“I’m interested in asking different questions and in the vulnerability of language that allows for an honest attempt at expression and a way to investigate complex questions.” —Janice Lee

This is a replay of my interview with Janice Lee from way back in 2017.

Janice Lee is a Korean-American writer, editor, publisher, and Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy.

She talks about the vulnerability of language and how writing exists because language fails as a way to articulate the inarticulable and how Entropy is a space to talk about things that writers are interested in—and things that are not necessarily literary.

Listen to learn about Entropy and how it is more of a community than a magazine—though they do take writing submissions, so of course, we get into how to publish your writing with them.

At the time the journal was around for three years, so it’s lasted four more years since. I also want to note that I don’t recall, but I must have had a cold at the time of recording, as I sound very nasally throughout the interview!

Submission Guidelines

I took a fresh look at Entropy’s submission guidelines to find they are currently and indefinitely open for submissions of Reviews, Interviews/Conversations, Discussions/Roundtables, & Articles/Essays/Notes/Rants/Lists/Writings related to or falling into any of the following categories: Creative Nonfiction, Lyrical Essay, Personal Essay, Literature, Experimental Writing, Small Presses, Translation, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Games (Video games, board games, computer games), Science, Digital & Interactive Literature, Travel, the Paranormal, Television, Film, Music, Food, Culture & Art.

They welcome all of these things, but also ask you not to see it as a limiting list, rather a starting list of suggestions. If you’re not sure, send them a query.

They do not pay and are entirely volunteer-run. I know several emerging writers in my course community who have had great experiences publishing with them.

More About Janice Lee

Also, Janice mentioned starting The Accomplices, a literary arts partnership and media company dedicated to amplifying marginalized voices and identities, particularly writers of color, through traditional and new media publishing, public engagement, and community building. She did! And you can learn more about this on theaccomplices.org

Jump to the interview transcript>>

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Interview Transcript

Rachel: Welcome Janice.

Janice: Hi! Happy to be here.

Rachel: I was reading your National Poetry Month post from last year where you shared E. E. Cummings, “pity this busy monster, manunkind” as one of the first poems you ever read and that influenced your writing. When did you read this poem and how did it influence your writing?

Janice: Yeah, so I read that poem for the first time in Mrs. Hogan’s English class in high school and that was sort of one of my favorite classes in high school for various reasons. She did a really great job of having us read a lot of literature that I felt like was sort of different than what we had been reading in the canon and other English classes so we got to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for example and that was one of the first books I read by a woman of color. That really resonated with me.

We also had to bring in songs for one of our projects to present and we had to analyze them as if they were poems and I brought in Tupac’s “Changes.” And so I remember there was one day we were put into small groups and our group was assigned the e.e. cummings poem, pity this monster, manunkind and the other groups had more traditional poems maybe like Robert Frost and things like that. And at first my group was sort of baffled. We had not really seen poetry like this before. It didn’t rhyme. It wasn’t capitalized. It was sort of strange and then we sort of really dug into it. We had resources like Google at the time so we went home and we were researching different words. We looked at all the different words all the different references to science and to Einstein that he was making in all of the different layers that were sort of embedded in the words and in the language but also the syntax. And it’s also just a really cheeky and funny poem. And that was the first time I had sat down with any poem for that long and really thought about all of the pieces and layers and how all of that was working together. So that’s sort of why it was so influential to me I just hadn’t really thought about poetry in that way before.

Rachel: Oh wonderful and such a great poem. And I love that you’re doing “Changes” and like deconstructing that in English class. That’s great.

Janice: Yeah!

Rachel: So, is that when you’ve first realized you were a poet? Or was there a time when you realized you’re a poet and you have other family members maybe who inspired you to be in an artist?

Janice: Yeah! So, it was sort of my mother who really instilled a love of art and literature in me.

She loved art and she loved books. She would often read to me when I was little and when I was in fourth grade she challenged me to sort of read every book on the classics shelf in the public library. There was this one shelf that sort of had all of the classics and all the canonical books in one place. So before I finished elementary school I had already been profoundly influenced and devastated and heartbroken by books like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Nietzsche and Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray. So I was not really a normal child. And I was always sort of sensitive and very empathetic so art and music and writing made sense to me. Just this process of observing things and trying to articulate what was seen and what someone was feeling.

