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

The Summerset Review

I do not often review journals that I am not ecstatic about. I tend to choose the journals I review by looking at the ones that I think are the most exciting and fun to read. Although I am not jumping up and down about The Summerset Review, I think it still deserves a review because there is much potential in the journal that can be improved upon (with the help of your submissions, in fact).

(On a side note, let it be said that my opinions are not always the right ones. Feel free to disagree with me if you find this journal particularly inspiring. You can leave a comment at the end of this review, or even send an alternate review of the journal to LitBloom itself).

The Summerset Review, based in Smithtown, New York, is an online journal that publishes fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry four times a year. While it does not have specific theme, I noticed that many of the pieces in the Fall 2013 issue, prose and verse, tend to explore the beauty of the natural world, with narrators and speakers who seek solace there.

I would characterize the poetry as lyrical and conventional. I thought some of it was rather trite, too heavy with metaphor and symbolism without enough attention paid to language. For example, I didn’t like the poem “Replacing the Irreplaceable” by John Grey which compares a man’s terminal  illness to the job that sucks the life from him. A poem from this issue which I did like was “Grilled Cheese” by Kathryn Gahl. I enjoyed its playfulness; it is clearly a poem meant to be read aloud.

As for the review’s fiction and creative nonfiction, I have to say the pieces from both genres fell flat in the latest issue, in my opinion. I was not captivated by most of the stories, which often told more than they showed and used uninteresting language. I did, however, enjoy two pieces: the short story “The Songbird Clinic” by Jean Ryan and nonfiction piece “Bare” by Caroline Hurwitz. I really liked how “The Songbird Clinic” wove in observations about nature and the animals the narrator interacts with as she embarks on a new stage in her life. The author was really able to capture the narrator’s solitude that is at the same time lonely but also peaceful just by showing how much she desires to care for these animals and the connection that she wants to make with the other bird caregiver, Leslie. “Bare” captured an interesting moment in the author’s life, “baring” herself for the reader to show exactly what motivated her to take intimate pictures for her husband serving overseas. I thought it was a beautiful piece.

From what I have read, I think the Summerset Review is a good place to submit as an emerging writer, since they need more fresh voices like the ones who wrote the pieces that I praised above. If you are interested in learning more about what they like to publish, they also have a recommended reading list of stories and poetry on their website to guide you.

Submission Period

Year-Round

For More Information

The Summerset Review

Website: www.summersetreview.org

Brevity Mag

Brevity Mag is on the forefront of the new creative nonfiction movement, publishing exclusively short works of creative nonfiction. Their motto reads, “We are a small magazine with large ambitions,” and from what I have read from their magazine, they are doing a great job of filling a unique and exciting niche in the contemporary literary world. They publish creative nonfiction of 750 words or less, as well as book reviews and craft essays. If you are at all interested in creative nonfiction, you should definitely explore their website to find inspiration and advice.

The creative nonfiction pieces are tied together not just by their short length, but also by an intense focus on language. Since it is such a short form, some of the pieces almost seem like prose poetry that just happen to be about things that took place in real life. An example of this is the piece “Stranded” by Jill Talbot from their Fall 2013 issue, which paints a mysterious night in the author’s life in broad strokes of imagery that highlights the comet in the night sky and the setting of an abandoned highway road, but obfuscates the actual events that took place.

Most of the pieces hone in on a particular moment or event that stands out in the author’s memory, but reveal that singular moment as intertwined with greater currents in the author’s life.  One of the pieces from their latest issue that I think uses this particular technique well is “The Bedroom that was a Beekeeper’s House” by Amy Wright, which describes the author’s relationship to a beekeeper who lived in a shabby shed:

As we started to close the windows against November nights, to leave a fleece within reach of the door, I knew I had to end the relationship. Summer rain or sleet in February, that one-room cabin wasn’t getting any bigger. It wasn’t the inconvenience I minded so much as how the arrangement allowed him to keep sealed the other chambers of his heart. I might hum around all I liked, industrious as any worker bee, dancing clover nectar off my feet, but I would never be taken to the queen.”

