“We like to read the odd, the off-kilter, and the just plain weird. We like things that are funny, things that are sad, and things that are both funny and sad at the same time. We especially love to read the experimental, the surreal, and the genre-bending.”
Rachel Thompson speaks with three editors from the online journal Okay Donkey about weird poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.
Téa Franco, Genevieve Kersten, and Elizabeth Upshur discuss weird writing’s significance and purpose in these weird times, how social media has helped us find our weird community and created all the extra weirdness available, and, of course, everything you need to know if you want to submit and publish your writing with Okay Donkey.
Links and Resources from this Episode:
- Okay Donkey website
- Okay Donkey on Twitter
- Kendra Fortmeyer’s, “What is Possible in This, Our Year 2021” published on Okay Donkey
- Octavia Butler’s, The Parable of the Sower
- Nelly Reifler’s Elect H. Mouse State Judge
Learn more about the Writerly Love membership community.
This episode is brought to you by The Nasiona.
[00:00:01.055] – Rachel Thompson
Welcome. luminous writers to the Write, Publish, and Shine podcast. I am your host, author and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to published author.
My guests for this episode are all editors who work together at Okay Donkey magazine. I have three of the editors from Okay Donkey with us. As they put on their website, they like to read the “odd, the off off-kilter and the just plain weird.” They like things that are funny, things that are sad and things that are both funny and sad at the same time. And they especially love to read the experimental, the surreal and the genre-bending.
So, of course, our discussion covers a lot about weird writing and includes its significance and purpose in these weird times, how social media has helped us find our weird community and created all the extra weirdness available. And of course, everything you need to know if you want to submit and publish your writing with Okay Donkey, an excellent journal.
Here is my conversation with Genevieve Kersten, co-founder and poetry editor, a poet, romance writer and professional semifinalist, as she puts it in her bio, Téa Franco, associate fiction editor and MFA fiction candidate at Bowling Green State University, and Elizabeth Upshur, associate poetry editor, a Black Southern Writer, and a 2018 and 2019 Fulbright alumna.
[00:01:45.825] – Rachel Thompson
Welcome to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast Genevieve Kersten, Téa Franco, and Elizabeth Upshur. I’m so pleased to have you here with us today.
[00:01:55.605] – Genevieve Kersten
Thank you. I’m very pleased to be here.
[00:01:58.185] – Rachel Thompson
So I want to start by establishing the Okay Donkey terrain. It has to be weird. It has to be surreal or bizarre. Genevieve, you told me that you love the adult feeling of being on a playground and playing and that wild imagination that you can occasionally find access to as an adult and, me too, how and why does weird writing give each of you a sense of play?
[00:02:23.115] – Genevieve Kersten
Well, I think for me it is the imagination. It taps into something that I think a lot of adults feel disconnected from. I think we’re mired in the real world especially. I mean, it doesn’t always feel like the real world on social media and stuff, but I personally felt very disconnected from my own creativity and imagination and seeing these bizarre worlds that people create in their flash fiction and poetry. It just allows me to access that part of my brain in a way that I think was really closed off for a long time.
[00:03:05.085] – Genevieve Kersten
And, so that’s the appeal for me.
[00:03:08.295] – Elizabeth Upshur
For me, I would say I like the opportunity, again, as Gen was talking about, for the imagination, a lot of times when you’re reading. It’s like, oh, you have to be very serious to take yourself very seriously. But, you know, with us we like, we want to have a little bit of the fantastic in there, a little bit of the humor in there, the opportunity to just let loose and sort of play with your that sort of 10-year-old child in you that still first got into reading and first wanted to get into the page because it was so magical and so wonderful and different from the real world.
[00:03:40.395] – Téa Franco
As Elizabeth said, there’s kind of like this idea in writing that you have to take yourself really, really seriously all the time. And I know, like for me personally starting off with writing I was like, I want to write important things and important things are serious. And I think one of the really, really interesting things that I see time and time again while reading through Okay Donkey stories is that you can do the really important and really impactful and powerful work while also having fun and being able to explore these different worlds in these really weird characters.
And so I think it provides a lot of opportunity for like a really cool combination of imagination and also these, like serious and important themes that we see so often in our stories.
