Online Lit Journals Born During Quarantine Part 1

Image credit: Anemone Letterpress

We are now 8 months into this pandemic, and one of the only silver linings is that the internet is keeping us all connected from home. As a writer, I feel more in touch with the writing community than I was before the pandemic started because I’ve been spending so much time on Twitter. Following literary journals and other writing accounts that are producing interesting, insightful, and delightful work is one of the main ways I distract myself from doomscrolling. If you have not tried it, I suggest you do so. I keep a list of literary journals on my personal Twitter account here, and whenever I want to clear my mind but still read things online, I visit the literary world version of Twitter which feels a little bit like the sheltered bubble of a quirky college town.

In the past few months, many people have started new online literary ventures despite the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds us (or maybe because of it). Not all of these new journals are online publications, of course. I contributed to a new print magazine in my city, The Alameda Murmur, which I found out after I saw the flyers that the founder of the lit mag posted around the city while I was out for a walk this past spring. I was so eager for connection to my local writing community that I apparently was one of the first people to email the editor with my submission.

This month I wanted to highlight some newer online literary journals that have made their debut since we all began to hunker down. These promising venues will hopefully outlast the crisis that spurred their creation. In my experience, submitting to new journals can be more exciting and interactive than trying your luck at journals with more established reputations. Your odds might be better at the newer journals too— even if they don’t come with the prestige associated with well-known journals. Who knows? You might be in one of their early issues, after which they might develop an esteemed reputation as the years pass.

No Contact Magazine

This was one of the first online journals that sprung up in response to quarantine. It was founded by writers in the Columbia MFA program, although I don’t think it has any official connection to the university. Since it started last spring, it has already published 14 issues! Going forward, they are dialing back to releasing issues on a monthly basis instead of twice a month. No Contact’s focus is on work that deals with interiority, and they accept poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction with a word limit of 1200 words.

 Three pieces I enjoyed from the most recent issue, Issue 14 include, “We are All Orphans” by Calthy Ulrich, a flash fiction that puzzles over the significance of a potato peeler and its relationship with motherhood, “Matt’s Basement” by Leonora Desar about a couple moving into one of their parent’s basements, a situation many Gen Z’ers and Millennials can relate to right now, and “Masterclass Testimonials” by Tyler Barton which delightfully lists all the absurd ways you can pay men to mansplain things to you.

Hexagon

Hexagon is journal focused on speculative fiction based in Canada. They publish fiction and poetry that fall under the umbrella genre of science fiction and fantasy. They are a semiprozine, which means they do pay a small honorarium to authors. In their most recent issue, Issue #2, I particularly enjoyed the stories, “Memories Taste Best When Marinated in Sadness” by Feng Gooi and “The Last Trophy of Hunter Hammerson” by L Chan. Gooi’s story takes place in a futuristic world in which the rich sip on the memories of poor, suffering wretches, and the main character is the person who collects and distills these memories. The mystery of the story really kept me enthralled. Chan’s story is written in the form of a lofty magazine profile, in which the narrator is a journalist interviewing a famous monster hunter. The asides from the editor made me chuckle.

 Since discovering Hexagon, I have submitted to them twice, and while both times my work hasn’t been chosen, I have appreciated the editor’s thoughtful suggestions about where else I could send my submission. From his rejection emails alone I have discovered two more literary journals that I might feature on this blog at some point. Hexagon’s next issue actually comes out on Dec 1, so be sure to check it out.

Crow and Cross Keys

Crow and Cross Keys is another speculative fiction focused journal that is interested in dark and strange work. I’ve noticed most of the pieces I’ve read on their site have a gothic vibe, lots of solitary, creepy musings.  They accept poems, stories, and flash fiction.

Two alluring pieces that I enjoyed from their site are “Stitches” by Samuel Best, and “Rust Belt’s Taxonomy of Ghosts” by Jessie Lynn McMains. At first I thought Best’s piece was nonfiction— it feels both startlingly direct and secretive at the same time, and its speculative aspect is very subtle. McMain’s poem is a list poem, and like the best list poems it spirals into something quite different than what it originally seems.

