This is the fifth in my series of special episodes as I take you on a deep dive into the creation of Room magazine issue 46.3, where I was lead editor of the issue. In this episode, a luminous conversation with Room’s Book Reviews editor, Micah Killjoy.
We delve into reviewing as a practice for writers to understand craft, what Micah did differently with the reviews for this haunting issue, and how reviewing has changed in the age of BookTok and user-generated reviews.
You can pick up your copy of Room 46.3, Ghosts (digital or print) at roommagazine.com.
WRITERLY LOVE LETTERS: Sent each week to your inbox. rachelthompson.co/letters
Notes and Links from the Episode
- Get a copy of Room 46.3 Ghosts to read the ghostly reviews curated by Micah Killjoy
- Lori Sebastianutti’s book review of Body & Soul: Stories for Skeptics and Seekers edited by Susan Scott
- Whitney French’s review of Redemption Ground: Essays and Adventures by Lorna Goodison
- Sign up for my Writerly Love Letters filled with support for your writing practice and sent every week
#84 Write, Publish, Shine Episode Transcript
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|00:43||Rachel’s introducing the guest “Micah Killjoy”|
|01:32||Rachel’s interview with Micah Killjoy.|
|01:44||How Micah got started at Room magazine?|
|02:34||Micah as a book reviews coordinator.|
|06:39||How does Micah pick reviews for issues?|
|09:49||Why book reviews are so important?|
|14:27||What is the most important thing a reviewer should include in their book review?|
|15:32||Midroll Ad here|
|16:47||Things that needs to be edited out in book reviews.|
|19:31||What can writers learn by reviewing books?|
|23:03||Micah’s take on panning a book vs only reviewing books she like.|
|26:24||What is Micah currently exploring in her writing?|
|28:46||Quick Lit Round by Rachel Thompson|
|29:51||Interview Outro & Discussion|
- Rachel Thompson
- Micah Killjoy
Rachel Thompson: 00:01
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.
Hello luminous writers, and welcome to the fifth in my series of special episodes of Write, Publish, and Shine as I take you on a deep dive into the creation of Room magazine issue 46.3, where I was lead editor of the issue.
In this episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Micah Killjoy, Room’s Book Reviews editor. Micah Killjoy, and I delve into how book reviews work, the importance of the deep examination of craft required to write a book review, and what they did differently for the Ghosts-issue reviews.
Micah Killjoy was born and raised on coastal Salish land. They are a writer, editor, and BFA student at the University of British Columbia. They enjoy urban exploration, daydreaming, doggo walks, and solarpunk aesthetics.
When we spoke, said doggo was around, so you might hear a hint of a bark during our call, nothing that interferes with the sound, but I thought it would be cute for you to imagine doggo’s presence during our call.
Here is our conversation about book reviews…
So, thank you so much for being on the podcast with me Micah and talking about Room and the Ghosts issue.
I first wanted to start by asking you about how you got started at Room magazine?
Micah Killjoy: 01:50
I was in a introductory creative writing class at UBC. And Jessica Johns, who was the former managing editor of the magazine was the TA. And I was able to get into Room through her. I think I’d actually maybe previously applied to be in Room even before that, because when I moved to Vancouver, initially, I had like applied to everything that I thought might be good for volunteering at, but just specifically connecting with Jessica was what got me into it and got me into reading slush and being part of the Room community.
Rachel Thompson: 02:27
That’s great. I just really loved working with Jessica, and I’m so glad that that was your route into Room.
My second question is sort of like okay, so that’s how you came to the collective, is through connections and relationships, which is great. Then how did you decide to take on the mantle as book reviews coordinator? And why did you want to make that leap?
Micah Killjoy: 02:47
I feel like this is just kind of a story of, I wouldn’t even say nepotism, because it’s not that but just it was in the middle of the pandemic, I think it was somewhere in like summer 2020, when the call for it went out. And I had a really good working relationship with Jessica. And I immediately applied for it because I’m hungry for trying to find work and working in publishing in general. And I had the interview. And then Jessica said that nobody else internally had applied. And everybody was exhausted because it was now fall of 2020. And so that was how I was able to get in.