[00:04:29.745] – Rachel Thompson
As I understand, at Okay Donkey, you accept writing that would be classified as literary and then writing that may not be classified as literary? Can you talk about the borders, I guess, of what’s literary writing and weird writing? Like maybe there’s a Venn diagram, or do you think it’s just sort of anything goes?
[00:04:48.145] – Genevieve Kersten
I feel like it’s anything goes. I would classify everything that we have published as literary, whether or not the rest of the literary world agrees with me. That might be up for debate. But I think that the lines between genre and literary fiction have blurred significantly in the last decade or two decades. And, so I definitely don’t know where that divide is myself.
What you’re saying is reminding me of kind of the moment we’re in, too, because you’re like, oh, it’s all literary writing and damn the establishment. I’m putting words in your mouth now, but there does seem to be even a bit of a renaissance around weird writing. And it’s becoming more mainstream, accepted, certainly in like a lot of, you know, narrative television, TV’s Golden Age, we’re seeing a lot of weird writing. Do you think it’s having a renaissance, agree or disagree?
[00:05:52.095] – Genevieve Kersten
I would agree that weird writing is having something of a renaissance right now. And I think it has a lot to do with escapism. The political climate in the US and the world in general, I think has driven a lot of people to need something that’s not reality, but also a place to process what’s happening around us and what feels like very strange times. But yeah, there’s not a lot of room for the emotional and subconscious processing. And I think that’s where a lot of this renewed interest in weird, surreal, fantastical stories and poetry. I think it’s driven a fair amount by that. At least for me, that’s very much the truth, because I know especially during the pandemic, getting me to read anything that would fall under the category of realism has been very challenging. So I got a couple of really fantastic collections of essays this year, like for my birthday and Christmas. And I just like stare at them, like, I know you have beautiful words and you that will be good for my life and for my brain, and I cannot bring myself to open it.
So that’s my suspicion. But I’m curious as to what Téa and Elizabeth also think.
[00:07:18.695] – Téa Franco
I definitely agree with that. I think a lot of it is for sure escapism. I’ve been watching so many weird things and reading so many weird things since the pandemic started. And it’s just so nice to pretend that the world doesn’t exist for a while or exists in a different way. And then I would also maybe say that another part of it is sort of we’re all on social media now. And I think people have always liked weird things and appreciated weirdness, but everyone thought that nobody else did. And I think now that we all just have our unfiltered thoughts being posted constantly online, more people were able to realize that people were interested in their weird stories and, like, interested in weirdness. And I think that’s allowed people to feel more freedom and the way that they express themselves, which obviously social media has a lot of not great consequences. But I think that’s a really great consequence of social media.
[00:08:18.875] – Rachel Thompson
We can let our weird flags fly now.
[00:08:21.845] – Téa Franco
Yeah, exactly. You mentioned it as escapism. I’m currently reading, really late to the party, but reading a lot of Octavia Butler and seeing how these weird stories are also projecting a possible future, too. And I wonder if even that’s part of it. It’s like we’re not going to escape reality, but how can we dream up these other ways of being, you know, I mean, not to put too much pressure on all weird stories and poems, but some of that possibility there or would you agree maybe, Elizabeth, for that one?
[00:08:54.725] – Elizabeth Upshur
That’s a deep question. The first thing it makes me think of is how comedians help us see the political climate a little bit differently. So I definitely think there is space to imagine alternative futures, even if we don’t then go out and actively make them into something. Just having that imaginative possibility, I think helps take some of that pressure off of sort of the bleakness that is out in the landscape. So it’s definitely a great way for escapism to work.
[00:09:23.855] – Genevieve Kersten
It’s a fine line between escapism and allegory. I would say I definitely see the strange and bizarre things being written as oftentimes really being a reflection of the world around us. It makes it palatable in ways that I think it becomes really exhausting if you don’t have a layer between it. But, Octavia Butler is a really, really great example of somebody that writes these strange stories that are like kind of broad and sweeping. The first time I read The Parable of the Sower, I had recently moved to Los Angeles and she was writing about things that I think it’s about 30-years later, like are still so heavy.
