The Lit Mag Love course is open for registration right now and this episode is slightly different in that you will get to peek behind the curtain of the Lit Mag Love course. Each session, we host editor Q&A calls where writers in the course community come live to hear me first interview the editor and then ask their own questions.
So you’ll hear Mark Drew of the Gettysburg Review in this episode answering questions from the live cohort who came to our call.
When you’ll listen you’ll note right away that this call happened in the first year of the pandemic and you’ll get an editor’s perspective on the kind of reflection missing from most writing in the moment, at least for this particular journal. And you’ll hear about the kinds of work Gettysburg accepts the qualities of the work they look for and learn more about the editorial experience you’ll get should you place work with them.
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Episode #59 Transcript
Transcript for Episode 59 – Mark Drew
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Introduction to the Lit Mag Love Course and Interview with Mark Drew
|Changes at the Gettysburg Review over time
|Qualities the Gettysburg Review looks for in submissions
|Editorial process at the Gettysburg Review
|Example of a recently accepted piece
|Impact of the pandemic on submissions and turnaround time
|Types of writing published and preferences
|Advice for emerging and mid-career writers
|Editor’s preferences for longer works and how the Gettysburg Review is a good place to submit novellas and longer short stories
|Does the editor notice trends in experimental vs traditional styles based on a writer’s age?
|Do you prefer traditional poetry over experimental styles, and how does this preference influence your reading and publishing choices?
|Questions about submitting haiku, tanka and other short Japanese forms
1. Introduction to the Lit Mag Love Course and Interview with Mark Drew
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.
Because the Lit Mag Love Course is open for registration right now, this episode is slightly different, and you will get to peek behind the curtain of my Lit Mag Love Course.
In each session, we host Editor Q&A calls, where writers in the course community come live to hear me first interview the editor, and then ask their own questions. So, you’ll hear Mark Drew of the Gettysburg Review in this episode, answering questions from the live cohort who came to our call, in this call, there were so many that they put them into the chat. And I’m the one that asked them. So, you’ll hear me mentioning someone’s name and saying,
“Oh, this person asked this.”
And Mark answered all of these questions. When you listen, you’ll note right away that this call happened in the first year of the pandemic, because of some of the context in our conversation. And you’ll get an editor’s perspective on the kind of reflection missing from most writing in this moment when we were really in the thick of things, at least for this particular journal. And you’ll hear about the kinds of work Gettysburg accepts, the qualities of the work they look for. And you’ll also learn more about the editorial experience you’ll get, should you place your work with them.
So, I’m going to begin by introducing you Mark based on things I found on the internet so you can feel free to update if you prefer to let us know something else. The Gettysburg Review has actually been around since 1988. But you started there in 1998. You were first the Assistant Editor and now you’re currently the editor, and you have an AA, but I actually don’t know what that is. I’m feeling very ignorant right now.
I have an Associate’s as well a Bachelors. What it means that I went to community college for a couple of years after high school.
Okay, great. Then you also have an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama. And you have been awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize, and you also served as Managing Editor and Editor of the Black Warrior Review. That’s another publication I’m hoping to be interviewing soon. That staff rotates every year as what I understand. Then you also taught in American Literature and Creative Writing as an Adjunct Instructor and developed an abiding affection for Crimson Tide baseball and Southern BBQ. Very cool. He has had poems appear in the Gettysburg Review, Lament, and Mankato Poetry Review and elsewhere and has published a limited-edition, letterpress chapbook, titled: Uncertainties.
2. Changes at the Gettysburg Review over time
Welcome to the Lit Mag Love course conversation and I guess one thing that I immediately want to ask when I look at a journal, like the Gettysburg Review that’s been around for a while is, what has been the experience for you on the ground of change since starting there in 1998. Looking back, and what things were when you started and how they are now. What are things that come to mind immediately?
Well, it’s a mixed bag of things. First off, thanks for having me. I enjoy doing these things. But it’s a mixed bag of things that have changed over the years, from nuts-and-bolts stuff, like our budget and staff shrinkage to the development of our digital edition. But by and large, I mean, the magazine has maintained consistency in terms of its appearance. I mean, we’ve had one redesign over the years. And that was- I’m looking up on my shelf. The first issue of the redesign came in the summer of 2002. And we’ve kept that design since 2002. And like I said, the digital edition we developed thinking about four or five, six years ago now kind of blurs together to me, after I’ve taken over for Peter Stitt, the founding editor. He gets so enmeshed in doing the day-to-day stuff that those seemingly small and sometimes very big changes just get a little blurry. But the digital was pretty profound.
