5 Lit Mags Focused on the Environment

I have a confession: in college, I was an environmental science minor, but I’ve never really used the environmental knowledge I gained from those courses, nor have I lived a particularly eco-friendly lifestyle. What drew me to environmental science courses was not just the plight of our planet, which I do care about despite not having the most climate-friendly habits, but the narratives embedded in our discussions of the environment- the apocalyptic scenarios, the stories of how places change over time, how ecosystems evolve and adapt. In my literary studies, I was drawn to ecocriticism, which examines the portrayal of the natural world in literature.

Eventually, I became cynical of these analyses. How would reading or writing environmental narratives change anything? I wondered. Maybe some blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow or WALL-E, could influence the public opinion on climate change and the environment, but what would writing an essay here, or a short story there really do?

However, I remained drawn to these narratives not because they claim to create any sort of social or ecological change, but because they still fascinate me. I realized it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. You can care about the environment and advocate for political change while also reading apocalyptic narratives or poems about the ephemeral beauty of spring. Just reading stories or poems is not enough, of course, but stories can serve as reminders of what matters to us, warning what the future may hold, and keeping us grounded in our values.

So here are 5 lit mags I’ve read recently that have an environmental focus. Some spotlight climate fiction (speculative stories about climate change) while others celebrate the Earth as it is in the present and urge us to preserve it.

Little Blue Marble

Little Blue Marble is an online literary journal that publishes articles, fiction, and poetry focused on the issue of climate change, especially speculative fiction. . One recent story from their site that stood out to me was, “Exiled Together: The Faces of Contemporary New York” by Marcus M. Tyler, which is told in journalistic style quotes by people from the future. I also enjoyed the poem, “A Child Gambles in Petroleum Country” by Deb O’Rourke which portrays the earth as blue marble gambled away in a game. The site include several resources about climate change, and they also pay their contributors. In their submission guidelines, they specify that they are looking for optimistic climate stories. They accept fiction stories up to 2000 words and reprints of up to 5000 words.

Split Rock Review

Split Rock Review publishes writing focused on place and the environment, including nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Many poems in their latest issue grapple with crises that have been all too visible in this past year: the pandemic and wildfires. Some notable poems included, “Dendrochronology” by Heidi Seaborn, which reminded me that despite all the insanity of this past year, trees have continued to grow and time has continued to pass despite it all. There is a poem about the infamous cicadas by Cathy Barber. Malaika King Albrecht wrote a fitting tribute to Wallace Stevens adapted for the age of COVID-19 with the poem, “Ways of Looking at a Mask.” And finally, I found the poem “Patriotism” by Joshua McKinney to be particularly moving. Split Rock Review will be open for submissions starting July 1. See their submission page for more specific guidelines for each genre.

Ecotone Magazine

Ecotone Magazine is run by graduate students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and publishes place-based writing. They accept both poetry and prose, and will next open to submissions to the general public in September. They will also have an open submission period for BIPOC writers in August. In their latest issue, Garden, Aimee Nezhukumatathil has a piece about cultivating a garden and a life in Oxford, Mississippi. Cathy Ulrich describes the disorientation of an astronaut returning to her loved ones on earth in the story, “A Lovelier World.” I also enjoyed the poem, “Ditch” by Anne Liu, which reminded me that place-based writing doesn’t have to only show beautiful places, it can also reveal the sublime in what may seem mundane and ugly.

Terrain.org

Terrain.org bills itself as the first place-based online journal. It offers a plethora of work that engages with place and the environment, including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as reviews, interviews, and art. I discovered Terrain.org because my former professor, Pam Houston, is the fiction editor for the site. I was drawn to a recent story on Terrain.org called, “Results” by Maggie Pathos because it didn’t at first strike me as a story that was about place, since it discusses a young couple’s relationship and how it is affected by the 2016 election, but once I read through it could see its connection to the environment. The nonfiction piece “Space Mountain” by Eric Aldrich was a fascinating glimpse into a conversation between the speaker and his hiking companion that leads to a rabbit hole of real and imagined injustices and conspiracies told partially through embedded footnotes. The poem, “Red Flag Warning” by Pepper Trail resonated with me, as it seems like wildfire season has already started again in the West. Terrain.org is currently open for contest submissions, and will open to regular submissions in September.

Sinking City Review

Sinking City Review is published by MFA students at the University of Miami and seeks writing focused on environmental disruption. Quick disclaimer: I have a story published in their most recent issue, so I may be biased when I say they publish phenomenal work. One reason I submitted to them in the first place is that they accept both realist and speculative fiction with an environmental lens. Alongside my short story, “The Firemonger,” which takes place in a dystopian future ravaged by wildfires, there is a short story about a couple keeping a live gnome, “The Gnome” by M. Shaw, and another short story about a teacher who struggles harassment at work, “Fair Game” by Brian McVety. There’s also an interesting meditation on compost in the nonfiction piece, “The Compost Manifesto” by Dot Armstrong, and an eerie poem called, “Ghost Nets” by Danielle Zipkin. They do not currently have an open call for submissions, but since it is published twice a year, submissions probably will open again in the fall.

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Turning A New Page

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Image: Barry Silver

Four and a half years ago, I started this blog as an assignment for my senior seminar at UCLA, “Living a Literary Life.” I was really excited to take that class because a) it sounded perfect for me as an aspiring writer, b) it was a project based course, so rather than requiring a seminar paper at the end, it culminated in some sort of practical application of our choosing and c) the class mostly consisted of attending literary readings on campus, which I would do for fun anyway. The premise of that course, my professor explained, was to demonstrate our commitment to the literary world beyond our time as English majors at a university.

