“Editing is a position of power that I take seriously. I’m a writer, author, creative in different ways and I experienced the negativity of being a victim of systems of oppression,” Julián Esteban Torres López.
Julián Esteban Torres López is a Colombian-born journalist, publisher, podcaster, and editor. Before founding the nonfiction storytelling organization The Nasiona, he ran several cultural and arts organizations, edited journals and books, was a social justice and public history researcher, wrote a column for Colombia Reports, taught university courses, and managed a history museum. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee and has written two books on social justice. Torres López holds a bachelor’s in philosophy and in communication and a master’s in justice studies from University of New Hampshire and was a Ph.D. candidate at University of British Columbia Okanagan, where he focused on political science and Latin American studies. @JE_Torres_Lopez
The Nasiona is a nonfiction storytelling organization that amplifies the marginalized, undervalued, overlooked, and forgotten voices and experiences of our communities. Guided by a social justice compass, they cultivate the seeds of nonfiction through a podcast, publishing house, and creative nonfiction magazine, as well as by offering editing services and an internship program. They are currently focusing on the following story topics: being mixed-race, LGBTQIAA+, diaspora and immigration, and womanhood and trauma.
In an age when telling the difference between reality and delusion is frighteningly labyrinthine, they focus on creative works based on facts, truth-seeking, human concerns, real events, and real people, with a personal touch.
- “Open Season” by Laurel Brown
- Rachel Cargle
- Ijeoma Oluo
Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00.300] – Rachel Thompson
“What do editors want?” It’s a question that many creative writers have asked themselves or more likely muttered dejectedly after a frustrating rejection. I’m Rachel Thompson, author and literary magazine editor and your podcast host.
[00:00:14.970] – Rachel Thompson
The Lit Mag Love podcast grew out of my course by the same name, and I continue to seek out answers to this question of “what editors want” by going right to the source. I bring you interviews and insights about how to improve and publish your writing.
[00:00:41.480] – Rachel Thompson
My guest today on the podcast is Julián Esteban Torres López, he’s a Colombian-born journalist, publisher, podcaster and editor. And before founding the nonfiction storytelling organization The Nasiona, he ran several cultural and arts organizations, edited journals and books, and was a social justice and public history researcher who wrote a column for Columbia Reports, taught university courses and managed a history museum.
[00:01:08.270] – Rachel Thompson
Julián is a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee and has written two books on social justice. And The Nasiona is a nonfiction storytelling organization that amplifies the marginalized, undervalued, overlooked and forgotten voices and experiences of our communities. So guided by a social justice compass, they cultivate the seeds of nonfiction through their podcast publishing house and creative nonfiction magazine, as well as by offering editing services and an internship program.
[00:01:39.860] – Rachel Thompson
One quick note about the episode: there is a point when Julián references a quote that he attributes to Rachel Cargle, and later he wrote me to say that actually it was Ijeoma Oluo who that quote should be attributed to, so listen for that in the episode.
[00:01:56.310] – Rachel Thompson
So the title of this episode in the call to you, Writer is to persuade and as Julián put it, find your available means of persuasion to get yourself noticed and your story noticed and ask yourself questions like, “what’s in it for readers” and “why should they give you their time?”
[00:02:13.130] – Rachel Thompson
Here’s my interview with Julián.
[00:02:24.850] – Rachel Thompson
So welcome to the Lit Mag Love podcast, Julián Esteban Torres López!
[00:02:30.200] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Thank you for having me.
[00:02:31.850] – Rachel Thompson
It’s my pleasure. I want to ask you first about The Nasiona’s mission to amplify the marginalized, overlooked and forgotten. And I’m wondering, how does creative nonfiction invite people, in your opinion, to be seen, remembered and to the center?
[00:02:48.260] – Julián Esteban Torres López
I think by its very definition, creative nonfiction or at least a creative nonfiction that focuses on memoir, on personal essays — not the biography kind of creative nonfiction — I think that invites people to be seen simply because that is what you’re trying to do. You’re saying, “hey,” you’re raising your hand and telling people, “look at me, I have a story to tell.” So in that sense, you’re inviting people to see you because it’s a story about you for the most part or your experience or some of your thoughts or some kind of trauma you’re trying to heal from or move forward from.
[00:03:22.610] – Julián Esteban Torres López
That said, you can’t be seen or remembered or come to the center — or it becomes very difficult to do all that — without a gatekeeper taking you under his or her or their wing and kind of amplifying your voice or giving you a platform. Because you can write all of the memoirs and personal essays that you want, but if no one is reading them because you don’t have a following or a readership or someone who believes in you to to get you out there on that stage, then it becomes very difficult to do that: to be seen, to be remembered and to be at the center.