Peter was always reluctant to do any form of electronic publishing. I think his fear was that if somebody got a hold of a PDF copy of it, that it would just simply be replicated, and people would no longer purchase the magazine. And I’m sure as all of you well know, most literary magazines are nonprofit. And so, we need subscribers. We need people to buy the actual thing, but we have not seen any of that. We’ve not seen any of that. I think most people who are committed to literary magazines, who read magazines, who are committed to the literary scene, and literary development. They’re curious, they’re not interested in it- it’s like a music scene. They’re not interested in any sort of pirate acts when it comes to literary publications.
Those are probably the biggest things that have changed over the years in that sort of non-aesthetic realm. In the aesthetic realm, I mean, I feel like change comes a bit more slowly. But we’ve gone through different periods when it comes to what we publish with fiction. When I first came on, there were a lot of very short pieces, or shorter stories. And then after about three, four or five years, people started writing longer and longer and longer pieces, we at some point, started publishing, what I like to refer to as maximalist pieces that were almost novellas but not quite. There’s still a lot of that going on. But now the pendulum seems to be swinging back, we’re getting a lot more shorter pieces coming in. I mean poetry has always been varied in terms of style and approach. And also, we’ve been publishing more and more memoir over the years, too.
3. Qualities the Gettysburg Review looks for in submissions
I appreciate when you said that about seeing things up close. It’s like watching your children grow, you don’t really notice. And then all of a sudden, they’re adults. And you’re like, ‘oh.’ One of the things is just coming to mind, too… I think he was probably right back then to be skeptical about digital, but then that’s kind of changed now to where- there was a time when anything online was not considered even literary. It was like it was other- we were in this printing tradition that we were holding on to as long as we can. Sometimes I regret that loss in some ways, too.
Well, we’re still very committed to the print part. I mean, I’m a bit of a throwback, perhaps in some sense, although I find that more and more, when I talk to our readership, that they too appreciate the print. We’ve seen an increase in the number of our digital subscriptions over the years, but by and large, people want the print edition. I think, in part because we have a full color art feature in each issue. And I think, seeing that, you know, in the pages can be fairly impressive. Although I have to admit that looking at it up on my screen, when we do the proofing and stuff, and it still looks very good. It’s great to see it on an illuminated screen, our work. So, an argument can be made either way. But yeah, I think you’re right, back in the late 90s, early aughts, I mean, at least in terms of the academy, having something published online wasn’t quite seen as rigorous enough. But that’s certainly changed now. I mean, it took a while for us to get a website too so, we had to kind of drag Peter into the website, actually too. It’s gone through many iterations.
5. Editorial process at the Gettysburg Review
I’m wondering even, as we’re talking about time, and how things change, like a lot of the journals I’ve been talking to this year have had like the COVID Bump, where they’re getting more and more submissions. Is that something that’s happened at the Gettysburg Review this year? Are you seeing a lot more submissions than normal?
Lauren, and I had a chat with somebody just recently, and she did a quick check on Submittable, about the number of submissions that we received. Well, actually, I should say, that’s one of the big changes for us, too. We used to be all mail-in submissions. So that was not that long ago, it’s after I took over as the editor. So, we switched over to Submittable. And I fully expected there to be a good number of Submittable submissions, but also a lot of submissions still coming in through the mail. Now once we switched to Submittable, the valence submissions virtually dried up, although we still get a lot, we still got quite a few in through the post. Anyway, that said, Lauren did account and I think we’re about 6500 right now, this year we’ve received. So possibly, but that number is not unusual for us. Usually, it ranges between 5000 and 8000 submissions a year. I’m not sure we’ve seen a COVID bump. We certainly are getting a lot of COVID writing.
As an editor, what’s your take on the COVID writing and writing in the time that we’re in? Like, how are you receiving those particular submissions?
6. Example of a recently accepted piece
To be perfectly frank, most of it’s not very good. I think it’s too in its moment, there’s not enough reflection, I’m talking more specifically about essays here. But that said, we’ve published a couple of pieces that I think speak more directly to the moment and then of course we are publishing pieces that are talking, the more thematically and figuratively, I think speak to the moment in the past couple of issues. But in the most recent issue in 2021, the poems by Fleda Brown I think are very much out of her COVID experience. I really enjoyed them, I think they captured both an element of being confined, sequestered, quarantined, whatever want to call it today, but also the kinds of things that the mind does to us when we’re more localized in terms of our attention. And I did just take an essay for the next issue from Chad Davidson. That is, again, it’s more directly about his experience, last March and then post last March.
