John McDonough is the new Prose Editor here at the press. He brings a new genre with him as well: we are now accepting Creative Nonfiction in our biannual literary mag, Rabbit Catastrophe Review. Read the interview below to get to know him.
Robin LaMer Rahija: Tell us your entire life story: where did you grow up? what terrible things in your past led you to being a writer? where do you live now and why?
John McDonough: Does the past matter? Did it lead me to being a writer, or was that coded into the twists of my DNA at birth? That's a joke. What I can tell you is that I grew up in the Chicagoland metro area, spent my college years in rural Missouri, moved back to Chicago in my early twenties, and then moved to Fort Collins, Colorado for grad school. There is no room to explain all the parts of my life that led me (whether directly or circuitously) to who I am today, and so all I will say is that every single one of those places I've listed has had a tremendous effect on my development as a writer, thinker, and person.
RLR: Describe the current state of fiction. How do you want RCR to participate in that and/or change it?
JM: Whether I want to or not, I end up spending a lot of time talking and thinking about the current state of fiction. MFA vs. NYC. The workshop story. Award winners, who publishes what, which celebrity the New Yorker will publish next. Honestly, I'm hesitant to comment on much of it, or to attempt to summarize such a large and diverse movement, because I'm not sure a whole lot that's productive comes from it. None of us is writing in a vacuum—we all read and then write—and so it seems natural to me that certain similarities would emerge between the stories that are produced. I'd rather talk about exceptional stories than trends, focus on what's good and interesting rather than what's overdone or trite. I worry that any time I try to say something definite about fiction, someone will just come along and prove me wrong. So instead I'm just going to sit here and refuse to say anything!
That said, I hope that RCR can alleviate some of that hand wringing. I want to publish stories that are formally and structurally innovative, that approach new topics or old topics in new ways, that move me, unsettle me, make me laugh, make me gasp. I want to leave a story having felt something, regardless of what that is or what caused that feeling. See what I'm saying about refusing to say anything? My goal for RCR is the same as probably any magazine: to give a voice to writers who deserve to be heard. What that looks like will ultimately end up being simultaneously as unique and familiar as any other magazine, depending on who you ask. But I don't want to worry about that. I want to worry about the stories.
RLR: What is your reading process for submissions?
JM: People sends 'em, I reads 'em.
But seriously, my process is inconsistent, and still in development. If a story intrigues me in any way I'm loathe to make a decision immediately. I think all writing is understood much better after multiple reads, and so I try to revisit any story that I think might deserve it. I also like to get second opinions, because I know my own perspective can be limiting.
The only other rule I try to ascribe to is an aversion for reading cover letters before submissions. I want to approach these stories blind, without any preconceptions about who wrote them or what that might indicate about the content of the story. It's the fairest approach, I think, and it's important to me to be fair to all writers. I'm one of these people, remember! I approach submissions the way I hope my own submissions are approached by other editors.
RLR: Who are you reading right now?
JM: It's pretty typical for my reading to be all over the place. I don't read many novels these days, so oftentimes I'm dipping in and out of different collections, reading stories and essays that friends email me or link me to, trying to catch up on the canonical stuff I'm woefully behind on. I'm more disorganized in my reading than in any other part of my life, and it's something I'm trying to improve upon. A few things I've enjoyed recently: Chad Simpson's Tell Everyone I Say Hi, Denis Johnson's "The Largesse of the Sea Maiden," Isabelle Allende's The Stories of Eva Luna, a smattering of the work in Stuart Dybek's new collections, the essay Kiese Laymon just published on Gawker, "My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK," etc. etc. Oh, we read a story by Garth Greenwell called "Gospodar" in workshop a month or two back, and I haven't reacted to anything as strongly as I reacted to that story in a long, long time. It's great, but not for the faint of heart. There are some great stories in the new O. Henry collection too. This is a bad question for me to answer, because usually I'm the one receiving the reading recommendations. If you want more recommendations, just send me an email, and I'll put you in touch with my people. They're the ones who deserve to be up here talking about stories.