All of that made sense to me. But my parents sort of in typical Asian immigrant fashion wanted me to be a doctor. So I started off initially on a trajectory for going to med school. I majored in biology in college but through various different circumstances I sort of found my way back to just being in a place where it made sense to me. So using using art and using language and using writings sort of made sense to me.

So I don’t, I don’t consider myself a poet I think. I tend to just think of myself just as a writer sort of generally. I write in all genres. My friend Juliet Lee just called me the other week “genre queer.” So my work has more to do with narrative and intimacy and just my general relationship to language and it just has a different lens each time and this might manifest in a poem or an essay. But the genre isn’t always something that I’m thinking about when I start off.

Rachel: Wonderful. You know you’re actually my second guest who started off at med school and went into writing (laughing).

Janice: Really (laughing).

Rachel: Shashi Bhat from EVENT had the same trajectory.

Janice: Oh wow.

Rachel: So, I’m wondering what was the first lit mag that you published with? And did you publish something that was ‘genre queer’ there? And what was that experience like?

Janice: Yeah! I mean, I was thinking about this question and gosh I actually hardly remember my first publication. I was sort of one of those really determined, overachieving students probably carried over from having this like trying to get into med school mentality and just my parents. So I just kept sending out work. And I kept getting rejections and sometimes acceptances. And so I think that the very first publication was just a very random local literary journal in San Diego and I was an undergrad there and it was, it was something that was run by a local poets in the city. And I think it was all online. I think it was just like a poem, like a prose poem. But I don’t remember, and I don’t even know if I still have it. I think I remember sort of more clearly is being an editor for the first time. In undergrad I started a kind of weird experimental literary journal with two other peers of mine, Nancy Romero and Shoshana Sideman. And it was called Pulp and we were inspired by some of our teachers, like Anna J. Springer and Ali Liebert Goth and we sort of wanted this kind of DIY feel and all of our journals were handmade. One of our journals was this crazy thing where we stapled every page on a different part of the spine so that you had to spin the book in order to flip pages and we thought it was really clever because it was supposed to mimic, like, a record and it was impossible to read you know something like that. But yeah things like that. I just remember just constantly being engaged and wanting and wanting to be part of the community and wanting to share work.

Rachel: Oh, that’s wonderful. And you said in an interview on the Review Review that you put Entropy that we like to read smart things and share thoughts and books. We also like to have fun and laugh and play games. And I mean that playfulness comes through in the way that you stapled that journal.

Janice: Yeah, we thought it was super punk and super clever, but, you know. (Laughing)

Rachel: And so how has it been going with that intersection of smart and fun for three years now at Entropy?

Janice: Yeah. When we started Entropy we, we wanted a space where we could share things and talk about things that writers were interested in but that weren’t necessarily literary so that’s why we have a section for video games and board games. So, one of the things that we did when we initially started was a group of us actually started a Dungeons and Dragons session and we did it over Google Hangouts. And one of the editors wrote up the sessions into this kind of long fictional narratives every time we played. And so like that kind of thing was very important to us and we’ve also had a couple year-long collaborations where contributors from the entire community could sign up and you know someone would write like a few lines of a poem and then the next person would write the next few lines of the poem next week and it would just carry on and so we’ve had a few things like that. So it’s, it’s also just important to us in times that are difficult to just also you know play and have fun in the collaborations that we get to participate in.

Rachel: I love that idea that definitely in difficult times that it’s good to be able to play and it’s important to be able to play. It’s definitely part of the creative process too isn’t it?

Janice: Yeah definitely.

Rachel: What have you learned through editing that informs what you’re doing in your own writing?

Janice: I’ve learned a lot of things but I think the thing that I think about the most, especially recently, is we have learned more about the capacities for intimacy through editing. Both in my writing and just in all of my editorial and publishing work, I’m interested in asking different questions and I’m interested in the, in the vulnerability of language that allows for an honest attempt at expression and a way to investigate complex questions. This might be just about life, how we would see things differently, just existing as humans together, race, gender, politics, love, depression, relationships, food, I mean all of these things.