But there’s other stuff going on in the piece besides just a discussion of just what it is to be in your house every day to change the rhythms of your life, although that’s very much part of his essay too. I think a lot of the pieces there’s a lot of interesting material in those pieces, but the art hasn’t been brought to bear on them yet. They just need a little bit more reflection in order to shape them into something a little bit more interesting that it’s not so immediate. There’s something to be said for the immediate stuff. But I think there are places for that kind of stuff. But for us, I think we want something that’s going to sustain itself over a longer period of time, as people pick up the back issues of the magazine, and I want those things to have an appeal, not just to this moment, but something wider, something broader.
7. Impact of the pandemic on submissions and turnaround time
That leads me then into talking about the work that you want to receive COVID or not. What are the qualities that you’re looking for in submissions that make it from the slush pile into the maybe, and then maybe even into the journal?
It’s hard to define those qualities in any sort of general way. Perhaps for test, other editors do. I don’t know, as I always like to say, you know-
I always try anyway.
No, I think it’s a good question to ask, because it makes me think about those things. I tend to always fall back on this, what I’m about to say, which is that it’s very easy to talk about why pieces fail. Because pieces fail whatever the genre, they fail for usually generally, obvious, and almost cliched reasons, but successful pieces succeed very specifically. We could talk about a piece and what I liked about that piece, but I don’t know that I could generalize from it. But that said, I mean, if obviously, in general, we’re looking, you know, what I want to have happen when I’m reading a piece is I want to be fully immersed in that writer’s world, whatever the form. But if we’re talking about fiction, I just want to be completely immersed in that fictive dream. I want to be in that world, I want to forget about what’s going on around me, I want the writing to be clean, and crisp, and inviting, I want there to be some self-awareness, definitely some intelligence, but also some heart, and I look for these things in just about everything that I’m looking for.
But how you get those things into your piece, and how you get there, how you get to the Maybe pile or the Yes, pile depends on sort of the vision of the piece, the ambition of the piece, the writing, the plotting. One thing, obviously, that I’m looking for and just about anything is to be surprised, and not just surprised in the turnabout sense of the word. But I want to see something different, some unusual take on whatever the subject matter might be, or something compelling has to happen to the characters, there has to be something interesting in the poetic form, or the voice or the imagery, there has to be something that goes a little bit against the grain and just about everything that I publish. And if there isn’t something like that, obviously, then it’s largely because the writing was just that good. If we talk about a specific piece, I can tell you like what it was that I liked about that piece, but…
8. Types of writing published and preferences
Let’s start with a piece then that you recently accepted. What were the qualities of that piece that drew you to it?
Well, we just took a piece by writer, whose work I had not encountered before, his name is Jeff Frawley. He’s based in New Mexico. And he wrote this interesting little bit of satire that is both very, very absurd, and hyperbolic, but also really pointed, it’s hard to say what it’s necessarily about. But in terms of its approach, it’s about this relatively undefined space where these tourists go, and then their experience of this town is one thing and then the experience of the locals is another and then the experience of what he terms, the first peoples in this particular community are another thing altogether. And he blends those three sort of views of this space of this particular space in a really sort of fascinating and upsetting and sometimes absolutely hilarious way. So that’s one recent piece, but what I do with our interns is I have them read back issues. And that’s what I would consider the greatest hits of the magazine, I have them read pretty much fiction because we only have undergraduates here at Gettysburg College. So, we’re all used to critiquing narrative, we get used to that very early on.
It’s much easier to have those kinds of conversations with them, because they’re so used to critiquing narrative, you know, what makes the story fail, what makes the story succeed. Some of my favorite stories are… There are obvious ones. Like we published a story not that long ago, a few years ago, but it features its narrator, a taxidermied cat. Now that obviously that sounds very surprising and interesting off the bat. But in some ways, the author made a very difficult choice there because there’s a lot to overcome, especially a reader’s suspicions, so a reader’s disbelief, but the story is just incredibly smart and funny and moving. That’s called the pages are burning, letters are free… Edelman is the author’s last name. She’s not like a very well-known writer, because she’s also a musician. She does a lot of folk music too. Judith Edelman. So that’s one story too. I mean, I want all of the stories regardless of the subject matter to have that ambition, and freshness and surprise.
9. Advice for emerging and mid-career writers
Yeah, I was gonna say. That sounds like the key words, like ambition, surprise. And then what I’m taking from this is not like,
“Oh, Mark Drew loves satire. Send him satire.”
