Sometimes Stories Take Time + #AWP14 Recap

by Janna Marlies Maron on March 28, 2014

IMG_3478This is the time of year when my editor’s letter for Under the Gum Tree’s newest issue reflects on our collective experience at the annual conference put on by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). Is it cliché because every one else who attended does the same thing? (And this year there were 13,000 of us in Seattle.) Maybe. But it’s also the perfect milestone for a little indie lit mag like Under the Gum Tree to measure its progress.

Last year’s AWP conference in Boston was our first time as a vendor at the book fair. We had six issues behind us and our table was at the end of the last row in the corner of the exhibition hall. Probably not the best spot for organic foot traffic. Also? I definitely tried to do too much: sell subscriptions, sell back issues, get people to sign up for our email list, connect with writers interested in submitting.

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This year I changed my strategy. I had two main goals: get people to sign up for our email list by giving away buttons and host a reading with previous contributors from all over the world. Check and check. If you were there and you missed our buttons, they were a huge hit. (Not to worry, you can still get one if you’re interested in supporting us in a small way.) If you were there and missed our reading, that was also a huge hit. We hosted a fast and furious nonfiction reading where twelve of our previous contributors read five minutes of their work, and no less than sixty people came out to Caffe Ladro on Pine Street (the most perfect spot for the event, just one block over from the convention center).

Here’s a video recording of the reading. Readers (in order of appearance) are Renee D’Aoust, Sheryl St. Germain, Susan Pope, Georgann Turner, Jacqueline Doyle, David Gardner, Jacqueline Alnes, Linda Silver, Mare Biddle, Mandy Len, Erin Ashenhurst and Robert D. Vivian.

Beyond those two successes, here are some highlights of the three-day conference:

Connecting with other journals of creative nonfiction.

One of the great things about a conference like AWP is that it’s a rare occasion for all of these people to be in the same place at the same time, and it’s a great opportunity to connect with peers–folks who are doing similar things–and learn from each other. We had the chance to do just that with other journals that also publish creative nonfiction such as Brevity, River Teeth, Fourth Genre and Creative Nonfiction.

Connecting with previous contributors.

IMG_3475When I put out a call to our contributors to find out who would be at AWP, I got emails back from no less than twenty-five people. Of those twenty-five, twelve were featured readers at Under the Gum Tree’s first ever AWP reading (and, as I mentioned, you can see we had quite the crowd). But I still got to connect with at least twenty-five previous contributors who were all in Seattle for the conference. Some of them stopped by our table to introduce themselves and others came to the reading. And each time I met one of them, I got to personally hear their reaction to the magazine and what we are doing–they thank me for publishing their work, when really I should be thanking them (and I do!) for letting us share their work.

Connecting with folks who we follow online.

We have regular interactions online via Facebook and Twitter, mostly, with folks like Ruminate Magazine and Meghan Ward, both of whom we got to meet at AWP (and Meghan even gave us a shout out in her own #AWP14 wrap-up blog post). When you’ve only known people online and you have a chance to meet them face-to-face, it completely changes the relationship and brings it to a new, deeper, more memorable level. I got to put hard copies of Under the Gum Tree into the hands of people who will now hopefully remember the magazine because they remember meeting me.

Connecting with nonfiction book publishers.

Last year at the book fair we were neighbors with Excelsior College’s press, Hudson Whitman, a small press that publishes nonfiction. This year we reconnected and I learned about their newest book The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, by Thomas Larson. Not only did I learn about the new book, but also I learned that they are actively seeking nonfiction manuscripts in the select categories of health, alternative education, military, business and technology. (Hint: if you write nonfiction in those categories, check these guys out & send them your book manuscript!)

Connecting with movers and shakers in the nonfiction genre. 

Not only did we have a chance to connect with other journals, previous contributors, our online friends, and nonfiction book publishers, but also we connected with bigger names in the nonfiction genre like Judith Kitchen, Sheryl St. Germain (also a previous contributor), Dinah Lenny, Brenda Miller (another previous contributor), and Ira Sukrungruang.