I ended up staying with it. I feel really lucky. Also, because of the mentorship that came along with it, the former reviews editor, Leah had just a very sudden introduction to becoming the reviews editor herself. And so she really wanted to make sure that handing it off was very smooth. And so we actually had an overlap of a full review cycle where she was able to just walk me through how everything worked and kind of just hold my hand and showing me how to be able to pitch reviews to reviewers and how to find good books that were a good fit for Room. And all of the connections that needed to be made in order to be able to successfully make a full, I mean, it’s not a lot of reviews, but make those five reviews happen, and in a timely manner. I feel very grateful for that. Because I think it would have been a much more complicated process, if I had been trying to learn on my own or from like a written manual of some kind.
Rachel Thompson: 04:21
I think that’s one of the things that’s really special about Room is the mentorship that happens there. And so I’m really glad you had that experience. I remember when Leah came on, and it was very abrupt. Very like, okay, now you need to make up how this position works. And that’s sort of the nature I guess of, at the time, mostly volunteer organization, too. But I’m glad that you had a different experience in that cycle to go through it and figure it out, I guess both how to work with what like with how Leah was working, but then also probably to make it your own too and figure out what was going to work for you as reviews coordinator.
Micah Killjoy: 04:56
Yeah, it was super nice. And I’ve also done so many jobs where not necessarily even within publishing, but just like in general, it’s just like, okay, now you do the job, and you just have to figure it out as you go. And it makes such a huge difference to have somebody hold your hands and just be able to very slowly kind of unravel all of the, I wouldn’t say mystery, but there is quite a bit of white knowledge that you have to know to be able to move through it without constantly stumbling over yourself. Yeah, in terms of making it your own. I mean, as soon as I came on, I created a manual for new reviewers to Room, just so people would have a better understanding of what exactly we were looking for.
One of my priorities has been to try and have at least one first time reviewer for every cycle, so that, at least they’re able to have that on their bios, then they were able to be published in Room. And so trying to really set it up so that, again, like you said, so I was able to make it my own. And then again, that Room allowed me to take that much ownership of it. I feel like I’ve been able to kind of just run with it. And that’s been really fun.
Rachel Thompson: 06:04
I love that idea of bringing in new reviewers and like having a policy even around like trying to bring in new reviewers and keep things fresh within the magazine, but then also be building up writers who are doing reviews. And I definitely want to ask you questions kind of about reviewing and why it’s important to writers.
But before that I have made this series of episodes related to going behind the scenes of Ghosts, issue 46.3, for Room. I know you did something kind of special with reviews for that issue.
And so, I want to start our conversation there around what happened in the issue itself, because you brought back some ghostly reviews. I’m just wondering how you pick those reviews. And I guess even how you came to the decision of, and maybe you’ll explain to for our listeners, what I mean, when I’m saying ghostly reviews, because there’s kind of a double entendre there as there has been throughout this whole ghost issue, I find we’ve been really playful with that word. So, you can let us know that.
Micah Killjoy: 07:08
I have a very specific preview within review writing, where we generally try to only review books that are forthcoming from the start of the review cycle. So basically, at the moment when I’m like sending out pitches, that’s kind of the mark time, and so like, it’s only books that are coming out between September and November, basically, or September and December. And so it’s a really narrow window. And I had just find a bunch of having like what if we were able to just review whatever we wanted that was kind of feminist and share her thoughts about it. And this kind of just gave me an excuse to see how that would go. It was a good experience to try and go through. And it was also really fun to try and find like spooky or spoopy, feminist themes, ghosts. And so what I think I did, I went through, and I believe I emailed a few publishers just to see like,
“Hey, do you have anything spooky, that’s in your reserves? So like in the last, however long, 10 years?
Whoever got back to me got back to me with those. I also asked reviewers specifically if they had any titles in their minds. And I think almost all of the titles we chose were from reviewers and books that they had heard of that were speaking and feminist and coming from a Canadian publisher or Canadian writer. And so that was how we were able to find all those titles.
It was a really fun experience for me to be able to finally play around and figure out like, what if I was able to just review books from the last 10 or 20 years? Oh, and I also asked you and I think you gave a few really great suggestions as well, from the editing crew that you worked with on this issue. I will say it did also make me really appreciate having that really narrow window to work within. Because we only have 20 slots a year that we’re generally able to review. And so getting to have that experience of being like what if we opened it up and then opening it up and being like, okay, cool. I tried that. And now I totally understand why we have a much more narrow selection. Because otherwise, there’s so many amazing books that come out. And I want to review every single one of them and give them all the special love they deserve. And it can be really overwhelming if I open that door.