As a senior in college, I was excited by the prospect of finishing school while continuing a “literary life,” but I was also terrified that without the deadlines of workshops to keep me motivated, I would not write after college— or, even worse, I would write but I would never finish anything. So here I was, afraid that my brief career as a writer would come to a swift end upon graduation. In order to combat that fear, I decided to make a blog reviewing literary journals to see what was being published on the internet. I hoped that if I could find places that I liked to read, I would figure out the best places for me to submit my own work. As long as I had the goal of submitting to places, I would keep writing.

From this blog, I discovered several really amazing lit mags such as [PANK], The Adroit Journal, and Joyland Magazine among others. Later that year, I had my first short story published in an online journal, The Blue Lake Review, which I learned about from a follower of my blog. I also realized that there’s so much good work out there, it’s impossible to read all of it. This discouraged me, and as I got busier with my jobs and then with grad school apps, I stopped posting on this blog.

In September of 2016, I began grad school at UC Davis’s MA program in Creative Writing. I pretty much focused all my time on the demands of grad school, and I started blogging for The MFA Years. I always meant to come back to this blog later, but I realized during grad school that my relationship to literary journals and how I engage with online work has completely changed since I was in college. I began following literary magazines on Twitter, and I realized that I don’t have the time or attention span to read complete issues of magazines. Instead, I started reading links here and there of works published in online literary journals. If I really liked a piece from one journal, I’d also check out some of the other works they recently published.

I’ve often been told that in order to find out where my work would be a good “fit” I should try to read the latest issues of lit mags or look where your favorite writers were published. The first suggestion is somewhat impractical— I just don’t have time to read front-to-back issues of all the journals that interested me. The second suggestion is also rather unrealistic. Just because I know my favorite author X has been published in Y magazine doesn’t mean my work is in any way good enough to be published in Y. That’s not to say I shouldn’t try my luck at Y magazine anyway. But I recognize that my writing is still developing. So instead, I’ve tried to find a more reasonable way of engaging with the online literary world. Here’s my current method.

Step 1: Follow a bunch of awesome literary journals on Twitter. It doesn’t even matter if I’ve never heard of them before because they might be publishing really cool stuff. I’ve used the list feature to make a list of literary journals, and then I can check them out in more detail in my spare time.

Step 2: Follow a bunch of writers on Twitter, including famous authors and “emerging writers,” people who have been published in some literary journals but not many, people in MFA programs, and people who are just like me, interested in writing but not yet “successful.” I found a lot of online writing friends from the MFA Draft Facebook group, which is a community for people interested in applying to MFA programs. And once I was in grad school, I continued to expand my network of writers. But my end goal of this “networking” isn’t to weasel my way into literary journals. Having connections can help, but I was more interested in genuinely connecting to like-minded young writers whose writing I want to support.

Step 3: Read interesting fiction, non-fiction, and poetry as I see fit. I tend to just click on links that sound intriguing to me, instead of force-feeding myself whole issues of journals. Engaging with literature online shouldn’t feel like a chore. It is supposed to be fun and thought-provoking.

Step 4: Make a note of journals that published works that I particularly liked, and make a note of interesting writers that I discover through my literary web surfing. Follow those journals, and follow those writers, go back to Step 1 and repeat.

When I’m looking for places to submit my work, I go back to my lists of places where I read works that I liked. Then I read a few more pieces from that journal to get a sense of whether my writing seems like it would “fit.” Honestly, I usually still have no clue after doing this if my work would “fit,” but it gives me an excuse to read some more cool stuff, so I do it anyway. I make sure my work follows the journal’s guidelines, I submit it, and I wait several months to hear a response. Which is, most often, rejection. Still, the few positive responses I have received have really kept me going.

Four years after graduating from college, I’m just as committed to living a literary life as ever. I’ve come to a crossroads again, since I just graduated from my MA program in Creative Writing. An MFA might still be in my future, but I’ve decided for now to go into teaching and take a step back from the MFA world. That doesn’t mean that I will stop writing; quite the contrary. I feel more equipped than ever to keep writing, revising, and submitting, even while working full time. But I’ve also decided to revamp this blog so that I can continue to demonstrate my commitment to online literature, but in a way that now fits my lifestyle better.

So instead of writing reviews of whole journals, I’m going to start posting links to published works. This is more for my benefit than for anyone else, to keep me accountable, but if you also happen to enjoy my taste in literature, maybe you’ll find these links fun to check out. Just to warn you, since I’m a prose writer, the links I’ll post will be biased towards fiction and nonfiction, although I will try to include some poetry too. Basically if you want a curated list of some cool online literature, which I will post somewhere between every 2 weeks to every month, keep following this blog. The posts will be different than before, but the concept is the same: to help emerging writers, like me, find literary journals that they can read and submit to.

If you made it this far into my blog, thanks for reading, and stay posted for more updates.

-Molly

P.S. I also made a personal website to promote my writing. Check it out: mollymontgomerywriter.com and check out my Twitter: @mollywritesalot

P.P.S. If you like my blog, please check out The MFA years, where I have been a contributor for the past couple years. There are some amazing emerging writers blogging there, and I’m humbled to have posted alongside them. It’s a great resource for people interested in applying to grad programs in Creative Writing.