Moving into the copy editing stage is actually my favourite, when you get to work with the authors directly.
In this episode, Rachel Thompson talks to her colleague Lue Palmer about Room magazine.
Lue Palmer is a writer of literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry on Black relationships to nature, the fantastic in the everyday, and the retelling of history among other things. Lue Palmer is a child of the Jamaican diaspora stretching across Canada, the UK, US and the Caribbean. With a bush country heritage, Lue was fed on stories and raised by a river in the north. Published in North America and the Caribbean, Lue is a Bread Loaf Writing Conference alumni, and a Banff Centre Writers’ Studio Artist in Residence alumni.
They start by talking a bit about their working relationship and give a little insight into how things work at Room magazine.
Listen to hear about Lue’s Afrofuturistic writing and insightful notes about what makes the work they accept to an issue work for them.
- Lue Palmer
- Room Magazine
- Room’s “Neurodivergence” Issue
- Maya Angelou
- Nalo Hopkinson
- Nnedi Okorafor
- Jewelle Gomez
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A full transcript of this episode will appear here soon.
#58 Write, Publish, Shine Episode Transcript
Lue Palmer, Rachel Thompson
Welcome luminous writers to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast. I’m 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.
In this episode of the Write, Publish and Shine podcast. This podcast explores how to write, I speak with Lue Palmer, an editor with Room Magazine. If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you might notice that I sprinkle my colleagues into the podcast and bring them in for different interviews. And one of the reasons for this comes up in the interview is just so important to hear from as many perspectives as possible, and that’s really a value of Room. Plus, I know a lot of listeners find me via Room Magazine and are interested in publishing with us.
Lue Palmer is a writer of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on black relationships to nature, the fantastic in the everyday and the retelling of history, among other things. Lue is the child of the Jamaican diaspora stretching across Canada, the UK, US, and the Caribbean. With a bush country heritage, Lue has fed on stories and raised by a river in the north. Published in North America and the Caribbean, Lue is a Bread Loaf Writing Conference alumni, and a Banff Centre Writers’ Studio Artist in Residence alumni.
We start our conversation by talking a bit about our own working relationship and give a little insight into how things work at Room Magazine, where we’re both collective members. We refer to a brilliant proofreading experience, from when we first met, I’m using air quotes here, because it was in the document of the neurodivergence themed issue proof, and that was my most recent experience editing an issue of Room. I reached Lue at their family’s home in rural Jamaica, and you may or maybe you will not hear a rooster in the background of the audio depending on my sound editor Adam Linder’s magic skills. Listen to hear more about Lue’s Afrofuturistic writing and insightful notes about what makes the difference between work they accept to an issue and work they feel isn’t ready yet.
So hi, Lue, and welcome to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast.
Hi Rachel, how are you?
I’m great. I’m so happy to have you here. I’m excited to talk about writing in general, but also about our very specific and different experiences working with Room. I want to start with our recent meeting where we’ve only met, I guess, in the last few months. And when we were paired together to select entries in a Room contests long list. This is a little bit of showing listeners I guess how the sausage is made a bit, that’s we do pair off and make the selections. And it was our first meeting and I thought it really went great. And we hadn’t met since our first other meeting in text, which is literally a marked-up PDF for proofreading for the neurodivergence issue that I edited with Room and that you kindly were a proofreader on. So, I guess my first question is wondering if it’s as weird for you to meet people that way as it is for me, in proofreading, especially when it’s a little vulnerable critiquing someone’s work that way too.
I actually don’t think of it as weird, maybe because of the structure at Room, especially when we’re proofreading. It really does feel like it’s work that belongs with everybody, we’re all there to support each other and make sure that we are putting the issue out. So, it feels more like a supportive process to me, but I can also understand, especially going into my first round of having proofreaders look at the work that I’ve selected that feel quite vulnerable. But I think that it’s become a strange ‘new normal’, meeting people in virtual space and having these workplace relationships, but also kind of intimate, because we’re looking at writing that’s important to us, we’re looking at things that we’re passionate about. So that can be strange. But yeah, there’s so many people at Room that I’ve been working with for years, and we’ve never actually been in the same space before. And I know that that’s become quite normal. The pandemic, these really long-term workplace relationships, and we’ve never been in the same space. So, I guess it was a little bit weird, but honestly, I don’t find it that strange. I think that it’s a really supportive environment. So, I enjoyed it, as you said, meeting each other via a proof PDF and then getting to talk to each other. It was kind of a fun way.
