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.

 

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August Recommendations

 

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Image: Tony Hisgett

This summer has been the summer of many tabs. I always have at least 10 tabs open, and about half of them are literary journals. Part of what inspired me to come back to this blog was the renewed excitement I felt for exploring the pages of the internet following a writing workshop I took last spring. My professor, the poet Greg Glazner, asked us each to present on a particular writer whose “poetic prose” we were really fascinated by (the them of the class was “Poet’s Prose” but we read a range of texts from prose poems to flash fiction to creative nonfiction). He requested that instead of uploading pdfs of excerpts of the writer’s work, we post links. At first I was a bit skeptical of his insistence on links, since it was sometimes less convenient to find links to a person’s writing on the web than to just make a copy of pages of a book from the library. But Professor Glazner has this theory about links, that they allow us to discover more things about the writer and his or her context and also lead us on these interesting quests through the internet to find things we never knew existed.

I was presenting The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, a Japanese writer who lived in the Emperor’s court in the 10th century, so initially I was skeptical that I would be able to find her work published online, and I wasn’t sure if giving a link would add anything to the conversation. However, when I searched for Sei Shonagon, I stumbled upon a really insightful and informative essay by Meredith McKinney on translating The Pillow Book in the Kyoto Journal.

Ever since, I’ve been considering just how cool it is that this whole vast repository of writing is available to us for free online, and I’m continually inspired whenever I find more online journals publishing great work. Here are some of the journals that have recently caught my eye:

The Southeast Review

The Southeast Review’s journal is technically not online, but they do post fiction, nonfiction, interviews, and poetry to their “online sister,” SER TWO (which stands for This Week Online). There I found some really great writing during the past month including the short story “Ruth’s Red Ale” by Ann Stuart McBee and the nonfiction piece “Two Boyfriends” by Lareign Ward. McBee’s story ferments language in exciting ways (pun intended), and I was dazzled by the sensory details in her piece about an impoverished couple home-brewing beer while life falls apart around them. Ward’s piece depicts the strange untethered grief of a narrator who has recently lost a lover but doesn’t quite know what her future with that person would have been or if they even were heading for a future together.

The Southeast Review is affiliated with Florida State University and is currently accepting submissions in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews. You can find out more information about their submission guidelines here.

 

The Yemassee Journal

This journal, which is run by the University of South Carolina, recently published its first online issue, which I perused. Some of the highlights from that issue include the poem “I Tried to Be a Good Mexican Son,” by José Olivarez, a prose piece called “The Saving Apocalypse” by Matthew Hummer, and “Three Poems” by Shaina Monet. Olivarez’s poem depicts the speaker’s failure to live up to his mother’s expectations and also serves as a sweet tribute to the speaker’s mother, who clearly loves her son despite his shortcomings. It’s humorous, straightforward, and filled with delightful lines. Hummer’s piece, which I think is nonfiction (although it’s not labeled) is a lament of the demise of the print newspaper and also discusses the paranoia the narrator experiences while trying to not be tracked by technology, a paranoia that feels familiar to anyone with a smartphone or a social media account. The essay slips into its subject indirectly, slyly, almost like it is is trying to hide something. Ironically, it’s online for everyone to read. Finally, Monet’s poems have a really interesting concept behind them: they are in the form of a “beau présent” which is when you take the letters of someone’s name and combine them into different words to create a poem. The form limits the writer to only using the letters available in the original word or words. Monet describes her reasons for doing this: each poem honors an ancestor of hers, persons of color who society didn’t deem worthy of recording. Her poems try to correct that injustice. The poems’ form leads to an interesting sense of circularity as you read the same letters come to life in different ways.

Yemassee is currently open to submissions of fiction and poetry. Here are there submission guidelines.

Split Lip Magazine

I like that Split Lip Magazine releases just one piece from each genre every issue. It makes reading an entire journal feel less daunting, and it will definitely keep me coming back to see more cool writing. In this latest issue, I particularly enjoyed the short story “Bound” by Belinda Hermawan and the nonfiction essay “Cary” by Lorelei Glaser. Hermawan’s story about fate and adoption drew me in from the start. The main character, a Chinese-American who was adopted, feels drawn to one of her cousins, and and that attraction is so well written that it didn’t come across as gross or weird. It was definitely original in its language and emotional intensity. On the other hand, Glaser’s story about coping with her son’s mental illness was a familiar narrative, but the details were fresh and cut to the quick.

