51 // The /tƐmz/ Review Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider on Good Ugliness

“We both really like having, essentially, the guts to look at not just issues in their full complexity, but also not to try to gloss over the ugliness.” —Amy Mitchell, The /tƐmz/ Review

Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider speak with host Rachel Thompson about the introspection they want to see in political writing, the care and knowledge required to write about cultures, classes, and communities that you don’t belong to, and taking the risk to be ugly in writing. (And the surprising thing they discovered when they have published that ugly, risky writing.) 

Listen to learn about The /tƐmz/ Review, a quarterly online journal that publishes an eclectic mix of writing, and get inside tips on how to publish your writing with them.

 

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Interview Transcript

Rachel
So welcome to Write, Publish, and Shine, Aaron and Amy.

Amy
Thanks for having us.

Aaron
Yeah, thank you so much.

Rachel
I want to launch right into talking about the pandemic chapbooks that you produced that we spoke about outside of the podcast, before the podcast. So I know that there was fundraising involved and I’m just wondering what that experience was like for you and what you learned about your writing community through it.

Amy
Yes, it was a really positive and eye-opening in a good way kind of experience. We weren’t really sure what kind of take? we were going to get on it initially. So we did two, the first one was just virtual. So like just a PDF. And the second one there was a printed version as well. It was available. So when we went into the first one, we weren’t even really sure if this was going to work or not. But we got a huge amount of interest and we didn’t limit it to Canadian writers so we had writers from all over the world and it was great. Because it was going to be a PDF, there weren’t serious length limits on it. So it wasn’t like we had to, you know pick and choose the 10 to 15 best entries because there’s a budget on what can be published in a print version. So we actually, it’s been quite some time now, so I need to pull it up to see exactly how many people we published. But it was a lot. And they’re from all over the world. The quality of the writing was really, really high. And yeah, there was just a lot of interest in it. And then when we had people buy them, they weren’t really like sending us funds or anything like that. What we had them do was send us a receipt for a charitable donation to something that’s sort of vaguely pandemic-related or for supporting vulnerable communities during the pandemic. Or they could send us a receipt for either supporting a local small bookstore or buying books at one. And again, there was like an incredible response to this. We got about five thousand dollars worth in donations from, again, like all over the world. So that, again, wasn’t coming to us. It was going out into charitable organizations and that kind of thing. There was just so much interest in it we decided to run it a second time. We paired up with Long Con magazine for it because they were relatively new at that point in time and they produced a second sort of online version and we produced a much smaller second chapbook that also had a printed copy that people could again purchase with the charitable receipts, and that drummed up another, I don’t know, thousand-ish dollars, in that range. By the time we hit the second one, it was kind of interesting because I feel like, you know we were a little bit further down the road into the pandemic. And I feel like people were kind of starting to get their first feeling of like, I’m pandemic-ed out at this point”. Little did we know. But anyway, that was, I think, a factor. There weren’t as many submissions, but again, the ones we got were super high quality and that’s why we decided to well, we might as well do a print version because there’s not as many this time around. And I would say, like overall, it was a really wonderful experience. We had people, you know, who it was incredible reading some of the emails because like, I can think of one person in particular or who sent a receipt into us who said and this was somebody actually living overseas, so they weren’t even in Canada. And they were like, “Yeah, so I lost my job because of the pandemic you know my partner has lost hers as well. So the two of us are kind of now poverty line and queer and unemployed. And but we just thought this was so important” and they gave a donation to a shelter and I guess like community support organization for street level sex workers. And I never dreamed we would get something like that from people, but they were so wonderful and they just wanted to try to help, even though they themselves were really struggling. So it was a really nice view on the international really English speaking writing community, because, again, it was uptake from all over the place. We had a lot of Canadians, but we had Americans. We had people who were in Africa, we had Indians. We had I think one or two Italians, like it was a lot of interest. And it was really incredible to see that all come together.

Aaron
Yeah, I think the only thing that I’d add to that is just the diversity. Like you were talking about, the geographical diversity of people who contributed. I think also just the diversity of kind of people in the literary community in terms of stages people are at, writers and levels of accomplishment. There were some really, really accomplished writers who donated their work, people who’ve been long listed for like major Canadian literary awards. At the same time, there were very, very early career writers, so it was just really cool to see the kind of full range of the community geographically, but also just in terms of what you think of it, like, you know, early to mid career to late career writers kind of pull together, to contribute.