And I really do believe that writing exists because language fails and because language fails that’s why we have things like poetry and art. And that’s the exciting part to me. So, if writing’s an attempt to sort of articulate the inarticulateable, I think it’s really important also to make sure that different voices get to be heard and are shared sort of in the same form. So you know one of the exciting things I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new people or hear from people just because of things that I have personally written or pieces that I’ve published or different books that I’ve put out. And so writing and editing and publishing are also connected to reading and sharing and dialoguing and thinking together and all of this is about existing together as part of a larger community. And this larger community is where the work actually exists right? It doesn’t exist in a vacuum and when we write our work at home, you know, that’s sort of different than when the work is received out in the world. So, this whole process just allows people I think to share what they see and to see what others see. And I think especially, especially right now I think this is also political act. Even if the work that’s being shared isn’t political just, just the fact that we’re reading work by different people and encountering works that we wouldn’t normally encounter in our every day. So, how different voices, how marginalized voices get to articulate their everyday reality and how all of these realities can, can sort of coexist.

Rachel: Yeah. I often feel like just the empathy built in writing is a political act. Just being empathetic is politics.

Janice: Yeah, totally! I mean just reading something by someone that you wouldn’t normally read something by, you know, I mean just, just reading and just hearing that point of view I think is such a political act.

Rachel: Can you tell me what you look for in submissions and pitches to Entropy? What kind of writing, for example, you want to see more of? And what you’d rather not see again for a long time.

Janice: So, I think of Entropy, actually, as more of a community and as a magazine. So we, we take submissions, and we have features, and we have sections, then publish works. I guess we, we operate very much like, like a magazine. But part of the impetus of its creation was to have a community space for writers. And when we started many other literary sites that had fulfilled these kinds of community spaces had ended or were winding down or moving on to different projects. And there was already tons of amazing magazines and journals that are publishing super high-quality content and that work is really highly curated and selected and so Entropy isn’t that exactly. And we’re definitely super proud of what we’ve published. We’re not aiming to be an elite platform. We want to, you know, not be gatekeepers as much as possible. It’s really meant to be a space for everyone. So all of our editors, we have more over 40 editors now, between the section editors and the contributing editors. They all have direct access to the website and they can schedule and publish content directly. They don’t need my approval.

So it’s a model that’s really built on trust and compassion and we want this to be a safe space and a welcoming one and all the editors would have understood the importance for dialogue and collaboration. So, so when we’re looking at work, I mean what we look for is we look for honesty, we’re looking for diversity, we’re looking for sensitivity and thoughtfulness and engagement. But really we’re open to almost everything. We keep creating new sections as people create them.

Readers are, are welcome to write to any of the editors or to me at any point and pitch their own ideas for a series to curate or a column to contribute. So, a lot of our series come about that way just someone just emailing and just saying, “Hey. can I write like a temporary series about football” even. You know, things like that. And so what we’re constantly looking for is just different things that might benefit our readers or the community at large. Sort of the only thing that we’re not looking for is, are pieces that propagate hate or are polarizing in any way. But otherwise, we try to remain really open-minded about what it is that we publish and how we’re serving the community.

Rachel: Oh, it’s wonderful. Can you tell me then… so, okay, so you have 40 editors who are scheduling stuff directly. And it’s almost like the sky’s the limit as long as you’re not fostering hate or polarizing. So how do you then choose what to publish? Like, how does the selection process actually work then when you’re choosing between pieces?

Janice: So all of our sections have, have different editors so some of our sections that are bigger like the reviews or poetry or fiction or nonfiction, they sort of have their own editors. So, so contributors are submitting directly to those editors. Each editor has their own sort of process and criteria but we’re sort of you know on similar pages in terms of, in terms of what we’re looking for as a whole. But yeah, each, each editor can accept or reject work or they can solicit work. They all have the authority to do that. We also have contributing editors that are curating series and they’re taking their own submissions. So, it’s really just, you know, just one on one. They’re just emailing an editor. Anytime something doesn’t fit, sometimes that might go through people might send it to me. But it’s really just you know contributors submitting to each of the sections as they sort of see fit.

Rachel: Great. And so I guess if someone submits something and it gets turned down, I guess what does that mean, for them?

Janice: In terms, of sorry, in terms of what?