Here’s information on how to submit to Split Lip.

I hope you enjoy these recommendations. Check in about a week from now because I have a flash fiction forthcoming in an online journal (not any of the ones I’ve featured), and I’ll be excited to announce that once it is published. I’m going to do my best to keep updating this blog at least once a month, but now that the school year is starting I will sadly have less time to peruse online journals and my tabs will be tucked away into folders, bookmarked for later. Until next time, happy reading and writing.

July Recommendations

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Image: matryosha

While trying to decide how to re-vamp this blog, I’ve been plucking stories and essays from the internet here and there, reading a bit of this and that and trying to come up with some sort of system for how to read literature on the web. But I keep feeling overwhelmed by just how much content there is out there online. There are thousands of literary journals, each diligently producing issues. How is it possible to find what kind of work you like reading and how can you possibly find a place to submit to that fits your style and actually might accept your submission?

Reader, I have no easy answers for you. I wish there were some sort of cataloguing system, an app maybe (I’m not a tech person so don’t expect me to come up with this), that recorded all the different literary content out on the web and sorted it to help a reader who has some time to read from the web, but not all the time in the world, to find cool new writing. But as of right now, I have yet to discover such a system. LitHub.com  comes close- they feature content from many different magazines and presses around the web. But they don’t encompass everything. Duotrope.com is a paid service that shows you statistics about different publications, such as their response times and approximately how many people are submitting to them, but it doesn’t cover the content in the journals. I still think the best way to go about finding stories, essays, and poems that you might like is to a) make friends with other literary-minded people (whether you’re friends with them in person or just over the internet) and see what they recommend and b) find random literary journals, click on a random link, and see what they have to offer.

I’ve been doing a bit of both for the past year, and I’d like to share you, my friends, some of my personal recommendations. In each post I will feature 3-4 journals with a few works that I liked from their site. If you happen to be a writer who is featured in the journal I recommend (or in another journal), and you’re disappointed that I didn’t mention your piece, email me a link to your piece (litbloom at gmail dot com), and I’ll take a look at it. I promise you, I wasn’t trying to overlook your piece, I probably just didn’t happen to click on it. I’ll try not to feature too many of my friends’ work since I don’t think that would be totally fair, but if I really believe in the writing they’ve published, I will share it.

 

Entropy

My first recommendation for the month of is for a site for which I have a personal fondness: Entropy.  Yes, they have published two of my nonfiction essays, but aside from being grateful for their patronage, I genuinely love their site. Every couple months, they feature places to submit your writing, including journals, presses, chapbooks, and writing retreats and residencies. Here is the where-to-submit page for this summer. They also have really insightful nonfiction essays and they publish some fiction and poetry. Right now, I’m keeping tabs on the “Woven” series, essays on the #MeToo movement, including this really heartbreaking and powerful essay about the culture of sexism and sexual violence in medicine, “The Men in Medicine and the Theory of Evolution” by Helena Rho.

For more information, here are Entropy’s submission guidelines.

 

N+1

I’ve also been checking out’s N+1’s online content. I remember looking at N+1 back in my college days back when it had a barebones html design, and it definitely seems to have blossomed since then. You need a subscription to read their magazine, but they do produce some online content. Two essays I read from them recently include “The Church of Food,” by Collier Meyerson and Elias Roriques, which eulogizes Anthony Bourdain, and “An Account of My Hut,” by Christina Nichol, which recounts the author’s struggle to figure out the best way to fight climate change through collective action and storytelling while also dealing concurrently with the effects of environmental and economic degradation– wildfires and gentrification.

You can find more information about submitting to N+1 here.

