Readers, friends, cohorts, conspirators, and supporters of Atticus Review: you have all been so kind, generous, and beautiful, that it’s a bit painful for me to announce my difficult decision to step down as editor-in-chief.
I feel a bit like someone who falls in love with a puppy, someone who truly, madly, deeply loves this puppy and watches it grow into a fine, fine companion, but has to give it up—because of a move to Mars, because of an allergic spouse, because it’s not fair to the poor animal that the baby keeps pulling its tail.
Granted, I’m not a person who can bear to give away a pet, so usually I’d just power through whatever challenge comes along. I’d get the dog an oxygen mask for the Martian atmosphere; I’d make the spouse get allergy shots; I’d keep the baby behind a gate.
Which is what I’ve been trying to do in my EIC position for nearly two years. Instead of taking myself away from my son for the only few hours I get to spend with him on a workday, I’d wait until he fell asleep to work, and stay up until 2 a.m. I’d spend lunch hours reading submissions instead of eating. I’d let the floors stay dusty for one more day, and then another, and then another, to get everything done when it was supposed to get done. I’d cancel plans with friends, let the Netflix DVDs pile up, put off my own fiction writing.
And that worked for a long time, and there was something I even loved about it—living at maximum speed without stopping, making it all fit, forcing myself to truly figure out what was important to me. But there comes a point when the facts become plain: things can’t go on how they’re going on, and hard living is taking its toll.
These facts presented themselves to me gradually. A new job demanded more and more overtime, so I’d get home at 8 p.m., only to remember that I had to start and finish an editorial that night. Then my husband’s teaching schedule changed, which removed two entire evenings each week that I could count on him to let me get work done. Our son needed more attention from us as he developed new interests, learned his letters, acquired a small arsenal of at-least-two-players board games. Then we put our house on the market, forcing us out of the house (i.e., away from the laptop) for showings several hours each week, and hasn’t allowed us much grace in regard to putting off housework.
And then…I realized I couldn’t remember when I had last written a word of the novel I started last year.
I mean, I’m a writer. A person who writes. But I hadn’t written, not in a while, not counting editorials or solicited flash fiction pieces. And I really fucking believe in this book, as much as any writer should believe in a book that s/he is writing, like it’s something that needs to be out there instead of in here, and I’m the only person on earth who can help it make that passage. Like if I don’t let it come out civilly, through the keyboard, it will claw a hole in the side of my brain.
So I made a 2013 bucket list. Kind of. Instead of kicking the bucket, I will fill it. But before I fill it, I have to empty it a little. What things do I absolutely want to spend time on, if time keeps becoming more of a commodity? What will give me new energy, a new buzz?
See, I have this thing: I want to experience everything. A little of this, a little of that. I’m life-curious. Which is maybe why, at thirty five, I’ve lived in almost thirty different places in the same city: I like that street, that porch, the view from there. New situations make me feel like a new person, make me feel like life is full of even more possibilities than I imagined. I’ve loved all kinds of people. I’ve volunteered here, worked there, learned this, saw a documentary about that. I’ve learned a little about a lot: I’m a hopeless Militant Dilettante.
It comes down to what writing asks of me. I have a great imagination. But even though I can imagine most anything, I learn primarily through sensory experience, and these experiences inform what I write. More than anything, new experiences make me want to write. I want to touch things, to know what sensations arrive when sit right there in that exact chair and sip a French 75 at 6:11 p.m. while traffic goes by, then I want to write it all down, shape it, mold it, change it, tweak it, and match it with a character, a plot. This is how I work, and I haven’t given this natural tendency enough time and space lately.
I realized—during my 2013 bucket list creation process—that I am intensely proud of what I have contributed to Atticus Review so far, and that maybe—just maybe—it was time to move on and make room for something else. I could learn what it feels like to focus in one direction, to allow myself to become absorbed by my characters, their spaces and lives. In doing that, I’d make room at Atticus Review for someone else, someone who’d like to experience the Atticus Review EIC role. I’d empty my bucket to fill someone else’s.
