01 // No Subject is Off Limits with Shashi Bhat from Event Magazine

For 45 years, EVENT has published the very best in contemporary new poetry and prose. They are one of Western Canada’s longest-running literary magazines, and welcome submissions written in English from around the world. Each issue of EVENT includes high-quality fiction, poetry, non-fiction and book reviews, and they feature emerging and established writers side-by-side in their pages. EventMagazine.ca

Shashi Bhat received an MFA in Fiction from The Johns Hopkins University and a BA in English from Cornell University. Her novel, The Family Took Shape, was released from Cormorant Books in 2013 and was one of three books shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize. Her stories have appeared in The Malahat Review, Grain, Journey Prize Stories 24, PRISM international, EVENT, The New Quarterly, The Threepenny ReviewThe Missouri Review and other journals. She was a finalist for the 2010 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award. She teaches creative writing at Douglas College and is the Editor of EVENT magazine. ShashiBhat.com

Read “Bacchanalia” by Marcia Walker in EVENT 45/2. (This is the piece Shashi Bhat discusses in the episode.)

Episode Transcript

Rachel: [00:00:00] Welcome to Lit Mag Love. Presented by Room Magazine and the Lit Mag Love course. I’m Rachel Thompson writer, editor, and online instructor.

Rachel: [00:00:08] In this first season of Lit Mag Love the podcast, I interview editors from literary journals and share readings from the pages of Lit Mag Love. My aim is for you, dear writer, to find a lit mag where you may have your own words cherished by readers.

Rachel: [00:00:35] Today we have Shashi back from EVENT.EVENT Prides itself on finding and supporting fresh new voices. Writers have received recognition from the Journey Prize, the National Magazine Awards, the Western Magazine Awards, Best Canadian Short Stories, Best Canadian Poetry, and the Pushcart Prize. And they have published many of Canada’s most distinguished writers both before and after they gained national or international recognition. And they continue to support gifted emerging writers. As I mentioned we have Sashi Bhat here and she is the editor of EVENT. Her novel, The Family Took Shape, was published by Cormorant Press in 2013 and shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. She received an MFA in fiction from the John Hopkins University and a B.A. from Cornell University. Her stories have appeared in many many lit mags, too many to list. And she has been long listed for the Journey Prize, a finalist for the RBC Bronwyn Wallace Award, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Shashi has taught creative writing at the Johns Hopkins University and Dalhousie University, and she currently teaches at Douglass College which is where EVENT is based. So welcome Shashi. Thank you (Shashi). Thanks so much for being here and for being my first interview in this series of Lit Mag Love. 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: [00:02:11] It’s hard to remember the first time 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 writing was 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: [00:03:06] Wonderful and when was that? Do you remember what year or where you were at that time?

Shashi: [00:03:12] Maybe in like the third or fourth grade probably.

Rachel: [00:03:18] So early on.

Shashi: [00:03:18] Yeah definitely in elementary school at some point. And yeah I was a kid who spent a lot of time at the library so…

Rachel: [00:03:27] I could definitely relate to that. So what made you realize you were a writer then. Is that when the realization happened as well?

Shashi: [00:03:35] 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.

Shashi: [00:03:44] Like in undergrad I was pre-med 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 pre-med, I was applying to med school, and while I was working on my personal essay for medical school I realized that I 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: [00:04:22] 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: [00:04:40] 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 totally 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: [00:05:36] 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 essays. 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: [00:06:23] 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: [00:06:45] 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, like working with writers and I think teaching has helped me a lot with that. And I think writing too in the sense that maybe I’m more sensitive to writers because I’m also a writer. I guess I’m 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: [00:08:12] That makes sense, so when you talk about diplomacy do you mean being able to broach difficult changes maybe within a piece or…

Shashi: [00:08:20] 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: [00:08:33] Oh my god.

Shashi: [00:08:36] 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: [00:09:06] 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: [00:09:19] When I was working on my novel…No, I think I’d finished it before I started working really.

Rachel: [00:09:24] OK. So it would have informed you in a different sense to get you ready for the for the work as an editor.

Shashi: [00:09:32] 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: [00:09:58] 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: [00:10:18] 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: [00:10:31] 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: [00:10:44] 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 work

Rachel: [00:11:02] 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: [00:11:22] 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: [00:11:59] 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: [00:12:07] 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: [00:13:07] And I guess you were joining in the competition too.

Shashi: [00:13:11] Right.

