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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An Interview With Julia Glassman, Emerging Writer

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Julia Glassman is a writer and the official Writing Librarian at UCLA. She received a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from UCLA. Her first novel, Other Life Forms, was published by Dinah Press in 2012. Her work has appeared in various journals, including the Missouri Review and MonkeyBicycle.net.

Q: When did you start submitting to literary journals? How did you choose which ones?

JG: I started submitting the seriously my senior year of college. I used the CLMP Guide [Council of Literary Magazines and Presses]. I looked at the ratios of submissions to acceptances and applied to ones with the most acceptances, so my submissions were random and haphazard at first. I submitted to a sports magazine by accident and only found out when they sent me a rejection letter. Eventually, after months and months, I hit a bullseye when I had a flash fiction piece published in Monkey Bicycle.

Q: How many rejections did you get approximately versus acceptances? How did you deal with the rejection?

JG: I don’t know how many exactly because I throw away rejections. I think it’s a terrible idea to save them, and I would rather not think about them. If I had to guess, I would say I received around 100 rejections in the 2-3 years I submitted short stories. I do log them onto a spreadsheet so I don’t submit to the same place twice.

The one exception is when I get encouraging rejections- the complimentary ones I keep. Around one in ten rejections I get are encouraging. The best are requests for more writing.

Q: What was a publication that you were proud of during your early period of submissions?

JG: My first full-length piece that was published in the Missouri Review. Whenever I had doubts about a story, I would just throw it away, but with this story I pushed through and finished it. I was happy with it, and then it got published. So in the end it ended up being an omen for me, a success story that gave me the confidence I needed to keep going.

Q: Fast Forward to today. Where are you now in your writing career?

JG: I am simultaneously pushing for major publications and embracing self-publications. I’m getting ready to send off a YA novel to agents. But at the same time, I’ve really fallen in love with zines, so I’ve been writing zines and getting involved in zine culture. I’m trying to make it in the literary scene, but also I’m working in the home-grown literary world.

[For those of you who don’t know, zines are do-it-yourself, handmade publications that readers and writers circulate locally. They are similar to chapbooks or pamphlets. There are zines in all sorts of genres, including poetry, prose, or even gardening. For more information about zines in your area or online (E-zines), check out this website.]

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

JG: Don’t tie up your identity in becoming a rich and famous writer. If you feel like you won’t arrive as a writer until you publish a bestseller, or if you hear others tell you this, don’t listen to them. You can be a writer without being a bestselling author. You can submit to journals and self-publish. Zines are a great way of getting your writing out there, and any sort of self-publication will remind you of why you love writing so much in the first place.

Q: What are your favorite journals (print and online) and zines?

JG: The print journal Unstuck; 5 chapters, which serializes short stories into five parts and publishes each part on a different day of the week; As for zines, most prose zines contain personal essays, and there are not a lot of fiction zines. But one good fiction zine is Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.