Rachel
I just love hearing about this and that experience that you had with bringing community together right in the summer of 2020. What I like too, is it illustrates like I’ve just been talking to different publications this year, obviously through this podcast, but how many of them are not explicitly not looking for pandemic stories or they’re kind of like talking about the timing of it. But it just seems to me that, you know, you went a different way where you you just pulled these stories in, right while we’re kind of in the middle of it and I’m wondering, what did you find about the work itself, you know, that was explicitly on the pandemic? And was there anything, I guess, that surprised you about the writing that you received, apart from what you said already about people being at different stages of their writing careers?

Amy
I think one interesting thing in terms of just sort of themes across the poetry was that we were, on the whole, not very far into the pandemic at that point in time. So it was like people were submitting in March of 2020. So it wasn’t even for us in Ontario, you know, we still had normal life for a week or two before that came to a screeching halt in March. Like we knew it was coming. But the point was, nobody really knows what it’s going to feel like until you’re kind of into it. And this work was submitted very early on. So the interesting thing was that you got this kind of cross section of how people are feeling about it when it’s a new event that has just hit the world and that none of us in living memory have experienced before so like not on a world wide scale. So there was a lot of balancing between like sort of uncertainty and feeling like there’s you know there’s a threat out there, but at the same time, trying to be positive and kind of remind people that no matter how bad this is, we are going to come out the other side of it and normal life will return. And then there were a lot of people who were kind of just like sort of in the middle between the two extremes of being really concerned about it versus trying to be very like, let’s look ahead to when this is over. There were a lot of people in the middle who the work, I think just kind of captured their emotional state and that kind of uncertainty and that first feeling of like, I can’t go near people anymore. You know, I can think of, again, one home that I’m pretty sure was in the first one. It included things like hearing your neighbors moving around you if you’re an apartment building or if you’re outside, like hearing them doing things in their yards. But like, you can’t directly talk to them anymore. And the way the writers wrote about this also spanned a bunch of different approaches where we had very sort of straightforward poetry. I don’t want to say that in a bad way. I mean, poetry that is, you know, not particularly experimental, but is focused more on sound and content of that kind of thing still. And then we had stuff that was very experimental. We had some realist stuff all the way to the somewhat sort of spec inflected things. Like it was just really interesting because it was just that cross section of like, how are people feeling? And it was still a new experience for all of us. And I think that’s part of what drove sort of the interest. I’ve noticed that in terms of pandemic related stuff that’s submitted to, say, our journal issues now when we’re like a year down the road in this, we’re further in some regions, there’s actually significantly fewer submissions that deal directly with the pandemic. I think that people are a) getting kind of exhausted and b) waiting until it’s over at this point to kind of do a let’s look back and sum it up a little more definitively kind of thing. So the pandemic chapbooks, they were useful, obviously, for the charitable stuff, which is absolutely wonderful, but they also are really interesting in that they do capture the various mindsets that people were in again around the world when this just started.

Rachel
You enjoy publishing work that speaks to the moment at the Temz. So this is kind of like what you do. So you had this moment to kind of capture speaking to the moment. Can you tell our listeners more about your experience with publishing other work that feels pressing and like other moments that I guess that you’re speaking to in your journal?

Aaron
I’m not sure that I can think of a specific example in the sense of pointing to like a work that we’ve published that was kind of immediate and urgent. Well, maybe not, did publish a, and again this was one of the issues, I think, last summer, but it might have been last fall or last spring. It was a really, really cool story that was in the form of a flowchart, like a decision tree almost. And it was about, this is probably coming to mind because it’s pandemic related, but it was kind of about that but it was specifically about the experience of being trapped in lockdown with an abusive partner. And it was both kind of innovative, but also just a really important exploration of an experience that far too many people were having.

Amy
Yeah. So there is one piece that I can think of that actually was our fastest acceptance ever. This was, by the way, while the journal was very new, this came out in issue two. So it wasn’t the same volume of submissions that we’re getting now. If we hadn’t noticed it now, we also would have snapped it up immediately. But in this time we were like, there’s just not quite as many that were coming in. But this was for issue two and it’s by and I apologize to him in advance, I’ve never heard his name spoken so I’m probably saying this wrong but, Bola Opaleke, who’s based in Winnipeg. And he wrote this poem, a fantastic called, “He Said I Can’t Breathe”. And it was for Erica Garner. And it came in and we opened the submission just out of curiosity, because it was like, oh, here’s another one, because you know the journal’s very new then and it was coming in steady drips, not in like and now you have three hundred poetry submissions for this issue. So we opened it and then we were like, holy crap, this is good. Basically immediately sent him an acceptance email for that. So I think what I would say in terms of you know does it immediately speak to the moment. We are definitely open to stuff that does that, for sure. And it is interesting to find things that too have that directly real life connection. At the same time, though, I have like once now, the journal has grown a lot more, and there’s hundreds upon hundreds of submissions for each issue and you can see trends a little bit more in terms of how people are submitting and what they’re submitting. I can see in the submissions some of the stuff that tries to get very directly at what’s going on right now. In terms of and now I am going to teach you a lesson about X often isn’t all that well executed and there are huge exceptions to that. We have had fantastic poetry, we’ve had as Aaron said like, prose. We’ve certainly had, by the way, a number of spec pieces that we’ve published that are very much related to, say, the culture in the States right now. And you know it’s filtered through obviously a spec lens. But you can still see it’s about white Christian American nationalism and that kind of thing. So there are really good pieces but I would say that a lot of them actually feel to me like they’re trying to teach a lesson about what’s going on right now and they tend to be a little too neat, if that makes sense. That’s the one issue that I can see with stuff that is trying to be very, very tuned into the moment. When people really do really well with work, that you can see the connections with things happening right now it tends to be more complex and nuanced rather than being like, and now I am going to give you such and such a lesson about this particular issue. And it’s not so much the lesson’s bad and in a lot of cases it’s really good and it’s a message that we would support. But it’s just the art essentially has suffered a little bit because it got kind of shoehorned into that direction, if that makes sense.