Rachel: [00:13:12] 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: [00:13:21] 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 Ellie Sawatzky 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 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.

[00:14:47] 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: [00:15:10] I guess I always think of self publishing as just its own category. Like there’s 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 in 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 or 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 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: [00:16:30] Yeah like you’ve cut your teeth and you have experience working with an editor.

Shashi: [00:16:34] 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: [00:16:44] 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: [00:16:59] Yep–yeah.

Rachel: [00:16:59] 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: [00:17:26] Let’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 little 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 battles 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: [00:19:12] And what was the reason–was is that it was a controversial piece or?…

Shashi: [00:19:17] 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: [00:19:46] It wasn’t on their “must publish list”.

Shashi: [00:19:47] No.

Rachel: [00:19:49] Great. Well we’re going to take a short break and then Shashi is going to be back to talk about EVENT and what EVENT is looking for in submissions from logistics to the quality, to different forms that they want to see, after a brief word from our sponsor.

Rachel: [00:20:06] This season of Lit Mag Love, the podcast, is brought to you by my course, Lit Mag Love—same name, I know! If you’re a writer who wants to feel like a professional not an amateur but you just need some proof that you’re not wasting your time with this writing thing and nobody’s given you that official card to confirm you’re a writer. Or if you’re a writer who’d love to finish some pieces but you’re having trouble with focus and motivation. Or maybe you’re a writer who just wants to get your reading out in the world and instead is it’s gathering dust and miscellaneous writing file on your computer and you just need help staying accountable. I suggest you check out Lit Mag Love and you can find out more about it at Lit Mag Love dot com. Some of the lessons include help on getting off the roller coaster of feeling hopeful when you submit work and then crushed when it’s rejected. And in the course you learn how to find an audience for your writing and you get ready for more visibility in the writing community. Another part of the course that students really love, and writers told me after that it was the best part for them, was finding a writing community that embraces you. So if you feel like you know, writing is done in this quiet solitude which it is and that that’s definitely part of the writing life, is writing is on your own. But maybe you’re yearning for a community of like-minded people of writers were also working on being seen and sharing their work with the world.

Rachel: [00:21:49] I’m here with Shashi Bhat from EVENT and I’m asking her now to tell 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: [00:22:04] 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: [00:23:25] Nice, yeah. A lot of magazines, like Room is also on Submittable now too, so that’s great. 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: [00:23:40] Yeah.

Rachel: [00:23:40] But what else would you rather not see for a long time too?

Shashi: [00:23:43] I think that’s the only category of work I would rather not see. There’s no 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: [00:24:32] I love the name Let Down Your Hair, that’s great.

Shashi: [00:24:35] Yeah that was the idea of JJ Lee who’s one of our advisory board members.

Rachel: [00:24:41] 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: [00:24:57] 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 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.

Shashi: [00:25:38] 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: [00:26:05] 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: [00:26:22] 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: [00:26:52] That’s so exciting when a piece is so strong in spite of some of the weaknesses that you really want to.

Shashi: [00:26:59] 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: [00:27:09] So talking about submissions generally, what proportion would you say could be published in 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: [00:27:34] It’s probably changed since we started taking online submissions because we get so many more submissions now.

Shashi: [00:27:42] 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: [00:28:03] Yeah. So then you would say you publish maybe 3 percent but only 5 percent is ready to go?

Shashi: Yeah yeah–definitely.

Rachel: 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 where it’s 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: [00:28:28] 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 you know reasons you might reject writing that isn’t based on the quality of the writing.

Rachel: [00:28:48] And you mentioned that a lot of people submit pieces that maybe just aren’t quite ready yet that needed to go through another.

Rachel: [00:28:56] What clues you into that or what are the more common mistakes that you see in submissions?

Shashi: [00:29:01] It’s mostly just like sloppy writing at the line level.

Shashi: [00:29:05] 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. Yeah that’s probably the number one criteria I guess.

Rachel: [00:29:30] Yeah and originality just in writing you’re seeing generally or you mean something you haven’t recently published an event in EVENT?

Shashi: [00:29:39] Well it could be originality in 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: [00:29:53] 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 Love 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. 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: [00:30:50] 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: [00:31:18] 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: [00:31:25] Oh, that makes sense.

Shashi: [00:31:27] 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: [00:31:42] 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: [00:31:49] Yeah.

