“The dopamine hit is rewarding, but I'm always like, 'That's nice, what's next.' I just always want more. But I think writers need to keep that mentality--and maybe be a little delusional--that they can and should want to reach higher heights, and to keep going.”
Do you remember your first rejection? How did you feel about it? Looking back, is there anything you learned from that experience?
I actually can't remember my first rejection at all! But I do remember sending off submissions, early on, with this sure-shot feeling that they would all somehow lead to greatness. I remember the gut-singing feeling of a no in my inbox. And I remember, of course, the feeling of trying to place a story so many times only to feel that maybe I should give up on it, tweaking it for every place I sent it to. I think my biggest lesson in rejection, overall, was that I learned never to take it as a personal failure. Especially when becoming an editor myself, I realised that there are so many reasons why a magazine may not take your work. Fit, timing, relatability (not that work should be relatable... but sometimes an editor just doesn't click with it, and that doesn't make it objectively bad).
What was the first piece you got published? How did you celebrate? Also, what does your process look like for researching where to submit your work? (do you browse or just submit to anyone with subs open regardless?)
The very first published piece was a story I had developed in Tom Spanbauer's Dangerous Writers workshop in Portland. It was about a friend who had committed suicide. I felt blessed to be able to share the story, and also it felt for the first time that the world was opening up for me. Not long after, I had a second story picked up. That's when I thought I could really do this. For research, I tend to submit to places I like to read, but I also used to browse Entropy (now defunct)'s Where to Submit list. I think it is maintained by Heavy Feather now. But submitting where you like to read, I think, is key. And though it's hard to wait for sub calls (I'm very bad at this) I think it's worth it. Submitting and publishing is such a long, slow game.
For a short piece like a story or a poem, how many places do you submit it to at a time? Do you keep track of your submissions? What does your editorial process look like before you hit submit?
I would submit to 10 or 15 places at once for a while. Now it's less, like 2-3. But I also don't have the same time or stamina to submit lots of pieces anymore, because I'm mostly working on longer work. 10-15 was the sweet spot for me. I used submittable mostly and wrote in my journal for other places. One time I had a story accepted by two places on the same day, both I had submitted via email. I hated turning down the second journal because they were also a dream journal of mine.
My editorial process... I never edit better than when I have submitted something and then I'm reading over it after I have sent it in. That's the worst. I try to read the work aloud to myself. I also never edit better than before I know I am going to read a piece to a crowd. So if you want to edit really well, get booked on a reading and pick that piece to read. Readings are the best place for polishing the kinks out of your new stuff; I think people assume you want to read your most perfect story at them, but in my opinion, the new stuff is the best to read, because you will never have a more intense eye for how it sounds than the day before it's gonna be read in front of a live audience.
What type of writer are you when it comes to submitting your work: Do you hold on to a piece for a long time and then have to give yourself a pep talk (if yes, please share) or do you subscribe to a more fuck it hit submit right away approach? If your piece gets rejected, are you one to power through and move on to the next publication or do you sit with it a little longer and try to figure out where you might’ve gone wrong?
It depends. If a piece gets rejected 10 times I will go back to the drawing board. Sometimes I just make little changes and send like 10 different versions of said story to 10 different places. I generally, now, hold on to stuff for a lot longer. When I was younger, I was very much a 'hit submit right away' type of person. I think I'm less obsessed with needing to be published now than before. It's not bad though. I think being hungry for success is good, you absolutely need that. But my projects have changed, and I'm probably too careful now with how my work sounds, I overthink it. I also really want to aim higher, and I think that can be harder to do, it takes longer, you probably have to sound a certain way. I haven't been publishing as much, either, so that's probably something worth noting.
Is there a rejection letter that stands out in your mind? Something particularly harsh or intense? Or maybe even comical?
One of my favorite stories I've written got passed over by almost every mag that looked at it. Like 12-13 magazines. One magazine took it to their editors, and said they liked it but didn't want to publish it because it would need a content warning. I thought that was interesting, I'd be fine with a content warning. But anyway, they passed, too, and the story then got accepted by two magazines I love (as mentioned above) on the same day. The magazine that picked it up first was a pretty notable magazine, and it turned out to be one of my most popular/well-liked stories.
What publication or magazine would you love to see yourself in someday? Or, if you have already been published in your dream pub, tell us about the experience.
I always wobble between wanting recognition from major literary institutions and not 'needing' it. I would feel accomplished to be in a major magazine, but I also know it wouldn't be a career maker. I just want my work to resonate with people.
Is being published all it’s cracked up to be? What is your advice for writers who are working on getting published?
Yes, it's great. And then also, it's not great. It's like playing slots. The dopamine hit is rewarding, but I'm always like, 'That's nice, what's next.' I just always want more. But I think writers need to keep that mentality--and maybe be a little delusional--that they can and should want to reach higher heights, and to keep going. Aim for the highest publication you can think of, and just keep trying.
Okay, you are really hungry and in front of a sub shop. What is your all time favorite sandwich order?
A bacon lettuce tomato lettuce wrap with extra mayo.