Chasing Dreams, Literary Magazines, and Why Not Now?

maybeToday I’m thinking about chasing long-held dreams and finally stopping all the excuses and the, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Or “Next year.” Or the vague but still hopeful “One day.” You see, this is a thing I do to myself, and have been doing for years. I have dreams of writing certain novels. Of moving somewhere new. Of so much more. But I keep putting them off. I keep getting overwhelmed, and making excuses, and lately I’ve felt a shift inside me. There is a sense of urgency that I can’t explain. It began after the election aftermath, and the fearful depression that landed on me (and so many of us) afterward. It broiled under me all these months as it seems like the planet is falling apart, disaster after disaster, all around us. I’m sorry to be so negative, but for me it all starts there.

Recently, I was a part of a group of publishing people—authors, agents, editors—who banded together to create an auction to help raise money for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. It came from a sense of shared helplessness and the desire to do something. We came together in a matter of hours one night, and in days the auction grew and grew. We called ourselves #PubforPR and held the auction earlier this month and ended up raising (as of today) a total of $206,550 that went direct to local charities in Puerto Rico.

Through this experience, I discovered something: We don’t have to be helpless, especially when we work together and put our hearts into it.

I also discovered something more personal. For one, I miss working together with people under the pressure of a deadline (that heated excitement I remember from my production editor days).

And two, I don’t know how much time I have left and I can’t keep saying tomorrow, next year, one day.

So I did three things: I removed my social media from my phone, logged out, and will not have to log in to those accounts until winter except if/when there is news to share.

I started a new novel I can’t talk about yet.

And I reached out to a friend to see if she wanted to do a project with me that I have been wanting to do for years.

What is that long-held dream?

It’s to create a literary magazine. Yes, it’s time.

This is a dream I’ve had since college, when I used to be a work-study student at the Antioch Review. My job was to open the mail—stories were sent snail-mail back then!—and type up the submission details on an index card on an old electric typewriter. I then filed the card in a library card catalog and put the story in the piles to be read. Sometimes, very rarely, I got to read some of the slush. Through this job, I discovered and fell in love with Aimee Bender (one of her early stories, “What You Left in the Ditch,” was published in the Review in the fall of 1997, I read it as a submitted manuscript and about died from awe). That was my first introduction to literary journals, and I’ve worked on and interned for a few more since, including co-editing the one in my MFA program, COLUMBIA: A Journal of Literature & Art, my second year in the program. (When it was my turn to choose the issue’s theme, I chose “fairy tales,” and solicited—and published!—a short story from… Guess who? Aimee Bender.)

So here’s the thing: If you know me and know me well, you know that my first deep and true love as a writer was short stories. Writing them. Reading them. Collecting them.

I’ve considered, as a YA author, pitching and editing a short story anthology, but it seems like so much of that is curating a group of named authors and I knew that you don’t often see the pieces before the anthology is sold. (I’m a contributor to three YA anthologies, with a fourth about to be announced, and never did I have to write the story ahead of time.) Which means the part that I loved the most—the discovery moment of finding a gorgeous short story in slush that we end up publishing—isn’t a part of it. And I want that back again. I remember finding the most amazing short story in the giant slush stacks at Zoetrope: All-Story, when I volunteered as a reader in their New York offices and rated stories for four-hour stretches on the beanbag chairs in the loft. I rated that story the highest score I could—I think it was a five?—the score we were told to rarely, so rarely use unless we were SERIOUS. I was serious. The editors ended up passing on the story, but I remember seeing it published soon after in my favorite litmag Tin House, so I see that it landed on another reader’s desk (or beanbag chair) who must have given it the highest rating, too.

I remember my first short story acceptance. I was in my twenties, still a student. When I was sending out short stories on submission, I would give a PO box as my address, so the rejections wouldn’t come to my house and ruin my day without warning. Whenever I visited the post office to check the box, I steeled myself… and told myself one day I might hear a yes even if today it was a no. That day, I got the envelope out of the box and didn’t even open it right away. I remember I was on the subway platform up at 110th Street, where I lived then, and I opened the envelope while waiting for the train on the way to work. It was a yes. My first-ever yes. The first story I ever published appeared in a litmag called Gulf Coast in Texas. I’d never been to Texas, but I remember thinking, I LOVE YOU, TEXAS! That story was called “Mars, New York.” I’ll never forget the incredible feeling of knowing someone was going to publish it.

As a reader, I loved short stories so much that I collected them. I’ve confessed this before, but I used to photocopy stories I loved from anthologies and magazines and keep them in binders. I have about ten binders stuffed full of stories. I called them my “anthologies.” Sometimes I go back and reread them, and I love seeing what struck me then. One day, I’ll edit a litmag of my own, I told myself. One day. And the years passed, and I did nothing, and here we are.

So you can see, I’ve been carrying this dream around for a long time.

Once I became a YA author, the dream shifted and focused to YA.

I’ve been talking—to friends, in sighing updates on Twitter—about wanting to start some kind of online literary magazine focusing on YA short stories for years. You may have heard me talking. You may have rolled your eyes. You may have been curious. You may have been intrigued.

I last talked about this online a week or two ago, so if you heard that and wondered what came from it…

It’s happening.

For real.

In my opinion, the YA world needs more venues for short stories—we have so few. So guess what? There’s about to be a new one.

I have a wonderful partner, someone who’s wanted to do this for a while too, and who is just as committed to this as I am. (I’m not sure if she’s said anything publicly, so I won’t reveal her name here just yet!) We’re making plans. We’re going to reach out for volunteer staff and content soon. We’ll be announcing more details when we’re ready, so I am not going to say a specific thing about it except… JUST WAIT, IT’S GOING TO BE AWESOME. If you’re a YA writer, I hope you’ll consider sending us a story when we’re ready! If you’ve emailed or messaged me about wanting to help, I have your name on a list and will be in touch.

But as the concept takes shape and the plans get more and more detailed, I almost want to pinch myself.

I dreamed this a long time ago, and I’m tired of telling myself now is not the moment to attempt it. Now can be the time. Why not?

So that’s my little dream gaining traction and becoming more and more solid with each day. What’s yours? And if you haven’t tried to make it happen yet, what’s stopping you?

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