An interview with Room issue 39.2 editor Terri Brandmueller

Interview by 
Chelene Knight

Chelene Knight talks to Terri Brandmueller about what’s coming up in 39.2 and what makes a good Room submission. Deadline for poetry, fiction, CNF and art is October 31, 2015.

Terri Brandmueller joined the Room collective in June of 2014. She started her writing career as a newspaper journalist in small-town B.C. and ended up as freelance magazine writer in New York City, where she started writing poetry. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals including The Toronto Quarterly, Barrow Street, Alimentum, and The Guardian newspaper.  She lives in East Vancouver where she’s working on a book about family secrets and internet genealogy.

Being an established writer who has published internationally, what do you think makes a good Room submission?

Something fresh. Something that I haven’t read before—or, if I’ve read something like it—something that’s been expressed it in a totally new and illuminating way. A good submission always feels finished. If you’re not sure if a piece is finished, it’s helpful to have someone else read it and let you know what its strengths and weaknesses are, where it’s working and where it’s not.

Tell us a bit about the book you are currently working on?

It’s a creative non-fiction book about murder, bigamy, malingering, trans-continental travel in the early 20th C, WWI, con men, domestic violence, sexual panics, internet genealogy, family secrets and psychopaths. It’s about my grandfather.  

How has being on the editorial board at Room affected your own writing?

As a reader, I’m always looking for what connects me to a piece of writing, and that in turn, drives me to look for ways of making similar connections with my writing. Working on Room’s editorial board has given me the opportunity, as a submissions reader, to be exposed to a wide variety of writing that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and that’s a gift. I’m pretty analytical when I’m reading—I’m always trying to figure out why something’s working or why it’s not working, and this process is enormously helpful when I go back to my own work.

Some writers, who are new to submitting to Room, may be intimidated. What advice can you offer these writers?

We’ve all been there.  Every single member of the editorial collective has been in the position of being a new writer or a first-time submitter, and we know it’s scary, and we take that into consideration when we are reading, accepting and even rejecting pieces.  The thing to remember is that we are hungry to publish new and exciting work, so please, take the leap and submit!

Having lived in New York for 15 years, you must have come across some interesting literary magazines, writers etc. What can you tell us about your American writing experience?

The fabulous thing about living in New York for a writer is that the literary scene there is so rich and so deep that it’s become just another part of everyday life in the city. Because of its sheer size, the resources for writers are staggering. The city is home to a wide variety of continuing-ed writing classes, including the remarkable poetry workshop at the New School with my mentor Patricia Carlin that I had the privilege of attending for many years. Without exaggeration, it is possible to attend a literary event somewhere in the five boroughs every night of the year. The historic 92nd St. Y reading series has featured W.H, Auden, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore and Dylan Thomas, to name just a few. I saw a performance of Anne Carson’s translation of Euripides’ Hekabe there that was astonishing and so unexpectedly current, that I obsessed over it for days afterwards. In her introduction, Carson compared Euripides to Quentin Tarantino. Another one of my favourite venues is Poets House—it’s a library and performance space with 60,000 books of poetry in its open-stack collection.  It’s free to the public and especially welcoming to school groups.  The Nuyorican Poets Café in the Lower East Side, which holds nightly events, started as a living room salon forty years ago and lives on as a haven for a diverse group of rising poets, writers and spoken word artists. There are also countless small cafes and bars where brave writers of all levels can share their work, sometimes shouting over clanging cutlery, hissing espresso machines, drunks and sports on TV.  

I was surprised to discover that writers can often be treated like rock stars there.  I once stood in line for about an hour to see Margaret Atwood read at a bookstore in Union Square and people were actually pushing each other to get in.  But New Yorkers can also be notoriously blasé. My then-teenaged daughter and I went to a Jonathan Safran Foer reading and book signing at Poets House, and Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith were sitting together right in front of us in the audience, no big deal.

Who are your top three favourite writers and what is it about their work that inspires you as a reader and as a writer?

My favourite writer is George Eliot. I’ve read everything she’s ever written, including the bad poetry. I actually used to belong to a group in New York called the George Eliot Fun Club of Greenwich Village. I’m one of those GE geeks who reads Middlemarch every year, and agrees with Virginia Woolf’s assessment of it as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” Writing in the 19thC using a man’s name, she wrote about women’s lives with such intelligence and compassion her books moulded me as both a reader and a feminist.

It would be difficult to pick a top three—a top 100, maybe.  But right now there are a couple of writers I’m really enthusiastic about: Kate Atkinson and Elena Ferrante. Atkinson’s companion books, Life After Life and A God in Ruins, are dazzling examples of the power of writing to deal with the big questions. In Life After Life, she kills off her protagonist Ursula time and time again, and, impossibly, makes it work from both a narrative and emotional standpoint. A God in Ruins is ostensibly the single story of Ursula’s brother Teddy and his experiences as a bomber pilot in WW2 and in the aftermath of that brutal conflict, and manages to connect at both the epic and domestic levels.  Atkinson’s works have a lot to say about the slipperiness of time and memory, which is a theme in my own book.

I’ve recently been nothing short of blown away by Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. Ferrante, an Italian writer who writes under a pen name and keeps her identity secret, has said: “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”  The four novels, about an all-consuming friendship between two women, are fierce, clear-eyed and addictive and have no problem standing on their own, and I find myself admiring the author’s decision to let them.

What can we look forward to in 39.2?

I’m delighted that in 39.2 we are publishing our first-ever Cover Art contest winner.  Our judges are the artists Amy Friend (cover artist, Room issue 36.1 Mythologies of Loss) & Ilene Sova (artist & founder of Toronto's Feminist Art Conference). We will also be featuring the work of the late poet Elise Partridge and an interview with comics publisher Deni Loubert. I’m confident that the issue is going to be a beautiful package of great writing and ideas.

Chelene Knight is the Poetry Coordinator at Room where she is also part of the editorial board and a collective member.


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