I’ve been on an interview kick, it seems. Peter Tieryas Liu queried me and Jennifer Derilo for an interview about our work as Kartika Review editors. So in between tasks involving caring for the baby (nap, feed, comfort, play, etc), I sat down and answered a few questions about what happens behind the scenes at Kartika with Jennifer for HTMLGiant. We discussed the slush pile, Asian American literature, and why we published what we publish.
Category Archives: literary magazines
I wrote a story a few years ago. In fact, it was a story I began writing before my stroke. It was a story I resumed writing and editing after recovering from my stroke. It was a story that led me to Kartika Review and my current position there as Fiction Editor (thank you, Sunny). It was a story that had been good to me.
It was a story I sent out about sixty times. And it got rejected about sixty times. Maybe like, fifty-seven times. I didn’t hear back from a few places (like I said, about three places)–but after awhile (a year?) I just assumed the rejection got lost in the mail or that the more passive litmags didn’t even want to bother with sending a rejection. In one case, the litmag went under.
I stopped sending the story out. In the back of my mind, I thought I would revise it further. But really, I gave up on short stories and decided to focus on my novel. So it sat on my hard drive. The characters lingered in my memory.
It’s one of a number of short stories that I wrote and never had published. Some of the unpublished stories have placed as runner up in contests, an official way of saying they had “potential,” but like one of my mentors said, “Almost still means no in publishing.”
Short stories are heartbreaking to write, for me. So much effort, such a tidy format, so much legwork to submit, and such little chance for publishing. I mean, short story collections make literary agents break out in hives. Editors will more often than not buy story collections if the writer commits to writing a novel for their second book.
So it was with both my heart and head that I decided to focus on my novel.
It was a total surprise to me when last week, an editor emailed me about the story that had been rejected about fifty-seven times. The last time I’d sent out the story for consideration was almost three years ago. It had been almost three years since they received the story. “We’d like to consider it for our next issue,” he said.
I wasn’t sure if that meant yes–but I was still shocked that it wasn’t a no, after all this time. And it did turn out to be a yes; they’d accepted my story. At last.
The new Spring 2013 issue of Kartika Review is live! As the Fiction Editor, I’m particularly proud of the pieces by Wah-Ming Chang, Kaitlin Solimine, Anu Kandikuppa, and Sharon Hashimoto–though I’d like to also give a wink to my friend Jackson Bliss whose work is featured in the Creative Nonfiction section. And don’t miss our interview with the amazing Monique Truong.
I had an amazing time interviewing Don Lee for Guernica Magazine. We discussed books, writing, Orientalist book covers, his latest novel The Collective, and the trajectory of Asian American literature–all good stuff made even better by Don Lee’s candid and generous responses.
All it takes is a click to go read it. Hope you enjoy!
(And big thanks to Alexander Chee for pointing me in the direction of this opportunity).
Kartika Review, the literary magazine at which I was once Fiction Editor and am currently Editor-at-Large, has a newly redesigned website and a brand new Spring 2012 issue. I’m so proud of this beautiful issue, which features amazing writers, and beautiful cover art by Ako Castuera.
It’s been an interesting transition for me from Fiction Editor to Editor-at-Large over at Kartika; what exactly would I aim to do as Editor-at-Large? After spending a bit of time feeling the edges of my new role, and brainstorming special projects–I decided to plunge into what I enjoy best at Kartika; soliciting and interviewing emerging and established Asian American writers.
To that end, I’m proud to share with you interviews (page 72 and 78, respectively) with both Catherine Chung, author of an amazing (the glowing reviews are still rolling in) debut novel called Forgotten Country and Krys Lee, who debuted an equally acclaimed story collection, Drifting House.
About eight and a half years ago, I held out with trembling hand a story that I had written in secret. None of my friends knew I wanted to write fiction, but there I was, in a nighttime fiction workshop. It was the first story I’d ever written.
Much gratitude to Howard Junker for finding my story and finding me. And now thank you to the current editors for featuring my story, “Bile” (circa 2003) on their website, along with some kind words today.
I’m in such a writing slump. But really, it’s no different than any other summer, when as the outdoor temperature rises, I slide into writerly hibernation. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas–I have tons, much of it gained from workshop with Junot at VONA last month. I can see the end of this stage of revision. It’s an amazing feeling.
But you see, it’s not the ideas. It’s that the words don’t come. It’s maddening to see the finish line, but to feel unable to move towards that end.
I sit at my desk regularly, because faith is eventually rewarded; if you’re not at the steps waiting, you may miss the Muse when she decides to visit. The day the Muse visits is amazing–it’s like the dam breaks and all the words come flooding forth. But waiting is…well, it’s a turd.
