Julie Wakeman-Linn, Editor of Potomac Review answers questions about the joys of editing a literary journal; my next post (Entry #227) will share more details of her experiences at Breadloaf.
Jan: Eli Flam founded the Potomac Review back in 1993. How has the Potomac Review changed since those early days and what do you see as the current mission?
Julie: Our mission is very different. Eli published quarterly and only accepted submissions from the region (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware). He also had an environmental focus. It was a beautiful regional journal.
We, on the other hand, accept submissions from all over the globe. In our last issues, we have published writers from Australia, Taiwan, Canada and the U.S. We don’t have a thematic focus—instead we strive for a combination of styles and content, ranging from formal poetry to free verse to traditional narrative to experimental fiction. We also try very hard to represent a variety of writers, balancing the number of men and women and including people of color.
Jan: How did you get involved in this publication, taking on the role of Editor-in-Chief?
Julie: In 2004 The Potomac Review was housed in name only at Montgomery College. None of the faculty or students were participating at all. I volunteered to re-shape it to include faculty as editors and students as interns. In fact, the Potomac Review internship is one of the coolest things I get to do. We select a team of the best, brightest, most eager creative writing students and teach them the publication business from the inside. I have an incredible supportive Dean and Vice President above me.
Jan: Although the guidelines and deadlines are online, what kinds of work are you most interested in publishing at this time?
Julie: We are on the prowl for more excellent nonfiction. I, personally, like magic realism, but any story has to go through our three-tier system, so it’s not just a matter of what I like.
Jan: What kinds of mistakes do you most often see in submissions that are deal-breakers for you and your section editors? What advice do you offer to those submitting work for publication consideration?
Julie: Mistakes in writing and in submitting can be deal-breakers. The funniest one occurs when a writer submits in the wrong genre. If a poet clicks fiction or a fiction writer selects poetry, the submission often gets lost in a “no-man-nobody’s-reading-it-land.” A big mistake in writing is a weak opening line or paragraph. A huge deal breaker is forgetting to tell us if the piece has been accepted somewhere else, leaving us wasting our time. That mistake usually puts the writer on our black list. And yes, editors can block writers from submitting.
Jan: Tell us a bit about the annual Potomac Review‘s involvement in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference.
Julie: We are involved with Barrelhouse Magazine in the lively one day “Conversations and Connections: practice advice on getting published.” Dave Housley, Susan Muaddi Darraj and I founded the conference in 2007 and it keeps rocking on. We are launching a new variation of it this January with a one day craft-intensive event at Montgomery College. We are no longer involved with the F. Scott Fitz Literary Festival.
Jan: What are the joys and sorrows that you’ve discovered about working for a small literary journal? What is the best advice you have received, and what advice have you chosen to ignore about editing a literary journal?
Julie: The joy of hearing that somebody loved something we published or the joy of meeting an author in person whose work we loved makes it worthwhile. I was at AWP and this guy walked up to our book fair table. I saw his name badge and called out “Coyotes”! Will Donnelly! Then I had a great chat about how much we loved his work and how pleased he was with Potomac Review. We’ve had some incredible success stories. Jennine Capo Crucet—I heard her read at Breadloaf in 2008, published her in 2009, she won the Iowa Review Prize in 2010. Stories and essays we adored have been recognized in the Best American series. We haven’t cracked the Pushcart yet, but we hope to soon. For me, joy comes with success for our authors.
The advice I ignored was from David Lynn of The Kenyon Review. We were having a casual chat at Sewanee in 2005 and when I asked his advice about editing a lit mag — he said, “Don’t.”
Jan: What is the most useful thing that you have learned about your own writing as a result of working with the Potomac Review?
Julie: Hmm, good question. I’ve learned about having patience with editors and I’ve gained a much greater understanding that any editor is only one reader on any given day. Another editor tomorrow may love a story or have room for it.
Jan: What are you working on in your own writing right now?
Julie: A new novel is out in circulation even as I type. Next up for me is to polish my novella, Challenges of Non-native Species, and to prepare my African short stories collection.
Jan: In August you returned to the Breadloaf Conference once again; please tell us about your experiences there. What new things did you discover about your own writing?
Julie: Ursula Hegi, who is amazing, taught me a lot about point of entry into fiction. Andrea Barrett gave an incredible craft talk on Point of View. And as for my own writing? Breadloaf is so much fun but it also gave me a nice shot of confidence in my work. It is a competitive admission conference and being there makes a writer feel good. Being surrounded by other serious and talented writers leads to marvelous conversations about the writing life, too.
Jan: What question do you wish I had asked? And what would you say in response to it?
Julie: My question–Why don’t editors respond immediately to writers? And I’d answer this way: Try to respect that each issue is also an artifact, an object of literary art and it takes time and care to do it, if not perfectly, at least as polished as possible. Editors are people, too, usually with demanding teaching jobs, so be patient.
Jan: Finally, thanks so much, Julie for taking time for this interview. Please provide readers with the Mission Statement of the Potomac Review and relevant links.
Potomac Review opens windows into the complexity of literature: in each issue, our selections span the spectrum of voice and style. We sample realistic and experimental prose and poetry. Drawing 95 % of our content from unsolicited submissions, we publish writers at all stages of their careers. Every issue includes work by emerging and by established writers. The Potomac Review features award-winning writers and has been recognized in the Best American series. Our philosophy welcomes variety, and through it, we create an organic flow of ideas to contribute to the literary conversation.
Potomac Review no longer accepts paper submissions. Instead, submit your work electronically via our Online Submission Manager.
About Jan Bowman
Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, Jan’s stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, and a Pen/O’Henry award. Glimmer Train named a story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Her stories have been finalists for the 2013 Broad River Review RASH Award for Fiction, 2013 finalists in the Phoebe Fiction Contest, 2012 “So To Speak” Fiction Contest.
Her fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection, Mermaids & Other Stories. She has nonfiction publications in Atticus Review, Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers. Learn more at: www.janbowmanwriter.com
Comments are closed.