Rachel Thompson: 09:30
I love what you’re saying about understanding more of the rationale for that limitation because so few books get reviewed. So, it’s like, okay, we’re looking forward to what’s coming out soon in this issue, though, it was special that you’re able to kind of go for these ghostly issues of the past that are still haunting us, I guess, I’m bringing them up.
But you’re touching on I think where I want to steer us a little bit is the idea of reviews itself, and why they are so important? And even why they’re so rare as well?
Micah Killjoy: 10:01
For why they’re important, I think it’s part of a larger conversation about craft and quality. Historically, reviews of this nature usually only focus on like the literary genre. And I’ve tried to push against that a little bit. I think we’ve reviewed a few YA books, we’ve definitely reviewed some graphic novels, it’s just really important to be constantly having a conversation about, for me, what good craft it is. And that’s something that I really tried to focus in on when editing reviews or setting up reviewers for what we’re looking for, which is like, what about the book is working for craft, craft wise.
It can be really hard to name that. Because sometimes it’s just a feeling, right? It’s just like, I like this book, but being able to actually analyze and break it down. And name all of the details is something that can be super vital, both for the, I don’t necessarily think that writers should read their own reviews. But for people that are trying to consume this media, understanding why it makes them feel the way that it feels. Also, for other writers being like, how am I able to apply this to my own craft? Either things that do or don’t necessarily work?
As far as why it’s disappearing? It’s a really good question. This is just like such a big conversation that I don’t necessarily feel like I am actually an expert in, in terms of why is this one specific genre of reviews, seemingly much less. And to be very fair, also, there are far fewer places to have reviews that are paid for, than there were 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. If you just look through some of the writers manuals, it’s definitely something that is not as prioritized. But there’s 1000’s, and 1000’s, and millions of reviews that are happening. They’re just online. So, they’re on BookTok, or they’re on Instagram. And they are mainly focusing just on the feelings that books are able to elicit within readers instead of this very specific idea of craft.
Also, a lot of them do also talk about craft, I don’t want to minimize that. It’s just a shift in genre. It’s a shift in who’s talking and who gets to talk. And I think also historically, like book reviews have been very geeky. There is this tendency to like have this like, hi, Rob idea of snobbery, and like, oh, this, you know, pooh-poohing these books that are a part of whatever, mask, paperbacks or whatnot, or looking down on things that aren’t literary fiction. And I think it’s okay for that to have lost some of its power, even if it means it’s harder to find paid review outlets.
Rachel Thompson: 12:38
Well, yeah, when you said 10 years ago, I was also thinking, because back then there were some audits done of how reviews fell along gender lines, and it was very predictable the outcomes of that. So it’s just like, much less of a chance to have your book reviewed, if you were from a marginalized gender. You know, things are changing, but there’s also much more talk about books from the writers that we review in Room.
Micah Killjoy: 13:05
Also, on that note… Oh man, you know, that’s actually a really great question that I would love to look up at some point in terms of who’s getting published now compared to 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, because oftentimes, not always, but often, I find that there’s actually too many books that are being published within that three or four month period for us to be able to even consider, it’ll be like 15 titles. Also I should add, we only review titles that are from small or not only, but generally we stick to small and mid-sized publishers, because those are often the ones that don’t have a massive PR department trying to work for them and get the book out and make sure that it’s a top seller before it’s even put on the shelves. I’m getting all the pre-orders and whatnot.
I’m always seeing lots and lots of titles that fit within Room’s idea of like intersectional feminism. And so, I generally actually find that to be a really positive thing as well. So yeah, sorry, just kind of echoing what you were saying. I would be really curious to see those numbers compared to the last 10 or 20 years.
Rachel Thompson: 14:05
So, you’re talking about, I mean, I appreciate what you’re saying about craft being an important thing to discuss, like why things work. I can see that being helpful for the reviewers too, it’s sort of like when I read a book in that way too I think about how I’m, or even submissions to Room, thinking about what’s working and what’s not working, it always informs my own writing and my own thinking about craft.
But I’m wondering when you’re editing reviews with Room, and you’re working with the reviewers, what is the most important thing that a reviewer should include in their book review and what are you looking for in their reviews?