The Wondrous Real Magazine

The Wondrous Real Magazine’s pieces bridge the uncanny valley of reality and whimsy. They publish fiction and poetry that show the intersections of magic and the mundane. They have only published one issue so far, but I am looking forward to their future issues. I was drawn to the poem, “When I Google: Is There a Patron Saint of Suicides” by Joan Kwon Glass because of its mixture of the very troubling issue of suicide with the absurdity of trying to get a straight answer from google. I also liked “The Sea Lions” by  Dan Schwartz, which is about visiting the zoo with your child in a world that has just hints of terrifying magic in it.

The journals I highlighted in this post are focused on speculative fiction or fiction that focuses inwards, perhaps a reflection of how writers and editors have been coping with this pandemic, by escaping to unreality or by turning to self-contemplation. However, in this post I was only able to cover about half of the new journals I discovered. In December, I will post about more pandemic-born magazines. Until then, happy reading.

In Praise of the Themed Submission

If you’re a writer who is finding it hard to focus on your writing or submitting to literary journals at this time, you are far from alone. With so much happening in the world, it might seem almost superfluous to keep submitting to journals. However, I found that when I can carve out the time to read literary journals and hone my own writing for submissions, I am able to relax in a peaceful corner of the internet. Of course, literary world is not isolated from the rest of the world and needs to address its issues with racism, but there are a lot of great journals who are publishing writing that is necessary and important, as well as writing that is distracting and fun. I need a combination of both to inject some hope into my life these days. One type of journal I’ve enjoyed reading and submitting to are themed journals, whether the journal is just having a themed issue or they are devoted to publishing work about a particular topic. The more niche a journal is, the more I find myself drawn to it these days. Perhaps it’s because I am craving order and structure in a chaotic world, or perhaps it’s because submitting to these journals doesn’t feel like trying to read a black box.

I have nothing against journals that don’t have themes. They often have a variety of interesting short stories, poetry, and essays that I enjoy. However, these journals are daunting to submit to. Every submission page at a literary magazine will direct you to read past issues to get a sense of their aesthetic style. But even if you read previous issues it’s hard to get a sense of what they are looking for unless you have a very honed perception of writing styles. Even then, editors rotate, and the aesthetic preferences of journals change. I liked themed submissions because at least I can check off one box that the journals are looking for: it’s about the right topic. Plus it’s often a fun challenge to write about a topic that you haven’t considered before or to try to shape your works in progress to fit the theme. It’s similar to using writing prompts as inspiration.

Here are some journals with thematic content, or at least themed submissions, that I have enjoyed recently. After you check them out, let me know what you think in the comments. Do you prefer themed submissions, or would you rather submit to journals that don’t have as narrow criteria for their acceptances?

Perhappened Mag

Perhappened Mag is a relatively new journal that has themed issues. Each one is really unique, and they also seem open to interesting experimentation. Their issue from last month, Mix Tape, has poetry and creative nonfiction accompanied by a playlist of songs. Each submission was inspired by a song that evokes nostalgia in the writer. Their latest issue, Lights Out, just came out today, and they are accepting submissions for their next issue, Fairy Tale, until Nov 10. They accept both poetry and prose submissions.

One poem I enjoyed from their Mix Tape issue was “Beyond Turnt” by Caroline Dinh. It’s a poem about the price of assimilation, and it had some incredible lines in it like, “If you peeled the Earth like a clementine/ and spread its skin across his Spotify playlists there would still/ be room to spare.”

I also enjoyed, “Joni sings of freedom” by Ikjot Kaur, a prose poem that evokes the boundless feeling of traveling with someone by your side.

Porcupine Literary

Porcupine Lit is a journal by teachers about teaching, but it’s not for sharing pedagogy. It publishes creative pieces about the experience of teaching. This journal is near and dear to my heart because I’m a teacher. When I found it, I was so excited that such a journal existed that I immediately submitted to it. I will probably keep submitting to it with the hope that one day my ramblings about teaching get published. Porcupine Lit publishes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. They are open for submissions until Nov 1.

Some pieces I enjoyed from their most recent issue include, “Secondary Certification” by Michelle Campagne, which I thought did a great job of capturing the small indignities of the profession.

I connected with the creative nonfiction piece, “Accept No Substitute” by Christina Fishburne about the experience of a teacher who has an MFA. While I don’t teach kindergarten, I enjoyed the writerly attention she bestows onto the small details of teaching kindergarten. I find that as a teacher, my writer’s eye comes in handy quite often.

