40 // Vestal Review and JMWW—Send Your Best with Alle C. Hall

Vestal Review is firmly established as an exciting venue for exceptional flash by both emerging and well-known authors. Their stories have been reprinted in numerous anthologies such as Best of the Net, Sudden Flash Youth and You have Time for This and their stories have been selected for Wigleaf Top 50 multiple times. Vestal Review is an eclectic magazine, open to all genres except children’s stories and hard science fiction.

jmww is a weekly journal of writing publishing the best in fiction, poetry, flash, essays, and interviews (or a close approximation).

Alle C. Hall is Senior Nonfiction Editor at JMWW and Associate Editor for Vestal Review. Her work appears in Tupelo Quarterly, Creative Nonfiction Magazine, Brevity (blog), Literary Orphans,Word Riot, Treehouse, and The Best of Crack the Spine, among others.

Here are three stories Alle C. Hall mentioned in the episode:

(Alle C. Hall refers to this as “North Lake, I Remember” in the episode.)
Read Full Episode Transcript

 

In this episode of Lit Mag Love, I speak with Emily Wojcik, the managing editor of the Massachusetts Review. Massachusetts Review is in its sixtieth anniversary. It’s a literary magazine that promotes social justice and equality along with great art.

They are interested and committed to aesthetic excellence as well as public engagement and they publish literature and art that provokes debate, inspires action and expands our understanding of the world around us. Emily Wojcik, who I speak to in this interview, has worked in non-profit publishing for more than a decade. She worked first with Paris Press in Ashfield, Massachusetts, and now at the Massachusetts Review. [Theme music plays]

Welcome to the Lit Mag Love podcast, Emily Wojcik, thanks for being here. So before joining Massachusetts Review, you were with Paris Press. Can you tell me a bit about your small press Lit Mag Love? Is there a place that you either fell in love with when you published there or first got involved with?

So I was one of those kids who was always determined to be an English major and read, and if I could figure out a way to do it, get paid to read. My dad taught me to read when I was three. And so that was a really big part of my life for a long time. I had gone off to New York to be in magazines after I graduated from college, which was fantastic. I had great mentorship, but it paid almost literally nothing.

And it’s very hard to live in Manhattan when you’re making nothing.

So when my office got downsized, I moved to Massachusetts and decided I would go to graduate school, mostly just thinking that that would help pay the bills while I figured out what I wanted to do. I ended up interning at Paris Press at first, which was this very small nonprofit feminist press up in Western Mass. It was fantastic. It ended up because it was so small, I learned how to do pretty much everything from fundraising and grant writing to typesetting on the computer.

Of course not setting type directly to basic editorial and proofing.

I was helping select text and that was really where I got a sense of both how I could make a living or at least have a life where I was reading and working with texts all the time. Also just how complicated and interesting the non-profit version of that could be, because anyone who works in the nonprofit knows that you have incredibly small staffs and you do everything you have to do and you sort of fly by the seat of your pants because everything depends a bit on funding and a bit on sales.

I found it really exciting in a way that writing about lipstick in New York hadn’t been exciting, [Laughter] if that makes sense.

Yeah. [Laughter] There’s so much creativity that happens in nonprofits, too, because the resources are so small.

Absolutely.

I like to say I tend to work at places that are too small to fail.

I’ve been doing this now for 16 years and I’ve gotten really good at figuring out where we can keep paring it down and paring it down if you have to, and whatever it takes to keep the platform alive, whether it’s a press or a small magazine. And that’s all something that takes creativity. It takes energy. It’s never boring. That was kind of where I really cut my teeth.

I was working with Jan Freeman was the executive director, and she was one of those women who prior to me joining, had a couple of interns, but it was essentially a one-woman show. She was a great role model for that, both in terms of how to get things done and how to multitask. And also, a little bit on how to how to be just crazy enough to want to do this all the time, which I think is another important part of it for sure.

A little love, crazy let’s say. So I know I want to talk to you about creative nonfiction, because something I read in another interview, you did struck me as something that I also hear a lot from other lit mags is that you’re always looking for nonfiction. There’s a dearth of nonfiction, or at least that was the case in that interview in 2015. Is that still the case? Even in these heydays of memoir?