Now, I’m like,
“Oh, is it that weird?”
I mean, personally, social situations are often kind of weird for me, maybe I’m just sort of bringing that dynamic into this as well. But what I do appreciate, yeah, is that we rolled up our sleeves, and we did something really cool with that issue. And you were a big contributor, even as someone who came in later on in the process and came and brought some great proofreading that veered into copyedit, that we’re about bringing the writing more in alignment with our values around eliminating anti-black language and idioms and illusions, that are an entire attentive and caring team hadn’t caught in our first three rounds of copy editing and proofreading. I’m wondering if I guess you’ve already spoken a little bit about the dynamics of working with a collective, but maybe adding to that, like the idea of learning and teaching each other because, like you say, you are now having the experience of people proofreading industry that you’ve created. I think
I think collectors can be great. I mean, they don’t work with everything. But I think when it comes to the literary magazine structure that we have, it’s really wonderful from right when I started working with Room, it was very clear that one thing is super important is our mentorship and looking at: How do we get people on the editorial ladder, how we look at sharing skills between each other. I think that, with the collective, there’s a way that we have a mutual respect for each other’s knowledge, because we have so many people that are from a lot of different backgrounds, writers, editors, different points in our careers. So, I think that with the way that it’s set up, we really do get that kind of back and forth, respect for each other’s knowledge in a way that isn’t always available. And under the strict hierarchy. And the piece around sort of the copy editing, looking at content and bringing work in design with our values.
I think for me, that really points to why it’s important to have so many different voices at the table in a literary magazine, right support to have black copy editors, indigenous copy editors, and black copy editors from a variety of different backgrounds and perspectives. Yeah, so that really speaks strongly to me about that. But I think that process felt more supportive. We’re all here because we want to support our authors. We want to put out beautiful issues. And so, I was really happy with that, that you were receptive to it. Because I think sometimes with proofreading, I get into my proofreader brain, and I’m work on it, really quickly, and get through it. And so, I think I was worried I was a bit abrupt with that, I think. But yeah, just the whole way that everything was received. And the conversation that has happened just speaks more strongly to the supportive community that we created with this group, together editors and creators.
From my side, I was so grateful. And I think there’s this part of me that wants to be perfect around doing things. Like I said, we had this great team, we had a lot of BIPOC editors on the team, as well. But again, like you said, we just need people from a whole bunch of different perspectives to be able to catch those things and support us in doing better in the text. My learning is always like,
“Okay, yeah, there’s no such thing as perfection. This is an ongoing learning process, and you need to come at it with just openness and humility as much as you can.”
“Oh, shit, yeah, we screwed up in this case, and we need to fix it.”
So that was a lovely way to meet you in terms of, Yeah, like, I never mind to someone’s abrupt proofreading because I’m just always grateful for any kind of catch, like be it grammatical or be it bias in the writing. So, thank you.
Yeah, it really does feel like we’re just here to just- we’re all putting up the same issue. We’re all part of the same magazine and community. So yeah, it just feels like we’re all just here to support each other.
So now, you’ve been in the other role, and you’ve edited and you’re coming close, I think, to completing your first issue of Room. Is that correct, or am I off on our schedule right now?
Yes, somewhat close. I’m in the middle of the weeds. We just did our second round of acceptances. But before I get into that, I also just wanted to say very quickly that the neurodivergence issue is one of my favourite issues that has ever come out. So, I was also very happy to be on that issue. Anyway, that was a side note.
I mean, I’m saying thank you. But again, it’s also such a collective effort and all these amazing writers submitted to that issue. I felt really grateful to them as well. So, thanks.
Yes, the writers [inaudible] Room. So, I am right in the middle, we’re sort of in knees deep and copyediting which is the fight that I actually enjoyed the most. The selection process is always great, and getting pieces from our readers usually, regularly on an issue I would be reading- I don’t know why I always really don’t like the term ‘slush’. But anyway. So usually I’ll be, reading submissions, and then of course, forwarding them to the regular editor. So, it was nice to be on the other side of that and have work passed along by our readers and see what excites them and get to know how different readers work. So, I do love that process, finding those pieces that I’m like,
“Oh, I can’t live without this thing published, and we need to post this piece.”
And then moving into the copy-editing stage, that was actually my favorite, where you get to work with the authors directly.