In the interim, I’m keeping busy. I’ve lots of travel these days (I love travel!). And entertaining. And I’m reading. Feeding the ideas. And I’m scribbling down story and character development notes on my novel.
I’m also thinking about ways to get “unstuck.”
Firstly, I realized that part of why I was so stuck was that I was preoccupied with requested edits on a short story that was accepted for publication in a litmag.
I never met Jeanne Leiby irl, nor have I had the privilege to call her a friend or even an acquaintance. But I know she was big-hearted and compassionate from the ways she crossed my life path.
She was known for treating writers well. She sent me handwritten rejection notes that might have been short, but that were kind and meaningful in a manner that I tried to emulate while I was Fiction Editor of Kartika Review.
And Leiby once commented on this blog, on a post about VIDA and gender representation in litmags. She didn’t have to leave a comment–she could have just glanced at what I had to say and moved on. But she didn’t–she put her two cents in (again, kind words), choosing participation over disregard.
That she could so briefly appear in my world and leave it a little more charmed, speaks to the kind of person she must be. I am sad she is no longer with us, and sad for the things still left uncharmed. RIP, Jeanne Leiby.
VIDA* recently released its statistics on published work along gender lines in major literary magazines. If you haven’t heard by now, the results revealed that men dominate. By a mile. Consistently. Across all magazines. What ensued is a wave of dialogue about the disparities, one that VIDA* begins by saying:
“But as these facts come to light–no longer imagined or guessed at–so does the truth of publishing disparities, the unfortunate footing from which we can begin to change the face of publishing. We are no longer guessing if the world is flat or round; we are wondering how to get from point A to B now that the rules of navigation are public and much clearer. Questions long denied will lead us to new awareness, to challenge current publishing practices, and to query the merits of selection on the level of individual publications and review journals alike.”
The Southern Review’s Jeanne Leiby did a count of the litmag’s past publications (as well as its submissions). The count revealed a slight favor towards male writers…and the submissions reveal the same. The result? More questions than answers from Leiby:
“I’m pleased with these numbers, but I still have more questions than I have answers. I want to know why there isn’t parity in the slush pile. Are there simply more men writing? Or are there more men submitting? I’m seeking a way to see the larger landscape, the whole industry, the biggest picture possible to give context to what we’ve discovered. What are the percentages of women and men in undergraduate and graduate creative writing programs? Is there a break occurring someplace in the chain? What is the ratio of male to female literary agents? What is the ratio of female to male editors? Publishers? Does the gender of the editor or publisher have a direct correlation to the work she publishes? Some of these statistics shouldn’t be too hard to come by, and gathering the numbers is an important first step. VIDA has shown us that there is a problem. Now what can we do to fix it?”
Brevity also jumped into the discussion, with a concerned, but brief post about their most recent issue, raising again, more questions than answers to the issue of gender disparity.
And Kartika Review, the litmag for which I was Fiction Editor, did a quick count of all of our past issues: 49% of the published literary work was by male writers, and 51% of the work by female writers. We didn’t do a count of the submissions–we haven’t been tracking gender. Did we favor women? Or is this a reflection of our slushpile? Do Asian Pacific American women (for our litmag is an APA-focused litmag) submit more often? But then again, the slush pile isn’t all writing from Asian Pacific Americans–we’ve published a number of works written by non-Asian Americans, Kelly Luce and Jill Widner included.
As a litmag editor, I didn’t let gender or ethnicity sway my decisions–but I was still very conscious of each issue’s selections. Was there a balance between gender? I tried very hard to achieve that–sometimes going so far as to reach back into the slushpile to select an additional piece (but not replacing pieces) to do so. Was there equal representation between all the regions of the Asian diaspora? Though impossible to represent every region of Asia (Southeast Asian, South Asia, West Asia, East Asia….), I was conscious of representation throughout my tenure as Fiction Editor.
As Fiction Editor, I was also conscious of my position as a gatekeeper–a bouncer, if you may. We at Kartika Review are humble enough to fully admit that we’re not the “hot club” on the street–we’re the small, neighborhood dance club off the beaten path. The line outside our door may not be as long as those of other litmags. But–I was still a doorman/bouncer.
And I felt, many times, like the bouncer in “Knocked Up,” played with apologetic brillance by Craig Robinson, admitting the entrance system is unfair, “It’s not cause you’re not hot, I would love to tap that ass. I would tear that ass up. I can’t let you in cause you’re old as fuck. For this club, you know, not for the earth.”
Sometimes, I swear, I wish I could include that quote in my rejection letters from Kartika, which I
haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaated dreaded sending out. As a fellow writer, I felt like each rejection letter was a sucker punch sent out into the universe.