-Amy Wright, “The Bedroom that was a Beekeeper’s House”

I really like how Wright bridges the figurative and the literal when she talks about the physical place where her boyfriend lived and his hobby of beekeeping, connecting it to her emotional relationship to him. You wouldn’t expect nonfiction to be literary in the sense of it being symbolic, because we tend to think of literary motifs as something planned by the author in fiction. However, part of what I really like about the genre about creative nonfiction is that it allows writers to explore the unrecognized literary themes that emerge in our lives naturally. Perhaps we are making connections between things that aren’t really relevant to each other, seeing an overarching narrative in our lives where there is none, but that doesn’t make it any less true or artistic.

Brevity Mag’s craft essays are also worth a look. They mostly deal with the topic of how to write creative nonfiction. One essay that I particularly  enjoyed was “What Can Sonnets Teach Us? The Benefit of Strict Form”  by Chelsea Biondolillo, which discusses how you can take different forms of prose that are not typically creative forms, such as food reviews, or even multiple choice tests, and make them into art.

Submission Period

Year Round

Submission Details

Submissions should be creative nonfiction of 750 words or less

For More Information

Brevity Mag

brevitymag.com

Tin House

Tin House is one of the best literary magazines out there, publishing some of the most compelling and exciting literary works in the contemporary literary scene. They are a print magazine publication based in Portland, Oregon, and they mostly publish well-established writers. It’s not impossible for emerging writers to be published in Tin House, but it would be quite an accomplishment. Don’t let that be a deterrent from reading and submitting to the magazine; at the very least, you can learn a lot about writing from reading the pieces and absorbing their style.

The magazine, which is printed quarterly, contains fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews. Its works are tied together not by an overarching style or theme, but by a commitment to exploring new territories of writing. For example, in Tin House’s latest issue of Spring 2014, one of its fiction stories, “Arcadia” is told in the format of a magazine advertisement for a retreat and rehabilitation facility. The story plays out in the interesting dialogue between the marketing descriptions that paint a rosy, idealistic picture, and the testimonials, which hint at the troubled minds of the people visiting the facility. Not all of Tin House’s works are experimental, but all of them push the boundaries of their genre in some way or another.

In Tin House’s spring and fall issues, there is, however, a theme, and works are chosen based on how they align with that theme in different ways. The Fall 2013 issue was on the theme “Wild,” and it is really interesting to see how widely interpreted that simple concept can be, ranging from depictions of a tourist encountering locals in El Salvador to the brothels of Las Vegas.

Tin House tends to publish longer works of fiction and creative nonfiction of up to 10,000 words. These longer pieces delve deep, allowing, in fiction, for much development of character and setting, and in creative nonfiction, for a much more nuanced treatment of the subject matter.

Tin House’s creative nonfiction is outstanding, and often tends towards journalistic writing more so than other forms of nonfiction, such as essays or memoirs. In the latest fall issue, “The Last Days of the Baldock” by Inara Verzemnieks and “Company Town”  by Ginger Strand are two very fascinating pieces that examined little-known slices of American life— the former depicts people living in RVs at a rest stop in Oregon, plagued by poverty, addiction, crime, and homelessness, who nevertheless come together as a community, and the latter discusses the legalized sex trade in Las Vegas. What struck me was how these works brought to life the people in these strange situations, showing their humanity. Also, the writers did not sacrifice vivid language for the sake of being factual. In fact one of the images that stood out the most was in “Company Town”:

“Periodically, a boob would escape from her blue bikini top and she’d calmly tuck it back inside, the way a waitress at the pickup counter might absently stick a stray french fry back on a plate.” 
-Ginger Strand, “Company Town”
No one every said you can’t use apt and witty metaphors in nonfiction!
The poetry published in Tin House is lyrical, fluid, and witty. For the casual reader, it is fairly accessible, but some of the more experimental pieces were lost on me. One particularly humorous poem by Major Jackson, entitled “OK Cupid” after the eponymous dating website, was a long list of similes that strung together the most bizarre associations with the phrase “Dating a ____ is like dating a ____”.
 “…and dating history is like dating a white man/ and dating a white man is like dating insecurity/ and dating insecurity is like dating a Hummer/ and dating a Hummer is like dating the Pentagon…”
-Major Jackson, “OK Cupid”
And on and on it goes, utterly destroying with social media concept of “If you like this, you also will like this” through parody, taking this idea to its absolute extreme. I thought it was pretty funny. 
I highly recommend checking out Tin House. They do put a selection of their works on their website, but the full print publication is available by subscription only. If you can’t afford the subscription, see if your local library has it, or perhaps just flip through it at your local bookstore.

Submission Period

September 4 – May 31

For More Information

Tin House
Website: tinhouse.com/magazine
 

Apple Valley Review

Apple Valley Review is a refreshing drink of water in the myriad of online literary journals that I have thus encountered.

It’s an independent journal, headed by a single editor, Leah Browning, who has managed to build a reputable and enjoyable magazine to read. The journal’s online layout is simple and visually pleasing, and the content is short enough to read in one sitting. If had to characterize the works themselves in one word, I would say they were “light.” Not because the writing is frivolous or unrealistically optimistic, but because I found everything in the journal, prose and poetry alike easy to read. It rolled off the tongue, without pretensions, but in ways that made me think twice about what I had read and want to scan the page again. This journal is simply nice to read, something that can’t be said about all journals out there, especially those online.

The review publishes an issue of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction twice a year. On the submissions page, the editor specifies that they are “very picky” about their selections, preferring works that are “both accessible and finely written.” I found this assessment to be true with regards to the journal’s latest issue. Every single poem I read was actually comprehensible to me on the first read. I am not a poet or much of a poetry reader, but I truly enjoyed the poem in Apple Valley Review’s latest issue. The poems are simple in language and form, often lyrical or narrative, and filled with fascinating imagery and complex layers of meaning. For example, I especially enjoyed the poem “Walking South” by Danush V. Goska, in which the speaker contemplates the oncoming winter even as she walks on a street in Berkeley on a sunny day. Here is a passage from the poem that really struck me:

Winter is stalking this hot August street.
I’m ready to learn to obey winter’s dictates
turn to roots, eat amber fruits, baking and buttering
steaming on silver, studded with spice;
to view naked limbs claw like seasonal hunger
networks of twigs raking brief pewter light
as teachers of clarity, gratitude, and vigor.
– “Walking South” by Danush V. Goska

I loved the rhythm of the lines, and the way the poem evokes both the conventional smells and sights of autumn with the unexpected image of the “naked limbs claw[ing]” in reference to the trees that lose their leaves.

The journal only published two pieces of fiction in the past issue, of which I liked “Waiting on Celebrities” the best, which describes the life of an employee at a hardware store. I was drawn in by the strange narrator, who constantly is invoking the advice of his therapist, second-guessing himself, and hinting at mysterious difficulties he has faced in his past.

Another cool feature I liked about this journal was that it allowed the authors to comment on their works. I know that some purists prefer to not know the author’s own interpretation of their poetry or prose, preferring instead to find their own meaning in it. I, however, have no objection, and found some of the explanations attached to the works illuminating. They only deepened my experience of reading the works.

For all you writers out there, it is definitely worth submitting to this journal, which takes writing from emerging and established writers and which has recently published short stories that have been included in anthologies such as “Best American Essays 2013.”

Submission Information:

Submissions are accepted year-round, but the deadline for the next issue (Spring 2014), is March 15, 2014.

For More Information:

Apple Valley Review

Website: applevalleyreview.com