But there may be some- we also receive work with dialects and patois, in particular for this issue. So, we just brought on like, a really collected team member, on [unintelligible 10:44] who’s also working on the issue as well. It just jumped into the deep end with supporting some of those edits, which is really important. So, we are right in the middle of it. It’s a really long thing. Sometimes don’t realize it takes basically a year from beginning of planning the issue, selecting our commissioned author, and all of those different aspects until we go to print. So, the process began in July of 2021. And the issue will go to print in late June 2022. So, it is basically a year so we’re right in the middle of the process.
As you’re looking at submissions, and wondering what are some of the qualities of the work that you received from the first readers this time, then the pieces that didn’t make it into the issue, and then maybe the pieces that did make it into the issue, what are some of the things that you’re noticing when you’re reading them in that way of like,
“Okay, I’ve got to fit this into a print magazine now?”
There are lots of minds at the table, we have our first readers who often will leave a little note saying why they fell in love with that particular piece. Then we also have the team. So, as myself, my assistant editor, Michael Killjoy, and then our two shadows, so Micah Killjoy, Ruchika and Omi. And so, we all are, each of us reading what’s forwarded. And we all fall in love with pieces for different reasons. For me, I’m usually struck by things that have a very distinct voice. And that might sound a little bit hard to sit them down. I usually know it when I see it.
I work with so many writers who are so frustrated by that phrase, because a lot of editors say that, but it’s also just so true. I know. You don’t know the unexpected things you’re looking for until they unexpectedly knock your socks off of you.
Exactly. I think if we had a lot more time, we could probably get into a little bit more specifically about what it means to have a distinct voice and writing, maybe just very, very quickly if that’s okay, to get it out.
Yeah, of course.
I can see when before- especially with the pros, I think, it’s a little bit more complicated with Creative Nonfiction, because of course, you’re writing in your own voice. But I think, especially with Fiction and even shorter forms, I can tell I think when the author has thought about who is going to be telling the story, and for what reason that person is telling the story, and to whom they’re telling it, before they’ve sat down to write it. Because I think there’s all those different aspects where sometimes we might say,
“This is a story I want to tell.”
And we just sit down and just put words on us. But I think there was that extra step of thinking about who it’s going to be told to and for whatever reasons and why, because those things really vastly change how the story was told.
I love that insight. I sometimes bring a prompt to writers that’s like, when it comes to CNF specifically. Why am I the person to tell this story and bring some reflection into the writing process? So super appreciate that insight.
Sometimes for the work that doesn’t make it in. And this is something I used to do it, early on most of literary magazines, who send work that wasn’t ready that I think I didn’t realize, how many drafts I had to go through with it or even just let it marinate longer but what I really wanted to say or spend more time with what I was trying to get across. So that happens, but sometimes it also happens as well where we’re really sad to let go of a piece because I might see that it has- the readers might really have responded to something in it, it might need a little more work. We also have to think about how much time we can commit to copy editing certain pieces, we have sort of a set period of time. So, if something needs like really deep developmental edits, then we might not be able to commit that time even if we are really in love with it. Even if we’re really in love with the content of the story that’s being told.
What we try to do in that case, ‘reject with encouragement’. I think sometimes for writers when they receive rejections, they may not realize like how far in the process [unintelligible 15:00] that the editors might actually have loved it. But we might not be able to publish it for whatever reason. One thing that also really clicks is that I try to also have a balance of content. So, I think, especially during the pandemic, a lot of pain processing a lot of trauma really. I remember in the last issue, receiving a lot of work about mothers were processing a lot of things about relationships, and racism, and isolation and all these different aspects, which is very, very important to do. But we might also want to create a balance of that, so that, especially for certain readers of color, it’s not just like a barrage of trauma processing. So, for whatever reason, we’re trying to come to a balance in the work, but writers might not see that, we really might have loved that piece. But we had to let it go for whatever reason.
Yeah, I think it’s so important. And I’m really glad that you’re underlining that because in the absence of information, I think a lot of writers just fill in the gaps of,
“Oh, they hated my work, and they don’t think I should become a writer.”
So, like that the most extreme.
Yeah, getting rejections or, and people always just say, rejection as part of it. You have to just find a different way to not let it get to you or to be excited about it. But that is also something to keep in mind as well, that your piece may have received a lot of love, but just might not have made it to the final publication. And maybe it’s also a great story, but it needs to spend more time with it, or great poem that maybe spend more time with the things that are the content.
