angela Wright:I was very lucky in the first journal I was ever published and it was called The Brooklyn Quarterly, and they were actually accepting full pieces but also kind of not pitches but summaries or an excerpt of a full piece, and so I had this idea, and for for the essay to end up being called, “Looking for You to Find Me,” and it was about my grandmother and my relationship with my grandmother she passed away 10 days before I was born. And so I had this idea, and I wrote that I didn’t have a complete idea for the essay I had no idea where I was going to go, but I workshopped it I was in a writing group at the time and I workshopped my first page, with my writing group and they are like this is great and so I sent that in and then the editor was like this is great can you send me four pages and so then I wrote four pages, and she’s like, Okay, this is great. Yeah, we’re going to accept this piece and so because I got that early acceptance, that was like my first kind of major submission when I started writing creative nonfiction I used to write poetry but I was very unsuccessful in poetry. And so that gave me a lot of confidence to keep submitting, and it was very similar with when I submitted to Catapult. When I submitted to Catapult is also good because they will accept pitches as well. And so I’ve found that I have been a lot more successful in submitting to literary journals that will take excerpts, or that will take ideas as opposed to writing a full draft and then submitting. So I tend to look out for literary journals that will accept ideas or pitches or excerpts. I also find it’s easier to handle because you’re not putting a lot of work in upfront, so you’re kind of mitigating. I would say even the rejection rejection is less painful if it’s just one page as opposed if it’s something that you’ve been working on for six months [laughs], you know?One of my essays that I did spend, I would say almost two years on it, it ended up getting published in The Fiddlehead, and my first submission was to PRISM, it was one of their literary contests, and it was not successful, it did not make the long list or anything. And I actually knew the editor I’d worked with Alicia Elliot she was editing that journal edition, and she had asked me, she said, Oh, you know if you have any work, feel free to submit it and so there was this essay that I had that was done, I was like okay I’ll just send this and you know I worked on it for the past two years and she ended up accepting it. So that was also I would say very lucky, but I also because I had worked with her before she knew, she did know my work and so I think that was helpful, as well as getting an acceptance to The Fiddlehead.Rachel Thompson:Another little fun synchronicity side note: you can hear that same story of acceptance from the other side, from Alicia Elliott’s perspective when she talks about why she accepted Angela’s piece way back in Episode 11 of this podcast. Now here is a bit more of what Angela had to say about going the pitch route for her writing…Angela Wright:I actually really enjoy going the pitch route, because I find it very helpful, especially when you have an idea and you kind of have a roadmap to where you want to go I find having an editor, early in the process, working with you right with on your first draft can be very helpful in terms of giving you feedback. I mean, the piece that I wrote, I would say, a lot of the pieces that I wrote I also wrote a piece for The New Quarterly with Alicia Elliot, she was the editor, and that started off of me sending her essentially a Tweet, because she was relatively well known but still not as well known as she is now. And I’d read something that she had written in Room Magazine, and I was like, wow, this is great and I think I just tweeted about it. Then she responded to my tweet and then I sent her a DM and was telling her how I had this idea, about how I wanted to write an essay about the first Indigenous teacher that I had, she’s like wow that sounds so great. And then she came back to me later, and was saying, you know I’m editing this special series for The New Quarterly I would love to read this essay that you’re writing, and I had no real idea of where I was going to go with it, but then I kind of just typed up a draft and had I not worked with her through the process that essay would not have been as good as it was and so I find it can be really helpful, especially when you’re working with an editor that is a caring and careful and very understanding of what you’re trying to do. ****I find the work that you end up doing can be very strong because you can avoid all of the naysayers that might come through in your early drafts, especially if you’re workshopping a piece, amongst people that you don’t do not know very well or if it’s like you’re workshopping it in like an actual workshop and you can avoid the racists or the sexists or all those types of people who like who might have very unhelpful comments about your work. So if you can work directly with an editor, especially on very sensitive and personal topics, it’s, I find it very, very helpful. I also found that I learned a lot from the editors from their feedback right in terms of one thing I remember Alicia saying to me, you know you should not kind of presume what people are thinking in creative nonfiction and so she’s like you can’t say they’re thinking this or you have to kind of judge by how they’re how they’re acting, what they could possibly be thinking but you really cannot put their thoughts down because it’s creative nonfiction I was like yeah that’s actually really good. It was a good lesson to learn. I find that you can pick up a lot of very helpful tips. When you work directly with editors, through the drafting process. That essay ended up being published in Black Writers Matter. Rachel Thompson:Notice how working with editors also helped Angela hone her writing more, which is what we heard in Lori’s experience with her publication in Nurture.So there you have four writers sharing some of their specific publication journeys that brought them closer to the writing they are meant to be writing, that luminous work that gets published in the right place.Let’s now look closely at four ingredients that will help, I believe, any writer find their lane, i.e. the writing you’re meant to be writing and the places where your work is meant to be published:The first ingredient is patience. If you listened to my last episode with Meli Walker, you heard me say a mantra that I use for my writing: “In my own time. In my own way.” These four writers all heed this edict. Hege has 32 submissions and counting for just one piece; Lori kept going because she believed in a piece even before the right journal to publish it existed; one of Angela’s essays found a home after she worked on it for two years. And here’s Ellen Chang-Richardson again talking about how she avoids being hasty…Ellen Chang-Richardson:Sometimes writing ebbs and flows. Sometimes we take time to, right now, for instance, I’m in a generating phase, like I have maybe five poems that are ready to go out to places and one creative nonfiction essay, and that’s not a lot [laughs]. And for a little bit I was, Oh, you got to submit submit submit and I’m like you know what, it’s okay to say no, and when you see like a call for submission from a journal that you genuinely want to be and you’re like, Oh my God. But if you don’t have work that fits it right now, don’t be hasty. Another submission period will open up again. Be okay with being patient.Part of my process is the work that hits the slush pile for literary magazine is done, like as much as it can be before the final editorial tweaks here and there but it’s a polished piece. It’s not rough around the edges, it’s read ready. Writers should keep in the back of their mind when they’re submitting is have something that’s read ready.There’s some magazines that like that raw roughness, but most, from my understanding of it prefer something that’s not a draft.Rachel Thompson:The second ingredient in our list of four ingredients is finding your lane takes discernment. All four writers are very selective about who will get to read and then publish their work. They don’t send their work out scattershot.Ellen Chang-Richardson:My personal path to getting published is kind of very research oriented, like my work itself. I actually subscribe to multiple different literary journals that have piqued my interest, for whatever reason, or I get copies from like friends or I pick some thing up from a newsstand that looks interesting to me or something like that and I just start reading a variety of different literary journals either in print or online and I try to always get a feel of the work that’s been published in those journals and anytime I submit to a journal, it’s entirely because I, either have a piece or two that I think might fit their voice, or there’s like a specific thematic call that I have a piece that I think might fit as well, not always successful, but I haven’t changed my method because I think, you know from the other side like editors and slush pile readers appreciate when a writer has done research into publication before just instead in lieu of like form submitting everywhere. They really appreciate that because, you know, it’s like, you end up reading something that fits with the journal.Rachel Thompson:The other thing that all of these writers do is work at taking feedback for what it is worth. Here is Angela on learning this discernment…Angela Wright:Not everyone understands your work and some people can be malicious, you know, they might be jealous of your work and so give comments that are not helpful. They might just not like you personally, they could be racist they could be sexist and so not all feedback is helpful. And it’s important to I would say, if you have a choice to only share your work and take feedback from people who you respect or who you know, understand at least what your work is and what you’re trying to do. Because unhelpful feedback can make your writing worse or can make you feel very bad about yourself.Rachel Thompson:The third on this list of ingredients to find your lane as a writer is to define your own success. Listen to the success Hege finds when she balances out the slow process of submitting her writing to lit mags with instant feedback on her writing from a large community of readers.Hege A. Jakobsen-Lepri:I have a very nice haiku community that I participate in every day. And the nice thing about haiku is that it is always a work in progress, it is short and you can rework it, 100 times. And it gives you a feeling of having accomplished something, and we sometimes critique our works and sometimes we even go into a Japanese tradition where you write a haiku or a senryu, in response to something somebody else writes; that kind of community where your text dialogues with somebody else’s text, even though most of my writing is not haiku or poetry is really helpful. The feeling of being in a community and a writing community where you actually exchange the words you write there, live, really helps me.I do that every day, and I do a haiku challenge every day. So I have that ongoing thing and I sometimes will use a sentence from a haiku or senryu, I’ll realize doesn’t work that well as haiku, but it would be a really good opening to a flash fiction piece. I get going, I get into Exchange mode where I exchange my ideas, not just sit on them, and, and mull and ponder who may say this, they’re sent out instantly, and I do it all the time. And I sometimes edit that one piece. Later that day and I spend and I discuss with others whether the first or the second was better, and it’s a really good way to for me to get past that threshold where I think that no no this is not good enough to send out and I’m not ready, or this, so it is I mean, in on Twitter I’m everyday out there putting my work out, even though that is not considered publication by most it is part of this literary community and sending things out and getting response to that and for me that really works and it’s helped me develop some haiku and senryu poems that in later rework have been published with and received a lot of feedback. You get lots of feedback, that’s also the thing. More than when you send other stuff out. You get feedback right away. I’ve been doing that every day for three years almost and it’s a way to see both how you improve and how you improve through dialogue and through sending your stuff out in the world. If I’m really lucky and it really strikes a chord, I will have 2500 people visualizing my short poem in a day and a half.Rachel Thompson:And defining your own success also means defining the role writing plays in your life. Here’s Ellen again.Ellen Chang-Richardson:When I found writing. I was like you know what, if I succeed in whichever small way that I define my own success in this then I will be happy there there are hard moments, there are moments where I’m like, What am I doing?! but for the most part it’s, it’s like, I find my writing to be self care. It’s how I work through a lot of stuff, it’s like if I’m frustrated at work, for instance, and I’m like, What is the point of even working here I think to myself, right now writing doesn’t put a roof over your head so why don’t you go to work, do your thing, make some money go home and write.Rachel Thompson:Finally, finding your lane takes courage. Here is Lori again on how she finds courage from other writers…Lori Sebastianutti:I think I do go back and read some of the essays that have had the most impact on me because if that author didn’t get the courage to submit that I would never have read it and never have been moved by it so that actually does help me quite a bit, I talked to other writers too. You know, people like me said before you know who have skin in the game the way we do and they get it. I don’t usually talk about it with non writers because they’re like, why are you telling that story about yourself?! [laughs]Rachel Thompson:I love what Lori says about how other writers just get it and non writers are like, what, what are you doing?! You heard more mentions of writing community from the writers in this episode, who are all vibrant parts of my course community.You’ll hear more from these four writers in the next episode, so part two of our conversation which will be all about community and resilience. They will share mistakes they made submitting to lit mags and how they each manage the inevitable rejection that comes with being in the submission game.So look for that episode out in two weeks.My Lit Mag Love course will help you get a big YES for your writing from a literary mag that you love. Get ahead in your plans to publish in 2022 by joining the waitlist today. You will get special enrollment offers if you do. Learn more about the course and get on the waitlist at https://rachelthompson.co/litmaglove/The Write, Publish, and Shine Podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers to write publish and shine at https://rachelthompson.co/ When you’re there sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every other week and filled with support for your writing practice. Our podcast production assistant is Tamara Jong who paitiently helped gather all the interviews for this episode. Tamara is an incredible literary citizen who inpires us all with her support of writers in our community. Thanks Tam.If this episode encouraged you to keep going and persist with your dreams to publish in lit mags, I would love to hear all about it. You can tag me on social media: @rachelthompson Twitter or @rachelthompsonauthor IG.I’d love it if you tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or tell them to search for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.Thank you for listening and I encourage to find your lane that sweet spot where you’re writing what you’re meant to write and publishing in the places you’re meant to publish.My guests spoke to us from Oslo Norway. From the land of the Algonquin Anishinaabe nation, what is colonially known as Ottawa, Canada. From the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples in so called Toronto, Ontario. And the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas and what is colonially known as Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Myself I’m a guest in the South Sinai, Egypt, on lands historically and presently occupied by the el Tarabin Bedouin.The post 54 // Four Writers on Finding Their “Lanes” and Publishing in Literary Magazines appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
12 Oct 2021
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#53 Writing About Grief with Meli Walker of the Writing Grief Podcast
“Really, the thing that keeps me writing is knowing that at some point I will have some kind of shared connection with readers.” —Meli Walker In this episode, I talk to Meli Walker about writing about grief and finding connection. We talk about our new joint-venture project, the podcast called Writing Grief, and how she is writing grief. Meli reads a recently published essay and I’ll insert a content warning here since those with younger folks around them might want to use headphones for this subject matter, and those not able to listen to us talk (mainly indirectly) about childhood abuse and trauma might take a break this time, if you need it. Listen to hear us talk about the difference between writing about trauma with an eye to publication versus writing about trauma to heal and how to discern the two. And listen to get to know my co-host for the new Writing Grief Podcast. Links and Resources from this Episode: Meli Walker The Writing Grief Podcast “Bread Days” on JMWW Alicia Elliott on Write, Publish, and Shine Canisia Lubrin Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other week and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/lettersTranscript Rachel ThompsonWelcome to Write, Publish and Shine, Meli Walker. Meli WalkerThanks for having me. Rachel ThompsonSo this is a bit of a different interview because at this point, you and I have spent a lot of time together, and we’ve recorded now ten episodes of the Writing Grief podcast. By the time listeners hear this episode of Publish and Shine episode, one of Writing Grief will be out. Because of this, I know a lot of very specific things about a very specific slice of your life. And you’re also a colleague of mine you’re the community advocate for the writing community. I host Writerly Love, I also really love that we’re going to get this different angle of conversation and Hone in on parts of your writing life in this conversation. So before we talk more about Writing Grief, the podcast and I get your side of why we did this thing in this format, I want to talk about bees. Rachel ThompsonCan you tell our listeners about how working with bees and flowers keeps you here? As you’ve said before, I’m quoting from your website and how it relates to writing. Meli WalkerYes. I have been bee-obsessed for a while now. I take a lot of pictures of flowers as well. Bees and flowers evolve together. Bees are like their ancestor is, like a prehistoric wasp. And so every pollinator has a different shaped tongue to fit with different shapes of flowers. And so that, to me, has a relational beauty that I really like. And I became a beekeeper almost a decade ago. I don’t have my own bees right now, but I did do some beekeeping this summer, but bee keeping just going inside honeybee hives really helped me slow down. Meli WalkerAnd it’s kind of a funny hobby to have for someone with anxiety to go into a nest of buzzing insects. But they’re so beautiful, and they make decisions by consensus. They’re sort of the Royal Queen, that sort of colonial structure of how we perceive honeybees. But actually, they’re a lot more collaborative and act as one organism. And the Queen is more there for scent and for guidance rather than as a ruler. So there’s lots of different ways to think about them in comparison to humans. But also, they’ve really helped me feel more connected to the real world, which is nature. So, yeah, they’re really beautiful. Rachel ThompsonYou’re our community advocates, as I mentioned in the Writerly Love Community. And you’re so collaborative by nature, too. So it seems like there’s that inspiration in terms of writing communities, also part of the bee community, and like, watching the bees, I guess, and learning from bees, too. Meli WalkerYeah. We don’t do anything alone as much as I’d like to, sometimes. We do things together. Rachel ThompsonI know when you talk about your work, your writing, you’ve said that you’re seeking connection with you, the universal you me, meaning yourself. You Meli and the land. I’m sort of confused that quote, but I’m speaking in your voice there. So you, me and the land. Tell me about the connection that comes from your practice of writing. Meli WalkerI think we know a lot more now in terms of neuroscience or psychology or these areas that think about human behavior, and we have confirmation that we’re all connected. We have confirmation that we’re relational and that we don’t do well on our own. And so as a person with depression and family history of depression, there’s a tendency to want to isolate, and it can be really easy to think in lonely and isolated ways. And so I think that connection is the antidote to that kind of difficulty. Meli WalkerAnd so connection with readers as I write is really important to me. I guess, really, the thing that keeps me writing is knowing that at some point I will have some kind of shared connection with readers. And then just in terms of the land, I feel that all of the systems of nature, the way that trees and microorganisms and mycelium all work together in this symbiotic way is just a really nice living example for us. And obviously the first person to talk about that. I have lots of people that have taught me how to talk about that, living and dead, so I’m just trying to live that and writing helps me keep that connection both. Rachel ThompsonThat is great. I have a mantra that I use about my own writing and publishing timeline, especially when I’m feeling like I’m falling behind or having a hard day and particularly on hard days related to trauma and grief. So I will say in my own time, in my own way, and I know you live with chronic pain, depression, developmental trauma. How do you navigate that pushing forward that our culture has shaped us to bend towards, with the truth of where you’re at on a given day? Meli WalkerThat is a good phrase in my own time, in my own way. Well, I guess I am still navigating it all the time. I think I was very well trained in the way that I was raised in, sort of the dominant middle-class aspiring culture to push and to progress and to be successful in a certain way. And I’ve had to unlearn a lot of that, but also recognize that that’s kind of part of my conditioning. And so I’ll probably always have to work on that kind of shame or deal with that guilt and try to tell the difference. Meli WalkerBut a lot of grief has come about because of chronic pain. And like you say, depression and developmental trauma, too, sometimes has felt like a major obstacle to writing into completing things to the point that I can publish and share. And so I’ve had to think in slower time. I’ve had to learn about ableism from good teachers and how to have more self-compassion because it also makes me hard on other people. And so that’s kind of an embarrassing thing to admit, as well, as soon as I’m thinking about what other people should be doing, I know that there’s something going on with me and that’s me saying I’m not meeting my own needs. So I don’t know. I think I’m always dealing with it. And I’m always reminding myself, and I think you’re saying that you say to yourself is important. And I think probably from what I hear a lot of people that live with chronic pain or neurodivergent folks who don’t think in linear and progress, who don’t think of progress as being a set of stairs going up that time kind of swirls around that there’s all these ways of thinking and doing that are not necessarily modeled. But it’s also very exciting to see how many people are talking about these different ways of thinking and being able to have words to describe an experience that I know I’ve been having. And so that’s a very good thing. But it is still come with a lot of grief. And I’m hearing in my voice right now that I sound very like calm about it, but sometimes there are very frustrating days, and that’s just the way it is. Rachel ThompsonYeah. I feel that you write about tough things with an eye to publication, and I’m wondering how you know, when you’re on the scent of writing that can be shared and put out in the world. I know you recently published the Creative Nonfiction up on JMWW. And what steps did you take to prepare this work? It’s a beautiful a segment to essay before you sent it out into the world? Meli WalkerThank you. It’s the kind of piece where I feel like I’ve been working on it for a long time in terms of the themes and even the scene of making bread. And I mean, I suppose I could say I divided it into different parts based on the act of baking bread, and that that was something I just tried as an exercise or as a way of outlining the piece. But then when I tried it, I found I liked it. So I had that form of the steps of preparing bread. Meli WalkerAnd I have to admit, that part of me was also making use of the fact that bread making has been a popular hobby. And so there was kind of a part of me that thought, well, there’s ways in which making bread can be wholesome and beautiful and wonderful and loving, and that there can also be this edge of fear and harm in a household where bread is made. And so I enjoyed that tension. And I also knew that that was going to help me with my theme of how parent child relationships, in which abuse is a factor are complicated in that way that there’s warmth and love and laughter and connection, and there is the more fearful and shame driven behaviour. Rachel ThompsonIt’s making me think, too, that I mean, I called it a segmented essay, but it’s a little bit of a hermit crab essay. I guess, too, so it’s disguised in the form of steps. It’s not really a recipe, but the steps of making bread. Did that help? The hermit crab essay is often described as like, that shell that kind of protects the writer a bit, too. Did it feel that way if you wrote it or as you published it? Meli WalkerYeah, definitely. As I said, I started it as a way of outlining it. So if I were to break up these four steps to how bread was made in our house specifically, it did help me sort of hang the different sections on different hooks, so to speak. And then I kept it. Obviously, I had to change some things. I submitted it and had it rejected. And then when I went to revise it before submitting it again, I added the last line as a kind of f-you, like I was like, annoyed, I was like, Well, what does this really mean? And something about that energy of feeling like, what is this actually about? When I use that last line to leave in the different steps, I kind of did it as like, I don’t know, a joke to myself, maybe? Or a way of play even is probably a better word. But then it ended up making the whole thing makes sense. And it brought the larger meaning, like the sort of, like Zoom out from the kitchen to the whole life and the impact. Meli WalkerOriginally, I was calling it imprints. And so the imprint of that experience being lifelong, even for such a simple scene in a kitchen, was what I wanted to get across. Rachel ThompsonThat last line. In particular. It has a great impact on this reader anyway, me, I actually pulled it up. I’m wondering, would you mind reading it? It’s a short piece, and I don’t want to put you on the spot because we didn’t prepare this, but would you mind reading it since we discussed it like that? Meli WalkerSure, I can read it. Meli WalkerOkay, so this is Bread Days as published on JMWW. Meli WalkerKneed. Meli WalkerMy dad cradles the dough in his giant hands, flower scatters across the counter, covering the kitchen with the quiet of snow. As he folds, turns, and pushes the dough. I remember my own skin being pressed by his callous fingers. Meli WalkerProof. He tucks the bundle into a bowl covered with linen, the gentle clink of the steel bowl on the bricks of the hearth rings in my chest. Fire crackles the yeast into being. When the pale wheat begins to brown in the oven and warm waves of sweetness fill the air. Meli WalkerThe stale knot in my stomach, begins to soften. Meli WalkerBake while we wait for the bread. He gets down on all fours, sliding his knees along the red shag carpet. He becomes the hey monster, growling heeeey over and over as he lumbers along after me. When he catches me, I dropped to the floor like a dead bug. All that tickling without a chance to breathe. I thought I liked it. Enjoy two bodies combined. We fill our bellies with one. Those tiny bites of fresh bread with butter and honey