Hello everyone, I know that I haven’t been updating this blog as often I would like. I’ve been on vacation in Germany. Now it’s November and I’m going to be writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month. More posts on literary journals will return in December. Wish me luck on my novel. Happy Holidays!
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
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:
It has been a while since my last post in July, but I’ve been so busy this past month, I haven’t had a chance to blog. I’ve been writing a couple articles for different publications, and once they are published I will be sure to spam you with links to them, don’t worry. In the meantime, I’ve been checking out more literary journals online and otherwise. We are nearing fall, and it turns out there are some great literary contests with upcoming deadlines.
You may wonder, why is a writer telling me about these contests? Isn’t she in direct competition with me for these prizes? You are right, of course. But I’m a nice person so that won’t stop me from telling you about these contests anyway. If you do win one of these competitions and you learned about it from this blog, please tell people about my website, at the very least.
Without further ado, here are some of the contests and open submissions at literary journals this fall. Happy writing and good luck!
The Missouri Review: Editor’s Prize
Deadline: October 1st
Every year The Missouri Review offers the Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize in three categories: poetry, fiction, and essay. The first place winners in each category receive a whopping $5,000 reward. You can bet the competition is stiff for this one, but I would still give it a shot. The Missouri Review says on its website that it has published “the first short story of more than 100 new fiction writers.” One of those writers who got their start with a publication in The Missouri Review, is Julia Glassman, a novelist who I interviewed earlier this year. The cost of entrance for this contest is $20 ($23 if you submit online), but I think it’s worth it because you get a free subscription to the journal for a year with your submission.
For More Information: www.missourireview.com/tmrsubmissions/editors-prize-contest
Spark Anthology: “Monsters and Marvels” Contest
Contest Dates: September 15- October 1
The Spark Anthology is a journal that offers publication and compensation to emerging writers for high-quality writing. It was established by alumni of the California State Summer School for the Arts, which I attended for Creative Writing back in 2009. Its current contest, which starts on September 15 and has a deadline of October 1 is themed “Monsters and Marvels.” They are offering prizes in three categories: prose, poetry, and artwork. First prize for all categories is $500 and publication in the magazine, and the details for the second and third prizes are on their website. And there’s no entry fee for this contest. Here is what the anthology says they are looking for: “Like darkness and light, Yin and Yang, monsters and marvels are two sides of the same coin. Each entry should include both a monster and a marvel—though ‘monster’ and ‘marvel’ may refer to same element of your entry. ”
For More Information: sparkanthology.org/contests/seven/
Deadline: October 24
Sixfold is one of the most intriguing online journals I’ve yet to encounter. I stumbled upon it last week when I saw that one of my friends and creative writing colleagues, Nancy Nguyen, had been published in it. Here’s her short story, “Truck Stop” (It’s really good by the way). I checked its submissions page, as I always do when I come across a new journal. It turns out Sixfold is a crowd-sourced journal. I’ve been meaning to write a whole blog post just about this journal, and probably will, but here’s a preview: to figure out what writing goes in each issue, Sixfold asks writers to vote and rank other people’s submissions. When you submit to the journal, you agree to read, edit, and vote on other submissions in your genre for several different rounds of consideration. The highest-voted stories and poems get published, and even the writers who don’t get published will receive feedback on their story from other writers. I think that’s pretty darn cool.
For More Information: www.sixfold.org/howitworks.html
Journals With Open Submissions This Fall
Open Submissions: September 5 – October 17
You may remember I reviewed this upcoming journal a while back. They are taking submissions for their second issue which is themed “People.” Here is what they say they want: “Tell us about a person who changed your life for better or worse, one who made a single impression on you before disappearing forever, or one you never met at all and never will. It doesn’t have to be non-fiction, but you should make us feel like it is.” They accept prose, poetry, and art.
Barely South Review
Open Submissions: September 1 – November 30
If you forgot about this journal, check out my review of this wonderful review. They are currently accepting submissions!
Open Submissions: November 1 – April 15
One of my favorite online literary journals opens its gates to submissions on November 1.
Open Submissions: October- June
Another journal I previously reviewed, they accept submissions starting in October.
The Adroit Journal
Open Submisisons: Starting October 15
This journal is of particular interest to current students (both undergraduate and graduate) because they have prizes for student writers. Their submissions open up mid-October.
Just as these literary journals are gearing up, this blog will be gearing up too. If you enjoy writing about literary topics, and you want to write for this blog, I am currently looking for contributors. You can email me at email@example.com.
You may have heard that this past week David Mitchell, author of several novels including Cloud Atlas, was live-tweeting a short story called “The Right Sort” on his twitter.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend that you do. He isn’t the first major author to dabble in the new genre of twitterfiction; other well-known authors who have published through Twitter include Jennifer Egan and Teju Cole. But this was my first experience reading a live-tweeted short story, so while reading it, I began to wonder how viable of a platform is Twitter for fiction, especially for emerging writers who don’t have the follower base that bestselling authors do.
