Good afternoon! Superstition Review is elated to announce that past contributor Adam Houle’s first book, titled “Stray” will be dropping March 21st from the good folks over at Lithic Press. Lauded by press and peers alike, “Stray” features an updated version of one of Houle’s poems that were featured in the Poetry section of Issue 9, which can all be found here. Go pre-order your copy of “Stray” right here, right now, and behold the wonders of Houle’s poetry!
Hey readers! Superstition Review is proud to announce that Ruben Quesada, a former faculty member at Eastern Illinois University who was featured in the Poetry section of Issue 13, has been named a faculty member at the UCLA Extension, and will be teaching a course on Poetry and Popular Culture alongside Rosebud Ben-Oni this summer. Do yourself a favor, and check out Ruben Quesada’s poem “On Witness” here, and stay tuned to the blog for more updates on the beautiful happenings here at Superstition Review.
My definition of a “good poem” is expanding and shifting every day. As I continue to read, write, and learn poetry, I find that my understanding and appreciation for the art also continues to grow exponentially.
I believe that the poem, at its very best, is a discovery. I find that the best poems are invitations to see an object, an idea, the self, the very world, in a different light. Gaston Bachelard describes poets as individuals who are unafraid to take even the corners of a house and bring them to life. I am interested in the corners, in the ordinary that is explored and made meaningful through poetry. The unexpected image, the lyrical line, the compelling thought, the voice that flows familiar—these are all ways in which I am immediately drawn into a poem. I leave the poem not quite the same as when I entered it, and the poem still never quite leaves me.
I also believe the poem is an intellectual pursuit. I believe that art is meant to be constantly challenged within its own forms and notions—Dean Young says that we must “disrupt the habitations of use”. There is incredible importance in this, but ultimately, it should still be done well. As writers, we are always faced with this question in the revision process: did I say this well? Is this worthy of the page? Whether it is the utilization of form and technique, or the challenge of such through the experimental, our choices on the page should reflect our investment in the craft. I am interested in poems that are well-crafted and conscious of technique, but more importantly I am interested in poems that are meaningful enough to make the technique worthy. To quote Mary Ruefle, “It is not what a poem says with its mouth, it’s what a poem does with its eyes.”
Ultimately, I am always drawn to the honesty of a poem. The poem that is unafraid to explore simultaneous vulnerability and strength, authority and hesitancy, directness and tenderness. As Dorianne Laux writes in her poem “Tonight I Am in Love”: “I am wounded with tenderness for all who labored / in dim rooms with their handful of words / battering their full hearts against the moon.” Like Laux, I too appreciate poets and their ability to constantly bare themselves open through words.
Mary Lee is completing her Bachelor’s degree in English at Arizona State University. She is in Barrett, The Honors College and is currently the poetry editor for Superstition Review.
Hey there, campers! Have you found yourself wandering the dark recesses of your streaming video service of choice, looking for something to watch and coming up short every time? All caught up on Breaking Thrones and Boardwalks & Recreation? Perfect, then we’ve got something you’re going to want to watch; Superstition Review contributors David Shields and Caleb Powell co-wrote a book called “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel,” which has been turned in to a feature-length film, directed by none other than the proverbial Renaissance Man himself, James Franco. Here’s the trailer:
“I Think You’re Totally Wrong” is currently available in select cities across the U.S.A., but we here Superstition Review got our hands on an advance copy of the film, so we can tell you with some authority: it’s good. The film combines the simmering tension and wit of two writers at the height of their argumentative powers, with the all the introspection and sincerity that one finds in conversations with their closest friends. Shields and Powell muse on the what it means to be engaged with a life well-lived and how that relates to craft and creation, the responsibilities of an artist with respect to honesty and vulnerability, and whether or not it’s possible, or even advisable, to stay out of trouble while being an artist. Raw, funny, and tender as all-get-out, this one is a “must-watch” for anyone who has ever found themselves wondering about the importance of art as it relates to the life of an artist, and conversely, what is the importance of the life of an artist as it relates to an artist’s life.
Covered by everybody from Elle Magazine to the Boston Globe, “I Think You’re Totally Wrong” is by any metric, a burgeoning critical hit. Do yourself the immense kindness of finding a screening near you (details can be found here), and as always, drop us a line in the comments section below.
The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU is proud to offer three creative writing classes through the Piper Writers Studio. Classes are taught by acclaimed and award-winning writers from the community, and cover topics such as fiction workshop, publishing, and character development.
