“Don’t give up and recognize that the writing is a thing in and of itself as well. You need to be able to love doing the writing and just love being in this world that you create with your characters, over and above wanting your name on a book.”—Amanda Leduc
Of course, it is easier to say don’t give up than to do it, as my guest for this episode, Amanda Leduc admits. She’s the nonfiction Little Fiction: Big Truths, so, of course, we continue the trend from the last several episodes of Lit Mag Love and talk about truth-telling in creative nonfiction.
Amanda is a writer with Cerebral Palsy, who grew up with scant examples of disability in literature. We talk about how the literary culture in general in North America, but in Canada particularly, has not made a place for writers with disabilities, while also taking stock of the really exciting times we are in, with many writers, Amanda among them, blazing a trail for younger disabled writers.
Amanda Leduc is from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She has published essays and short stories across Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, and currently serves as the Communications and Development Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity, Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories. Her first novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men, was published in 2013 by Toronto’s ECW Press. Her new novel, The Centaur’s Wife, is forthcoming from Random House Canada.
Little Fiction is a mostly digital publisher of short fiction and nonfiction singles. They are not officially a lit mag, though but do publish on a monthly basis.
Amanda: [00:00:00] Don’t give up, and recognize that the writing is a thing in and of itself as well. You need to be able to love doing the writing and just love being in this world that you create with your characters over and above wanting your name on a book.
Rachel: [00:00:24] This is Lit Mag Love. My name is Rachel Thompson and I’m a writer and editorial collective member at Room Magazine. Lit Mag Love is co-presented by Room, literature art and feminism since 1975. And by my course, also called Lit Mag Love. In each episode of Lit Mag Love, we take you behind the scenes of literary journals to give you insights on what’s going on there. I talk to writers and editors about their reading practice, delving into what they like and submission’s, how journals work, and current trends and topics in the literary scene. Of course it is much easier to say don’t give up than to do it. As my guest for this episode, Amanda Leduc, who’s quoted that the top would be the first to admit. She is the Nonfiction Editor from Little Fiction | Big Truths and so of course we continue the trend from the last several episodes of Lit Mag Love and talk about truth-telling in creative nonfiction. And since Amanda is a writer with cerebral palsy, she talks about how she grew up with scant examples of disability in literature and how the literary culture in general in North America, but in Canada in particular, has not made a place for writers with disabilities. Amanda shares many hopeful things, including her experience as Communications and Development Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity, which is coming up soon. Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories. Welcome Amanda.
Amanda: [00:01:48] Thank you very much for having me.
Rachel: [00:01:49] My pleasure. I want to start by asking you about your own writing and your origin story as a writer, so can you tell us what led you to become a writer. Do you have writers in the family, for example?
Amanda: [00:02:01] Well, I guess I do have my aunt. My maternal aunt is also a writer, and I grew up always sort of thinking that being a writer is something that I would eventually do. It was sort of always in my mind. I can remember being in grade 1 and filling out those questions you know what do you want to be when you grow up. And when I was five, I wrote that I wanted to be an author so it has always been the aim and the goal and the process of getting there has been the journey I guess. I decided to go into writing when I went to university. So I studied first at the University of Victoria and I did a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Philosophy. And then I continued that education overseas and I went to the University of St Andrew’s and did a masters degree in Creative Writing there as well. And then I was in Scotland for a couple of years after graduating and then I came back to Canada in 2010.
Amanda: [00:02:59] And the last sort of eight years has been I guess I sort of look at it as my real world apprenticeship into writing and I’ve been involved in a lot of different things, one of which is obviously Little Fiction | Big Truths and then just other things on a personal level as well. Different things that I volunteered for or different writing endeavours. I did a charity calendar called Bare it for Books that came out a couple of years ago and that connected me to a lot of people in the writing community so that has sort of been a long and meandering road that has brought me to where I am today.
Rachel: [00:03:34] I love what you say about the real world apprenticeship that you’ve had. And we’re going to get into some of the real world stuff that’s going on in writing in general and the literary scene and the FOLD festival. I want to ask you a bit but your writing practice. Can you tell me what is your reading practice like?