Around the time I decided to make this shift, that someone raised his hand. He came up out of his chair, held his outstretched arm with his other hand, waved furiously, reached higher and higher. Like, he really wanted to do this. And he’s perfect for the role. I am leaving you in good hands. Despite his work and family commitments, despite his own creative pursuits, he was excited by the opportunity to spend time continuing to build something wonderful, putting together issues and editorials at Atticus Review.
And that’s no small commitment.
You’re familiar with our format, right? We are, to my knowledge, the only weekly literary journal that publishes a full editorial with each issue. Recently, we began running fiction and poetry features for two weeks out of the month, which mercifully cut my workload in half, but the amount of work is still intense. It’s a fantastic concept that deserves to be done right, this being what I would argue is one of the most stellar lit mags out there (Split Lip Magazine agrees!).
Let me give you a deeper look into how we do what we do. Here’s a general breakdown:
- Writers submit their work through Submittable.
- I assign the pieces to members of the Atticus Review staff, based on genre.
- Fiction editor Jamie Iredell reads and accepts or declines fiction submissions. Poetry editor Michael Meyerhofer reads and accepts or declines poetry submissions. Multi-media editor Matt Mullins reviews and accepts or declines multimedia submissions. Publisher Dan Cafaro and/or managing editor Libby O’Neill read and accept or decline creative nonfiction submissions.
- I archive withdrawn or declined submissions.
- I write down dates of upcoming issues, with blanks underneath:
- I read all remaining accepted submissions and jot down defining features or themes about them.
- I group one short story, one flash, and one poem by writing them into the blanks. Sometimes the threads between them are obvious, and sometimes they are loose. Using this method means that there’s a lot of variance between a piece’s acceptance date and publication date. Depending on what other pieces are available, some accepted submissions are published soon after being accepted, but some may wait for months and months and months.
- I may change the theme, or rearrange where submissions fit if I read another submission that fits better with other submissions.
- I email the dates, themes, submissions, and authors to Dan and Libby.
- Libby emails the authors and lets them know the dates their pieces will be published, and also asks for their bios and requests that they set up Gravatar profiles for the comments section.
- A few days before an issue runs, I reread the three soon-to-be-published pieces and formulate snippets about what makes them great.
- Usually the night before an issue runs, I write an editorial based on the theme. It’s sometimes something that’s been on my mind for a while, but more often than not, I have no clue what my subject will be until I sit down with my laptop.
- I attach the snippets about the pieces at the end.
- I email the finished product to Dan and Libby.
- Libby and/or Dan formats each piece for the website, finds stock photography for each piece, finds a cool YouTube video that suits the theme, finds a fun this-week-in-history fact, and other way cool behind-the-scenes stuff that I probably have no idea about because they make it all seem so seamless and effortless and cool.
- Libby and/or Dan promotes the issue on Facebook, Twitter, and probably lots of other places that I probably have no idea about because they make it all seem so seamless and effortless and cool.
We all do this for love. Or because we’re insane. And if that’s the case, then I’m okay with that, totally. I’ve been called worse. I proudly pass on the EIC straightjacket to the one and only—drumroll, please—
I first met Joe last year at the 2012 AWP conference in Chicago, but by then I already felt like I had known him for ages.
My husband, writer-professor-awesomedude John Minichillo, had made arrangements to meet up with some pals at a Cheryl Strayed reading at the Heartland Café in Rogers Park.
Back in the day, when John and Joe were Loyola undergrads, they lived a few doors down from the Heartland. It had been their regular hangout, so this night in March 2012 was a kind of homecoming—both of them a couple decades older, both of them writers, both of them at AWP. On top of all that, a popular reading was scheduled for this place charged with memories and meaning.