Rachel: Like in terms of maybe, should they submit again? Because you have 40 editors they should submit to a different section, or will they forward it to that section?

Janice: Oh right. So, so it just sort of, it sort of depends on like, why we’re turning it down. So sometimes, someone’s like submitting something very particularly for a certain series. So a series editor might decide that it doesn’t fit but they might suggest that, “hey you know it doesn’t fit in our series but why don’t you try submitting it more broadly to the nonfiction section.” They might say that. Sometimes it might just be a piece that we’re pretty sure that we just don’t want. So we wouldn’t forward it on. But there definitely is sort of that loophole where you could email one editor and then another one. But it only works for pieces that are really falling into multiple genres. But for the most part, if editors aren’t sure about a piece, sometimes we’ll talk to each other. We have an editors’ Facebook group and they’ll say, “hey this piece that, you know, I’m not really sure, you know, I want to be able to accept it but maybe there’s these things that are sort of problematic” and so sometimes editors will talk to each other. Sometimes they’ll email me. So any time it’s not very clear we do have a conversation about it.

Rachel: That’s great and actually I forgot to ask, where are your editors located? Are they across the country?

Janice: They’re across the country. We used to have editors around the world. But I think since then, a lot of them have moved into the U.S. Actually I think, I think we do have one in China. They’re sort of just all over. So almost everything is done by e-mail or social media. Once in a while we’ll have a Google Hangout.

Rachel: Do you play D&D still in the Google Hangouts?

Janice: We don’t, because it’s difficult when we’re all in different time zones. And we’re just also busy but I would love to.

Rachel: So what should a writer expect when their work is accepted at Entropy? Like do you do a lot of developmental editing? Is that the conversation is in the Facebook group?

Janice: Yeah. So, I think because we have so many editors, it works a little bit differently than other literary journals. And so it really depends on the editor and so some of our editors are a little bit more hands-on and others less so. But for the most part, I think it just has to do with practical concerns, like time. And so since all of our editors are volunteers and they’re also all working full-time jobs already or several part-time jobs or have families, this is like the extra thing that they’re, we’re all doing just because we want to be doing it. But for the most part, most of the editors don’t do work that requires any heavy developmental editing. Because we’re trying to write it more like a community space and less like a magazine.

Also, we tend to just trust in the work. And so if we like the work, we tend to ask for very few changes, if any, and usually that has to do with clarity or if there’s any copyright issues or proofreading and so small things like that. For me, when submissions come to me, if it’s going to require, you know, like more than 20 minutes of editing, I usually just say no and I’ll just usually explain why. Just because I don’t have the time to sit down and edit every piece that goes up. Because we’re publishing so much. So you know we usually just tell people. I mean, you know, if you’re happy with it then send that to us. But if you’re looking for feedback from an editor or if you’re working to work with an editor on developing it, don’t send it to us yet.

Rachel: Yeah sounds like, unlike a lot of journals, there’s a higher chance maybe of them being published? An opportunity to work with an editor one-to-one kind of?

Janice: Yeah! And you know, there’s, there’s an opportunity to have conversations for editors, I think. I think we all like to stay in touch with our contributors. A lot of our contributors end up becoming editors later on or will contribute multiple times. But I think that, you know, usually the kinds of pieces that people are really wanting to submit to us often are things that are more immediate or urgent just because we have a quicker turnaround. So if, if someone has something they’re responding to right now, we’re a good place for that because we don’t have a long editing process. That’s also good. And people also often share stories that are difficult for them to tell. So a lot of personal essays and things like that. People have found that they would rather publish those at first just because they’ve found Entropy to be really, sort of, accommodating and welcome space for that. So things like that, are things that usually people really think about with Entropy. But yeah because it is a community space, it is a good place for a lot of first publications. We have published several students and this was their first place of publication. Teachers that are familiar with us will often suggest Entropy to some of their students that they think they have they have work that is ready to send to us. So we, sort of do have a large variety and it’s, you know, we have really accomplished writers who have tons of publications, publishing with us, but also first time writers.

