Friday, October 12, 2018

Six Questions for Jay Summer, Editor-in-Chief, and Annalise Mabe, Editor, Chronically Lit

Chronically Lit: talking loudly about chronic illness publishes writing and art related to chronic illness. Learn more here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Jay Summer: I have fibromyalgia, migraine, POTS, IBS, and anxiety. For years, I hid my chronic illnesses and resisted making “chronic illness” part of my identity. I write fiction and creative nonfiction and have edited literary magazines in the past. Chronically Lit is a way for me to merge my writerly identity with my daily reality of living with chronic illness. I hope it will be an oasis for readers who have illness and might be feeling isolated.

Annalise Mabe: I’ve had Crohn’s for ten years but it wasn’t a major issue until late last year when I became extremely sick and needed a major surgery. While going through that, I took to social media to write about my experience and really started to identify as someone with chronic illness. I realized that social media wasn’t always a place where people necessarily wanted to hear about chronic illness or see it, and while I’ll still talk loudly about it on my own account, I wanted to be a part of creating a space entirely devoted to talking loudly about chronic illness and not being ashamed of it.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Jay: First, it has to be interesting. Writing can be technically good and boring at the same time. Second, I look for concision. All sentences should be necessary. Third, I like when I can tell a writer is taking a risk emotionally and making themselves vulnerable.

Annalise: Image, conflict, and going cold. So often I see these words: “fear, passion, sadness,” etc. and these are placeholder words that don’t do a great job of showing me something. Any good piece of writing will have tension or conflict--it’s what drives a piece. And I’m especially looking for going cold (see: Writing about chronic illness can lead to reinforcing a trope of victimhood and there’s a fine line here. We want to show the spectrum of chronic illness--not these extremes where speakers are always down or are always brave/strong. There’s so much more that exists in the in-between--full, fleshed out, contradictory characters and speakers--and I’m looking for work that goes a step further and pushes the boundaries of our previous notions and expectations surrounding people with chronic illness.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

Jay: I think my number one reason for rejection so far has been that many pieces have read like rough drafts. With many of the submissions we’ve received, it has felt like the writer went through a traumatic illness-related event and wrote about it, probably to process and grasp what happened. That’s a great first step, but it’s not enough. The next step is to shape, cut, rearrange, figure out an angle, a narrative. The writer must take their raw text containing what happened, and turn it into art rather than just a record of events.

Annalise: If the work feels lazy or unrelated to chronic illness entirely. I tell my students that the harder they work to paint a scene, create an image, etc., the less work the reader has to do, and we always, in my opinion, should be creating writing that makes the reader work as little as possible.

SQF: Your guidelines state you accept writing and art. To be a bit more specific, does writing refer to fiction and nonfiction? And poetry?

Annalise: We really want to be a place that bridges the literary community and the mainstream world. What this means is that I am really looking forward to reading both your literary pieces that may be more lyric or poetic in nature, and I’m also really excited to see your essay that could be an opinion piece or first-person story geared towards mainstream audiences who read the glossies. So, yes: fiction, poetry, nonfiction, art, comics, book reviews, movie reviews, all of it.

Jay: Yes, we want all of it. Though I will say in our first weeks of open submissions, a disproportionate amount of what we’ve received has been poetry. Over half! And poetry will probably make up 10% or less of what’s on the site. We really want more essays, more book and movie reviews, more interviews, and please, please more comics.

SQF: If Chronically Lit had a theme song, what would it be and why?

Annalise: For some reason the only thing that is coming to my mind immediately is the X-Files theme song.

Jay: I don’t know if I’m just thinking of TV show theme songs because I saw Annalise’s answer, but now I’m hearing the Friends theme song. It’s corny, but fitting because of the “I’ll be there for yoooouuu.” That’s what we’re about, being there for people. I guess “Lean On Me” could be our theme song, too. Oooh, or maybe Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Thanks for asking this question. Now I’m thinking we need to make a Chronically Lit playlist.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

Annalise: What are your goals?

To create an online community for people living with chronic illness. To create writing workshops and anthologize writers’ work.

Jay: I second Annalise’s question. I’ll add some more goals: to become a magazine writers consider “top tier” for illness-related work and send their writing to first (or maybe third, after being rejected by the New Yorker and Atlantic). To figure out a sustainable funding strategy. If running Chronically Lit became my job, I’d be living a dream.

Thank you, Jay and Annalise. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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