Editors and agents are gatekeepers. We have responsibilities to art (we have to pick the very best), and we also have social responsibilities (we have to be conscious of what our selections represent).
What few people, if any, are bringing up around the VIDA* count is that publishing does not only have gender disparity issues–I feel there are issues around race, too. (Yes, I’m going there). The awesome, always-keeping-it-real-who-can-now-add-Pulitzer-Prize-Winning-to-his-descriptors Junot Díaz, alluded to this issue of representation at AWP. In my friend Elizabeth Browne‘s AWP summary she admitted, “I giggled uncomfortably when Junot Diaz told us how white we were (‘there’s Boston white, and then there’s AWP white’).”
I love that VIDA* has opened the door to a dialogue that needs to begin in earnest. I love that VIDA* has opened the door wider to consciousness about gender disparity in publishing. That we have questions to answer. Important questions to answer. Because these questions might, and hopefully, lead to self-examination and revision of our processes. Because these questions will wake a publishing conscience.
But I think we must also apply these questions about equality to categories beyond gender. I am going to take the liberty of taking Jeanne Leiby’s thoughtful questions and add color:
“Are there people of color writing? Are writers of white European descent submitting more than people of color? What are the percentages of people of color and whites in undergraduate and graduate creative writing programs? Is there a break occurring someplace in the chain? What is the ratio of literary agents who are white to literary agents who are of color? What is the ratio of editors who are of color to editors who are white? Publishers? Does the ethnicity of the editor or publisher have a direct correlation to the work she publishes? If there is a problem…what can we do to fix it?”
I quailed before posting this–because I’m no activist in the realm of activists. But this is also an excellent opportunity to broaden the discussion. This is an excellent opportunity to DO something, even as my friend Margaret La Fleur uses these numbers to address HR3 (the “no taxpayer funding for abortion act,” not even for rape victims, not even when the mother’s life is at stake).
We all count.
I was at a reading, when during the pre-reading socializing session, I was introduced as the fiction editor over at Kartika Review, to which was added, “It’s an online litmag, but it’s great!”
I smiled, noting the use of the conjunction, “but.” He meant the phrase as a compliment, but here’s the thing: “but” is a word used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. In this case, by using the word “BUT” he was saying, “It’s an online litmag (which is a totally sucky thing to be), but it’s great!”
“Actually–” I interrupted, “we like being online for the purpose of reaching a larger audience. Print journal distribution is limited in number and duration–we want people to read the work.” (G*d, I hope I didn’t sound as pedantic as I do when I read what I said). The small group, used to deifying print journals, suppressed raised eyebrows; after all, we were in a BOOKstore… (Well, maybe that never happened. Nevertheless, I felt doubt).
I continued. I said that if we were to raise enough money, we’d rather pay our writers than funnel the money into a print run. Our fledgling litmag doesn’t know if we’ll ever raise enough money to do either, but our priority is to pay our writers before we buy into the prestige of going into print. At least, that’s how we feel today.
The Famous Writer nodded his head. “That’s true, you’ll reach more readers.”
I nodded back at him. He is a Famous Writer whose class I once took as an undergrad, and someone who mentioned that he chose University Presses for his books, primarily because University Presses don’t ever stop printing. I reminded him of the same. A diplomatic and neutral end to the exchange, we moved on to other topics like a reading the night previous, old times at Berkeley, and new books.
An online litmag offers free content to readers. An online litmag has an archive of past issues available online for the foreseeable future.
Despite Because of being online 24/7/365, an online litmag offers access if not prestige. And there are established litmags with prestige that are online, too: Narrative, Literary Mama, failbetter.com, and The Barcelona Review, for starters, are pioneering a space that I predict will be joined by many more familiar and upstart litmags names.
Don’t writers want a bigger readership? Don’t writers want to be paid? Shouldn’t writers have a bigger readership, and shouldn’t writers be paid for their work? And given the advent of the Kindle and iPad, isn’t the readership going towards an electronic format, anyway?
I used to be of the mindset that wanted my work in print–but these days, I’m changing my mind. As a fiction writer I’d rather my work be read by more people, than gather dust on a few bookshelves, and perish in garbage cans or recycling bins. Of course, I’d like to be paid, but the reality is that the vast majority of litmags do not pay their writers.
I’m wondering what the mindset of other writers might be? Are you becoming more open minded to online literary journals? Do you refuse to submit to online literary magazines? If so, what’s the reason for your predilection towards print journals?
And…if you want to read more on the subject, my friend Andrew Whitacre, fiction editor of the respectable online litmag, Identity Theory, states something similar but with more eloquence and insight in his post entitled, The end of the small print journal. Please.