[00:04:01.190] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Now, with regards to how we help amplify specific kinds of stories: the marginalized, the overlooked, the undervalued, the forgotten and those who have been silenced; it’s a very conscious mission to do that. We focus on trying to identify the systems of oppression, whether it’s a patriarchy, whether it’s white supremacy (etc. etc.) that have historically marginalized, overlooked (etc.) different kinds of people; which means by definition, they have not been the default with regards to the way we tell our stories in culture: in the movies, TV shows, literature, who gets hired, who represents whom when we think of what an American is, who is valued, who is undervalued, et cetera. So even though a lot of this happens subconsciously, with regards to “well it wasn’t my intent to marginalize these people,” “my heart was pure/in the right place,” we just ended up neglecting to talk about or represent 50% of the population because we’re not including women, for example.
[00:05:08.090] – Julián Esteban Torres López
There’s a systemic issue there. So we make a conscious effort to focus on those voices. To focus on those experiences. And those experiences, because they are part of an oppressive system that, again, undervalues or silences them (etc.) they tend to be neglected. So they have to either work harder to even be seen, to be remembered, or to be at the center. So we provide that platform to do that. And it’s at the root of everything we do.
[00:05:43.190] – Rachel Thompson
Essentially, you become those gatekeepers who are opening the door and seeing and remembering and centring those voices.
[00:05:51.440] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Yeah, without more individuals like us — now, I recognize that because I am the Director, Executive Director, whatever, Founder of The Nasiona, I have a lot of power now because I am in the industry, I am an authority in the field right now. And if you talk to a lot of people of colour or a lot of different women, a lot of different individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community, etc. etc. etc., and you ask them how you got your first break or your first job or whatever, it tends to be people who have also been historically marginalized under those systems of oppression, right?
[00:06:31.370] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Because it doesn’t matter what our resume looks like, whatever we have, all these unconscious biases that or if you are explicitly racist, then it’s pretty obvious why your literary magazine doesn’t include so many voices. So it’s a position of power that I take very seriously because I am also a writer and author and creative in different ways. And I’ve experienced the negativity that comes from being a victim of those systems of oppression. So I want to be able to give back to the community in a way that others have given back to me, so we can move ahead.
[00:07:10.550] – Julián Esteban Torres López
I think the big thing, you know, why I think it’s so important to have so many voices and experiences like this be seen and remembered and come to the center, is that when the stories about us are told by people who don’t understand us, who don’t like us, who hate us, who just see us as entertainment or something to laugh at, etc., then that becomes the norm, the cultural norm, which then influences politicians, which then influences day-to-day behaviours, codes of conduct, etc., that ultimately do not help our causes to be seen, to be remembered and to come to the center, right? And then it allows, it creates an environment for a couple of things. It creates an environment for those who have never had any real contact or experience with the marginalized, etc., to imagine us in a way that they’ve only seen as portrayed by people who really are looking to profit from us in one way or another.
[00:08:11.330] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So they imagine us as caricatures that tend to be pretty negative, that then have impact on our day-to-day lives, whether it’s, you know: we can’t walk at night by ourselves, you know, or, you know, we fear being pulled over by a police car because we were targeted. And we, meaning so many different individuals that that would fall under those different kinds of systems of oppression. Or, we won’t get a job because the name sounds like it’s foreign and we equate foreigner or immigrant with someone who can’t think intellectually because they might have an accent. You build this character up in your head.
[00:08:53.240] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So one, there’s an image that’s created in people’s heads that tends to be limited to stories, or false. And then two, we ourselves also are seeing those images. Then we ourselves kind of, for a lot of us, for a lot of people I’ve interviewed and spoken with, them and myself, you, if you grow in that kind of environment, you end up adopting, whether you like it or not, some of that self-hatred. And if you realize, that if you, yourself, hate yourself because of this system that keeps devaluing you wherever you look and no one speaks up to defend you, then you cannot imagine how easy it is for people who don’t have your experience to hate someone like you, or to think less of you, a lesser human or not fully human and therefore more easily expendable, or can be treated as a servant, or etc. etc.