Rachel: [00:31:50] 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: [00:32:35] 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 writers 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: [00:34:37] 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: [00:34:50] 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: [00:35:07] I love that book.

Shashi: [00:35:08] 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 work in other literary magazines like Gena Ellet who won our nonfiction contest a couple of years ago or Jane Campbell who’s also had some of her nonfiction published in Event–yeah. And people who, when they do the books come out, I’ll definitely be buying them.

Rachel: [00:35:43] 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: [00:35:49] Yeah, it’s like an insider’s scoop.

Rachel: [00:35:49] So For before the interview we asked you to look at a recent piece you published and prepare to talk about why you published it. 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: [00:36:07] 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: [00:36:25] Of course, of course.

Shashi: [00:36:27] 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 too 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 lost 20-something-year-old it’s not like a brooding story, it’s a really lively and fun story at the same time.

Rachel: [00:37:49] 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: [00:38:12] 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 website 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 one paid internship per year, it just depends on funding. If you check into our website we post opportunities there too.

[00:38:52] 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: [00:39:06] 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: [00:39:20] 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 for Lit Mag Love, too. 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: [00:39:46] Yeah, likewise–lovely to talk to you and thanks for having me.

Rachel: [00:39:51] This episode of Lit Mag Love the podcast is brought to you by Lit Mag Love, the course. You can find out more about the course on LitMagLove.com.

Rachel: [00:40:47] That was my interview with Shashi Bhat from EVENT magazine and I’m going to give you now the lowdown on EVENT. So EVENT publishes in print three times per year. They publish fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and reviews. And they do pay for submissions. Simultaneous submissions they’re fine with, but they want you to advise them immediately. And the CNF differentiates it in terms of how they accept submissions. So CNF they’re looking for submissions to their contest and so you want to look at the contest deadlines for that. And the other 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. So it’s kind of neat. You-you pay for the service of course, but you also would be considered for publication when you do that. So, writers who want to publish in EVENT, I want to highlight three things that Shashi said in our interview. The first one that was a little surprising, even to me, was that only 5 percent of all the submissions that she receives would make it into the issue even if she had all the time and space in the world. So that means ninety-five percent of what is being sent to EVENT wouldn’t even be considered for an issue and wouldn’t wouldn’t be cut for lack of space, it would just be cut for lack of quality. And one of the things she mentioned as a red flag was seeing mistakes at the line level. So that’s the work that hasn’t had the copy editing and the proof-reading required.

[00:42:45] So definitely you want to copy edit and proofread your work because 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. And here, again, is one of the reasons; if you think about the volume of submissions that she’s reading and the fact that she’s used to seeing 95 percent that just aren’t there. That’s a way that you’re going to signal to her that you’re taking this seriously and that you have considered the development, the themes, and the meat of your story or your poem–if it’s well copy-edited and well proof-read. And then another thing to note is, she said basically no subjects are off limits but to try for an original take on some of the more tired subjects. So we talked about that lost 20-something who finds themselves or discover something new when they’re travelling and how that’s a bit of a trope that we both see at EVENT and at Room Magazine. So if you’re going to do a story like that you need to try for an original take and just reading is going to help you a lot with that. So the more you read the more you know, okay these are pretty common stories out there and reading copies of EVENT are also going to help you because you’ll know exactly what Shashi has been reading recently. And in doing so you’re going to discover new ways in which maybe you can make your story fresh–you can say oh you know I haven’t seen this before, or this is a unique angle that only I can write about. So again those three things to consider is: only 5 percent of submissions make it in– would make it in, even with all the time and space, sorry, 3 percent are actually published. So one thing I want you to note about that too is if you get rejected from EVENT that means that you already had a 3 and 5 percent chance of being accepted if your work was up to par. So again if you’re being rejected at that level it could also just mean they just didn’t have the space, they already have something on the same theme already in that issue. Copy edit and proofread your work– very, very important. And no subjects are off limits but try for an original take.

Rachel: [00:45:20] Shownotes for this episode are available on LitMagLovePodcast.com and there you’ll also be able to sign up to be notified when new episodes come out. If you feel some Lit Mag Love for this episode, please tell us in a review on iTunes.

Episode Credits

Host: Rachel Thompson
Audio Editor: Meghan Bell
Music: https://musicformakers.com/songs/the-return/
Transcript Editing and Proofreading: Mridula Morgan
Production & Research Assistant: Gulnaz Saiyed
Produced by Room magazine and Rachel Thompson

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