Jan Bowman

Entry # 92 – WRITERS TALK – Christopher J. Helvey – Part 2

In addition to his current writing career, Christopher J. Helvey is Editor/Publisher of the journal, Trajectory: Writing That Illuminates. He is Fiction Editor on the staff of the Annual Anthology of Best New Writing.  

Christopher J. Helvey

Christopher J. Helvey is a graduate of the Spalding University MFA in Writing program. His fiction and poems have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Kentucky Monthly, Idiolect, Kudzu, Nougat, The Chaffin Journal, Ace Weekly, Kentucky Blue, Modern Mountain Magazine, Minnetonka Review, Issue 4, and Best New Writing, 2007. On the Boulevard is his poetry collection and his novel, Purple Adobe, is available from AuthorHouse or fine bookstores everywhere. He lives and writes in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Last week – Part 1 of our Interview focused on your work as a poet, novelist, and short story writer.
Part 2 of our Interview today will focus at your work as an Editor and a Publisher of the literary journal, Trajectory.
Jan:        Thank you again for agreeing to share your insights on publishing.  As Editor and Publisher of the literary journal, Trajectory – why now – in these tough economic times for print journals, did you decide to start a new literary journal?

Chris:       Jan, I began Trajectory because I believed there were voices crying in the wilderness, voices that deserved to be heard, but were not. Based on my experience, many of the current literary reviews and journals are published by universities or colleges. And, quite frequently, their first readers are students. Often, being quite young, they see the world far differently from a writer who is over 40 or 50 or 60. In my opinion, we need more voices, not fewer. We need those who are just starting their journey for their new and fresh ways of looking at life, but we also need those who have already traveled many miles. I wanted to read and print stories, creative nonfiction, and poems from new voices, new voices with experience.  

Jan:        Tell us about your vision for Trajectory. What is your mission? What are your goals?

Chris:        My vision is for Trajectory to be an independent source of some of the finest new fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction in the world today. My mission is to give print to works that illuminate life for us in new, exciting, unique ways. Our primary goal is really quite simple, to keep publishing as long as there are fine new stories and poems to print and people who want to read them.

Jan:        How did you go about assembling your staff?

Chris:        Our staff is really small. The real workhorse of the team is our graphic designer/layout artist, Myra Summers of Word Management. Myra and I have worked together on dozens of projects over the years and she has always done a great job. Over the issues I’ve had a few readers, but I end up making most of the final cuts. My wife, Gina, is one of the world’s really great proofreaders. She also is a good reader, with an instinct for what works and for what doesn’t.

Jan:        What changes do you anticipate for Trajectory in the future? Do you have plans to become an online journal at some point?

Chris:        At some point in the not too distant future I hope to expand the imprint into book publishing. I’ll start small, working with one or two writers whose work I admire and whose artistic integrity I admire. I do hope to put more poems and stories online, but only as a supplement to the print journal. I still believe there is a place, granted a smaller one, for printed journals, reviews, and chapbooks.

Jan:        What are you looking for in the poems, creative nonfiction and stories you select for publication?

Chris:        What’s the old line about pornography, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Well, that’s the way I am about a story or poem. If it speaks to me, resonates at some deep, meaningful level, then it stands a good chance of being accepted. I have no set agenda and am willing to forgive many missteps, but cliches, blatant sentimentality, cardboard characters and wooden dialogue are usually deadly. Often, I know within a few lines if a story or poem is not going to work. As Sena Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife and head of the Spalding University M.F.A in Writing Program (where I earned my degree) says, “You don’t have to eat the whole egg to know it is rotten.” 

Jan:        What are the basic submission guidelines writers must follow in order to be considered for publication in your journal?  What do you often wish you could ‘whisper softly in the ear’ of aspiring writers who submit work to Trajectory?

Chris:        Except for requiring all submissions to be hard copy (I’m an older guy and my eyes can’t take too much reading on the monitor) we are extremely flexible. We are always reading and have no limits on subject matter or length. We are contantly looking for poems, stories, creative nonfiction, and even b&w art or photos. If I could whisper in the ears of all writers I’d say “submit, submit, submit.” No journal or review is ever going to take the work stuck in a drawer or in your computer. To those who submit to Trajectory I’d say “if you get rejected, try again–with a better story or poem.”