[00:09:45.590] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So it’s very important for those voices to come out, not only to change the culture that then would help create a more equitable/just/fairer environment for everybody, so more people feel safe, so more people feel like they can reach those safe spaces to be authentic themselves; but also so we can start seeing ourselves in the narrative. So if all I see on TV, for example, if I’m a teenager Latino, growing up in New Hampshire where there aren’t many others like me (like I grew up) and all I see is all these negative portrayals of me as, you know, recently…All, you know, all “blah blah blah are criminals, rapists/some of them are good” or all you see is representations of us who are servants in one regard or another, then you don’t — you kind of limit your imagination to what you see because you don’t see other people, other role models who look like you, who have had your experience, be the professors, the doctors, the CEOs, the entrepreneurs, the artists, etc. because even though they’re out there, they’re not speaking up because maybe there is a fear of a backlash if you raise your hand and stand up, right? So I think it’s also very important not only to change the culture through that for individuals who might not have an everyday experience of what the other is, but also for ourselves who are marginalized, to be able to dream a little more, to see, to have different role models and to be able to create an environment where we can have a voice be represented, be included in the conversations and therefore create an environment where we can more effectively situate ourselves to flourish and develop into what we can become.
[00:11:41.930] – Rachel Thompson
So aptly put. The stakes at hand for people working in the cultural sphere as far as I’m concerned, and I’m just so grateful for all you’ve said and for the work that you’re doing and the way that you’re connecting those things between justice and equality and being seen and remembered and being in the center of things; and then being able to center yourself, too, if you’re part of a community that’s marginalized, to be able to see yourself reflected in the arts.
[00:12:09.620] – Rachel Thompson
I know that you currently focus on stories and, you put on your website, related to being mixed race, LGBTQIAA+ and the diaspora and immigration and womanhood and trauma; can you describe any recent work that stands out for you that you recently published in The Nasiona?
[00:12:30.110] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So I would like to preface that with: we launched just a little over a year ago. Our mission hasn’t changed, but it has become a lot more concrete. So the first year — I also have a background as a social justice researcher — and the first year, what I wanted to do with the organization was to not have any specific themes, to have a mission that’s vague enough but has parameters to just see what kinds of submissions we get, and from whom. Right? And then after the first year, I was able to re-evaluate, to see, OK, who is predominantly submitting and what kinds of stories, because that says a lot about the industry, a lot about equity and equity within the industry, within the writing community. Who has the the privilege to tell these stories, who aren’t telling these stories, etc. So the first year, we didn’t really have many themed topics, we just left it open, right. And it was an eye-opening experience but not shocking, because the industry is predominantly white, run by white men and/or a lot of submissions coming from middle upper class white women.
[00:13:43.820] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So the stories that I really wanted to share from the marginalized, overlooked, forgotten, undervalued and silenced — we weren’t getting as many as I would have liked. So then, it became the mission to just be very specific. “OK, now that we’ve done the first year, we have a gathering of readership, listenership, etc., then let’s focus on the on the communities that we want to focus on.” So we’re going to we’re starting with five this year and that’s going to change. I have a lot of different communities that we’re going to also include in different issues, but right now, as you mentioned, the, you know, being mixed-race, LGBTQIA+, diaspora and immigration, womenhood and trauma; and we’re also, this month, also going to open up for Latina/Latino/Latinx stories. Because of that, we are just getting a lot of submissions coming in for a lot of those different topics. So we’ve published more, let’s say, on womanhood and trauma – our series entitled “Give Us a Smile,” because that’s the first one we’ve launched as a topic.
[00:14:52.070] – Julián Esteban Torres López
A couple of stories from that — I don’t want to say “recent” because there’s still so many great ones that we haven’t published and sometimes it just for me, one way for me to really judge if a piece is really powerful, and evokes something, is if I can remember it and still think about it not a week ago (because it says we published it a week ago or a month ago) but a year later. A few that really stand out for me from that series in particular, Laurel Brown’s “Open Season” and it’s her first published piece, which is great.
[00:15:23.540] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So it sticks with me to this day. I mean, she experiments with the genre, it’s a bunch of different vignettes, and she also uses photography in it. And she ultimately explores the flashes of micro-aggression that women suffer and internalize every day, as well as the the battles for autonomous power that ultimately surrounds female bodies in public spaces. Now, as a man, it brought me into a world that I believe all men and all boys kind of need to step into, to take more seriously. So that, to this day, still sticks with me. Because I can be for women’s rights and gender equality, etc., theoretically. And then you feel like you need a pat on the back because you don’t feel like you’re part of the problem just because you believe in certain kinds of rights. But ultimately, what am I doing as a man to use my privilege to create safer spaces, etc., for all women and all girls, right? And how are they experiencing different kinds of micro-aggressions day-to-day? So that story has really stuck with me.
