Calling All Poets for The Wheeler Prize in Poetry!

Submissions open September 1st for the annual OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize in Poetry. Online entries only, so please send us those puppies via Submittable.

Each year, The Journal selects one full-length manuscript of poetry for publication by The Ohio State University Press. In addition to publication under a standard book contract, the winning author receives the Charles B. Wheeler prize of $2500.

Entries of at least 48 typed pages of original poetry must be electronically submitted during the month of September. All manuscripts will be read anonymously. Your name and other identification should appear only on a separate cover page. Manuscripts must be previously unpublished, but poets may be at any stage in their careers. Some or all of the poems in the collection may have appeared in periodicals, chapbooks, or anthologies, but these must be identified in the acknowledgements page.

A nonrefundable handling fee of $28.00 will be charged for each entry. Entrants will receive a one-year subscription to The Journal.

The winning entry, screened by the editorial staff of The Journal, Assistant OSU Press Poetry Editor Pablo Tanguay, and final judge and OSU Press Poetry Editor Kathy Fagan, will be announced the following January.

Submit via Submittable starting September 1st:

Karin Gottshall is our 2013 winner for her second collection, The River Won’t Hold You. Gottshall lives in Vermont and teaches at Middlebury College. Her first book, Crocus, won the Poets Out Loud prize and was published by Fordham University Press in 2007. She is the author of three chapbooks: Flood Letters (Argos Books), Almanac for the Sleepless (Dancing Girl Press), and Swans (Argos Books). Corey Van Landingham was our 2012 winner for her first collection, Antidote. Previous winners over the past twenty-eight years include: Rebecca Hazelton, Edward Haworth Hoeppner, Kary Wayson, Lia Purpura, Mark Svenvold, Bruce Beasley, and Mary Ann Samyn.

Posted on 07.23.14 // News

The Best (And Worst) (And Only) 80s Movies About Writers

The 1980s were a magical time for many reasons: shoulder pads, Reaganomics, the sweet, synthy sounds of Depeche Mode. But there were also a great decade for comedies about writers, everyone’s favorite fake profession.

Throw Momma From The Train (1987)

Billy Crystal stars as struggling novelist Larry Donner, whose evil ex-wife (played by Orange is The New Black‘s Kate Mulgrew, in her pre-Star Trek: Voyager days) stole his novel and published it to critical and commercial success. (It really pays to mail that stuff to yourself, kids.) Danny Devito plays Owen Lift, one of Larry’s writing students, whose overbearing mother makes his life hell. After seeing Strangers on a Train, Owen becomes convinced that the solution to both his and Larry’s frustration is for them to swap murders: Owen will do in Larry’s ex-wife, and Larry will do in Owen’s mother. Oh, and Owen decides on this without actually informing Larry. Hijinks (but no actual murders) ensue. Everybody gets a book deal.

Should you see it? Absolutely. Crystal and Devito are both in their prime here, and character actress Anne Ramsey was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Owen’s battleaxe mother.

Here Crystal struggles with writer’s block, all while completely ignoring Elmore Leonard’s “Never open a book with weather” rule:


Romancing The Stone (1984)

The novelist in her natural habitat.

Mild-mannered romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner, shown above) is rocked out of her boring, giant-headphone-wearing life in New York City by news of her sister’s kidnapping in Cartagena, Colombia. (It’s a comedy, I swear.) She must fly down to South America to deliver a treasure map (leading to the eponymous stone) to the captors. Wilder doesn’t speak Spanish, packs absolutely the wrong shoes, and can’t even get on the right bus, thanks to the machinations of the menacing Colonel Zolo. Eventually, she makes the acquaintance of exotic bird smuggler Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas), who agrees to help her rescue her sister. BUT IS THAT ALL HE’S AFTER? Danny Devito shows up again, this time as a “bumbling antiquities smuggler.” Turner eventually loses the flannel jammies in favor of a fetching peasant blouse.

Should you watch it? Yes, right now. Go. It basically launched Kathleen Turner into super-stardom, and it’s easy to see why. Spawned a mediocre sequel called Jewel of the Nile that you can skip.