Because the venue was small, and because Cheryl Strayed had only weeks before she revealed herself as The Rumpus’s Sugar (of Dear Sugar fame), and also because she was on the verge of releasing her Oprah-praised memoir Wild: From Lost To Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, the reading was standing-room-only. Joe had tried to save some seats for us, but he was strong-armed into giving them up when we didn’t show within a certain amount of time.
We got off the train after a freaking long ride north of the city, and the café was right there—a warm refuge, a pulsating glow on a dark, quiet block. Not long after we arrived, Atticus Review’s multi-media editor Matt Mullins (John’s pal from a different set of college days) and his super-cool wife Megan showed up, and we got a window table and some beers in the non-Strayed bar section.
After catching up with them, John went to the bar for more drinks, and while he was still away, out came Joe—a smooth-faced ball of energy in a dark wool drivers’ cap. I introduced myself, and I immediately felt like I had known him forever. Of course, it helped that he lavished me with compliments.
So this was Joe Gross. The Joe Gross. The Joe Gross my husband had told me about; the Joe Gross of legend; the Joe Gross who sometimes called and chatted just when John needed a mood-boost or a fresh perspective. This was Joe-freaking-Gross, you guys.
John came back, and others joined us to. We could have all stayed there talking for days. Matt and Joe were already old friends, both of them having met through John, both of them having raised their young families in Kalamazoo, both of them having earned MFAs at Western Michigan. This was the first time I’d seen all three of them together, and it fascinated me: they were tight musketeers, attached by a shared history and similar pursuits—earning MFAs, struggling for publications, finding fulfilling work, getting married, raising young children.
We hung out beyond the Heartland Café (where, by the way, we got to catch a glimpse of the Stephen Elliott chatting with friends behind our table). We stayed up in Joe’s hotel room, talking, drinking. Joe played some tunes on the guitar he brought along. It was 2 or 3 a.m. by the time John and I got back to our hotel room after walking through bare streets and riding a nearly empty train.
“He’s adorable,” I told John.
He looked at me suspiciously. “You’re not allowed to think my friends are adorable.”
“Well he is. I see why you love him, why you’re still friends.”
Joe is a firecracker, a normal guy who approaches the most mundane situations with enthusiasm and creativity. He wants to do right, but not in a goody-two-shoes way. It takes a lot to offend him. His sense of fun is infectious, and he’ll go out on a limb for his friends. He’s undeniably charming. I know all this after spending only a few hours with him.
You guys are in for a treat.
Which means that I’m in for a treat too. I get to experience each awesome issue as a reader, an observer. I get to quietly feel proud of having been a part of something great—something that started at AWP 2011, when John and Dan chatted over whiskey, and spun a web of ideas.
Don’t get me wrong: I have a heavy heart, too. One of my favorite professors once said something like: “We all have this need to belong to institutions—universities, corporations, publications, organizations. Even mental institutions are full of people who need to belong somewhere.”
For nearly two years, Atticus Review has been my home, my place to belong. I got to try on different hats and work out challenging problems. I got to say “yes” to some writers who had never had their work published before. I got to meet some incredibly talented, generous, and hard-working people, and I got to feel the thrill of Dan Cafaro taking a chance on me. His humor, passion, spirit, and sincere kindness are not only a gift to me, but to the literary world.
And the readers—you—allowed me to fill your screens with paragraph after paragraph of monologue, sometimes exposing parts of myself I’d kept hidden for a long, long time, and you never batted an eye. You allowed me to become a more honest person, less hidden, less self-conscious. I’m more comfortable with myself after this entire experience, and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to keep doing it for as long as I did without your support.
Dan has charitably asked me to retain the title of Editor-in-Chief Emerita and Agent Provocateur, which, I must admit, sounds totally awesome. So I might pop in now and again, if Joe needs a week off, or if I think of something to write about. I may do some time at the AWP table in Boston.
Still, even with Joe taking the reins, and even with my new Bond Girl title and Bartleby-the-Scrivener looming, I can’t deny that my heart is breaking. An era that has meant so much to me is ending.
I’m gonna miss this puppy.