[00:16:28.810] – Rachel Thompson
It just really shows the power of a story to bring you there too, like just to like you’re saying you have that awareness of fighting for women’s equality, but then to actually almost step into someone’s skin and live that experience through a story. It sounds like it was really powerful.
[00:16:45.530] – Julián Esteban Torres López
It’s very powerful. And someone also who does that, who I was going to talk about is Mireya S. Vela. We just published her collection, her first book a collection of essays called “Vestiges of Courage” and…she was an individual who hadn’t submitted to us. But, you know, as an editor for The Nasiona, you know, I’m always looking for talent out there — different voices and stories that we would also like to share. And I stumbled actually upon her artwork that really spoke to me. And then through our conversations and getting to know each other, she’s like “Oh, by the way, I also write creative nonfiction.” I’m like, “what, you’re shitting me! Let me read some of it!” So then that’s how we kind of got started with that kind of relationship and she’s just another talent.
[00:17:29.770] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Obviously, we published her collection of different essays and four pieces from that collection were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. One of them was ours. We published “Doctores,” but most of the other pieces got published in different journals and magazines. You know, what I like about her is that she outwardly displays her pain and frustration specifically with certain systems of oppression, and she kind of steps towards making sense of her experiences, right? So she really looks into the mirror and whether it’s going to be a good or bad experience, she looks to be as honest as possible to try to figure out what that trauma is. So her voice is personal, her voice is honest, and it penetrates the self in a courageous way that I don’t think all creative nonfiction authors go as far as she’s gone.
[00:18:25.990] – Julián Esteban Torres López
It takes a certain courage, unlike other different genres of writing, to be a creative nonfiction writer. Or at least a memoir author, or an author of personal essays, or at least to be a good author of personal essays and memoir, I think you need to be courageous in a certain way…to really be able to unpack that and be honest and real with yourself, and vulnerable, and not care as much about what others are going to say. Even though the memoir seems like you’re only writing for yourself because it’s a story about you, you really — if you really want to share this stuff with the world, you’re really only writing for one person and you’re ultimately writing for the potential reader. She understands that.
[00:19:08.140] – Julián Esteban Torres López
And not only that — not only the topics that are covered, like Laurel Brown’s “Open Season,” it wasn’t just stories, but the presentation of the stories, right? There’s a creativity and artistry. You can tell that it was processed. You can tell that there’s thoughts and, and, here’s the thing. If I can stop being an editor when I’m reading a piece and just enjoy the piece, the author did something right. Because I am very picky, you know, and that’s all I do all day is just read pieces, edit pieces, provide feedback, substantial editing, structural editing, whatever. So my mind is always like, I can’t shut it off. So I can’t enjoy certain pieces of work unless it’s…I don’t want to say “good” because this isn’t a moral thing, but it’s effective, to then have me turn off my editor self and just enjoy it as a reader. So she’s able to do that for me as well as Laurel Brown is, and as someone else who just took off with the artistry of the presentation, the stories are good.
[00:20:13.090] – Julián Esteban Torres López
But Rachel Laverdiere’s work, we published two of her pieces, and she’s experimenting with the form of creative nonfiction in a way that really enhances the story that she’s trying to tell. So it’s, for me, it’s really refreshing to see writers test the boundaries of the genre. So I’m really excited to see kind of what what she ends up coming up with. Any new piece of hers. She’s very creative in the presentation aspect. So I hope that I get similar kinds of things, but different kinds of things from all the other things that we are currently open for submission for.
[00:20:47.020] – Rachel Thompson
Wonderful, yeah Rachel is a student of mine as well so I’m so excited to hear her name among those names. And it strikes me as the thing that makes you stop and just start reading it and not engaging as an editor, and I know this real feeling you have where you kind of just can settle into a piece and trust the writer. And it strikes me that the thing that they’re doing, that anyone writing creative nonfiction who is listening can take notes towards, is just that deep truth-telling and that that vulnerability and the willing to say things that nobody else will say, or very few people will say in writing. And it’s something, I mean, I’m writing creative nonfiction myself right now too so that’s something I’m trying to unpack for myself to is like, how to get to that. “What’s the truth beneath the truth?” Like at certain levels of the drafts, I think, can go a little bit more superficial; and then you start peeling back those layers of the onion of what’s really happening here, and how can I be more honest in my work.