Amanda: [00:03:50] Well I guess my ideal writing practice centres around having more or less a full day available to me to write. I like to write in the mornings so I usually start anywhere between 8/9a.m. and I usually write until about noon or 1:00 o’clock and then my afternoons are spent doing things like editing or in most cases it’s the administrative side of writing things. So that’s what I would do things like compose query letters and send submissions out to different magazines. I haven’t been submitting things for the I’d say a year or year and a half or so. I mean a few things here and there, but for the most part I’ve just been busy with larger projects of my own and then of other institutions like the FOLD and Little Fiction as well. But the afternoon is generally spent on those administrative tasks and then sometimes if I have, you know if I’m struck by inspiration in the evening, I will write a little bit in the evening again. That sort of the ideal day. Having said that, because I’ve been so busy these last couple of years, the ideal day has not come along very often. So what usually ends up happening is I do a lot of my writing in the evenings and just kind of cram everything else in whenever I can get to it. I am hopeful though as we’re heading into this latter part of the year that things will ease up in my schedule a little bit and I’ll have more time to devote to writing and really get back into that writing practice. The key part for me is that it needs to be a routine. It’s like running if I miss one or two days of it, the whole thing just falls right the wagon. So the freedom to be able to delve into writing on a daily basis will be something that I’m very much looking forward to.
Rachel: [00:05:31] I like the analogy of running for sure. I understand needing to keep the momentum going everyday.
Amanda: [00:05:38] And the hardest part about it sometimes I find is just getting yourself to that point where you start writing you know if I’m outside of the writing routine I will do anything, and I know so many other writers who talk about this as well. I will do anything in my power to avoid writing. I will clean the house. I will bake. I will take the dog for a walk. I will alphabetize the books that are already on my shelves. I will decide to you know organize all of my paperwork for my taxes months in advance. It’s kind of ridiculous the excuses that I will find for myself. But once I’m actually sitting down and writing. It’s very hard for me to pull myself away from it.
Rachel: [00:06:18] But getting started is the hardest part.
Amanda: [00:06:20] Yes. Just like getting started to run is the hardest part getting yourself out of bed to go on at 5KM run in the morning. Very difficult.
Rachel: [00:06:29] But you’re in the middle of it. Your lungs are pumping.
Amanda: [00:06:31] You get in the zone, you’re good.
Rachel: [00:06:34] So I was reading your essay on CWILA, the Canadian Women in Literary Arts, and in that you’re talking about when you were growing up and that you remember reading three books that featured disabled characters and in each of them that disability was a temporary thing. One being Sweet Valley High as you said in the essay. So I want to ask you I guess because you also said you wish you had known that disabled people could not only write but be celebrated for it on the same mainstream stage as their able-bodied counterparts. What future do you see for a young writer with a disability right now?
Amanda: [00:07:12] Not to downplay the struggles that are still happening and the work that still needs to be done, because I think there is a lot of work to be done in the literary culture in general in North America and in Canada, particularly I think there has not been a focus or a place for writers with disabilities. So I want to make it clear right from the outset that I think there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Amanda: [00:07:34] Having said that, I also think that we’re in a really exciting time and there are a lot of writers around my age and writers who are older as well who are disabled and are really blazing a trail for younger writers, younger disabled writers, younger people who you know maybe don’t think of themselves as writers yet or don’t realize that that is a tool that they can use to situate themselves in their disability within the world. And I’m excited about the opportunities that are coming out for things like anthologies that feature disabled writers in the States. I can’t recall the name of the publication right now but I saw something about it on Twitter yesterday. There is an anthology of writing about teenagers with disabilities. I don’t think it was written by teenagers with disabilities but the protagonists of the stories are themselves all teenagers who have a disability that factors prominently into the stories. And I think that’s really key and really important because there was nothing like that available for me when I was growing up as a writer. That was 20 years ago. Maybe it is a long time now, but it doesn’t feel like that long ago to me. And to just recognize that the things that were on offer for disabled readers, young disabled readers, during the time that I was growing up were so paltry and small really surprises me now looking back on it. At the time I didn’t think that much of it but that I think had a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t really consider myself disabled. Which is to say that I knew that I had a physical disability. I have cerebral palsy. I’ve always had it. And it’s always been a factor in my life but because it was and has been mostly very mild I was able to move through the world like I was able-bodied for the most part. And so I didn’t think about needing that identification with a disabled protagonist in fiction in some way.
