Meet the Editor of Issue 43.4: An Interview with Geffen Semach

Interview by 
Molly Cross-Blanchard
Geffen sitting on a couch reading a book

Geffen Semach recently moved to Toronto where she works at Doubleday at Penguin Random House Canada. For the last few years, she was living in London, England, where she worked as a Literary Agent's Assistant at Aitken Alexander. Geffen has also worked at Profile Books and in foreign rights at Andrew Nurnberg Associates in London. She has been an online editor, a creative copywriter at a marketing agency, as well as held an editorial assistant position with The Nabokov Online Journal. Geffen completed the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford University in 2017.


ROOM: This issue, 43.4, is an open issue! An absolute free-for-all. What will you be looking for in a submission that will make you go “Holy crap, I need to publish this NOW”? 


GEFFEN SEMACH: So many things, actually! I love genre-blending, nonfiction that teaches me something or has something to say, writing that makes me feel emotionally involved, the dark and gritty. I’m looking for pieces that are fresh and well-structured. A writer who knows their craft and then stretches the boundaries and form — of language, of structure, of genre. I get so excited when I see someone who has put thought into it and has not only pushed themselves, but me as a reader which makes me feel trusted. Writing that makes me laugh at something that’s not usually funny, and punches that knock me out; I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. 

As well, what’s going on in the world right now and the isolated state we’re in is important, and I want to invite writers and artists to make use of this time and of their thoughts and/or emotions. If you’re working on something Covid-19 related or not, I want to see it!

Oh, and I have fascination with lists. 


ROOM: On the flip-side, if a submitter would really like to turn you off of their work, how might they go about it?


GS: That’s a good question! I definitely have my own preferences, but I try to keep an open mind. But I’ll say these: work that is generally ignorant or prejudiced; didacticism; inspirational clichés; stories where one character treats another really terribly but then they fall in love; stories involving muskets, many tiny spiders or creepy homicidal children. Is it obvious I’m a huge curmudgeon? 


ROOM: You have a TON of experience working on the business side of publishing. Does this knowledge affect the way you approach the editorial process?


GS: I don’t know about that, but any experience I do have I hope has made me a better editor! I think being on the publishing side of things, particularly internationally, the market and comp titles are often on my mind. I think all the time spent working on the lists of those I’ve assisted and their tastes, not always focusing on myself, certainly has taught me it’s less a matter of what I wish something was, but rather how I think I can make that piece of writing the best version of what it is. I like to think good decisions come out of that place.


ROOM: There seems to be a lot of debate about the unspoken “rules” of submitting to a lit mag, like “Keep your cover letter brief,” or “Put your name on every page,” or “Always set your font in Garamond!” Are there any “rules” you think have merit, and should be considered? Or is it all a bunch of phooey?


GS: I don’t mind about numbered pages or cover letters too much; it’s your writing that ultimately has to resonate with someone. The only one I’m a bit of a stickler for, and I can’t speak for all Roomies or people in publishing, is font which has to do with legibility. Because I’m reading off of a screen so much both at work and at home, the easier it is for me to read, the better. That means a black colour, an average size, and I prefer a serifed font (such a Times or Garamond, etc.). Personally, that helps my eyes track what I’m reading, and ultimately propels me forward down the page better. I find various “creative” fonts distracting. Writers should definitely write in whatever font makes them feel the most comfortable or that they feel aligns with their creative vision; however, if you can I’d recommend keeping it simple at least when you submit — serif or otherwise — because someone has to read it and the font shouldn’t be the issue that gets in the way of your writing resonating with someone. 


ROOM: Let’s get gushy for a hot sec. Tell me what you love about working with Room.


GS: I’ve been on the collective since about 2016 give or take and I’ve continued to be involved in greater and smaller capacities over the years because I really do love Room. I was recently sitting around a table with some Roomies and was just listening to my peers discuss their thoughts and goals for the future. The magazine has been around such a long time and it has evolved in so many ways and directions over the years. I’ve seen quite a few changes since I joined the collective, including the inception and follow through of the festival which is so cool; every year they are coming up with new ways to incorporate different mediums and opportunities to learn and share so it’s been awesome to see the festival grow.

I also love the mentoring Room provides. Every issue is different and wonderful because a different team of Roomies has been given the opportunity to teach each other, collaborate, and give impetus and life to their ideas. And each of those Roomies has been a shadow, an assistant editor, and finally an editor of an issue. 


ROOM: I’m always curious to know: what was the last thing you read that made you gasp? And what was the first?


GS: That last thing that made me gasp was a fairly recent read. Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, around what I’ll call the “choose your own adventure” section (sorry for spoilers!). I thought it was incredibly skillful that it was all the more devastating knowing what was coming next. I’m always looking to be surprised in plot, but I was shocked that she turned the tables and that in the lack of surprise I got caught up in the vulnerability. Highly recommend if you haven’t read it yet!

The first is definitely harder! There was this book I read over and over again by Robert Munsch called Purple, Green, and Yellow about a young girl who asks her mother for markers, starting with washable ones, and slowly earning her mom’s trust by not drawing on the walls to get more and more advanced markers — she gets smelly markers so she can draw roses that smelled like roses and oranges that smell like oranges — until she convinces her mother to get these forever-markers that never come off until death. She gets bored of drawing on paper and draws all over herself until she’s covered in tie dye head-to-toe and when her mom finds out and takes her to the doctor, she’s given medicine that rids her of colour… completely! She becomes invisible. Obviously an issue because how are you supposed to live your life if you’re invisible? So she decides to colour herself back to normal to with the forever markers but her mother worries that people will notice until the girl points out she already drew all over her father and her mom never noticed. All’s well that ends well. 

I also used to love reading MAD and LOTR.

Molly Cross-Blanchard is a Métis poet living on Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish land. She is an MFA candidate at UBC, Poetry Editor at PRISM international, and author of the chapbook "I Don't Want to Tell You" with Rahila's Ghost Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in RoomThe PuritanContemporary Verse 2CanthiusThe Malahat Review, the ndn country anthologyPoetry is Dead, and others.

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