Like it’s like this is specificity to these pieces. But the element that’s similar, I guess is the surprise. Then do you have the chops to pull it off to be able to actually create something out of a taxidermied cat narrative kind of thing. So, thank you for that.
There’s definitely whittling that piece. But there’s also heartbreak. I’m also very open to stories that are more traditionally told that are just really well executed and we’ve published plenty of pieces that aren’t as- I guess what I would call is, “edgy” in terms of their approach, or a little bit more of art in terms of their approach. I mean, I’m open to anything, as long as it draws me in and keeps me there.
10. Editor’s preferences for longer works and how the Gettysburg Review is a good place to submit novellas and longer short stories
One thing I want to go back to, you said something about the length of the pieces, and I guess how they are getting shorter, but I think there are fewer outlets that are taking the longer traditional narratives. So, I just want to bookmark that for people watching as like this is a place maybe to send those pieces. Would you agree like is that something you’re seeing yourself and what’s happening in the mix?
I mean, I’m not sure how true this is, of all online publications across the board. But a lot of times what I’ve heard from editors, when I’ve been on panels with editors, and online only publications. they tend to appreciate shorter writing, because it keeps much of it above the fold on the screen. And that’s fine. And also, because of the reading habits that we all might have, when it comes to looking at computer screens, I can tell you from experience that when we switched to Submittable, I found it very difficult to do sustained reading in front of my screen, my eyes just get veryMFA fatigued. And it’s so much easier for me to sit with a stack of manuscripts in my chair, and just get through those so much easier, both in terms of speed, but also just in terms of its physiological effects.
That said, with print publications, especially with a quarterly publication like us, I mean, we’re certainly more willing to devote pages to a longer piece. For sure, like I said, we’ve published near novellas, we serialized a novella some years ago, but we really haven’t had the opportunity to do that since then. I think one of the longer pieces we published was the only piece of fiction in that particular issue. And we try to give sort of equal number of pages in space to each of the genres of fiction, nonfiction, poetry usually works out to be about 55 to 60 pages of each and each issue. So, you’re talking 50 to 60 print pages, which is quite a bit of space. So, I’m thrilled to find longer pieces that sustain themselves in that way. So yeah, we are definitely open to longer work, not novel length, mind you.
Yeah, no. I started with Room 10 years ago, and we still were taking paper submissions, there’s certain something about the holding that artifact in your hand and… I don’t know, there’s something more direct about that, for sure. You also talked already a little bit on this, but I want to hear a bit more just the process, what’s happening behind the scenes there in terms of you’re working with undergrad students, they’re reading and critiquing narratives. Does that mean you alone are reading the poetry or like, who are your first readers and what happens behind the scenes?
Well, like I said, the greatest for colleges and undergraduate liberal arts school. So, we don’t have any graduate student components here. We’re a fairly small staff. I mean, I have some external leaders who are post MFA, some of them have teaching gigs, here and there. I have a couple of folks reading poetry for me. So, they do some first reads, And I trust them enough to be able to let them reject. Then we have another one or two who are helping us with fiction. Those are the two genres that we get the most submissions from, and then I tend to handle all of the nonfiction. With the students, though with the interns, they do first read, but they don’t have the ability to reject. We look at everything that our interns read because it’s a class. I mean, it’s essentially a class.
Our interns aren’t what I would call helpful in terms of helping us get through the submission pile. Because we spend a lot of time talking about each piece, in comparison to the pieces that have already been published, about why it is that we might accept this piece, why we would reject it. The idea is that I want to hone their critical abilities, in addition to giving them a sense of what the aesthetic of this magazine might be. That’s sort of one of the assignments that I give them, come up with an assessment of the aesthetic of the Gettysburg Review, which is always fun for me to hear from students. So, they never do first reads, they don’t have the ability to reject material, unless I hire them after because they’re a graduate school bound, and I’ve come to know their tastes and I trust them enough to do it.
Even our readers, our external readers, are generally vetted. Several of them are former emerging writer lecturers who were here for a year or two in Gettysburg teaching classes. So basically, Lauren and I are doing the lion’s share of the reading, which is one of the reasons why it takes us a little bit longer than other publications. Any of you who have submitted to us probably know it takes us a little bit longer. And the COVID thing has thrown a monkey wrench into everything, for most literary magazines, specifically for us too. It’s made it a bit slower. I’m working at home, like, two days a week, which I find very difficult. I don’t know how you all feel about it, I find it exceptionally difficult to work at home. Today, I’m in my office on campus, which is much quieter, just much easier for me to get stuff done.
