The Missouri Review

This fall, I submitted a short story to the Missouri Review’s Editor’s Prize. I didn’t win. But, luckily, the contest submission also came with a year-long subscription to the literary journal (the fee for the contest was $20). I just finished reading the fall issue, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I think everyone who considers him- or herself a writer should read at least one literary journal on a regular basis, and I think from here on out, the Missouri Review will be mine. While not all the stories were perfect, and I wasn’t personally interested in all of the works in the issue, overall, the review’s fall issue had fresh writing with rich language and fascinating subject matter. I definitely recommend that you check it out.

The Missouri review publishes poetry, short fiction, and essays. I found the poetry in the latest issue to be accessible. Most of it was free-verse and more on the traditional side. There was nothing that could be called experimental in all of the magazine, in fact, but that was fine by me, since I tend to like more conventional literature.

Most of the poetry I read I would characterize as concise, filled with sharp, curt images, but at the same time it was layered, ready for deeper exploration. It was the kind of poetry you could read and think that it was rather simple, but if you go back and reread it you will find more than you thought was there. One of the poems that I liked in this issue was actually reflecting on this very topic, the layers of poetry. It’s called “The Poem About the Henhouse” by Lawrence Raab, and it is prefaced by a quotation by Jose Saramago, who said that a writer can’t find much to say about a henhouse.  And of course, the poet finds a way to say something about a henhouse which is quite poignant.

As for fiction, in general I liked the short stories in this issue. In particular I really enjoyed reading “Bury Me” by Allegra Hyde which offers surprising images of a funeral and fresh portrait of a friendship between two women. During college, the two firends use spirit of carpe diem as almost a crutch, to avoid thinking about one of woman’s mother who has cancer and who eventually passes away from it. The story opens at the mother’s funeral and explores the women’s past together and how they have grown apart. I really liked it, and I found both the narrator’s voice and the main character, the narrator’s friend, quite compelling.

However, occasionally I found the stories in the journal to be clichéd, with characters or situations that were predictable. Overall, I liked the story “A Bellyful of Sparrows” which is told from the perspective of an ailing Southerner with lung-cancer living in an RV. In general, I found his character to be quite fun to read about. He still craves cigarette smoke, despite the fact that he has to breathe from an oxygen tank, and he craves the taste of squirrel. But when he nearly dies at one point and he starts to see his life flash before his eyes, I rolled my eyes. In general, I saw a few moments like this in the stories I read, but of course all literature is susceptible to falling back on formulaic templates such as that one. In general, even in the stories I found to be clichéd, the writing was intricate, detailed, and vibrant, so I could get past a few clichés.

I also highly enjoyed reading the essays and interviews in the journal, which had a wide range of fascinating topics, from one man who lives in New Mexico reflecting on the importance of the atomic bomb in his life, to a woman discussing an enigmatic figure from her past, her landlady’s son, whose life profoundly touched hers. Reading essays like these ones really makes me want to try my hand at creative nonfiction. They are able to weave real moments together to form a coherent narrative that reads like literature, but carries more weight because it has the emotional backing of the author who is invoking his or her personal experience.

The Missouri Review accept online submissions, but they do charge $3 per submission. This magazine is highly competitive, so I would advise only submitting your best work to it and to be ready for a polite rejection letter in response. Personally, I think my writing is not yet at the level of the works that I read in the journal. That won’t stop me from trying to improve and to continue to submit my writing to places like the Missouri Review, even if I don’t have much of a chance. However, if your writing is really good, you do have a chance to be published. The Missouri Review does publish new or emerging writers quite often. For example, one of the writers I interviewed for this blog, Julia Glassman, had one of her first publications in the Missouri Review.

For More Information

The Missouri Review

Website: www.missourireview.com

Post NaNoWriMo (and Sixfold) Reflections

I’m back from my month long hiatus for NaNoWriMo. I did, in fact, succeed at writing 50,000 words! And to boot, I almost finished an entire novel, although it’s a very rough draft that would need a lot of work before being publishable. Meanwhile, I also spent most of November and part of December participating in the selection process for the online magazine, Sixfold. If you don’t know what Sixfold is, I wrote a review about it a while back. It’s an online journal that allows writer to submit their work to vote on other people’s submissions to determine who gets published. I’ll soon be back to my regular reviews of literary journals and writing-related websites, but until then, here are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo and the Sixfold voting process.