Micah Killjoy: 14:37
I’m always looking for, basically, you want to try and have a really nice overview of what to expect without giving away a spoiler. Then, yeah, things that worked well with craft. Some writers are great at dialogue. Some writers are great at piecing or voice or just really creating complex characters through interiority or similar with, like poetry. Sometimes it’s about naming how people are playing with language on the page or whatnot. And so just being able to name those things and what works about them or what doesn’t work about them. And then usually we only have 350 to 450 words, it’s relatively short. So, then the end is kind of just like a wrap up in terms of this is how the reviewer felt or is recommending it or who maybe is the best person to be reading that specific title.
Rachel Thompson: 15:32
I’m pausing that conversation with Micah Killjoy to let you know that I send out Writerly Love letters each week filled with motivation and ideas for you, dear writers. Tomorrow, I’ll be sending out a letter with links to book reviews from members of my Writerly Love Community, this is something I haven’t done before, though I do often send out a brilliant list of recent publications from writers in my community. Last week, I sent out a very short letter about taking a Pause from my letters.
As a podcast listener, you might have also noticed that I aired a replay, still on the Ghosts-theme, but it was a replay episode. Last week, I decided to take a health break. And I heard from many subscribers who appreciated the vulnerability and honesty in saying, hey, I’m not coping so well this week, so I’m going to get outside and try to cope better. And that’s a kind of thing you can expect in my letters, a bit of practical advice, a lot of encouragement, and some real talk about how things are going for me, which I find from experience that writers take as permission to assess how things are going for them and what they need to change in their writing lives in their life.
What are the things you’d rather not see in book reviews or just the things that you edit out? Maybe that are common, I’m going to put air quotes around this, which people can’t see because it’s a podcast, but “common mistakes” that maybe reviewers make?
Micah Killjoy: 17:00
I think, and this is something that I kind of struggle with myself is, you have to look at a book and you have to see is it doing what it set out to do? And if not, why? And if so, what works? And this is something that I really struggle with, which sometimes is, if you disagree with the politics of the book, it’s okay to name that, but also not necessarily make it into a huge detraction. If that makes sense.
Micah Killjoy: 17:26
I have a really complicated relationship with feminism as somebody who identifies as trans and I have a very complicated relationship with feminism, specifically with the white feminism, or sometimes the ways that people approach queerness and queer tragedy, and all of those things are going to influence how I see a book and I have to be able to apply my own perspective to the book, but also say, okay, and is the book still doing what it meant to do?
Rachel Thompson: 17:54
I get what you’re saying because it’s like, is the book successful?
Micah Killjoy: 17:58
Rachel Thompson: 17:59
It’s kind of a subjective thing, because maybe it’s successful in a way that you’re not rooting for necessarily. But yet it is successful in its own terms, I guess. I mean, I can see that, it seems like with all kinds of writing, just kind of understanding your own positionality is always the most important thing. And sort of like, who am I? And what do I think? Because what you’re saying is not this. But I think about book reviews that have gone really wrong that, there’s one from Dani Shapiro, I was actually trying to look it up before this call that someone had told me about that, really kind of was like an almost an attack on the author, and the book was arguing against who the author was. And it seems to me that we can go wrong, when we’re not really kind of understanding whether or not we’re the reader for the book to, whether we don’t want to be the reader or not, but it’s like, who is this for, is part of, I guess, the question, in the review? I’m saying that like a statement, but it’s a question.
Micah Killjoy: 18:58
No, exactly, though, it’s not everyone is a part of the target audience. And that is completely fine. And saying this book is probably good for somebody else, it just might not be for me, is a really important way to approach it.
Rachel Thompson: 19:11
And I wonder, our readers probably get familiar with some of our reviewers too, although, we’re throwing in a new one into the next, once in a while, but then you kind of start to trust. I have similar aesthetic tastes, or even just that positionality, or coming from the same place with this review, so maybe I’ll appreciate what they have to say.
I kind of touched on this already or I was imagining this that writers can learn from reviewing books the same way that I’ve experienced, especially from reading submissions, I should qualify to I’ve written maybe a couple of reviews in my lifetime, but it’s not really something that I’ve focused my writing practice on. So that’s why I’m putting myself in this imagining position, I guess. But I’m wondering if you have specific things. Am I right about that in terms of learning about your own craft and then are there other things that writers learn from reviewing books?
Micah Killjoy: 20:03
I think that’s spot on. I think you learn a lot about your own craft. Because so much of writing and writing well is your brain hits a point where you’re not necessarily reading, you are writing as a reader, you’re reading it as words that are strung together in a way that a reader will enjoy and be able to conceive and see it in a way that’s similar to you. Hopefully, that all made sense. It’s just a very different skill, I feel like to be able to write in a way that feels cohesive.