 

Wildness

Another journal that I have recently happened upon is called Wildness. I skimmed through their latest issue and found plenty to encourage me to go back and read through the whole thing. The short story, “Blood Sister” by Ariel Chu, caught my eye, and I found that I really enjoyed its depiction of a brother and sister sharing a meal on their own terms, away from the expectations of their parents, but still unable to escape familial tensions. I also enjoyed the poems in the issue by Sara Ryan, “Loving With Scissors” and “Self-Portrait As/With Sister” due to their striking imagery and the sharpness of their emotional landscapes.

Here are Wildness’s submission guidelines.

 

West Texas Literary Review,

I have yet to fully explore this particular journal, but everything I’ve read so far from the West Texas Literary Review. I have enjoyed. I was particularly struck by the short story, “Thank You for Noticing” by Rebecca Jensen, when a young woman’s memory of her mother’s pregnancy resurfaces. The poem, “Alien Encounter” by Marilee Richards was a pleasant jaunt, and “Their Gaze” by Nick Conrad evoked a nostalgic lost moment of beauty.

Here are their submission guidelines.

I hope you liked some of the recommendations from this post. I plan on posting new recommendations at least once a month, barring life events that get in the way. In the meantime, happy reading, writing, and submitting!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Scribophile

Happy New Year, everyone! As one of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve resolved to write biweekly updates to my blogs (every two weeks, just to clarify). So be on the lookout for more writing-themed blog posts in 2015!

I stumbled on Scribophile, an online writing sharing community that strives to create a social media platform for writers, while I was participating NaNoWriMo last November, since it is an affiliated website. Overall, I recommend Scribophile as the most comprehensive website for writers seeking feedback on their work that I have seen thus far. I think it has a lot going for it, and I recommend that you check it out. It is not perfect however, and its complexity can seem daunting, especially when you first join it. I’ve been using it for about a month now and I’m still getting the hang of it.

Scribophile is mainly a platform for sharing writing and connecting with other writers. Essentially, on the site, you can read other writer’s work and critique it, using various methods including “in-line” comments, or a form with specific questions about particular aspects of the work, such as its plot, structure, or characters, or a “free form” critique in which you write whatever you want. For each critique, you earn a certain amount of “karma” points. The number of points you receive depends on how long your critique is, and on a number of confusing factors including whether the work is in the “Main Spotlight” or not or whether you have added the author to your favorites. I haven’t quite figured out the way to maximize karma points yet, but even if you just edit whatever things you find interesting, you’re bound to get some points from your critique.

Once you’ve accumulated 5 karma points, you can post a work on the site. Each work “costs” 5 points, so once it’s up there, you have to start all over again building up karma points. You can also submit your work to a number of contests on the site, but that will also cost you some karma points. A “work” is usually no more than 5,000 words, so if you have a longer story or a novel, you can post it in chapters. This potentially allows for you to create a serial following, like on the sites JukePop and WattPad (see my article about them here). But Scribophile is not just for novelists. You can post short stories and poetry on it too. Once you’ve posted a work, you sit back and wait for the critiques to roll in.

One of things I really do like about Scribophile is that it is a website for serious writers. The critiques I’ve received on the site so far have all been pretty detailed and insightful. The karma points system creates an incentive for people to write longer critiques. Also once you’ve received a critique, you can give it one or more labels including “enlightening,” “thorough,” or “constructive,” and for each label, the editor will receive a few karma points (but not nearly as much as they get from the critique itself). When you receive these labels, it also increases your reputation on the site by giving you “reputation points.” Reputation points have no tangible benefit, as far as I can tell, but they represent your experience as an editor.

The site also makes you tick off an agreement saying that you will write constructive edits and will not just insult the writer and/or their work, which I found to be comforting. Obviously, it’s an honor system, but if you find a critique particularly mean-spirited, you can report it. Scribophile’s rules, while complex, do create an environment where serious, respectful editing gets done.

The site also contains forums, groups, and contests, really attempting to create a sense of community among its users. I still prefer to bond with writers in person, but it is nice to have that option online. It also acts as a quasi-social media site, allowing you to write message on other writers’ “scratchpads” and to announce publications. It also contains its own blog with writing advice, interviews with writers, and the site’s latest updates, and it has an “Academy” section with articles specifically written to help you tackle writing challenges. The amount of sheer stuff on the Scribophile website is a bit overwhelming, and I’ll admit I haven’t had time to sift through all of it. But I’m sure a lot of the resources on the site are really helpful.