Rachel
Yeah, it’s great. I was going to ask you, what are the things that you’re seeing in the work that does succeed? And I love that you’re saying there’s complexity to it, there’s nuance to it. Is there anything else that you would say to writers who I guess want to write about the moment or write about important issue based writing that would make it more received, I guess, by you, more positively received?

Amy
I would personally say that the emotion in it needs to be real, not a sort of one removed so that I can teach you again a lesson about something. If it has the emotional complexities of the real world. I find that’s what really moves it sort of into the next category where you get not just, again, the message, but also the tethering directly to how people are actually feeling and thinking and experiencing these events. In all the complexities of those responses. Aaron, would you add anything to that?

Aaron
Yeah, I actually would. I’d say that you’re absolutely correct, the emotion needs to be there as well. I also think that people need to think about when they’re writing that kind of political stuff, they need to think about the positionality. I think, obviously, for the kind of political reasons, we get occasionally stories honestly about subjects that should not be written by that author. And that can be a problem with it, head in the direction of significant amounts of appropriation and they bear the marks of people who are writing about stuff that doesn’t belong to them. But I also think that people should think about that positionality in terms of the way it pushes you in directions of really fascinating subject matter that we don’t hear about very much. I think when people are doing political writing, a lot of the political writing we get is very much focused on one side of that. You think of this, you’re dealing with an unpleasant situation, a difficult situation, the kind of thing that people address in political writing, you end up with an equation that really simplistically has kind of victims on one side and perpetrators on the other. It is almost unheard of for us to get work that, not almost entirely unheard of, but it’s really rare to get work by someone who looks at the one side of that equation, which is the side of the perpetrators, and asks questions about where that comes from, interrogates their own complicity, et cetera. So I guess this is sort of a long winded way of me saying that if it comes to political writing, one of the things that I personally would like to see more of, and I think it would be really refreshing to see more of in the submission pile, is the kind of writing that takes a long, hard look at where the writer themself is coming from and their relationship to the issue they’re trying to address, because that’s rare, I think.

Rachel
More introspection, basically.

Aaron
Yeah, I think so. More introspection and introspection with that kind of political dimension layered over it.

Amy
I think I would also add, and this is a bit of a gamble for writers, because sometimes places don’t want things that they perceive as a downer. But I also personally really like pieces that are not afraid to look at various really problematic cultural stuff in all of its ugliness. There was a story we published called The Apartment by Nina Dunic. I think it’s in issue 9 but I’m not 100 percent on that. Anyway it’s about essentially like the masculine gaze and the kind of really oppressive environment that this creates for women. And it’s this kind of creepy story about a guy who likes to watch a woman in the office apartment and then he actually starts like a relationship with her and it’s gross, you know. But it does a wonderful job of getting at and not like glossing over precisely how gross that kind of approach to women is. And the reason I said this is a bit of a gamble for authors, as that I remember her saying that, you know, we snapped it up and we were like, oh, this is fantastic, right, and we nominated it for like the Journey Prize and stuff too. But she had submitted it to a lot of places before, and it was no right across the board, I think, because it was perceived as there is not much that’s redeeming about it, shall we say. But in a good way. So like Aaron and I both really like that as well, like having essentially the guts to look at not just issues in their full complexity, but also not to try to gloss over the ugliness, too.

Aaron
Yeah, absolutely. And even if you don’t accept a story or a poem, it’s always really genuinely refreshing to read something that takes a risk. And as Amy just pointed out, like that story, it took a long time for it to find a home because it took that risk so that there are drawbacks to it. But from the perspective of an editor, I think even if something isn’t successful, it’s frankly just more pleasant and more refreshing to read someone that’s just trying it and seeing if it works.