The faculty for the Spring 2017 session of the Piper Writers Studio are:
- Marylee MacDonald
- Chantelle Aimée Osman
- Sharon Skinner
Classes are open to individuals of all backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences, and are designed to fit around the schedules of working adults (taking place weekday evenings or weekend afternoons). Classes will be held at the Piper Writers House, the historic President’s Cottage on the ASU Tempe Campus. Class sizes range between 8 and 12 students in order to ensure an intimate, individualized educational experience, and start at $75 (with discounts for individuals who are members of the Piper Circle of Friends). Classes can also qualify for professional development credit with the Arizona Department of Education. If you register before December 31, 2016, you can receive an additional discount of $50 off 4 week classes and $15 off single day classes.
For more information, please visit the Piper Center’s website.
I graduated from ASU in 2010 with a degree in English Literature (truth: on my resume, I leave off the “Literature” part). A little less than one year later, I got a job at an environmental consulting company where I have grown to be the sole editor of the small, 60-employee firm.
I originally applied to be a “Word Processor” via their Craigslist post. A lot of people are shocked to find out I found my steady, full-time, full-benefits employment through a website known for its scams. When job searching, I still check out Craigslist as well as LinkedIn, Monster, and other sites. You come to recognize the scams on Craigslist, and have to be okay with many of your applications likely going nowhere.
Here is what I’ve learned in my years since graduation.
If you want to work with words, regardless of how boring your job is, the money seems to be in the Technical Writing field. My only regret from my education is not taking a course or two in technical writing. I, for one, am totally okay with having a boring job. (Note the difference, I am not unhappy with my job, it’s just not the most exciting work in the world). I made that distinction when I graduated; separate the enjoyment I find editing (work), from my investment in writing and poetry as an art form (passion). Boring as my desk job may be, I still find great satisfaction in knowing that, because of my work, some small fraction of the words going out into the world read well and look nice. Give me the boring for eight hours a day so I can pay my bills and have the free time to develop my passions.
Technical editing, what I do for Transcon Environmental, is also in some demand. What I’ve found, though, is that you need to have another skill-set or area of expertise to fall back on. I happen to be incredibly organized—almost to a fault—so when my editing is light, I function also as the Administrative/Executive assistant for the company. You will market yourself better if your writing/English degree is the backbone for your other talents and skills. And don’t discount your liberal arts education (I highly recommend David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech about the value of a liberal arts education); these four years at university have turned you into a well-rounded, disciplined, learned individual. Everything you’ve learned in school, every way you’ve grown and the traits and habits you’ve developed should be included in your resume/cover letter/application process.
There are places to put your English degree to use outside of academia. I have been introduced to the environmental consulting and urban planning industry. In order for utility companies to build and alter their infrastructure, they need consultants like us to ensure they are complying with federal and state laws (among other things). We produce reports based on our research and field surveys, these reports get circulated through federal agencies, tribal nations, land management companies, etc. I never knew such an industry even existed, let alone that they produce numerous reports that, through rounds of revisions, get signed-off on by the government so that construction companies have to follow the mitigation we outline in the report. It’s important that these documents are thoroughly proofread, wordsmithed, and clean of technical errors. Just because you like to work with words doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the academia or publishing worlds.
The job search process is frustrating, disappointing, and sometimes heart-wrenching. Be prepared for this. Build a thick skin now, in preparation. I lost count of how many jobs I’ve applied to over the years. I recently relocated and, before being offered to transfer and stay with Transcon, I was applying back home on the east coast to around 10–15 jobs per week. I applied for things I was over-qualified for, under-qualified––anything––I just wanted a lead. Resumes, once formed, are easy and don’t change much. Cover letters, on the other hand, is where your time and effort should be invested during your job search. Try to make yours stand out from the rest. Show your potential employer you are serious about the job; show them you’ve done your research by doing things like including their physical address on the cover letter, or alluding to details on their website. Explain how you, as a person with your own individual personality traits, would benefit their company. Don’t rush through customizing your cover letter. The job search takes time and commitment, just like class assignments; try to respect it with the same level you’d respect an assignment. Your resume should highlight your work experience, your cover letter should highlight your personality traits, and NEITHER should be intended to get you a job. Your resume and cover letter get you an interview; your performance in the interview gets you the job (no pressure).
Try not to get frustrated during your job search, don’t discredit or doubt your English or liberal arts education, be persistent as you apply for jobs (I called my current employer every week for months until my position with the company was firm). Sell yourself and what you have to offer. Write your cover letter, walk into an interview with the attitude that it is the THEIR loss if they don’t hire you.