Amanda: [00:09:37] But if it had been available to me I think that would have been really it would have really changed my life in a lot of fundamental ways. I think I definitely would have come to my identity as a disabled writer a lot sooner. I would have had a lot more confidence in embracing that identity as a disabled writer and that’s something that I really do wish wholeheartedly for young disabled writers who are coming up through the world right now. I want them to feel like they are part of a community that is out there, that supports them, and supports their voices. So, I’m grateful, in a strange way, for the experience that I had because it has illuminated to me the importance of what I need to do in modelling and shaping the community going forward.
Rachel: [00:10:24] Lovely. I love what you say about modelling and shaping and looking at these young writers and helping them emerge. I wanted to ask you because I’m picturing you now at five years old you want to be an author. What kind of advice did you receive about writing when you were young and what was maybe some of the best advice that you received as you were emerging as a writer?
Amanda: [00:10:45] So the writing advice that I received when I was young was mostly to keep going. I was very lucky. I had a lot of encouragement from my family and from teachers in school who really saw and nurtured that part of me so that was really great. And I’m very, very grateful for that. And as I am you know continue to be grateful for the encouragement that I still receive as a writer in the Canadian literary community and the wider North American world literary community at large. The best writing advice I ever received as an emerging writer was to not give up, which sounds so simple and it is advice that has been given to me at various points in my life. But, it came before my first novel was published; my first novel came out in 2013. So, I guess probably about the beginning of 2011. So before I had received a book deal for this book I was talking to a writer friend, Trevor Cole, the novelist, about you know just the journey into publishing and he just he just said he was like don’t give up these things take their own time and sometimes it takes longer than you might want them to, but it will happen. You just need to hold on to that. And because that advice came at that particular point in my life when I was waiting for the book to come out for some reason it struck me more than it had in the past. Because I had had other people who had said you know don’t give up. You have a book out there with your name on it. And just it’ll take some time to get there and for some reason arriving as it did being delivered as it was by Trevor at that point in time, it really had an effect on me.
Amanda: [00:12:28] And I think it’s the advice that I give to young writers I encounter all the time now because it really is something that you need to hold onto for yourself. Don’t give up and recognize that the writing is a thing in and of itself as well. You need to be able to love doing the writing and just love being in this world that you create with your characters over and above wanting your name on a book. And that is something that is easier said than done at times. But I think from me they go hand in hand. You don’t give up. And the reason that you don’t give up is because you love the writing so much regardless of whether you get a book or not.
Rachel: [00:13:09] It’s almost like there is only the writing really at the end of the day. It reminds me of some advice I received from Nancy Lee. I think it was something she said to all her students when it took her course with her which was writing is a career of attrition, which is sort of you know the bad way of thinking of it. But it also is then don’t give up. It’s a career where people maybe will leave.
Amanda: [00:13:29] It’s very much a long game. I had another professor when I was doing my master’s degree, Meaghan Delahunt, she’s an Australian novelist and she lives in Edinburgh. She said that she was like it’s a really long game and you just need to think about it that way. You think about the little projects that you put out; this novel here, that novel there, these essays. All of this stuff adds up to something and that something isn’t a goal that can be reached all at once it’s something that you’re continually working towards and feeling at the same time.