Rachel: That’s great. And I think it sounds like people respond as well to the fact that you’re so open about different types of things that you publish. And, and, I’m just going to quote your mission statement where you say, “we appreciate diverse beliefs and perspectives and want to encourage open discussion through a variety of opinions.” So you’ve already spoken to this a little bit and I got the sense of it. But maybe you want to talk a little bit more but how do you work to be inclusive in the diversity of voices that appear on Entropy.

Janice: So a part of this is in sort of the way that we initially created Entropy. So when Entropy first started, I originally co-founded it with Peter Careslou and we were sort of seeking to create a new kind of community space. We wanted it to be built on trust and diversity and we didn’t want it to be a hierarchy. And so at first, one thing that that meant, was that we wanted people involved that weren’t in our immediate circles. So, I actually didn’t ask any of my closest friends and collaborators or grad school buddies initially. And that was very intentional. And so instead we sort of used our instincts and we knew about different literary citizens from social media or that we had worked with maybe in the past just online. And so at AWP in Seattle, we just asked a bunch of them if they wanted to be involved in this project and we just said, “hey we’re going to start this thing called Entropy, you know, do you guys want to be involved.” And they said yes. Peter and I also, by the way, didn’t know each other that well. We also had met just online. He had submitted reviews to me when I was the reviews editor at HTML Giant. And we just immediately trusted each other but we’re also really drawn to the fact that we were really super, we were different in terms of community. We had different friends and very different aesthetics, different parts the literary community that we participated in. So that was really important. We were initially asking people to be editors that were also sort of all over the place, different genres, different communities that they were part of, different geographic regions, different interests. And that was really important for us because we felt that having that diversity in terms of the editors meant that they would be curating different things that we wouldn’t know about and they would bring on different contributors. And so just because of that way that we started, you know, since then we’ve brought on a lot more editors and a lot of my closest friends are involved in it now. But it’s honestly probably the first publishing project that I’ve been involved in and I’ve worked on a lot but we haven’t had to actively worry about representation and diversity of voices all the time. Whereas other journals I’ve worked on we’ve had issues where there was a small literary journal that I ran with a couple of my Cal Arts buddies, Jill Molatha and Eric Lindley, and we ran out of nothing. And we were constantly running into this problem where like 90 percent of our submissions were from men and often from white men. And, so, we just weren’t even getting enough submissions from women and people of colour and that. So, that was something that we were constantly having to work and be really active about soliciting work and trying to find new writers. But at Entropy that really hasn’t been a problem a lot of the editors were sort of on the same page about that. Whenever we were editing or like creating any sort of lists or roundups we try to really take all of that into consideration. The editors know lots of people they know different people so it’s been a really smooth and natural process and I’ve been really happy about that.

Rachel: It sounds like a lot of the upfront work you did paid off in terms of really reaching out to a diversity of people outside of your circle.

Janice: Yeah. And I think, you know, part of it was a risk, too. We asked a lot of people that we didn’t really know, you know, we were just we just knew them on social media. We were like, well this person seems really cool it seems like they really care about literature. So, let’s ask them. And I didn’t ask any of my closest friends. Neither of us did. So that was sort of I think a risk that we took that paid off.

Rachel: Nice. I also want to note I love how you called them literary citizens too. That’s great.

Janice: Yeah. (Laughter)

Rachel: I asked you beforehand if you could think of a piece that you recently published and talk about it a little bit. And tell us why you published it.

Janice: Yeah so the piece that I selected is this essay by Brandon Shimoda. And Brandon Shimoda is just one of my favourite poets. He’s just one of those people who’s really utterly engaged with everything he does. He writes the most magnificent e-mails and I only met him for the first time in person briefly in Tucson last month actually. And so this piece published a few months ago and I love it for a few reasons. That happens to begin with a scene from Satantango, which is one of my favourite films. It’s directed by the Hungarian director Béla Tarr. But also it sort of exemplifies the kind of work that I really love and that we get to publish on Entropy quite easily and it’s, it’s an essay but it’s also very lyrical. It’s sort of in-between nonfiction poetry and it’s personal. It’s observant. It has, sort of, an immediacy to the writing that seems very present, but also a thoughtfulness that seems very premeditated. And so that’s sort of like the type of work that I personally am really excited that we get to publish on Entropy. And it’s, you know we have a category on the website for sort of ease of browsing but we’re not, we don’t have to barely be bound to genre. We don’t have to publish essays that’s just a certain way or poems that look a certain way, so anything that’s sort of in-between genre, anything that’s sort of between person or political, we’re happy to publish. Sort of on a related note, we’re actually publishing another essay by him tomorrow morning. And it’s this paper that he gave at the Thinking Its Presence Conference in Tucson, where we met for the first time. And the essay is sort of hard to describe but it’s really a heartbreaking, necessary piece of writing. It’s called the Ghosts of Pearl Harbour on the Pre-War Surveillance of Japanese Immigrants and Japanese Americans and the Production of Terror at the University of Arizona.