Longridge Review

Longridge Review is a creative nonfiction journal that publishes essays about childhood experiences. I love their theme because of just how rich and broad it is. Anybody could think of something interest to write about on this topic.

Some pieces I enjoyed from their most recent issue include, “Baby Steps” by Miriam Glassman, which discusses the pitfalls of trying to fill a void in your life with a creepy, walking doll, and “Breathing Lessons” by Brenna Sowder, which weaves together the author’s breathing lessons as an asthmatic child with her anxieties and fears during the current pandemic.

Burning Jade Magazine

Again, this is a relatively new journal, but their first issue really wowed me. Its theme was #Americaisoverparty, and it included some biting political poetry and prose. They just closed the submissions for their next issue on Spirituality, but they will probably have submissions open for their next issue on October 23. Full disclosure: I had a piece accepted in the next issue which I will share on this blog once it’s online, so I might be a little biased, but I was already excited about this magazine before they accepted my work.

Here are some pieces I enjoyed from their first issue:

The poem, “Portrait of a Pandemic” by Anisha Narain really struck me because it voiced so many things I’ve been feeling since March but have not been able to say as eloquently.

“#WhiteButWoke Work Week Social Media Challenge” by Jennifer Dines made me laugh and cringe at the same time (is there a word for that?).

“For Ahmaud Arbery” by Leela Raj-Sankar left me feeling broken and angry, reminding of the reason poetry and writing are necessary in this moment.

LitBloom is Back, Again!


If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might have noticed this is the first post I’ve made in 2 years. It turns out when you are trying to work a full-time job, it’s hard to keep up with the online literary world. I started out this blog in my senior year of UCLA back in 2013 as an assignment for a Professor Mona Simpson’s Senior Seminar called “Literary Life.” This was supposed to be a project that I could carry into my adult life to keep me connected to my passion for literature, especially online literature.

The goal of LitBloom was to help emerging writers like me find out more about online literary journals so they could submit to them. Of course, there are a number of other similar websites that to provide a more comprehensive overview of the online literary landscape, which I have listed in my Useful Links page.

I also created this as a personal project to prod myself into exploring and reading more literary journals. In the past few years, I have often perused journals online, mostly by reading links that I find while scrolling through twitter quite often. But I haven’t had much time to systematically read through journals in order to review them and post about them. Since the pandemic started, I have had more time to participate in the online writing community, and many new journals have sprung to life during the past six months. It’s exciting to see journals and magazines publishing a flurry of new work, often highlighting BIPOC and LGBTQ authors. The online literary world seems like one of the few bright spots during this turbulent time, although this has also been a period of reckoning for many literary venues, as many journals and websites have been justly critiqued for of the lack of representation of people of color and for publishing works that promote white supremacy. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an article about one of the main culprits.

As I take this blog into a new stage of its existence, I am trying to determine what direction I want to steer it in. I’ll be honest– I don’t have time to fully read literary journals cover to cover in order to review them. I think the format of most online journals, which are organized by links, rather than by page numbers, lends them to piecemeal reading. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. On some days, I will read a poem, and it might draw me into reading other links on the journal’s website, until before I know it, I’ve read most of that magazine’s latest issue. On other days, there will be an essay or a short story that catches my eye from a link on twitter, and I will keep it in a tab and save it for days until I have time to read it. Then once I read it, I’m satisfied, and I don’t explore anything else on the site. It’s nice to have the choice to read an excerpt without worrying about wasting reams of printed paper if you don’t read anything else in that particular issue.

My vision going forward for this website is that it will continue to be a place to publish recommendations of journals I come across and literature that I read. But it will also be a place where I will comment on trends in the online literary world and reach out to like-minded writers who feel like they want to be participants in this online literary party, but they don’t have much published yet or they just feel daunted by the prospect of submitting to places they don’t understand. I want to post about how frustrating it can be to have this goal of having a writing career, but to not see writing or literature valued by anyone except those who are already in the literary bubble.