We know writing is hard. It takes 5 to 10 to 20 years for a lot of us to get really good at it. And a lot of that has to do with just getting into this mindset. And being able to write in a way where you’re not writing as a reader anymore, you’re writing as somebody that is writing for an audience. And the mechanics of it are different mentally, as well. Like, I find that in my own writing a lot. I’m moving words around instead of having images all the time, in my own writing, personally.
And so, I think that a lot of that has to do with this analysis brain and being able to look at a book and review it and say,
“Oh, interesting, they put these words in this order. And I wonder why they did that. And I wonder if there’s a way that I can take that skill that they have, and how they order this.”
And add it into my own arsenal of tools for my writing. I am also just getting familiar with other people’s writing, as well, when I personally am really immersed in a book, usually it happens about for a novel, it’s about half to three quarters of the way through, I’ll start thinking in the writer’s voice. And I think that can also really inform a lot of my own writing, like, it’s really cool to have that happen. Also kind of horrifying and weird. I’m a relatively like, voisey person when I write. So, I just think that is the coolest ability to be able to take that into your own writing as well.
I think that when you’re reviewing books, you’re also kind of forcing yourself to read books you might not normally read, when I’m assigning reviews, I’ll pitch 7 to 10 titles, ideally, in prose. 7 to 10 in poetry. A reviewer will pick one and it might not be a book they would normally read, but being able to really absorb it, especially somebody that is new to them is, again, it just adds more to your toolbox.
Rachel Thompson: 22:18
Imagine reading with reviewing in mind really does require you to kind of empathize even more with the writers.
Micah Killjoy: 22:26
Rachel Thompson: 22:27
Thinking how and just understand what is it that they’re trying to do here, and did they land the plane?
Micah Killjoy: 22:33
Yeah, that’s exactly right. I feel like also, sometimes, especially when it comes to social media, and as we were talking about earlier with, like these hybrid reviews, people can be really catty about books. But we know writing is really, really hard. I would like to think that if you’re really stretching your reviewing muscles, as you said, it can really increase that empathy of being able to get into the writers head and think about what they’re trying to do. Extending the empathy to them that we wish everybody would extend to us when we’re writing.
Rachel Thompson: 23:03
I’m curious about your take on panning a book versus only reviewing books you like, because I’ve definitely heard from writers within CanLit, I think too, who said, If I don’t like the book, I don’t review it because there are so few books that get reviews. So, what are your thoughts?
Micah Killjoy: 23:18
That’s a great point. Obviously, it’s not the same as in the US where it’s just a constant stream. But I think it’s okay to, again, if you’re approaching the book with this sense of empathy and with an idea of like, I think this is what the writer is trying to do, and these are the ways they maybe weren’t able to quite make it to that goal. I think if people are approaching it with that mindset and are able to say so kindly, it’s less like viral, like it has less virality, if that’s a word to make people really want to click on it and make them angry when you have that soft approach. But I also think it is a really good sign that we have enough books that we’re able to say, nah, this one wasn’t for me, or I think we can maybe work on this in the future, or this writer could potentially work on this in the future.
I also don’t get a lot of people panning books. We’ve had a couple I think since I’ve been the reviews editor over the last three years, but people are generally, again, very gentle with their approach. I think that just makes a really big difference. They’re not just going for anger.
Rachel Thompson: 24:24
I’m just hearing what you said already. Like, it seems to me that the ones that have gone wrong that have gone viral. Again, there’s this one that I’m thinking of I was unable to find. So, I don’t even think it’s going to appear in the show notes. I’ll ask a couple of people and try to put it in the show notes if I can.
I guess what I value about what you said is like, understanding, oh, well, this isn’t vibing with me because I have problems with this branch of feminism or this way of looking at the world or I have questions about the underpinnings of the actual subject at hand. Knowing that about yourself I think is probably the first thing in this, the reviews that have gone terribly wrong, seem to me that are the ones where the reviewer doesn’t necessarily have that self-awareness?
Micah Killjoy: 25:04
Rachel Thompson: 25:05
It would be helpful if we had specific- If I was talking about a specific review that we both knew. But I’m kind of projecting and imagining that that’s that.