Rachel: [00:14:02] I want to ask you about the festival literary diversity I know you’re in the throes of organizing it. It’s starting in just a couple of weeks from when we’re talking now and in the same essay, which I’m going to link in the show notes for this episode, that you wrote for CWILA. You describe the feeling of being at the FOLD like some mystical power of the universe had come down around us and shimmered through us. And I have to agree, in fact, before I’d read your essay I was making my notes for this interview and I was referring to it as the luminescent festival so there really is something very bright about it. And there’s this inclusive and action that’s happening there. And personally I just can’t wait to go back again. So what’s it been like for you working behind the scenes there? Can you give us some insight into the machinations of what’s going on behind the scenes?
Amanda: [00:14:49] Yes, I mean it’s definitely given me a whole other level of appreciation for event organizers because there are so many moving pieces that you have to keep track of all the time. It’s really the perfect job for me in so many ways. I did a lot of work in retail and customer service when I was growing up and there’s a very customer service focused aspect to my role. I work as the Communications and Development Coordinator so in the festival off-season what I do has a lot to do with administrative tasks in terms of grant applications and strategizing for the festival. Then in the festival season my primary role shifts into being the liaison for authors and organizers who are coming to sponsor the festival or want to be a part of the festival and some other way. And I very much enjoy being in that role where my job is to take care of other people to make sure that they’re having a good time. That they feel like their every needs are met. That they’re being taken care of from the beginning to the end. And I find it very lovely in the sense of it really helps me to continue to create a sense of community in CanLit, which is something that I didn’t realize I really wanted when I came back to Canada after having lived in the UK, aside from a sort of on a surface level I wanted to be involved in a community and my friends and all those kinds of things. But what I really wanted, I think, was to be able to galvanize the writing community in Canada in a way that it hadn’t yet. And being involved with the FOLD has been a wonderful entry way into doing that kind of work. When you mention the quote from my essay where I was talking about how the festival sort of shimmered around everybody that first year that happened. It really did feel magical. And I think the magic part about it for me, hopefully this makes sense, is that it, wasn’t actually magical. It was just a community of people who were together for what felt like the first time and everybody had the freedom and was in a space where they felt like they could be themselves and felt like they were being celebrated. And those things are not in and of themselves magical things like they are just things that everybody has a right to feel and do. And what was magical was recognizing that we managed to create a space where people who historically maybe hadn’t felt that way suddenly felt like these were things that they could have and attain and be as writers. And I’m so pleased to know that we managed to replicate that feeling for the authors that came the next year and I’m really looking forward to being able to do it again this year for the authors that come, and also excited to see how the work of the festival grows beyond Brampton and beyond the festival itself. Looking into the different activities and programs that we do throughout the year. Again, something that’s not you know in and of itself magical, it’s a lot of strategizing, it’s a lot of juggling, it’s a lot of figuring out who goes where and does what, but the sense of community that this is building in and of itself I think is very very magical and also very overdue.
Rachel: [00:18:02] It’s both bright, luminescent, and then also just oh we can breathe here.
Amanda: [00:18:07] Yes, absolutely.
Rachel: [00:18:10] What are you most excited about, about what’s been planned for the FOLD this year?
Amanda: [00:18:14] Oh my gosh! [laughs] I don’t actually know if I’m able to answer that question. I’m excited for the whole thing beginning to end. I’m excited. We have some wonderful, we always have wonderful panels. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Robyn Maynard and Tanya Talaga in a discussion about writing and social justice on Saturday evening. I’m looking forward to the opening gala with Jamil Jivani and Rachel Geise talking about toxic masculinity with Duncan McCue from the CBC. I’m looking forward to the Writers’ Hub on the Sunday.
Amanda: [00:18:48] As someone who also edits the literary magazine, that event holds a special part in my heart just because it’s nice to see so many editors coming and reaching out to diverse writers. People who again maybe felt like it wasn’t a place for them in the Canadian lit mag community. Through everything I think that the best part of it is seeing people interacting with other people in the literary community again and again and again and seeing on writers faces: oh my goodness, yes, I belong here; I have something to say. That is such a lovely feeling and I again am so glad that I’m in a position to be able to help facilitate that work.
