Ask the Editor is a resource for our readers and writers in which we review and respond to popular questions about our journal, essay writing, submissions, and literary potpourri type stuff. Have a question you’d like to see answered here? Send it to edg dot longridgeeditors dot com. Chosen questions will be kept anonymous.

Here is a question that is often on most writers’ minds:  Is there a common reason you reject submissions?

Q:  Like most journals, you probably reject more submissions than you publish. What’s the biggest mistake people make?

A:  It’s true, we take 10% or less of the submissions we receive. I deliberately use the term “decline” vs. “reject” because it’s more accurate. There are two basic categories for our declines. The first is mathematical and straightforward. The second is nuanced and often complicated.

 

Category One is made up of essays that do not conform to what we request. They are over the word count, off-mission, or fiction. Those declines are especially frustrating when the writing is good — and Longridge Review attracts a lot of talented writers.

These particular mistakes happen, I believe, because people often have some writing they’d like to have find a forever home, and these pieces are sent out to various places rather than crafted specifically for us. There is not one thing wrong with that in general, I am sure it’s quite common, but it can lead to wasted time all around because the work just doesn’t fit what we do.

Occasionally, it’s obvious that the writer is penning a longer work about his or her life, something more in the memoir form. It would be great if those of us who write creative nonfiction could just cut and paste the right word counts out of our manuscripts and Ta! Da! have a great essay. But it really doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you can craft something forward, such as a collection of essays into a book, but even that is a creation that is more than the sum of its parts, and difficult to do.

Category Two is harder to explain than the first set of mistakes. It can be an essay of the right word count, optimum punctuation and grammar, even some breathtaking sentences, and still not work. These narratives can be broken down into three general types:

  1. The Recounting Narrative — It’s surprisingly common for us to receive pieces of writing that read as if the writer is scrolling through his or her brain and writing down whatever is recalled. Declining a piece like this is not a judgement on the value of the memory. It is usually because the narrative has no discernible structure. Why are you telling us this? is what goes through the reader’s mind. What does this have to do with me?  Where is this going?
  2. The Not-Taking-It to-The-Pain Narrative — If you know The Princess Bride book or film, you know “to the pain” is a classic phrase the hero uses to intimidate the villain, promising not to kill him but to leave him alive and eternally suffering. Cheerful, right? (It’s actually a very funny scene in total.) You do not have to suffer eternally to write a good essay, but you know what? You do have to suffer a little bit. Often that pain is something the writing itself can exorcise from a troubled past. But a writer does have to get to it, to touch it, to own it. We can tell when an essay is dancing around what really hurts, trust me. Your readers can, too. Often we writers are the last to know. Which leads me to . . .
  3. The It’s-All-About-Me Narrative — Writer Brian Doyle said that bad personal essays are about the writer. Good personal essays are about the rest of us. What does that mean? you ask. How can I write about you if I don’t even know you? You can’t write about me, but you can connect your life with mine, with that of any other human being. That’s why this is art. That’s why this is important. That’s why your writing matters to the world. Not because you necessarily are instructing others, but because you are giving them the gift of the “a-ha” moment. When a reader can see him- or herself in your essay, even if it’s the most foreign thing literally speaking, that’s the win. That’s why we write. That’s why we read. An unexpected example for me in Issue 11 was Cars: An Unrequited Love Story. I’ve never been a teenage boy. Never had feelings for an automobile. I laughed a lot during this essay, and have read it several times. I realized it’s not about cars. It’s not about Scott Peterson; I mean, it is, but it’s about more than that. It’s about young ideals, about hopes and dreams, about sacrificing and working to bring something into your life that you really want, and coping with the aftermath when it doesn’t quite roll out like you hoped it would. It’s about growing up, and we’ve all done that.
Keep those cards and letters — and essays — coming!

“Get to the point,” he answered immediately, when I asked what advice he can offer newer writers. “I usually have a speech I make to my students. “Cut to the chase. Tell a tale. All things are stories; romance, work, education, religion and stories are how we most commonly and easily eat information, eat the world; so the storyteller has enormous power and pop if the story is naked. The best tales are direct and unadorned.”– Brian Doyle

Change-Quotes

I wrote an important response to a reader/writer this week.