We were in the midst of years-long drought and that book is like so focused on water and water scarcity. And the characters were traveling on foot on freeways that I drive on every day. And I was like constantly being barraged with information about the drought that we were in. And so reading that was this very surreal experience of imagining what this could look like where I was at that very moment in just a few more years if things didn’t change. So I definitely see the importance of the way that we can relate to the world around us through these stories that feel so far away in some regards, but are also strangely close. I don’t know. That’s very a very contradictory statement, but…
[00:11:07.155] – Rachel Thompson
I totally know what you mean. Reading that book, it’s set in 2024, I was like, well, that’s three years from now. But it’s like, well, you know, we could get really close to that complete breakdown of society pretty fast, actually, current events feel like that’s even closer than it was even a month ago.
I want to maybe turn to what you would say to writers who want to dabble in the weird. Maybe they’re writing more realistic stuff. They’re just starting to write. How would they get there? And I guess maybe embedded in that, too, is like, what are you seeing from writers who are new to weirdness and writing? And is it easy for them to go too far or what kind of challenges would it be good for them to know about before starting out?
[00:11:53.005] – Téa Franco
I would say that if a writer is interested in writing weird things, the first thing that you have to do in order to write weird things, in my opinion at least, is to kind of just pretend that nobody’s ever going to see it. I think that’s a really big barrier. Is this embarrassment or stigma that comes along with writing things that might not be traditionally accepted in literature and you can get really caught up with, you know, all the rules that you learn and all these expectations that you have on your own writing.
So I think starting off just being like this is a story that I’m writing for myself and nobody else has to ever see it. It gives you a lot of freedom to really go out of the box and write what you really are interested in. And I think writing weird stuff is so much fun and you can have so much fun with it, but it’s only possible if you let yourself do it. And as far as like new writers who are writing weird things, I think it’s definitely possible to go too far into the weirdness. But I think that’s like what your drafts are for. So when you’re drafting something, I wouldn’t even think about the possibility of you going too far. Just keep writing and go as far as you want and then having like a trusted friend, look at your work and kind of help you whittle that weirdness down into something that is understandable to people that aren’t just you is super helpful. So I think if you’re trying to start writing weird, a big thing is to have other people, like help you get yourself back on track when it’s time for revising.
[00:13:35.005] – Genevieve Kersten
I very much agree with what Téa is saying. One piece specifically is learning trust, self-trust in your writing and just like allowing yourself to be weird on the page. I think that’s a barrier for a lot of writers, no matter where they are in their writing life and career. I mean, I think people that write more traditional pieces when they start being interested in writing stranger things, I think it sometimes feels like, Ooh I don’t know if I can do this, like not like I don’t know if I’m capable, but like I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this. And really learning how to turn that voice off is a challenge and a skill and a muscle that you have to use and develop. I also think a really important element is reading very strange things. I think that it’s like finding a path almost, you know, like you’re walking around in the middle of the woods and you don’t know where the hell you’re going. And then all of a sudden you stumble onto like a semi groomed path that’s going to get you to where you want to go.
I know for me, there’s kind of one book specifically that I looked to that was my path to building my own confidence, and that would be Elect H. Mouse State Judge by Nellie Reifler. that is like maybe the single strangest book I’ve ever read. And it is so weird and funny and dark. And reading it, I felt like my brain was opened to this world of writing that I thought was probably out there, but had never really fully immersed myself in.
And so I think even if it’s just one thing that bridges that gap for both writers and readers, I think that can be really, really important. And just allowing yourself to write the weird, strange things that are floating around in your head that you think no one else will want. But we want it so, write it.
[00:15:50.425] – Elizabeth Upshur
So I definitely wanted to echo what Gen was saying about reading strange things. And if you’re lucky enough to have someone who is a great reading-slash-writing and editing partner for you is to absolutely egg each other on as you’re going through your drafts until you get something that is absolutely as weird and wonderful and strange as you envisioned it to be. And then in terms of very concrete ways of getting started in fabulism or all sorts of weird writing would be to keep a dream journal because our dreams are great for mining ideas. It can be some of the strangest things. I had a dream the other night about my shoes, my sister’s slippers, and I got very strange. I don’t even remember what happened because I didn’t write it down. But dreams get weird and they’re a great way of prompting us to think about things outside the page. And then, ekphrastic poems, we did a poetry prompt in one of my classes where you look at a very strange painting and then you have to write a poem about it without knowing what that person wrote about. It gets introduced to the group and everyone had these really great and interesting poems that came from that. So those would definitely be my tips for starting out with weird writing.