Rachel: [00:19:26] In the same essay on CWILA you ask why it’s taken so long for literary festivals and literary culture to reflect the Canada that shimmers around them. And I find at times and I don’t know if you do too that it’s hard not to be bitter about that in the face of the constant fiascos, the grave abuses of power, the crippling ignorance that manifests with all-white panels at lit fest, obviously not at the FOLD, and all-male editorial boards. So what keeps you going both in as you put it the dismantling of the old guard systems and celebrating diverse writers?
Amanda: [00:19:58] The necessity of the work is one thing that keeps me going. I think also I’ve been on a real journey and I think, I think I was heading on that journey before. But I think as I mentioned earlier being involved with the FOLD has really galvanized this particular journey for me of the examination of privilege. Looking at my own privilege as a white woman. I’m also a white woman who has intersections with her identity in terms of being a disabled woman who’s also bisexual and noticing how those things interact and interplay and how I can use the privilege that I have to bolster other voices has really been something that I have thought long and hard about and try to figure out my role and how I can best place myself to raise up other voices. It’s one of those things where the work sort of continually reveals itself to you as you go along.
Rachel: [00:20:56] Our last episode with Sierra (Skye Gemma of Room) who was talking about her UBC Accountable experience, but it’s also so nice to focus on the positive things that are happening too and that’s I think what the FOLD does too. It’s like you’re saying, the celebration and the dismantling.
Amanda: [00:21:11] You know there’s a difficulty inherent in that kind of work at the same time because I think there’s a danger of being seen as naive, being seen as intentionally overlooking very serious wrongs and very serious ills in my own work. I don’t try to do this and we certainly don’t need to do that at the FOLD. But I think in order to you know do work that is sustainable. It’s hard to be angry all the time. It’s hard to be constantly furious (rightly so), righteously furious about all of the wrongs that continue to happen and continue to be perpetuated. So that’s been a real learning curve for me is recognizing when it’s appropriate and when it’s good for me to dial up. And then when it’s good for me to dial down as well as a way of sort of conserving myself and my energy and making sure that when I do speak my words matter and they really have an impact. As much as I am able to make them have one.
Rachel: [00:22:12] We’re going to take a short break. And after the break I’m going to talk more with Amanda about her editorial work with Little Fiction | Big Truths. Lit Mag Love is brought to you by Room Magazine, literature art and feminism since 1975. Room’s fiction and poetry contests are now open and the first prize is a $1,000 dollars and publication in Room. The contest judge this year for fiction is Zoe Whittal and for poetry is Vivek Shraya. You can find out more about entering the contest at www.roommagazine.com/contest. Lit Mag Love is also presented by my project, We Write, We Light, which are online courses, including the upcoming Lit Mag Love course. Yes, same name, different thing. And this course is a five-week course to help you get smart, fearless, and published. If you want to find out more about that course you can at www.litmaglove.com.
Rachel: [00:23:10] So we are back from the break and I’m here with Amanda Leduc. We’re going to talk about Little Fiction | Big Truths and I want to start again with the personal so asking you what has been the most rewarding part of ever editing with Little Fiction | Big Truths.
Amanda: [00:23:24] Oh, again. [laughs] That’s one of those questions that it’s hard to pick one part that’s the best about it. I have wonderful colleagues at Little Fiction | Big Truths. Troy Palmer, who started the website and publishing arm of Little Fiction in October of 2011. So it was kind of a one man show for a while. And then I came on in 2013, editing the nonfiction part of the site. And then over the years we’ve had a number of associate editors join the team. So Beth Gilstrap is an American writer. She edits the fiction part of the site. Last year, Alicia Elliott came on as my nonfiction associate editor. We also have a reader by the name of Alvin Park who lives in the States, and he’s really wonderful. And we have other readers that we have worked with in the past as well and they’re also lovely. Like everyone just really admires words and literature and wants to give space for stories to be taught. And that is, again, a community that I feel really honoured to be a part of. So that is sort of a big part of what’s rewarding about Little Fiction. And then also, obviously, working with the writers who submit to Little Fiction | Big Truths.