I’ve been submitting to literary journals for almost a decade now, and I’ve been lucky enough to have several pieces accepted and to have been published twice in anthologies. I also have had a lot of headwinds helping me, my white privilege (although I’m only half-white, I look white), my middle class upbringing, and my lack of student debt that allowed me to to pursue a creative writing graduate degree without financial concerns. But even with all of these advantages, I still feel like it’s an uphill battle to pursue writing as a career. I’ve only been paid once for my creative writing. Once.

So to all of the emerging writers who feel like you’re barely able to keep up with the literary world while you try to make a living for yourself, I will try my best to give you some suggestions and encouragement to keep you going as you try to submit your art to what feels like the void. If you stick around and read this blog, I hope it will bring you one step closer from being an “emerging” writer to the dazzling author you wish to become once you emerge.

September Recommendations

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Image: Ian Sane

It’s back-to-school season for teachers and students alike, and I know as well as anyone that it’s hard to find time to read lit journals for fun when you have so many other responsibilities. But I’m making a commitment this school year to squeeze in time for good writing here and there, and I hope you do too.

I have two picks this month, Wigleaf and South 85. I’ve chosen these two journals because they are almost complete opposites in terms of the length of their pieces. As someone who gravitates towards writing really long stories or flash fiction, I appreciate that there are journals catering to these niches.

Wigleaf is a journal that publishes “(very) short fiction” of 1000 words or less. Their contributors also write letters to the journal published alongside their stories which are as imaginative as the stories in the first place. These letters are quirky, puzzling, and poetic. For example, in one letter, contributor Brianne Kohl laments how she’s not sure if she belongs in the wild west. I’m not sure how writers get the inspiration for these little notes, but they are certainly entertaining and unique.

In Wigleaf’s latest issue, I was amazed by just how much ground their stories covered in less than 1000 words. The short story, “Preservation” by Tessa Yang, takes us into a future in which people sign up to sleep away years of their life in a coma for science. I also liked the story, “The Magician” by Kara Oakleaf, which features a delightfully whimsical child who plays magic tricks on his parents from infancy. This issue culminates in a featured story by published author Amber Sparks, who imagines what Zeus would be like as a football-watching American dad. Most of their submissions delve into the fantastic and surreal, weaving impressively developed narratives for such short pieces. Wigleaf takes submissions during the last week of each academic month, so that’s coming up this week! Check out their submissions page for more information.

I discovered South 85 from my writer friend Mary Jane White who has an excerpt from  her memoir about raising a son with autism published in their latest issue. South 85 is a university-affiliated journal, run by the low-residency MFA program at Converse College in South Carolina, publishing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. It is one of the few online journals I’ve encountered that does not shy away from publishing longer pieces.

In their latest issue, poet John Nizalowski  presents the tragic contrast of the mundane, despairing reality of a gas station near the Hopi Reservation and the nearby ruins of ancient civilization in “High Noon at the Hopi Gas Station.”  I particularly like the final turn of phrase, “the smell of colonial commerce.” In the nonfiction piece, “Behind the Walls in the Land of the Pure” the Pakistani-Canadian author, Mariam S. Pal describes her experiences hanging out at luxurious private parties in Pakistan, Lahore in the 1980’s, showing how her perceptions of Pakistan are overturned while she also debunks Pakistanis’ misconceptions of the West. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story, “The Buffalo of Sentinel Meadows” by Lawrence Cady, in which a music critic accompanies his biologist research wife on a fieldwork trip to Yellowstone, where they draw DNA samples of ancient bacteria from hot springs. While taking the samples, the narrator lets his mind wander through the memories of his relationship with his wife. I loved the slow build-up of emotion in this story, which is so rare to find in much of the fast-paced fiction published in the age of the Internet.

South 85 is open for submissions until November 1. For more information on submitting to South 85, check out their submission guidelines.

 

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.

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

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

Sixfold

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:

Sixfold

Website: www.sixfold.org

Fall Writing Contests and Submissions

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/

 

Sixfold

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

 

Transcendence Magazine

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.

Website: transcendencemag.wix.com/transcendencemag

 

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!

Website: barelysouthreview.digitalodu.com

 

Blackbird

Open Submissions: November 1 – April 15

One of my favorite online literary journals opens its gates to submissions on November 1.

Website: blackbird.vcu.edu

 

Cortland Review

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.

Website: www.theadroitjournal.org

 

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 litbloom@gmail.com.

Prompt Lit Mag

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
Website: www.promptlitmag.org