I’m interrupting my conversation with Lue Palmer to ask you some questions. Do you want to go deeper into your writing? Do you sometimes wonder if your writing voice has a place in this world? Do you yearn to write work that resonates with readers? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, my “Write & Light course” might be for you. In the Write & Light course:
You will generate ten honest, vulnerable stories or poems, it’s your choice.
You’ll gain a deep understanding of your place in the world as a writer.
You’ll add tools to your toolbox to generate Brave New writing.
You’ll know what you’re meant to write and be ready to write more.
The course starts right away and includes 10 inspiring lessons. Each lesson starts with instruction on a theme and curated readings, then moves into motivating preparation and writing assignments. Writers are well supported with processing and self-care activities. You can learn more and sign up at RachelThompson.co/write. That’s RachelThompson.co/write.
What was your own experience for submitting to lit mags? In that question, I guess is wondering what worked for you and are there any things you would wish to change in the submission process, the way it works in general, and then in some specific magazines?
Maybe? You know, I was trying to remember where I first submitted to, and I honestly don’t remember, I think maybe at the beginning, I was really caught up on submitting to contests, which is not the best route. I think it’s expensive and doesn’t always pay off. But I think some other sort of common things like sending out work that that wasn’t ready, I think that it makes more sense to sit with a piece and really make sure that it feels complete, rather than send out a higher quantity of things. It might feel like pressure, like writers are always supposed to be producing, always supposed to be writing, always sending things out. But I don’t, you know, if possible, resist that pressure. It’ll be a good thing. That being said, one of the things that I did do, I just took the advice, when I was trying to get more serious about making sure that I was submitting and doing so consistently, when I had work ready.
I took the advice of a friend and author that I really respect. Now she was telling me, the volume to which she submits and based on that percentage of things that are accepted. And I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna-” quite intimidating because she just has this huge Excel spreadsheet, which she keeps everything on. But it ended up- I wasn’t ever aiming to submit to the volume that she was submitting because there’s more like nonfiction pitching. But it did help me to keep a spreadsheet with certain dates, so that I knew when things were coming up, so it didn’t feel like things were just always coming at me and the dates for submissions were flying by and I had no idea when they were and then I would have missed them and been stressed about it. So, I ended up being like,
“Okay, I know that this magazine is open from here to here. And I know that I can look six months ahead and work on certain things.”
So that was helpful.
Yeah, those spreadsheets are so helpful. It’s true. And it’s so funny. I mean, you get into creative writing, and you don’t think,
“Oh it involves a lot of spreadsheets.”
But it does when it comes As the submissions. I’m hoping that you will tell us a bit about your first full length work, The Hungry River, just because reading the description sounds really amazing. I read that it’s about a woman who loses her child and climbs into the sky to slap God. Set on the backdrop of climate change and the fight of a community against environmental racism. And in chronicle is a love song between nature and black communities over 250 years and into the future. I would just love to hear more about that, about the love song between nature and black communities.
So, I grew up in a really rural area. I spent most of my time playing in the woods and in the river, and kind of unsupervised. We also lived in this house where there wasn’t running water for a long time. And so, we would go around the corner to the well. In the wintertime, we’d break the ice to drag water up and boil it. But this is sort of strange parallel, I mean, with my family history, and my mother’s side, where my family here in Jamaica, where I am. It’s different, but also similar in a lot of ways, we’re from many generations here. And still, it’s a really close relationship with farming and growing one’s own food and having a close relationship with the river and not having water access. Multiple generations, we’ve been very proud of my great grandparents and what they did to kind of pass on certain skills and learn skills of farming and things that kind of love with nature and love the land and having a really close relationship and recognizing the value. It has been very important, and something that my mother also carried as well, I was sort of her way to bring a lot of fresh food and fresh vegetables into the house as they are growing them and having to take part in that and spending all the time with our hands in the dirt. That’s how I grew up, really valuing that.
I think when it comes to black relationships with need to, especially in an urban context, and different points through history, I think it’s been seen as, black people are separate from nature, like they don’t have a relationship with nature or have been marginalized in environmental movements. And I just think that that is not at all true. When you look at history, I think that we have always been active environmentalists and in really close relationships with the world around us. So, I really wanted to write a story where black communities and nature are in allyship with each other. And write a lot of the really deep love that comes with that. And in terms of climate change, really what I wanted to do was create, like a black mythology of climate change. So, a lot of it is taking place in the past and rewriting things and writing these moments of tenderness or mutual understanding, whether it’s like with bodies of water, or handfuls of soil or flower beds that have been passed out, like multiple generations. So that’s kind of where that came from. But I think that we really deserve a refocusing, especially where communities of color are impacted by climate change. I just wanted to bridge that gap to make the story focused on us.