So you can sort of tell from the title that it encompasses a lot of different things. And that’s one of the things that I like about his writing is that he’s able to draw sort of these really kind of poetic but also really necessary connections between all of these different elements.

Rachel: We’ll post the link to both of the pieces in our show notes for this episode too.

Janice: Cool.

Rachel: So what is coming up with Entropy? I mean you talked about somewhat you’re publishing tomorrow, but do you have any themed issues or events or special lists coming up I guess.

Janice: Yeah! So we have, you know it’s the end of the year already so we have our best of 2017 lists coming up. And that’s something that’s sort of grown over time. But we do those lists a little bit differently. We want these lists to be representative of the community and not necessarily comprehensive of what the New York Times or The Washington Post has decided are the best books this year. So we initially use, suggest, invite the entire Entropy community, which would include all of our editors at any past contributors to, to nominate. This year we’ve actually opened it up so I’ve actually posted it on social media and so anyone who’s also a reader can participate. And it’s a pretty transparent process but basically, anyone can nominate what they think, you know, with their favourite books of poetry and fiction and nonfiction. We also have categories for like TV shows and presses and things like that. And they can email me directly and every single nomination is basically a vote. And we tally all of those up and we use that to make our list so the lists are actually created by everyone. It’s not created by just me or a few editors. It’s the entire community.So that’s something that’s sort of coming up and people can send nominations in right now. We’ve also, we’ve been partners with Civil Coping Mechanisms to press for a while now, which is run by Michael Seidlinger. We also recently joined forces with Writ Large Press which is sort of an L.A. based community press and that’s run by Chiwan Choi, Judeth Oden Choi, and Peter Woods. And we formed this entity called The Accomplices. So concerning that we’re going to be announcing some really new and exciting collaboration soon. Related to sort of blowing up the publishing industry. Also perhaps a podcast series. So those are announcements that might be coming up and we’ll just be doing some more collaborative working in the communities sort of in general. We’re sort of continuing to be thoughtful of the resources that we provide. So like our Where to Submit lists are probably our most popular feature at Entropy and I know a lot of people use those. We’re continuing to do “Trump Watch,” which is a sort of branch of Entropy but it’s run by myself and a few volunteers and it’s a curation of headlines related to what’s happening politically under the Trump administration every single day. So since, since the election that’s been running every single day and the same volunteers have been writing it for every single day and that’s been sort of been a difficult process.

And then maybe the last thing that I’ll say that, we also just announced today this new writing contest that we’re cosponsoring with Interaction Inc. And it’s a privilege and identity abroad narrative writing contest. So, the prompt sort of asks for anyone who has traveled abroad to share their experiences on privilege and identity that they’ve experienced. And to just sort of discuss how power dynamics and privilege might manifest in different ways. And so we’re sort of excited about this partnership. There’s a cash prize, there’s no fee. It’s great for students who maybe travelled or studied abroad. So we’re hoping that we’ll have sort of similar community partnerships in the future.

Rachel: This is amazing. All of the things you’re doing it’s making me wonder where did she find all the time to do it. And I’m just wondering about the last one with the contest is that open internationally as well?

Janice: Yeah yeah. It’s open, it’s open to anyone. The link is on our website now. There is a Submittable. So anyone can submit.

Rachel: Great! So it’s been so wonderful to talk to you today. I’ve learned a lot about Entropy and just been really inspired actually by all of the different things you’re doing and the approach that you take to play and even the approach to, you know, magnifying different voices. It’s just so cool.

Janice: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me and letting me talk about it. It’s something that I love doing which is why I make the time to continually do it. So I love talking about it.

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