Yeah, that’s been tough for that. And tough on a lot of lit mags, I think, it’s something we’re noticing in this cohort of dilemmas, of course, is like, the final thing is to submit your workplaces well, so many places have just closed all of a sudden, because for whatever the capacity is down, they’re just closed for submissions. But it sounds like you’ve kept open your kind of not feeling like the numbers are that overwhelming, but it’s just the work itself.
Yeah, not to mention that this is a fraught time that we’re all in, right. We’re all in this together, right? We’re all kinds of thinking about politics, we’re thinking about the day-to-day realities of this pandemic, but also the broader implications of it, I go down news, rabbit holes, just like anybody else, when I shouldn’t be reading manuscripts. I’m like reading the news, and so I have to make a very conscious effort to put that stuff aside. And some days, that’s harder to do than others.
Thanks for acknowledging that, and also just sharing that with us.
I am hitting pause on this live Q&A with Mark Drew from the Gettysburg Review, to let you know that if you’ve benefited from what you 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. And our second and final session is starting on May 15. Registration is now open. The course 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, register for the course at RachelThompson.co/litmaglove.
It sounds like your undergrads, really, you’re helping them versus them helping you. So, this is a great place to send your work in the sense that you are giving so much care and attention. So, it takes a little bit longer. But it’s a quality thing versus just kind of sending work out.
I hope so I mean, it does take us a bit longer, we do look at everything. Now that said I mean, obviously there are some things that can be rejected, and or accepted quicker than others. So, I think the average amount of time I probably spend on, if I had to make a guess, I’ve never done an actual study of this, it is probably about 10 minutes. But often it runs longer if I’m drawn into a piece that or I’m on the fence, but I want to keep reading to see where the author goes. But other times, you know, the rejections come quicker than that. But everything is looked at. And we do work with authors too. That piece I described to you by Jeff Frawley Trace lands, both Lauren and I really enjoyed the piece. But we hated the ending, it just didn’t work for us. It just failed totally.
It was a really shocking and surprising and gripping ending. But compared to what came before it was a little bit too much. So, we worked with him, you know, I reached out to him told him, Hey, we really enjoyed this piece. But we’re wondering if you’d be open to redoing the ending. We give him some very, very specific suggestions. And then, he and I chatted on Friday, and went through it and worked out a new ending for us. That’s relatively common for us. It wasn’t so much when Peter was the editor. When I was the assistant editor, I mean, we’re a magazine, that’s a very active editing magazine, everything that comes through us that gets published is copy edited, every single thing, some pieces more some pieces less. It depends. But in terms of like, rather large substantive changes. Those were mostly handled by Peter, which meant that it was mostly nonfiction that went through that process.
The other pieces that were accepted, generally a bit lighter end was taken. Although if I notice something, I certainly will point it out to Peter and then he would pass it along to the writer. But since I’ve taken over, we’ve done a little bit more developmental editing here and there for pieces that I’ve thought were really promising, but not quite there yet. But I only do that if I have a really clear sense of like, what direction that piece can go, well, a really clear sense a of what the author is up to. And the way I get a sense of that is by actually just ringing the author up or writing them an email and having correspondence with them and letting them know like,
“Hey, if you don’t want to take it in this direction, that’s fine. That’s perfectly okay. I just want to let you know that here’s what I see going on in your piece. And if you’re open to it, here are some suggestions.”
So, I will only do that if I have very specific stuff in mind. Otherwise, I will say to a writer,
“Hey, this is a really fascinating piece, here’s what I really like about it, here’s what’s not working for me. If you work on it some more, I’d be happy to take a look at it again.”
And just see where it goes. But without any promises. So, Jeff’s piece, it was like,
“Look, we will publish this piece if you’re open to redoing the ending”,
which I know is a little bit of arm twisting. But by the same token, if he had said no, I mean, I would have been fine with it, I would have still told him what I think should happen at the end. And then if he thought about it for a day, a week, a month and then resubmitted a piece with some changes to the ending, I would have happily taken a look at it again. By the same token, I’ve made suggestions to writers, this is mostly poets in this case, made suggestions to poets and they said,
“Ah, I’m sorry, but no”,
my response is usually,
“Yeah, that’s okay. It’s your poem, it’s not mine”, as much as I might want-
Well, what a great opportunity that you’re giving to writers. And one of the things we do in the course, too, is we’ve kind of set out: Well, what is it that we actually want to do next with our writing, and what’s our goal, so honing your craft is one of the sort of streams that we go through. So, you are definitely a ‘phone your craft to journal’, because that’s the experience that you’re gonna get is like, if you send a piece that’s almost there, it sounds like you’re gonna work with the writer to make it as good as possible. Amanda’s saying,
“It’s great to hear how you’re devoted to training readers, but also giving submissions careful attention. From your perspective, as someone who reviews how your interns and students evaluate submissions, do you find that there any biases against age or style?”