The question was:

Dear LR editors,

I really enjoyed Anne Muccino’s “Sepia” in the fall issue. The writing conjured up the experience of entering the repair shop, with its particular smell of blown electric fuses, with such vividness, and I loved the way the speaker segues from sensory experience into her apprenticeship in language and the painful unknowables she is starting to intuit in the adult world . 

I saw your call for submissions on CRWR-OPPS last month, and also that your next submissions period opens March 1. I have some work that I think might be a good match content-wise for Longridge Review but am not sure about length: your website specifies a maximum of 3,500 words, but the last CRWR-OPPS call said 6,500. Was that an error? It seems like your usual pieces are shorter.

 

This is what I said:

Thank you. I love hearing that one of our essays has had a positive impact on a reader. I agree, it was a special essay.

I’ll just be straight with you, we are in a transitional moment as a literary journal. We are about to publish (online) our 10th issue. We’ve worked with over 80 writers/visual artists. We’ve learned, I think, a thing or two that will make our next 10 issues even better.

One thing I think I’ve learned is that 6,500 words is just too many for online, not necessarily inherently but in terms of how it tends to tempt people to send us excerpts from longer works vs. actual stand-alone essays. This next call, we are shortening the length to 3,500 words.

 

I am also going to implement a $3 submission fee. I’ve been very proud of not accepting advertising and not charging submission fees, but the truth is we can’t go on without some form of income. I hope this will not prevent you from submitting, but I understand if it does. I think many of us doing this work, on both ends, are trying to figure it out.

I will send a new call to CRWROPPS with the updated submission information.

We hope to read your work!

What I didn’t say in that response is more complex, and I think nicely described by In Praise of Submission Fees by Nicole Walker. Nichole’s op-ed appeared in Brevity magazine’s blog on February 2, 2018, and takes on the question of how online submission fees really pencil out, for everyone.

I won’t retell it all here,  but suffice it to say, Nichole makes a compelling case for the simplicity and relative cost-effectiveness of most online submission fees. She put words to much of my own experience on both sides of the submission experience.

The other thing I didn’t go into is that our best essays are 3,500 words or less. They just have fit that profile, and there may be various reasons for this. Whatever the reasons, it’s time to honor the facts. The longer word count, at least in our experience, tends to drag writers away from the true essay form. There is a lot of wandering and frankly some avoidance that is less likely to appear when the word count is fairly tight. This change is after publishing 10 issues with longer word counts, so we know of what we speak.

We want to keep doing what we are doing. We hear from you every issue how publishing your essays is changing your world for the better. Readers are moved by shared experiences, and writers are freed by telling their stories. It’s not self-help. We explicitly don’t do that. But it’s a common outcome of our mission that people are engaged and connected in the hard work of growing up and finding peace through reading and writing.

Our mission is to present the finest essays on the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.

We are still all in on this work, and we hope we will have your support. Change is not uniformly celebrated, so don’t hesitate to tell us what you think. We want to know.

And….did I mention?

Our submissions period opens March 1, 2018. Send us your best work!

Elizabeth Gaucher
Editor and Founder
Longridge Review

Ask the Editor is a new resource for our readers and writers in which we review and respond to popular questions about our journal, essay writing, submissions, and literary potpourri type stuff. Have a question you’d like to see answered here? Send it to edg dot longridgeeditors dot com. Chosen questions will be kept anonymous.

First up is a great question that ponders, just what is creative nonfiction writing, anyway?

Q:  I’m new to writing and submitting my work. The story I sent you is non-fiction in that it actually happened to me. I was the little girl. But I consider it fiction in that it is radically embellished.  Am I confused about genres?

A:  If you are confused about genres, you are not alone. Creative Nonfiction is a relatively new genre, at least in terms of a single definition. Within the literary community there is debate about its nature, about its highest and best form. Some people even refuse to acknowledge creative nonfiction as a legitimate genre, and hold that the subject matter of writing is either true (nonfiction) or not true (fiction).