will stay with me for decades. Meli WalkerI would rather remember how he handled the dough instead of the way he pressed his hands on me. For years. I’ve needed the truth, looking for the proof baked into my heart so that I could enjoy bread, sex, anything. Rachel ThompsonIt’s such a beautiful piece. Rachel ThompsonThank you. I guess I’m kind of hearing to the idea that it’s resonating with me and thinking about past interviews, I’ve had to the idea of writing around the trauma that I think it was actually Alicia Elliot brought that by way of Canisia Lubrin, the author and editor who I haven’t had on the podcast before, but who I’ve met and appreciate her writing as well, particularly appreciate that sentiment. It’s like, okay, I don’t have to describe exactly what happened, but I can hint to it and create that emotional impact for the reader, which I guess I’m wondering, obviously, that’s an important aspect, though, too, is that it has to connect with the reader when you’re writing to be published in this way. Rachel ThompsonAnd we talk about this a lot in one of our episodes of Writing Grief, we talked about what’s the difference between writing to process trauma versus writing to be published. The question is, I guess, can you speak to that idea a little bit, and maybe even through the lens of this piece? Sure. Meli WalkerAnd I’m also realizing that one of your previous questions asked, how did I know it was maybe ready to share, I think, was sort of what you were asking. So I think definitely writers like Canisia Lubrin with that quote. And I also think of Roxane Gay who we talked about in a few of our episodes. But writing about trauma and the idea that we don’t need to write the worst events or the details. And I think anyone who’s had trauma and specific events that they can remember or ongoing events knows what that means. Meli WalkerSo I hope that’s clear to everyone but to not have to write the worst part, basically, to not have to write the details of what happened because it also fits with the experience of it. In my opinion, it’s the impact and the sort of fall out how those experiences affected me for years. And that’s what that last line is saying is that days like this and everything that’s going on sort of underneath and unsaid and unspoken in those scenes, anyways, is still affecting me and has imprinted itself on me and has affected the way I see the world. Meli WalkerAnd so I think that it’s really important to write about how we’ve been impacted by difficult things. And I think that some people need to write the details of what happened for themselves so that they know as part of maybe a truth-telling or as part of therapy or, obviously in safe ways. But I actually don’t think that that’s necessary to write the details. I think that for me, the reason why I’ve had to do that in the past, as a way of explaining it as a way of knowing that it’s true what I remember, what I experienced. Meli WalkerI think that that’s why we do healing work, whatever that looks like so that we can believe ourselves so that we can believe our own truth. And then the writing that we share. I think distance is a good word, whether it’s time or therapy. It’s not a strange men. It’s not being unfeeling or disconnected from your knowing it’s having had your mind change even or to say, I’ve said this before, but I used to feel this, and now I feel this when you can start to write about things that are hard and you have different feelings about it or you’re sort of meaning-making about it shift changes, grows, that’s how I know I’m getting closer to being able to share it. This piece bread days is the first time in sharing outright, even if it’s hinted at the abuse that I experienced as a child. And so it’s very difficult to think about how that will be received. But for the most part, I feel comfortable with what’s being shared. I have had enough distance to be able to create that piece and to say this is what happened. And this is how I’ve been impacted. And I feel that I’m safe to share that. Meli WalkerAnd I feel that because I haven’t written the details and I’ve made it into a scene with these undercurrents of difficulty or shame that I’m not putting the reader in a position of them being unsafe. Rachel ThompsonWe started collaborating and have been busy bees with creating a podcast all about connection because I guess our connection is that we do our writing for connection, these sort of layers, I guess to that, too, can we talk about the podcast Writing Grief? And I’m wondering if I can put you on the spot now to say, how do you define grief writers? Who are they and where are they at? Meli WalkerIt’s something that I don’t think we’ve made up this phrase of putting the word grief and writers together. I think that if you hear that grief writers and you feel like that might be me, then it’s probably you. I think it’s anyone who wants to write about grief, and it’s a full experience, and it’s a word that has a lot of meaning behind it. And so it’s going to be maybe a bit different for everybody. But I think grief writers, writers writing about grief are people that want to face those things and have almost a joy or desire about revealing that experience from their own perspective. Meli WalkerIt’s about using our own experiences or peak or definitive or transformative experiences as material for writing, but also because that material is something that we deeply want to understand, and we know that it might not be about flowers. It might not just be about a nice day in a Meadow with flowers that any nice day in a Meadow with flowers somewhere there is grief or sorrow kind of lurking. And maybe that’s just my haunted mind. But I think that the reason why I can appreciate flowers and meadows and bees and beauty is because I’ve also had to negotiate pain and had to live with pain. Meli WalkerI just hope that people hear grief writers if they haven’t already and feel a bit of excitement about being met and being seen and meeting other writers who will read the work. That’s difficult within reason and respectful boundaries. But I think they’re everywhere. Yeah. Rachel ThompsonI’m so excited about meeting those writers as well with that. What was the most surprising thing for you? I mentioned we produced ten episodes already, and we’ll be releasing them over the next few months. What was the most surprising thing for you about producing the podcast so far? Meli WalkerThat we have done it! [laughs] Meli WalkerOne thing I like about working with you, Rachel, is that you do the thing, and it’s been so great to be working with you and to get momentum and to keep going, even though we were doing it sort of on the side and from our own creative or passion project is it sometimes called. And so I’m truly a moment being a bit silly, but I am truly surprised that we’ve made a thing. One of my difficulties is finishing the thing, but in another way, it also feels very satisfying and rewarding and exciting to think about people listening, having their own reflections about their own meaning-making and how they’re telling their own stories. Rachel ThompsonYeah, I’m someone who pushes sometimes to make the thing. But one of the things I liked about our relationship in this, too, is that there was a lot of intentionality and slowing down and being careful in terms of producing it. So we produced all the episodes in advance rather than kind of pushing ourselves into a rushed schedule. So yeah, it was a good collaboration. I’m wondering if anything also surprised you about the subject of grief in writing, like good or bad as we kind of delve into those topics. Meli WalkerI think it’s more of realizing that there are just more people who are trying to understand writing about hard things than I really could perceive or guess at. And since we’ve been doing this on the side and we’re not going on a big tour of promotion or anything like that, it sort of tends to come up more casually in conversations with friends and family. But other writers and I find people are interested and intrigued, and they kind of come a little closer. Whereas I think grief itself, like our personal experiences of grief as we’ve talked about on the show, can sometimes repel people because of their natural fear to not want those things to happen to them, whether they mean to do that or not. Meli WalkerAnd I think that people are thinking about how to write their own stories, how to tell their own stories, and how to talk about those more poignant and difficult, sad things. So I’ve been surprised that again and then again, not surprised because so many writers are writing about grief. But even so called non writers or people who didn’t know might like to write. I’ve told, and they are. Oh, really? I’m curious to know if this inspires anyone to start even just journaling about their experiences. That would be so cool. Meli WalkerWonderful. What are you currently working on in your own writing, Meli? Meli WalkerI am working on the memoir that I keep claiming I’m working on throughout this podcast that we made. So I’m working on the thing, and I’m in the stage of outlining the book links memoir, and I’m also enjoying writing flash or short creative nonfiction pieces. So I am revising some of those. I think I thought I would have more new material at this point, but also trying to appreciate the amount of work and meaning-making that has gone into making the podcast, and that that is also a part of my writing life. Meli WalkerI come from theater and before this writing life, I also used to write plays and used to do some live storytelling, so I feel grateful for that experience, and I also don’t want to leave that behind. I really like hearing things aloud. I like live storytelling if we can do that again some day. And for now we have the digital option. So I want to do more of that. And actually, at some point would like to record some stories as well, because there are some that I’ve written for being told aloud. Meli WalkerAnd so at some point I’d like to start doing more recording, too. That’s a lot of things. But yeah, that’s great. Rachel ThompsonIn this podcast. We often talk about lit mags, and you already shared the story that you’ve published with JMWW. Where are you sending your writing currently? And what do you look for in lime before you submit your work? Meli WalkerHonestly, I look at the list of Editors. I look at the masthead, I like to see who’s part of the lit mag. I like reading those bios. It’s also a submission part of the submission practice of deciding fit, too. So in folks bios on lit mags, for example, or when I go and look at work that they’ve published, if I feel like they’re open to grief writing, or if I feel like they’re open to stories that are difficult but important, then that makes me feel a little more safe about submitting to those lit mags. Meli WalkerI think that that can be difficult because that means I’m making assumptions about those people. So obviously I’m doing other things like reading the work that has been published, trying to find similar pieces, so to speak, like that might deal with either similar issues or maybe have like, a similar form. I think I do make some assessments based on how the submission guidelines are written. So it seems like there’s a level of care with the submission guidelines about how the work will be treated is there justice there, is there equity there in terms of how they’re doing their calls for submissions, even if that doesn’t include me, are the submission guidelines exciting is a theme that calls me. I might write to that. Yeah, I’m still new to figuring out the lit mag landscape. I find I need to do a lot of looking and reading before I submit. It’s worth the time. And it’s respectful to the work that it makers do. Like having worked in nonprofit arts before. I recognize that it’s a lot of work. It’s possibly underpaid, and I understand that that’s a specific life that those folks are choosing, and I really appreciate that they’re doing that work. And so I always want to be careful about whether I submit to them or not because disrespect for their time. It’s kind of like when you’ve been a server in a restaurant, you know to, like, tip properly and not complain. I don’t know. It’s the thing. Rachel ThompsonYeah, it’s more care that you’re bringing in connection. So thank you for sharing that about your log submission choices and also philosophy. We finish with a quick lit round with my guests these days, so I’m going to invite you to finish these sentences. Rachel ThompsonThe first is being a writer is… Meli WalkerOrdinary, but magical. Rachel ThompsonLiterary magazines are… Meli WalkerImportant. Rachel ThompsonEditing requires… Meli WalkerDistance and self reflection. Rachel ThompsonRejection for writer means… Meli WalkerPlaying the odds and getting even closer to an acceptance. Rachel ThompsonAnd finally, writing community is… Meli WalkerEverything. We don’t do anything all alone, and we need each other. Rachel ThompsonWell, thanks so much Melly for being my guest here on this podcast today, and also my collaborator on the Writing Grief podcast. Maybe you can tell people where they can listen to Writing Grief. Meli WalkerThank you for considering listening to Writing Grief. It’s found everywhere you can get your podcast. The trailer is out now, and episode one comes out soon. There’s also a website WritingGrief.com where you can find all of our show notes. We’ve been keeping track of all of our little references, so if you’re interested or curious about what you hear, you can go there. I hope you’ll hit subscribe. I hope you’ll tune in to us wherever you listen to your podcast. Rachel ThompsonThanks. Meli WalkerThank you. So, that was my conversation with Meli Walker. I’m sure by now you want to hear more from Meli, I know I love and really appreciate being in dialogue with her in our new podcast, Writing Grief. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and find out more about the pod and find all the show notes on WritingGrief.com. The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers, write, publish, and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters, sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice. If this episode encouraged you to write about grief and make connections with your writing, I would love to hear all about it. You can tag me on social media: rachelthompson Twitter or @rachelthompsonauthor IG. And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts. Thank you for listening—I encourage you to keep rising to the challenge and writing luminously! My guest spoke to me from…the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, including the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Tsawwassen, and Musqueam Nations, in so-called Greater Vancouver, And I am a guest in the South Sinai, Egypt, on lands historically and presently occupied by the el Tarabin Bedouin. The post 53 // Writing About Grief with Meli Walker of the Writing Grief Podcast appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
28 Sep 2021
#52 How to Reach Out to the World with Your Writing
“What would happen if you consider the specific, personal details you’re crafting in writing as a part of a whole pattern in the world?” I explore going from the intimate to the broad, the personal to the political, and how to reach out to the world with your writing with the help of six writers and editors.This episode is brought to you by the Writerly Love Community.Links and Resources from this Episode: Julián Esteban Torres López The Nasiona Carleigh Baker The /tƐmz/ Aaron Schneider The Massachusetts Review “Tornado” by Mimi Lipson (published in The Massachusetts Review) The Threepenny Review Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other week and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/letters TranscriptRachel ThompsonIn this episode of Write, Publish, and Shine I will walk you through how and why to turn your writing outward, with the help of six other writers and editors. We’re talking about going from the intimate to the broad, the personal to the political, and how to reach out to the world with your writing.What would happen if you consider the specific, personal details you’re crafting into fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, as a fractal—a part of a whole pattern that exists in macro format in the world?Maybe you’re writing about a meal you had with your family and meanwhile what you write relates to social ideas around food and security, to global issues like poverty, hunger, to nations or universes beyond that dinner table.Maybe you’re writing about a death that impacted you personally and that death ripples through and touches on big topics of body autonomy or of legislation and political elements related to the way the person died.I think a lot of us, especially writers who listen to this podcast or writers who have worked with me, start out writing about the self. We start out in the microcosm of that meal, tasting each bite prepared, or feeling the skin shivers of the person bereft from loss.And, of course, this is necessary. I believe this so hard. I know a lot of the writers I love in our community come to writing as a place to finally be seen and heard. The self is political in itself when it’s writing that lifts the silences imposed on us.Oh, I get to write my version of what happened? I get to show the importance and significance of things I care about? When we came to writing that was the promise, that was the thing that had us mentally screaming inside, Sign me up!I, myself, wrote a whole book of poems like this! I called it Galaxy and the inherent irony was really the galaxy revolved around small, specific relationships with my family, with the little microcosm of life that was my own.I see writing about the self as an important step in our writing, giving voice to the micro, daily, our quotidian worlds.Even in reaching out this way we are saying something to the world. It’s usually a question, like, do you know what mean? So, yes, in that way it is about reaching out to the world.And, I know the history of intimate writing about the self and relationships, often gendered as women’s writing, and belittled for this. Writing about home life, family, was (still is) maligned as unimportant and not worthy of high art. There can still be a prejudice in the writing establishment and the word “personal” can be thrown about to mean, not important. This gets my danders up because it is so dismissive and another way to marginalize minority genders. It is a way of saying that anything inside the home isn’t serious writing.I spoke to a former colleague at Room magazine about this who really helped me bring the bias against personal stories into focus.Sierra Skye Gemma is a writer, journalist, and the winner of a National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer.She had an experience where a contest judge put out in the contest guidelines that he didn’t want to get submissions of “personal stories.”Sierra Skye GemmaOh, boy, that was eye-opening because I just never thought that there was sexism in CNF. It just didn’t occur to me that it was segregated and that there was women’s creative nonfiction and men’s creative nonfiction. And when I read that interview I realized it was like that. It made me think more about how men’s creative nonfiction is usually investigative journalism, or literary journalism, or biography, history-based creative nonfiction and then women’s nonfiction is usually memoir, personal essays, regularly. To me there wasn’t really a different. To me, a very intimate piece of memoir that could in no way be fact checked was just as valid as a piece of investigative journalism.Rachel ThompsonI wholeheartedly agree with Sierra that writing intimately about ourselves or intimately in general, domestic writing as it was called pejoratively when I took English Lit classes, is an entirely valid way to write. And if that’s something you’re happy with doing in your writing, keep on keeping on with that, dear writer.Though, I will say that in truth, no memoir, if you’re writing it to be read, us just about you. And I’m not just saying the personal is political because of course it is—but when you’re writing to be read you’re always reaching out in some way to the world.I turn to Julián Esteban Torres López, the co-founder of the social justice storytelling organization The Nasiona, where he also hosts and produces The Nasiona Podcast, to break this down further. Julián Esteban Torres LopezI mean, you assume that memoir is about you. But, it really isn’t unless you don’t care about sharing it with the world. So when you sit down to write with, whatever, with tea or on one side and pencil sharpened or, you know, a battery charge, whatever way you write; there is only one important person in your life, and that’s the stranger at that point. So you have to ask yourself “why”. Why should your readers read your work? What’s in it for them? What value are you adding? Why should they be invested in your story, and then give you their time? What makes you stand out from the other hundreds of submissions?Rachel ThompsonNow, I sometimes work with writers who don’t explore the bigger picture, or beyond the self, because they feel they don’t have permission or perhaps even pigeonholed into the personal, intimate writing sphere. And I think that if you’re feeling stuck at all in that microcosm, and I’ll speak for myself here, too, where I’m working to explore beyond myself and to connect to bigger ideas of the world in my writing, I think there is something to the idea that we start by giving voice to who we are and how we feel about the roles assigned to us, the experiences we had, giving our lives significance, AND then also finding the greater meaning and significance of the microcosms we write about. We can bring into focus the macro meaning of our micro writing.Carleigh Baker’s debut story collection, Bad Endings, won the City of Vancouver Book Award, and was also a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Emerging Indigenous Voices Award for fiction.Her book drew from a lot of her own bad decisions, exploring family ties and the end of a marriage among other inward-looking topics. But her writing is turning more outward these days. Here’s Carleigh talking more about this: Carleigh BakerYeah, fortunately, I’ve pulled my stuff together in the last few years, but all that conflict in my past is going to make for great stories, is made for some, I guess, already, and more to come.So one thing that’s definitely changed since bad endings is that I’ve dealt with a lot of the painful stuff I wrote about in the book. There’s a lot of navel gazing in that book because I needed to heal some things before I could turn my gaze outwards.I sure am grateful that folks enjoyed reading it because I keep the readers in mind. But a lot of those stories I wrote for me these days, I’d say I’m a lot more concerned with what’s going on in the world and how I can contribute. Educating people about the environment, issues of indigenous representation. It will tell my own story. My book will tell my own story, but it engages with political and social issues a lot more than Bad Endings did.And I’m glad for that. You can only gaze at your own navel for so long. And and if that’s what you need to feel, great. But I’m really looking forward to turning my gaze outwards. Rachel ThompsonI totally agree with Carleigh when she says if that’s what you need, great, but also if you’ve been doing it for a while it’s a relief to look away from the navel.It’s also big, and audacious. It means we’re saying not only can I be seen and heard in my writing, but my writing has a bigger connection and I’m part of something, a community, a cause, a scientific fact, a population, a culture, something outside of me.Rachel Thompson [Ad Break]I’m interrupting this episode about turning your writing outward to invite you join my warm, inclusive, and supportive membership community. In Writerly Love, creative writers get together, learn about writing and building a platform, and grow a luminous writing career.If you’re ready to learn and grow, to trust yourself and an open and honest writer who has got your back (that’s me!), I’d love to have you join the Writerly Love membership community. Registration closes on September 21 and won’t open again until September next year.You can learn more and sign up at rachelthompson.co/joinRachel ThompsonSo, at this point, if you’re saying, okay, Rachel! I’m convinced. I’d like to experiment with turning my writing more outward. I am ready to place my story into a bigger picture of what the story means. I’m ready to be seen and heard and also take a stand about my place in the world. How do I do this?Writing in a way that looks outward and sees the part and the whole first requires thinking about your connections to political and social happenings.Let’s listen to Emily Wojcik, who has worked in nonprofit publishing for more than a decade, first with Paris Press in Ashfield, MA, and now the Massachusetts Review.The Massachusetts Review a publication that is very interested in writing with that outward gaze. And she provides a really concrete story about how a work of writing starts about a family then finds its way into, through direct connection, a much bigger story about social and political events.Emily WojcikI think I’ve read really wonderful memoirs. But we as a magazine, we don’t really publish personal memoir that doesn’t in some way engage the broader world. What I mean by that is, for example, in our current issue, our Summer 2019 issue, we have this really amazing essay by a woman named Mimi Lipson.And it’s it starts off being about her brother and her brother was bipolar and would often when he was in a terrible place, he would take himself hiking for days at a time all by himself out in the woods. And in the course of one of these hikes, which is triggered by the fact that he’s having trouble with his neighbors upstairs, he lives in a house that his mother is the landlord of, a building that his mother is the landlord of.And the neighbors upstairs are giving him a lot of grief and trouble and causing a lot of noise. So he takes himself off and in the course of this hike, a freak tornado goes through and he gets felled by a tree and ultimately rescued and all of that. But in the course of this, it starts off being about family trouble and mental illness.And then you begin to learn through the course of the essay that the neighbors upstairs are the Tsarnaev brothers from the Boston Marathon bombing and that this author’s mother was their landlord in Boston.And it becomes this kind of really intricately woven meditation on mental illness and family, but also the idea of do we really know our neighbors and what are the effects of these people on both good and bad on the greater world and the ways we interact with people. And it becomes this really big essay and a really economical space. And that’s the sort of nonfiction that we tend to look for. My boss puts it, we’re more interested in the world than the self.And when we get memoir, it’s often really well written.But, it’s so specific and so small. The charming and adorable story about a man learning to cook dinner for his family because his wife got a job, and that sort of thing where it doesn’t feel like it’s saying much beyond the family. And that’s hard for us to figure out how that’s going to work for our type of reader who’s looking for a broader, more international, more politically engaged form of nonfiction. Rachel ThompsonWhat headlines does your writing relate to and how can you make that connection?Of course, we might not all have a big, significant, tragic GIANT news story living next store. But we certainly all have connections to social and political life, things that are bigger than us from tragic to sublime.In many ways all it takes is that layer of reflecting on our times.Here is Wendy Lesser, an American critic, writer, and the founding editor of the arts journal The Threepenny Review, on the function of literature in society… Wendy LesserWell you know Ezra Pound called that news that stays news. Now Ezra Pound was a maniac and a fascist, but, on the other, hand he was right about a lot of things. And I do think that’s true. That literature stays current when everything that’s just current events drops away. And I do think that literature tells you things about the world that can stick with you and shape your sense of history in a way that regular old nonfiction accounts often can’t. I mean most of what I know about 19th century England, everything I know about 19th century Portugal, and at least half of what I know about 19th century Russia, comes from novels. I have a sense of those worlds from reading the great works of literature that came out of them. I’m not saying that literature is separate from life. Literature is part of life as T.S. Eliot said at one point. But I think that some kind of transmutation has gone on having to do with the fact that it was sifted through an