Amanda: [00:24:38] I have been so floored and struck by so many of the wonderful essays that I have come across as an editor for the site. It has introduced me to the work of so many wonderful writers, and the neat thing about the way that Little Fiction | Big Truths is position, I think, is that we tend to get the work of writers who are more on the emerging side of things. And it’s been really lovely to have these writers come and publish something in Little Fiction | Big Truths. And then you know a year or two years later go on to sign these wonderful, huge book deals. I feel like, and I know Troy has made this analogy before, that he feels like a proud papa when the stories go out to the world and these authors you know find themselves just sort of on this upward trajectory. Obviously not as a result of a Little Fiction, but it’s nice to know that we’ve had a part to play in that success. And it’s really made me grow as a writer myself and as an editor. Looking at how to craft stories, how to craft essays, and also, maybe in a strange way, how to craft a really good rejection letter. I think that is an extraordinarily important part of being an editor and I really consider it an honour to be able to read someone’s work. And even if we don’t accept it on the site to be able to give them some feedback and support and just some encouragement with the work that they’re giving to us. I think it’s been really a large joy actually of my role as an editor, which might sound strange, again. I’m not saying that I love giving out rejections to people because I don’t love it but what I love is being able to support people in the work that they’re doing, and we can do that even if we don’t decide to publish something.
Rachel: [00:26:23] That’s’s so great that you give really personalized feedback on pieces because not a lot of editors have the time even necessarily to do that or make the time to do it maybe is more accurate.
Amanda: [00:26:33] I will say that it does mean that our backlog for replying to submissions can be quite long at times. And I apologize to anybody out there who has submitted an essay to Big Truths. We are aware of your piece and I will get to it. We will get to it. I promise you, and I will get you a personalized response either way. It just takes time.
Rachel: [00:26:56] And what can someone expect, then, if their work is accepted by you. Do you make developmental suggestions? Do you work really closely with the writers?
Amanda: [00:27:04] Yes, we do work really closely with the writers. Usually when we accept a piece it’s pretty polished so the edits that we may suggest to a piece don’t tend to be very extensive. Having said that, there are usually three people that will weigh in on the editing process so it will be myself and then Alicia, my Associate Nonfiction Editor, and then usually Troy as Managing Editor will cast an eye over a piece and look at the edits that have been suggested and then make any suggestions of his own before it goes to the writer for their feedback and obviously it’s a very collaborative process. When we take edits to someone we’re not saying that they all have to be accepted you know without any feedback or anything like that. We really do like to work with writers and try and help them to see the best possible version of work that they’ve submitted to us.
Rachel: [00:27:56] Can you tell me what does truth telling mean for writers who want to explore creative nonfiction. I guess, what does it mean to you?
Amanda: [00:28:04] I remember when I was in university at the University of Victoria. David Leach, who is a wonderful nonfiction writer based in Victoria, was teaching at the university at that point in time and he was famous for talking in one of his classes about how anything that’s creative nonfiction has to be factual. Like it has to be fact and I agree with that. But I also feel like with creative nonfiction, specifically, there’s a difference between fact and truth. And, for me, for the essays that I tend to look for in Big Truths we are looking for essays that use the tools of fact and reportage to illuminate some sort of truth which in and of itself may not be able to be encapsulated in a fact. So, for example, one of the essays that we most recently published was an essay by a writer named Emily O’Neill, who lives in the States, and it’s a wonderful essay called, “Do Nothing Unless it Feeds You,” about the writer’s relationship to food and growing up with food. And there’s a lot in there about her identity as a queer person. A lot of what she talks about is factual, but she speaks about it in a very sort of broad way making broad references to anecdotes that happened in her past in such a way that sometimes it feels like storytelling. Like these people are are people that she knew and things happened to her, but it has sort of the magic of fiction and storytelling. And that’s what I love in essays in creative nonfiction. Is someone who is able to tell me a story and take me along on a narrative that also happens to be true, happens to be factual. So those two things really conflate for me.