[00:17:04.175] – Rachel Thompson
I love that idea of starting with the dreams. Elizabeth, I want to carry on with you and just ask you, I learned the phrase “attention to care” from you when we spoke last year. And I wonder if you can explain what is meant by that when it comes to craft for the writers and how writers can bring more attention to care in their submissions to Okay Donkey.
[00:17:26.465] – Elizabeth Upshur
First of all, I can’t believe it’s been a year, but it has calendar wise anyway. So for me, when I’m talking about attention to care, when you’re writing about sensitive material, I want to be guided through, and get to what you mean about it and get what you’re hoping for, this poem or this piece out of it without too much emotional distress. Like, I understand if there needs to be sometimes emotional upheaval, but not in emotional distress in a piece. Thinking about your audience who may or may not have certain triggers, I think it’s definitely important and shows that you as a writer care about your reader and your audience if you’re showing that attention to care.
[00:18:03.155] – Rachel Thompson
I wonder if we could also talk a bit more of the nitty-gritty about punctuation and where to put the breaths in, in poetry. What are some things you’ve noticed and even learned about poetry since starting to edit with? I‘ll address both you and Genevieve about that.
[00:18:20.465] – Elizabeth Upshur
Well, since reading for Okay Donkey, I think I found myself more and more in love with white space and just being guided on the page, and you know, letting certain lines or words pick up more importance for me on the page. And so that for me has led to punctuation, not just in terms of actual punctuation marks, but punctuation in terms of how much space is between each line and how much space is between each word even, to really let the poem sort of inhabit both the page for, like, audibly, I guess, if you’re reading it out loud to yourself, get where the writer intended breath and get where the writer intended reflection on what they’re saying.
[00:18:58.655] – Genevieve Kersten
Yeah, I would agree that the way the poem appears is important and such a guide. I think for me personally, the thing that I have learned so much more about and that has for sure influenced my own writing is rhythm and how pleasing the words sound together. And so this is, I mean, a lot, I’m reiterating a lot of what Elizabeth was saying. But I think for me, when I read a poem out loud, if I can tell where the natural breaks are and if they don’t line up with the way that the poem is broken up, that becomes an issue for me. It can be tricky because sometimes, you know, the place where I want to put the breath might not match where the poet wants me to. And so it’s kind of a balance between figuring out, am I reading this only the way that I want to read it? Or is this maybe lacking that attention to care that would change it a bit and make it shape it in a way that gives it that more complete rhythm and balance.
[00:20:15.065] – Rachel Thompson
You’re talking about, there’s a natural break and you want to see those reflected on the page. Can you maybe even just describe what that looks like?
[00:20:23.795] – Genevieve Kersten
So last night I was on a Zoom call with a critique partner and she’d sent me nine poems and she’s a writer that I’m very familiar with her work, but we’d actually never critiqued each other before. And so it was kind of a new experience. But in two of these poems, they had these like fantastic, really clear narratives. But she was using these really, really short lines. I didn’t see a purpose to the way that she was lineating the poem. And so I asked her about it because like a couple of places when I was reading it, I wanted it to be this pressured, fast read like you’re trying to get something out because it’s hard to say it. And so you’ve got to say it fast. But the way that the lines were broken, it made the reading stutter. So talking that through with her was interesting. I mean, this is essentially the reality of like early drafts versus things that you’ve gone over again and oftentimes critique partners are so important because we get so into our own writing and we can’t see the whole picture. And so having somebody be able to kind of talk you through that can really, really change things. But that’s. An example of I want to be able to read it in a way that fits with the content and is pleasing to the sound and allows me to see the whole picture as clearly as possible. And I think that’s especially important with narrative poetry, which we get a lot of and I love. So that’s one thing. And then I think we talked about this before. But for me, poetry that lacks punctuation altogether or doesn’t use it consistently for me, whether this is right or wrong, that’s a hallmark of an early draft. That is the first thing I will think. There are many poems and poets that don’t use punctuation at all and that can be perfect. But I think that is a skill that not everyone possesses. And I think, generally speaking, most poems are improved with careful punctuation for sure.
[00:22:47.385] – Rachel Thompson
In the example you’re giving about your critique, partner, it’s like the form is working against the subject. That’s something I definitely see a lot in poetry where it’s like, well, there’s a certain pacing that the writing requires or is demanding, and then the lines themselves are kind of breaking that up. So that’s a really helpful illustration. Thanks.