I feel like I want to be careful how I answer this question. The short answer is yes. And the longer answer is I think in part because we’re in a heyday of memoir. I think I’ve read really wonderful memoirs. But we as a magazine, we don’t really publish personal memoir that doesn’t in some way engage the broader world. What I mean by that is, for example, in our current issue, our Summer 2019 issue, we have this really amazing essay by a woman named Mimi Lipson.

And it’s it starts off being about her brother and her brother was bipolar and would often when he was in a terrible place, he would take himself hiking for days at a time all by himself out in the woods. And in the course of one of these hikes, which is triggered by the fact that he’s having trouble with his neighbors upstairs, he lives in a house that his mother is the landlord of, a building that his mother is the landlord of.

And the neighbors upstairs are giving him a lot of grief and trouble and causing a lot of noise. So he takes himself off and in the course of this hike, a freak tornado goes through and he gets felled by a tree and ultimately rescued and all of that. But in the course of this, it starts off being about family trouble and mental illness.

And then you begin to learn through the course of the essay that the neighbors upstairs are the Tsarnaev brothers from the Boston Marathon bombing and that this author’s mother was their landlord in Boston.

And it becomes this kind of really intricately woven meditation on mental illness and family, but also the idea of do we really know our neighbors and what are the effects of these people on both good and bad on the greater world and the ways we interact with people. And it becomes this really big essay and a really economical space. And that’s the sort of nonfiction that we tend to look for. My boss puts it, we’re more interested in the world than the self.

And when we get memoir, it’s often really well written.

But, it’s so specific and so small. The charming and adorable story about a man learning to cook dinner for his family because his wife got a job, and that sort of thing where it doesn’t feel like it’s saying much beyond the family. And that’s hard for us to figure out how that’s going to work for our type of reader who’s looking for a broader, more international, more politically engaged form of nonfiction.

I love that expression. We’re more interested in the world than the self. And one of the things, though, that strikes me in your example is her brother has mental health problems and there’s a tornado. There’s sort of a bigger, issues of mental health happening. Then also this insertion into a news story and a tragedy. Do you think there’s room for the type of creative nonfiction that is maybe is about that dinner?

Is there a way to connect that dinner, cooking dinner for your family to the larger issues? Or have you seen that happen before?

Absolutely. In fact, I say, we tend to shy away from memoir.

And then, of course, all the examples I’m coming up with, begin with memoir style.

So take that with a grain of salt. For example, a couple of years ago, again, in our summer issue, I don’t know what it is about our summer issues, but a couple of years ago, we had an essay by a woman named Siobhan Phillips, who in any case, she begins writing about being raised vegetarian and macrobiotic by her mother in the 70s. And then she goes gluten-free because she has health problems.

And then she starts doing this elimination diet and it very rapidly for her turns into disordered eating. And from there, she jumps into really kind of thinking about disordered eating and today’s wellness world and where it’s so easy to hide disordered eating behind oh, no, I just don’t eat dairy because I have a sensitivity or I don’t eat this because I have a sensitivity. And I say this as somebody who doesn’t eat things with a sensitivity.[laughs]

But just the small jump from wellness and being healthy to having a full-blown eating disorder.

In the essay, she talks to a few experts on disordered eating. She talks to some wellness experts. And it becomes this, again, kind of bigger explanation. So I think that’s that’s ultimately what we look for is something personal that grounds the essay that gives our readers something to connect to with the writer, but then that pushes that beyond just the writer’s personal experience into something that seems to have an impact for the reader. So I don’t really care that this woman was macrobiotic as a child, but I find it fascinating that in our current dialogue about wellness, there’s this kind of shadowy other side where for some people, wellness turns into a real health problem.

That’s a great way to make it really concrete for us. So, you talked about some of the common problems of seeing the submissions that you’re getting. So that’s great to hear for people who are writing more memoir and not connecting it to bigger things. Maybe there’s another journal for your work or another way to tackle that topic and think about the ways that it can connect to bigger stories.