Amy
It was issue eight, by the way. I was almost right.

Rachel
Okay cool. We’ll put it in the show notes anyway so people can click and read. I’m building a list here, so like you’re looking for work when it’s political anyway, with introspection in the political layer, work that takes a risk is very welcome there. Not necessarily positive. So I think that’s actually one that a lot of writers will perk up at because I think that it’s a common story of people or not work getting accepted because it’s too dark, quote, unquote.

Amy
Ya.

Rachel
Or maybe it takes that kind of risk, but it’s not being received in the way that obviously you’re receiving it. What are some of the things that you’re seeing too much of at your journal? Sometimes these can be really specific and so I like being able to share that with writers too.

Aaron
I’ll take a start. The first one, and this is something that I’ve talked about a lot. And like I, I worked on a journal before this, so I had a bunch of experience going through submissions before Amy did. I think I, Amy, I told you this and you kind of didn’t believe me. And then you were just really surprised by how true it is. And that is just if you’re doing a story, don’t start it with the protagonist waking up and making coffee. And it sounds like the most precise and specific kind of thing. I say that I think people haven’t read submissions, like haven’t read through a slush pile think to themselves, like how many stories can start out, like really how many? And the answer is far, far too many.

Amy
Yeah, I think it’s a peculiar version of kind of wheel spinning with people who aren’t necessarily sure how to get going, but it can get like really dragged out. It can be pages sometimes that amount to, and then he woke up and then he turned the alarm off, then he wandered into the kitchen and then, and it just goes on and on and on and on like that. At this point, unless there’s something really exciting happens with the coffee, it’s probably not a great submission. Or rather, I would say it’s more a sign of people who are just starting out in the same way that like student essays, particularly among like first-year students, and this is not their fault, it’s just the process you go through right. When you’re starting out there is that, I don’t know how to start my essay, right, and a lot of flailing that happens that we can put in various categories that profs are familiar with. But this is kind of the like creative writing equivalent of that, I feel like. If you open that way, maybe ask yourself if you can just cut that scene and just get closer to, like when things actually start to happen.

Aaron
Yeah, absolutely.

Amy
Oh, one thing, Rachel, if I could just add in on your point about that there isn’t necessarily that much reception for, like, the ugly stuff out there in journals. The interesting thing is that readers love it. It gets a huge amount of interest because people are like, I can connect with this. This is what I experienced. This is how bad it was. So it’s weirdly the editors who are a little bit reluctant to go there, but there are definitely readers for it. But yeah, in terms of like the stuff that’s kind of we get too much there is too much of that sort of realist boiling, I guess, at the beginning of the stories, unless if, you know, what you’re doing and you’re deliberately playing with this, rhyming poetry is not really going to work at this stage of the game. And again, I feel bad singling some of this out because these are people who are just starting and like we have had people who have submitted issue after issue after issue after issue. And the first few times they did I thought they’ll never get in and then suddenly they do, right. So people do really improve. But also I like rhyming poetry, love poetry. It’s hard to do something new in that particular genre. Break up poetry. It’s hard not to be like a sad 16 year old, kind of how you come across, also a decent number of stories and poems where there’s really kind of nothing at stake in them.

Aaron
I think I’d also add if people are going to write about a group that they don’t belong to, they should think about that. And I think when I say that people think about like appropriation of voice, they’ll think, for example, about white writers writing about non-white characters. But one of the ones, that particular examples of this that, you see consistently and I find particularly grating is the tendency for very obviously middle class writers to write a story often in the first person from a lower class or poor protagonist using or attempting a kind of vernacular. That aim is to capture the way poor people speak. And I say poor people very deliberately because what they end up producing is not anything that is realistic or effective. It ends up being a kind of caricature of poverty. And that’s a story actually that you see surprisingly often.

Amy
Yeah, those stories never actually capture the rhythms of that speech either. I would be very excited that somebody actually gets the idiom correct, because probably it’s their background. But these just come off as this stereotype, like, this is what I think people talk like in, I don’t know, a Steinbeck novel, right?

Aaron
Yeah, no, I think most of the stuff I’ve ever read like that falls really flat. It comes in submissions. I think if people are wondering what I mean by, like, actually gets it. Daniel Lockhart’s book of poetry, The Devil in the Woods, has a speaker who comes from a relatively low class background. And he exactly nails that way of talking. The idioms, the expressions and most of the stuff that we get in that vein falls really flat in comparison to something like that and comes off as artificial and really fundamentally unsuccessful. So if someone’s going to do something like that, I wouldn’t say don’t, but just think really carefully about it and make sure that you have the grounding necessary to be able to do justice to the voice that you’re trying to write in.