[00:21:46.570] – Julián Esteban Torres López
We get hundreds of submissions and not all of them focus on…especially when we had more general submissions, you get submissions about someone’s cat or someone’s dog or someone’s porch. And not that that’s, that you can’t write effective stories, engaging stories, that are creative nonfiction about that; but it’s just not the kind of work that we’re looking for. Like there’s very little courage to tell a story about how much you like your cat. Right? But a lot of courage to be…to speak up years after you’ve experienced sexual harassment. Right? Because there’s a risk in, right? And you’re trying to get to a certain kind of truth, of some kind of healing, something that you want other people to learn from, etc. So there’s, I think there’s a spectrum with that with regards to peeling that onion to get to a truth. Sometimes you have a lot more layers and sometimes truth matters in some creative nonfiction stories, and it really doesn’t in others.
[00:22:42.990] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Like if I get submitted a story about a relationship with someone’s dog who passed away, you know, that story better be presented in a very artistic, creative way because the topic itself doesn’t grab my interest as much for what we’re trying to do with the magazine. So, what what is that internal conflict? What are you dealing with? What are those demons? Because if you can’t get me to be invested in your own struggle, then I’m sorry to say it’s not…it’s not…it’s not going to go through.
[00:23:14.100] – Rachel Thompson
The chances of publishing a story on that topic are slim, but then for you to want to publish it, it would have to be connected to some bigger topic, or meaning; or it has to symbolize something, or create some other layer of understanding. We’ve talked a little bit about the qualities of writing that you’re eager to read in submissions to The Nasiona, and the topics. But I wondered if you wanted to expand any more on some of the qualities of that brave truth-telling, that going deeper and experimenting with form to telling the stories that are really about your struggle.
[00:23:53.490] – Rachel Thompson
Is there, are there other qualities that you’re looking for in the work that you receive? And maybe can you speak to the kind of work that you get that is just not suitable for the publication, and that you have to decline because it’s not a fit for you?
[00:24:08.400] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Definitely. So a couple of things come to mind because there is definitely…after a year, there are patterns that you end up noticing. So there are certain things that I’m still thirsty for and I’m thirsty for more humorous stories. I find humour, especially in dealing with trauma or any kind of truth-seeking kind of experience; it’s difficult for obvious reasons because there are sensitive topics. But I also find comedic writing to be extremely difficult. So I would like to see some more humorous pieces that obviously deal with serious topics, but I would like to see some more of those and not to make light of the topics, but it’s just a different way to tell the story through creative nonfiction that I don’t think is tapped into enough in the genre.
[00:25:04.410] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Or maybe I’m not just, you know, others aren’t publishing it and therefore we’re not getting as many submissions with that, you know, through that kind of lens. Another one that I would really like to see more of; I spoke about courageous writing, right? But most of the courageous writing that that we get is courageous writing from individuals who have been victims of some kind of oppressive, systemic kind of institution that manifests itself in their day-to-day lives. So, which obviously, those stories need to be told for the reasons already covered earlier.
[00:25:44.430] – Julián Esteban Torres López
But I, and I have to bring this up because we don’t get as many submissions of individuals talking about how they too, might have a role in the systemic, oppressive kind of institutions and structures. So I would love to have peoples’ stories who not only look in the mirror and tell us how they’ve been victims of these systems of oppression, but how they themselves have also been a part of systems of oppression. It may be simultaneous. Simultaneously, you were a victim and victimizer, right? And that creates a different kind of bond with the reader, at least with me, when the individual isn’t always just saying, you know, “I’m the one who has been, you know, I’m the victim.” And obviously, I’m not trying to minimize those stories because we are victims in so many different ways, which is why we exist. But, how are we standing in our own way? So what are we doing? So I’ll give you some examples: the…Very interested in what’s going on right now with climate change and what’s going on with Brazil’s Amazon burning.
[00:26:54.690] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So there is, you see a lot of discussions on the news, Twitter, etc. talking about, you know, the dislike for the current president there and the kind of policies that create a certain kind of “look away, don’t care as much about the land and the people in that land as much as they do about profit,” right?
[00:27:12.270] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So there is, there is an outrage from that; but then, OK, well, you are a victim of that because it’s going to impact you. But: what is your role in there being an industry that is pushing to clear this for cattle, for foresting, etc. etc.? Like, how often do you think about your role in the way you consume that uses so much paper, so much gas? How many burgers do you eat a year?
[00:27:42.070] – Julián Esteban Torres López
That is also contributing, right? So there’s not enough of those stories.