Her Alibi (1989)

Tom Selleck, hot off Magnum, PI, starred in this action-comedy about mystery writer Philip Blackwood, who invents an alibi for Romanian murder suspect Nina (Paulina Porizkova) because he happens to be in the courtroom the day she’s arraigned and she happens to be really pretty. For some reason, she then has to go live with him, where he finds himself equally drawn to and terrified of her, as he can’t really be sure she isn’t a murderer, but she certainly IS pretty. Eventually, there are clowns.

Should you see it? Probably not. I’d just rent Three Men and A Baby instead. That one has a baby! (He’s an architect in that one.) Or stream it. Or torrent it. Or whatever you kids do these days.


Delirious (1990)

John Candy stars as a soap opera writer who gets knocked on the head and wakes up in his own show. He soon discovers that he can control the events of this fictional (yet suddenly oh-so-real) world, and he uses it to manipulate the woman of his dreams (Emma Sams) into being attracted to him. Neat! It’s not like women are people with feelings or desires of their own. Eventually, the plot, as it were, gets away from him, and he only wants to get out of there. Also, I think Mariel Hemingway shows up as the “less glamorous” love interest. And by “less glamorous” I mean she’s actually prettier than the other woman but she occasionally falls down, which is not a charming or endearing thing one would want in a partner.

Should you see it? GOD NO. Watch Soapdish instead. Whoopi Goldberg does a way better self-hating soap opera writer. Or you could watch the Eddie Murphy comedy special of the same name, which is no doubt equally as sexist, but probably a lot funnier. It isn’t about writers, though.


Cocktail (1988)

Never again would anyone in Cell Block be as excited by the prospect of poetry.

This one’s kind of cheating, but Tom Cruise does bill himself as the “world’s last barman poet” in it, and proceeds to rhyme “Sex on the Beach” with “schnapps made from peach,” so I’m including it. Cruise’s young entrepreneur Brian Flanagan never does publish a liqueur-themed chapbook, but he does somehow manage to open a TGIFridays-like Irish pub called Cocktails & Dreams, where he occasionally subjects the remarkably game clientele to his flights of linguistic fancy. COCKTAILS & DREAMS! Considering the current state of publishing, perhaps we should all take a page (haha, get it?) out of his book. (See what I’m doing? Oh, you do? Never mind).

Should you see it? YES YES YES I SAID YES. Have I told you how, at the end, when he’s at his awesome CHAIN PUB that he OWNS, like a first-rate CAPITALIST POET, and is up there on the bar, RECITING HIS TERRIBLE POETRY, he also learns that his pregnant wife, played by the great Elisabeth Shue, is actually HAVING TWINS? I didn’t? Well, that totally happens. You will never know the true meaning of schlock until you have seen COCKTAIL. The soundtrack also includes Bobby McFerrin’s classic ode to chillin’, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Why are you still reading this? Go.

I’ll leave you now with some sage advice from Owen Lift’s mom.

Posted on 07.08.14

Art In The Heart of It All

While the calendar year is only halfway over, the fiscal year is finished. We here at The Journal are happy to announce that for the 2014-15 fiscal year, we’ve been awarded our second consecutive matching grant of $833 from the Ohio Arts Council. This Arts Access grant will go toward paying expenses for one of our two yearly print issues.

Below, you can find more information from the OAC’s website about the council and its work with The Journal and in our Ohio communities:

     The Journal is one of hundreds of cultural organizations that successfully
     competed for grants from the Ohio Arts Council this year. The OAC is a state
     agency with a fiscal year 2008 budget of $12,488,161 appropriated by
     the state legislature. Organizations that receive OAC funds are required to
     match state tax dollars with additional public and private funds. In general,
     for every state tax dollar invested, 45 dollars are raised in matching funds by
     recipient organizations. The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and
     supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally,
     educationally, and economically. Studies show that when the arts are a
     significant part of a child’s education and are used to help teach humanities,
     science, and other curricula, cognitive and work skills are enhanced, creative
     and critical thinking skills develop, truancy is reduced and self-esteem
     increases. Ohio is home to thousands of artists who are vital to the state’s
     cultural richness. The OAC is committed to supporting their creative talent.
     Artists who receive grants participate in public presentations so the public can
     see the results of its investment firsthand. The OAC also supports local arts
     councils in cities and towns across Ohio. These local councils present
     programs in their communities ranging from festivals, exhibitions, and
     performances to educational programs for adults and children. Thanks to the
     state’s investment, cultural resources like The Journal are integral to
     the quality of life in Ohio.