Rachel
It strikes me that perhaps whenever it comes to appropriation of voice or race, as you mentioned, or class, it seems to me that to be able to write outside of your experience really requires like a deep love and connection and understanding of a community to capture the voice in a way that isn’t, like you said, like a cartoon or or some kind of performance. I’m wondering if you would say that’s true of the Daniel Lockhart book? It’s like, you can kind of feel the resonance with that speaker.

Aaron
Yeah, I think so. Yeah, resonance, I think, in his case, and I want to be really careful not to speak for him here, there’s drawing on a substantial amount of experience there as well, but I think people need that connection. I would say, yeah, there needs to be a deep love and care for that community. I would add to that as well, there needs to be a lot of knowledge. Care and empathy is the starting point, I would say, to build that knowledge. But there really does, to write from a perspective that isn’t your own, you need to not just care about that group, but also really understand them in a deep way that requires like a lot of learning and time.

Amy
Yeah I think too I would add also understanding that again, of the complexities of life too, there’s a lot of stuff that is essentially just the literary equivalent of touring around and, like look at how bad these poor people have it, let’s like misery tourism essentially in like literary form. And A, it’s not interesting to read, but B, it’s incredibly offensive to those communities, people who come from supposedly bad neighborhoods or come from really poor environments or far flung reservations that haven’t been kept up well, like that kind of thing, because of the stupid federal government, but anyway, but like when people who are not from those communities write about that, it tends to be very like, let’s look at how sad this situation is. And like obviously the people who live in those communities are like, yeah, there’s a lot of challenges, there’s a lot of crap that should not be here, it’s not just, but we’re also not simply a spectacle, essentially. We’re also complex, lively communities that are resilient and that have a lot of positives going on in them, too, so like, that’s another tendency I see, when people kind of write about groups that they have really no meaningful connection with. Sometimes it just turns into, I’m just going to tell you this litany of horrible things about this situation and the people who actually live there are rightfully not happy about it. I’ve seen couple academic articles on like that saying that there’s way too much focus on, yeah, essentially just misery tourism in literary form.

Rachel
I haven’t heard that expression before, but I think that really summarizes how the detriment of, I guess, that middle class, often white middle class case, I guess, over where those communities and you’re mentioning academic articles. I know you also mentioned you both teach writing. I’m wondering maybe I’ll point this to Aaron first and then Amy, but what information or ideas are you bringing from the classroom to the lit mag and vice versa? Is there an overlap between those two professions?

Aaron
I’m not sure that I bring much from my teaching to the lit mag, but I think because I do teach a lot of different writing courses at Western and some of them are things like science writing courses and there’s shockingly not a lot of overlap between a lit mag and a science writing course. But I do also teach things like first year creative writing, and I think that being involved in the republishing of this kind of levels allows me to kind of give students a lot of really helpful and useful information. You know, the kind of stuff that I say about how to think about submissions, how maybe not to start a story, this is the stuff the material that I share with my students. So I think that from an instructor’s perspective, it’s really useful to do this work outside of the university because it makes my classroom, I think, a richer learning environment for my students. I’m not really sure that my teaching comes into play that much with the literary journal. The transfer happens mostly in one direction, in some ways. How do I say this? Marking student work is wonderful, but it’s student work and it’s often really refreshing and it feels like a little bit of a vacation to be able to open up like the Temz Review submissions and read work that is, in a lot of cases no longer student work. It’s by people who are further along in terms of their development as writers who are more accomplished, who are more skilled, who are producing work that’s more polished. And so, from my very specific individual perspective, it’s really just kind of refreshing to be able to engage with that work outside of my teaching. So I think doing the work on the journal really is helpful for my teaching, but I’m not sure that teaching as much the journal outside of making it a lot of fun.