[00:27:46.120] – Julián Esteban Torres López
There’s a lot of you know, “I’m outraged at how I’ve been treated” but not “I’m outraged of the fact that I just realize, shit, I have been sexist and I’m part of the problem.” There’s this, um, Rachel Cargle, she’s great to follow. I don’t know if I’m pronouncing her name properly, but, she said…she wrote something that I read the other, a couple of months ago, that has stuck with me and I think she put it in a really good way and she’s talking about racism and white supremacy in general, or specifically. And she said something along the lines of “if you’re anti-racism work focuses more on the comfort and convenience of, let’s say, the person who said the racist remark or the racist, for example, over the the integrity, the security and the safety of, let’s say, the person of colour who is the victim of the system, then your anti-racism work is not really anti-racism work but it’s just another form that white supremacy manifests itself”…Right? The constant gaslighting, the giving the benefit of the doubt, etc., so what is your role in the system that does that? That helps enable that?
[00:29:05.890] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So I would like to see more of those stories. Looking in the mirror to kind of figure out, “what was my role in this whole thing” and in a way, “what was my role in victimizing myself,” right? So I think that goes deeper in that layer of truth. That is, I think, harder to deal with.
[00:29:24.190] – Rachel Thompson
So I know you say you identify as a cultural hybrid, and I read on your website that you have had over 80 roommates, making it difficult to call one place home. I’m wondering, how does cultural hybridity influence how you read books and submissions?
[00:29:40.120] – Julián Esteban Torres López
You know, I think having those experiences…I mean 80, living with 80 different people…I stopped tracking after 80 so it’s more than 80 now; and I’ve lived in five different countries…so you have a lot of different kinds of cultures. And, you know, living with people who are on all kinds of the spectrum whether it’s religious, political, cultureal; different races, different ethnicities, different beliefs, different ages, etc. etc., it kind of creates a certain sensitivity to the concerns of different people that I might not have ever gotten a face to face or first hands kind of experience, that I might have experienced through watching television or reading books…right?
[00:30:29.290] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So I think that created a certain kind of empathy and interest in different cultures and in any way you can define the word “culture”. So I think that cultural sensitivity is always in the forefront for things that I read in terms of I mean, I have a background in justice — in terms of like, in philosophy and in ethics and how we treat each other and create institutions or organize ourselves in order to better situate us to become who we want to be, in the most positive way possible. So I’m always looking at, aside from the artistry and the creativity of presenting and telling stories, I’m always looking to see if there’s a certain kind of sensitivity that comes from the author as well on how this is going to land with readers because that’s ultimately my job: is to curate these stories that are going to help further our mission along. Not just share interesting stories that are told well, but share interesting stories that are told well to accomplish what you, kind of like what we talked about earlier, to be seen, remembered and brought to the center so we can imagine people in different ways; so then we can better coexist in a plural world.
[00:31:46.230] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So that’s always at the forefront for me and I think the more people who are submitting to The Nasiona understand that ultimately I have the final say, I am the gatekeeper, the more you understand where I’m coming from and therefore (those managing editors that I train also will have that filter) the greater the likelihood that we’ll take more interest in your work.
[00:32:15.210] – Rachel Thompson
Has anything changed to your own writing? So working with The Nasiona, has that changed how you write?
[00:32:20.160] – Julián Esteban Torres López
I mean, the short answer is, is yes. I guess I answered it. Yes. Is there any, I can go deep in different ways. but is there is there an angle?
[00:32:29.880] – Rachel Thompson
Yeah, I guess I’m wondering about — our focus is, we’re talking to the people who are submitting to lit mags and often actually, I do encourage people who want to get published in lit mags to find/seek opportunities to start reading for lit mags and understanding what’s working; being able to articulate to themselves “why did this piece succeed and why did this piece not succeed?”
[00:32:54.120] – Rachel Thompson
Have those kind of things struck you and influenced how you write? I mean, we can talk a little bit more from a technical standpoint of how you’ve been influenced.
[00:33:03.510] – Julián Esteban Torres López
I mean, many things stand out for me. And every time I read an essay, I learn so much because people are telling specific stories in very different ways and very creatively. I mentioned just the presentation of it alone kind of can stand out, right? You can tap into different different ways of storytelling from different genres to write a personal essay, right? You can go very chronologically. You can go in a way that uses kind of, you know, the suspense thriller genre, right? You can, you know, there’s just so many creative ways to do that right? But also, you get to see (looking at the back end) you you get to see the quality that you don’t ever get to see if you’re not in a position to go through the slush pile. So in a way, you get to see your competition. If you look at it as a competition, which in a way it is because you are competing for a spot in a journal, you’re competing for literary agents, you’re competing for publishing contracts, right?