The OAC and its sponsored organizations also maintain an event page here. Check it out! One recent OAC-supported event where you may have spotted Journal staff was the Columbus Arts Festival.

The Journal is looking forward to another year of showcasing great art here in the heart of it all. Thank you, OAC, and thank you, Ohio taxpayers!

Posted on 07.07.14 // News

Interview with Karin Gottshall, Winner of The Wheeler Prize

Karin Gottshall lives in Vermont and teaches at Middlebury College. Her first book, Crocus, won the Poets Out Loud prize and was published by Fordham University Press in 2007. She is also the author of three chapbooks—Flood Letters (Argos Books), Almanac for the Sleepless (Dancing Girl Press), and Swans (Argos Books). Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Crazyhorse, FIELD, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere.

Shelley Wong: Congratulations on winning! We are thrilled and very excited to bring this book into the world. What was the writing process like for this book and how did it compare with writing your first book, Crocus? How did the three-part structure come together?

Karin Gottshall: Thank you! I am so grateful for and humbled by this prize. The Wheeler Prize book is one I’m interested in every year, and I’m so proud that The River Won’t Hold You will be in this series. Kathy Fagan is a poet whose work and contributions I love and admire so much, so to have my manuscript selected by her means the world to me.

I hadn’t actually thought much about the way the experience of writing this book compared with that of Crocus. This may be a dull answer, but actually I think it was much the same. I work slowly, very slowly, and both books took many years to put together and both went through many drafts and many poems were overhauled and cut and replaced before I felt like the books had arrived at something like their final forms.

The three-part structure, which I used in Crocus too, came about without my having planned it. When I looked at the poems all together, and saw the ways different pieces seemed to talk to each other and build from each other, they just seemed to keep falling into three constellations. I tried working against that, since I didn’t want to feel like I was just arranging them that way out of habit, but no other formal solution I came up with seemed satisfying. I like the number three, or at least it seems to be a number that I often find my life organizing itself around in different ways. In terms of poetry I tend to use tercets quite frequently, and a reviewer noticed that a lot of poems in Crocus (unconsciously) favor the anapest. So there must be something about the formal qualities of three that feels natural to me in the way I create rhythm and structure.

SW:I admire these poems for their evocative images of a woman’s life from youth to maturity. How did you enter into this speaker’s (or speakers?) consciousness over a lifespan? What were your concerns?

KG: Honestly I don’t think I had any sense of entering another consciousness. Not that these speakers are all “me,” exactly, or that all of the experiences in the book are mine, but I guess, as I wrote these poems, I was more aware of going deeper into myself and my own questions than of trying to inhabit the consciousness of a persona.

I’ve had the experience of doing that, too—my chapbook, Flood Letters (Argos Books, 2011), is a narrative sequence spoken in the voice of a character who is definitely not me, though we certainly share a lot of the same preoccupations. In writing that way, one of my main concerns was making her world coherent to the reader without gunking it up with too much explanation. Conversely, a big concern for me in writing the kind of poems in The River Won’t Hold You is allowing enough of the solid world in to give the reader something for their brain to do as well as some sensual pleasure or frisson in the imagery—not relying too much on the too-easy shorthand of emotional language alone.

SW: The shifting spaces and landscapes are vividly rendered with precision and emotional color. How did the world (or worlds) come into being for this collection?

They came into being through the process of rendering down the raw material of decades of daydreams. I don’t mean to sound glib, by that—I really think my poems and their worlds emerge out of my fundamental affinity toward that pursuit and ineptitude for pretty much any other. I hope that doesn’t sound frivolous—I think reverie is necessary to human happiness, and certainly, in my experience, to art. And yet for some reason it feels like we’re supposed to be apologetic about it.

Jenna Kilic: I’m interested in how you arrived at the book title.  Often times, a book will have an eponymous poem.  Your book nearly has that in the poem with the running title, “After all, the river.”  When I read “The River Child,” I feel like it could nearly be titled “The River Won’t Hold You” or come before a poem with that title.  Can you explain how you arrived at the book’s title and how it works with and/or against the poems in the book?

