What I hoped to emphasis is that there isn’t one right answer to this question. In some ways, a literary magazine is a literary magazine if it says it’s one. That might sound silly, but People Magazine or ESPN: The Magazine or Entertainment Weekly would never want to identify that way. A literary magazine also focuses, more than any other magazine, on the writing. That too is a bit presumptuous, I suppose, but most literary magazines have little to no advertising, and if that doesn’t scream an emphasis on the material, I don’t know what does.
Story is boss. Story comes first and technique serves story. More than anything, I want to thrill my reader. I’ll do it in as artful manner possible, but my ultimate goal is simple, pure: get your heart slamming, wiggle you to edge of your seat, make you forget about this world and get caught up in another I built out of ink and paper.
Infinite Jest – You want people to imagine that you ponder the implications of Quebec separatism in your most intimate moments. You have a hard time finding Quebec on a map. That bookmark on page 542 is not fooling anyone.
A Rubik’s Cube – You want your guests to stay forever. You do not believe they can read.
The Newspaper – You may want to consider adding Metamucil into your diet.
Once this highland was our birthplace. Once
we were children of kings.
Now I am a Siamese rosewood on fire.
I am a skin of sagging curtain.
I am a bone of bullet hole.
I am locked in the ash oven of a forest.
Peb yog and we will be.
The sky sleeps quilted in a militia of stars.
Someone has folded
gold and silver spirit
money into a thousand tiny boats.
hmoob and we will be.
I am hungry as the beggar who cracked
open a coconut to find
the heart of a wild gaur.
Hmoob and we
The tree is more ancient
than its homeland,
shedding its annual citrine
as hourglass dripping honey.
Peb yeej ib txwm yog
I dig and dig for no more roots to dig.
I soldier with my severed
legs, my fallen ear.
I’ve become the shrill
air in a bamboo pipe—the breath
of an army of bells.
I try not to think too much when I’m writing. I try my best to listen. To feel my way through the heft of a single word, through its shape, the sound it makes, even the spaces between words. I try to hear and then try to speak to what I think I hear and to see what I wouldn’t otherwise see and say. I think that’s what goes on when I write but I can’t be certain.
Every single day, I get emails from aspiring writers asking my advice about how to become a writer, and here is the only advice I can give: Don’t make stuff because you want to make money — it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous — because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people — and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.
Maybe they will notice how hard you worked, and maybe they won’t — and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But, ultimately, that doesn’t change anything — because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for, but to the gift itself.
V.S. Pritchett’s definition of a short story is ‘something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.’ First the glimpse. Then the glimpse given life, turned into something that will illuminate the moment and just maybe lock it indelibly into the reader’s consciousness. Make it part of the reader’s own experience, as Hemingway so nicely put it. Forever, the writer hopes. Forever.