Let me clarify something first. My definition of revision:
1. The act of completely revamping a previous version of a story.
2. When God looks down after creating the earth for six days and says, “Nope. Not so much.” And so He erases days two through six and starts again at day one. The general concept of creation wasn’t bad; it was everything that came after that was wrong.
Please understand that when I say revision, I don’t mean small edits. I mean that I trashed my previous story and started with a blank slate. That’s a revision in my world.
So, how many revisions are too many? I have asked myself this question countless times over the last six years. Six years. That number sounds frightening when I stop and realize that I’ve been working on the same story for over half a decade. Okay, so it’s not really the same story. In fact, in many respects it’s completely unrecognizable. But in my heart, it’s the same story.
Here’s how my novel began. It was my final semester of college, and I was on the top of my writing game. I wrote a short story as an assignment for my Advanced Fiction Writing course, and BAM, there it was—my future novel. Set in our world and a fantasy world, it was light-hearted, fun, meant for children, and I loved it. My classmates loved it too. And I thought, “I have the idea; that was the hard part, now to finish it. No problem!”
Two years later, college was long behind me and I hadn’t touched my story since graduation. I had thought about writing. I even broke it out now and then, but never with serious intent. So it sat, dormant but ready to be completed.
Then came NaNoWriMo 2010, and I decided to seriously attempt it. But my story couldn’t stay the same because I wasn’t the same. Suddenly within one month, it transformed from a child’s tale into a young adult novel. It was no longer light-hearted, but dark and complicated. And it was the beginning of a long journey of which I’m still caught in the middle.
Since NaNo 2010, I have revised my story over five times—until settling on an adult urban fantasy novel that’s still in the works. In some cases, my drafts have reached over 100,000 words. But inevitably, with every iteration, I reach a point where I scratch the entire thing. Whether I’m halfway through, a quarter of the way through, or even 75 percent completed, I always get to a chapter, a scene, or a character revelation where I get stuck.
Now, you might be thinking, “So, you get stuck. Figure it out and get back to work.” Well, I would love to do that. Unfortunately, when I get stuck, it’s because I find myself in a corner and even if I can, somehow, write myself out, that corner reveals something to me—that the story is not what I thought it was meant to be. Whenever I reach that point, I take a deep breath, shut my laptop, and make the decision to start over from word one and day one.
The amazing thing is, each time, my story has become better and better—more intricate and better thought out. The unfortunate aspect is, I have wasted so much time and scrapped so many stories. I have enough writing for two, if not three, books sitting on my computer, and yet I still continue to revise. At this point I fear I’ll never have a completed story, but I’m not sure how to fix it.
Can too much pickiness be a bad thing? Should I be more easily satisfied, or have each of my revisions been necessary to find the true story—wherever it is hiding?
I have to admit, there is a lot of frustration involved. I know the story is there, ready and waiting to be told, but where is it and how do I get it on paper?
When writing this blog, I asked myself the same question, “How many revisions are too many?” This is the fifth iteration of my blog, and as I write this sentence, I wonder if I’ll get to the next sentence or the next paragraph and decide, “No, this wasn’t the blog waiting to be told. I need to try again.”
Have you been here and faced these same struggles? How did you finally decide enough was enough, or are you still struggling like me?
For this blog at least, I’ve decided to suck it up and say, “Enough is enough.” I guess, you, my readers, will have to let me know if I made the right decision. And that’s the crux of the matter. At the end of the day, it’s not up to me. I could write the story that I know, I know, is the right story, but I’m the writer, not the reader. When all is said and done, the quality of my story, its effectiveness, and the joy it brings, is not only up to me. It’s up to you.
So be kind, dear reader. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and yet we are never fully satisfied, not until our writing makes it to you. When you read, remember that in your hands you not only hold the story you’re reading, but the endless revisions that helped it take shape. You can tell us if we did enough, if our writing passes muster, and that too many revisions were worth it in the end.
So, what do you think? How many revisions are too many?
You’d think they’d be easy enough: Offer some constructive criticism and some words of encouragement, then hit send. Lather, rinse, repeat. On to the next in the pile.
The problem, as it often is, is the human element. It is all too easy to forget that there are people on both sides of this process.
Now, I’m not implying that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I don’t want to insinuate that an editor’s job is to smirk behind an IP address, gleefully ticking away at their keyboards while picking an essay apart in their decline letter. Nor should we cower behind prewritten rejection letters, sending email after email of the same exact words, the literary equivalent of breaking up via text message.