Amy
I can think of one specific thing that actually flows from the journal into my teaching. So I do not teach creative writing classes. I’m teaching writing courses and sort of higher end research courses for the most part. So no creative components in there. But I have a lot of international students, which is typical of many institutions at this point in time. It’s wonderful to have people from all over the globe in your classroom. But there’s one interesting thing that comes up, and that’s before I did the journal. I don’t think I had a sufficient grasp of the different kind of registers and conventions of English as it is conventionally spoken around the world. Like I had the perspective on essentially like North American, a really sort of business English words like get some point right where you want to go for efficiency. We love efficiency, right. Don’t do something that’s going to overcomplicated at least the style level. And yet there are these other huge, huge cultures, much, much larger population wise than say poor little Canada, like I’m thinking Nigeria and India in particular here, where the kind of English that’s used in writing and in literature and also in documents and business, it tends to be a much more from my perspective, it looks kind of like more ornamental, more interested in the textures of the words and the beauty of the language rather than just kind of the like, let’s just get down to the point here. And I feel like I would have, before, before I got involved in the journal, I would have students who would come from these kinds of cultures and I’d be like writing on their papers that, you know, this is awkward or this is too complicated, you know, you really need to simplify your language down, et cetera, et cetera. and I didn’t really fully grasp the fact that this was actually the kind of, it was standard written English from the cultures they were in. And it’s a hundred percent legitimate, right. So now I feel that I can talk to them, much more humility, I guess, and with greater understanding of it about the different kinds of registers of English for different cultural conventions and business and what it would sound like here versus what it would sound like there, et cetera, et cetera. And I could just talk to them more about and see examples like, you know, I’ve read so many submissions from somewhere from whichever country you come from and I understand that this is the way you would be expected to write in English, right. And here, because there’s cultural differences, the emphasis has shifted. But I feel like I can talk much more, I guess respectfully, and have more appreciation for those kinds of differences rather than just kind of going like, why is this all so complicated? Just get right to the point, right. Whereas that’s really just the sort of cultural convention. So I think it’s really enriched my teaching in that way. It’s also stopped me from revising out that kind of language from students work if it can possibly be preserved and still kind of meet North American business dimensions. It’s made me a little humbler and a little more, I guess, open to how English is actually used around the world as opposed to how we think it’s used in textbooks in North America.

Rachel
That surprises me. I didn’t expect that. That’s really cool. And can you tell me about because I know you’re also you’re an editor who doesn’t write or will no longer write. And I’m wondering about the perspective you bring to editing as a former or no longer writer.

Amy
Yeah, so I don’t write and I love to read, and I think it’s actually kind of freeing for me to edit from that perspective because I’m at one remove from it, right. I’m not also playing the submissions game and that kind of thing. So it’s easier for me to just take a step back and be like what’s really well done in here and then have the satisfaction of writing and publishing it because I’m not going to be publishing my own stuff.

Rachel
Must be also kind of freeing to not be in like the comparison trap that we all can fall into with our own writing

Amy
Yeah it’s absolutely true, like, I don’t have to overthink it because I don’t have that stake in the game, I guess. It’s also just a nice way to be involved in literature as it’s happening right now, despite being somebody who does not, you know I don’t do creative writing. So but I love to read so this gets me close to the community without doing my own writing.

Rachel
And picking up from both of these, I mean, so much care for your contributors. And I know you mentioned you’ve had way more submissions now than when you first started. You’ve gained a reputation, obviously, as a place that people want to send their work to and that they can trust you with it. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit more, I guess, about your journey as a lit mag and how the quality of your submissions too, I guess, has improved over these years as well.

Aaron
Yeah, it has. I mean, like the key to this magazine’s existence has been Twitter because we started it, and there’s always just a period when you start something like this, it’s the same because we publish chapbooks as well, it’s exactly the same experience. You open the submissions and then you start to try to promote it. You’re just wondering, will anyone submit? Will we get submissions? And initially there was a lot more than we expected, but much less than we get now. We published our first submission, both for the chapbooks for the journal, obviously you get that first one in both of those cases, it was like, oh, right, this will work. Initially it was probably Amy, did we make a hundred submissions for our first issue?

Amy
No, maybe like, fifty some?

Aaron
Yeah. And then it’s kind of steadily grown from there. I think probably we get around between three to five hundred submissions per issue at this point. That varies from issue to issue and it kind of varies in terms of whether we get more prose, one issue or more poetry another. And the quality has been kind of ever increasing. One of the things that I would say is that if you feel like you’re kind of hunting trends, but just, you know, for a couple issues, the prose would be a little bit weaker and then it’ll be a little bit stronger for a few issues. So there’s kind of variations like that. But on the whole, it’s an upward trend. I think the one thing that I would say in terms of the quality of the submissions, I think is pretty consistently true. There is so much really genuinely extraordinary poetry out there. Poetry submissions were relatively strong from the beginning and have simply moved from strength to strength. So there’s just I think this is really encouraging for poetry. It also means poetry is just very competitive, but really, really strong poetry submissions. Amy?

Amy
The one big difference from my perspective is just that the amount of good stuff that is submitted is ever increasing, whether it is poetry or in his prose, like the stuff we published in issue one, I would still publish now, like, it’s not like, you know, they made the cut because they were competing in a smaller group. Like the stuff for the earlier issues is really, really good, too. And I would probably take it right now. But the decisions are getting harder and harder as you get more and more submissions coming in. There’s more and more people who are kind of in that top layer.