Amanda: [00:29:57] I think I probably lean a little bit more on the side of not free and easy but I am okay with shifting the way that the story is told as opposed to you know a to z sort of factual reporting. I’m much more happy with moving certain things around and shaping an essay so that it gets at some sort of essential truth in a way that maybe wouldn’t be able to do if it was just a straight reportage, if that makes sense.
Rachel: [00:30:27] Yeah, you’re you’re not fact checking the CNF comes in.
Amanda: [00:30:30] No.
Rachel: [00:30:31] Now that we’ve sort of talked about this getting to some essential truth that you’re looking for in pieces, what kind of reading maybe have you seen too much of, and that you don’t want to see again submitted?
Amanda: [00:30:41] We’re pretty lucky in the sense that I think over the years that Big Truths in particular has been operating as a Little Fiction arm. We’ve really managed, and we managed to do it in a fairly short amount of time, I think, to curate a bunch of pieces that really spoke to the singular voice that the publisher was trying to get across. So we really try and look for essays that take some sort of risk. Essays where writers are vulnerable and are showing some sort of vulnerability to the world. And, for the most part, most of the submissions that come to us are touching on that in some way. There have been a few submissions that have come in that tend to lean a little bit more on that sort of fact-based reportage, straight nonfiction account. And it’s not that those pieces aren’t lovely they’re not quite the right thing for us. So if I was going say anything I suppose it would be that Little Fiction | Big Truths is not necessarily a place for you know a sort of straight journalistic account that needs to be fact-checked for something. We’re looking for essays that are true and factual, but that also have a certain sense of timelessness and a universality to them that mean that someone could read them ten years from now and still feel those same truths coming out at them.
Rachel: [00:32:00] Are there any forms that currently excite you in creative nonfiction?
Amanda: [00:32:04] I really love the lyric essay. I’m also a big fan of the braided essay too and those are the two forms that I tend to use the most in my own creative nonfiction essay writing. I also like essays that just try and do different things with genre. Essays that you know try and tell stories at the same time are really things that make something sort of resonate deep inside of me. And those are the essays that usually when I see them come in my inbox at Big Truths. It’s something I can tell kind of within the first page of reading something I can tell that something is resonating on that level and I can also tell if it is something that is the Big Truths title; if it has our vibe.
Amanda: [00:32:50] That vibe is not something that I think I can encapsulate in any sort of words you know specifically to say to someone I know it can be so frustrating as a writer when you get something back from a publisher that says we really like it but it just wasn’t for us. And a lot of times, unfortunately, and this is why I try and be as detailed in my feedback as I can. A lot of times we get wonderful essays that just don’t quite have that Big Truths vibe. Whether it’s you know that the essays maybe aren’t taking as much of a risk as we think they can take.
Amanda: [00:33:18] We tend to be a little bit more informal and introspective in our essays and sometimes the tones of the submissions that we get don’t quite meet that. Those are just some of the reasons. But again I feel very lucky to be able to read any of these submissions at all and see the ways that writers are putting themselves out to the world in that way because creative nonfiction, in particular, I think, requires a certain amount of guts and chutzpah and just balls, really. It takes a certain amount of balls to put yourself out into the world in that way.
Rachel: [00:33:53] This is great because it’s also part of a mini-theme I’ve been talking to a lot of creative nonfiction editors, Alisha Elliot being one of them, definitely it’s a recurring theme of go deeper, really expose something scary.
Amanda: [00:34:04] Yes.
Rachel: [00:34:04] That’s what editors are looking for. Also, that editors can sniff out when people are holding something back.
Amanda: [00:34:11] Yes.
Rachel: [00:34:11] But it is so difficult to name that vibe and I know that can be frustrating for writers, but it’s like you know it when you see it.
Amanda: [00:34:17] Absolutely.