KG: The manuscript went through several titles in different versions, and I liked all of them in different ways, but none of them felt exactly right. I think the title fell into place for me at just about the same moment that the manuscript as a whole did. I hope the feels concrete but also appropriately ambiguous—there are multiple possible meanings, and I think all of them are present in some way in the book.

JK: I’m interested in the rhyme schemes you use, particularly the internal and slant rhymes, and how, because they’re so well-managed and well-placed, they sneak up on you.  It seems that poets either love rhyme or hate it.  I love good rhymes and yours are certainly that.  Can you tell us what draws you to rhyme and how you see it working in your poems?

KG: Thank you! I don’t usually consider my poems as having rhyme schemes unless I’m working with a received form, but perhaps they kind of do, in that I think I use patterns of sound in a similar way. I think of rhyme and sound effects like that as a kind of spelunking rope that I use to find my way through the poem. In striking a strong sound I think I often imagine that I’m also casting that sound out ahead of myself into the poem, and part of the poem’s work is then finding its way back—or catching up—to that repeated sound. So I guess that creates a kind of constraint, even in free verse poems, that works a little like the constraint of end-rhymes in verse, and I find that useful. Those schemes may not always stay intact in later versions of the poem, but they sometimes help me find my way through initial drafts, and often they become important structurally.

JK: I have a sense of other poets who might have influenced your poems, but would you mind explaining whose work you feel most influenced or inspired by or if you had a particular mentor who was a great influence on these poems?

KG: This is so hard to answer, because so many poets come immediately to mind but it always feels somehow presumptuous to me to claim them as influences. And influence always seems so wide-ranging to me—including novels and music and paintings and accidents of fate as well as poetry—so that just talking about poets seems to give a distorted picture. I can say that there are some poets that for a long time I have returned to over and over again for solace and pleasure, and they include Emily Dickinson, Lorine Niedecker, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Ruefle, Robert Hass, Larry Levis, and Jack Gilbert. I know I am leaving out important names I will regret.

All of my wonderful mentors at Sarah Lawrence and Vermont College have been huge influences on my writing, and my own brilliant students at Interlochen and Middlebury have inspired me daily with their wild imaginations, their courage, and the urgency and importance of what they have to say through their writing.

SW & JK: Is there anything else you would like to add? Thanks so much for your time!

KG: No, nothing to add! Thank you for the lovely, thoughtful questions—it has been a pleasure.


Posted on 03.25.14 // Interview // News

Interview with Poetry Editors Shelley Wong and Jenna Kilic

In preparation for the staff’s imminent departure to Seattle for AWP, Associate Poetry Editor David Winter sat down with Poetry Editors Shelley Wong and Jenna Kilic. Shelley and Jenna are both third-year students in The Ohio State University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and they have both published widely in literary journals. They discuss their editorial philosophies, their own writing, and Mariah Carey below.

David Winter: Thank you both so much for doing this interview. Where do you see The Journal heading in the next year? What do you hope to accomplish as Poetry Editors?

Jenna Kilic: I think we’re going to continue with something that [former Poetry Editor] Michael Marberry emphasized with us last year and that’s publishing established poets who we love alongside new, young poets whose work thrills us.

I want every issue of The Journal to strive toward publishing the most eclectic work possible and not just in terms of form. I’m talking about different voices; different cultural ideas and concepts; poems that risk being fierce, emotional, disturbing, etc. Unsafe poems. I want to publish poems that trouble me throughout the day and when I go to sleep, poems that make me want to write. On the whole, I want the poems in any particular issue to be in some sort of conversation and/or argument with one another and to establish that through eclecticism.

Shelley Wong: It’s a ridiculous honor to be a poetry editor for The Journal and have the opportunity to read the work of so many fine poets. I’m excited to work with Jenna and the entire Journal staff in the upcoming year.

Now, onto the questions! I concur with Jenna that diversity is important. I’m interested in the different ways a poem can create and craft meaning and I too am looking for poems that surprise me, that talk about unexpected subjects or talk about familiar subjects unexpectedly. Poetry is an auditory form as well as a visual one and how a poem uses music or white space in relation to its content fascinates me.

In addition to aesthetic diversity, I also champion gender equality and diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and education. Poetry is about many voices, histories, interpretations, and representations.