Micah Killjoy: 25:13
I mean, also, sometimes hot mess titles come out, and like, that happens, like the publishing industry can just really cause a lot of burnout. I think so much as we know, so much of like, the literary world is just how connected people are. Sometimes people are really connected, and they have a lot of craft stuff that they still have in development, but they’re still able to get published, regardless because of those connections. I’m also holding that in my mind, too.
Rachel Thompson: 25:41
Like, sometimes books are just bad?
Micah Killjoy: 25:43
Yeah, yeah. Or that they needed another edits, and everyone was too tired to do it, or the proofreader was off that day, or the fact checker was out having something personal happen. So, the book just wasn’t held to the same kind of standards, as we would hope for something that’s being traditionally published. It happens- I say that without judgment, people are people, we have to make room for error as well. Also, as long as, again, that people are trying to approach these reviews with like, an eye towards kindness, and like, how would I want my book treated and how much goodwill would I want extended to me, even if the book is a hot mess? My book is a hot mess, like, what would I want from that?
Rachel Thompson: 26:24
I want to ask you a little bit, since you’re talking about my book, what are you currently exploring in your writing? What are you working on?
Micah Killjoy: 26:33
What am I currently exploring in my writing? I have been writing just about obsessive lesbians in short stories, speculative fiction. The last few short stories I have turned out have been really going deep into that. I’ve been playing around a lot with unreliable narrators, which is fun, but hard. How much can you string the reader along without, you know, it has to be a reveal at some point that they’re really unreliable? But you have to figure out the timing of that. I think those are my big two projects right now. Just yeah, exploring short story world, it’s been a while since I’ve turned them out. So, it’s nice to get back to them.
Rachel Thompson: 27:09
That sounds really fun. Is there anything else that you think our listeners who are mostly emerging writers, who are submitting to Room and just starting out, anything that they should know about Room and our book reviews?
Micah Killjoy: 27:20
One thing that they should know about Room, we’re trying our hardest. We’re doing our best, constantly, consistently. I’m very grateful that we have so many people that contribute to us. I also just feel like part of being in Room is I feel very, very lucky with the stories that people have shared with us. So, I think that, especially for emerging writers, even if they don’t make it in just know that somebody read it, and you’re still making it impact on a reader. I think that’s something that can get really lost in the rejection letter.
I’ve read so many stories that I’m in awe by and just maybe aren’t right for the issue. It’s one of those things I wish someone had said to me is like, there is a slush reader, they are reading it. They do care about what you’re writing, even if it’s not quite right for our issue.
Rachel Thompson: 28:10
I love that because it’s like, as soon as you hit submit, you actually have a reader, you immediately have a reader who’s reading your work. In the case of the pieces that you’re talking about, appreciating that didn’t make the issue. I’m the same too, where it’s like we’re forwarding it to the editor. But the editor wasn’t able to place it because of their vision, or just the space. Being a print magazine, we have limited space, we print in a certain number of pages.
Micah Killjoy: 28:35
Yeah, it can just feel so anonymous, right? Like getting those rejection letters is just like a little punch in the gut every time, but it’s like, oh, no, somebody read this and they thought about it. Then like it just wasn’t right for the moment, and that’s okay.
Rachel Thompson: 28:46
So I’m going to turn us to some fill in the blank statements in Quick Lit round. So, the first is,
Being a writer is…
Micah Killjoy: 28:55
A delightful hell.
Rachel Thompson: 28:57
Literary Magazines are…
Micah Killjoy: 28:59
Wait, but still important.
Rachel Thompson: 29:02
Micah Killjoy: 29:04
Practice patience, and a lot of coffee.
Rachel Thompson: 29:08
Rejection for a writer means…
Micah Killjoy: 29:10
It might just be the wrong moment. Got to keep trying.
Rachel Thompson: 29:16
And finally, writing community is…
Micah Killjoy: 29:18
Vital and all important.
Rachel Thompson: 29:20
Part agree on that one.
Micah Killjoy: 29:22
I also wanted to just add, you asked earlier about things to know about book reviews. If people are interested in reviewing books, please feel free to pitch me and just reviews editor at room.com, I believe it is. It’s on the masthead and just send a writing sample and interest, and especially if you’re a first time reviewer or first time you’re trying to get some practice with this, let me know because I’m always looking for folks.
Rachel Thompson: 29:48
Wonderful. Thank you so much.