There are fantastic journals out there that publish lots of memoir. I personally like memoir. I like small stories. I just think for the magazine, our magazine has a certain kind of a mandate is probably too big a word.

It has a vision. Right. We tend to be a little bit more on the political side, a little bit more on the social justice side. We try to engage international issues. And I know there are journals for whom the scope really is, more about the personal and the individual. And I think that’s what as my grandmother would say, that’s what makes horse races. It’s good to have journalists that do everything.

So I want to talk to you about endings, because, as I mentioned, I was reading some interviews that you’ve done previously and found this interesting idea that you’re expressing about how you had to cut the last two paragraphs of a lot of stories. And that is such common advice that you give writers that it becomes something of a joke around the office. And too often a writer will keep going overstating I’m quoting you here or restating the moment to the story’s detriment. Can you talk about why you think that is and what writers might do to find and avoid this in their writing?

So we see a lot of work by very established writers and we see a lot of work by emerging writers.

And I think where we see that problem is generally in the more emerging writers we see actually on both ends of the story, we have a similar kind of joke about, we like it, but can we cut the first page and then we like it, but can we cut the last two paragraphs? I think in both cases what you have is maybe a bit of nerves, a bit of writer’s uncertainty when we want to cut the first pages often because a writer just I envision it as they’re doing the kind of Fred Flintstone their feet are running, but they’re not moving yet.

It’s like just kind of getting up the head of steam to really start the story. And I think with the ending, it’s often an uncertainty that the writer might have that they haven’t done their job well. I don’t want to put feelings or thoughts into other people’s heads, but I always wonder if it’s a bit of the moment where they sort of second guess themselves. And so we’ll have read this really wonderful story. It will have this really powerful image that it ends on.

And then suddenly there will be the sort of Wonder Years voiceover moment where it’s like and that’s where I learned that, you know, I didn’t need this after all. Or and let me remind you that I was dating this guy at the beginning of the story and everything worked out with him, too. And that’s not the story.

The story ended here and just trust it. Trust that the reader came with you, trust that you did a good job and that you brought us there. And if the reader still has questions, that’s OK. It’s a short story. It’s not a novel. You don’t have to tie up every loose end. You just have to make sure that the story resolves in a way that feels complete. Right. That feels satisfying. And if there’s a loose end, that’s OK.

Trust that the reader is OK with that.[laughs]

It’s almost like defining what satisfying means. [laughs]I’m never going to forget that image of Fred Flintstone running as being that. Because so often it’s true, the case with openings for pieces, that there is what one of my earlier mentors, Betsy Worland, called scaffolding that is holding the building in place. And then you can remove the scaffolding once the building’s done. I know it’s often the case with poems, especially that the beginning has that problem where you need to lop off the first one or two stanzas.

And to me, it is almost a joke myself to where I’m working with with a poet. It’s so common that I’ll say, what have we started here? A couple of stanzas later [laughs]we’re going to change the poem. Or was this writing really for you to get into it or was the writing for the reader? So I’m wondering, how do you approach editing poetry versus prose at Massachusetts Review?

Well, I’m lucky because I end up not editing a lot of poetry myself. But our poetry editors, Ellen Doré Watson, and Deborah Gorlin, they are senior poetry editors and they are super hands-on.

They read all of the submissions. They don’t have assistants reading. They don’t have interns reading for them. And they interact with the poets. They do a lot more editorial work, in fact, than the prose folks do. I’m often cc’d on these emails. So it would often be, we like this poem very much. This stanza we think is extraneous or more often actually what ends up happening is I don’t understand this image.

This image doesn’t work with the rest of the poem. Would you think about altering it or changing it, or would you tell us a little bit more about what you were thinking? Because Ellen, especially with Ellen and Deb, both have a lot of experience teaching, writing and teaching poetry. Ellen taught poetry at Smith, still does, and was the director of the Poetry Center there for twenty-five years and Deb taught poetry, teaches poetry at Hampshire.

But she, just retired this year. So, they have a lot of experience working with people to try to make their poetry better. And I think that really comes into play.