This was my first year doing NaNoWriMo, and it was definitely a month of learning and growing for me as a writer. I think the best thing you get out of NaNoWriMo, whether you reach 50,000 words or not, is an incredible rush of creative energy. During the first couple of weeks, I wrote for one to two hours every single day, hardly skipping a day. (I might note that I actually only work part-time right now so I had a lot of free time to spare). During the middle of the month, fatigue started to set in, but I had already gotten off to such a good start, that I knew I could finish if I just kept up a steady pace. During the month of November, I lived, breathed, and slept my plot. I dreamed sentences and spent my days at work trying to ignore the characters in my mind who were constantly vying for my attention. And even when I felt like I had hit a wall, I drilled through it with my writing. I just kept on throwing words at it until I carve a way through.

As a result, I think my novel is probably the sloppiest thing I’ve ever written. I took no time to think about whether I sounded cliched or whether the words even made sense. Thus, it needs a lot of reworking. In fact, I’d probably have to write most of the sentences from scratch to fix it. But what I did get out of NaNoWriMo was a plot. I had barely sketched an outline for my novel, and I realized that as I pushed it farther and farther, it started to roll on its own, like a rock falling down a slope. The characters acted in ways that I never expected them to, but in ways that made perfect sense. And complications and developments in the plot that I had never anticipated arose. Now, if I go back and revise it, at least I have a solid, organically grown story to work with, even if the words need fine tuning.

After NaNoWriMo ended, I felt hollow. It was strange. I had been writing so much for the past month that if a day passed by where I didn’t write, I had the same feeling as when you eat a ton of donuts and don’t excercise that same day. It’s like the words that you don’t spill out accumulate like layers of fat. NaNoWriMo gave me a thirst to write, one I already had before, but it’s stronger now. I write almost every day now, because now it’s a habit, an addiction.

But what I learned from NaNoWriMo is that the binge-writing, it’s like eating lots of candy. It makes you super hyper, but leaves you with little nutrition. As much as you need a burst of binge-writing once in a while, for the most part the real work of writing is in the chewing and digesting of minute details, on the level of words and sentences. Nothing is perfect in the first draft. To get to the real vitamins and protein, you have to process writing, work through it, over and over and over again. And that I always dread, because unlike eating candy, it’s not always fun. It takes hard work and nail-biting and screaming into pillows in frustration. And that’s where I’m currently at with some of my writing. But the end product that emerges will hopefully be worth it.

While I was participating in NaNoWriMo, I also was participating in Sixfold’s fall voting process. I submitted one of my stories to Sixfold and paid an entry fee of $3 to have my work considered. As a participant, I read three rounds of six short stories by other writers, voting on them and commenting on them. At the end of the three rounds, the rankings of the short stories were revealed.

I have mixed feelings about my participation in Sixfold. First of all, let me be perfectly honest: my writing didn’t make it past the first round and was ranked something like #127 out of #369 (on the bright side, still in the top half!). And maybe I do feel a little bitter about that, as one always does after rejection. But putting that aside, there were still some larger issues I think the website needs to address.

Honestly, I really enjoyed reading everyone else’s stories, commenting on them, and ranking them. I went into full writing workshop mode, and gave detailed feedback to nearly all eighteen stories that I read. I made sure to give constructive criticism, always pointing out what I liked, and how I thought the stories could be improved, and most of all, I tried to keep a positive, respectful tone, even when I hated the piece or didn’t understand it at all. That’s why when I saw the feedback for my story, I felt rather cheated. Even though I didn’t make it past the first round, I at least expected to find some helpful comments about my work. After all, Sixfold purports itself as being helpful to all the writers who participate. Sadly, this was not the case for me. Most of the comments I received were less than fifty words of writing. A few were very positive, but gave absolutely no suggestions for improvement. Although they helped my wounded ego, they were not really that beneficial to me as a writer. Then there were a couple comments that were negative. I expected negative comments, that’s fine. But they were either extremely short and therefore not helpful, just pointing out what I did wrong, or they elaborated  in depth on everything they didn’t like, again not giving any sort of suggestion for how I could improve. Maybe my expectations were too high because I’ve spent a lot of time in writing workshops where everyone gives really thoughtful, constructive feedback. I was disappointed.

I think one way Sixfold could address this problem is to at least make a mandatory minimum word count for how long the comments should be. Because there’s absolutely no way that comments that are three words long can be constructive. They could mandate that during each round, you have to write at least 75 words minimum. If people needed to write more, then maybe they would start to point out more suggestions for improvement. It wouldn’t be a guarantee, but maybe it would help writers like me who do not make it to the top rounds have a better experience with the voting process overall. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be submitting to Sixfold again, because for the amount of time that I spent reading and editing other people’s work, the payoff that I received was not enough.

Well, those are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo and Sixfold. Check this blog again soon. I’ll be posting more reviews and articles in the next few weeks and months.