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.

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Review of “Articulations”: The VONA/Voices Workshop Faculty Reading

Junot Diaz at the podium during the VONA/Voices faculty reading

Junot Diaz at the podium during the VONA/Voices faculty reading

Yesterday I attended a really inspiring reading put on by the faculty of the VONA Voices Workshop based at UC Berkeley. Voices of our Nation (VONA) is an organization that provides writing workshops for emerging writers of color.  The distinguished faculty members of the , including renowned writer Junot Díaz and acclaimed poet Patricia Smith, read their own work to an audience comprised of students from the workshop program and members of the community who just wanted to hear from some talented writers.

I heard about the event from my friend’s mom, who knows one of the faculty, Elmaz Abinader. It was my first time attending a VONA event, and overall I really enjoyed it. The event itself was held in a lecture hall at Berkeley City College, and it was packed with people. They had so many audience members that all the seats were filled, and they had to open up another room for overflow and simulcast the event there. The air had an electric buzz of anticipation as we were waiting for the reading to start. Among the audience members, I noted the collision of a sophisticated New York-esque vibe with the hippie, loud, radical political culture of the Bay Area. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a reading that felt so lively, and the readers pumped up the audience even more by delivering words that leapt off the page.

I also have never been to a reading that had so many writers presenting (there were fourteen faculty members who read), and at first I was worried that it was going to drag on. But once I started listening to what the writers had to read, I was lost in their words and didn’t even notice that a whole two hours passed by.

The Emcee, Jacqueline Luckett, did a great job of introducing each writer with a funny anecdote from their twitter feed or facebook profile. There were certainly common themes that many of the writers touched on in their readings of poetry, short stories, or excerpts from larger works. Since VONA’s focus is on promoting the voices of people of color, it was no surprise that many works poignantly explored the difficulties of facing racism on a daily basis and discussed the struggle of minority communities in the U.S. and in other countries. Some delved into the pain and heartbreak of violence as it tears apart families and communities, while others deftly weaved together humor and social critique.

Junot Díaz, the well-known writer of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which admittedly I have not read yet) and one of the founders of VONA, was the star of the show, although I have to say I liked some of the other writers’ work better. Still, Díaz, who read from his novel This is How You Lose Her, probably projected the most outrageous persona out of all the writers, wildly gesticulating and swearing without recourse. After the first time he dropped the f-bomb while introducing his work, he admitted that he should have warned the audience, saying “I am a trigger warning.” It was quite a treat to hear him read.

There were so many great pieces from last night’s reading that I can’t possibly describe the all, but at the end of this post, I will list the fourteen authors in case you would like to look them up. I know I certainly plan on picking up some of their work after hearing them read.

My favorite poems from the night came from Patricia Smith and Andrew X. Pham. Smith’s poem was one of the most devastating pieces of literature I have ever read. I didn’t catch its title, but it reimagined an event taken from a newspaper headline about a man in New Jersey who throws his daughter into a sack and drowns her in a river. The event itself is shocking and heartbreaking of course, but the way Smith drew it out was unbelievable, using haunting language and wielding a harsh, powerful voice that just sliced through me like a knife. Her description of drowning made my own throat close up, and the way she described the man’s indifference… it gave me chills, and not the good kind.

Andrew X. Pham, who is a memoirist and food writer, read a fantastic poem about zooming down the California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway on a motorcycle after a heartbreak. At one point, the speaker sees families taking photo after photo at a lookout and the speaker remarks, “We are drawn to certainties even if they are boundless.” His imagery and the way he matched the feeling of speeding on the highway to that rootless feeling you get in your life when everything has gone wrong, it was magical.

We are drawn to certainties even if they are boundless.” – Andrew X. Pham

My favorite prose pieces were from Marjorie Liu and Faith Adiele. Liu is a fantasy author, so her writing was different in content than most of the other people’s. Still, she really captured the same tone that many of the pieces carried, one of fury against injustices. The selection she read was from her Hunter Kiss novels, which are about a woman with demonic tattoos and magical powers.