So it’s a lot of questioning. It’s a lot of, rather than saying, oh, you need to do this, I think they do a lot more. You know, what would you think of this? Or this isn’t working for us. If you’re willing to revisit it, maybe if you want some suggestions, we can offer them. But for all of us, I think editing pieces, we try to leave it as much as possible in the writers lap.

We try to give direction a bit, but if it’s the kind of piece, especially if we haven’t solicited it, if it’s the kind of piece that’s going to need, a real overhaul we’ll generally go back to the writer and say, look, here’s what we like about it. Here’s where we think it’s wanting to go, but it’s not there yet. So come back to us when you’ve reworked it. Our executive editor, Jim Hicks, will often, if it’s a piece that he really wants to see redone or reworked, he’ll send extensive notes.

He’ll send a page or two of this is what I’m thinking. This is what isn’t working. Here’s where I think your piece is trying to go. Do you have any interest in trying to rework it? And sometimes people say yes and sometimes they say no. And that’s fine.

What you said about creating fiction, something I hear very often from editors, what you’re saying about the way that you approach poetry is unique and such a great opportunity for poets. Often what I’m hearing from lit mags is that they’re just publishing poems, as is so, it’s such a treat, it seems to me, for a poet to be able to sit there and to have someone help them bring a piece home and question some of those images maybe that are detracting from the piece.

That’s so great.

I know Ellen and Deb really like to publish poets who are fairly new.

We always have a couple of bigger names, which I think philosophically is what we try to do with the whole magazine is publish emerging writers alongside more established names. But I think particularly with the poetry, I know Deb and Ellen are always really interested in seeing what’s happening with newer poets. And if you’re a new poet, if you’ve not been published before, you might need a little bit more guidance, and then sometimes we get people who are perhaps beyond help.

We did get one. I didn’t read the poems, but we got one cover letter from someone telling us that we should publish his work because we will be happy in the future to be able to say that we were the first people to publish him and that his ultimate goal was to be published by the Paris Review.

But he really saw us as an important stepping stone to that.

So, there are some folks who I think like I can’t speak to the quality of his poetry. We may have lost a really brilliant poet, but. But we may not have.

Well, that leads me to ask you a bit about the cover letter and how it can detract really from submission. But being an extreme example of it. Do you get a lot of cover letters maybe where writers will try to explain the piece to you a bit before you get into it? And what do you think about that?

We do, actually. We get for the most part, our cover letters that we get are pretty straightforward. And I appreciate that. You know, here’s who I am. Here’s what I’m submitting. If I’ve been published before, here’s where I’ve been published, but especially with the prose we’ll often get people sort of providing a summary. And, on the one hand, I’ve said this before, but, we’re going to read the piece no matter what.

The cover letter doesn’t have to convince us to read the piece because it’s been submitted to us so we’ll read it. That’s the deal we’ve made. But at the same time, it is kind of helpful when we get a summary because it is kind of I can look at it and say, OK, this is likely not going to be something that we’re going to take or this is likely something I want to pass on. Even before I go in, I will say it works less well for fiction.

I think people are not particularly good at summarizing their own fiction. And I think people default to a sort of marketing language about their fiction. And, you know, this is the heartbreaking story of such and such. And it’s like Hunger Games meets Emma or something like that. [Laughs].

I don’t know what that means, but for non-fiction, it can be helpful. Right.

So this is an analysis of this or, we’ll sometimes get things that are too scholarly and get things that are kind of silly or whatever, and it’s useful to kind of know, OK, this is going to be this kind of piece. But, it’s not required.

And then I think, there is such a thing as potentially casting your piece in a bad light. I mean, I think one of the joys of reading is to discover something on your own. And, I’m not one of those people who reads the back cover of a book before I read the book. I tend to just kind of pick it up and go. So I, wouldn’t say it detracts, but I wouldn’t say it helps.

Maybe it approach it in a do no harm to your submission kind of way. [Laughs].

Exactly and again, trust your writing. Right.

I mean, this is the big thing I find over and over again, especially with less experienced writers, is trust your writing, trust that you’re going to be able to get through.

