Carol Dunbar, creative nonfiction, essayist, essays, Kelly Sundberg, Liz Prato, newbie, nonfiction, Roxane Gay, Sonya Vatomsky, submissions, submitting essays, terra incognita, Vanessa Martir, writing essays
It was unfamiliar ground when I started writing prose, to be honest. I’ve written strictly poems and the occasional blog post for as long as I can remember. Poems about childhood and relationships, the kind of straightforward narrative I still believe in, especially as a woman sharing her experiences to a world that still thinks only women read/need to read/should read other women (but we should ALL read men because, you know, those stories are universal. Sarcasm.)
Then I reached a point where I wanted to write anything BUT straightforward poems made of my own memories. So I wrote a series of 20 poems I call “Anti-Memories.” I still love those weird poems, and have published 13 or 14 of them, but never as a collection. I sent it out a few times, but no bites. It’s all good.
Then one day, about two years ago, I wrote this strange little thing about a dog. It was…not poetry. I don’t think. It sits on my hard drive, like a good dog that’s been told to stay.
Then I wrote another strange thing like that, and it was sort of poetry and sort of prose. UCity Review published it, and in tweeting the link to their followers, even they said, “Is it poetry? Is it prose?” I loved that—the editors didn’t care, they just liked it, and I kind of felt the same way when I wrote it. Now, it feels like a weird piece of fiction, or a series of poems in prose that link to form a narrative.
But essays. I am in love with essays now. Reading them, writing them, thinking about how everything could be an essay, the way I used to think everything was a poem (everything is).
Just because I love them, though, doesn’t mean I have any clue how to go about sending them out for publication. I will admit to not knowing much about pitching to major content sites. I often don’t even know if what I’ve written is a personal essay, or a feature, or a rant, or a blog post, or what, or if it even matters. (It doesn’t. But I guess it does if you’re pitching? I need a submissions life coach.)
Essays are a hot genre right now, but that’s not why I write them. Well, indirectly, I suppose it is—they’re hot right now, so they’re more prolific and visible, so I’m reading them more, so they’re the basis of more of my creative inspiration than they were before, so I’ve tried to write some…
Still doesn’t mean I know where to send them. Just because a mag accepts creative nonfiction doesn’t mean they want my prose odes to 90s grunge (wait, Barrelhouse is doing a 90s issue?!) or my rants against the patriarchy (have you all checked out Weird Sister? Because boom.).
So I took a lesson from my early days writing poetry, when I would write lists of great poems and where they’d been published. I did this to familiarize myself with literary magazines as much as contemporary writers. I did this on colored note cards that still give me an organizing high. I was 19 when I started this practice. Though I will turn 34 in a few weeks, I am essentially 19 again in terms of prose writing, I suppose.
My list so far includes two essays by Kelly Sundberg, one called “Poppies” and one called “It Will Look Like a Sunset.” Vanessa Martir just wrote this heartbreaking piece called “Color in AW(hite)Place.” I also have Carol Dunbar’s essay “Truce” on my list. Roxane Gay is there, and Sonya Vatomsky, and Liz Prato. The publications? Literary Mama, The Rumpus, Brevity, Passages North, Full Grown People, Side B Magazine, The Toast, XO Jane…basically, the formidably awesome prose equivalent of what my 19-year-old self’s poetry list looked like, or grew to look like, in subsequent years: Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, So to Speak, Agni, North American Review…
I am an ambitious little writer, huh?
If nothing else, compiling this list lets me “collect” these essays, all published online, the way I collected the books of the poets I came to love and would otherwise not have known existed.
I remember looking at that list of poems and mags and thinking, I’m coming, you’ll hear from me soon.
So too with you essay-publishing heavyweights. I need to read/write/edit and edit and read and edit and edit, and figure some shit out, but then, you’ll be hearing from me.