The Journal has a wonderful tradition of publishing established and emerging writers, and we look forward to continuing that legacy and spotlighting some terrific poets through our print and web issues and online presence. During Michael’s tenure, he included several translations in each issue, and that is something Jenna and I are happy to continue. It’s a great honor to receive so many terrific submissions from poets around the world and expand our knowledge of poets who may be little known in the United States.

DW: I am so excited to be on staff here, too, and especially to work with the two of you. You make editing sound like a pretty great gig, but it’s also a rather eclectic pursuit, to borrow Jenna’s terminology. Is editing a lit mag something you’ve wanted to do for years? How did you get interested in this work?

JK: I became interested in the possibility of editing a literary magazine while applying to MFA programs. I wasn’t even aware that was a possibility for me until I was applying, and I wasn’t even sending my work out then. OSU having a well-established literary magazine was one of the reasons I decided to come here. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the publishing world, and working on a literary magazine seemed like a great way to do that.

SW: Being an editor is such fun! It’s much easier than writing. I was a poetry editor for my undergraduate literary journal Ibid at UC Berkeley and was very keen on getting involved with the graduate literary journal while pursuing my MFA. Writing can be a lonely art and literary journals are a terrific way to build community. As an editor, it’s such a thrill to find good work and support emerging writers. It’s also a surreally awesome experience to correspond with poets who you’ve admired for many years. As a student, I’ve come across so many new favorite poets through The Journal (a handful of names: Traci Brimhall, Marcus Wicker, Sally Wen Mao, Christina Veladota). Former poetry editors and poets extraordinaire Tory Adkisson and Michael Marberry both did an exceptional job of bringing in established writers alongside newer writers and I want to continue their legacy of helping great poets find their readers. Editing is really about building a home for poems and making love matches between readers and poets and poets with other poets. I hope we can make that happen.

DW: What are a few of your favorite literary magazines, and why? Where are you sending your own poems?

JK: Whenever I read Birmingham Poetry Review or 32 Poems, I feel the urge to write. When I get that feeling, then I know a magazine is one of my favorites. I also like the Boston Review, which recently published our own reviews editor, Raena Shirali, in the “Discovery” poetry contest. Those editors are interested in publishing serious poems and serious articles. I find their magazine incredibly engaging. Ninth Letter is like a shiny new toy I can’t wait to rip open. Other journals: Arcadia, Salamander, Kenyon ReviewKartika ReviewDamazine, The Portland ReviewPleiadesPoetry, The Dark HorseMeasure, The Sewanee Review, and Subtropics, among several others. I’ve sent my poems to all of these places. You win some; you lose some.

SW: As to journal favorites and my own poetry submissions, I’m a fan of Indiana ReviewColorado ReviewHayden’s Ferry Review, ShampooSycamore Review, and jubilat. These journals publish great work that often lingers in my mind. I love finding poems that cause me to rethink what I know about poetry or teach me how to see beauty or an image differently. The Internet is providing a platform for so many new poetic voices that it’s hard to keep up! It’s a great time for poetry.

Read more

Posted on 02.23.14 // Interview // News


In addition to Karin Gottshall’s The River Won’t Hold You, the winner of the 2014 OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize for Poetry, our poetry editors and readers are eagerly awaiting a number of poetry books in 2014.

An * indicates the writer’s work has previously appeared in The Journal.

David Winter, Associate Poetry Editor

Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press)

Matthea HarveyIf The Tabloids Are True, What Are You? (Graywolf Press)

*Michael Mlekoday, The Dead Eat Everything (Kent State University Press) (36.3)

Eugenia LeighBlood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books)

*D. A. PowellRepast (Graywolf Press) (35.2)

Danez Smith, [insert] Boy (YesYes Books)


Janelle DolRayne, Art Editor

Jake Adam York, Abide (Southern Illinois University Press)

Jake’s work often asks us to abide in his light. In his poem “Narcissus incomparabilis” from Persons Unknown, he opens by asking us to “Lean down, lean down/ while the lights abducted.” In the poem “Letter Already Broadcast into Space” which appears in Abide, he asks, “Come down now,/ come down again,/ like the late fall light/ into the mounds along the creek.” Jake’s poetry gently invites us to follow him in his “exploration of contemporary Civil Rights memory.” It asks us to abide the way music asks the body to abide. And we should. If there is one thing I learned from Jake as his student, it’s to listen to him when he tells you to do something—read a poem, listen to a song, make a recipe. Because often, dare I say always, Jake knows what’s best for us. I still listen for Jake, in his poetry and in the wind, because I genuinely miss him telling me what’s good for me. This is why Abide, forthcoming this spring, is the book I most look forward to in 2014. And, in the spirit of Jake, you should too.