I read somewhere that there is a word for being a background character in someone else’s story—a name on a cardboard coffee cup, a car on the freeway, an umbrella in the rain, a whiff of perfume exiting an elevator in a crowded mall—and that such a word affects lives only tangentially, for a few seconds. I cannot recall what the word itself is, and I try to find it in online dictionaries, a hail-Mary effort to procrastinate that next rejection letter.
Whatever the word is, I hope it describes the letters I write. I hope that it ends up in a bulging email inbox, surrounded by rejections and acceptances from other magazines, from publishers, from fans. I hope that this decline letter that I have drafted and sent will be marked as read and left to rot in cyberspace.
The alternative, you see, is that what I write is important. Every decline letter could be some writer’s first, someone’s last. There is some pressure in knowing that I have a long memory of criticism from strangers, and that you probably do, too.
I read slowly and write swiftly, like ripping cooled wax from leg hair. I leave the letter alone, come back to the computer to read it one last time before hitting “Send.” The computer asks if I’m sure, and I wince.
The most rewarding experience I had while interning at Superstition Review came, rather not surprisingly, during the selection process for our most recent issue. I say not surprisingly because it is during this process that you get the opportunity to give an author the thing they have been searching for: publication.
What did surprise me though were two works that the fiction editors discussed during the selection process and how we were able to work with the authors of those pieces in order to get them published in Issue 11. Both of these pieces would have more than likely received “nos” if we had not been able to work with the authors, something that I was not previously aware was even possible. I had never before thought of the freedom that technology afforded the literary world and the opportunity it offered in erasing the barrier that seems to exist between the publisher and the author.
The first example I want to talk about is the piece by Jacob Appel, “Burrowing into Exile.” Appel originally submitted a story called “A Display of Decency” which looked at a young man’s struggle with religion. It was well written and a good read, but the piece was drenched in baseball paraphernalia and took place in the 1940s. The general consensus was that this created a setting which might be difficult for our particular readership, which tends to be younger. In fact, one of our fiction editors did not recognize many of the references in the piece. This decision about how any given story fits a publication’s aesthetic is one that all literary magazines have to make (and trust me, as a writer this is a difficult lesson to learn). This could have easily been the end of this story: a decline due to incompatible audiences. Instead we contacted Appel and solicited another, more contemporary, piece from him. This is something that I do not think would be possible without the immediacy available through the internet.
Our second “on the edge” story was from an undergraduate student at Utah State University. Since we tend to publish mid and late career authors, we get very excited when we find work from undergrads that make the top of the pile (we don’t publish any ASU undergrads since we have a non-compete agreement with the ASU undergraduate literary magazine LUX).The editors involved in the selection process saw the potential of Kendall Pack’s story, “Make Your Own Lawn Darts (and Rediscover Happiness) in 8 Easy Steps.” It was equally clear that, as submitted, Pack’s piece was not quite where it needed to be in order to be published. There were rough spots and inconsistencies and neither the author nor the publication benefits from bringing a story to the public which is not really finished. This could have easily led to a rejection letter for Pack as well, but the freedom of Superstition Review’s setup allowed us to contact Pack and offer him publication contingent on his willingness to revise his submission. What could have easily been just another homeless story became Pack’s first publication which can only be seen as a great success story.
This ability to become an entity which can work hand in hand with an author to get a piece to publication level is one of Superstition Review’s greatest strengths. As a writer, I am well aware of the distance that often exists between the writer and the publisher, an expanse that is so large that agents are sometimes required as go-betweens. But the landscape of publishing is changing and no longer is an author required to mail out manuscripts and wait months to years before hearing back (at least this is becoming a near extinct process).
Technology has the capability to erase the gap of information between the publisher and writer, something that has not really existed on a wide scale until now. No longer is it a requirement that a publication send out a faceless rejection letter that tells the author only that they have not been selected for publication. Now, with the ability of submission programs to organize all submission along with the comments of the editors involved, it is easier to go back and see which submissions were on the cusp of publication. We can then look at these submissions and see why they were turned down and make that a part of our rejection letter. In an industry where so many variables can lead to a piece not being published it is an invaluable tool to be able to offer the writer at least a slight indication of why a piece was not selected. Or, even better, there is an opportunity to not only disclose these reasons but allow the author the chance to correct these mistakes if they so choose.
Obviously this cannot always be the case. Some large publications just do not have the time to look through all their submissions and tailor a specific response, but they at least have the option to tailor one for the submissions that are on the edge. It will also to take time for these technologies and the assets they offer to catch on. However long it takes, it does give me a great sense of hope for the future of publishing and I see a time where publishers and writers can work as closely as peers in other fields. I can see the benefit of writers and publishers establishing professional relationships that provide brief points of contact concerning the craft of writing.