For authors like David Mitchell, Twitterfiction is more of a marketing tool than a sincere publishing platform. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot from “The Right Sort.” The form of tweets, which must have 140 characters or less, is not extremely conducive to reading, since only a sentence or two at most can be tweeted at a time. I thought Mitchell did a good job working with the form to achieve the tone and style he wanted for his narrator. The narrator, a teenage boy hopped up on Valium, remarks,
Valium breaks down the world into bite-sized sentences. Like this one. All lined up. Munch-munch.
Thus Mitchell’s narrator has great tweet-sized thoughts most of the time that fit well with the format. (Is Mitchell critiquing the Millenials’ miniscule attention span through his narrator Nathan’s tweetable voice?) Later the short, jarring sentences transform into confusing stream-of-consciousness, when the narrator’s tone changes and he becomes terrified and disoriented. Finally, closer to the end of the story, the story tends towards the surreal. But I think this format in 140 character pieces still works, because the tweets allow for the narrator’s strange impressions and thoughts to feel fragmented even as they run together.
It would have been easier to read the story just typed out, of course, but I can see why twitterfiction is appealing. Using twitter, authors deliver a story serially, creating suspense that keeps the reader interested. I’ve written about serial online writing before in my article about different online writing platforms and in my article about the online journal Five Chapters, and as a member of the social-media consuming Millenial generation, I can see the appeal in munching on a story in “bite-sized sentences,” as opposed to being confronted by a large mass of text. It’s like the difference between shoveling down three-course meal at the end of the day versus chewing little snacks throughout the day. The snacks aren’t necessarily good for you, and you might still be hungry, but at least you’ve kept your jaw busy.
So does that mean we should all start composing our short stories and poetry with 140 characters-per-line enjambment? Perhaps, but I really think it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with twitterfiction. Are you attempting to write the next great American novel and post it on Twitter? If so, the genre of twitterfiction is probably not for you. A Hemingway novel might be tweetable, that’s true, but I can’t see anyone trying to slosh their way through an ocean of long-winded Steinbeck-style tweets. I’m not trying to diss Steinbeck- I love his style, but let’s face it, The Grapes of Wrath is just not appropriate for twitter.
What is the ideal situation for posting twitterfiction then, if you’re an emerging writer? Well, for the people who are interested in Twitter as a flash fiction or poetry platform, there are a few twitter accounts that are self-styled twitter-zines. They curate fiction tweets, and submission is as easy as using the right hashtag or mentioning the zine in a tweet. A couple twitterzines include 140 characters and nanoism. Both accept submissions via email. Check out the Submission Info below for more details.
Twitter might have some other innovative uses for writers and editors of literary magazines looking to promote fiction. Why not use the short format to present the first sentence of a short story with a link to its publication, using a tweet as a hook to draw in readers? That seems to be what all the major news outlets do these days to try to get people to watch their videos or read their articles, so why wouldn’t it work for fiction?
Of course, these techniques assume you already have a follower base. If you don’t have a large follower base, I suggest working on building one first before trying to market through Twitter. As I type this, I have fewer follows on Twitter than I would like, but actually just through the act of putting tweets out there with hashtags to garner attention for yourself, you can start to gather more followers (Shameless plug: you can follow me on twitter @hapawriting). And you don’t have to feel guilty about attention-seeking because it’s all for the sake of your career as a writer, right?
If you have thoughts on how to use Twitter as a useful writing and publicity tool, please share them in the comments below. I’m interested to hear about your experiences with twitterfiction.
Direct message TwitterFiction on Twitter, or email your short stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions must be 140 characters or less, of course.
Email submissions to email@example.com, include your name, bio (up to 134 characters), and subject line: “Nanoism Submission”
This past week, I was struck by writer’s block. It didn’t hit me all at once, instead it was like a caterpillar slowly inching up my skin. I didn’t notice it until one day I just felt completely uninspired and couldn’t get a single word out on paper. That’s when I turned to the Internet to provide me with writing prompts. I’ve written from prompts before, mostly during creative writing workshops in college, so the feeling of picking up my pen with a vague idea of what I am going to write and seeing what falls on the paper is a familiar one. I have dabbled in writing prompts for the past week with moderate success, but, more importantly, the prompts helped me with just getting back into the habit of writing in general. I now no longer feel anguished when picking up my pen or opening a word document, although I can’t guarantee that what spills out of my mind will be any good.
While I was searching for writing prompts, I happened to recall a literary magazine I discovered a while back that is focused entirely around prompts. It’s called the Prompt Literary Magazine (or the Prompt for short). It’s an online journal, and I think it offers something really unique, especially to all of us emerging writers and to writers who are currently students. The Prompt publishes poetry, prose, art and non-traditional submissions with one caveat- they must be inspired by a writing prompt. They provide an avenue for pieces that sound “workshopped” to be shared. In each issue they offer an “editor’s challenge,” a prompt that readers can complete and then submit to the magazine, but they also publish works based on any prompt, just as long as you explain the prompt with your piece. They seem especially open to publishing new and emerging writers since many of the people who use prompts are still in the process of learning how to write and are not seasoned experts.