individual perspective; the author’s individual perspective. Even if we don’t know anything about him, like Homer or Shakespeare, you know those are like anonymous people in a way to us. But something has been sifted through their perspective and then has come out the other side in a way that is no longer personal. It transcends the personal even though it’s gone through the person. Rachel ThompsonWhen you’re considering the headlines your writing relates to and how can you make that connection, it’s still very much about you and your point of view.Listen to Aaron Schneider, who teaches in the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University and founded The /tƐmz/ Review, talk about the nuance and introspection required… Aaron SchneiderI think that people should think about that positionality in terms of the way it pushes you in directions of really fascinating subject matter that we don’t hear about very much. I think when people are doing political writing, a lot of the political writing we get is very much focused on one side of that. You think of this, you’re dealing with an unpleasant situation, a difficult situation, the kind of thing that people address in political writing, you end up with an equation that really simplistically has kind of victims on one side and perpetrators on the other. It is almost unheard of for us to get work that, not almost entirely unheard of, but it’s really rare to get work by someone who looks at the one side of that equation, which is the side of the perpetrators, and asks questions about where that comes from, interrogates their own complicity, et cetera. So I guess this is sort of a long winded way of me saying that if it comes to political writing, one of the things that I personally would like to see more of, and I think it would be really refreshing to see more of in the submission pile, is the kind of writing that takes a long, hard look at where the writer themself is coming from and their relationship to the issue they’re trying to address, because that’s rare, I think. Rachel ThompsonWhen it comes to taking at a long hard-look at our selves in relation to an issue, in some ways we’re coming at this the other way around. Meaning we are already writing about the inner experience, from a firm point of view, then we’re pulling that out into the world. The challenge here will be to keep that level of introspection even as we bring news, politics into the writing.Turning your writing outward takes: Considering headlines your writing relates to and how can you make that connection; Recognizing that your point of view is still paramount. Bringing more nuance to topics, so not falling into good/bad binary thinking; Does that seem like something you’d like to try if you’re not already? If so, over to you, luminous writer!Go big with your writing!Take a story or poem that is intimate and about very personal things then connect it to the news, transcend the personal!Find the micros in your work that relate to macros, then write as much about the world as about yourself. Find specific details are in your fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry that fit into a whole pattern that exists in macro format as well in the world.The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers, write, publish, and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters, sent every-other week and filled with support for your writing practice.If this episode encouraged you to turn your writing outward, I would love to hear all about it. You can tag me on social media: rachelthompson Twitter or @rachelthompsonauthor IG. and use the hashtag #WritePublishShine.And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.Thank you for listening—I encourage you to keep connecting and reaching out by writing luminously!My guest spoke to me from… The unceded territories of the Le-KWUNG-en people on what is colonially known as southeastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.The unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, including the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Tsawwassen, and Musqueam Nations, in so-called Greater VancouverLands colonially known as London, Ontario, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Attawandaron, and the Wendat peoples.Lands colonially known as Berkeley, California, the territory of Xučyun (Huichin), the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo Ohlone, the successors of the historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people.And I am a guest in the South Sinai, Egypt, on lands historically and presently occupied by the el Tarabin Bedouin. The post 52 // How to Reach Out to the World with Your Writing appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
15 Sep 2021
#01 EVENT's Shashi Bhat, No Subject is Off Limits [Replay]
“I think anything that’s written about well can be interesting.”—Shashi Bhat, EVENT This is a special replay episode—my very first podcast episode. I’m re-releasing this conversation with Shashi Bhat who was when we spoke and is still now Editor at EVENT magazine.This being the first episode, was very apropos for my personal writing life; EVENT was my very first poetry publication—my work was selected by then editor, Billeh Nickerson.As I head into a summer break that will include a lot of time for my own writing, and hit pause on the Write, Publish, and Shine podcast, I want to share Shashi’s message that no subject is off limits and her urge for you to find your original take.You can also listen and experience someone doing something for the first time! My early-interviewing skills are a little wobbly, and I offer this up wondering if you might feel inspired to try something new in writing or other creative pursuits. As the podcast goes on an extended break, I’ll leave with that as a challenge to do something imperfectly the first time. I know I’ve benefited from the decision to go ahead with many creative things, this podcast included.So, with that in mind, here is my conversation with Shashi Bhat, Editor of EVENT. This episode is brought to you by the Mom Egg Review. Submissions to their “Mother Figures” issue closes on July 15. Links and Resources from this Episode: EVENT EventMagazine.ca Shashi Bhat, Editor ShashiBhat.com Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/letters Interview TranscriptRachel ThompsonWelcome, Shashi.Shashi BhatThank you.Rachel ThompsonThanks so much for being here and for being my first interview. And in fact, EVENT is also the first publication that published my own writing. So it is very apropos. Yes. My first question I just want to get to know you the editor a bit more so I wanted to find out how did you first fall in love with writing and with books.Shashi BhatIt’s hard to remember the first I fell in love with books, I feel like I’ve just always been a reader. I was a pretty quiet kid, naturally quiet kids just read a lot, and are expected to read a lot maybe. I do remember when I started to appreciate writing more as an art. I remember reading this collection called 21 Great Stories and it had like a lot of the classic stories, you know, The Tell-Tale Heart, that sort of thing. And one of the stories was Luigi Pirandello’s war. It’s just a tiny story with a bunch of people who meet on a train and they’re talking about the war and their losses in the war and I just feel like that was the first time I realized that writingwas an art and that it took skill to accomplish and I think that’s where I first really started to fall in love with it.Rachel ThompsonWonderful and when was that? Do you remember what year or where you were at that time?Shashi BhatMaybe like the third or fourth grade probably.Rachel Thompson So early on.Shashi BhatYeah definitely in elementary school at some point. And yeah I was a kid who spent a lot of time at the library so…Rachel ThompsonI could definitely relate to that. So what made you realize you were a writer then. Is that when the realization happened as well?Shashi Bhat I was always writing definitely I don’t think I thought of myself as a writer until probably I was in grad school for writing.Like in undergrad I was premed and that was something my family had always led me towards I guess having Indian parents. They wanted me to be a doctor really badly so I was premed, I was applying to med school, and while I was working on my personal essay for medical school I realized that it was way more into working on the essay and I actually like any of the stuff I would actually be doing at medical school. So I changed directions pretty abruptly and applied to MFA in creative writing programs instead. That’s pretty much when the decision was made.Rachel Thompson Nice. And you also moved for the love of a lit mag, that’s for EVENT. You moved to New Westminster and you didn’t know a soul, as you wrote on your blog at the time. Has this love ever disappointed you and was it worth it?Shashi Bhat I wouldn’t say it’s disappointed me and it’s not the first time I moved for work either. I think it’s something you kind of have to do if you want to pursue a career in writing and publishing. I definitely made some sacrifices leaving behind people and relationships too. But for me, it was zotally worth it. Like I love my job, I love working in literary magazines. It’s fulfilling in a way that no other job has been. It kind of reminds me of when I was in school I always loved my extracurriculars and spent all my time on my extracurriculars and that’s kind of what working on a literary magazine feels like it doesn’t always feel like a job even.Rachel: [00:05:25] Oh that’s wonderful. So it really is true Lit Mag Love. Yeah (Shashi). Ummm, I’m wondering if you remember, do you remember the first writer you met in “real life” and what was that like?Shashi Bhat Yeah I think I didn’t value it for the experience it was at the time. In undergrad, we all had to take like a first-year writing seminar and I took one, I think it was in personal narrative writing or something like that and my instructor was his name was Ogaga Ifowodo. He was a Nigerian lawyer and activist and had actually been imprisoned for writing political poetry. I never knew any of this at the time, he was just like my, you know, my instructor who was criticizing my essay. But reading about him after I was kind of amazed. Even now I feel like I should go order his book or something because I didn’t appreciate it at the time.Rachel Thompson Wow, what an amazing first writer to meet. So you mentioned that you came to be an editor by way of premed, came to be a writer, I guess, let’s say–you did your MFA. How did you come to actually be an editor, and related to that, what qualities do you think are required to be an editor that are different from reading or writing?Shashi Bhat Editing-wise I guess in school I had always edited the yearbook, or like the school arts magazine or whatever. And I always just liked editorial work and not just the editing itself but like doing layout design and marketing. I love how many different kinds of things you get to work with, the different experiences you get. So when I saw the EVENT job pop up it just seemed to require all of the skills that I was really interested in using. And until then I just pretty much been teaching creative writing for work. I think in terms of qualities that editing requires that reading and writing aren’t don’t, a big one is diplomacy, feel like working with writers and I think teaching has helped me a lot with that. Anything writing too in the sense that maybe I’m more sensitive to writers because I’m also a writer. I guess I’m ummm reading a piece in a really it’s a different kind of reading when you’re editing, you’re reading more into attentively and you have to read it over and over again in like different ways whether you’re looking for an artistic concerns or you’re just proofreading. So yeah I think it just requires a kind of attention that writing and just reading for fun don’t really require.Rachel Thompson That makes sense, so when you talk about diplomacy do you mean being able to broach difficult changes maybe within a piece or…Shashi Bhat Yeah. And when I first started, I think one of the first poets I had to send edits to was George Elliott Clarke. And I was like who am I to be sending edits to George Elliott Clarke?Rachel Thompson Oh my god.Shashi Bhat That intimidated me at first until I realized that it’s really just a process where, you know, both you and the writer are just trying to get a work to the best place that it can. You’re working with them, you’re not criticizing them or anything like that. At EVENT I wouldn’t say we make or suggest really drastic changes either. When we accept a piece it’s usually pretty close to being finished already so most of the time it’s more kind of proofreading and copyediting and that sort of thing.Rachel Thompson So when you were finishing and publishing your novel you were obviously doing a lot of copy edits too. And on the other side, you’re the writer in that case. Did that change because you, by that point, you were already working as an editor right?Shashi Bhat When I was working on my novel…No, I think I’d finished it before I started working really.Rachel Thompson OK. So it would have informed you in a different sense to get you ready for the for the work as an editor.Shashi Bhat Yeah, well knowing I guess how much work goes into writing a novel adds to that sensitivity towards writers and the seeing like how much editing goes into a work before it’s published maybe. And working with an editor myself on my novel I guess I saw what kinds of feedback an editor can give that’s helpful to the writer.Rachel Thompson Definitely. That’s such a valuable experience. I had the same experience working on my book as well. And that ended up informing how I approach editing today, and sort of like a pay it forward kind of experience, I feel like. There is such generosity given at some point.Shashi Bhat Yeah it really depends on who the editor is that you work with too. Like, I’m curious what your experience was like how involved they were. Because it seems to vary a lot from editor to editor.Rachel Thompson It definitely does, yeah. I had worked with Stan Dragland at Banff beforehand so that’s who I’m thinking of in particular who just gave such attention to my, to my pieces that I loved it.Shashi Bhat Yeah actually I just had a story in the Malahat Review and I thought John Barton was an amazing editor like just the kinds of nuance he had in his questions really made me think about how I would respond to other people’s workRachel Thompson Nice, nice. It’s so great learning from other lit mags and I want to bring you back to the very first publication you had which was in Missouri Review. But what was it like that experience of first being published, and then you know, how did you get turned on to lit mags in general as a place to publish your writing before publishing a novel or short stories I know that you’re working on now too.Shashi Bhat Yeah well it was an incredibly exciting having a story accepted anywhere really. I was doing my MFA in fiction at the time so it was a relief even to just have anything published—it meant that I hadn’t just thrown my life away by getting an MFA. I remember too there was this weird competition between people in my fiction workshop like who was going to get published first. And like over the summer everyone returned and like suddenly everyone had publications so this weird competitive environment.Rachel Thompson And doesn’t that seem odd now when you just realize how really random and chance-based being published in the journal can be too?Shashi Bhat Yeah like now I think of writing more as like you know, there’s a writing community and I feel like people are pretty supportive of each other. But at the time it really felt like intense. I guess the question about how I started or became interested in literary magazines, I was always drawn to short stories, writing short stories more than novels so publishing and literary magazines just kind of made sense. And I guess I never thought of literary magazines as, like some people seem to view it, the stepping stone to publishing a book. I never really saw it that way. Like I just really like publishing in literary magazines because you can publish before you have a book-length work finished. You can experiment a little more without having to commit to a longer work. Yeah, then once I was in grad school I just started reading a lot more literary magazines so I guess that’s when it when I realized it was an option even to to have work published their there.Rachel Thompson And I guess you were joining in the competition too.Shashi Bhat Right.Rachel Thompson I’m wondering if you still learn about writing from reading submissions. Is that something that you find is still informing your own writing?Shashi Bhat Yeah I would say so. Particularly with poetry because I’ve never really been a poet and only recently have started writing more poetry of my own. I feel like I’m still understanding the limits of what you can get away from with in poetry. So I love seeing like poems submissions where the writers are really experimenting. It just kind of gives me inspiration for my writing. Like for example, one of the first poems I read when I, when I first started was an Elissa Watsky poem…trying to remember…what’s it called… “Overnights at the Hospital”. And it’s one I teach in my class now that the whole thing is just like a list of places where the speaker has slept–like I’ve slept here, slept here, I’ve slept here. And the last three lines of the poem say something like ‘not in the chair beside my father’s bed, this is what it feels like to be awake’. It just like blew my mind that the whole poem is this list and you don’t see that twist of an ending and coming. And like she’s a fairly new poet from what I understand and that still really surprised me. I’m definitely still, you know, surprised by things every day and I’m learning things from the writing.Rachel Thompson OK. When we first talked about lit mags a couple years ago you told me that “publishing and literary journals as is the street credit that shows agents and editors you’re serious”. And so I’m just wondering what you think about the area of self publishing and the greater question here might even be are we still relevant–you know, do lit mags still matter?Shashi Bhat I guess I always think of self publishing as just its own category. Like there’s no traditional publishing and self publishing and I don’t know if it was the way I see those categories hasn’t changed too much. I think your choice of which one of those to pursue just really depends on what your goals are as a writer. Like how much creative input you want; how much control you want to keep; what kind of audience you want to reach. So I do think literary magazines are still very much relevant, particularly for writers who want to go the traditional route. One of the great things about literary magazines is it they open up opportunities to be published and anthologies like things like Best Canadian stories, or best Canadian essays or to be eligible for prizes like National Magazine Awards or the Journey Prize. So reaching those like bigger audiences are like having access to that kind of CanLit world if you like, literary magazines can open the doors in a way. And I do think it still looks great when you are trying to acquire an agent or an editor and you can tell them. I’ve been published in Room or the Malahat them and so on, and they can see that you’ve kind of like done your work in the trenches before you’re trying to publish your novel or what have you.Rachel Thompson Yeah like you’ve cut your teeth and you have experience working with an editor.Shashi Bhat Yeah and that you’re a professional in some ways I guess like you’ve been diligent about submitting your stuff. I think that that counts for something.Rachel Thompson Yeah, you’re, you’re going to show up you’re ready to be seen in your writing, too.So I know the first readers at EVENT are volunteers and they’re typically students. Is that correct?Shashi Bhat Yep–yeah.Rachel Thompson And They end up, so the process as far as I understand is, they do the first reading of submissions, and then they send the yeses and maybes to one of your editors, who then select the top ones to be sent to discuss depending on their genre. So, you and the poetry editor meet together, and you have a fiction board. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the meetings and maybe any recent battles that you’ve had over pieces?Shashi BhatLet’s see…I guess the fiction meetings I can talk about they tend to be pretty interesting. So there are four of us on the fiction committee it’s me, our managing editor, our fiction editor, and then there’s the reviews editor is also on that committee. We meet over lunch, which makes it a lot more pleasant. We usually discuss like four or five stories at a meeting. We read them in advance and we each prepare our comments on them and we put them in categories so it’s strong publish, weak publish, weak reject, and then strong reject. And some people are on the fence. But then other people get irritated about that. But we go around the table and each person shares their opinion on a particular story and then we open it up to discussion. We can see where we all stand on the story. Most of the time I would say we agree on whether to accept a story or not but like I remember our last fiction meeting, every story we were split half and half on it. And sometimes it’s just a matter of personal preference or like a matter of one person might prioritize the quality of the prose over, like, how organic the plot is for example. So it can lead to some really interesting discussions. Let’s see recent huddles we’ve had over pieces… I can’t think of one where we were really torn. There is a category that’s rarely used: ‘Not over my dead body’, when you really, there’s a story you really don’t want to have accepted. And there’s only one time I can think of that I categorized a story that way. Yeah but those can be a little bit controversial, I guess.Rachel Thompson And what was the reason–was is that it was a controversial piece or?…Shashi Bhat I guess the piece itself wasn’t controversial but it had some content in it involving abuse and it wasn’t, it wasn’t like abuse isn’t a topic we could publish, but the way it depicted it felt kind of like it was sensationalizing, or it was gratuitous in a way and that bothered me a lot. So yeah, that wasn’t one I would have wanted to publish but I don’t think the other people on our committee were really arguing against that either. So yeah…Rachel Thompson It wasn’t on the “must publish list”.Shashi Bhat No.Rachel ThompsonTell me what event is looking for in submissions. From logistics to the quality, to the forms, whether you’re looking for more experimental work or not…Shashi Bhat So we accept submissions and in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. We don’t have a particular genre or type of work that we’re looking for. It’s more just we’re looking for quality and we’re looking to be surprised with fiction. We’re always just kind of looking for compelling plots, well-drawn characters, polished prose. And I personally am always just looking to be moved by a story, like if it affects me emotionally that’s a definite plus. Same thing with poetry. I think we like poet poems that don’t take themselves too seriously, yeah that are trying too hard. I lean towards narrative poems but we publish really all kinds of poetry. We’re looking for arresting images and again just emotional impact. Nonfiction we get most of our nonfiction submissions through our annual contests. We hold it once a year and we have two or three winners each year. But then we also consider all of the submissions for publications so that’s where most of nonfiction comes from. And we’ve also started accepting online submissions just within the past year. We switched to Submittable so everything can be submitted online.Rachel Thompson So what kind of writing do you personally want to see more of, and what would you rather not see again? I take it, not sensational abuse stories—obviously!Shashi Bhat Yeah.Rachel Thompson But what else would you rather not see for a long time?Shashi Bhat I think that’s the only category of work I would rather not see. There’s no real topic that I would like to outlaw or anything like that because I think anything that’s written about well can be interesting. I’d love to see more risk-taking. Magic realism is a category that we don’t see a lot of, that I’m always a fan of. We’re actually holding this contest in the upcoming months called the ‘Let Down Your Hair Contest’ and it’s going to be for speculative writing and either fiction or poetry. So just short work that uses sci-fi or fantasy or otherworldly elements. So that’s something I definitely would love to see more of them we’re even encouraging it more in the form of a contest.Rachel Thompson I love the name Let Down Your Hair, that’s great.Shashi Bhat Yeah that was the idea of JJ Lee who’s one of our advisory board members.Rachel Thompson Awww, nice. So what should a writer expect from EVENT? Let’s say their work is accepted; they’ve made the cut. You know, they’ve submitted fiction or poetry and you’ve said yes. Do you make developmental suggestions on pieces or are you mainly doing copy edits?Shashi Bhat We usually don’t do a lot of developmental suggestions. Usually, when we accept the work it only needs like minor edits. There are exceptions like recently we accepted a story where the idea was just so great. The premise was so haunting, it really sticks in your head, and none of us could really let go of the story even though we did have concerns where there were a couple of logical questions. And it’s like the prose needed a little bit of work. So we accepted it conditionally and that’s one where I’ll be working with a writer and doing a little more back and forth than we usually do. But that’s really rare.I think it’s just because the quality of the submissions is so high that we don’t normally need to accept stories that need more work. So yeah when a piece is accepted it’ll go through one copy editing phase where we might write to the writer and have questions on like, you know, why does this happen at this point, and maybe this could be moved but it’s usually pretty minor. And that’ll go through a proofreading phase. And that’s pretty much it.Rachel Thompson And so the piece that you are working on a bit more substantively…are you like you’re lopping off the ending, or are you doing like a bigger overhaul throughout the piece, or can you tell us a bit more but the type of changes you suggesting?Shashi Bhat Yeah, so what is like I guess I would call it a language overhaul. It just had some maybe like second-second language errors. And like yeah those are more like I guess errors of the line level. But then there were also some questions about character motivations that we couldn’t understand or felt like it needed a little more explanation but the story as a whole was so great and so original that it was worth it to us to figure out those concerns.Rachel Thompson That’s so exciting when a piece is so strong in spite of some of the weaknesses that you want it.Shashi Bhat And it was by an emerging writer so it’s always nice to kind of like have that opportunity to encourage someone who’s at that stage of their career. Yeah.Rachel Thompson So talking about submissions generally, what proportion would you say could be published an event if you had all the space and all the time in the world? Of the submissions how much are at a quality, I guess, where you don’t need to do that developmental work. And they’re, you know, almost ready to go. You just need to do line edits and copyediting and proofreading.Shashi Bhat It’s probably changed since we started taking online submissions because we get so many more submissions now.But I would say it’s still probably under 5 percent. Which sounds really low and they I don’t want to be discouraging to writers. I think it’s more that like a lot of people submit works that aren’t quite finished yet. So the work that is really polished just kind of rises to the top and yeah, probably is still a pretty small percentage.Rachel Thompson Yeah. So then you would say you publish maybe 3 percent but only 5 percent is ready to go?Shashi Bhat Yeah yeah–definitely.Rachel Thompson Nice. And so yeah I guess that leads to 2 percent and that’s what I was saying before when you were talking about grad school we’re so competitive to where it kind of becomes a bit arbitrary at that point when there’s really good quality work and you only have room for that three out of five.Shashi Bhat Yeah because then it becomes a decision based on, you know, sometimes subject matter like maybe you have three stories about domestic dramas so you don’t want to take the fourth one. So there are no reasons you might reject writing that isn’t based on the quality of the writing.Rachel Thompson And you mentioned