Jan:        Which literary journals do you read regularly?

Chris:        I dip into several as time permits. Recently I’ve read from Chicago Review, Alligator Juniper, Bayou, Kudzu, New Laurel, and New Southerner. 

Jan:        What is the most difficult part of being Trajectory’s Editor/Publisher?

Chris:        Getting enough really fine submissions, especially stories. It is so frustrating to know that all over the world there are great stories [just sitting] in files, on shelves, in computers. I know it takes time to submit and, of course, there is that old fear of rejection, but come on–take a shot, or two, or three! 


Jan:        Let’s talk about your work as Fiction Editor for the annual anthology, Best New Writing.  How did you get involved in this anthology project, and how would you describe your current role?     

Chris:        My first involvement with Best New Writing was as a competitor in the annual Eric Hoffer Fiction Contest. I submitted, I think, in 2007 and was fortunate to be chosen as one of the finalist. Although I didn’t win, my story (“Conscientious Objectors”) was selected for publication. A year or so later they asked me to come on board as one of their fiction/elimination editors. 

Best New Writing is guided by the Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Klim, who does all the work that nobody else wants to do, like advertising, gathering up the subscriptions to the various editors (five in all), keeping the submissions moving, coordinating the final selections, getting the publication agreements signed and the volumes printed, among other things.
Jan:        What are you as an editor looking for in fiction when you read submissions?

Chris:        When I read a story as an editor, the first thing I look for is a unique voice, one that I haven’t read before, one that stands out. However, this voice must be under control. That is, the writer must be able to control the storyline and keep the readers interest. An awful lot of minor flaws (misplaced commas) can be forgiven if I sense a voice and the proper degree of control. Instant turn-offs are trying to be too cute, cliches, sex or violence that is not an integral part of the story, too long a wind up (a lot of writers have a terrible time getting to the story line, causing the readers to give up before the story really takes off). The first paragraph, or at most the first page, is critical. Editors get so many submissions that they simply don’t have the luxury of devoting time to a story that fails to quickly engage. And, of course, closing the story strongly is always critical.
As an elimination editor, every three months I read the stories assigned to me, usually around 20, and eliminate all but the very best, most often 2 or 3. The other elimination editors do the same and at the end of the contest year we all score the stories that have survived. Once a winner has been determined, we select (via Skype) the other stories that will be published. Best New Writing is quite a prestigious publication and the competition is always intense. Many good stories have to be eliminated to make way for the exceptional ones.

Jan:        What trends are you seeing in the work published in this anthology?

Chris:        The most noticeable trend I see with Best New Writing is the ever-increasing number of high quality international submissions. We have had some truly powerful stories from England, Canada, Israel, India, and Africa. I think that being able to showcase some of these fine stories is a tremendous infusion into the American literary scene. I’m delighted to be able to play a small part.

Jan:        What inspires you? What makes your day, as a writer, editor, publisher?

Chris:        To find one truly wonderful story or poem, and to know that I can help share it with the world.

Jan:        What’s the most useful advice you’ve received as a publisher and what advice have you chosen to ignore?

Chris:        I’m not sure about “most useful advice.” I expect it has come from reading other journals and seeing what they do and how they do it. The advice I chose to ignore was “Don’t start a literary journal.” Another piece of advice I’ve ignored to date is to “sell advertising.”  I’m not fundamentally opposed to advertising; I’ve just chosen to go another route.

Jan:        I’ve talked with writers who submit work to journals that they’ve never taken the time to read or examine. Often they submit work so far removed from the work a particular journal publishes, and then they wonder why it’s rejected. Writers need to support journals they admire so those journals survive long enough to discover and publish their work.  How can one submit work to Trajectory?  And how can someone subscribe to Trajectory

Chris:        Subscribing is easy. Just send a check or money order for $12 for one issue, $20 for 2 issues, or $35 for 4 issues to: Trajectory, P.O. Box 655, Frankfort, KY 40602. Guidelines are on the web site.  Go to:   www.trajectoryjournal.com
Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of 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:

Website – www.janbowmanwriter.com

Blogsite – http://janbowmanwriter.blogspot.com