Mikko Harvey, Poetry Reader

Mike Young, Sprezzatura (Publishing Genius Press)

The book I’m most excited to read in 2014 is Sprezzatura, by Mike Young. Sprezzatura is the Italian word for “studied carelessness.” Reading his poetry is like being given a pregame speech in another language. Afterwards, you feel like you can do anything, as long as you’re nice about it. Sprezzatura will be his second book of poems. Here is a poem from his first, We Are All Good if They Try Hard Enough, entitled “For You to Finish While You’re Swimming.”


Jenna Kilic, Poetry Editor

*Tarfia FaizullahSeam (Southern Illinois University Press) (38.1)

Jake Adam York, Abide (Southern Illinois University Press)

*Caki Wilkinson, The Wynona Stone Poems (Persea Press) (37.4)

*Chloe Honum, The Tulip-Flame (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) (37.2)

Kendra DeColo, Thieves in the Afterlife (Saturnalia Books)

*Keetje Kuipers, The Keys to the Jail (BOA Editions) (36.4)

Spencer Reece, The Road to Emmaus (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Shelley Wong, Poetry Editor

Cathy Linh CheSplit (Alice James Books)

*Tarfia Faizullah, Seam (Southern Illinois University Press) (38.1)

Eugenia LeighBlood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books)

*Sally Wen Mao, Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books) (36.1)

*Cori Winrock, This Coalition of Bones (Kore Press) (38.1)

*Patricia Lockwood, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals (Penguin) (35.1)

Joshua Clover, Red Epic (Commune Editions)

What a great poetry forecast for 2014! I look forward to slowly savoring and flat-out gorging on many collections this year.

I have lots of love for Cathy Linh Che, Tarfia Faizullah, Eugenia Leigh, and Sally Wen Mao, who are making their poetry book debuts this year. These four poets are taking America by storm this summer on The Honey Badgers Don’t Give A B**k Tour along with Michelle Chan Brown (follow them on Twitter @BadgersofHoney). Their work is unflinching, magnificent, and unforgettable. Check them out and thank me later. For a taste of Sally’s work, “Dirge with Cutlery and Furs” is one of my favorites for its reverence and sartorial wonder.

In addition to publishing poems by Tarfia and Michelle, I am excited to include four of Cori Winrock’s poems in the upcoming winter issue. Her work fills me with terror and worshipful awe, and I can’t wait to read her full collection. Patricia Lockwood has garnered much Internet fame for her Twitter sexts and the most viral poem of 2013, “The Rape Joke,” so I eagerly anticipate her amazingness in her epically titled new book. I also look forward to Joshua Clover’s upcoming release since he has recently published several long poems in Lana Turner on poetry and revolution, and who doesn’t want to read more about that? Be prepared, dear reader.

Posted on 02.18.14 // News

Corey Van Landingham Signing at AWP!

We are exceptionally proud to be hosting a signing for Corey Van Landingham, the winner of the 2012 Charles B. Wheeler Prize for Poetry, at this year’s AWP. Corey will be on hand to sign copies of her first book, Antidote, published by the OSU Press.

The details:

When: March 1, 2014, from 11am to noon

Where: The Journal AWP Table (B11), Washington State Convention Center

Copies of Antidote will be sold at the signing. Hope to see you all there!

Posted on 02.10.14 // News // Uncategorized

In Defense of #NaNoWriMo

I was supposed to write a post about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November) during NaNoWriMo, but since apparently I’m trying to add a sub-specialization in procrastination to my MFA, that didn’t happen.

NaNoWriMo gets a lot of crap, partly because it encourages people to worry about quantity and not quality, and partly because of its cheery insistence that when you push out 50,000 words in a month, what you’re left with is a novel, when most likely you’re maybe 1/10th of the way there, not in word count, but in the work you’ll actually need to do to make those words into something anyone should be subjected to.