Have you been writing Afrofuturism? Which I think is a label you apply to your writing? And I apologize if it’s not. Or speculative work? And then I’m wondering, what brought you to this genre, if those are the genres that you identify the writing with? And then also in that question, it’s kind of like what experiences of reading and storytelling has shaped your writing.
I think that Afrofuturism as a label is such a great and wonderful, extensive label. I’m not entirely certain how to label my own work. I just know that the stories that I started writing, you know, when I started writing the novel, it was actually a collection of short stories, and all of them often had this either presence of spirits or like anthropomorphizing something. So, I would apply the label of Afrofuturism. I’m not sure if all the work that I am creating would fall under that route, but it’s definitely just- In terms of the reading that shaped me and my work. My mother is a very avid reader. So, she was kind of always reading to us often, sometimes like outside or reading stories or make up stories. It was a lot of that. I would make up stories for my little sister, my mom would make up stories for us. There were certain texts that my mom hadn’t house, Maya Angelou and other writers, and then later on, it probably wasn’t until, honestly until maybe late university or after university that I started to read writers like Nalo Hopkinson or Nnedi Okorafor, or Jewelle Gomez. It wasn’t until much after that I started to read those stories. But even so, I think that, even with just telling stories out loud that there were some aspects of magic and spirits and things like that sometimes.
You think, of the writers that I know from that list, they’re wonderful. And I’ll make sure to include that whole list in our show notes as well. I want to bring us to the “Quick Lit Round” of this episode, and I’m going to invite you to finish these sentences.
The first is: Being a writer is…
Literary Magazines are…
Care, and decisiveness.
Yes, which maybe feels in conflict with each other sometimes.
Rejection for a writer means…
Writing community is…
Well, I just want to thank you so much for being part of the podcast today, for being part of this collective community that we’re in together as well, too. I’m just really grateful for you in practical senses, and then also just really excited to read the issue that you have coming in. Thank you.
No problem, Rachel.
Sign up for my “Write & Light course”.
You will create ten honest, vulnerable stories or poems, it’s your choice of genre.
You will gain a deep understanding of your place in the world as a writer.
And you will add tools to your toolbox to generate Brave New writing.
You can learn more and sign up at RachelThompson.co/write.
So that was my conversation with Lue Palmer. I really appreciated Lue going beyond the stock answer that we hear from a lot of editors about the kind of writing they want to publish. By the way, I understand that sentiment, I feel it myself. It’s like I know what when I see it. But Lue, I think very rightly points out that in the work that most resonates, and that we are most excited to publish, we can tell that the writer has considered who is going to be telling the story, and for what reason that person is telling the story and to whom they are telling it. We might sometimes just put words on the page, as Lue says, but if there is that extra step of reflection, it vastly changes how a story is told. And we as editors perk up.
And notice this: Room publishes Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, and Art by folks of marginalized genders, including but not limited to omen, cisgender and nongender, transgender men, Two-spirit, and non-binary people. We specifically encourage writers with overlapping underrepresented identities to submit their work. We don’t want writers to feel restricted by gender or genre labels. So, if you’re unsure if your work is fit for the Room, you can always get in touch with us. You can check out our homepage RoomMagazine.com regularly for updates on upcoming themes and deadlines.
The Write, Publish and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson, you can learn more about the work I do to help writers write, publish and shine at RachelThompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my writerly love letters sent every other week, actually lately every week, as I’m offline, and I need another outlet. So, I’ve been sending out weekly letters, and they’re filled with support for your writing practice. If this episode encouraged you to bring more consideration to your writing about who is telling the story for what reasons and why, and then to submit your most polished work to Room or other journals. I would love to hear all about it.
I’m on a social media hiatus. So that I mean by being offline, I’m online and other ways but just offline on social media, so you can drop me a line at Hello@RachelThompson.co and tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at RachelThompson.co or searching for Write, Publish and Shine in their podcast app. Thank you for listening. I encourage you to keep rising to the challenge and writing luminously. My guest spoke to me from Port Antonio, Jamaica, and I am a guest in the South Sinai Egypt on lands, historically and presently occupied by the Al-Tirabin Bedouin.