The Provo Canyon Review publishes fiction and personal essays to 5000 words and shorter poems. "We are drawn to work that is deeply moving without being overly sentimental; tender, in the sense of a mixture of grace and vulnerability and compassion; and displays a great deal of focused attention to the English language and how it is used.” Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Erin Maggard McClelland: I love reading and writing, but found it hard to find the stories I was craving. I wanted to read stories that showed the beauty of life, the hardships as well as the triumphs, but without harming me in the process. I am a believer in art as a healing agent and found that much of what I read bludgeoned me with its portrayal of life. Starting The Provo Canyon Review with my husband was one way that I could help promote excellent writing and also get to indulge in my own passion of reading. Each of the submissions brings with it an opportunity for me to learn and to broaden my world. I also love discovering someone new to read. There is an electric joy to reading someone who you have not read before and realizing you would have missed out on something amazing if your paths had not crossed.
Chris McClelland: My wife and I had the idea in the Spring of 2013 to start The Provo Canyon Review. The magazine was founded to be an outlet for new voices, mainly, while also publishing established writers. We knew many excellent writers were out there and we felt these needed another forum. We also saw that we could publish an online magazine relatively cheaply. We now offer a print version too.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
EMM: The first would be for the work to pull me in and capture my attention. I want to feel compelled to continue reading. The second is for the submission to be well-written, demonstrating a command of the language and an understanding of how to fully develop a story or poem. I want to know that the author has taken the time to make sure their submission is ready. When reading poetry I look for heart as well as technique. The third thing I look for in a submission is how does it move me? Am I feeling something while I’m reading it? Have I been invited into this world for a short time and do I feel my time was well spent there?
CM: For prose, we look for a narrative arc, that is, an actual story being told in the classical sense. Many pieces may be well-written but not really convey much of substance or import. We also look for sustained attention to language and how it is used, as this also comprises what we consider great writing. Lastly, characters (or people, in the case of nonfiction) that we can care about, or at least be interested in if they are not particularly sympathetic.
For poetry, we look for attention to sound quality, the mellifluousness of the diction, and also very sharp, vivid imagery. The content is important too. For both stories and poetry, we look for what moves the heart without being overly sentimental.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
EMM: We have submission guidelines on our website that detail what we are looking for and more importantly what we are not looking for in a submission. I am most turned off when a submission comes to us where the author did not take the time to read the guidelines. This mostly comes into play when we are sent porn masquerading as a literary story or poem.
CM: The physicians’ creed, “First, do no harm” expresses our feelings about considering submissions as well. There seems to be a trend in contemporary literature that you must somehow “brutalize” a reader, or inflict emotional trauma. This goes back to what we are looking for, which is, in addition to what I said above, that we are oftentimes attracted to stories that have a moral compass implicit in the work, that something of ethical import is being decided. “Therapeutic writing,” also, which may have great value for the individual’s personal growth, may not be the best work to send out. I would ask the writer to consider whether he/she just needed to get something personal out of their system, or if they are actually shaping and crafting a work of literary art to move others.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
EMM: We are honored to read the submissions we receive and recognize the hard work and the bravery it takes to submit. We will always strive to provide comments as we want those who submit their work to us to know that it was carefully and thoughtfully read. We hope our writers will take our comments in the spirit with which they were written and also know that when we encourage a writer to develop their submission it is because we are excited about it and want to see it reach its full potential.
CM: We try always to provide comments, even if just a line or two about the submission. Right now we are still in our first year, and the amount of submissions we get is rather small compared to other journals, so we can afford to do that. We will strive always to respond personally to a piece.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
EMM: The most important thing I have learned is to make sure as a writer to not get so close to the piece I am working on that I lose sight of the eventual readers. Am I writing because I need to get something out of my system, or am I writing because I value writing as a craft? I think both can co-exist in the same piece, but I have learned to step back and remember it is not all about me.
CM: I was an editor at Narrative Magazine before Erin and I started The Provo Canyon Review, so in both cases I have learned much about what makes a story interesting. The first question I ask, whether writing a story or evaluating one for publication is: Is this interesting? And does it move people? I think any writer would do well to ask those things him/herself when looking at a piece to send out.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
EMM: What is it like to work on a literary magazine with your husband? It is so much fun! We get to read great writing, have lively discussions about great writing, publish great writing and share all of this with each other.
CM: What do you think makes an excellent story? We recently published an interview with C. Michael Curtis of The Atlantic called “Ineffable Magic”, and this is something that is not talked about very much but should be. The best writers write often, never knowing when the “magic” will strike. It’s hard to define, but we all (editors, writers, and readers) know it when we see it. It’s a certain spirit, a certain “vibe”, perhaps residing in the voice or a certain character, and this makes the story not only interesting, but compelling.
Thank you, Erin and Chris. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 4/22--Six Questions For Jeremiah Walton, Editor, Nostrovia! Poetry