And if you can’t, if the story doesn’t do that, then the cover letter is not going to help. Right. But trust that, you don’t need to set up you don’t need to set me up. If you’ve done a decent job, I’ll get into it. I’ll get it. I think people get nervous. And they really want to be published, and I totally respect that. And so they think, well, maybe this will help and, basically just comes down to how good is the piece?

Yeah, like you said, you’re going to read it anyway, so you don’t need to persuade. It’s like almost maybe just not knowing where you are in terms of your publishing journey. Like there’s a time when you do have to sell it. And that’s at the publisher agent level, but not at the lit mag level.

Exactly. Exactly. Like we’re going to read everything, we won’t take everything, but we’re going to read everything and but yeah, it is I think that is the kind of the confusion that happens.

And we’re a marketing world right now.

I mean, everything is what’s your elevator pitch? I end up thinking, if you can summarize your story in a sentence and a half, then it probably didn’t need to get written. It certainly didn’t need twenty-five pages. And so if you can’t summarize your story, that’s OK.That’s that’s good.

I can hear writers sighing a breath of relief, even hearing that it’s coming across here. And I read in another interview and I don’t want to disparage the interviewer, but they were trying to get you to say what irritated you about some of the common flaws in stories like too much exposition, language, redundancy or repetition. And I just love that in your response, you resisted that characterization and just saw it as a writer learning.

So what do you see your role as teacher, slash mentor for writers and submitting to the journal is and how has mentorship worked for you in your own writing life?

That’s a good question. When we work with writers, I see my job and this is kind of overall I see my job as editor is to make the piece that the writer intended accessible to the reader. And what I mean by that is I try to get a sense of what the writer is trying to do. And if I edited I’m editing it for clarity and to make sure that that voice gets heard.

You know, I’m not interested in changing how somebody writes. I’m not interested in making the story something it’s not. You know, I may suggest some grammar. I might suggest some reworking to make it a little bit more clear or to make it a little bit more in keeping with what I think the authorial intent is. But I also like to have a bit of a light hand that said, if it’s a piece that really needs a lot of work, we often won’t take it because we’re just such a small office.

I’m the only full time paid staff member at the office. Two of our senior editors receive course releases from their universities to do the editorial work. But otherwise, we have two people full time in the office, one of whom is mostly volunteer, and then we have interns. And so there’s just a whole lot that has to get done. And so we’re not able to do as much mentorship as we’d like. That said, I’ve really valued when I work with people who’ve helped my writing.

I think every writer has worked with somebody who doesn’t get it, who wants the story to be a different story or wants the essay to be a different essay. And I try really, really hard to not be that editor. I try really hard to figure out what is the writer trying to do? Where are they falling down? And that’s where the little tiny annoyances, I guess, as the other person was framing it.

Come in, right. If you’ve got twelve adjectives and two sentences, it’s distracting, right? No one’s going to pay attention to the sentence because they’re just going to look at the fact that you have all these adjectives and it’s a thin line between descriptive and ridiculous. Right. And so I’m coming at it from that angle.

Why is everything an adverb? Do really need all of these adverbs, or is that distracting the reader from what’s really happening? Again, the same with redundancy, the same with repetition. It’s always kind of from a point of view of is this serving the story and if it’s not, can we cut it because there’s something here and it’s just it’s got a little bit of muck on it, and if I can just clear that muck, it’s going to shine.

That’s how I try to approach editing and mentorship.

I love what you say about not imposing the view, like your view as an editor on the piece and just seeing what’s there and what the writer’s intention is. Because even if they’re falling totally flat, there’s always something that you can say as an editor, I think, to help them take a step toward that vision that they have for their piece.

Yeah, absolutely. And, I was reading some writer I can’t remember now. And he was saying that he got his start by retyping Ernest Hemingway stories.

And just to get a sense of what Hemingway wrote like. I think we see that sometimes in writers, they see somebody they’ve read somebody that they’re really inspired by. And they go off trying to do that same kind of style and that idea of like, OK, so what is it that you’ve liked about this story? What is it? Do you like that the narrator isn’t named? Do you like that? There’s an unfinished ending.