[00:34:05.340] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So it has provided me an insight into an industry that I would have never gotten an insight from, because what I see if I’m not in the industry like that, all I see is the polished work…right? So you get to see different levels of of effective writing. In that sense, it’s more explicit how much of a competition it is, because that is my role: is to move people up in the priority of the rankings, to then discuss with my team to see which pieces we should submit.
[00:34:38.460] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So I think that’s helpful, just that knowledge, to change my writing. Also just knowing very explicitly that you’re not writing for yourself…right? You were writing for someone like me who might take you under their wing and amplify your voice and give you a platform. So just kind of recognizing that the first sentence, then the second sentence and then the third sentence are pretty much the most important sentences of your submission’s life, like you’re pitching your story ultimately. You’re pitching it to me, right? Or in this way, as a writer, I’m pitching it to someone else who’s like me. So don’t just assume because you felt obliged to write a story, to write this personal essay that I or my readers feel obliged to read it.
[00:35:28.500] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So ultimately, you’ve got to take your ego and entitlement off the, out of the equation. That’s something that really kind of stuck with me the more submissions I read and the more issues we publish. So, I mean, you assume that memoir is about you. I mean I touched upon it a little bit. But, it really isn’t unless you don’t care about sharing it with the world. So when you sit down to write with, whatever, with tea or on one side and pencil sharpened or, you know, a battery charge, whatever way you write; there is only one important person in your life, and that’s the stranger at that point.
[00:36:04.740] – Julián Esteban Torres López
It’s “the other,” it’s that gatekeeper: the reader. I spend a lot more time now than I did before trying to understand who my reader is when writing a memoir, personal essays, that is, if you want to get published and or create a readership, always remember that though this is important to you, that there’s…no one has to read your shit! Like, find your available means of persuasion in any given case to get noticed, to get yourself noticed, to get your story noticed.
[00:36:38.340] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So you have to ask yourself “why”. Why should your readers read your work? What’s in it for them? What value are you adding? Why should they be invested in your story, and then give you their time? What makes you stand out from the other hundreds of submissions?
[00:36:57.120] – Julián Esteban Torres López
All these things are always now going in the back of my mind, more so, than before I launched this organization. So is your story extraordinary? Is it the way you present your story? Is it hypnotic? Is it your language that makes it stand out?
[00:37:14.430] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Again, use your available means of persuasion to grab me and for me to think about the other gatekeepers, for me to grab them from the very beginning and keep them engaged. Because I can promise you this. If you don’t hypnotize me as a gatekeeper, there is no way in hell that I’m going to waste my readers’ time curating pieces that aren’t worth their time. So whether you like it or not, if you’re not, you’re competing here. I’m competing here.
[00:37:43.920] – Julián Esteban Torres López
It’s…Is your piece…Something as small as using too many clichés can get you to not move forward. Is “your piece isn’t proofread,” “you have too many mistakes,” “you don’t follow directions from the mission’s guidelines” or “there is a lost opportunity” or “you tell too much instead of showing”. You know, all those little things — because it is a competition in the hundreds of submissions, sometimes thousands — that you really got to process and polish your work if you want to advance and get through to the publication stage.
[00:38:15.840] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So you have to figure out how do I minimize my chances of not being able to advance to the next round. So that, I think, has impacted me more as a writer now than, you know, let’s say, a year ago. And I’ve been in the industry a long time but I think this past year has really solidified that in me.
[00:38:36.450] – Rachel Thompson
Just from the volume of reading you’ve done for The Nasiona?
[00:38:39.480] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Yeah, the volume of reading, the amount of interviews I’ve done, the different relationships I’ve had with with memoir and personal essay authors, different mentorship opportunities, etc.
[00:38:51.910] – Rachel Thompson
I want to thank you so much for talking with me today and sharing your Lit Mag Love with us. Can you tell us what’s next for The Nasiona?
[00:38:59.250] – Julián Esteban Torres López
I’m always thinking of different ways to develop and amplify voices and create different platforms. So, you know, we obviously have the magazine. We also have the podcast. We’ll continue with all those; and we have different series that we’re developing for both of those. Internships, a mentorship program; we’ll continue with that. We also have a press, so a publishing house, so we have several different anthologies that I would like to publish next year, as well as different poetry collections and personal essays and memoirs from different authors.
[00:39:33.480] – Julián Esteban Torres López
But the focus right now is to continue the kind of quality work that we’ve been doing; to stay aligned with our mission, to increase the quality, but also now, I mean, we have no funding. In a way I’m kind of, this is, consider it a very elaborate blog. My blog that I’ve brought a lot of people into to increase the network of help, to create something worthwhile for readership. So the second year right now is, I’m trying to build those partnerships and relationships with different individuals who want to help us succeed in our mission.