This is the eternal question in our course community, because we tend to skew in an older demographic. Yeah, and Amanda saying,
“As a writer, my 40s, I worried that some college homed publications are not a great fit, because the students doing the screening may not relate or be interested.”
Yeah, that’s always a risk, I suppose. And so, if I’m thinking about, like my experience at the Black Warrior Review, where the editorial makeup changes every year, every couple of years, depending on if it’s still run in the same way it was run when I was a graduate student there in the 90s. The positions are elected by current staff. And so, I went from Managing Editor to Editor and then you have your staff, and the aesthetic of the magazine is largely driven by the aesthetic of those people who are behind the helm. And the same thing is true for magazines like the Gettysburg Review that have an editor at the top and a smaller staff that don’t divide up the genres amongst different editors who make those separate decisions.
So, there’s always the risk that you know, if the editorial board skews younger, that they might not be as open to work by older writers. But that’s certainly not the case for us. And I’m not sure it was the case for us, even when I was at BWR, or to be honest with you, although I can’t speak for every iteration of the editorial board of BWR. But back when I was the editor there, we are certainly open to publishing both established and new writers, by new writers, not just young writers. We are certainly open to it, but just people who are new to the game, and we published a lot of people who were in their 30s, 40s, 50s. When I was at BWR, and we certainly do here. So, I don’t know if the students have any sort of bias. I mean, the undergraduates here are relatively naive when it comes to the contemporary literary scene. So, even people who I would consider to be rather well known, they’ve never heard of. Looking at a manuscript, you can’t tell, you know, it’s very difficult to tell, we can make some assumptions, I suppose. But they’re only just that there are assumptions.
I tell them to try to resist the assumptions as much as possible about who the writer might be. It’s always interesting to think about such things, but it’s never a determined or a Yes or No, it’s always the work. That’s the determiner of the Yes or No. That said, obviously, there are always going to be some blind spots for editors. As open as I try to be to as many styles, especially in terms of poetry. But really, it’s with any genre, there are things that I like better than others. For me, it’s much more difficult for a highly experimental poem to get a Yes, because I’m not the biggest fan of more avant garde writing. That said, we’ve published stuff that’s pretty avant, because for one reason or another, it just really connected. Something about the language, something about the subject matter just really connected with me. And that can sometimes be a highly personal thing.
This is one of the reasons why I say even if you get a few rejections, for poets, especially, but I’m sure this is true for essays and fiction writers as well. Even if you get a few rejections, a couple of rejections of a piece, think about where you sent them and sort of what the aesthetic of that place is, and then try them at some places that might be a little bit different. Like if you’re getting rejected by us, the Georgia Review, say, or the New England Review, Southern Review, maybe try a place like BWR where the editorial board changes more frequently and just see what happens. And then if you’re getting sort of rejected by a lot of those different places that maybe it means the work needs to be looked at again.
I love that insight, I just want to highlight that about the Black Warrior Review, journals like that, that have a lot to overturn. It’s like, there’s an aesthetic of that editor. But that editor will change next year. So, by the time we submit, again, it might be a completely different aesthetic. So good to highlight that, thank you. I mean, in this community, we have to talk about that a lot, because a lot of people are emerging writers, but emerging later writers. And the more I’ve been putting this to editors, the more I’m just seeing… I mean, it might be in terms of, I feel like your publication is a good place to send work, where that tension between the shorter and longer traditional pieces, maybe that’s like one of the differences, if you’ve kind of came up in a time where you’re reading those pieces. And that’s what your writing is like, then, sure, that’s going to be a bit harder to place. But I appreciate what you say about how these undergrads don’t really even know what’s happening in the literary scene. So, for them to be able to judge if this is old, or new, or on trend, or something. It is going to be difficult. Carmen Linda was wondering if you give preference to American writers, if you really have an American focus over international ones?
