December 15th, 2010

What I’m up to

If you haven’t heard my voice in a while, you might want to check out a podcast of a reading I did on Hear Hear’s website. You can also hear Andrew Daley, Julia Tausch, and Adrienne Gruber, all of whom I had the pleasure of reading with that evening, and all of whom are fab. The piece I did was an excerpt from my story “The Weatherboy”–if it whets your appetite for the whole thing, you can download “The Weatherboy” from Rattling Books. That reading is done by Gerard Whelan, and is really much better than mine–warm and musical, arch in places, completely as I would have done it if I were a much better reader. Enjoy!

If you’d like to see what a bunch of the writers from the last issue of The New Quarterly (including me!) are reading at the moment, please check out TNQ’s Who’s Reading What feature. And did I mention that I wrote the letter for TNQ’s donation campaign this year? For those not on their mailing list and who are curious, I’ve copied in the text from the letter below–if it inspires you to give, hooray–but no pressure.

My second acceptance from a literary journal was from The New Quarterly. I still have Kim Jernigan’s shocking, thrilling acceptance letter from September 4, 2006. I was utterly amazed; I had sent my story off to strangers, and they liked it, and wanted to share it with more. Kim said, “We’ve all…recognized…the way [the protagonist] tries to remain aloof from the lives around her while also feeling disconnected from her own life.” It was such a joy to be so well read, so understood. I felt like I’d thrown something fragile that I loved up into the air and a stranger had gently caught it.

When I first started sending out work, I was 28, and had been writing stories for maybe 15 years. It took so long, but I had finally reached that crucial point: my terror of rejection had been exceeded by my desire to share my stories, which I loved so much, and see if they resonated with anyone else. Publication in a respected journal gave me a sudden audience of serious readers, often subscribers who know the magazine well and are loyal to the editors; they’ll take a new writer seriously because they know who chose the work, and they’ll take the time to listen for that resonance. Publication in a literary journal is an invitation to join the conversation.

But let’s back up, to before acceptance or publication or that reading audience of subscribers–it’s thrilling just to have a reading audience of thoughtful readers on the editorial board. You can’t really ask for a more attentive audience than editors, who have read 100s or 1000s of stories and devoted their time to really listening to what each story is doing and why. That attention can be terrifying, too—if something is going wrong in a story, a casual reader or even a serious one reading for pleasure might miss it. Someone with years of experience critiquing and selecting stories, and who puts his or her name on the masthead won’t. When TNQ accepts a story, you can know it’s the real deal.

When I submit to a journal I respect, when they don’t take a story I can often learn something from that too. Even if they haven’t had time to offer criticism, knowing that the editors think it’s not quite there can be enough encouragement to go back to the drawing board. The TQN eds are notably generous with their time and criticism, however, and their feedback can be so valuable when I’m searching for direction. The story “The House on Elsbeth” was rejected by The New Quarterly in the summer of 2007, but with their feedback I revised over the next six months, and it was published in the mag the following summer.

But there’s so much more than just giving us a place to publish! The New Quarterly is good reading, and a pleasure I look forward to every quarter. More than entertainment, I and so many other writers count on the lit journals to bring the news: what new things are writers doing? What new forms or adaptations of old ones have the poets found? What are ways story-writers are solving issues of style and structure? And how are the lines being blurred between the genres in ways that expand them? I’ll never forget reading Elizabeth Hay’s “Last Poems” at three in the morning and feeling like she had told the utter truth, and yet made it more than just truth. How did she do that?

Every issue of TNQ—or any worthwhile litmag—brings me 20-30 voices, that many conceptions of the universe and the written word. Not all are my cup of tea, but heaven help the writer—or the human being—who drinks only from her own cup. I like reading something I didn’t expect to read, or to like. I like to be surprised—it’s very close to being inspired, I think.

I also like feeling that I’m part of this group of surprising writers and insightful readers—the team that goes out to the readings and applauds, the team that makes comments on each issue in emails and blog posts. On the famed TNQ/CNQ (Canadian Notes and Queries) tour of 2008, Kim and TNQ managing editor Rosalynn Tyo drove a few of us story-writers, plus a very little, very cute, very vocal baby, from Windsor to Waterloo in a blinding snowstorm. Some of us ate chicken with our fingers in the back seat, and everyone was in a strangely good mood, and I don’t think any of us will soon forget it.

Literary journals do so much to foster a sense that we are all—writers and readers, poets and artists, fans and friends—part of something we can work on, separately and yet together. I am so happy to write this letter for The New Quarterly, to remind everyone (including me) how much good they do.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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