that a lot of people submit pieces that maybe just aren’t quite ready yet that needed to go through another. What clues you into that or what are the more common mistakes that you see in submissions?Shashi Bhat It’s mostly just like sloppy writing at a line level.Shashi Bhat It looks like it hasn’t been edited carefully and that’s kind of a red flag I guess because if there are issues at that level, then you wonder like what deeper issue does the story have. I guess. The other thing is just if a story lacks originality. That’s a mark against it.Rachel Thompson Yeah and originality just in writing you’re seeing generally or you mean something you haven’t recently published an event in EVENT?Shashi Bhat Well it could be originality and like subject matter, or voice, or maybe like the way the events turn out is somewhat predictable. So it can really be in anything, I would say.Rachel Thompson And when we spoke before, the very first time we spoke, was an interview for Lit Mag Love on Room Magazine, on their website. And we both were talking about the stories about North Americans in their 20s feeling emotionally lost while travelling in other countries, and it was just an interesting note and I’ve spoken to other lit mag editors since then and it doesn’t seem to be as common for all magazines. It doesn’t seem to be a common story that all magazines receive but it’s one that Room an EVENT does receive. Why that is, I’m not sure. But I guess we also can both, I can anyway and I think you’ve mentioned before I think of pieces that we published recently that we’re actually in this vein is. Sometimes I wonder is it more that new or less experienced writers tend to fall upon the subject and those newer writers are submitting to us. Or is the trope really one that’s overdone?Shashi Bhat Hmm..yeah, I think it can definitely be done well still. I mean, I don’t know if there are any topics that haven’t been written about. So yeah we definitely have published–like one of my favourite stories in EVENT was one of the stories about a twentysomething traveller. I wonder if maybe just a lot of people have that experience and that’s why everyone’s writing about it?Rachel Thompson Something wakes up the writer in them as they’re travelling, I guess. Or They just have time to write finally when they’re travelling is what I was thinking about.Shashi Bhat Oh, that makes sense.Yeah it might be just like that age like when you’re in your mid-20s you suddenly have the money to travel. Yeah, I mean I’ve had that experience. I haven’t written about it but that’s probably just because I’ve seen all the stories about it already.Rachel Thompson Yeah, same, I definitely have stories I could tell, and I think yeah I’ve seen so many of these already and I don’t need to write another one.Shashi Bhat Yeah.Rachel Thompson So I want to shift gears a bit and talk about diversity and ways of addressing that within the lit mag community because it’s a bit of a buzzword right now but it also, you know, represents a truly urgent need to make sure more perspectives and voices are reflected in literature, in Canada and the world. And I’m wondering we talked about this a little bit before, and I’d love to hear–you know, hear what you told me before again but also any-anything that you might have done in the interim in terms of steps that EVENT is taking to let writers of all backgrounds know that their work is welcome and will be considered and published in the journal.Shashi Bhat There are a few things we do. For example during the times when we solicit work we have notes on writing issue every year where we publish reflections by writers on their writing lives. And for that I contact four or five writers and ask them to submit pieces. Sometimes our poetry editor also solicits work or just asks certain writers to submit. And when we do those sorts of things we always look for a diverse group of writers to ask. I think it probably helps too that while we’re choosing works for the issue we try to choose work that reflects the diverse makeup of readers we have and we try to cover a broad range of even like character voices or stories that are set in a variety of places. So people reading it or writer’s reading it can see themselves reflected in it and hopefully that helps them know that their work is welcome. As our staff too, we try to have a diverse staff or when we can we have women–I mean I’m a woman of colour and on our advisory board we have women of colour. Our poetry editors is Joanne Arnett who’s an Aboriginal writer and with her help and we work at Douglas College and they have an Aboriginal Student Services office so we’ve been working with them and started putting together this annual event called Aboriginal Voices which is an evening of poetry and prose where we feature a bunch of different local Aboriginal writers reading their work. We invite community members and we also invite those writers to submit work to EVENT. So I guess in those sorts of like different ways we try to reach out to community members and show them that we-we are looking for a broad range of voices for the magazine.Rachel Thompson Yeah that’s wonderful. Through that program through the festival or but also just generally, can you tell me a bit about what writers you’ve discovered through EVENT and who you continue to read today?Shashi Bhat Sure Doretta Lau is a big one. EVENT had published her work before I came on. She was a Journey Prize finalist for her story which became the title story of her collection: How Does A Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun.Rachel Thompson I love that book.Shashi Bhat So good, yeah that was a book I probably wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been for EVENT and I just loved it and recommended it to everyone after I read it. There are also a lot of new writers who don’t have books yet that I’ve just discovered through EVENT and now just kind of keep an eye out for their workRachel Thompson Isn’t it just wonderful, you get to know them before they’re even well-known and you know they’re going gonna be stars at some point too.Shashi Bhat Yeah, it’s like an insiders scoop.Rachel Thompson Do you want to talk a little bit about the piece that you selected and why you published it and why you selected it for the podcast?Shashi Bhat Sure the piece is called Bacchanalia. It’s by Marcia Walker. It was published in EVENT 45-2, and coincidentally it is one of those stories about 20-something North American travelling and discovering herself in a way.Rachel Thompson Of course, of course.Shashi Bhat I really love this story. So that the narrator is travelling, she’s in London first but then she kind of starts to wander and ends up lost, runs out of money. And then she is in a campsite in Greece and meets these three other travelers who, they have their own sort of mini theatre troop except they don’t perform for other people, they only perform for themselves. And they say it so they can find the truth which is kind of funny and interesting. And so she falls in with them and finds belonging in a way but she’s quite a lost character. And I guess that is the trope. But then things get thrown up in the air, I don’t want to give away the ending, but things change in a really interesting way and really poignant way to I think. The ending is kind of a lump in your throat ending that stays in your head too. What I like about this story is it’s really palpable in how lost this character is. But she’s also really likable in her lostness and it’s-it’s quite an imaginative story and even though it is about the last 20-something-year-old it’s not like a brooding story, it’s a really lively and fun story at the same time.Rachel Thompson What I love as just hearing your enthusiasm for the story too. But it’s one that you really enjoyed reading and publishing too. That’s great. So before we wrap up I just wanted to ask you a couple more things. So one, is it possible for writers who want to get involved behind the scenes of EVENT to do so and how would they do that?Shashi Bhat It’s definitely possible. We have volunteers as first readers and also sometimes we take on volunteers to do things like help with organizing submissions or with social media pages and things like that. And to get in touch with us if you’re interested in volunteering you would just go to our Web site eventmagazine.ca. And under that just the contact tab, so if you go under there it has all the details on how to contact us. We usually also offer unpaid internship per year, it just depends on funding. If you check into our website we post opportunities there too.Rachel Thompson Great, and then the other question is just how can writers submit their work, how often do you have specific reading periods? And then I want to emphasize too that it is writers from all over the world who can submit and publish too, right?Shashi Bhat Yeah. So right now we accept work only online through Submittable. If you go to the EVENT website there’s a link to submit. And, yeah, all the work is collected there.Rachel Thompson So people can find out more on eventmagazine.ca Well thank you Shashi so much for being here today and for being my inaugural interview. It was just wonderful to have the opportunity to talk to you and hear about your journey towards becoming an editor but also your enthusiasm for-for publishing the written word is great.Shashi Bhat Yeah, likewise–lovely to talk to you and thanks for having me.Rachel Thompson So, that was my first podcast interview, with Shashi Bhat, Editor of EVENT.Still true as it was when we spoke a few years ago, EVENT publishes in print three times per year. They publish fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and reviews. And they do pay for submissions.Another thing I’ll note about EVENT that they offer that’s kind of cool is a reading service for writers. So if you’re looking for someone to give you a really good read of your writing, they will take a piece and they will do an assessment of about 700 to a 1000 words that detail the strengths and weaknesses and provides recommendations for revision. And everything that you actually send to the reading service is also considered for publication.A good takeaway from this conversation, I believe, is you want to copy edit and proofread your work! Mistakes at that level signal to her, that in fact there may be problems at the developmental level with the submission. This is something writers ask me all the time, Does it need to be perfect before I send it in? It definitely needs to have been copy-edited and proofread several times.I love that Shashi says no subjects are off limits but to try for an original take on some of the more familiar subjects. I loved how the example piece she spoke about in this episode is an example of this—the twentysomething traveller story that we’ve seen a lot of, yet it had an original take on it.The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers, write, publish, and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters, sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice.If this episode encouraged you to try for an original take or do something imperfectly, I would love to hear from you. You can tag me on social media: rachelthompson Twitter or @rachelthompsonauthor IG.And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.Thank you for listening—I encourage you to keep rising to the challenge and writing luminously this summer.I will return with new episodes in September.Shashi Bhat spoke to me from the traditional unceded territory of the QayQayt First Nation and the Kwikwetlem First Nation aka New Westminster BC and I was recording while a guest on the traditional territories of the Kanien’kehá:ka, and the Anishinabeg peoples in what is colonially known as Montreal, Quebec.The post 1 // EVENT’s Shashi Bhat, No Subject is Off Limits [Replay] appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
1 Jul 2021
#35 Massachusetts Review Editor Emily Wojcik on Trusting Your Writing
“Trust that the reader came with you, trust that you did a good job and that you brought us there.” —Emily Wojcik This episode is a replay of a conversation I had in 2019 with Emily Wojcik, the managing editor of the Massachusetts Review. This was during the year of the publication’s sixtieth anniversary.The Massachusetts Review is a literary magazine that promotes social justice and equality along with great art.Committed to aesthetic excellence as well as public engagement, Massachusetts Review publish literature and art that provokes debate, inspires action and expands our understanding of the world around us.Listen to learn one surprising trick to get your work read more quickly by Mass Review, a trick that I believe still holds up a couple of years after this interview, so long as I’m reading between the lines of their submissions guidelines correctly. And listen for welcome inspiration to trust your writing…This episode is brought to you by the Mom Egg Review. Submissions to their “Mother Figures” issue closes on July 15. Links and Resources from this Episode: The Massachusetts Review “Tornado” by Mimi Lipson “Food Work” by Siobhan Phillips “Palisades” by Alison Kade Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/letters Interview TranscriptRachel Thompson Welcome Emily Wojcik, thanks for being here.So before joining Massachusetts Review, you were with Paris Press. Can you tell me a bit about your small press Lit Mag Love? Is there a place that you either fell in love with when you published there or first got involved with?Emily WojcikSo I was one of those kids who was always determined to be an English major and read, and if I could figure out a way to do it, get paid to read. My dad taught me to read when I was three. And so that was a really big part of my life for a long time. I had gone off to New York to be in magazines after I graduated from college, which was fantastic. I had great mentorship, but it paid almost literally nothing. And it’s very hard to live in Manhattan when you’re making nothing.So when my office got downsized, I moved to Massachusetts and decided I would go to graduate school, mostly just thinking that that would help pay the bills while I figured out what I wanted to do. I ended up interning at Paris Press at first, which was this very small nonprofit feminist press up in Western Mass. It was fantastic. It ended up because it was so small, I learned how to do pretty much everything from fundraising and grant writing to typesetting on the computer. Of course not setting type directly to basic editorial and proofing. I was helping select text and that was really where I got a sense of both how I could make a living or at least have a life where I was reading and working with texts all the time. Also just how complicated and interesting the non-profit version of that could be, because anyone who works in the nonprofit knows that you have incredibly small staffs and you do everything you have to do and you sort of fly by the seat of your pants because everything depends a bit on funding and a bit on sales.I found it really exciting in a way that writing about lipstick in New York hadn’t been exciting, [Laughter] if that makes sense.Rachel ThompsonYeah. [Laughter] There’s so much creativity that happens in nonprofits, too, because the resources are so small.Emily WojcikAbsolutely. I like to say I tend to work at places that are too small to fail. I’ve been doing this now for 16 years and I’ve gotten really good at figuring out where we can keep paring it down and paring it down if you have to, and whatever it takes to keep the platform alive, whether it’s a press or a small magazine. And that’s all something that takes creativity. It takes energy. It’s never boring. That was kind of where I really cut my teeth.I was working with Jan Freeman was the executive director, and she was one of those women who prior to me joining, had a couple of interns, but it was essentially a one-woman show. She was a great role model for that, both in terms of how to get things done and how to multitask. And also, a little bit on how to how to be just crazy enough to want to do this all the time, which I think is another important part of it for sure.Rachel ThompsonA little love-crazy let’s say. So I know I want to talk to you about creative nonfiction, because something I read in another interview, you did struck me as something that I also hear a lot from other lit mags is that you’re always looking for nonfiction. There’s a dearth of nonfiction, or at least that was the case in that interview in 2015. Is that still the case? Even in these heydays of memoir?Emily WojcikI feel like I want to be careful how I answer this question. The short answer is yes. And the longer answer is I think in part because we’re in a heyday of memoir. I think I’ve read really wonderful memoirs. But we as a magazine, we don’t really publish personal memoir that doesn’t in some way engage the broader world. What I mean by that is, for example, in our current issue, our Summer 2019 issue, we have this really amazing essay by a woman named Mimi Lipson.And it’s it starts off being about her brother and her brother was bipolar and would often when he was in a terrible place, he would take himself hiking for days at a time all by himself out in the woods. And in the course of one of these hikes, which is triggered by the fact that he’s having trouble with his neighbors upstairs, he lives in a house that his mother is the landlord of, a building that his mother is the landlord of.And the neighbors upstairs are giving him a lot of grief and trouble and causing a lot of noise. So he takes himself off and in the course of this hike, a freak tornado goes through and he gets felled by a tree and ultimately rescued and all of that. But in the course of this, it starts off being about family trouble and mental illness.And then you begin to learn through the course of the essay that the neighbors upstairs are the Tsarnaev brothers from the Boston Marathon bombing and that this author’s mother was their landlord in Boston.And it becomes this kind of really intricately woven meditation on mental illness and family, but also the idea of do we really know our neighbors and what are the effects of these people on both good and bad on the greater world and the ways we interact with people. And it becomes this really big essay and a really economical space. And that’s the sort of nonfiction that we tend to look for. My boss puts it, we’re more interested in the world than the self.And when we get memoir, it’s often really well written.But, it’s so specific and so small. The charming and adorable story about a man learning to cook dinner for his family because his wife got a job, and that sort of thing where it doesn’t feel like it’s saying much beyond the family. And that’s hard for us to figure out how that’s going to work for our type of reader who’s looking for a broader, more international, more politically engaged form of nonfiction.Rachel ThompsonI love that expression. We’re more interested in the world than the self. And one of the things, though, that strikes me in your example is her brother has mental health problems and there’s a tornado. There’s sort of a bigger, issues of mental health happening. Then also this insertion into a news story and a tragedy. Do you think there’s room for the type of creative nonfiction that is maybe is about that dinner?Is there a way to connect that dinner, cooking dinner for your family to the larger issues? Or have you seen that happen before?Emily WojcikAbsolutely. In fact, I say, we tend to shy away from memoir.And then, of course, all the examples I’m coming up with, begin with memoir style.So take that with a grain of salt. For example, a couple of years ago, again, in our summer issue, I don’t know what it is about our summer issues, but a couple of years ago, we had an essay by a woman named Siobhan Phillips, who in any case, she begins writing about being raised vegetarian and macrobiotic by her mother in the 70s. And then she goes gluten-free because she has health problems.And then she starts doing this elimination diet and it very rapidly for her turns into disordered eating. And from there, she jumps into really kind of thinking about disordered eating and today’s wellness world and where it’s so easy to hide disordered eating behind oh, no, I just don’t eat dairy because I have a sensitivity or I don’t eat this because I have a sensitivity. And I say this as somebody who doesn’t eat things with a sensitivity. [laughs]But just the small jump from wellness and being healthy to having a full-blown eating disorder.In the essay, she talks to a few experts on disordered eating. She talks to some wellness experts. And it becomes this, again, kind of bigger explanation. So I think that’s that’s ultimately what we look for is something personal that grounds the essay that gives our readers something to connect to with the writer, but then that pushes that beyond just the writer’s personal experience into something that seems to have an impact for the reader. So I don’t really care that this woman was macrobiotic as a child, but I find it fascinating that in our current dialogue about wellness, there’s this kind of shadowy other side where for some people, wellness turns into a real health problem.Rachel Thompson That’s a great way to make it really concrete for us. So, you talked about some of the common problems of seeing the submissions that you’re getting. So that’s great to hear for people who are writing more memoir and not connecting it to bigger things. Maybe there’s another journal for your work or another way to tackle that topic and think about the ways that it can connect to bigger stories.Emily Wojcik There are fantastic journals out there that publish lots of memoir. I personally like memoir. I like small stories. I just think for the magazine, our magazine has a certain kind of a mandate is probably too big a word.It has a vision. Right. We tend to be a little bit more on the political side, a little bit more on the social justice side. We try to engage international issues. And I know there are journals for whom the scope really is, more about the personal and the individual. And I think that’s what as my grandmother would say, that’s what makes horse races. It’s good to have journalists that do everything.Rachel ThompsonSo I want to talk to you about endings, because, as I mentioned, I was reading some interviews that you’ve done previously and found this interesting idea that you’re expressing about how you had to cut the last two paragraphs of a lot of stories. And that is such common advice that you give writers that it becomes something of a joke around the office. And too often a writer will keep going overstating I’m quoting you here or restating the moment to the story’s detriment. Can you talk about why you think that is and what writers might do to find and avoid this in their writing?Emily WojcikSo we see a lot of work by very established writers and we see a lot of work by emerging writers.And I think where we see that problem is generally in the more emerging writers we see actually on both ends of the story, we have a similar kind of joke about, we like it, but can we cut the first page and then we like it, but can we cut the last two paragraphs? I think in both cases what you have is maybe a bit of nerves, a bit of writer’s uncertainty when we want to cut the first pages often because a writer just I envision it as they’re doing the kind of Fred Flintstone their feet are running, but they’re not moving yet.It’s like just kind of getting up the head of steam to really start the story. And I think with the ending, it’s often an uncertainty that the writer might have that they haven’t done their job well. I don’t want to put feelings or thoughts into other people’s heads, but I always wonder if it’s a bit of the moment where they sort of second guess themselves. And so we’ll have read this really wonderful story. It will have this really powerful image that it ends on.And then suddenly there will be the sort of Wonder Years voiceover moment where it’s like and that’s where I learned that, you know, I didn’t need this after all. Or and let me remind you that I was dating this guy at the beginning of the story and everything worked out with him, too. And that’s not the story.The story ended here and just trust it. Trust that the reader came with you, trust that you did a good job and that you brought us there. And if the reader still has questions, that’s OK. It’s a short story. It’s not a novel. You don’t have to tie up every loose end. You just have to make sure that the story resolves in a way that feels complete. Right. That feels satisfying. And if there’s a loose end, that’s OK.Trust that the reader is OK with that.