Increasingly, though, there is awareness that our existence and experience are non-binary things. I won’t attempt to go into all of that here, but I subscribe to a couple of ideas about this complexity that guide Longridge Review.

1) We can never recall exactly what happened but still need to write about what we do remember to find the truth in that experience.

There is some science that says every time we recall something, we change it.

(Let yourself sit with that for a minute or two.)

2) The key is to not deliberately and strategically write something that is, as you say, “radically embellished,” and then try to pass it off as anything other than fiction.

It sounds like what you have is a piece of fiction that is inspired by personal experience. Some might say that personal experience is THE launch pad for fiction, at least to some degree. Even if the story is about a murder, say, or an alien invasion (things hopefully of limited personal experience), the writer has to have some experience with the core elements of the story in order to make it work. Maybe she worked at a newspaper and covered the crime beat. Maybe he loved the planetarium as a child and has a keen awareness of planets and systems in space.

I hope this is helpful. While creative nonfiction can cover forms like poetry, Longridge Review focuses on the essay form.

For more on the genre, we recommend this by Lee Gutkind: What is Creative Nonfiction?

The word “creative” has been criticized in this context because some people have maintained that being creative means that you pretend or exaggerate or make up facts and embellish details. This is completely incorrect. It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.

“Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

Dear Reader:

A heads up, this issue is really heavy. There is recounting of a lot of trauma.

But this is part of our mission, I believe. To bring forth how serious childhood is to who we become. To offer empathy and compassion for adults who are still trying to find themselves whole after harm they suffered at a tender age. Absolutely, sometimes the formative event is love or humor. But often, it is not.

Sometimes the harm is callous disregard. Sometimes it is violent assault. Sometimes it is the betrayal of a friend. Sometimes, it is a parent’s love growing mysteriously cold.

And yet….each of these writers still seems to carry a small, unextinguished light. The search for resolution and healing is much of what these essays have in common.

Christopher Woods‘ photographs carry that same small light in darkness.

We hope you will read each essay with care, and with time. There is much to learn here.

Peace and write on,

Elizabeth Gaucher
Editor, Longridge Review

Issue 3 is here, and I am hustling through the last-minute finishing touches that seem to persist no matter how many months in advance we start putting things together for Longridge Review.

Is every bit of formatting perfect yet? Alas, no.

But I find myself soaking in the joy that comes from reading, re-reading, and working through questions with a wonderfully diverse cadre of writers; the quality of our journey far outweighs the frustrations of errant HTML code.

We don’t usually do much with unusual formatting of essays. So far we have allowed white space to inform the reader of paragraph breaks rather than indents. Indent more than one way? Add numerical or linear cues? Experiment with starting a line with a comma?

No.

Except that was all before I read Tom Lin’s Godzilla, a narrative with visual structure that not only  informs us how to read it but also seems to subtly mimic the loneliness and staggered footsteps of the title creature itself. This is a powerful, complex essay that lingers. By examining his childhood impressions of Godzilla, Lin also opens the door to his memories of his grandfather, of the island of Taiwan’s history, and the legacy of the atomic bomb. Lin gifts the reader with a woven vision of family, culture, and destruction. Ultimately, he asks the reader to consider the lost voices and languages of a people but also of their hearts.

I will write up my usual synopsis of each essay and blog those out soon. For now, I can’t hold these back another hour. They are each just too special, and they await your discovery. Visit our home page for links to:

  • Rebecca Chekouras (California), July 11
  • Ryan C. Dailey (Chicago), Home/Life
  • Janet Garber (New York), A Closet of One’s Own
  • Tom Lin (Ohio), Godzilla
  • Ana Christina Peters (South Korea), War
  • Emily Rems (New York), Extra Help
  • Allison Spector (North Dakota), The Bucket Boys
  • Margaret Redmond Whitehead (Brooklyn), Over the Limit

Happy Reading,

Elizabeth Gaucher, Founding Editor, Longridge Review