Faith Adiele is a travel writer, and the piece she read about one of her trips to Nigeria stood out to me because it overturned many of the travel writing genre’s expectations. She wrote about spending time with her father who had dementia and attending her brother’s wedding, and managed to find humor in that period of her life,without sugarcoating the stark reality of her father’s illness. She didn’t idealize the experience, especially when she discussed what happened when she consumed the wedding soup that her sister-in-law made. Let’s just say this particular piece of writing is not for the weak-stomached, but her descriptions of unsightly things made it all the more hilarious.

Below is the full list of all the people who read at last night’s event. I definitely intend on looking them up because what I saw last night blew me away. Also, I’m eventually planning on applying to MFA programs and many of the VONA faculty members teach at programs all over the country during the regular school year.

 

 VONA/Voices Workshop Faculty Members

Chris Abani
Elmaz Abinader
Faith Adiele
Staceyann Chin
Junot Díaz
Tananarive Due
M. Evelina Galang
Mat Johnson
Marjorie Liu
Randall Kenan
David Mura
Willie Perdomo
Andrew X. Pham
Patricia Smith

If you are interested in applying to the VONA/Voices Workshop, which is held durng one week in June, you can find out more information on their website:

voicesatvona.org

 

 

LitBloom Updates

Again, it’s been a while since I last posted. I have been brainstorming ways of making this blog more interesting because there is certainly a lot to explore in the world of online writing. If you have any suggestions for blog posts about writing that you would like to see, please post them in the comments! I would love to have some feedback from all of you who follow this blog, whether you are writers or readers, to see what kind of resources I can provide to you all.

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on LitBloom about different online forms of serial writing. In the meantime, please check out my short story “U-Turns Are Not Permitted” which was just published in the Blue Lake Review yesterday in their May Edition.

Thank you all for being loyal readers of my blog!

My personal literary journey

Dear readers and writers,

It’s been quite a while since my last post, but I am starting this blog back up again.  I wanted to explain why I started this blog in the first place and tell you my story of diving into the online literary world thus far.

I began this blog as a project for a seminar called Literary Life at UCLA, where I am currently finishing my senior year. Our professor, Mona Simpson, who is a well-known bestselling novelist, wanted to her students to engage in the literary world in some way, whether through attending readings, joining a  book club, or writing for a journal. She was concerned that many English majors study and read great authors during their time in college and then move on with their lives, letting go of their passions for literature and writing. Thus, she asked each of us to start a project that showed our commitment to a “literary life” that we could continue beyond the class and even beyond graduation. With graduation fast approaching, I’ve realized the importance of continuing to pursue my love for writing. One of the ways I will be doing so is by posting regularly to this website, to share with fellow readers and writers the neat literary journals I’ve found online.

I started this website because I wanted to be able to submit my own writing to the literary journals that I am reviewing, and also so that it could become a resource for other emerging writers who are interested in finding places to publish their work. I am excited to share with you that my plan has been a success: I will be published in one of the literary journals that I reviewed, The Blue Lake Review, this upcoming May!

Starting in November, I sent out three of my short stories to a total of six different journals. The majority of those I discovered from working on this blog.  I received a few rejections, which I expected. But one of them is what Julia Glassman would call an encouraging rejection, telling me that the editor liked part of my story, but that it wasn’t right for their journal at the time. And only a few days later, I heard back from the Blue Lake Review letting me know that my short story “U-Turns Are Not Permitted” had been accepted!

Before this my only creative writing publications have been in UCLA’s literary journal, Westwind. Of course, I was pleased to be published there, too, but I wanted to expand my publications beyond my school’s community, which I have now accomplished.

I’m not posting this story just to brag. Instead, I hope other emerging writers take inspiration from it. Doing research on the places where you submit beforehand and revising your story several times (in my case, I probably had written at least 4 or 5 drafts of it) can make all the difference. I hope that all of you not-yet-published writers continue to follow my blog to find journals where you can submit your work. Also, I hope that you keep on writing. In my opinion, as long as you write and you believe in yourself as a writer, that makes you one. But being published is also very satisfying and is a worthy goal to pursue. Happy writing, and please check back soon for more reviews, interviews, and writing advice!

-Molly Montgomery, LitBloom Founder and Author