An Interview with Emerging Writer Vanessa MacLellan

Vanessa McClellan

This week, we have an interview with an emerging writer, Vanessa MacLellan. She has published stories in Electric Spec, Pantheon Magazine, and Bohemia Magazine, and her first novel, Three Great Lies, a historical fantasy novel set in Ancient Egypt will be published by Hadley Rille Books in February 2015. Vanessa, whose passion for writing grew during her NaNoWriMo experiences, has developed her career as a writer through the Internet. I chose to interview Vanessa because I thought that her experience as a writer might give me and other writers insight into how to break into the online publishing world.

Q: What made you decide to become a writer? When did you begin writing?

Vanessa: I think that I started writing when I was five.  Badly, of course, but I remember pretending to read blank pages (I couldn’t quite write well at five) to my mother, making up stories with more adjectives than nouns.  As an adult, when I had a handle on real writing, I began writing stories based on a role-playing character I had created for a Dungeons and Dragons game back in 2002.  My creativity naturally spread from role-playing to writing.  Luckily, as I review those first short stories, I’ve gotten a lot better.

I don’t think most people “decide” to become a writer.  I think they just write.  I can’t pinpoint when I decided I wanted to become published, but it was probably about seven or eight years ago when I began to think “Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to live anywhere in the world.  I could support myself on writing.”  I’ve no idea if I can support myself on writing, but I’m willing to work hard to give it a shot.  Plus, I can live pretty cheap.

Q: I saw on your website that you have done National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) before. How has NaNoWriMo influenced your career? Did it help you develop as a writer? Did you find a community there?

Vanessa: All Hail NaNo!  NaNoWriMo was a huge influence in my writing career.  My first NaNo I completed a YA novel that taught me so much about character and plot, but the real lesson I learned was to finish what I started.  I’ve done NaNo nearly every year since that first one.  It’s relaxing compared to my usual editing work.  I can let my inner critic go and just write.

NaNo has many group meeting and write-ins, but I never participated in those.  The community I’ve developed is through my online world, where I cheer for blogging friends, or Google+ connections.  We urge each other on through tweets.  It’s nice, and almost addictive, to be a part of this global writing event.

Q:  When you send out submissions to online journals, how do you choose where to send your writing?

Vanessa: Well, it’s different now than when I first started.  Originally, I looked for themed magazines and wrote or modified something I had for their theme.  Sometimes I had something perfect for their theme.  Now, I have different criteria.  I research the journal’s reach: how many readers it has.  I submit to the more prestigious journals, or the ones that pay more pro-rates.  To be able to join organizations like the SFWA, you have to have so many professional publications and it forces authors who want to join to submit to certain publications. 

Q: How do you deal with rejection in the literary world when your writing is not accepted or published?

Vanessa: It doesn’t bother me much anymore.  I think of the numbers game publishing is: these magazines get hundreds to thousands of submissions, the chance that mine is perfect for that one slush pile reader in that one moment is slim.  So, it’s not personal.  Plus, the rejection comes in by email (if you’re lucky, so many don’t even bother sending you anything) and that’s as impersonal as you can get.

Sure, at first it hurts.  You wonder why it didn’t work.  You argue that they didn’t really read it; they didn’t get your genius.  But really, once you have a wheel-barrel full of rejection emails, the punch to the gut is weak.

Q: What work of writing are you are most proud of and why?

Vanessa: Ah, I love all my children!  But I’d say it’s got to be my debut novel, Three Great Lies.  Still, I read a chapter of that story and I smile proudly at it.  I love my writing voice and my characters.  Jeannette, my main character, has a lovely growth arc.  It’s a female introspective journey, much like the Wizard of Oz.  It’s great to see her finally Get It.  I hope that readers of this novel can learn what she learned.  Plus, it’s probably one of the few novels out there where a mummy is the romantic interest.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, especially ones entering the world of online publication?

Vanessa: First: Research to see who does not allow simulations submissions and submit to them first.  It’s rough when you find a “perfect fit” but they don’t allow SS and you already have your piece out to 10 other places.  I rarely submit to places that don’t allow SS because I don’t have time to let my story linger with that magazine for 4 or more months.

Second: Keep Submitting!  Do five a month.  Ten a month.  It’s a numbers game.  Get it out there to as many magazines as you can. 

Third: Don’t let rejections or non-communication take you down.  It’s not a reflection on you.

Fourth: Don’t dismiss non-paying markets when you’re starting.  For one thing, your story is out there and being read.  Some non-paying publications have wide readerships and that has value.  But, don’t always give your work away.  You’ve put a lot of time into writing and polishing your piece, it deserves respect. 

Q: What are your favorite literary journals or online websites to read?

