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.
Baltic Writing Residency Poetry Chapbook Contest
The Baltic Writing Residency Poetry Chapbook Contest, in conjunction with Rabbit Catastrophe Press.
Judge: Bob Hicok (more information below)
$750, plus publication, and 25 author copies beautifully printed by Rabbit Catastrophe Press.
$21.00 submission fee.
Manuscripts are being accepted now through the November 15, 2014 deadline.
Send 20 – 32 manuscript pages of poetry (no more than one poem per page). It's fine if individual works have been published elsewhere, but the manuscript can't have been published as a whole before.
Include a title page, a table of contents, and an acknowledgements page (if any of the poems have been previously published).
Your name and contact info should NOT appear anywhere on the manuscript. And filling out Submittable's "cover letter" field is discouraged. Close friends of, and students who are studying with or have studied with the judge within the last five years, should not apply.
The manuscript need not be thematically coherent or narratively related. Co-authored manuscripts are fine. Submitting multiple manuscripts is fine with entry fees for each.
All covers are printed on Rives BFK Printmaking Paper, which is a 100% cotton rag. All covers, FFEPs, vellums and text blocks are scored and torn by hand to size and then hand folded into books. Books are bound with a variety of perfect and sewn bindings.
Bob Hicok’s latest book, Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon Press, 2013), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Hicok is the author of several additional collections of poems, including The Legend of Light, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry in 1995 and named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year; Plus Shipping (1998); Animal Soul (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Insomnia Diary (2004); This Clumsy Living (2007), which received the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress; Words for Empty, Words for Full (2010). His work has been selected numerous times for the Best American Poetry series. Hicok has won Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with further questions if you have them.
Because bios are boring. Usually. Front Porch has some good ones. "Bacon." "Catfriend." "SuiGeneris." These are some good words. I don't want any part of the journal to be boring.
Also, I worried that I was being overly influenced by bios. Like, if a bio is three pages long, and they list all 300 online magazines they were ever in - then I found I was not paying very close attention to their actual work. I just immediately hated them. There are a lot of opinions about bio etiquette out there. I guess I'm in the short-and-sweet camp. And you can't get any shorter or sweeter than savoring the delicious, etymologically rich depths of a single word.
Many times the best writers have the best one-word bios. But sometimes not. Sometimes their bios are dumb. They still win because they are the best writers. That's what matters.
Reaction to this change in our guidelines has been varied. Some people get mad. This is the wrong reaction. It's supposed to be fun. Some people say things like "writer" or "poet." Don't do that either. I already know that about you. Teach me something new. Some people just ignore it and send a regular, 3-page long bio. Maybe they think I'm joking. I'm not. I take your word choice very seriously. It's supposed to be fun. But also it's very, very serious.
#RCR07 is now available http://rabbitcatastrophepress.com/#/rcr7