[00:40:10.620] – Julián Esteban Torres López
So then a lot of the things gets taken off my shoulders. So then, I can focus on finding different funding opportunities, partnership opportunities, so we can be self-sufficient. And obviously, just continue with so many different topics and themes that we want to focus, to highlight and to amplify; outside of the five that we already have. So we’re going to tackle disability experiences. We’re going to tackle climate change in the future. We’re going to tackle a lot of different kinds of arenas from different systems of oppression.
[00:40:42.930] – Julián Esteban Torres López
Being an atheist, atheist stories, agnostic stories; there’s a lot that we want to do. But right now, just focusing on the five that we mentioned earlier.
[00:40:50.370] – Rachel Thompson
Wonderful. Thanks again for sharing your Lit Mag Love with us, Julián.
[00:40:54.030] – Julián Esteban Torres López
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much.
[00:40:57.430] – Rachel Thompson
So there’s so much to glean from my conversation with Julián. In fact, much of it was me kind of sitting back and just enjoying the connections that he makes and the way that he was able to express really the importance, the vital work that we’re doing in literature. Often, writers will talk to me about how they don’t know if what they’re doing is important given all the troubles in the world.
[00:41:21.370] – Rachel Thompson
And I just love that he really talked about both centring people from within the margins and centring yourself from the margins too, so really looking at those voices to come out and not only change the culture, but so more people can reach those safe spaces to be authentic themselves; and that’s vital and such important work, and I feel so strongly about how that connects to the bigger picture of why we’re working in this space and why this is incredibly important.
[00:41:55.330] – Rachel Thompson
He talked a lot about creating an environment where we can have a voice and be included in the conversation: situating ourselves, being seen and brought to the center, and just allowing people to look in the mirror about how they’ve been victims of systems of oppression. But one of the things I think you can pick up as someone if you’re considering submitting to The Nasiona is to look at how you, yourself, have been part of systems of oppression; so not minimizing the stories where maybe you have been the victim, but what are the ways that you’re standing in your own way or what are other ways in which you have been a perpetrator yourself?
[00:42:35.440] – Rachel Thompson
And then I took the theme of the episode and the call to you to be persuasion, to persuade. And I think he made some really important notes about writing memoirs. You can write all the memoirs and personal essays that you want, but if you can’t manage to connect somehow with the reader, if you don’t understand that you are writing to an audience, then something as small as he puts it, as too many clichés or not proofreading your piece, hose kind of things are part of that persuasion, too; is understanding how to really present yourself in the best light. He mentions that you’re writing to for someone who might take you under their wing and amplify your voice and give you a platform. But the first sentence, the second sentence and the third sentence are vitally important to bring you to those gatekeepers who are ready to open the door to you.
[00:43:30.550] – Rachel Thompson
And another thing that’s not specifically in this interview, but that I’ve noticed recently, is that Julián and The Nasiona are making a call for Latina/Latino/Latinx people to submit their writing. And they’ve been calling out a few times saying they haven’t had a lot of submissions. So if you’re listening now and from that community, that would be a great place for you to share your work.
[00:43:55.280] – Rachel Thompson
I’ll mention again that the quote from Rachel Cargle that he mentions in the interview is actually something that should be attributed to Ijeoma Oluo. And she wrote, “If your anti-racism work prioritizes the growth and enlightenment of white America over the safety, dignity and humanity of people of color, it is not anti-racism work, it’s white supremacy.”
And I love how he brought that to the table here to really talk about what I think is one of the most important parts about literature or certainly why I’m involved in this work. Is, the idea that we want to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. There are links in the show notes to this episode, to both the piece by Laurel Brown “Open Season” and to both Rachel Cargle and Ijeoma Oluo.
[00:44:45.100] – Rachel Thompson
Lit Mag Love is co presented by Room magazine: Literature, Art and Feminism since 1975, and the Lit Mag Love Course, an online course to get smart, fearless and published with lots of help from me. Sound editing for the episode is done by Mica Lemiski, and I’m your host, Rachel Thompson.
[00:45:04.960] – Rachel Thompson
If you want to give us some love in the form of a review wherever you get your podcast, we would love that and it really helps other writers discover the podcast. You can find us online at litmaglovepodcast.com, or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @LitMagLove. Thanks for writing and reading literature and thanks for listening to Lit Mag Love.
Transcript Proofreading by Ellen Chang-Richardson.