[00:23:08.505] – Genevieve Kersten
And just for the record, the punctuation thing like I am very guilty of that in my own writing. When I first started going to workshops, I had a fantastic critique partner and we were just attending the same workshops. But I would say his feedback specifically improved my writing significantly and he would always call me on the fact that I wasn’t using punctuation or that if I had put something in tercets, he’d be like, Why is this written in this stanza form? It doesn’t make sense. The lines don’t flow and you are propping up form over function for no reason and it’s doing a disservice to the writing and hearing that so directly can be painful. I know that from my own experience, but it also was so important to my growth as a writer.
[00:24:02.145] – Rachel Thompson
Yeah, I had that with ampersands when I was editing my manuscript. It’s like you have two ampersands, like what’s the…you know, you have to be able to justify if you’re just going to all ampersands, and then use the word and other times. You’re being challenged in that way because the question is, is this deliberate? And then explain why and be able to stand your ground. I certainly find that to with working with writers editing as well, it’s like if they have a rationale that makes sense and they’ve thought about it, then we’ll go with what they’ve done. But if you ask the question more often than not, people say, oh, I didn’t realize I didn’t have punctuation in the piece.
[00:24:39.535] – Genevieve Kersten
Yeah, ampersands and em dashes. I know everybody’s in love with em dashes, but, I like them and think that they can be used very, very well. But I don’t have the undying love for em dashes. That is that many poets do. So those are both elements that oftentimes draw my eye, though I will say with ampersands I have grown to love ampersands and I use them more and more. And that might be a direct result of Twitter, which is alarming because always switching ands to ampersands to make sure that you get the character limit is a useful tool in tweeting. Apparently that’s translating to my poetry at this point in life. For better or worse.
[00:25:27.105] – Rachel Thompson
Twitter is letting us fly our weird flags and also changing how we write.
[00:25:35.095] – Rachel Thompson
This episode of The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by The Nasiona. The Nasiona centers elevates and amplifies the personal voices, histories and experiences of those other by dominant cultures via interviews and memoir stories as well as community events. The Nasiona cultivates empathy, connection, and healing. Guided by a social justice compass, the publication actively works toward dismantling systems of oppression and being a catalyst for cultural transformation. You can head over to the Nasiona.com to read the online magazine and listen to the podcast.
[00:26:17.515] – Rachel Thompson
Téa, when we spoke last year, we were talking a bit of a pandemic writing. Ya, it’s so I mean, it’s so funny to talk about this is last year. It was just a couple of months ago. But it does also feel a long time ago because of this weird year. I mean, talk about weird, but the pieces you were reading felt too timely that people, as we’ve already talked about, read to escape. Can you talk a bit more about timing when it comes to weird writing? Is it similar to comedy? Tell me a little bit more about what your thoughts are on timing.
[00:26:45.985] – Téa Franco
Yeah, I mean, I definitely think that a big part of writing weird things, definitely like subject matter, which is you do have to think a lot about your timing because it does often come off as like more humorous, like with the pandemic, for instance, you don’t want to start writing these, like, humorous pieces about this thing that people are still having a really hard time with. And I think it’s very subjective when you can write something and like when enough time has passed. And when we talked last time, we talked a lot about how it less so has to do with the timing, I think, and more so the way that it’s approached. And we talk about this a lot and like the fiction side of things is kind of like a pandemic story versus like a story that’s informed by the pandemic. So basically, if your whole premise of the story is that we’re living in a pandemic, that’s like definitely a little too timely. People, like we’ve said, want to escape. But then there’s also been a lot of really great stories that have been more so informed by, like the feelings of the pandemic and like the way that we see the world differently. And I think that translates to a lot of other things that people write about in terms of just finding like that right timing or that right balance between, I guess, trying not to have this, like, really heavy-handed theme.
[00:28:15.535] – Rachel Thompson
You’re reminding me when we spoke before, it was like the pandemic, if it’s incidental to the story versus I mean, we all kind of lived it already last year where it’s like, this is weird. This is so weird. Like what I was saying every couple of weeks, every day for many, several months even. And so just that in and of itself isn’t original. It’s like, is that the background of the story or what else can you glean from the experience?