Bonus opinion: without delving too deeply into an already cantankerous subject, I see these constantly evolving technological tools as a gateway to a future where biases can be circumvented by using submission programs to cloak the identity of submitting authors. This seems like an unbelievable boon to an industry which so recently suffered from a humiliating setback.
Katie McCoach, Issue 6 Nonfiction Editor, discusses her experience at Superstition Review and other internships and how they gave her the experience to pursue her ideal career.
Until my internships with Superstition Review, Ellechor Publishing, and Folio Literary Management, I had no idea where my Creative Writing and Communications degrees were going to take me. I knew I enjoyed the degrees I had chosen for myself, but what job would I end up with? I felt like the only choices I kept hearing were technical writing, teaching, or apply for MFA programs.
Those options weren’t for me. But then the lingering question; what was?
Well, a few internships later I discovered my dream job, and the path to take to get there. Fast forward a year and here I am now, pursuing my dream. Half of my time goes to an author marketing company where I spend the day executing marketing campaigns for traditional and self-published authors, and the other half of my time is spent freelance editing as Katie McCoach Editorial. I edit and critique manuscripts, query letters, website content, and newsletters. When I look back at how in the world I got here, it comes down to six things interning did for me, so I wanted to share them here for you.
- Real Life Experience – I know you hear this all the time. Enough already, right? But it really cannot be expressed enough. The internships I held were all very different from one another and from each of them I discovered this whole world I knew nothing about. I learned how to communicate with authors, how to hone instinct in selling, selecting, and editing, and I saw the different roles each person can play in the publishing industry. Many of the things I learned in my internships I would never have learned by just my degree alone.
- Discover What You Want – A couple years ago, I was the Nonfiction Editor for Issue 6 of Superstition Review. Here I learned the in and outs of a literary magazine: how to communicate with authors and pique interest, how to develop an instinct for selecting the best work for the issue that season, and I had a chance to read amazing work by so many brilliant writers. At one point, I was asked to give comments on one of the pieces, to see if there were any suggestions or feedback we could contribute. This was my favorite part, and it wasn’t even one of my typical duties. That’s when the first hint of what I wanted to do as a career began to hit me.
- Conduct the Ultimate Interview – Internships are jobs. Although they are temporary and often times only a few months long, they are still jobs. This is your chance to conduct the ultimate interview – how does this job fit with your personality? How are your skills best utilized? Can you see yourself here in five years? How could you move up in the industry? I worked for a literary magazine, publishing company, and literary agency. I saw very different roles of the publishing industry, and from it I discovered where I fit best.
- Path to Your Dream Job – Every person in your industry started somewhere, maybe even interning exactly where you are now. So ask them – how did they get their job? What about their boss’s boss? The path to your dream job becomes readily available to you as an intern and this is your chance to begin it.
- Perspective – I chose to intern at companies that were all related to publishing and from this I saw different parts of the industry that I could have never seen if I hadn’t worked in the areas I did. Interning at Superstition Review I saw the literary magazine side of publishing. The publications in literary magazines across the country influence contests and grants. These contests can mean referrals for lit agents, which in turn can mean a sale to an editor, and the next book a publishing company picks up. There is much more to it than that of course, but I now am able to see the industry as a whole, which gives me perspective, especially in relation to the job I chose to pursue.
- Connections – This is another one of those things we hear a lot. I currently live in Los Angeles and I am surrounded by the film and TV industry. I see first-hand how connections are the only way to establish your place in that industry. The same goes for publishing, though depending on the path you choose, it might not be quite as cutthroat. When I first moved to LA I attended one of those kind-of-awkward-but-you-push-through-it networking events. I was wary at first, and then I met someone who was starting her own marketing business. She needed an editor for her website content and what do you know, here I was, an editor. On top of gaining business with her, she also had a friend who was a literary agent, and that agent knew other freelance editors, and by then my connections had tripled. This happened just from a two-hour networking event, so imagine what a semester-long internship can do.
Interning was definitely the right choice for me and my career path, and – I have to cliché it up right here – I would not be in the position I am today without it.
If you are a current or past intern, what has interning done for you? If you are debating interning, what things do you hope to gain from the experience?
Katie McCoach graduated from Arizona State University in May of 2011 with her Bachelor’s of Arts in Creative Writing and Communications. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA as a freelance editor. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope. You can visit her at www.katiemccoach.com and on Twitter @katiemccoach