[laughs]Rachel ThompsonIt’s almost like defining what satisfying means. [laughs]I’m never going to forget that image of Fred Flintstone running as being that. Because so often it’s true, the case with openings for pieces, that there is what one of my earlier mentors, Betsy Warland, called scaffolding that is holding the building in place. And then you can remove the scaffolding once the building’s done. I know it’s often the case with poems, especially that the beginning has that problem where you need to lop off the first one or two stanzas.And to me, it is almost a joke myself to where I’m working with with a poet. It’s so common that I’ll say, what have we started here? A couple of stanzas later [laughs]we’re going to change the poem. Or was this writing really for you to get into it or was the writing for the reader? So I’m wondering, how do you approach editing poetry versus prose at Massachusetts Review?Emily WojcikWell, I’m lucky because I end up not editing a lot of poetry myself. But our poetry editors, Ellen Doré Watson, and Deborah Gorlin, they are senior poetry editors and they are super hands-on.They read all of the submissions. They don’t have assistants reading. They don’t have interns reading for them. And they interact with the poets. They do a lot more editorial work, in fact, than the prose folks do. I’m often cc’d on these emails. So it would often be, we like this poem very much. This stanza we think is extraneous or more often actually what ends up happening is I don’t understand this image.This image doesn’t work with the rest of the poem. Would you think about altering it or changing it, or would you tell us a little bit more about what you were thinking? Because Ellen, especially with Ellen and Deb, both have a lot of experience teaching, writing and teaching poetry. Ellen taught poetry at Smith, still does, and was the director of the Poetry Center there for twenty-five years and Deb taught poetry, teaches poetry at Hampshire.But she, just retired this year. So, they have a lot of experience working with people to try to make their poetry better. And I think that really comes into play.So it’s a lot of questioning. It’s a lot of, rather than saying, oh, you need to do this, I think they do a lot more. You know, what would you think of this? Or this isn’t working for us. If you’re willing to revisit it, maybe if you want some suggestions, we can offer them. But for all of us, I think editing pieces, we try to leave it as much as possible in the writers lap.We try to give direction a bit, but if it’s the kind of piece, especially if we haven’t solicited it, if it’s the kind of piece that’s going to need, a real overhaul we’ll generally go back to the writer and say, look, here’s what we like about it. Here’s where we think it’s wanting to go, but it’s not there yet. So come back to us when you’ve reworked it. Our executive editor, Jim Hicks, will often, if it’s a piece that he really wants to see redone or reworked, he’ll send extensive notes.He’ll send a page or two of this is what I’m thinking. This is what isn’t working. Here’s where I think your piece is trying to go. Do you have any interest in trying to rework it? And sometimes people say yes and sometimes they say no. And that’s fine.Rachel ThompsonWhat you said about creating fiction, something I hear very often from editors, what you’re saying about the way that you approach poetry is unique and such a great opportunity for poets. Often what I’m hearing from lit mags is that they’re just publishing poems, as is so, it’s such a treat, it seems to me, for a poet to be able to sit there and to have someone help them bring a piece home and question some of those images maybe that are detracting from the piece.That’s so great.Emily WojcikI know Ellen and Deb really like to publish poets who are fairly new. We always have a couple of bigger names, which I think philosophically is what we try to do with the whole magazine is publish emerging writers alongside more established names. But I think particularly with the poetry, I know Deb and Ellen are always really interested in seeing what’s happening with newer poets. And if you’re a new poet, if you’ve not been published before, you might need a little bit more guidance, and then sometimes we get people who are perhaps beyond help.We did get one. I didn’t read the poems, but we got one cover letter from someone telling us that we should publish his work because we will be happy in the future to be able to say that we were the first people to publish him and that his ultimate goal was to be published by the Paris Review.But he really saw us as an important stepping stone to that.So, there are some folks who I think like I can’t speak to the quality of his poetry. We may have lost a really brilliant poet, but. But we may not have.Rachel ThompsonWell, that leads me to ask you a bit about the cover letter and how it can detract really from submission. But being an extreme example of it. Do you get a lot of cover letters maybe where writers will try to explain the piece to you a bit before you get into it? And what do you think about that?We do, actually. We get for the most part, our cover letters that we get are pretty straightforward. And I appreciate that. You know, here’s who I am. Here’s what I’m submitting. If I’ve been published before, here’s where I’ve been published, but especially with the prose we’ll often get people sort of providing a summary. And, on the one hand, I’ve said this before, but, we’re going to read the piece no matter what.The cover letter doesn’t have to convince us to read the piece because it’s been submitted to us so we’ll read it. That’s the deal we’ve made. But at the same time, it is kind of helpful when we get a summary because it is kind of I can look at it and say, OK, this is likely not going to be something that we’re going to take or this is likely something I want to pass on. Even before I go in, I will say it works less well for fiction.I think people are not particularly good at summarizing their own fiction. And I think people default to a sort of marketing language about their fiction. And, you know, this is the heartbreaking story of such and such. And it’s like Hunger Games meets Emma or something like that. [Laughs].I don’t know what that means, but for non-fiction, it can be helpful. Right.So this is an analysis of this or, we’ll sometimes get things that are too scholarly and get things that are kind of silly or whatever, and it’s useful to kind of know, OK, this is going to be this kind of piece. But, it’s not required.And then I think, there is such a thing as potentially casting your piece in a bad light. I mean, I think one of the joys of reading is to discover something on your own. And, I’m not one of those people who reads the back cover of a book before I read the book. I tend to just kind of pick it up and go. So I, wouldn’t say it detracts, but I wouldn’t say it helps.Rachel Thompson Maybe it approach it in a do no harm to your submission kind of way. [Laughs].Emily WojcikExactly and again, trust your writing. Right.I mean, this is the big thing I find over and over again, especially with less experienced writers, is trust your writing, trust that you’re going to be able to get through.And if you can’t, if the story doesn’t do that, then the cover letter is not going to help. Right. But trust that, you don’t need to set up you don’t need to set me up. If you’ve done a decent job, I’ll get into it. I’ll get it. I think people get nervous. And they really want to be published, and I totally respect that. And so they think, well, maybe this will help and, basically just comes down to how good is the piece?Rachel ThompsonYeah, like you said, you’re going to read it anyway, so you don’t need to persuade. It’s like almost maybe just not knowing where you are in terms of your publishing journey. Like there’s a time when you do have to sell it. And that’s at the publisher agent level, but not at the lit mag level.Emily WojcikExactly. Exactly. Like we’re going to read everything, we won’t take everything, but we’re going to read everything and but yeah, it is I think that is the kind of the confusion that happens.And we’re a marketing world right now. I mean, everything is what’s your elevator pitch? I end up thinking, if you can summarize your story in a sentence and a half, then it probably didn’t need to get written. It certainly didn’t need twenty-five pages. And so if you can’t summarize your story, that’s OK.That’s that’s good.Rachel ThompsonI can hear writers sighing a breath of relief, even hearing that it’s coming across here. And I read in another interview and I don’t want to disparage the interviewer, but they were trying to get you to say what irritated you about some of the common flaws in stories like too much exposition, language, redundancy or repetition. And I just love that in your response, you resisted that characterization and just saw it as a writer learning.So what do you see your role as teacher, slash mentor for writers and submitting to the journal is and how has mentorship worked for you in your own writing life?Emily WojcikThat’s a good question. When we work with writers, I see my job and this is kind of overall I see my job as editor is to make the piece that the writer intended accessible to the reader. And what I mean by that is I try to get a sense of what the writer is trying to do. And if I edited I’m editing it for clarity and to make sure that that voice gets heard.You know, I’m not interested in changing how somebody writes. I’m not interested in making the story something it’s not. You know, I may suggest some grammar. I might suggest some reworking to make it a little bit more clear or to make it a little bit more in keeping with what I think the authorial intent is. But I also like to have a bit of a light hand that said, if it’s a piece that really needs a lot of work, we often won’t take it because we’re just such a small office.I’m the only full time paid staff member at the office. Two of our senior editors receive course releases from their universities to do the editorial work. But otherwise, we have two people full time in the office, one of whom is mostly volunteer, and then we have interns. And so there’s just a whole lot that has to get done. And so we’re not able to do as much mentorship as we’d like. That said, I’ve really valued when I work with people who’ve helped my writing.I think every writer has worked with somebody who doesn’t get it, who wants the story to be a different story or wants the essay to be a different essay. And I try really, really hard to not be that editor. I try really hard to figure out what is the writer trying to do? Where are they falling down? And that’s where the little tiny annoyances, I guess, as the other person was framing it.Come in, right. If you’ve got twelve adjectives and two sentences, it’s distracting, right? No one’s going to pay attention to the sentence because they’re just going to look at the fact that you have all these adjectives and it’s a thin line between descriptive and ridiculous. Right. And so I’m coming at it from that angle.Why is everything an adverb? Do really need all of these adverbs, or is that distracting the reader from what’s really happening? Again, the same with redundancy, the same with repetition. It’s always kind of from a point of view of is this serving the story and if it’s not, can we cut it because there’s something here and it’s just it’s got a little bit of muck on it, and if I can just clear that muck, it’s going to shine.That’s how I try to approach editing and mentorship.Rachel Thompson I love what you say about not imposing the view, like your view as an editor on the piece and just seeing what’s there and what the writer’s intention is. Because even if they’re falling totally flat, there’s always something that you can say as an editor, I think, to help them take a step toward that vision that they have for their piece.Yeah, absolutely. And, I was reading some writer I can’t remember now. And he was saying that he got his start by retyping Ernest Hemingway stories.And just to get a sense of what Hemingway wrote like. I think we see that sometimes in writers, they see somebody they’ve read somebody that they’re really inspired by. And they go off trying to do that same kind of style and that idea of like, OK, so what is it that you’ve liked about this story? What is it? Do you like that the narrator isn’t named? Do you like that? There’s an unfinished ending.What is it that you’re trying to get at? And where are you getting in your own way? Where are you overdoing it or where are you not doing it enough?Right.Where you sort of lacking the courage of your convictions and just trying to kind of get into the story that way. It’s a different kind of reading than I think most of our readers do because they’re not paid to do the reading.But it’s fun.Rachel ThompsonI imagine also just because this is true for me, so educational about writing in general to be able to identify and read in that way where you’re like you said, I’m getting paid to do it and looking really closely at what’s working and what’s not working.Emily WojcikAbsolutely. We have interns you have interns from the UMass MFA program during the school year and then in the summers, we have undergraduate interns and all of them. I put them to work. I mean, they don’t necessarily do rejections and stuff, but I put them to work reading our slush pile because I think it’s such a good education. You just start reading these things and you’ll see after you read ten or fifteen submissions, you’re going to see writers doing the exact same problem.Twelve different writers making the same mistake. You’re going to see the same kind of imagery. You’re going to learn really quickly, what’s a cliche? Because you may not have thought that, but when you see it twelve times in two hours, you’re going to realize, oh, that’s totally cliche. I mean, that’s really helpful. Just to kind of get a sense. I often tell people, we don’t get a lot of really bad writing.The people who submit to us. I can count on one hand maybe the pieces that maybe just kind of laugh out loud and think, oh, gosh, no. But what we get a lot of is writing that just needs a little more work. You know, it’s almost there. And so learning to distinguish between, what’s really good and sharp and ready to go and what’s not quite there yet, it’s perfectly fine.But we want better than fine. We want it to shine. And so just learning how to distinguish that learning thing, sitting there thinking this is good, are our readers going to keep going with it? Are they going to give up after two pages because they don’t have to read it, right? We do, but they don’t.Rachel ThompsonWhat would you say has been the most rewarding part about working with contributors to the Massachusetts Review?Emily WojcikOh, my gosh. I’m stunned by how brilliant contributors are, and we get people we’re actually trying to put together. It’s our sixtieth year this year. Twenty nineteen is our sixtieth birthday. And we’re working with some writers who we were their first or one of their first publications, and now they’ve been doing more stuff. And so we’ve gone back to them and ask them, who should we be looking at now, who’s new and emerging that they know about that maybe no one else does.And who should we be soliciting for work? And it’s just so much fun to go back to them because they’re so brilliant.The fiction is brilliant. Poetry is brilliant. This is my problem. Right. I don’t like adjectives.So now I don’t have any adjectives to describe, but when you work with someone, when you find somebody’s piece that just kind of takes the top of your head off. Right. To quote Emily Dickinson, it’s just we have a couple of writers. We have one writer, Alison Kade. She’s in New York. We published an early story of hers a couple of years ago. That was this really interesting kind of dystopian near-future idea of New York Post, a Superstorm Sandy kind of situation that just destroys the city.The writing wasn’t quite it wasn’t quite English. It was this kind of modified colloquial. It was so interesting on every level and it worked on every level. It was, how is this woman not have novels yet? How could she not be discovered? We have a couple of writers, we have many, many writers like that where we just you read something. You’re like, this is a perfect story.It’s such a pleasure to discover that this is a perfect poem. This writer is doing something so interesting with the nonfiction, just like, oh, my God, I never thought about that. That’s so interesting. I’ve often said one of my flaws is I get bored really easily. I grew up in one of those households where I was told, oh, you’re only bored if you’re boring and I get bored all the time so I don’t know what that says about me.But when you when you’ve got these contributors, I don’t get bored with this. Every single issue I think is really good. And I haven’t worked at any other job where that’s been true, where I’ve looked at every single issue and thought people need to read this like they need to read this because it’s so god damn good. Finally.Rachel Thompson[Laughs]. Oh, it’s fabulous. It’s just your love for the submitters and lit mags really come through. So I love hearing that given the theme of the show. So I know we talked before we started and you were saying that you have about seven hundred and fifty submissions in stuff. But I’m still going to ask you, what is the best way for writers to connect with you and with Massachusetts Review?Emily WojcikWell, I hasten to say that seven hundred and fifty left. So we started with like two thousand. So we’re doing OK. The best way, honestly, if they want to be read more quickly, I hate to say this because everyone’s on, but we have two modes of submission. We accept submissions through our online submission manager, which you can get through to through our website. There’s a three dollar fee for submissions or we accept snail mail submissions, which we don’t charge a fee for.And I think because of the way it works, I think folks who snail mail, they get read sooner.That’s because we have a couple of senior readers, senior fiction editors, who only read paper, who don’t want to read online. So they will pick up the stuff and read it and get it back to us much more quickly. When it’s online, you’re kind of at the whim of, we’re a tiny office and we do the best we can, but tiny office with only a couple of editors and so it can take a while.And we usually we say on our website it can take us up to six months to respond. It’s taken us actually a little bit longer this year because one of our senior editors is having trouble at work. And so she’s been more absent. You know, that’s just kind of the function of being a small, tightly funded non-profit organization as we’re operating with really lean resources.So I think if time is of the essence, I would recommend probably mailing it in.Rachel ThompsonI love that. That’s like a hot tip for our listeners. I would never have guessed.Emily WojcikI mean, that said, I who knows, this could shift next year. We can get our act together and we do that. We do allow, we do encourage simultaneous submission because we’re so small. Because it takes us so long to respond. So we’re certainly not going to say we should exclusively have this until we make a decision, because that would be cruel.Rachel ThompsonWell, thank you so much for talking with me today and sharing your lit mag love with me and our listeners.Emily WojcikNo problem. This was really fun. Thanks so much.Rachel ThompsonSo, that was my conversation with Emily Wojcik, the managing editor of the Massachusetts Review,Among the enduring things to note about the Massachusetts Review are they are more interested in the world than the self. They will publish creative nonfiction that might classify as memoir, as in stories that come from an inside view of your life and perspective, so long as the writing also faces the world, connecting to bigger issues and themes.Ever since we recorded this interview, I have had that image of Fred Flintstone starting his car with feet running, but not moving yet, in mind when I think of stories that open with text that doesn’t go anywhere, yet.I also continue to appreciate how she talked about endings and how they seek stories that resolve in a way that feels complete and satisfying, BUT that also trusts that the reader is OK. I am grateful for her insight that trusting the reader requires trusting your writing.One concrete thing to glean from this interview was her distaste for adjectives! So, pull out those descriptive words when you’re revising to submit to Mass Review.Publishing with them seems to me like an opportunity to really help you grow as a writer—they tend to send notes. They dive into poetry revisions, which is, as I mentioned during our conversation, a really rare experience.They publish nonfiction, fiction, poetry, hybrid writing, and I love that they have a category for this, and translation (which is also open year-round).As of this episode release they ARE closed for submissions until September 30, except for submissions from authors who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, which are accepted year-round (by email or postal mail).They pay $100 USD honorarium for submissions. And remember from our interview that mail submissions may be read more quickly, so do consider going old-school and using the post.You can find all their guidelines for submissions up at massreview.org/submission-guidelines.The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. You can learn more about the work I do to help writers, write, publish, and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters, sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice.If this episode encouraged you to trust your writing, or get rid of some adverbs, and submit what you write to lit mags, I would love to hear all about it. You can tag me on social media: rachelthompson Twitter or @rachelthompsonauthor IG.And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.Thank you for listening—I encourage you to keep rising to the challenge and writing luminously!When we recorded this back in 2019, Emily Wojcik spoke to me from the University of Massachusetts, located on Nonotuck land, and I was recording while a guest on the unceded traditional territories of the Kanien’kehá:ka, and the Anishinaabeg peoples in what is colonially known as Montreal, Quebec.The post 35 // Massachusetts Review Editor Emily Wojcik on Trusting Your Writing [Replay] appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
17 Jun 2021
#20 Plenitude’s Rebecca Salazar on Writing with Flash AND Fire
“Poems, no matter what they are about or how they approach the world, have to need to happen.” —Rebecca Salazar, Plenitude This is a replay of a conversation I had with Rebecca Salazar of Plenitude back in 2018.One of the reasons I’m returning to this conversation is that in my membership community, called Writerly Love, we’re exploring appropriation in writing this month—with a monthly theme of care. And I find this inner-battle when I approach appropriation in my own writing and think about writing across difference of culture, or class as I discussed in my most recent new episode with Temz editors. I so want to have a formula, I want to not get it wrong. Essentially my bent for perfectionism means I want to ”get things right“ and not make a harmful mistake or, frankly, embarrass myself for being ignorant.So, what I appreciate most in this interview that covers a lot of topics like, what is CanLit, really, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and why submitting to contests isn’t always the best choice, what I appreciate most is Rebecca Salazar saying about all of this, I think really what matters and is just be willing to be wrong, because you’re going to be wrong more than once.I have been wrong before, by the way, and I survived, and I think it was always better for me to attempt to navigate these ethics versus ignore them because I can’t be perfect. Perfectionism really no place in writing and in relationships and in reconciling difference.So, with that in mind, here is my conversation with Rebecca Salazar, Associate Poetry Editor of Plenitude. This episode is brought to you by the Mom Egg Review. Submissions to their “Mother Figures” issue closes on July 15. Links and Resources from this Episode: Plenitude Magazine Rebecca Salazar on Twitter Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral *All Inclusive* by Farzana Doctor the knife you need to justify the wound by Rebecca Salazar “All you can eat oyster bar” by Sara Patterson Sulphur Natalie Wee Rahila’s Ghost Press Qwerty Magazine The Antigonish Review Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/letters Interview TranscriptRachel Thompson: Welcome, Rebecca Salazar.Rebecca Salazar: Hi, nice to meet you.Rachel Thompson: Nice to meet you. I want to start by asking you how you became a writer, your origin story as a writer. Did you know other writers growing up for example?Rebecca Salazar: I think there was a point when I was about eight years old being a pretty lonely kid in a small city in central Ontario that I just decided I was going to be a writer at eight years old because I didn’t really know what else to do with myself. It was a weird upbringing in that I was a child of immigrants and getting bullied a lot in school, so I think I just kind of centred on books as my escape from and as my way of just finding other people and characters to kind of become friends with in that way. And eventually, I started writing my own short stories and, little things like that. I started actually shopping a “novel” (in scare quotes “novel”) when I was about 12 years old because I got pretty into the idea of writing and publishing. Obviously, that didn’t really go anywhere, because I was a 12-year-old writing kinda terribly, but it gave me a sort of opening to learn about this writing industry and publishing industry. That was…I could tell from a very early age, I could feel living in Northern Ontario that there was a sort of vortex of Toronto where all of the publishing happened and all the writing happened, and all the writers that I was eventually learning about were living and writing, which was difficult because it was a place I didn’t really have access to, and as I grew up and kind of started introducing myself to people as a writer, despite not being published or only really taking it seriously to myself I started meeting other writers. Once I got into university one of my friends Brendan Vidito, and I met up with some other students at the university and started a literary journal because we felt that sort of lack of resources or accessible community for writers and decided that it was something we could do something about. So we built this literary journal called Sulfur we had no idea what we were doing at the time and a few of us have read literary journals, but never really worked for one because there was just nothing in the area. So it was such an improvised thing and we as writers who none of us really at the time had any publications, just started kind of improvising. And, it eventually turned into something we were able to provide. We were able to provide what we had been missing as young writers as emerging writers to other people we ended up meeting in town who really had also felt that same lack. And it was such a great experience actually just getting to see the impact that had on some people who we gave their first publication. And that was a feeling I really held onto, and I later started working more with literary journals have been doing for about ten years now.Rachel Thompson: So you got the bug early really of that joy of being able to help someone else have their words seen in print.Rebecca Salazar: Yeah definitely. I think I had that experience before I had the experience of being published myself or maybe around the same time. And it was such an addictive feeling to provide that. That I couldn’t be away from it and I knew that part of my development as a writer was going to have that element to it of also wanting to provide space for other writers to be published as well.Rachel Thompson: I love that. I also love how much you managed to pick up at 12 I remember submitting to because when I was like in my early teens and just being like okay well I’m terrible, they don’t like my writing. It sucks. They don’t like my writing. And so I’m not going to submit to a journal for a long time. But I didn’t understand the industry at all at the time. So I think it’s fascinating that you picked up something that is quite true that there’s a lot that centres around Toronto and it’s still true today.Rebecca Salazar: It’s funny. I found my way into that just by going to a local library and picking up a really outdated copy of the Canadian Writers Market. Because I knew that writing happened in the States a lot, I didn’t know much about the Canadian scene and just by picking that up, I started getting a feel for which publishing houses were around, who was publishing what, what some of the journals were at the time. And of course is a little-outdated information, but it kind of gave me that sort of grounding in something I didn’t know how to access at the time, too, I felt like everything I wanted to write, or could think of myself writing didn’t fit the version of CanLit that I saw. Things that I saw in school or in like the bestseller lists and that sort of thing. I knew that CanLit was the sort of nature poetry and novels about like the logging industry, and someone’s tragic marriage. But I didn’t see anything beyond that sort of white, men-centric realism until I started looking into literary journals and then finding out there was so much more going on.Rachel Thompson: There’s such a more vibrant scene I guess even some time ago, but more so today I would say, that it’s pushing things forward and reacting and pushing up against CanLit, which is super exciting. That’s something that I love about it. Is that what you’re getting at, too?Rebecca Salazar: Yeah definitely. I think for a long time the idea of CanLit, you can read Northrup Frye and most other people who are agonizing over “Canada doesn’t have its own literature or its own national identity in literature” where most of the people who obsess over that project of having a national literature end up centring it on so many really narrow and exclusive kinds of narratives and voices. So, there’s a lot that doesn’t get included in that that I think most of the writers that are publishing excitingly today are resisting that or have discarded the idea of needing to be part of something cohesive. And I think that willingness to resist narratives in that sort of innovative spirit in the writing that’s happening now is so much more exciting than anyone trying to create a singular CanLit identity.Rachel Thompson: So thinking back to the eight-year-old you who decided to be a writer and was reading these works and not seeing yourself or your story and finding a space within CanLit, but also knowing that you had synesthesia if that’s how you say it and how that experience mingled with you becoming a writer.Rebecca Salazar: Yeah that’s a good question. I had a poem called synesthesia that was published in the Malahat Review. And yeah, it is something that early on, as a child who grew up speaking Spanish, and went into English French immersion schools, sort of noticing that the easiest way for me to learn languages was to let these colour associations form with letters and sounds and concepts and things like that and kind of associate them across languages that way. And it definitely started to inform my poetry early on. A lot of the times that I was writing, I remember deleting entire paragraphs or anything like that if I felt like the letter of the recurring sounds in it were the wrong colour or the wrong feel for a sensation or trying to describe. So, I definitely kind of used that a little bit. And I think because it all came out on this background of not identifying with the literature I was seeing, grounding myself in very concrete details and the physical and the way that evoked abstract concepts like colours to me, I think still it a big part of how I write.Rachel Thompson: I’m curious about the synaesthesia when you talk about colours being associated with words, and I’m wondering if you even just have an example for our listeners about how exactly that works or how that’s worked in specific poems that you’ve written.Rebecca Salazar: One thing I find myself obsessing about a lot is like vowel sounds and the colours I associate with them. I tend to think of O sounds as really dark so when I’m writing something with a darker tone that isn’t aggressive I try to use a lot of O sounds, whereas like A sounds and I sounds a really bright or more aggressive than that, so I’ll try to bias it that way.Rachel Thompson: You also mentioned that your first language is Spanish and that you now are writing in English and that you’re bringing a certain attention to language and we talked about coupling that with synaesthesia… Can you tell me, do you feel like you have readers out there who can understand the hidden layers of your work and have you had that kind of response from readers or that connection with