What is it that you’re trying to get at? And where are you getting in your own way? Where are you overdoing it or where are you not doing it enough?

Right.

Where you sort of lacking the courage of your convictions and just trying to kind of get into the story that way. It’s a different kind of reading than I think most of our readers do because they’re not paid to do the reading.

But it’s fun.

I imagine also just because this is true for me, so educational about writing in general to be able to identify and read in that way where you’re like you said, I’m getting paid to do it and looking really closely at what’s working and what’s not working.

Absolutely. We have interns you have interns from the UMass MFA program during the school year and then in the summers, we have undergraduate interns and all of them. I put them to work. I mean, they don’t necessarily do rejections and stuff, but I put them to work reading our slush pile because I think it’s such a good education. You just start reading these things and you’ll see after you read ten or fifteen submissions, you’re going to see writers doing the exact same problem.

Twelve different writers making the same mistake. You’re going to see the same kind of imagery. You’re going to learn really quickly, what’s a cliche? Because you may not have thought that, but when you see it twelve times in two hours, you’re going to realize, oh, that’s totally cliche. I mean, that’s really helpful. Just to kind of get a sense. I often tell people, we don’t get a lot of really bad writing.

The people who submit to us. I can count on one hand maybe the pieces that maybe just kind of laugh out loud and think, oh, gosh, no. But what we get a lot of is writing that just needs a little more work. You know, it’s almost there. And so learning to distinguish between, what’s really good and sharp and ready to go and what’s not quite there yet, it’s perfectly fine.

But we want better than fine. We want it to shine. And so just learning how to distinguish that learning thing, sitting there thinking this is good, are our readers going to keep going with it? Are they going to give up after two pages because they don’t have to read it, right? We do, but they don’t.

What would you say has been the most rewarding part about working with contributors to the Massachusetts Review?

Oh, my gosh.

I’m stunned by how brilliant contributors are, and we get people we’re actually trying to put together. It’s our sixtieth year this year. Twenty nineteen is our sixtieth birthday. And we’re working with some writers who we were their first or one of their first publications, and now they’ve been doing more stuff. And so we’ve gone back to them and ask them, who should we be looking at now, who’s new and emerging that they know about that maybe no one else does.

And who should we be soliciting for work? And it’s just so much fun to go back to them because they’re so brilliant.

The fiction is brilliant. Poetry is brilliant. This is my problem. Right. I don’t like adjectives.

So now I don’t have any adjectives to describe, but when you work with someone, when you find somebody’s piece that just kind of takes the top of your head off. Right. To quote Emily Dickinson, it’s just we have a couple of writers. We have one writer, Alison Kade. She’s in New York. We published an early story of hers a couple of years ago. That was this really interesting kind of dystopian near-future idea of New York Post, a Superstorm Sandy kind of situation that just destroys the city.

The writing wasn’t quite it wasn’t quite English. It was this kind of modified colloquial. It was so interesting on every level and it worked on every level. It was, how is this woman not have novels yet? How could she not be discovered? We have a couple of writers, we have many, many writers like that where we just you read something. You’re like, this is a perfect story.

It’s such a pleasure to discover that this is a perfect poem. This writer is doing something so interesting with the nonfiction, just like, oh, my God, I never thought about that. That’s so interesting. I’ve often said one of my flaws is I get bored really easily. I grew up in one of those households where I was told, oh, you’re only bored if you’re boring and I get bored all the time so I don’t know what that says about me.

But when you when you’ve got these contributors, I don’t get bored with this. Every single issue I think is really good. And I haven’t worked at any other job where that’s been true, where I’ve looked at every single issue and thought people need to read this like they need to read this because it’s so god damn good. Finally.

[Laughs]. Oh, it’s fabulous. It’s just your love for the submitters and lit mags really come through. So I love hearing that given the theme of the show. So I know we talked before we started and you were saying that you have about seven hundred and fifty submissions in stuff. But I’m still going to ask you, what is the best way for writers to connect with you and with Massachusetts Review?