The site does have some drawbacks, however. First of all, Scribophile is primarily used by people writing novels. This isn’t a bad thing of course, but the way that it’s site posts the newest chapters of writer’s works up for review on the “Main Spotlight” is a little strange. When you’re flipping through works to review, you will see novels that are on Chapter 21 or 39. How are you supposed to jump in and start editing from that point in a story you haven’t read? Scribophile tries to solve this problem by allowing writers to post summaries of previous chapters so that reviewers have some idea of what the hell is going on. But I don’t think reading the summary of a plot and then editing a chapter in the middle of it is very effective or helpful for the editor or the writer. So far I’ve tried to avoid editing novels that are very far into their plot, instead I’ve been editing short stories or novels on Chapters 1, 2, or 3.

Of course, if you have several hours of free time, you read all of the chapters that came before the one you want to critique (but by that time other people will have critiqued it and it will no longer be in the spotlight, meaning you get fewer points from critiquing it). Or, you can find some novels that you like that are in a nascent stage, add the author to your favorites, and then get updated every time he or she posts a new chapter. I personally think it’s far more helpful to edit stories knowing their entire context.

Secondly, Scribophile requires a good deal of patience and free time (luckily, I have both). Depending on whether you choose to edit stuff from the Main Spotlight or not, it can take you a while to rack up 5 measly points to post one chapter. In my case, it’s usually taken me about 3 critiques to gain 5 points. I think Scribophile did this on purpose, so that everyone is getting at least three responses to everything they post. But still, it means you have to spend a lot of time critiquing other people’s work.

Thirdly, the feedback you get on your writing from this site can be thorough, but it also can be a bit overwhelming. You can get opposing reactions from two different editors. Of course, this happens in any situation in which you ask people to review your work. But when I ask my friends who are writers to review my work, I know their work too, and I know, in general, when to trust their advice and when to ignore it. If you’re just getting random critiques from different people, it’s hard to know which suggestions you should consider. I’ve had a similar experience before in writing workshops. The difference, though, is that in a writing workshop, all of the writers are in dialogue with each other. They hear everyone’s comments on a particular work, and then discuss them, coming to somewhat of a consensus on it. Since, on Scribophile, you’re not required to engage with the other people who have critiqued the work you are critiquing, the website does not manage to replicate a workshop experience.

Still, these flaws are by no means deal-breakers. This site has a lot offer, and you might discover that you really like it.

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

Post NaNoWriMo (and Sixfold) Reflections

I’m back from my month long hiatus for NaNoWriMo. I did, in fact, succeed at writing 50,000 words! And to boot, I almost finished an entire novel, although it’s a very rough draft that would need a lot of work before being publishable. Meanwhile, I also spent most of November and part of December participating in the selection process for the online magazine, Sixfold. If you don’t know what Sixfold is, I wrote a review about it a while back. It’s an online journal that allows writer to submit their work to vote on other people’s submissions to determine who gets published. I’ll soon be back to my regular reviews of literary journals and writing-related websites, but until then, here are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo and the Sixfold voting process.

This was my first year doing NaNoWriMo, and it was definitely a month of learning and growing for me as a writer. I think the best thing you get out of NaNoWriMo, whether you reach 50,000 words or not, is an incredible rush of creative energy. During the first couple of weeks, I wrote for one to two hours every single day, hardly skipping a day. (I might note that I actually only work part-time right now so I had a lot of free time to spare). During the middle of the month, fatigue started to set in, but I had already gotten off to such a good start, that I knew I could finish if I just kept up a steady pace. During the month of November, I lived, breathed, and slept my plot. I dreamed sentences and spent my days at work trying to ignore the characters in my mind who were constantly vying for my attention. And even when I felt like I had hit a wall, I drilled through it with my writing. I just kept on throwing words at it until I carve a way through.