readers and other writers who are experiencing language in that way?Rebecca Salazar: Yeah, I’ve talked about this with a few other writer friends who are speaking English as their second, third, fourth language—not their first anyway. And there’s always a sort of disjunction between like a sort of translation in some ways. And the way that we understand certain words is based on how we’ve seen them written, or sometimes there’s the issue of, you want to use a word because you’ve seen it written a million times and you know what it means, but then you’ve never heard a pronounced out loud, so you are reading at a poetry reading then you pronounce this word, and everyone tells you how you got it wrong. So that’s a kind of a common experience like pound with other people or the English as not their mother tongue. I do find that a lot of people expect a certain version of Spanishness or Latinness in my writing and I have at times felt like I was forced to perform not in a way that I don’t feel like I can. I’ve written a few poems where I play with Spanish and I throw in a few words or a phrase and often this is when I’m feeling most disconnected from the language because I have lost a lot of the language. I don’t really have a community where I can speak it. Most of my schooling was in the French language systems and now I’m studying English, so I haven’t really especially being in small towns most of my life, gotten really that element of being able to talk to other people and keep my vocabulary in Spanish or just have that musicality around me. And I’ve been asked a few times, where that is or why I don’t write more in Spanish, and it’s because there’s that disconnect in the language and the culture as well. That wee bits of culture that I get from my parents’ background are things that are kind of like outdated and also kind of displaced because I’ve never had a tangible connection to them. And the version that I get through them is not just second-hand but also at a 30- or 40-year remove from the place they left. Way back when.Rachel Thompson: Can you tell me about the discourse between creative nonfiction and poetry and how you kind of navigate writing those two genres and is your approach different, the material that you draw from is it different?Rebecca Salazar: Oddly, I came to creative nonfiction by accident. I, a couple of years ago, was doing a studio course as part of my Ph.D. which I’m still in. I had basically just taken too many other courses already and needed to do something else, so I ended up working with Triny Finlay who is a professor here, and one of my supervisors. And she basically had me writing sort of just the prose response in addition to the poetry, to things I was reading or kind of taking in to write the project I was working on at the time, and eventually some of those responses, Triny started telling me that they felt like essays and needed more time and attention. So I started trying to flesh those out, but I was approaching them the same way that I approach poetry. And I think with some of the recent creative nonfiction I’ve written too, and some of the stuff I’m still working on, I still think of it very much in the sense of poetry. It’s all flashes of imagery or sensations that I kind of develop episodically in a sense. I’ll sometimes bring in things I’ve learned from doing academic writing, but then to write them into creative nonfiction piece, I have to take away a lot of that structure, a lot of the logic that goes into academic writing, I feel like I need the freedom of poetic association to get around some of the topics I’m writing about. Because most of them are really emotional and there’s always that kind of play between writing about politics when they’re too personally situated close to you. And I think there’s a lot of room in creative nonfiction to just as there is in poetry to situate yourself really explicitly in relation to the subject matter. There’s always going to be a subject writing in that sort of genre I find, or both genres, and I think that’s sort of situatedness is something I’m really drawn to.Rachel Thompson: I love that connection you’re making that those are the things that are drawing you to those two genres then that the situating yourself and being able to personally respond to politics, for sure. It is making me think a bit of an interview that I did with Eufemia Fantetti where she says write rhymes with fight for a reason and that is simply that ability to sense and push up against forces that can happen within writing.Rebecca Salazar: Yeah I do think, having done and read a lot of academic reading, just through my schooling, as I mentioned I’m in aPh.D. program right now, which means I get quite a bit of the academic side of things, and I think one of the things that are generally not always lacking from lots not the kind of reading is. The recognition that. Nothing is ever fully objective. And things like creative nonfiction and poetry I find they strip away any pretension of objectivity by radically situating object in the writer and their personal relationship with the subject matter, which then you can’t you can’t quite dehumanize a subject that you’re writing about. When you’re situating yourself in relationship to it, I think. And that is something that a few academic writers are doing and trying to get around using particular versions of identifying themselves or situating selves with what they study. But it is happening a lot more in creative forms, for sure.Rachel Thompson: And so is it a bit of like almost a cathartic release for you then, when you’re in the academic world and in the academic reading and writing and then being able to write in these other genres?Rebecca Salazar: A little bit yeah I think for a long time I had to separate them in myself because I was learning to do the academic thing that you’re required to do where you’re supposed to kind of remove yourself to a critical distance where you don’t acknowledge yourself as the writer. And one of the things I’m working on now, I think I’ve shifted that kind of separation into trying to integrate the two forms and bring some of that recognition of subjectivity into my academic work and also kind of thinking about the fluidity of research as well into the creative form.Rachel Thompson: I’m going to ask you then about mentoring and how you see that happening within your writer communities and maybe even just how it’s happened over time since you did decide to become a writer.Rebecca Salazar: I started off with a lot of sort of optimistic faith in the idea of mentoring, which I’ve kind of lost the past two years, especially given a lot of what’s happening in CanLit around abusive forms of mentorship. Basically, scenarios where so-called mentors or gatekeepers use their position of power and advisership to take advantage of young or emerging writers, particularly in sexual manners. And this is something I have gotten closer to than I’d like. Without going too much into detail, I basically just lost a lot of faith in the idea of mentorship as a safe space. The thing that’s really pulling me out of that is the idea of peer mentoring where there isn’t as much of a power imbalance or someone who has the sort of authority to give your work validation, like a singular authority over your work, that sort of thing. Because a lot of a lot of the mentorship that I’ve valued and that’s really taught me a lot of things is people who don’t sit themselves on a pedestal, dictating, but are fellow women or fellow queer women of colour. People who base the entire relationship of mentorship around consent and mutual respect for each other instead of as a top-down structure where they’re there to teach you and validate you as a mentee. People like Alicia Elliot, Canisia Lubrin, Carrianne Leung, these are people that I’ve had the chance to meet during a Banff Residency, which had its own issues, but then the mentorship between the participants really became the treasure that I came out of that experience with.Rachel Thompson: What was the program that you were doing together?Rebecca Salazar: I think it was the first ever mentorship for only people of colour or racialized people in Canada. It’s called Centering Ourselves or something of that nature.Rachel Thompson: Yeah, I remember when the call came out and I had known a few the people that you mentioned that were there, but I love what you said about and turning to peers, too, and finding that kind of mentorship where there is a little bit more mutual respect or a lot more mutual respect. I guess thinking about how that that spirit of mutual respect and learning from each other that I think you can you can still have even if you’ve been at it for a lot longer than someone you’re working with and I’m wondering if you had that experience when you’re editing if editing has informed your own writing and how.Rebecca Salazar: I think a lot of my editing work has been pretty detached in the sense of, I’m an editor or a reader at a journal and I never actually get to meet the writer. For Plenitude, actually, I find it’s really helpful that in every acceptance letter there’s a paragraph about how we like to work with our writers. And we’ll usually exchange some editorial suggestions and just have a discussion about the piece before publishing. It’s a great model because it kind of provides this temporary or small mentorship for generally marginalized people, who won’t really have access. So disproportionately, I know that academia or MFA-type spaces, or paid workshops tend to exclude a lot of lower income and disproportionately queer people, trans people, people of colour. So getting those writers something within the publishing structure to kind of give them a taste of mentorship and like builds up their writing on its own terms is something that I really value about my work there. In terms of other editing I’ve done, I recently had the absolute pleasure of editing a chapbook for Matthew Stefanik. The chapbook is called Relying on That Body. It’s a series of poems based on the eliminated drag queens from the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And we kind of just ended up as total strangers fangirling about the show enough online and then getting into just private messages going back and forth and talking about some of the issues on the show, and when I found out that Matthew was writing these and he asked me to edit them, it was this wonderful experience where we just got to delve into the poetry and kind of have this mutual exchange about what goes into queer poetry and the things that aren’t allowed to be said in queer poetry, too, and this is a bit of a tangent, I suppose, to your question, but going back to that idea of peer-mentorship, I definitely didn’t feel like it was one person having more power than the other. And there was this sort-of mutual exchange there, and like a mutual fangirling that kind of equalizes a lot a lot out of the mentorship structure or the editing structure.Rachel Thompson: One of the things that I like about hearing about that project too, is even What’s considered a literary topic? And I like that it’s about RuPaul’s Drag Race. That’s great.Rebecca Salazar: There’s a surprising amount of Drag Race poetry. Actually, this is a bit of a spoiler for anyone, or maybe a teaser for anyone who might have a subscription to The Fiddlehead, or might be interested in the summer poetry issue, which is coming out really soon. A couple of Matthew’s poems from that chapbook are in there, as well as I think one or two poems by Joshua Whitehead that are also about RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I was joking with the other editors that it was just a mission to make the new issue as Draggy and queer as possible.Rachel Thompson: And Plentitude defines queer literature and film as that which is created by LGBTTQI people. What developments in Queer representation do you cherish today in terms of, I guess, thinking of the trajectory of your time being focused on CanLit and what’s happening in literature? And what changes do you wish to see?Rebecca Salazar: I first saw myself kind of represented or recognized myself in I think two books that I can think of that are on the same shelf where I just keep all the things I will never get rid of. The first book was All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor, which is the first time I ever saw any character representing the woman of colour who is poly or bisexual, who is confused about her queerness and articulating that in a way that she isn’t quite sure about the terminology yet. And that was something I came across that novel at a time when I was really going through the same thing. I was kind of coming into identifying as queer and still working through a lot of cultural and religious baggage that I needed to get through before I stop denying that side of myself. The other book I’m thinking of is Eduardo C. Corral’s Slow Lightning, which is the first time I ever saw a Latinx, queer voice, coming into its own and not just writing about one aspect of their existence, but showing how every intersection that you embody suffuses every experience that you have, whether they are difficult experiences or whether they’re joyful or celebratory or erotic, or… So those two books are things that I definitely cherish to this day and will probably try a long time. In terms of what I’m looking forward to is just more of that. I want to see more every kind of queer experience, trans experience two-spirit experience. I know there is a group of two-spirit poets who are coming out quite strongly lately and I’ve been loving everything they produce. People like Joshua Whitehead, Arielle Twist, Billy Ray Belcourt, there’s so much fire in that sort of coming into one’s own, and there’s this community that’s basically springing out of places we neglected to look, and there’s so much power in their words and their writing in the way that they’re innovating on poetry, and other forms, in ways that no one’s ever really seen before. I’m also really excited about seeing more creative nonfiction by queer people of colour, particularly someone also I was in Banff with, Natalie Wee, whose poetry is incredible, and has also recently taking up to have an editor position at Extra Magazine online and everything she’s been soliciting and publishing out there is making so much room for more people of colour, who experience their queerness or transness or whatever their gender or sexual identity is to tell their stories and show basically every aspect of that experience, in ways that it’s just not often enough represented. We need more stories of all kinds, I think. And that sounds a bit cheesy but I do stand by it.Rachel Thompson: Not cheesy at all. It just sounds, sounds true, and just exciting when I hear you listing those names, and the people coming up the two-spirited writers were really doing amazing stuff.Rachel Thompson: I’m back with Rebecca Salazar of Plenitude and who also works at The Fiddlehead, an editor at The Fiddlehead. And we’re going to dig into the nitty-gritty about submissions at those journals, so I want to ask you what kind of submissions do you not want in your inbox at Plentitude?Rebecca Salazar: I think generally the rule is that I stop reading something if I feel like there’s nothing at stake. This is really hard to define, but it’s something that I keep coming back to in having read a lot of slush piles. There are a lot of poems that are very technically accomplished or you can tell that someone’s done the work with the language or the sound or the form, but there’s nothing at stake in the content. And this isn’t to say that content and craft are fully separable because I think they’re very entangled, but a lot of the times when you have just all flash and no fire then there’s really something missing. And I do know that I’ve encountered very many manifestations of this, and it does generally come from people who don’t feel an urgency in their writing but are writing from a comfortable place. And this doesn’t mean that every piece of writing has to be dramatic or about something depressing or violent, it doesn’t mean you can’t write about comfort or joy, but it does mean that those poems no matter what they are about or how they approach the world, have to need to happen. There has to be a need in them to come into the world. There has to be something at stake in them.Rebecca Salazar: This is a bit of a side note, but now I’ve thought about it a little more, another thing I don’t want to see is people appropriating or kind of using any kind of urgency that they see in the world that they don’t have a personal connection to, in order to kind of spice up the poems. I could get into discussions about appropriation and the recent turmoil in CanLit around that, but to avoid kind of going on a bit of a rant. Never treat anything like an object—even objects, basically. I think poetry that has that urgency and I’m talking about really takes the knowingness of whatever the subject is seriously and recognizes that and let it speak for itself while also speaking back in dialogue with it. There are kinds of knowledge that are not ours and our kinds of knowledge that we cannot embody, even if we recognize them and want to speak with them, we have to let them speak for themselves, additionally. Even if we’re having a conversation a lot of that writing in conversation has to be about listening.Rachel Thompson: So I ask you specifically about your inbox at Plentitude. I would assume that a lot of those apply to The Fiddlehead, too, that you’re looking again for more fire than flash or definitely flash and fire combined. Is there any distinction between the kind of things maybe you’re seeing more it at Fiddlehead versus Plenitude.Rebecca Salazar: Yeah, I actually do find quite a bit more of flash no fire stuff at The Fiddlehead, and I think it has to do with the demographics a little bit. I do find that this is nothing against The Fiddlehead or its submitter’s at all, but at Plentitude, I already know that all the submissions are coming from people who identify as LGBTQ+, and there’s already some kind of struggle already there that needs to be worked through in the writing. As soon as someone who identifies in a way that isn’t normative, or who has been marginalized in any way begins to struggle through those issues and try to write, that need to write comes a bit from that struggle and that urgency is often there more. Like, more than I’m seeing elsewhere, so I encounter a lot more of that fire, in Plenitude’s submission pile, or at least proportionally. Because a lot of these writers are kind of using writing as a political act of self-declaration, of reclaiming who they are and their identities. And that really does give it a lot of shape in relation to, say some of the more comfortable stuff that does come into The Fiddlehead. And this is something that The Fiddlehead editors and I have discussed quite a bit. Like, how do we get people who don’t feel like they’re reading the comfortable writing that The Fiddlehead is known for to submit, because it is something that the editors want, is to expand and be publishing more experimental voices and more diverse voices. But it’s hard to kind of shift that perception when it’s, well The Fiddlehead is an institution that’s been around for 75 years and has certain things associated to it that are hard to get behind and hard to get through.Rachel Thompson: Yeah it’s a bit, actually, like the shift that happened at Room, too, and I can see that happening at The Fiddlehead just based on their choices of who’s now sitting at the table, yourself included, that they’re looking to signal and let them more diverse voices speak in their pages. That’s great.Rebecca Salazar: This weekend, actually, we just had a couple of workshops in Fredericton. We had Alicia Elliott, who is the new Creative Nonfiction Editor, and Rebecca Thomas who is a spoken word performer and poet in Halifax come in to do workshops for the community on creative nonfiction and on poetry for free. So this was a big deal for The Fiddlehead: offering this opportunity to learn from these amazing women of colour writers and showcasing their work through a reading we had that night, but also allowing people to interact and learn from writers who are doing a lot of the new work that’s really changing what CanLit looks like. We also had a bit of a discussion the next day with Alicia just talking about how The Fiddlehead can fix or expand the diversity of its submissions, work on some of our initiatives that are kind of in the works for the 75th year celebration. We have a few things up our sleeve, I think, including a nonfiction issue, actually. Yeah. It’s a place where the work is definitely happening. As with anything, it’s slow work and does often require a lot of awkwardness and uncomfortable conversations. But being willing to go there and talk about one’s flaws as an institution or as individual editors, that’s part of the work that needs to be done. No matter how uncomfortable it gets, it’s worse to just avoid the conversation and keep perpetuating the problem of lack of representation and that sort of thing. Yeah, just facing the issue and doing what you can always matters.Rachel Thompson: I think that’s great. And it’s a little bit of a roadmap maybe for other lit mag editors who are listening out there who are wondering how to make that kind of institutional change. Uncomfortable conversations definitely I think is the top of the list of what I see happening, and I’m glad to hear you say that, too.Rebecca Salazar: I think really what matters and in all is just be willing to be wrong, because you’re going to be wrong more than once. And Alicia (Elliott) kind of said this in some of the workshops we did, too. Just be ready to be wrong a few times and move on from it. Keep learning.Rachel Thompson: What should readers expect when their work is accepted by you? So when they’ve they’ve come in with a submission and they’ve got both flash and fire, do you make developmental suggestions? I know you mentioned already the letter that Plentitude sends out about the relationship that you’re building but, I guess, how much do you roll up your sleeves with your writers?Rebecca Salazar: For me, in the poems I have accepted so far, and I’m still pretty new at Plenitude, so I haven’t accepted too many yet, but I found that my approach is generally to obsess over the poem so much that I just like get into his head and try to learn it. Learn how it’s thinking, so a lot of the comments I end up returning to writers, when I do return edits to them are things like obsessing over the line breaks and asking them why they’re doing particular things instead of saying, oh you should be doing this. Ask them why they’re doing what the poem is doing. I think that’s one of the important things I try to keep in mind when editing, is I want to approach the poem on its own terms or on the writers on terms and not impose my own thinking or aesthetics on it. A couple of poems I’ve accepted are completely outside my own aesthetics. So, I don’t write anything like them, so I don’t want to impose anything that I would want to do on the writer’s work. So a lot of that has to do with just trying to give a writer my eyes to try on so I’ll show them what I’m noticing and what I’m asking why about. it and then let them answer once they’re able to see that. And a lot of this, too, comes from recognizing my own privilege as an editor, as someone who’s had a lot of academic training and a lot of literary training and a lot of experience as an editor in positions of sort of this weird power like this gatekeeper position, which I feel uncomfortable with sometimes but trying to share that with the writer and giving them agency within that structure, I think is really important to me. So if a writer gets back to me when I’ve given them comment saying, why do you have this word as your line break and not this one? And if to get back to me with a reason, then yeah, I’ve made them, I’ve kinda started this conversation about like line breaks and why we choose certain words to centre in different parts of the page or why we visually put weight on certain words, instead of just telling them, oh, like cut the line here. I think forwarding the education on how to look at poems that I’ve got is the only way that I can use that, because if I’m just keeping it to myself and then imposing it top-down, that feels really wrong, and also unfair to the writers.Rachel Thompson: I find that so generous what you’re saying. I love that. And I’m with you in terms of trying to meet the poem on its own terms and saying, Okay you’ve got this.Rebecca Salazar: Yeah, and so many times when I want to get an answer back and someone who tells me, Oh I was doing it for this reason, and this reason, it teaches me something, too, that I’ve never thought of.Rachel Thompson: Absolutely.Rebecca Salazar: It teaches me how people kinda think through poetry and how they structure their thinking or imagery, in ways that I might not have encountered before, that I’ve definitely learned a lot from.Rachel Thompson: Can you describe any works that stand out as important that you’ve published in Plenitude in your time there?Rebecca Salazar: So a lot of the work that comes to mind when I think about Plenitude, are before I was an editor I would see a writer whose writing I already had this sort of like poetry crush song come up on the website and be like fangirling in my own little corner about how, OK, this person is queer. We can identify over that. We have something in common, and then I would just like feel a lot closer to their work in that way. In terms of stuff that I have recently accepted for Plenitude since starting there, the first poem I accepted was “All you can eat oyster bar” by Sara Patterson, whose work, think I’d read an essay of hers before, but only realized this was by the same person after her publication. She wrote this kind of hilarious dark poem, that’s like a gory historicized version of a sort of weird sex scene with Elizabeth Stewart and Mary Queen of Scots and it’s got so much in it that I just did not expect. It surprised me in so many ways and that was one of the poems that I was definitely like one hundred percent certain on from the beginning. And getting to work with her on some really minor edits on that was so much fun. It just made me think so much about the way that she was using bodies and histories and there’s a lot of puns actually to craft this poem. Something else that’s forthcoming right now and, full disclosure this is a poem by someone I consider a friend. I have a poem that I recently accepted that isn’t up on the website yet called, White People Think I’m White Like and Eli Tareq Lynch, who is doing something really beautiful in this poem about white-passingness as a person of colour, as a mixed-race person, and how that intersects with queerness and transness in their experience. So, hoping people can look forward to that poem as well.Rachel Thompson: Do you know what the current acceptance rate of submissions is at Plenitude?Rebecca Salazar: I’m not sure what it is exactly. I don’t know numbers but I do know that we have a higher acceptance rate for Canadian writers purely based on the proportion of submissions we receive due to Canada Council requirements we have to publish a certain number of Canadian submissions, or Canada-based writers, in comparison to international or American. The problem right now is that a lot of the Americans submitting, well there’s a lot more of them. So we have to be a little bit harder on them and submissions that aren’t coming from Canada, which is sometimes really unfortunate, just because you’ll have really strong work that you just have to hold that a higher bar and that gets frustrating at times just because we have we can’t offer space to those writers as much. But I will say that there is a lot more room for Canada-based or Canadian writers to submit to Plenitude, in particular, I would really love to see more people of colour submitting, more trans people, and more disabled people submitting. Because those are still voices that are underrepresented in our submission pile.Rachel Thompson: That’s great to hear. And I guess it’s good news for the Americans who make it in to know that they’ve been selected from a larger pool, let’s say, but with a narrower selection. And I appreciate what you’re saying about wanting more writers of colour, and more disabled writers and more trans writers to submit as well. Now, I want to talk a little bit about contests before I let you go.Rebecca Salazar: Sure.Rachel Thompson: So, I know you’ve won some writing contests and I’m wondering if you can talk about the importance of contests for emerging writers.Rebecca Salazar: Yeah, I have some skepticism about contests. And I say this at risk of sounding really ungrateful for contests that have really helped me publish and kind of get my writing out there. I am really grateful for the fact that I’ve won a couple of contests and been shortlisted here