By default? Yes. I mean, we do get a decent number of submissions from international writers. And we certainly will publish them again if they connect. But we don’t get as many submissions from international writers as we do from American writers. So, I would say by default, yes. But I wouldn’t say there’s any sort of preference or preferential treatment. Like I said, I’m open to seeing work from writers from wherever. Over the years, we’ve published two or three writers from India. And this was even before we went electronic, just somebody contacting Peter through email, and sending a manuscript. So yeah, so it’s certainly possible. And we do get, you know, a handful of stuff through the posts from Europe and other countries, but we just don’t get as many submissions from international writers. That’s just the bottom line.
11. Does the editor notice trends in experimental vs traditional styles based on a writer’s age?
That’s great to know then. Because that’s not a preference. You may not know that reading the magazine, but it’s not a preference. Do you notice that younger writers use different or more experimental forms as Wendy asks?
No, I haven’t noticed a correlation between age and willingness to experiment. I mean, some younger writers write very, very traditional lyric mode, with poetry. And some of the older writers are the ones who are breaking the boundaries, because they’ve maybe been practicing a particular mode and are looking to branch out because they have a greater sense of the limitations of a particular approach. Whereas younger writers might not have that yet. I mean, of course, there are sometimes younger writers who are leaping straight to quote unquote, experimentation. But oftentimes, the experimentation doesn’t quite work. Because it seems a little, for lack of a better term, it just seems a little thin, or a little too precious.
The material, the emotional content, or whatever the case may be, the experience with like breaking boundaries isn’t quite there yet. So, I see older writers changing stripes, fairly late in their career and doing very well. So, I’m not sure that there’s any real correlation there. None that I’ve actually seen. But if I don’t know the writer, if I don’t know who the writer is, or the writers work, it’s impossible to know what their age is that Judith Edelman story, I think that piece, which was I would consider more experimental than most pieces of fiction that we get. When she sent it to us, I’m pretty sure she was in her late 30s, early 40s. I didn’t know that until I looked her up. Well, after the fact.
12. Do you prefer traditional poetry over experimental styles, and how does this preference influence your reading and publishing choices?
I think we have time for one or two more questions, if people want to put that in the chat. I want to pick up on something you said about poetry, because I think you were saying: You’re not as big a fan of the more experimental stuff. So, it’s just something for poets maybe to keep in mind, too. Can you elaborate on that now that affects your reading and publishing choices?
I did say that. So maybe a little bit of background. When I first got to graduate school at the University of Alabama, there was very much a parallel current of experimental writing, notice language, poetry, I’m sure many of you have heard this term, that is very, very heavily informed by literary criticism. That’s not where I was. When I was a graduate student at that program. I was much more interested in more traditional lyrical expressions. But because I was in that program, I got exposed to a lot more experimental writing. And I came to really develop a real affection for some more experimental writers like Linda Jaivin, and John Taggart, and appreciate what they’re up to. While that may not be where I’m aesthetically comfortable, as a writer, as an editor, I’m certainly interested in seeing that kind of work.
But for better or worse, part of me is going to be a little bit more critical of that in some sense, because I still want the same things out of that poem. I want to be engaged not just intellectually and challenged just intellectually, I want there to be some emotional engagement as well, that’s just what I am as a reader simply put. I’m certainly open to- you know, and Peter is too, I mean, one of Peters favorite writers, a writer who he wrote several pieces about is John Ashbery. So, and I’m a big John Ashbery fan. Now, I’m a big Wallace Stevens fan for that matter. It’s not like more of our traditions are foreign to me. The bottom line to first is that we don’t really have the reputation for being an outlet for more experimental writing, you know, for better or worse. And so, we don’t get a lot of submissions by writers who are pushing those kind of more formal boundaries. But when I see it, and it’s good, I’ll publish it and I have.
Yeah, it has to really blow you away, I guess.
There has to be some kind of connection. Yeah, even if the poem is defying me, and poems do this. This is just the nature of the beast. I mean, already, all good writing does, obviously too. But some poems are just not quite making a connection. But if I sense that there’s a good deal of craft, there’s a convincing authority to the voice. I’ll set it aside, read some other stuff, come back to it a day later and take another look at it. So, some of it just connects right away some of that it takes a couple of reads.
11. Questions about submitting haiku, tanka and other short Japanese forms.
Thanks for that. So, I’ll start with Kathy’s question about Japanese short form poetry, Haiku, Tanka, Haibun. Is that something of interest for the journal?
Yeah, but like I said, we don’t see a lot of it. Oftentimes, we’ll get pieces that are a series of very short poems. Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird“. So, something similar to that, but we’ll get a poem that’s a series of very short takes on things that, you know, certainly we publish stuff like that. But an individual Haiku, I cannot remember the last time that we published just a really short poem, shorter, I mean, sonnets, [inaudible 36:49], shorter pieces like that. Yes. But no, I’m open to short form too. I mean, same thing with prose. Like I said, it just has to make that connection, it has to be that surprising and that engaging.