I read through two of the Prompt’s past issues and overall found writing that was clever, thoughtful, and fun. There are all sorts of poems and short stories within the Prompt’s pages, and the best part about the journal is that you can read what some other writers did with different prompts and then try them yourself. My favorite poems in the latest issue (Volume 2 Issue 1) include a poem by Margaret Vidale, “On the Table,” which was written in response to the Jackson Pollock painting “The Tea Cup” (Page 9) and a poem titled after its prompt, “Strike a Spark,” by Lyssa Tall Anolik (Page 15). I was refreshed by the imagery of these two poems, and it seems to me that poems inspired by prompts are often more exciting because of their randomness. They pull in language from unexpected places, such as in the poem “Putting up Preserves” by Crystal Karlberg (Page 33), which is composed of words taken from a single Scrabble game.
I also enjoyed the prose, although I think prompts often work better for poetry since it is harder to come up with spontaneity in the structure of prose. I absolutely loved the short story “The Making of a Poet” by Elizabeth Kate Switaj (Page 42), which explores what would happen if the meaning of “poetry bomb” were literal. She dives right in to an incredibly fascinating universe where poetry is used to maim people, and I just wanted to stay there and watch even after the short story was over.
Overall, I highly recommend checking out the Prompt’s website in order to read their journal and discover the prompts they have for writers on their website. They are currently accepting submissions for their next journal, so if you come up with anything good from the prompts you use, or if you have something sitting around from a workshop that was inspired by a prompt, definitely send it in.
For More Information
The Prompt Literary Magazine
I was impressed by the inaugural issue of Transcendence Magazine, an online journal started by a senior in high school. Its presentation is professional and its content is high caliber. The magazine contained some really insightful and beautiful pieces, and I also think it has a lot of potential to grow, especially if it narrows its literary gaze. Right now, I think it extends itself too broadly, including pieces that are real gems and other pieces that are mediocre. It also has not yet cultivated a defining taste- in my opinion, there didn’t seem to be much of a pattern for how the pieces in the issue fit together.
The first issue, which came out this past spring and contains fiction, poetry, art, and interviews with artists, would be quite hefty if printed on paper, since it is 82 pages long. However, it’s in an online format that is relatively easy to read. Still, I think the magazine would benefit from being slimmer because then it would be more digestible. Unfortunately, it’s hard enough these days to entice people to read literature, and an 82-paged magazine that’s not yet well-known might be too much trouble for many who are just dipping their toes into the literary pool. The quality of the pieces in the issue varied. I must give a disclaimer, of course, that I was judging the works based on my own personal taste, so another person may have liked the stories and poems that I found to be just okay. The poetry was hard for me to judge since, as I’ve said before, I’m not much of a poetry reader and thus poems must be really accessible and thought-provoking for me to like them. Some of the fiction pieces were really good; others had interesting premises but just didn’t quite capture my attention for one reason or another. Below are a few pieces that I enjoyed. I recommend checking out the issue as a whole to get a sense of the kind of writing the magazine is interested in. Fiction-“Jade” by Ethan Brightbill (on p. 42): a short story about a homeless girl on the streets of modern-day Yuexiu, a developing city in China. I liked this one mostly because I found the setting to be very detailed and believable and the narrator had a strong, compelling voice. Poetry- “Tattooed” by Armit Pamesseur( p. 13): I don’t always “get” poems, and sometimes I don’t think you need to really get exactly what they’re driving at to appreciate them as aesthetic works. I liked the rhythm and imagery of this poem and the ambiguity of the meaning of the woman’s tattoos, and how the poem seems to take on a spiritual tone despite its rejection of religion that condemns the woman’s actions. “Instead of Discussing Marriage” by Glen Armstrong (p. 36): This is one of those poems that almost anyone can enjoy, whether they love reading poetry or not. The speaker lists all the things he should have done instead of discussing marriage with his girlfriend. It’s playful and funny but also thoughtful, and I really like it. Another aspect of the magazine that piqued my interest are the interviews it has with artists from around the globe. I was surprised by the global reach of the magazine. There were interviews with artists from America, China, and Russia, and two were with young, emerging artists in their field. I really liked the interview with Fei Wu, a Shanghai writer (p. 38) because it explored issues of censorship in the literary world in China, which I know a little about from taking Asian American lit classes. It was interesting to hear from the perspective of an artist who is living in the midst of China’s literary scene, since I mostly have met and read ex-patriates. Overall, I look forward to seeing what Transcendence Magazine will come up with in its next issue. I plan on possibly submitting some works and seeing what comes back. Their criteria for submission is an emphasis on stories, both in poetry and prose. They want captivating language too, but they are mostly looking for narrative voice and plot, and they are not as interested in experimental works. Their submissions are currently closed, but they will start accepting submissions again in the fall.