I don’t frequent too many websites.  I mainly read articles forwarded to me by my online writing community.  That being said, I do enjoy the Literary Midwife (http://www.newwritersinterface.com/), Marketing Tips of Authors (http://blog.marketingtipsforauthors.com/) and The Future of Ink (http://thefutureofink.com/).  Each of these writing blogs has great information on writing, marketing, and the future of the industry.  I’d recommend each of these if you haven’t read them yet.

For literary magazines, I tend to have a certain loyalty to those magazines that have published me: Electric Spec (http://www.electricspec.com/) and Pantheon (http://pantheonmag.com/). I also enjoy the Colored Lens (http://thecoloredlens.com/), Beneath Ceaseless Skies (http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/, and Spark Anthology (http://sparkanthology.org/excerpts/).  I tend to read from and talk about lesser known journals to help boost their circulation, but there is something to be said for the larger circulation publications.

I love it when I find that gem of a story that just drops your jaw and makes you dwell on it for days.  That is what writing should do, transport the reader, slip into their minds and take up a portion of it for a time.  I hope I touch people like that with my stories.  I guess, that’s every author’s dream.

I for one am definitely intrigued by Vanessa’s upcoming novel. I have soft spot for fantasy, as it’s one of my favorite genres to read and to write. I think it’s important for literary writers to not forget or diminish the entire ecosystems of writing out that make up popular fiction, including fantasy, romance, mystery, or crime writing. These genres have been present on the Web for a long time on various sites and in various forms. They are the early birds in the movement towards online publishing and online literature, and only now are literary publications catching up. At the same time, these genres continue to sell in print too, showing a model of how literature can continue to flourish when made available through different mediums.

For More Information About Vanessa

Visit Her Website at vanmaclellan.com

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Sixfold

As promised, here’s a more in-depth explanation of how the journal Sixfold’s unique publication process works. On a side note, I haven’t been posting as often on this site because I just moved to France. If you’re interested, you can also follow my travel blog: assistantinalsace.wordpress.com. I promise to post more often on both blogs, once I’m more settled in.

What is democratic literature? Literature chosen by the people, for the people? The journal Sixfold attempts to answer these questions. An online journal that publishes poetry and short stories, Sixfold allows writers to evaluate other people’s submissions and to vote for the ones they want to be published. Here’s how it works:

It costs $3 to submit a manuscript to Sixfold. Once you submit, you are given manuscripts to read in your same genre. During the first round,  you look at 6, comment on them, and vote for the ones you like best. There are two more subsequent rounds after the first one. At the end of the three rounds, the three highest-voted submissions in each genre receive 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes, and the submissions with the highest votes (the top 20 for fiction and the top 40 for poetry) are published in the forthcoming issue of the journal.

I personally think Sixfold is a great concept, applying crowdsourcing ideas to writing. Not only do you have the possibility of being published, but each writer also receives individualized feedback from all the other people who read their submission. So even if you do not receive enough votes for publication, you still get something out of the process of submissions.

What makes the journal seem so innovative to me is that it changes who the gatekeepers are for publication, but still makes sure there is someone guarding the gates. Instead of having editors who are, in theory, supposed to be experts on recognizing good literature, choose what is published, the writers themselves validate other people’s work. This is also a great chance for writers to become exposed to what other people are submitting to these journals. The only catch is that you absolutely have to participate in the voting and editing process in order for your submission to be eligible. I think that’s only fair.

One drawback that I could potentially see to this type of publication is that it is not “curated” in the same way as regular journals. In some journals, the editors choose a theme and specifically choose pieces for an issue that they think work well together, just one would curate a museum exhibit. But this type of selection isn’t possible for Sixfold. Still, I read some of the works from the Summer issue of the Sixfold and none of the pieces seemed particularly jarring when juxtaposed against the others. In fact, Sixfold benefits from the fact that its voting process cultivates a diverse crop of writing. I was happy to find that it seemed like voters didn’t just choose stories and poems that were all similar to one another.

Some stories I enjoyed from this past issue included “Century”, by Bill Pippin, a short story about a man visiting his father who has just turned 100 years old, and also a very different, quite funny tale called “Conversations With Dakota Fanning” by Zac Hill in which the author imagines an outing with Dakota Fanning and reflects upon the bizarre way we idolize celebrities in our culture. I also enjoyed reading the poems, which tended to seem more straightforward and accessible to me than ones I usually see in contemporary journals. Perhaps having a large group of editors leads to the selection of poetry that is meant for the “everyman” (and woman). In particular, I liked the poems by Jim Pascual Augustin including “The Man Who Wished He Was A Lego” and “The Photograph.”

When you’re choosing which submit to Sixfold, I would recommend choosing something that you think will appeal to other writers like yourself, and also a work that still needs improvement because the voting process will give you a lot of feedback on that particular piece. The next deadline for submissions is coming up soon, on October 24.

For more information:

Sixfold

Website: www.sixfold.org