[00:28:41.785] – Téa Franco
[00:28:43.435] – Genevieve Kersten
I feel like we’ve had a little bit more pandemic writing, especially on the flash fiction side just in the last couple of months. And I think as we finished the year, people were in more of a place of reflecting and projecting, rather than being in it. And I think that has shifted some of the writing because I’m thinking specifically about the first flash piece that we published in 2021. “What is possible in this our year 2021,” by Kendra Fort Myer. And I would say that is very much pandemic writing but feels so different. It’s joyful. And just really to me it shows how much you can do with pandemic writing that I think for so long we were just really stuck inside both our homes literally, and then our brains like you just get tunnel vision because all you see is 20 feet in front of you. And it’s like we stopped being able to imagine possibility. And so I think a lot of early pandemic writing was frankly exhausting to read. I don’t know if anybody else felt that way, but I’ve been a lot more open to it. And we just had another flash fiction pandemic piece accepted. And I think that’s like the closest we’ve ever had to specifically, like, influence themes running. Well, this new one won’t run for a little while yet, but it’s still close to when we published Kendra’s. And his new one is just like bizarre and wonderful. And it could be plucked out of the pandemic and still be whole. And I think that that is important.
[00:30:39.265] – Rachel Thompson
Anything to add, Elizabeth?
[00:30:41.065] – Elizabeth Upshur
A really different way to get into a poem and a way to get into a love poem specifically that had the pandemic in the background. And I think honestly, that’s one of the very few poems that could stand on its own, as Jan was saying, taken out of that context. It could stand on its own, even though it has that context to inform it. But a lot of times for me, it’s still too soon. Even though it’s been a whole year, I’m just like, no, I’m still thinking about it in the back burner of my mind already. It’s still too soon. But it sounds like that’s just me and other people are ready for it. So I guess I’ll get there soon, too.
[00:31:13.165] – Genevieve Kersten
I would say generally I’m still with you. The vast majority of pandemic writing is still just like, no thanks, sorry, sorry, people that are really into pandemic writing. But yeah, the few pieces that stand out are just some of my favorite things that I’ve written. I definitely see more on the flash side, though. I think poetry and maybe because poetry is often so internal and emotional, I think it’s a little harder to bring such intense writing into like that playful weirdness because I think it’s too close for most people. So it can be a beautiful poem, but it ends up not being a fit for Okay Donkey.
[00:32:04.215] – Rachel Thompson
We turn to a little bit about what happens with writers pieces and with the writers themselves, the relationship that you create with them once you’ve accepted their work. How hands off are you? How hands on are you? Does it depend?
[00:32:19.845] – Genevieve Kersten
We’re pretty hands off. So on the poetry side, we just accepted a piece that I’m going to be sending a couple of notes to for possible revisions. But that’s really rare, honestly. And kind of the rule is don’t accept a piece if you’re not OK with it as it stands, because ultimately I believe that the poet knows what’s best for their own poem. And so they might not like the suggestions that I make. And so I don’t want the acceptance to be conditional, partly just because it just requires a lot of energy to like do more of an in-depth critique and line edit. And we get enough submissions and we publish with enough frequency that I just don’t feel that we necessarily have the time to take that level of care. I much more often will send a note with a decline saying that, you know, I have some suggestions for you. If you are open to them, I would be happy to give you those suggestions and then see if they’d take me up on that. And that can be really fun and and encouraging.
And then I also usually tell that poet that I’d like to work from them again and encourage them to resubmit in the future. But in terms of the accepted pieces, I would say that that is more rare with the exception of manuscripts, because that’s the magazine. And then, Okay Donkey Press is a very different animal and I do a lot of revisions with the poets, which I didn’t anticipate when we started the press. I would have assumed it would be more like the magazine in terms of how we handle editing, but we’ve now only worked with two poets, so we’ll see how it goes in the future.
But both wanted to collaborate and wanted feedback. And so because they were so open to it, it’s this lovely experience of getting to craft an entire collection and see how they craft and work with them and learn their process. And one of the most joyful things I’ve ever done as a writer or editor, really, just like as anything in my adult life, the experience of getting to work with poets on their books has just been really, really Life-Giving and wonderful.
[00:34:56.715] – Rachel Thompson
Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, I love poetry manuscripts digging into them too, maybe I’ll ask you, Téa, the same question about the relationship you have with the writers when it comes to fiction.