and there. And I know how difficult that can be, particularly because it’s so subjective. Like every single judge in every contest is going to choose differently based on their aesthetic, their considerations, what they’re looking for in that particular moment, which might change if they were doing a contest in another place or time. So, I will say that contests are not an objective determinant of your writing and its value. They’re kind of just a flash in the pan and whatever sparks up, sparks up. And I have had the fortune of getting a couple of contest wins that, I think what I valued more than the win itself was getting to hear back from the judges, hearing their feedback. And, I will say that feedback is amazing and it validates you so much more than say the praise or the name being announced on Twitter and that sort of thing. That conversation is really what matters in them. I will say, mostly, I enter contests to get subscriptions to magazines because if you’re going to subscribe to something and be reading it, you may as well throw a poem at them while you’re at it. And while you’re at it and get a bit of a discount which is generally the case.Rachel Thompson: And support the magazines, too, a lot of the time that’s how they make their money, is on the contests.Rebecca Salazar: Yeah, definitely. That does support the magazines in a huge way. But one of the things that I become skeptical of then, is the sort of barrier that an entry fee puts up to a lot of marginalized writers, especially, that is going to disproportionately affect younger disabled people of colour, any writer with some kind of financial difficulty, so there’s a lot of exclusion happening right there. And I know that a few journals have started offering a certain number of free submissions to particularly Indigenous People, which is fantastic, but there isn’t enough of that sort of sliding scale of entry fees yet, or that adaptability to be able to invite more voices that are being excluded by the entry fee. And the expense thereof. I do kind of have this competitive, optimist streak, where I think that contests are a great idea. And I love the idea of kind of having someone get the privilege of reading all this poetry, as much as I know this is probably a ton of work. And just seeing what their tastes are like. I’ve definitely seen a lot of writers I admire judge contest recently and I’ve been so interested in what they select and why. So I think reading the contest results is more about that to me, is finding out, like, what are people paying attention to in poetry and why are they doing that? I do know that that can be at times problematic, also, though. I remember this article a few years ago, I think it was by Colin Folton, it was sort of a breakdown of the racial composition of contest of the winners and the judges, and it was overwhelmingly white. And I think a lot of that has to do with the barriers that the entry fee puts up and the sort of intimidating nature of our contest as a sort of competition for eliteness, which automatically is going to discourage anyone has been excluded from eliteness for whatever reason. So I think to a lot of people who hesitate to submit to contest I would say if you can afford it, please do, flood the submission piles with everything that isn’t expected or isn’t represented enough. That said, I also put the onus on all magazines and people who run contests to lower their submission fees or offer a sort of pay-what-you-can model if possible.Rachel Thompson: And, it’s also, I guess you’re saying and I would agree that it’s like that intimidation of the competition sometimes that becomes a barrier, the price becomes a barrier, but then what you’re talking about, too, in terms of the judges too if all the judges look a certain way in that old CanLit style, then they’re going to automatically deter people who are writing new stuff or reading from different experiences. So can you tell, before I let you go what other projects you are working on right now?Rebecca Salazar: Right now I’m working on a few different things in very developmental stages to the point of being like drafts I would never show anyone, even, people I workshop with. So, I’m working on a few nonfiction essays, one which has given me especially a lot of trouble, on sexual assault and sort of the context in the CanLit and #MeToo moment that’s happening right now, or maybe failing to happen right now. So that’s the one that can’t really be written at the moment. And that might take a couple of years to actually figure out how to write about. But I am also working on some poetry that is sort of adjacent to that. I had the chance for it now to work with Mallory Tator from Rahila’s Ghost Press. They recently accepted my second chapbook poetry, which is, I’m a little bit worried about it coming out into the world, because I basically just took all the poems that didn’t fit with the rest of my work that felt too angry or too traumatic or too traumatized to fit within my other writing and I put them in a pile and sent them off, and now they’re going to be printed and out in the world. So, I have so much so much love for Rahila’s Ghost and for Mallory (Tater) for taking it on and being willing to give that space.Rachel Thompson: All that sounds so wonderful, I wish you the best of luck and I would love to read these poems that are the ones that are too angry or too challenging. That sounds like it’s got all that urgency that we’re talking about. What other lit mags do you love that you want to give a shout-out to now?Rebecca Salazar: That’s a great question. I have to put in a plug for Sulphur the one that I started in Sudbury. They’re still going, and still run by students and it’s kind of a scrappy little thing that keeps going. I love seeing on an equal ground, I love seeing like small student-run or volunteer-run magazines, places like the Impressment Gang or Qwerty, which is based at UNB here, which I have also edited a few times. Qwerty just recently went back into print after being online for a little while, so they’re kind of building up to do bit new things as well. I’ll give a shout-out to Room, for sure, to PRISM. A friend of mine just started working at the Antigonish Review and Patrick O’Reilly he’s trying to really change the way that they accept work and really diversify the sort of vision that people have of the Antigonish Review, which is generally known to be a lot more old-fashioned, but he’s really working at expanding that. And, I love to see what he’s doing. There are really too many others to name, but shout out to any and all volunteer- run journals out there, because it is a hard job to do and particularly when you’re not being paid, or barely getting funding, or using your own out-of-pocket funds to print or publish online or however that’s working.Rachel Thompson: How can writers follow or connect with you?Rebecca Salazar: I am relatively active on Twitter, where I either rage post about CanLit, or just post ridiculous puns, but I can also be reached that way to have any kind of conversation. And my handle is @leonrxs.Rachel Thompson: Thank you so much for being my guest today, Rebecca.Rebecca Salazar: Thank you for having me.Rachel Thompson: So, that was my conversation with Rebecca Salazar, Associate Poetry Editor of Plenitude.As of this re-release, Plenitude is only accepting submissions by Canadian authors—includes Canadian citizens living in Canada or abroad; those who identify as Indigenous; and/or residents of Canada (temporary residents or refugees). That is only until October 1st, so listeners who don’t fit into this criteria you have until the prepare a submission for this journal that publishes queer literature, defined as works created by LGBTQ2S+ people, rather than works which feature queer content alone.Their guidelines also mention they are not interested in genre writing, political essays, or rants; but they recognize that LGBTQ2S+ experiences are often inherently political, so invite submissions that explore this through creative writing.They publish poetry, fiction, nonfiction, book reviews, and articles (you must query for the latter).Writers are paid $35 CAD per poem and $80 CAD per prose contribution (including book reviews and articles).You can find all their guidelines at plenitudemagazine.caThe post 20 // Plenitude’s Rebecca Salazar on Writing with Flash AND Fire [Replay] appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
3 Jun 2021
#51 The /tƐmz/ Review Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider on Good Ugliness
“We both really like having, essentially, the guts to look at not just issues in their full complexity, but also not to try to gloss over the ugliness.” —Amy Mitchell, The /tƐmz/ Review Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider speak with host Rachel Thompson about the introspection they want to see in political writing, the care and knowledge required to write about cultures, classes, and communities that you don’t belong to, and taking the risk to be ugly in writing. (And the surprising thing they discovered when they have published that ugly, risky writing.) Listen to learn about The /tƐmz/ Review, a quarterly online journal that publishes an eclectic mix of writing, and get inside tips on how to publish your writing with them. This episode is brought to you by the Writerly Love Membership Community.Links and Resources from this Episode: The /tƐmz/ Aaron Schneider’s website He Said I Can’t Breathe by Bola Opaleke https://www.thetemzreview.com/bola-opaleke.html The Apartment by Nina Dunic https://www.thetemzreview.com/nina-dunic.html Devil in the Woods, D.A. Lockhart https://www.brickbooks.ca/books/devil-in-the-woods/ Against the Romance of Community by Miranda Joseph https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/against-the-romance-of-community Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters sent every-other Thursday and filled with support for your writing practice at rachelthompson.co/letters Interview TranscriptRachelSo welcome to Write, Publish, and Shine, Aaron and Amy.AmyThanks for having us.AaronYeah, thank you so much.RachelI want to launch right into talking about the pandemic chapbooks that you produced that we spoke about outside of the podcast, before the podcast. So I know that there was fundraising involved and I’m just wondering what that experience was like for you and what you learned about your writing community through it.AmyYes, it was a really positive and eye-opening in a good way kind of experience. We weren’t really sure what kind of take? we were going to get on it initially. So we did two, the first one was just virtual. So like just a PDF. And the second one there was a printed version as well. It was available. So when we went into the first one, we weren’t even really sure if this was going to work or not. But we got a huge amount of interest and we didn’t limit it to Canadian writers so we had writers from all over the world and it was great. Because it was going to be a PDF, there weren’t serious length limits on it. So it wasn’t like we had to, you know pick and choose the 10 to 15 best entries because there’s a budget on what can be published in a print version. So we actually, it’s been quite some time now, so I need to pull it up to see exactly how many people we published. But it was a lot. And they’re from all over the world. The quality of the writing was really, really high. And yeah, there was just a lot of interest in it. And then when we had people buy them, they weren’t really like sending us funds or anything like that. What we had them do was send us a receipt for a charitable donation to something that’s sort of vaguely pandemic-related or for supporting vulnerable communities during the pandemic. Or they could send us a receipt for either supporting a local small bookstore or buying books at one. And again, there was like an incredible response to this. We got about five thousand dollars worth in donations from, again, like all over the world. So that, again, wasn’t coming to us. It was going out into charitable organizations and that kind of thing. There was just so much interest in it we decided to run it a second time. We paired up with Long Con magazine for it because they were relatively new at that point in time and they produced a second sort of online version and we produced a much smaller second chapbook that also had a printed copy that people could again purchase with the charitable receipts, and that drummed up another, I don’t know, thousand-ish dollars, in that range. By the time we hit the second one, it was kind of interesting because I feel like, you know we were a little bit further down the road into the pandemic. And I feel like people were kind of starting to get their first feeling of like, I’m pandemic-ed out at this point”. Little did we know. But anyway, that was, I think, a factor. There weren’t as many submissions, but again, the ones we got were super high quality and that’s why we decided to well, we might as well do a print version because there’s not as many this time around. And I would say, like overall, it was a really wonderful experience. We had people, you know, who it was incredible reading some of the emails because like, I can think of one person in particular or who sent a receipt into us who said and this was somebody actually living overseas, so they weren’t even in Canada. And they were like, “Yeah, so I lost my job because of the pandemic you know my partner has lost hers as well. So the two of us are kind of now poverty line and queer and unemployed. And but we just thought this was so important” and they gave a donation to a shelter and I guess like community support organization for street level sex workers. And I never dreamed we would get something like that from people, but they were so wonderful and they just wanted to try to help, even though they themselves were really struggling. So it was a really nice view on the international really English speaking writing community, because, again, it was uptake from all over the place. We had a lot of Canadians, but we had Americans. We had people who were in Africa, we had Indians. We had I think one or two Italians, like it was a lot of interest. And it was really incredible to see that all come together.AaronYeah, I think the only thing that I’d add to that is just the diversity. Like you were talking about, the geographical diversity of people who contributed. I think also just the diversity of kind of people in the literary community in terms of stages people are at, writers and levels of accomplishment. There were some really, really accomplished writers who donated their work, people who’ve been long listed for like major Canadian literary awards. At the same time, there were very, very early career writers, so it was just really cool to see the kind of full range of the community geographically, but also just in terms of what you think of it, like, you know, early to mid career to late career writers kind of pull together, to contribute.RachelI just love hearing about this and that experience that you had with bringing community together right in the summer of 2020. What I like too, is it illustrates like I’ve just been talking to different publications this year, obviously through this podcast, but how many of them are not explicitly not looking for pandemic stories or they’re kind of like talking about the timing of it. But it just seems to me that, you know, you went a different way where you you just pulled these stories in, right while we’re kind of in the middle of it and I’m wondering, what did you find about the work itself, you know, that was explicitly on the pandemic? And was there anything, I guess, that surprised you about the writing that you received, apart from what you said already about people being at different stages of their writing careers?AmyI think one interesting thing in terms of just sort of themes across the poetry was that we were, on the whole, not very far into the pandemic at that point in time. So it was like people were submitting in March of 2020. So it wasn’t even for us in Ontario, you know, we still had normal life for a week or two before that came to a screeching halt in March. Like we knew it was coming. But the point was, nobody really knows what it’s going to feel like until you’re kind of into it. And this work was submitted very early on. So the interesting thing was that you got this kind of cross section of how people are feeling about it when it’s a new event that has just hit the world and that none of us in living memory have experienced before so like not on a world wide scale. So there was a lot of balancing between like sort of uncertainty and feeling like there’s you know there’s a threat out there, but at the same time, trying to be positive and kind of remind people that no matter how bad this is, we are going to come out the other side of it and normal life will return. And then there were a lot of people who were kind of just like sort of in the middle between the two extremes of being really concerned about it versus trying to be very like, let’s look ahead to when this is over. There were a lot of people in the middle who the work, I think just kind of captured their emotional state and that kind of uncertainty and that first feeling of like, I can’t go near people anymore. You know, I can think of, again, one home that I’m pretty sure was in the first one. It included things like hearing your neighbors moving around you if you’re an apartment building or if you’re outside, like hearing them doing things in their yards. But like, you can’t directly talk to them anymore. And the way the writers wrote about this also spanned a bunch of different approaches where we had very sort of straightforward poetry. I don’t want to say that in a bad way. I mean, poetry that is, you know, not particularly experimental, but is focused more on sound and content of that kind of thing still. And then we had stuff that was very experimental. We had some realist stuff all the way to the somewhat sort of spec inflected things. Like it was just really interesting because it was just that cross section of like, how are people feeling? And it was still a new experience for all of us. And I think that’s part of what drove sort of the interest. I’ve noticed that in terms of pandemic related stuff that’s submitted to, say, our journal issues now when we’re like a year down the road in this, we’re further in some regions, there’s actually significantly fewer submissions that deal directly with the pandemic. I think that people are a) getting kind of exhausted and b) waiting until it’s over at this point to kind of do a let’s look back and sum it up a little more definitively kind of thing. So the pandemic chapbooks, they were useful, obviously, for the charitable stuff, which is absolutely wonderful, but they also are really interesting in that they do capture the various mindsets that people were in again around the world when this just started.RachelYou enjoy publishing work that speaks to the moment at the Temz. So this is kind of like what you do. So you had this moment to kind of capture speaking to the moment. Can you tell our listeners more about your experience with publishing other work that feels pressing and like other moments that I guess that you’re speaking to in your journal?AaronI’m not sure that I can think of a specific example in the sense of pointing to like a work that we’ve published that was kind of immediate and urgent. Well, maybe not, did publish a, and again this was one of the issues, I think, last summer, but it might have been last fall or last spring. It was a really, really cool story that was in the form of a flowchart, like a decision tree almost. And it was about, this is probably coming to mind because it’s pandemic related, but it was kind of about that but it was specifically about the experience of being trapped in lockdown with an abusive partner. And it was both kind of innovative, but also just a really important exploration of an experience that far too many people were having.AmyYeah. So there is one piece that I can think of that actually was our fastest acceptance ever. This was, by the way, while the journal was very new, this came out in issue two. So it wasn’t the same volume of submissions that we’re getting now. If we hadn’t noticed it now, we also would have snapped it up immediately. But in this time we were like, there’s just not quite as many that were coming in. But this was for issue two and it’s by and I apologize to him in advance, I’ve never heard his name spoken so I’m probably saying this wrong but, Bola Opaleke, who’s based in Winnipeg. And he wrote this poem, a fantastic called, “He Said I Can’t Breathe”. And it was for Erica Garner. And it came in and we opened the submission just out of curiosity, because it was like, oh, here’s another one, because you know the journal’s very new then and it was coming in steady drips, not in like and now you have three hundred poetry submissions for this issue. So we opened it and then we were like, holy crap, this is good. Basically immediately sent him an acceptance email for that. So I think what I would say in terms of you know does it immediately speak to the moment. We are definitely open to stuff that does that, for sure. And it is interesting to find things that too have that directly real life connection. At the same time, though, I have like once now, the journal has grown a lot more, and there’s hundreds upon hundreds of submissions for each issue and you can see trends a little bit more in terms of how people are submitting and what they’re submitting. I can see in the submissions some of the stuff that tries to get very directly at what’s going on right now. In terms of and now I am going to teach you a lesson about X often isn’t all that well executed and there are huge exceptions to that. We have had fantastic poetry, we’ve had as Aaron said like, prose. We’ve certainly had, by the way, a number of spec pieces that we’ve published that are very much related to, say, the culture in the States right now. And you know it’s filtered through obviously a spec lens. But you can still see it’s about white Christian American nationalism and that kind of thing. So there are really good pieces but I would say that a lot of them actually feel to me like they’re trying to teach a lesson about what’s going on right now and they tend to be a little too neat, if that makes sense. That’s the one issue that I can see with stuff that is trying to be very, very tuned into the moment. When people really do really well with work, that you can see the connections with things happening right now it tends to be more complex and nuanced rather than being like, and now I am going to give you such and such a lesson about this particular issue. And it’s not so much the lesson’s bad and in a lot of cases it’s really good and it’s a message that we would support. But it’s just the art essentially has suffered a little bit because it got kind of shoehorned into that direction, if that makes sense.RachelYeah, it’s great. I was going to ask you, what are the things that you’re seeing in the work that does succeed? And I love that you’re saying there’s complexity to it, there’s nuance to it. Is there anything else that you would say to writers who I guess want to write about the moment or write about important issue based writing that would make it more received, I guess, by you, more positively received?AmyI would personally say that the emotion in it needs to be real, not a sort of one removed so that I can teach you again a lesson about something. If it has the emotional complexities of the real world. I find that’s what really moves it sort of into the next category where you get not just, again, the message, but also the tethering directly to how people are actually feeling and thinking and experiencing these events. In all the complexities of those responses. Aaron, would you add anything to that?AaronYeah, I actually would. I’d say that you’re absolutely correct, the emotion needs to be there as well. I also think that people need to think about when they’re writing that kind of political stuff, they need to think about the positionality. I think, obviously, for the kind of political reasons, we get occasionally stories honestly about subjects that should not be written by that author. And that can be a problem with it, head in the direction of significant amounts of appropriation and they bear the marks of people who are writing about stuff that doesn’t belong to them. But I also think that people should think about that positionality in terms of the way it pushes you in directions of really fascinating subject matter that we don’t hear about very much. I think when people are doing political writing, a lot of the political writing we get is very much focused on one side of that. You think of this, you’re dealing with an unpleasant situation, a difficult situation, the kind of thing that people address in political writing, you end up with an equation that really simplistically has kind of victims on one side and perpetrators on the other. It is almost unheard of for us to get work that, not almost entirely unheard of, but it’s really rare to get work by someone who looks at the one side of that equation, which is the side of the perpetrators, and asks questions about where that comes from, interrogates their own complicity, et cetera. So I guess this is sort of a long winded way of me saying that if it comes to political writing, one of the things that I personally would like to see more of, and I think it would be really refreshing to see more of in the submission pile, is the kind of writing that takes a long, hard look at where the writer themself is coming from and their relationship to the issue they’re trying to address, because that’s rare, I think.RachelMore introspection, basically.AaronYeah, I think so. More introspection and introspection with that kind of political dimension layered over it.AmyI think I would also add, and this is a bit of a gamble for writers, because sometimes places don’t want things that they perceive as a downer. But I also personally really like pieces that are not afraid to look at various really problematic cultural stuff in all of its ugliness. There was a story we published called The Apartment by Nina Dunic. I think it’s in issue 9 but I’m not 100 percent on that. Anyway it’s about essentially like the masculine gaze and the kind of really oppressive environment that this creates for women. And it’s this kind of creepy story about a guy who likes to watch a woman in the office apartment and then he actually starts like a relationship with her and it’s gross, you know. But it does a wonderful job of getting at and not like glossing over precisely how gross that kind of approach to women is. And the reason I said this is a bit of a gamble for authors, as that I remember her saying that, you know, we snapped it up and we were like, oh, this is fantastic, right, and we nominated it for like the Journey Prize and stuff too. But she had submitted it to a lot of places before, and it was no right across the board, I think, because it was perceived as there is not much that’s redeeming about it, shall we say. But in a good way. So like Aaron and I both really like that as well, like having essentially the guts to look at not just issues in their full complexity, but also not to try to gloss over the ugliness, too.AaronYeah, absolutely. And even if you don’t accept a story or a poem, it’s always really genuinely refreshing to read something that takes a risk. And as Amy just pointed out, like that story, it took a long time for it to find a home because it took that risk so that there are drawbacks to it. But from the perspective of an editor, I think even if something isn’t successful, it’s frankly just more pleasant and more refreshing to read someone that’s just trying it and seeing if it works.AmyIt was issue eight, by the way. I was almost right.RachelOkay cool. We’ll put it in the show notes anyway so people can click and read. I’m building a list here, so like you’re looking for work when it’s political anyway, with introspection in the political layer, work that takes a risk is very welcome there. Not necessarily positive. So I think that’s actually one that a lot of writers will perk up at because I think that it’s a common story of people or not work getting accepted because it’s too dark, quote, unquote.AmyYa.RachelOr maybe it takes that kind of risk, but it’s not being received in the way that obviously you’re receiving it. What are some of the things that you’re seeing too much of at your journal? Sometimes these can be really specific and so I like being able to share that with writers too.AaronI’ll take a start. The first one, and this is something that I’ve talked about a lot. And like I, I worked on a journal before this, so I had a bunch of experience going through submissions before Amy did. I think I, Amy, I told you this and you kind of didn’t believe me. And