So that was my conversation with Micah Killjoy, who I really love that our ghosts issue gave the excuse to go through and find spooky stories from the past 10 years, the ghostly books of the past, breaking the usual limitations we put on book reviews in Room magazine. I also appreciated hearing about the challenges and necessity of that limitation, as Micah said, there are so many amazing books coming out and I want to review all of them. And if you’re someone who has released a book in the past few years and haven’t had a review in Room, I think, maybe it’s also heartening to know okay, there are just so many books and so little space. Or maybe disheartening to know that unfortunately.
What I must appreciate it in the discussion I had with Micah Killjoy was examining why reviews are important as part of a wider conversation about craft. Micah talked about how for them, it’s really important to be constantly having a conversation about what good craft is.
It can be really hard to name what is working in craft. Understanding why it works and why it makes us feel the way we feel. For other writers, it’s really to helpful to think, well, how am I able to apply this to my own craft? I think all of that is really a necessary part of a writer’s life.
Inspired by this conversation, I went to some of the members in our Writerly Love Community to talk about their own book review practices. So, I’m going to discuss two of them and share links to their reviews in my show notes. But do check out my Writerly Love Letter this week, it’ll be out tomorrow, as of the release of this episode. If you want to see many more examples and more discussion about book reviews written by our members. You can sign up as a reminder for my letters at rachelthompson.co/letters.
Lori Sebastianutti share a book review that she did for River Street Writing that she calls instrumental in starting her on the path to writing my own book. The book she reviewed was Body & Soul: Stories for Skeptics and Seekers, Edited by Susan Scott, and you can read in the review Lori’s reflection on how that opened up for her the possibility of exploring her own faith in writing, a subject she’d internalized as taboo and not what we talk about in literature.
So, there you go! It’s a concrete example of how reviewing a book can really inform your own writing, especially when it covers themes you’re called to explore, and of course, it forces you to really examine the craft of the book and how it works, which is exactly what Micah Killjoy said earlier.
“Reviewing is really a critical practice for me whether the review itself is published or not. It is deeply important for me to articulate and offer a measure of critique and praise for writers who spend so much time making the book in the first place. For me it is especially resonant to review Black Indigenous and writers of color knowing back in the day there were so few racialized writers.“
In my conversation with Micah Killjoy, we touched on biases in book reviews, especially book reviews of old but certainly a lot of biases exist to this day. We touched in particular around gendered lines, but I think it’s vital to note, as Whitney has, that there are so few racialized reviewers reviewing books in the past and then still today. So, you can see the value of such a practice, both for Whitney writing and for building up a community in helping to create a space for more marginalized writers for more writers to be read widely.
By the way, I referenced that account of gender disparity reviewing obliquely when speaking with Micah Killjoy, and I’ll unpack now for just for a moment that it came from the now-defunct CWILA organization, which I’ll link to news regarding in the show notes, when that first came out, and it was about a decade ago.
You can read all of the reviews that I mentioned, both from Whitney and Lori, in the show notes, and you can read the reviews published in Ghosts 46.3, Room, in the magazine, available in the shop up at roommagazine.com as either a print or digital issue.
Coming up in this Ghosts series will be the final few episodes that take you behind the scenes of making the issue. You’ll hear from more contributors to the issue, hear some more spirited writing, and I’ve also booked our incredible cover artist, Amy Friend. So more coming up on what haunts us as writers and as visual artist as well.
The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. Sound Editing by Adam Linder. Transcripts by Diya Jaffery. Meli Walker, the community facilitator at Writerly Love Community, helped me gather those book review notes from our members. Thank you all! Meli also put together a team page up at rachelthompson.co/team if you want to check out all of the people that make everything I do in community possible.
You can learn more about how I help writers, write, publish, and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters, I send them every week and they are filled with support for your writing practice.
If this episode encouraged you to review a book and dig into how craft works, I would love to hear all about it. You can always email me at email@example.com. You will find me posting occasional updates on Instagram; follow me there @rachelthompsonauthor, but note that’s not where to connect with me as I don’t do DMs. Email is the best way to reach me, again firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have a favor to ask. Please, can you tell other luminous writers about this episode? You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or telling them to search for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts. And, a slightly bigger favor: could you review the podcast at Apple podcasts? I don’t know a tonne about how it works, but apparently this also helps writers find us, and I’m checking in on the reviews and I will share some of those as well, too.
Thank you so much for listening—I encourage you to read deeply for craft inspiration, dear writers.
Micah Killjoy talked to me from the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh peoples, also known as Vancouver.
And I am a guest in the South Sinai on lands of the el Muzzina Bedouin.