[00:35:08.175] – Téa Franco
Yeah, I’d say it’s pretty much the same as poetry. Like a lot of times they’ll be pieces that Eric and I really like, but they’ll be like one or two things that we wish were different. And usually those just end up being pieces we don’t accept because we don’t want to obviously ask the author to change it like like, oh, we’re accepting your piece, but only if you change all of these things about your writing that you felt confident enough to submit to us.
So obviously you did these things for a reason. So, yeah, I think we also tend to keep it very we accept what we’re really excited about, publishing all of it, and we don’t do too many edits with anyone.
[00:35:49.785] – Genevieve Kersten
When we first started and it was just me and Eric, we had no idea what we were doing those first months. And we were doing a lot more feedback at the time. And we very quickly learned that we did not want to do that. So but when we were baby editors, we learned a lot of hard lessons. So that’s another reason why we kind of avoid it. What are each of you writing right now and how are you writing or not writing during the pandemic?
[00:36:23.135] – Téa Franco
Right now I’m writing actually this really, really weird story that I’ve been working on for months. And basically it was inspired by at my house, we had like a skunk in our yard, like just a rogue skunk. And so my landlord got someone to come and take care of the skunk, which in Ohio they kill the skunks, which is really sad. So basically, I’m writing a story about a ghost skunk, so I’m working on that for a while. And yeah. So that’s kind of the main thing I’m working on right now. And writing during the pandemic has been super challenging for me. When the pandemic started, I was like working on my thesis for undergrad and graduating, so I got like no writing done then. And then just over the summer I still just like was having such a hard time with writing. And now right now I’m in an MFA. So that was really helpful to kind of force me to have to write. But I still wasn’t really producing as much writing as I wanted to until maybe like December. And I think what finally got me to, like, figure out how to write during the pandemic is that I just ran out of stuff to do, like maybe as an intelligent or helpful. But basically I was just like, man, I’m sick of all of these pastimes that I was filling time with before I guess I could write. And I’ve actually been getting a lot of writing done. And I also think things had calmed down a little bit like after the election. And so that was like really helpful with my mental space. And then obviously that didn’t last for very long. But yeah, basically, if you just run out of hobbies, you’re eventually going to write.
[00:38:05.545] – Rachel Thompson
How about you, Elizabeth?
[00:38:07.175] – Elizabeth Upshur
I’ve gone back to writing on paper. That’s been really helpful for me to just write a little little poem on paper and then just turn the page and it’s like it’s not even there. So I have good mental space from it. If I decide to come back to it again in a few months and then I’m supposed to start writing a book review and I have been cheating on my creative non-fiction piece with a fiction piece. So that’s where I’m at.
[00:38:31.535] – Genevieve Kersten
I go through peaks and valleys with my writing, and last year, early in the pandemic was a fairly prolific time for me. And then I had a pretty significant dry spell through the summer months. And it wasn’t until about September that I started really returning to my writing in significant ways and producing a lot more. But I’m very all or nothing person. So I think I have five projects right now that are extremely different and I’m very worried about dropping one or all of them. So I, I write poetry and I also write romance novels yet to be published romance novels. And I have a series that I’m working on and the first one in the series, which is sort of like my baby and closest to my heart. I think most people’s first book oftentimes feels that way. I had finished it and was querying with it and got feedback from a well-regarded editor that was just like, you have to stop querying this. This needs major revisions. And so I sat with that information for about six months and just let it flow in my brain. And I knew she was right and I did not know how to fix it. And then one day it just sort of clicked into place. And so I’m currently rewriting from the first page an entire novel that I had already written. And it’s very fun, but it’s exhausting and slower than I would like. And I thought I would be done with the rewrite by now, but I’m about twenty five percent into it. So there’s that. And then I have been writing a lot less poetry, but it’s still there. I sort of somebody that doesn’t do a ton of long term drafting. I wait until the idea is fully formed and then I put it down and I mean I do workshops and many sets of revisions after that, but not something that easily brainstorms on the page. So I tend to wait until I have more or less a full poem in my head before I start writing. There’s definitely been fewer poems this year than in, I don’t know, maybe the last five years. So that’s been interesting. And then I’m doing some other things too, that are silly. But yeah, I’m very all or nothing. So there’s always the risk that all of a sudden all of these projects are just going to stop. And then I’m just going to. You like staring at them, like waiting for the inspiration to come back, which is not a great feeling.
