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.