During a rare slow moment while I was working our table, a woman stopped, picked up a copy of Under the Gum Tree, and started flipping through the pages. Her name badge was at my eye level and I recognized it right away. “Sue Silverman,” I said, “I just read your book.” The book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, which I had just finished a few weeks earlier. We chatted for a few minutes about nonfiction and the power of sharing personal stories. She told me that I was doing important work and before she continued on her way she asked if she could give me a hug.

Where else can all this happen except at AWP?

A better question for us is: When else can all this happen except after three years and ten issues?

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See, sometimes stories take time. The story that I had after my first year at AWP as a publisher of a lit mag was not the story I wanted to be telling. The story I had after last year’s conference was a little better, but still not quite the story I wanted to be telling. The story I’m telling now? The one where Under the Gum Tree has published nearly 100 writers; the one where I have met about forty of those writers face-to-face; the one where another thirty of those writers have read their work in front of an audience; the one where our staff is now double the size it was when we started? Yeah—that’s the story I want to be telling. And by this time next year I’ll be telling the story of how Under the Gum Tree has fifteen issues (gulp!) behind us–a feat I wouldn’t be able to accomplish without that staff I mentioned. (HUGE thanks to Kate Asche, associate editor & Robin Martin, senior editor, pictured here with me after our reading at AWP14 in Seattle.)

Our story wouldn’t be what it is without you—readers and writers who believe in what we are doing, who support us in our work of finding and sharing stories. Thank you for that. We intend to continue doing that important work.

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Meet the Author: Laurie Easter

by Elizabeth Kroll on March 6, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.21.28 PMLaurie Easter appeared in our newest issue, and we did an interview with her that we just had to share. She writes from her home in Southern Oregon where she lives in a funky little cabin off the grid and on the edge of wilderness. She hold an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been awarded a fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. This was Laurie’s first time being published in Under the Gum Tree, with her story “Something to Do With Baldness,” but her other work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Oregon English Journal. She’s currently working on an essay collection about loss grief.

Here’s a short quote from “Something to Do With Baldness”:

“Lucky for me, I didn’t procrastinate. For if I had, it would have been like looking in the wrong direction as a brilliant shooting star streaked across the sky, only to turn my head in time to see the tail fizzle.”

Now, without further ado, Laurie Easter’s Interview:

Q: When and Why did you start writing?
A: I stared writing when I was in elementary school. English and writing were always my favorite subjects. I wrote a play when I was around ten years old and essays on comets and poltergeists. I avidly wrote in my journal. I was in seventh grade when I declared to my English teacher that I was going to be a writer. I told him that I wanted to write stories so that other kids like me wouldn’t feel alone. And essentially that’s what I’m doing now, only it’s taking more than thirty years and my audience so far is not that of children, but adults. Still, the sentiment is the same.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?
A: Connecting with others. Writing is communication, and I enjoy communicating – both through reading others’ words and having my own words read. I enjoy the process of creation, taking all the stored energy and thoughts from within and turning them into something tangible. I simply love playing with language and enjoy nearly every step in the writing process from first draft to revision and editing. Also I’m a total geek; I absolutely love grammar, and because of this (among other reasons), my kids think I’m nuts.

Q: Who/what is your biggest inspiration when you write?
A: I am inspired my nature and quietness and a deep need to understand and resolve life’s experiences. Poetry inspires me too.

Q: Do you have a writing  schedule?
A: I don’t have a set schedule, and I don’t write every day. I’m what you would call a “binge writer.” I’ll work ferociously for a chunk of time – days, weeks, months – and then not. Typically afternoons are my most productive writing time, which can be problematic because that’s when other things need to be accomplished.