[00:41:24.165] – Rachel Thompson
Yeah, but I mean, good for you for just diving right back into that novel. That’s tough, but important, I think, too. So we’re going to finish with a quick little round. So I will ask each of you to finish these sentences.
So the first is being a writer is…
[00:41:41.085] – Elizabeth Upshur
[00:41:43.965] – Genevieve Kersten
Exhausting and energizing. I guess contradictory is the real answer.
[00:41:52.185] – Téa Franco
Really silly sometimes and really empowering other times.
[00:41:57.715] – Rachel Thompson
Love that. They’re all kind of contradictions in there, too. That’s great. Literary magazines are…
[00:42:04.635] – Genevieve Kersten
[00:42:06.015] – Elizabeth Upshur
[00:42:07.185] – Téa Franco
[00:42:09.375] – Rachel Thompson
[00:42:11.355] – Genevieve Kersten
A kind heart both for your own work and someone else’s
[00:42:15.615] – Elizabeth Upshur
[00:42:17.355] – Téa Franco
An open mind and a lot of caffeine.
[00:42:20.355] – Rachel Thompson
Rejection for a writer means…
[00:42:23.595] – Genevieve Kersten
[00:42:25.125] – Elizabeth Upshur
[00:42:26.105] – Téa Franco
[00:42:28.665] – Genevieve Kersten
I also think it means that you’re part of the club. It’s like you cannot be a writer if you don’t experience rejection and have a high tolerance for it.
[00:42:39.075] – Téa Franco
That’s a great point.
[00:42:40.845] – Rachel Thompson
That leads me to my final quick lit question, which is, writing community is…
[00:42:45.765] – Elizabeth Upshur
[00:42:47.475] – Téa Franco
The most important part of writing
[00:42:50.145] – Genevieve Kersten
Oh, man, mine is so cheesy. I immediately thought writing community is home. I have made such good friends with the writing community and it’s like these strangers know me better than some of my best friends or family because they read these incredibly intimate things that I didn’t know I was capable of sharing. And it’s a very strange experience to give someone else that piece of you. So there’s my very cheesy answer is that writing community is home.
[00:43:31.685] – Rachel Thompson
We’re going to end on that cheesiness, which I definitely resonate with myself, so let’s not call it cheesy, let’s call it true.
I want to thank all three of you from Okay Donkey. Thank you. Thank you all for speaking with me today for sharing your love for writers and the love of writing itself with me. Thanks.
[00:43:52.175] – Téa Franco
Thank you for having us.
[00:43:53.675] – Genevieve Kersten
Yeah. This was really fun. Thank you.
[00:43:57.835] – Rachel Thompson
So that was my interview with my fellow weird aficionados that, Okay Donkey, Genevieve Kerstean, Téa Franco, and Elizabeth Upshur. They are open for flash fiction, book length manuscript submissions for debut full-length fiction collections until January 31, as of this recording. So if you’re listening later, be sure to check out their website at OkayDonkeyMag.com to see when they are open for manuscript submissions. You will find their complete guidelines for the magazine submissions on their website as well. And note, they publish one new poem every Monday and one new flash fiction every Friday. They do not charge you to submit, but as of this recording, they’re unable to pay contributors and anything but as they put it, gratitude and promotion, such as a heehaw from their donkey on the Twitters.
Thank you to this episode, sponsor The Nasiona can head over to thenasiona.com to read the online magazine and listen to their podcast.
The Write, Publish and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. In addition to teaching the Lit Mag Love chorus, which I told you about in past episodes, I’m also the host of a membership community called, of course, Writerly Love. Registration for the Writerly Love community will open again in February, as of this recording, you can check this out at rachelthompson.co/join.
If this episode encouraged you to let your weird flag fly, to write something strange from a dream, or to keep working on a weird project that is also literary and to publish it in a lit mag like Okay Donkey, let me know. I always love to hear from you. Take me on social media. I’m @RachelThompson on Twitter. I’m at @RachelThompsonAuthor on Instagram.
And you can also let other lovable weirdo writers that, you know, know about this show. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at RachelThompson.co/podcast or on Apple podcast, Google podcasts or Stitcher. And you can also write a review on Apple podcast or Stitcher. It helps other writers find the show. It really does. And I’m so grateful for everyone who has done that so far. Thank you.
So thank you. And keep writing weird or otherwise lovely and luminous writers.