The call for submissions for issue 43.2 is now open! Our editorial team for this issue is Jessica Johns, Kayi Wong, and Mica Lemiski. Here is a weird and wonderful Q&A with the team, which delves into the kind of writing we’re looking to include in the issue and our personal remedies for getting through writer’s block. Submit your brilliant and best stuff! The call for submissions is open until October 31st (spooky, right?).
What kind of writing are you hoping to receive when reading submissions for this issue?
Jessica Johns: I’m really excited by writing that steps outside of genre boundaries and into worlds of their own. I’d love to receive work that pays particular attention to character complexity. I could read for pages on end about a character, watch them in their daily life, note their reactions to the world, before I remembered anything about the plot. I’m also currently excited by anything particularly weird, that dips into the strange, the unsettling. And as always, anything magical ✨
Kayi Wong: That’s a tough one. I have my preferences but I am often proven that my preferences are wrong by a well-crafted Room submission. I love reading a non-fiction piece that discusses a topic I do not care about and still captures all of my millennial attention. I love a poem that defies all my expectations and reservation for the genre. With a short story, I want to be surprised, haunted, or miserable.
Mica Lemiski: I love characters with strong desires. I’m not talking about goals, necessarily, in that old-school, your-character-must-have-clear-motivations way, but rather in the way that they’re wanting, they’re unsatisfied and searching. I recently interviewed Lisa Taddeo (Three Women) and she told me she was interested in desire as a subject because, in a sense, “there’s nothing else.” That really stuck with me. We’re all wanting, in one way or another. And this wanting gives us hope, lends our lives meaning, destroys us and makes us beautiful.
What’s an image from a recent (or non-recent) story or poem you’ve read that has stuck with you? Why was that image so affecting?
JJ: There’s a section of the prose poem “Trust Fund Witches” in Stereoblind by Emma Healey that I think about a lot:
“Skin so soft they move through walls they press against your windows, sing the spell they wrote about the city there: nothing belongs to you nothing belongs to you nothing belongs”
I love the poem in its entirety, the imagery and attention to sound. It’s spooky and beautiful and makes me think about ancestors whispering warnings, reminders about place, land, and the colonial concept of ownership.
KW: Without going into too much detail in case of spoilers, the final chapter and scene in Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise still haunts me. So many closing chapters leave me feeling unsatiated and betrayed but this scene brings the entire story, which was challenging and fragmented, together in a few pages.
ML: When I was around twenty, I read the Journey Prize Anthology for the first time and this one moment in a Laura Legge story (“It’s Raining In Paris”) was so good I had to alert my entire household to its genius. It was simply: “a battleship of half-smoked cigarettes floats past my ankles.” I still don’t know why that particular image (great as it is) affected me so much. I guess I was enchanted by its bleakness, and I was discovering what kind of writing I truly liked, outside of what had been fed to me in class or by bestseller lists.
Do you have any pet peeves as a reader? As in, what are some stylistic tics or story/poetry themes that are tough to pull off?
JJ: Any story or poem that has a “person vs. nature” element to it tends to irk me. I’m a prairie iskwew and I love descriptions of land, water, rocks, whatever. Describe a fir tree to me anyday, I’ll eat it up. But anything that gets into the area of “person conquering the wild” is not my cup of kombucha.
KW: Cliche expressions! I say them out loud all the time and I hate myself for it. They’re really hard to pull off. Unless you’re a master at it, avoid it as much as you can. Jess’s “nature vs. man” pet peeve also reminded me of a book I absolutely detest—Into the Wild. It’s agonizing to read about how brave and triumphant it is for someone, who has too much privilege, to conquer a struggle they trapped themselves in. Sometimes, no amount of craft can make me care about a story I cannot care about.
ML: I don’t like fancy words for the sake of fancy words. Why say “azure” when you could just say “bright blue”? Nobody knows what “azure” means, anyways. (Or, at least, I didn’t before I googled it three seconds ago.) These words often deaden the pace and create distance between me, as a reader, and the work.