then you were just really surprised by how true it is. And that is just if you’re doing a story, don’t start it with the protagonist waking up and making coffee. And it sounds like the most precise and specific kind of thing. I say that I think people haven’t read submissions, like haven’t read through a slush pile think to themselves, like how many stories can start out, like really how many? And the answer is far, far too many.AmyYeah, I think it’s a peculiar version of kind of wheel spinning with people who aren’t necessarily sure how to get going, but it can get like really dragged out. It can be pages sometimes that amount to, and then he woke up and then he turned the alarm off, then he wandered into the kitchen and then, and it just goes on and on and on and on like that. At this point, unless there’s something really exciting happens with the coffee, it’s probably not a great submission. Or rather, I would say it’s more a sign of people who are just starting out in the same way that like student essays, particularly among like first-year students, and this is not their fault, it’s just the process you go through right. When you’re starting out there is that, I don’t know how to start my essay, right, and a lot of flailing that happens that we can put in various categories that profs are familiar with. But this is kind of the like creative writing equivalent of that, I feel like. If you open that way, maybe ask yourself if you can just cut that scene and just get closer to, like when things actually start to happen.AaronYeah, absolutely.AmyOh, one thing, Rachel, if I could just add in on your point about that there isn’t necessarily that much reception for, like, the ugly stuff out there in journals. The interesting thing is that readers love it. It gets a huge amount of interest because people are like, I can connect with this. This is what I experienced. This is how bad it was. So it’s weirdly the editors who are a little bit reluctant to go there, but there are definitely readers for it. But yeah, in terms of like the stuff that’s kind of we get too much there is too much of that sort of realist boiling, I guess, at the beginning of the stories, unless if, you know, what you’re doing and you’re deliberately playing with this, rhyming poetry is not really going to work at this stage of the game. And again, I feel bad singling some of this out because these are people who are just starting and like we have had people who have submitted issue after issue after issue after issue. And the first few times they did I thought they’ll never get in and then suddenly they do, right. So people do really improve. But also I like rhyming poetry, love poetry. It’s hard to do something new in that particular genre. Break up poetry. It’s hard not to be like a sad 16 year old, kind of how you come across, also a decent number of stories and poems where there’s really kind of nothing at stake in them.AaronI think I’d also add if people are going to write about a group that they don’t belong to, they should think about that. And I think when I say that people think about like appropriation of voice, they’ll think, for example, about white writers writing about non-white characters. But one of the ones, that particular examples of this that, you see consistently and I find particularly grating is the tendency for very obviously middle class writers to write a story often in the first person from a lower class or poor protagonist using or attempting a kind of vernacular. That aim is to capture the way poor people speak. And I say poor people very deliberately because what they end up producing is not anything that is realistic or effective. It ends up being a kind of caricature of poverty. And that’s a story actually that you see surprisingly often.AmyYeah, those stories never actually capture the rhythms of that speech either. I would be very excited that somebody actually gets the idiom correct, because probably it’s their background. But these just come off as this stereotype, like, this is what I think people talk like in, I don’t know, a Steinbeck novel, right?AaronYeah, no, I think most of the stuff I’ve ever read like that falls really flat. It comes in submissions. I think if people are wondering what I mean by, like, actually gets it. Daniel Lockhart’s book of poetry, The Devil in the Woods, has a speaker who comes from a relatively low class background. And he exactly nails that way of talking. The idioms, the expressions and most of the stuff that we get in that vein falls really flat in comparison to something like that and comes off as artificial and really fundamentally unsuccessful. So if someone’s going to do something like that, I wouldn’t say don’t, but just think really carefully about it and make sure that you have the grounding necessary to be able to do justice to the voice that you’re trying to write in.RachelIt strikes me that perhaps whenever it comes to appropriation of voice or race, as you mentioned, or class, it seems to me that to be able to write outside of your experience really requires like a deep love and connection and understanding of a community to capture the voice in a way that isn’t, like you said, like a cartoon or or some kind of performance. I’m wondering if you would say that’s true of the Daniel Lockhart book? It’s like, you can kind of feel the resonance with that speaker.AaronYeah, I think so. Yeah, resonance, I think, in his case, and I want to be really careful not to speak for him here, there’s drawing on a substantial amount of experience there as well, but I think people need that connection. I would say, yeah, there needs to be a deep love and care for that community. I would add to that as well, there needs to be a lot of knowledge. Care and empathy is the starting point, I would say, to build that knowledge. But there really does, to write from a perspective that isn’t your own, you need to not just care about that group, but also really understand them in a deep way that requires like a lot of learning and time.AmyYeah I think too I would add also understanding that again, of the complexities of life too, there’s a lot of stuff that is essentially just the literary equivalent of touring around and, like look at how bad these poor people have it, let’s like misery tourism essentially in like literary form. And A, it’s not interesting to read, but B, it’s incredibly offensive to those communities, people who come from supposedly bad neighborhoods or come from really poor environments or far flung reservations that haven’t been kept up well, like that kind of thing, because of the stupid federal government, but anyway, but like when people who are not from those communities write about that, it tends to be very like, let’s look at how sad this situation is. And like obviously the people who live in those communities are like, yeah, there’s a lot of challenges, there’s a lot of crap that should not be here, it’s not just, but we’re also not simply a spectacle, essentially. We’re also complex, lively communities that are resilient and that have a lot of positives going on in them, too, so like, that’s another tendency I see, when people kind of write about groups that they have really no meaningful connection with. Sometimes it just turns into, I’m just going to tell you this litany of horrible things about this situation and the people who actually live there are rightfully not happy about it. I’ve seen couple academic articles on like that saying that there’s way too much focus on, yeah, essentially just misery tourism in literary form.RachelI haven’t heard that expression before, but I think that really summarizes how the detriment of, I guess, that middle class, often white middle class case, I guess, over where those communities and you’re mentioning academic articles. I know you also mentioned you both teach writing. I’m wondering maybe I’ll point this to Aaron first and then Amy, but what information or ideas are you bringing from the classroom to the lit mag and vice versa? Is there an overlap between those two professions?AaronI’m not sure that I bring much from my teaching to the lit mag, but I think because I do teach a lot of different writing courses at Western and some of them are things like science writing courses and there’s shockingly not a lot of overlap between a lit mag and a science writing course. But I do also teach things like first year creative writing, and I think that being involved in the republishing of this kind of levels allows me to kind of give students a lot of really helpful and useful information. You know, the kind of stuff that I say about how to think about submissions, how maybe not to start a story, this is the stuff the material that I share with my students. So I think that from an instructor’s perspective, it’s really useful to do this work outside of the university because it makes my classroom, I think, a richer learning environment for my students. I’m not really sure that my teaching comes into play that much with the literary journal. The transfer happens mostly in one direction, in some ways. How do I say this? Marking student work is wonderful, but it’s student work and it’s often really refreshing and it feels like a little bit of a vacation to be able to open up like the Temz Review submissions and read work that is, in a lot of cases no longer student work. It’s by people who are further along in terms of their development as writers who are more accomplished, who are more skilled, who are producing work that’s more polished. And so, from my very specific individual perspective, it’s really just kind of refreshing to be able to engage with that work outside of my teaching. So I think doing the work on the journal really is helpful for my teaching, but I’m not sure that teaching as much the journal outside of making it a lot of fun.AmyI can think of one specific thing that actually flows from the journal into my teaching. So I do not teach creative writing classes. I’m teaching writing courses and sort of higher end research courses for the most part. So no creative components in there. But I have a lot of international students, which is typical of many institutions at this point in time. It’s wonderful to have people from all over the globe in your classroom. But there’s one interesting thing that comes up, and that’s before I did the journal. I don’t think I had a sufficient grasp of the different kind of registers and conventions of English as it is conventionally spoken around the world. Like I had the perspective on essentially like North American, a really sort of business English words like get some point right where you want to go for efficiency. We love efficiency, right. Don’t do something that’s going to overcomplicated at least the style level. And yet there are these other huge, huge cultures, much, much larger population wise than say poor little Canada, like I’m thinking Nigeria and India in particular here, where the kind of English that’s used in writing and in literature and also in documents and business, it tends to be a much more from my perspective, it looks kind of like more ornamental, more interested in the textures of the words and the beauty of the language rather than just kind of the like, let’s just get down to the point here. And I feel like I would have, before, before I got involved in the journal, I would have students who would come from these kinds of cultures and I’d be like writing on their papers that, you know, this is awkward or this is too complicated, you know, you really need to simplify your language down, et cetera, et cetera. and I didn’t really fully grasp the fact that this was actually the kind of, it was standard written English from the cultures they were in. And it’s a hundred percent legitimate, right. So now I feel that I can talk to them, much more humility, I guess, and with greater understanding of it about the different kinds of registers of English for different cultural conventions and business and what it would sound like here versus what it would sound like there, et cetera, et cetera. And I could just talk to them more about and see examples like, you know, I’ve read so many submissions from somewhere from whichever country you come from and I understand that this is the way you would be expected to write in English, right. And here, because there’s cultural differences, the emphasis has shifted. But I feel like I can talk much more, I guess respectfully, and have more appreciation for those kinds of differences rather than just kind of going like, why is this all so complicated? Just get right to the point, right. Whereas that’s really just the sort of cultural convention. So I think it’s really enriched my teaching in that way. It’s also stopped me from revising out that kind of language from students work if it can possibly be preserved and still kind of meet North American business dimensions. It’s made me a little humbler and a little more, I guess, open to how English is actually used around the world as opposed to how we think it’s used in textbooks in North America.RachelThat surprises me. I didn’t expect that. That’s really cool. And can you tell me about because I know you’re also you’re an editor who doesn’t write or will no longer write. And I’m wondering about the perspective you bring to editing as a former or no longer writer.AmyYeah, so I don’t write and I love to read, and I think it’s actually kind of freeing for me to edit from that perspective because I’m at one remove from it, right. I’m not also playing the submissions game and that kind of thing. So it’s easier for me to just take a step back and be like what’s really well done in here and then have the satisfaction of writing and publishing it because I’m not going to be publishing my own stuff.RachelMust be also kind of freeing to not be in like the comparison trap that we all can fall into with our own writingAmyYeah it’s absolutely true, like, I don’t have to overthink it because I don’t have that stake in the game, I guess. It’s also just a nice way to be involved in literature as it’s happening right now, despite being somebody who does not, you know I don’t do creative writing. So but I love to read so this gets me close to the community without doing my own writing.RachelAnd picking up from both of these, I mean, so much care for your contributors. And I know you mentioned you’ve had way more submissions now than when you first started. You’ve gained a reputation, obviously, as a place that people want to send their work to and that they can trust you with it. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit more, I guess, about your journey as a lit mag and how the quality of your submissions too, I guess, has improved over these years as well.AaronYeah, it has. I mean, like the key to this magazine’s existence has been Twitter because we started it, and there’s always just a period when you start something like this, it’s the same because we publish chapbooks as well, it’s exactly the same experience. You open the submissions and then you start to try to promote it. You’re just wondering, will anyone submit? Will we get submissions? And initially there was a lot more than we expected, but much less than we get now. We published our first submission, both for the chapbooks for the journal, obviously you get that first one in both of those cases, it was like, oh, right, this will work. Initially it was probably Amy, did we make a hundred submissions for our first issue?AmyNo, maybe like, fifty some?AaronYeah. And then it’s kind of steadily grown from there. I think probably we get around between three to five hundred submissions per issue at this point. That varies from issue to issue and it kind of varies in terms of whether we get more prose, one issue or more poetry another. And the quality has been kind of ever increasing. One of the things that I would say is that if you feel like you’re kind of hunting trends, but just, you know, for a couple issues, the prose would be a little bit weaker and then it’ll be a little bit stronger for a few issues. So there’s kind of variations like that. But on the whole, it’s an upward trend. I think the one thing that I would say in terms of the quality of the submissions, I think is pretty consistently true. There is so much really genuinely extraordinary poetry out there. Poetry submissions were relatively strong from the beginning and have simply moved from strength to strength. So there’s just I think this is really encouraging for poetry. It also means poetry is just very competitive, but really, really strong poetry submissions. Amy?AmyThe one big difference from my perspective is just that the amount of good stuff that is submitted is ever increasing, whether it is poetry or in his prose, like the stuff we published in issue one, I would still publish now, like, it’s not like, you know, they made the cut because they were competing in a smaller group. Like the stuff for the earlier issues is really, really good, too. And I would probably take it right now. But the decisions are getting harder and harder as you get more and more submissions coming in. There’s more and more people who are kind of in that top layer.AaronYeah, I think if you want a simple illustration of it, in the first issue, we put together the issue and I don’t think there was any debate about what we’re going to publish. We had enough to create the first issue. And like Amy said, it was really great stuff that would get published now. But there was no sort of sitting there thinking, well, we have space for ten pieces, we’ve got eleven. Which one do we cut? And now if you’re going to put an issue together, you’ll gather something like maybe you want to publish, I can’t remember what the number is off the top of my head, but say fifteen pieces or fifteen authors, because for poetry it’s sometimes several poems, you can create a long list that’s potentially forty five pieces or authors long and kind of pare it down from there. And you know, that’s where we’re at. So it’s a lot of very, very difficult decisions at this point. I mean, it’s a difficult, difficult, but also really good decisions because it’s really nice to be in the position where you’re choosing from so much strong work.RachelI love that. Well, I’m going to move us into the quick lit round that I ask all my guests at the end. So I’m going to ask you to finish the following sentences. The first is being a writer is…AmyI don’t even know where to start. Aaron, you’re the writer.AaronI’m not going to give a better answer than you are. Being a writer is individual maybe, different for everyone? I don’t know. I’m so uncomfortable with a sweeping statement like that.RachelYou’re dismantling my quick lit question. It’s good, I like it. Lliterary magazines are…AaronLiterary magazines are essential. This is where, like the English prof in me comes out, that I’m just like, anyone with a glancing familiarity with kind of literary history for the past two hundred and twenty years will understand the just crucial role small magazines play in conveying new kinds of writers, new ways of writing new ideas about writing, which sounds incredibly presumptuous, and it’s probably not what we’re managing to do, but literary journals and magazines in general, kind of, I think do, and why they’re just incredibly important.RachelEditing requires…AmyI think I would say, openness to that one, openness to styles and genres you personally don’t perhaps like, but being able to see when someone else is doing it well and also not trying to turn writers submissions kind of vaguely into your own voice, if you know what I mean. Cause you can send edits, particularly in poetry, that will move poems more towards how a particular writer or editor would do it themselves, and I don’t think that’s the point of publishing, honestly.AaronYeah, I would second that. I’d say like a willingness and a desire to understand exactly in line with what you said, Amy, just to want to and to be able to see what a writer is trying to do with a piece and help them move it in that direction so it gets closer to what they want it to be and to avoid moving it or turning it into something that you want it to be. I think it’s essential to being a good editor.RachelRejection for a writer means…AmyI almost want to say it means nothing, to be honest. I mean, there are so many venues out there right now that will publish anything like ranging from stuff that I personally would think is unpublishable for any number of reasons to stuff that really are very much not that. And I don’t know. It’s the twenty first century. There’s so many like online lit mags and stuff like that. I feel like if you’re willing to put some of the work in and try to hit as many places as might be, open your pieces as possible and also you are continuously working on improving your own writing like, I think you’ll find a home for some of it. Certainly getting rejected from The Temz Review does not necessarily mean anything at this point. Like, as Aaron was saying, if you’ve got that so-called short list of like 40 poets that have to be chopped down, the people who get those rejections, it really does not reflect at all on the quality or published ability of their work.AaronYeah, and I think that rejection’s never fun. But I understand that when you say to someone like you shouldn’t take rejection personally, but that’s a very easy thing to say and maybe not as easy a thing to put into practice. But given the number of submissions that, for example, we get, it really is important. Like a rejection doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t quality because it’s a question of what’s going to work for that particular issue. It’s a question of all of the other submissions we’ve gotten for that issue. It doesn’t mean that the ideas or the project or the work that someone is doing doesn’t have merit. So I would hope that anyone who submitted and got rejected from The Temz Review wouldn’t take that as a sign that they shouldn’t submit again in the future, because that is very much not what it means. So a rejection is not a kind of absolute or permanent no, it’s just a no for this issue.RachelWonderful. And I think the evidence is there with you talking about people who’ve submitted several times and then developed as writers and eventually were published with you.AaronYeah.AmyOh yeah, and some of these people were like nine, 10, 11 times, like a lot. I can’t speak for how other editors react to this, but I personally get excited for them when they’ve been doing that because, like, I’m I’m pulling for them and it’s like I’m like I can see you’re getting there, but you’re not quite there. But you try and then they do. And then and then they get there. And I’m like, yes, so.AaronYeah, absolutely, one hundred percent, that’s one of the best things. I mean, like, if you see someone that, you know, submitted multiple times and they submit a piece that makes that improvement, that sort of goes that extra little bit mile, that extra bit better, it’s just really cool to see that. You talked about or asked a question earlier about the connection between editing and teaching. And this isn’t so much like a interchange between the two of them, but it’s one thing that you share. And that is like if you’re a teacher and editor, what makes it worthwhile in some ways is seeing someone improve. Right. And make that step up, seeing that kind of journey not necessarily completed, but then reach a new stage of it. And yeah, so like Amy, you start to let people, I can’t remember his name, but someone I think it was his ninth or tenth time, and it was just really cool to see him grow and develop over those submissions and to finally publish something because it was like, oh, wow, you made that improvement. And it’s just yeah, it’s the kind of thing that makes it worthwhile.RachelLovely. We’re giving my quick lit round a bad name, but, writing community is…AmyI mean, if you want to really boil it down, I guess you could say it’s necessary, right, like, I think a lot of people would really, really struggle on their own and in the writing community as a whole, tends to be quite affirming and supportive of people. But again, people are people, so various writing communities are not necessarily all like that. But I think that if you can find one that works well for you, it really adds a lot.AaronYeah, I would echo that. I think writing community is essential, but I have a book on my shelves called Against the Romance of Community that pushes back against the uncritical belief in the goodness of community because communities are vital and necessary and supportive. But they can also exclude and I would say that I think a lot of people have the experience of being excluded in one way or the other. And I hope that no one gets discouraged. But I would say that this is one of the wonderful things about being an online journal and also just having the Internet. And that is that every time someone feels like they’re excluded from the community, it’s important to recognize that they’re not the only one. There are people out there who share that experience and are willing to share it with them and form a community with them.RachelWow, that’s a really thoughtful answer to that question. Thank you.AmyAnd if anybody wants a quick route to, like a really affirming literary community, get involved with American social media, literary communities, again, some of them are going to be really terrible. But on the whole, they actually do a really good job of really celebrating people’s wins and supporting each other and doing it really openly and on social media. That’s just the interesting thing that I’ve noticed. We have a lot of connections now with a bunch of different communities and the Americans are very, very supportive and let’s go everybody, kind of thing. Again not all writing communities, right, there’s some terrible ones, but yeah, that’s just a kind of fun, little cultural difference I’ve noticed.RachelYeah. I mean, not so fun, I guess, because what you’re saying is the Canadian side is less so probably but I think that’s really cool.AmyNot like, not less so in reality they’re simply less diffusive online.RachelYeah, yeah.AmyThat’s what it comes down to. But if you really need like a real kind of pick me up, the Americans can do that.RachelWell, I want to thank you both for being my guest on the Write, Publish, and Shine podcast. I really appreciate your time and your attention and just all of the thoughtfulness that went into your answers and obviously into your literary work at the Temz.AaronThank you so much for having us. It was a real pleasure.AmyYes. Thank you.RachelSo, that was my conversation with Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider of The /tƐmz/ Review.If you were keeping track like I was, you’ll now have them on your list as a place to send introspective political writing, writing that takes risks, writing that is not afraid to be ugly.I love that they found it is the editors and not the readers who dislike the writing that goes to dark places.You’ll also have noted not to open your piece with the main character making their morning coffee!I know there are rebels out there who will say, “challenge accepted” and will write a story that entirely centres around that morning cuppa jo. If that is you—let me know how that goes.But, of course, the bigger point they were making is to edit out that throat-clearing, early writing that probably got you into a story but that you can extract in revision.Also on their no-go list were rhyming poetry, love poetry, break-up poetry and work with nothing at stake in them.And writing about a community you don’t belong to—if you don’t have the deep care and knowledge required to do this.In addition to what we can glean from our conversation, submission guidelines for The /tƐmz/ Review state that their preference is for the strange, the experimental and the boundary-pushing.As of this episode release they ARE open for submissions. (In this pandemic-year plus, you probably noticed that a lot of places have closed temporarily for submissions. But The /tƐmz/ Review will be taking your submissions for their next issue up until July 1, again as of this recording.)They publish prose (fiction and creative non-fiction) up to 10,000 words and “will consider pieces longer than 10,000 words, but they need to earn their length!” They are also flash-friendly, in that if you submit work that is under 1000 words, you can submit several pieces.They take poetry, too with a preference that submissions be 10 pages or fewer—but again open longer submissions that “earn their length.”They also publish reviews and information on how to query them to become a reviewer appears on their website.For both prose and poetry, they pay $20 Cdn and you can submit through Moksha without needing to create an account. (They do not, and will never, charge fees to submit.) The post 51 // The /tƐmz/ Review Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider on Good Ugliness appeared first on Rachel Thompson Writing Courses.
20 May 2021