I found out about NaNoWriMo in late October a few years ago and decided to plunge right in. I had attempted to write novels before but had never been able to finish. I wasn’t a fast writer (and still am not), but I worked diligently and at the end of the month I had written 50,000 words of a young adult coming of age novel about a teenage girl’s year as an exchange student in India, heavily inspired by my own experience. Fifty thousand words isn’t really novel length, even for YA, and I knew the plot was incomplete. I continued to write, and after a couple months I had a complete manuscript of about 75,000 words. I spent a couple months editing and researching agents and began the querying process.

Even though the novel I wrote didn’t get me an agent and will probably never be published, I still believe that participating in NaNoWriMo remains one of the most important things I’ve done as a writer. Here are some of the most important things I learned by participating in NaNoWriMo and in the ensuing quest to get that novel published:

1) I could finish a novel.

This is huge. A lot of writers who have been writing seriously for years, even incredibly talented writers in MFA programs, sometimes have a bit of a phobia about actually attempting to write a novel. Workshops tend to focus on short stories rather than novels or novel excerpts, and while there is some overlap in the skills necessary to write a short story and a novel, in many ways, writing a novel is a whole different beast. Writing my NaNoWriMo manuscript, and even more importantly, taking the time to flesh it out and edit it in the subsequent months, proved to myself that I could write a novel.

2) Being a writer means WRITING.

Duh, right? Well, this is sadly easy to lose sight of. Sometimes writers feel like they have to wait until inspiration strikes or until conditions are perfect before they start working on something. Participating in NaNoWriMo taught me that when the process felt awful—each sentence like pulling teeth—the product wasn’t necessarily bad. And sometimes when it felt like the last thing in the world I wanted to do was write, once I actually got started, the words came easily. Basically, just like pretty much everything, nothing happens unless you get started and keep going. This is something I still lose sight of sometimes, even in an MFA program. Sometimes weeks pass without me doing any creative writing. This isn’t a great way to accomplish anything.

3) Agents are eager to find manuscripts they love.

One of the agents I queried contacted me months later, after I had given up on hearing from them. What had caught their attention wasn’t my query, but a review of one of their client’s novels that I had posted on my personal blog. They thought the review was funny and liked my voice, saw that I was currently seeking representation for a novel, checked their old e-mails and found that I had actually queried them months earlier, and asked to read the manuscript. This was not a beginning agent, hungry for clients because she had so few. This was an agent whose list includes the author of a best-selling trilogy that is being turned into a movie. So when people try to claim that agents aren’t really looking for clients or that you have to have connections to get an agent, it is one hundred percent bullshit. If an agent is open to queries, they really want to find manuscripts they can fall in love with and represent. Also, on a related note: be prepared for anything you post online to actually be READ. It’s probably a bad idea to ever write anything online that you wouldn’t be willing to say aloud to anyone’s face. In this case, I wrote something positive that was received positively, but the opposite could have easily happened.

4) Know when to throw in the towel.

Three agents read my novel. All three declined to represent me, citing similar problems with the manuscript. I could have continued to query relentlessly, affecting an it’s-not-me-it’s-you attitude, or continued to revise, but I decided that for me, for that particular novel, the right move was to set it aside. Since this novel was so heavily influenced by my own experience, I felt like revising it would prove a challenge, and because the subject matter was so personal, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the changes that would be necessary to make the novel salable. Rather than waste time trying to publish something that might never be ready, I decided to move on and write another novel.

Even though the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo never amounted to anything, I learned so much in the process that in retrospect, it was a sort of dress rehearsal for the writing of my second novel, which although it’s shelved for the moment, is the novel that allowed me to sign with my wonderful agent Laura Rennert. If you’re someone who has always wanted to write a novel, do it. You don’t have to wait for next year’s NaNoWriMo to come around, but consider trying a writing regime that focuses on producing a certain amount over a finite time frame. It’s a great way to get over performance anxiety and perfectionism. Often, for me at least, what gets in the way of starting is apprehension that I won’t be able to put the story that seems so good in my head on the page the way I envision it. But of course, the first step is to put it on the page at all.