Aaron
Yeah, I think if you want a simple illustration of it, in the first issue, we put together the issue and I don’t think there was any debate about what we’re going to publish. We had enough to create the first issue. And like Amy said, it was really great stuff that would get published now. But there was no sort of sitting there thinking, well, we have space for ten pieces, we’ve got eleven. Which one do we cut? And now if you’re going to put an issue together, you’ll gather something like maybe you want to publish, I can’t remember what the number is off the top of my head, but say fifteen pieces or fifteen authors, because for poetry it’s sometimes several poems, you can create a long list that’s potentially forty five pieces or authors long and kind of pare it down from there. And you know, that’s where we’re at. So it’s a lot of very, very difficult decisions at this point. I mean, it’s a difficult, difficult, but also really good decisions because it’s really nice to be in the position where you’re choosing from so much strong work.

Rachel
I love that. Well, I’m going to move us into the quick lit round that I ask all my guests at the end. So I’m going to ask you to finish the following sentences. The first is being a writer is…

Amy
I don’t even know where to start. Aaron, you’re the writer.

Aaron
I’m not going to give a better answer than you are. Being a writer is individual maybe, different for everyone? I don’t know. I’m so uncomfortable with a sweeping statement like that.

Rachel
You’re dismantling my quick lit question. It’s good, I like it. Lliterary magazines are…

Aaron
Literary magazines are essential. This is where, like the English prof in me comes out, that I’m just like, anyone with a glancing familiarity with kind of literary history for the past two hundred and twenty years will understand the just crucial role small magazines play in conveying new kinds of writers, new ways of writing new ideas about writing, which sounds incredibly presumptuous, and it’s probably not what we’re managing to do, but literary journals and magazines in general, kind of, I think do, and why they’re just incredibly important.

Rachel
Editing requires…

Amy
I think I would say, openness to that one, openness to styles and genres you personally don’t perhaps like, but being able to see when someone else is doing it well and also not trying to turn writers submissions kind of vaguely into your own voice, if you know what I mean. Cause you can send edits, particularly in poetry, that will move poems more towards how a particular writer or editor would do it themselves, and I don’t think that’s the point of publishing, honestly.

Aaron
Yeah, I would second that. I’d say like a willingness and a desire to understand exactly in line with what you said, Amy, just to want to and to be able to see what a writer is trying to do with a piece and help them move it in that direction so it gets closer to what they want it to be and to avoid moving it or turning it into something that you want it to be. I think it’s essential to being a good editor.

Rachel
Rejection for a writer means…

Amy
I almost want to say it means nothing, to be honest. I mean, there are so many venues out there right now that will publish anything like ranging from stuff that I personally would think is unpublishable for any number of reasons to stuff that really are very much not that. And I don’t know. It’s the twenty first century. There’s so many like online lit mags and stuff like that. I feel like if you’re willing to put some of the work in and try to hit as many places as might be, open your pieces as possible and also you are continuously working on improving your own writing like, I think you’ll find a home for some of it. Certainly getting rejected from The Temz Review does not necessarily mean anything at this point. Like, as Aaron was saying, if you’ve got that so-called short list of like 40 poets that have to be chopped down, the people who get those rejections, it really does not reflect at all on the quality or published ability of their work.

Aaron
Yeah, and I think that rejection’s never fun. But I understand that when you say to someone like you shouldn’t take rejection personally, but that’s a very easy thing to say and maybe not as easy a thing to put into practice. But given the number of submissions that, for example, we get, it really is important. Like a rejection doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t quality because it’s a question of what’s going to work for that particular issue. It’s a question of all of the other submissions we’ve gotten for that issue. It doesn’t mean that the ideas or the project or the work that someone is doing doesn’t have merit. So I would hope that anyone who submitted and got rejected from The Temz Review wouldn’t take that as a sign that they shouldn’t submit again in the future, because that is very much not what it means. So a rejection is not a kind of absolute or permanent no, it’s just a no for this issue.

Rachel
Wonderful. And I think the evidence is there with you talking about people who’ve submitted several times and then developed as writers and eventually were published with you.

Aaron
Yeah.

Amy
Oh yeah, and some of these people were like nine, 10, 11 times, like a lot. I can’t speak for how other editors react to this, but I personally get excited for them when they’ve been doing that because, like, I’m I’m pulling for them and it’s like I’m like I can see you’re getting there, but you’re not quite there. But you try and then they do. And then and then they get there. And I’m like, yes, so.