Well, I hasten to say that seven hundred and fifty left. So we started with like two thousand. So we’re doing OK. The best way, honestly, if they want to be read more quickly, I hate to say this because everyone’s on, but we have two modes of submission. We accept submissions through our online submission manager, which you can get through to through our website. There’s a three dollar fee for submissions or we accept snail mail submissions, which we don’t charge a fee for.

And I think because of the way it works, I think folks who snail mail, they get read sooner.That’s because we have a couple of senior readers, senior fiction editors, who only read paper, who don’t want to read online. So they will pick up the stuff and read it and get it back to us much more quickly. When it’s online, you’re kind of at the whim of, we’re a tiny office and we do the best we can, but tiny office with only a couple of editors and so it can take a while.

And we usually we say on our website it can take us up to six months to respond. It’s taken us actually a little bit longer this year because one of our senior editors is having trouble at work. And so she’s been more absent. You know, that’s just kind of the function of being a small, tightly funded non-profit organization as we’re operating with really lean resources.

So I think if time is of the essence, I would recommend probably mailing it in.

I love that. That’s like a hot tip for our listeners. I would never have guessed.

I mean, that said, I who knows, this could shift next year. We can get our act together and we do that.

We do allow, we do encourage simultaneous submission because we’re so small. Because it takes us so long to respond. So we’re certainly not going to say we should exclusively have this until we make a decision, because that would be cruel.

Well, thank you so much for talking with me today and sharing your lit mag love with me and our listeners.

No problem. This was really fun. Thanks so much.

So I definitely feel like we got some juicy tidbits there, writers who are listening about the Massachusetts Review from Emily. One thing to start off, though, just globally, the Review is more interested in the world than the self, as she put it. So they’re a little bit more on the political side in the social justice side.

They will publish a memoir, a story that’s interior, but it has to also face the world. It has to connect to a bigger issue and other things that we learned, more technical stuff. So I’m never going to forget this image of Fred Flintstone with feet running, but not moving yet and how a lot of stories start that way where they’re just sort of working up toward the momentum of the story. But there’s some intro stuff, some scaffolding, as Betsy Warland calls it, that’s propping up the story.

But then it can be taken away once the story is complete. And then another part we talked about was the ending. This is what editors we talk about all the time, the beginnings and endings. So the ending is make the story resolve in a way that feels complete, is what Emily said, and satisfying and trust that the reader is OK with that. Another thing that we picked up from hearing Emily speak was that she does not like adjectives.

So that’s something to think about when you’re writing your work and submitting to them as doing a comb through of how many adjectives, how many descriptive words that you’re using and can you find verbs that maybe encompass that description? They seem like a place that is going to really help you grow as a writer. In terms of the editorial approach, they have an editor who sends extensive notes. They have poets who really read and dive into poetry, which is, as I mentioned to her, a rare experience of poetry editing.

A lot of journals will just accept pieces as is and reject pieces that aren’t there. But this sounds like a place that is going to help you dive into the images in a poem and with some really talented poetry editors who can help you bring the vision of your piece home. We also talked about the cover letter. So that is for me, a hot topic issue. And something I always tell my students is you don’t need to explain your piece at all in the cover letter.

And I like how she connected that to the sort of larger move toward marketing happening, people feeling compelled to somehow market their writing. But for lit mags at that level of publication, you just never need to do that. The editors are going to read your piece regardless. She asked a good question I thought too. Where are you getting in your own way? So what are the ways that your own work is getting in its own way and they receive a lot of writing, she said that’s almost there.

And so one of the skills that emerging writers, as they transition into not so emerging writers, they learn to distinguish between what is sharp and almost there and what is not quite there. I think the hottest tip probably of this episode was to send snail mail, that they’re going to read the snail mail more quickly. So if you want to be published more quickly in the Mass Review, send it by the mail. That’s as of this year.

We’ll see what happens next year. But I thought that was a great and surprising tip. In the end, I really liked her message of trusting your own writing and kind of learning to trust your own writing and growing as a writer growing into that trust, I guess, for your own writing.

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.[background music plays]

 

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