What has been your biggest takeaway after having read countless submissions for lit mags as a first reader or editor?
JJ: First lines and first paragraphs are super important! It’s more than just being a “hook”. It’s the initial setup to a piece, it’s a first impression. Make it count.
KW: There is often something—a scene, a sentence, a paragraph, a freaking page—a writer left behind that should’ve been taken out.
ML: I agree with Jess and Kayi so wholeheartedly. Also, this has been touched on before, but the weirder the better (usually). Write dangerously. Not, like, while driving a car or anything, but push yourself into territory that scares you a little. That’s often how you know there’s some meat on the bone.
There’s a million ways to tell a story, as we know. Who are some artists working in avenues other than writing who you think are creating particularly brilliant work right now?
JJ: I’ve been getting into graphic novels recently, which is very new for me. While graphic novels of course incorporates writing, visuals and artwork are a huge part of the storytelling. I just finished Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer. I also ordered the A Girl Called Echo series by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, so I’m excited for that Métis and Nehiyaw brilliance.
KW: I have so much love and respect for illustrators, cartoonists, and graphic novelists. Everyday, I sit around wishing I could draw but do nothing toward that goal. Roz Chast, Lee Lai, Joanne Avillez, Diane Obomsawin, Jen Wang, and karla monterrosa are artists whose work I’m always excited by. And of course Tove Jansson and Jillian Tamaki who will always be my first cartooning loves. If you think this is a cop-out of an answer because there’s writing when it comes to illustrating, you might be right, but also give Diane Obomsawin’s On Loving Women a read.
ML: A friend recently put me onto Joanna Newsom. I know she’s not a “new” artist or songwriter but her songs don’t feel time-stamped in the way a lot of music does. Her melodies are wild and unpredictable; her lyrics are weird and gorgeous and poetic. Think Regina Spektor on a bender. I don’t typically write to music but Newsom’s songs definitely make me want to create—in the same way a good piece of literature does. And music can be literature, right?
What are some of your personal remedies for getting over reading slumps and writer’s block?
JJ: Often, I’ll feel guilty if I go too long without reading or writing. It’s as if because I’m a writer and editor I *should* always be reading and writing, which is a wild kind of pressure to put on myself. So I’ve found that doing something unrelated to writing but still something creative really helps. For example, this summer I’ve gotten into beading. My friend Adrienne, owner of Kihew and Rose, taught me recently, and I really love it. I also like playing video games and brewing kombucha. I’ll take the creative energy that I know is there and put it towards something else. Something active that results in a tangible outcome, like completing a level, or finishing a beading project. I don’t know if it helps me get out of a slump or through a block, but it definitely makes me feel good.
KW: As much as I dread going to “events,” literary events—when I’m lucky—can leave me feeling invigorated and ready for work. When it comes to reading though, if I’m ever not feeling the book I’m reading, it’s not me, it’s it. Thank you, next.
ML: A walk through the city usually gets me thinking in ways that are more interesting than my sitting-at-desk thoughts. If my body is in motion, my mind usually is, too. Plus, I live in a pretty eclectic neighborhood (it would not be uncommon to see a man wearing a snake as a scarf) and so there’s always something to observe outside myself. Audiobooks are also an A-plus choice if you have reading fatigue. The words just flow into you.
Read our submissions guidelines at roommagazine.com/submit.
Jessica is a nehiyaw aunty and a member of Sucker Creek First Nation. She’s the new managing editor for Room magazine, and has been spending her summer caring for her plants, learning how to bead, and trying to establish healthy boundaries around work.
Kayi has been a Room collective member since 2013. She has also worked at a children’s library, an independent bookstore, and publishing agency. Currently, she does marketing and publicity for bookish folks, namely Raincoast and Room. Aside from books, she only cares about food.
Mica is the host and producer of Room’s podcast, Fainting Couch Feminists. She is an ongoing contributor to Vice Canada, where she writes about dating, pop culture, and other “frivolous” matters. She is currently drinking a Peach Perrier.