Aaron
Yeah, absolutely, one hundred percent, that’s one of the best things. I mean, like, if you see someone that, you know, submitted multiple times and they submit a piece that makes that improvement, that sort of goes that extra little bit mile, that extra bit better, it’s just really cool to see that. You talked about or asked a question earlier about the connection between editing and teaching. And this isn’t so much like a interchange between the two of them, but it’s one thing that you share. And that is like if you’re a teacher and editor, what makes it worthwhile in some ways is seeing someone improve. Right. And make that step up, seeing that kind of journey not necessarily completed, but then reach a new stage of it. And yeah, so like Amy, you start to let people, I can’t remember his name, but someone I think it was his ninth or tenth time, and it was just really cool to see him grow and develop over those submissions and to finally publish something because it was like, oh, wow, you made that improvement. And it’s just yeah, it’s the kind of thing that makes it worthwhile.

Rachel
Lovely. We’re giving my quick lit round a bad name, but, writing community is…

Amy
I mean, if you want to really boil it down, I guess you could say it’s necessary, right, like, I think a lot of people would really, really struggle on their own and in the writing community as a whole, tends to be quite affirming and supportive of people. But again, people are people, so various writing communities are not necessarily all like that. But I think that if you can find one that works well for you, it really adds a lot.

Aaron
Yeah, I would echo that. I think writing community is essential, but I have a book on my shelves called Against the Romance of Community that pushes back against the uncritical belief in the goodness of community because communities are vital and necessary and supportive. But they can also exclude and I would say that I think a lot of people have the experience of being excluded in one way or the other. And I hope that no one gets discouraged. But I would say that this is one of the wonderful things about being an online journal and also just having the Internet. And that is that every time someone feels like they’re excluded from the community, it’s important to recognize that they’re not the only one. There are people out there who share that experience and are willing to share it with them and form a community with them.

Rachel
Wow, that’s a really thoughtful answer to that question. Thank you.

Amy
And if anybody wants a quick route to, like a really affirming literary community, get involved with American social media, literary communities, again, some of them are going to be really terrible. But on the whole, they actually do a really good job of really celebrating people’s wins and supporting each other and doing it really openly and on social media. That’s just the interesting thing that I’ve noticed. We have a lot of connections now with a bunch of different communities and the Americans are very, very supportive and let’s go everybody, kind of thing. Again not all writing communities, right, there’s some terrible ones, but yeah, that’s just a kind of fun, little cultural difference I’ve noticed.

Rachel
Yeah. I mean, not so fun, I guess, because what you’re saying is the Canadian side is less so probably but I think that’s really cool.

Amy
Not like, not less so in reality they’re simply less diffusive online.

Rachel
Yeah, yeah.

Amy
That’s what it comes down to. But if you really need like a real kind of pick me up, the Americans can do that.

Rachel
Well, I want to thank you both for being my guest on the Write, Publish, and Shine podcast. I really appreciate your time and your attention and just all of the thoughtfulness that went into your answers and obviously into your literary work at the Temz.

Aaron
Thank you so much for having us. It was a real pleasure.

Amy
Yes. Thank you.

Rachel
So, that was my conversation with Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider of The /tƐmz/ Review.

If you were keeping track like I was, you’ll now have them on your list as a place to send introspective political writing, writing that takes risks, writing that is not afraid to be ugly.

I love that they found it is the editors and not the readers who dislike the writing that goes to dark places.

You’ll also have noted not to open your piece with the main character making their morning coffee!

I know there are rebels out there who will say, “challenge accepted” and will write a story that entirely centres around that morning cuppa jo. If that is you—let me know how that goes.

But, of course, the bigger point they were making is to edit out that throat-clearing, early writing that probably got you into a story but that you can extract in revision.

Also on their no-go list were rhyming poetry, love poetry, break-up poetry and work with nothing at stake in them.

And writing about a community you don’t belong to—if you don’t have the deep care and knowledge required to do this.

In addition to what we can glean from our conversation, submission guidelines for The /tƐmz/ Review state that their preference is for the strange, the experimental and the boundary-pushing.

As of this episode release they ARE open for submissions. (In this pandemic-year plus, you probably noticed that a lot of places have closed temporarily for submissions. But The /tƐmz/ Review will be taking your submissions for their next issue up until July 1, again as of this recording.)

They publish prose (fiction and creative non-fiction) up to 10,000 words and “will consider pieces longer than 10,000 words, but they need to earn their length!” They are also flash-friendly, in that if you submit work that is under 1000 words, you can submit several pieces.

They take poetry, too with a preference that submissions be 10 pages or fewer—but again open longer submissions that “earn their length.”

They also publish reviews and information on how to query them to become a reviewer appears on their website.

For both prose and poetry, they pay $20 Cdn and you can submit through Moksha without needing to create an account. (They do not, and will never, charge fees to submit.)

 

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