Rachel: [00:34:18] Now you’ve been to the piece that you recently published, the food piece, and I was wondering if you wanted to expand a bit more on that one or if you wanted to talk about another piece that really resonated with you and talk about why you chose that. I’ll maybe talk about another one so I can highlight another one of our writers. Alongside the food piece by Emily O’Neill, we published an essay by a writer by the name of Caitlin Garvey. It’s called, “You Shall See the Face of God,” and it’s about the narrator sort of struggling to come to grips with herself and her faith in the wake of her mother’s death. And it’s really just a beautiful piece and it sort of centres around the narrator going to, she grew up Catholic, and she goes to her childhood priest to talk to him about her feelings around her mother’s death and how that sort of factors into her own identity as a queer person. And that essay struck me on so many personal levels because I also grew up Catholic so there were lots of things in her essay that I just really felt deeply. And she’s a beautiful, beautiful writer and she has beautiful insights in her piece on another sort of personal level, I guess. One of the things that I have found has been really important to me and I didn’t really even notice it when I was beginning to curate essays for the publisher. I really feel like it has been important for me as an editor to create a space for queer female writers specifically. I haven’t actually looked at the statistics but I know a lot of the essays that we have published have ended up being written by queer female writers. We get a lot of submissions from them as well. And I really feel, I really hope that that means that we have you know made a name for ourselves as a space where writers feel like they can come to us with these kinds of stories and we will be gentle with these stories and give them the attention and the love and the platform that they deserve.
Amanda: [00:36:09] Caitlin’s essay in particular, it just touched on so many of those things. You know there was the religious background, there was the coming to terms with one’s queer identity, the wrestling with having left religion behind. There was a real thread of that in her own sort of thoughts throughout the piece. I was crying at multiple points when reading the essay and I just I think it’s so lovely that as a writer you have the power to be able to reach out beyond the page and reach a reader in that way. Again, that is something that you know creates kind of magic even though it in and of itself is not necessarily a magical thing. I think it’s just such a privilege as an editor to be able to be a part of that process.
Rachel: [00:36:52] I thank my guest Amanda Leduc for sharing so much of her wisdom with us today. She talked about her own writing practice and how for her writing is a lot like running. I think a lot of us can identify with that. That getting started is the hardest part and then once you get going you really are going. And, the other thing she talked about that I thought was really important, was recognizing when it’s good to dial it up for her and when it’s good for her to dial it down and talking about work that is sustainable. The work of creating a more equitable and diverse literary institution, culture, and how in order for it to be sustainable for her it’s really hard to be angry all the time.
Rachel: [00:37:30] When it comes to submitting to Little Fiction | Big Truths, once again we hear an editor saying they’re looking for essays that take some kind of risk. So if that didn’t come across in the last few episodes of Lit Mag Love I really hope it has now. The editors out there that I’m talking to are looking for writers who show some kind of vulnerability to the world. And another thing to note is that Amanda is creating a space for queer female writers, in particular, so that would be a good place to submit to if that’s you. And she also really loves, in terms of form, the lyric and braided essay so those are a couple of forms that she’s interested in. So experimental writing can be sent that way and also just writing that tries to do something different with the genre. So essays that try to tell stories at the same time. And she’s talked about how they’re looking for the type of writing that uses the tools of fact, again, this is for creative nonfiction (for CNF), the tools of fact to get to the truth. And I thought that was a really great definition even of creative nonfiction. Another thing to note that at Little Fiction | Big Truths they’re really accepting pieces that are really polished already. However, you are going to get really substantive feedback. It might take a while, but you’re going to get really good feedback, so if you want to submit a piece that you’re not sure about that might be a good place to send it to and get some really concrete ideas about what’s working what’s not working in the piece.
Rachel: [00:38:50] Lit Mag Love is co-presented by Room Magazine: literature, art, and feminism since 1975, and We Write, We Light: online courses and more to publish and publish your writing.
Rachel: [00:39:01] Sound editing for this episode is done by Mica Lemiski, she’s the host of Fainting Couch Feminists, also presented by Room. You can find out more about the Lit Mag Love podcast online at www.litmaglovepodcast.com or on Twitter or Instagram @LitMagLove. Thank you for listening.
Host: Rachel Thompson
Sound Editor: Mica Lemiski
Transcript Proofreader: Angela Wright
Produced by: Room magazine and Rachel Thompson