Posted on 01.29.14 // News // Uncategorized

An Interview with Daniel Hornsby

Daniel Hornsby is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana ReviewHayden’s Ferry Review, and Unstuck. He is working on a novel. His story “The Gargantuans” appeared in the Fall issue (37.4) of The Journal. He spoke to Fiction Editor Brett Beach about giants, myths, and how he used metaphor to talk about the unintentional pain parents inflict on their children.

Brett Beach: Why giants? (Or, to put it another way, what was the original seed of this story?)

Daniel Hornsby: I was at a party with a friend. It was one of those boring parties where the host tries to get everyone to dress up, and so the guests are kind of stuck there in their fancy clothes. Anyway, my friend and I got to talking about her mother, who, like many mothers (not including mine!), had left her scarred and resentful. At one point, I began thinking about how our parents hurt us without even trying, mostly as a result of their size—both physically and metaphorically. I thought it was funny how, when you’re a child, your parents are gigantic compared to you. They’re giants; they hurt you without even trying. And so a few days later I started working on the story.

BB: Where did you struggle in writing the story? How did you get around those issues?

DH: There’s no short supply of stories with couples struggling to have a baby. And there’s probably an equal number of stories in which children adopt some orphaned animal (baby bird, kitten, etc.), which, despite their best efforts at parenting, inevitably dies. On some level, these are two new sorts of myth types. Part of me wanted to combine these two stories, using the giants’ scale as a way to make these old, tragic archetypes fresh and funny. I don’t know if I was able to do this, but that was what I was going for.

BB: What made you go back to the story again and again?

DH: I keep coming back to pieces that set their own rules and vocabularies for themselves. Here, a giant narrator let me play with scale and make funny (at least to me), contradictory statements about size: little houses, small moons, etc. Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel sets a comic tradition for play with giants, and I took some comfort in that.

BB: How does “The Gargantuans” hold up against your other work? Is it similar in theme, setting, view of the world?

DH: Just before I wrote “The Gargantuans,” I’d just finished a story about some children who ride around in a giant, mechanical unicorn, kind of like the Trojan horse. Gigantism and childhood seem to go together—I think there’s a reason fairytales are full of enormous monsters, because childhood is, too. And for much of childhood, there’s really no distinction between reality and fantasy: the fantastic is real, and the real is fantastic.

BB: What is the most important piece of fiction you’ve ever read? (Or: who should our readers go seek out right this second, without even closing the internet down or turning off the stove?)

DH: Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is a book that continues to haunt me years after reading it. There’s a kind of subterranean realm that Bolaño’s work operates exclusively within—a brutal twilight zone or dark maze that covers the whole shrinking world. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis and Steven Millhauser’s We Others are also both pretty infectious. Davis’ style—her precise sentences and range—and Millhauser’s whimsical ideas and premises have been enough to keep me inspired for a long time.

Posted on 01.28.14 // Interview // News

Announcing the Winner of the 2014 OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize for Poetry

The Journal is thrilled to announce the winner of this year’s OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize for Poetry competition: Karin Gottshall. Karin’s manuscript, The River Won’t Hold You, will be published later this year.

We received over six hundred manuscripts for consideration and would like to thank our judge, Kathy Fagan; Associate Poetry Editor for the prize, Pablo Tanguay; all of our screeners; and especially everyone who submitted their work.

Here’s a complete list of the honorees:

Honorable mentions: Janine Joseph for Overstay and Emily Vizzo for A Gun for the Girl.

Finalists: Olivia Clare for The 26-Hour Day, Davis McCombs for Lore, Corrie Williamson for Payphone in the Desert, George David Clark for Priests Without Scripture, and Karen Anderson for Receipt.

Semi-Finalists: Ken Taylor for Taking the Auspices, Jennifer Chapis for Notes From the Vanishing World, Martha Zweig for Get Lost, Anna Welch for Noah’s Woods, Andrea O’Rourke for Victims Ruin It, Keith Leonard for The Kingdom Disappearing, Mary Buchinger for Aerialist, John Bensko for Between You and the Door, and Christine Marshall for Fits of White.

Congratulations, Karin, and thanks again to everyone for making this another great year for the prize!

Posted on 01.21.14 // News

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