There’s that surprise, again, great. That’s our keyword for you. Sage is saying: What is something you see too much of in submissions right now?
It’s a tough question. We’re working on trying to finish up 33-2 so that we can get it to the printer before the end of January. Ideally, we’d prefer it to come out in January, but I don’t know where we’re at, because I’m struggling to find some good essays. And so, I was reading nothing but essays on Thursday, it’s strange how you hit these streaks, people are writing about kind of the same thing in some interesting ways. So, I think, besides the ‘too in the moment’, COVID stuff. There were also some pieces that were, I think, too much of a psychological striptease, then they needed to be there are pieces that are too raw, that are terribly, terribly engaging, and moving and stuff, but they’re just too raw. So, there were like, I hit several pieces about abusive mothers last week, not that that subject is something that I don’t want to see any more of. But the common thread amongst all of them is that they were just not worked and thought about enough. They were literally too much at the moment. And while they were engaging on one level, it’s not something that I would want to read again.
Yeah, like the bigger sense of what it’s all about, and how it connects.
There has to be some elements of that piece that invites another read that invites a reread that makes me want to go back to it and look at it again. I suppose I should have said that earlier, too. That’s one of the sort of key things for me as well that I know that there’s something working with it if I walk away, and I’m still thinking about it at home, and then I come back and look at it again and think about it again. And so that to me is also very key. And those pieces while they were some aspects of them were engaging right away. They are not pieces that by the end, I would have wanted to read again, because it’s missing that something else. And I don’t know what that is, because it’s not my piece. But all I know is as an editor and a reader, it’s missing that something else that would make me just like really go,
“Wow, this was stunning.”
I mean, not only in terms of the depiction of the relationship, but how it changed, how it affected this individual. Now, going forward from that moment, that’s often the thing that’s missing is that kind of necessary memoir esque interrogation of one’s own experience in response to that experience.
It doesn’t always have to be obvious. It’s not like you have to say, “-and this is what I learned from this moment.” I
t’s woven into this read literally, from the very beginning in terms of the position of the point of view. It can be a total thing as well too, really mostly it’s a combination of all those things. But like I said, these pieces were just too ‘in the moment.’ The other thing that drives me crazy about submissions that I see way too much of is, I see way too many submissions where the writers haven’t really bothered to proofread. I get so many submissions in Submittable where track changes like with the comment bubbles and all of that. All of that in submission. And I’m like,
“Why is this in the submission?”
This is signaling to me that either this was a mistake, although I see it far too often for it to be a mistake, or they’re showing me as an editor that they’re willing to make changes. The thing is, is that you have to make those changes. First, you have to make those decisions first. Don’t make me decide between what you wrote originally and what other people are telling you to change it too. Be aware of that, like, send editors the most polished, finished piece possible, so that there’s nothing that’s going to jar them out of your story or your poem.
Thank you so much, Mark. We’re already getting rave reviews on the interview. Thank you very much for joining me today and for talking to the community.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
So that was my conversation and our course interview with Mark Drew of the Gettysburg Review. If you were keeping track like I was, you’ll note that this is a publication that will really help you hone your craft and make good work even better, should you choose to work with them after submission. I’ll also note that exercise I have students in my Lit Mag Love course take to discover what exactly is their motivation for wanting to submit to Lit Mag so they can determine if a journal is a good fit for them. This journal is probably the best fit for writers who have already published and validated their work in other places, and who are ready to send well revised work and bring up their game and publishing. You’ll also have noted that this is an increasingly rare find for a publication that will accept longer works for publication.
The Lit Mag Love course will help you get a big yes for your writing from a Lit Mag you love. Enrollment is now open for the final session of 2022. We start on May 15. You can learn more about the course and sign up at 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 write, publish, and shine at RacheTthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my writerly love letters sent every week and filled with support for your writing practice.
If this episode encouraged you to hone your craft, I would love to hear all about it. You can tag me on social media. Actually, you can’t tag me on social media until June. But you can email me for now at Hello@RachelThompson.co 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 writing luminously and submitting your work.
My guest for this episode spoke to me from lands colonially known as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on unceded indigenous land, including the traditional homelands of the Susquehannock, Conestoga, Seneca, and Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Lenni Lenape and Shawnee Nations. And I am a guest in the South Sinai Egypt on lands historically and presently occupied by the Al-Tirabin Bedouin.