Q:What is the hardest part of writing for you?
A: The hardest part of writing for me is keeping  a regular writing routine. When I haven’t been writing regularly and am out of practice, the hardest part is trying to get back in the flow. This can feel debilitating at times. But somehow I manage to find my way back. It’s not easy. It can be downright painful. But when the words do come again, it sure feels good.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story?
A: It depend son the piece, but I’m horribly slow. Some pieces take me years, others weeks or months. I do a lot of writing in my head during those times that I’m not actually sitting down and putting pen to paper or typing. Often i will make copious notes before I ever get around to writing a draft. I have an essay that I’m currently revising that swirled in my head for a year before I actually wrote a word, but when I finally sat down to write it, the words flowed effortlessly. I then had to put it through multiple drafts to get it just right.

Q: Are you working on anything now?
A: I am currently working on what I hope will be the last few essays of a collection on loss and grief.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published? How did you deal with them?
A: I wrote a regular Op-Ed column for the college paper during my undergrad, and I wrote some pieces for blogs and newsletters that were solicited. My first publication from an unsolicited submission however, was in a scholarly journal. A happy as I was to be published in that journal, it wasn’t “creative writing,” and I found it difficult to consider myself  published without having landed one of my creative nonfiction pieces in a journal/magazine. I had close to fifty rejections before I recieved my first acceptance of a personal essay. Rejection for me is an ever evolving experience. At first I celebrated rejections because it meant I was in the game of submitting, and I saved the form letters in a file (this was before online submissions). But after so many, the rejections began to wear on me, and I’d get kind of depressed. Then at a certain point, I learned to be a duck, and (mostly) let them roll off my back like water. Now rejections spur me on to make more submissions.

Q:How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance?
A: I whooped, jumped up and down, and high-fived my husband. Then I emailed some of my closest writer friends.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write?
A: I love to write by hand when I’m free-writing. It feels more intuitive. But i have severe carpal tunnel syndrome, so I can’t do this for very long before my hand goes numb. As a result, typing is my most productive means.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?
A: A lot of chores: washing dishes, cooking meals, collecting eggs, and gathering firewood. And I spend a lot of time editing for other people. Gardening in the spring and summer and then harvesting and processing the food in the fall. I spend entirely too much time on the internet. I love taking walks in nature, spending time with my family, traveling, and reading. I read creative nonfiction submissions for the literary journal Hunger Mountain.

Q: Who is your favorite Author?
A: I don’t have one favorite author, but a few I love are Alice Walker, Abigail Thomas, Barry Lopez,  Brenda Miller, David Sedaris, and Brian Doyle.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?
A: This is an awkward question for me because when I think about my favorite books, the ones that usually come to mind are children’s books, which makes me feel as though I’ve never grown up! But I’ll give it a shot: Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris; The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five Doris Lessing; The Color Purple, Alice Walker; Late Wife, Claudia Emerson; What the Living Do, Marie Howe; and Charlotte’s Web – because I have to include at least one childhood story.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
A: I can’t remember who said it, but this has stuck with me: “Write the story that only you an write.”

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
A: Thank you for reading and supporting independent publishing. I’d love to hear from any readers who are inspired to write to me. I can be reached at  www.laurieeaster.com

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February Contributor News

February 13, 2014

With almost 10 issues under our belt, we have published nearly 90 contributors. So we decided it was time to check in with our previous contributors and share some of their exciting news on a regular basis.   To start us off Samuel Autman, a contributor from issue 7, will be reading his piece “A […]

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Meet The Author: Deborah Meltvedt

January 28, 2014

Time for a throw back to our premiere issue. Deborah Meltvedt’s story “Things I Left Behind” was in that first issue back in August 2011, and her story “Hitting the Wall is in the current issue. If you tuned in for our two-year anniversary reading this past November, you might recognize her. Deborah is a medical science teacher […]

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Meet the Author: Sheryl St. Germain

December 20, 2013

It’s time for another round of Meet The Author. Sheryl St. Germain has published ten books of poetry and prose, for which she has won numerous awards. Her most recent book is Navigating Disaster: 16 Essays of Love and Poem of Despair. She currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. If you tuned into […]

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