As a result, I think my novel is probably the sloppiest thing I’ve ever written. I took no time to think about whether I sounded cliched or whether the words even made sense. Thus, it needs a lot of reworking. In fact, I’d probably have to write most of the sentences from scratch to fix it. But what I did get out of NaNoWriMo was a plot. I had barely sketched an outline for my novel, and I realized that as I pushed it farther and farther, it started to roll on its own, like a rock falling down a slope. The characters acted in ways that I never expected them to, but in ways that made perfect sense. And complications and developments in the plot that I had never anticipated arose. Now, if I go back and revise it, at least I have a solid, organically grown story to work with, even if the words need fine tuning.

After NaNoWriMo ended, I felt hollow. It was strange. I had been writing so much for the past month that if a day passed by where I didn’t write, I had the same feeling as when you eat a ton of donuts and don’t excercise that same day. It’s like the words that you don’t spill out accumulate like layers of fat. NaNoWriMo gave me a thirst to write, one I already had before, but it’s stronger now. I write almost every day now, because now it’s a habit, an addiction.

But what I learned from NaNoWriMo is that the binge-writing, it’s like eating lots of candy. It makes you super hyper, but leaves you with little nutrition. As much as you need a burst of binge-writing once in a while, for the most part the real work of writing is in the chewing and digesting of minute details, on the level of words and sentences. Nothing is perfect in the first draft. To get to the real vitamins and protein, you have to process writing, work through it, over and over and over again. And that I always dread, because unlike eating candy, it’s not always fun. It takes hard work and nail-biting and screaming into pillows in frustration. And that’s where I’m currently at with some of my writing. But the end product that emerges will hopefully be worth it.

While I was participating in NaNoWriMo, I also was participating in Sixfold’s fall voting process. I submitted one of my stories to Sixfold and paid an entry fee of $3 to have my work considered. As a participant, I read three rounds of six short stories by other writers, voting on them and commenting on them. At the end of the three rounds, the rankings of the short stories were revealed.

I have mixed feelings about my participation in Sixfold. First of all, let me be perfectly honest: my writing didn’t make it past the first round and was ranked something like #127 out of #369 (on the bright side, still in the top half!). And maybe I do feel a little bitter about that, as one always does after rejection. But putting that aside, there were still some larger issues I think the website needs to address.

Honestly, I really enjoyed reading everyone else’s stories, commenting on them, and ranking them. I went into full writing workshop mode, and gave detailed feedback to nearly all eighteen stories that I read. I made sure to give constructive criticism, always pointing out what I liked, and how I thought the stories could be improved, and most of all, I tried to keep a positive, respectful tone, even when I hated the piece or didn’t understand it at all. That’s why when I saw the feedback for my story, I felt rather cheated. Even though I didn’t make it past the first round, I at least expected to find some helpful comments about my work. After all, Sixfold purports itself as being helpful to all the writers who participate. Sadly, this was not the case for me. Most of the comments I received were less than fifty words of writing. A few were very positive, but gave absolutely no suggestions for improvement. Although they helped my wounded ego, they were not really that beneficial to me as a writer. Then there were a couple comments that were negative. I expected negative comments, that’s fine. But they were either extremely short and therefore not helpful, just pointing out what I did wrong, or they elaborated  in depth on everything they didn’t like, again not giving any sort of suggestion for how I could improve. Maybe my expectations were too high because I’ve spent a lot of time in writing workshops where everyone gives really thoughtful, constructive feedback. I was disappointed.

I think one way Sixfold could address this problem is to at least make a mandatory minimum word count for how long the comments should be. Because there’s absolutely no way that comments that are three words long can be constructive. They could mandate that during each round, you have to write at least 75 words minimum. If people needed to write more, then maybe they would start to point out more suggestions for improvement. It wouldn’t be a guarantee, but maybe it would help writers like me who do not make it to the top rounds have a better experience with the voting process overall. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be submitting to Sixfold again, because for the amount of time that I spent reading and editing other people’s work, the payoff that I received was not enough.

Well, those are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo and Sixfold. Check this blog again soon. I’ll be posting more reviews and articles in the next few weeks and months.