Meet Our Readers: Q&A with Raima Larter

Raima Larter is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. She lives in Arlington, Virginia and received her MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2016. Prior to devoting herself to full-time writing, Raima was a college chemistry professor in Indiana. She moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2003 to work for the National Science Foundation, a federal agency located in northern Virginia. Her first novel, “Fearless,” will be published by New Meridian Arts Literary Press this year. You can read more about her work at raimalarter.com.

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: How did you get involved with LPR?

I met the publisher, Desirée Magney, at a writing conference and introduced myself. When I told her I was interested in becoming a reader, she talked with the editors and it turned out there was an opening and I was invited to join. I’d wanted to volunteer to be a reader for awhile, since I’d heard it was a great way to improve my own writing. I also wanted to give back a little to the writing community, by helping with the process of screening submissions.

Q: You’ve told me that being a reader for LPR has changed your own writing. Can you elaborate?

After reading for a short period of time, I began to realize that while craft elements like point of view, the balance of exposition and active scene, dialogue, setting, etc, were important, the story itself was really key. Mistakes in craft elements can be fixed, but if a story doesn’t seem to have a point, it doesn’t make the cut. Before being a reader I had been almost totally focused on craft without thinking much about story. I’ve gone back and re-written a number of my older stories since I started reading, sometimes even abandoning them completely when I couldn’t explain to myself why this story needed to be told.

Q: And how about your own submitting?

I was already submitting quite a lot, but one thing that’s changed for me now is that I will go back to a story that’s been rejected a few times and see if it needs more work. I used to just keep sending the piece out without further revision, but I’m much less reluctant now to revise a story if it isn’t getting picked up.

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Meet the Editors: Q&A with Dominique Cahn

In this post we ask LPR’s nonfiction editor, Dominique Cahn, some questions on being a nonfiction editor and on what makes a great piece of memoir or essay.

Dominique Cahn was born in Haiti and moved to New York City when she was six years old. She majored in Politics and Latin American Studies at Princeton University and earned her Masters in Public Health Degree from Yale University. After graduate school, Dominique moved to Washington, D.C., where she embarked on her career in health care policy and government relations. She conducted health related studies in Haiti and Belize and represented the medical device and biotechnology industries on U.S. regulatory and and legislative issues. She lived in Kazakhstan and traveled to Russia and other countries in the former Soviet Republics.

Q: When it’s time to start reading the nonfiction submissions for a literary journal, what’s your process?

If I think a piece is worth while, I’ll read it a couple of times, put it aside. Sometimes I’ll discuss it with other readers if I need to clarify my thinking about it. But, after the third reading, I’ll get stern with myself and make a decision. Editor Steven Leyva and I then confer about the final choices. We are fortunate to have two volunteer readers on our team, Emily Rich and Heidi Brotman, who critique submissions in this category, as well. This last round, Anthony Moll joined us as Guest Editor.

Q: I imagine there’s not necessarily something you’re “looking for,” a priori. But in your experience, what are the sorts of things in a memoir or essay that interest you and catch your attention?

I don’t remember who said this, but there’s a quote that goes something like “the pleasure of reading a personal essay lies in the enjoyment we get from the well-ordered thoughts of another’s mind.” I find that to be true, and I am often drawn to voices that, at the very least, seem to have full knowledge of themselves in the stories they tell. Of course, the usual things are important too — a hook in the introduction, plot, characterization, climax, resolution of conflict and ending — all those are essential to works of creative nonfiction, memoir, and biography.

Q: How quickly in reading a piece do you generally know if it’s something you want to publish, or not?

Immediately. It’s incredible how quickly as a reader you develop an instinct about a submission. Sometimes you can work through the bits that strike you as emotionally false, but other times, the issue is not the narrative but the writer. People feel more license in fiction, but in anything autobiographical, people tend to deploy fiction for only one reason, and it’s usually not to enrich or complicate the characters on the page. In other words, it’s like literary airbrushing. The result is that there are emotional gaps. Sometimes it’s fun to do the work of filling in those gaps. Other times it feels lazy and deceitful. Of course, there are some works in which the story and writing are so strong that we know immediately that the submission will be among our finalists. We rarely make a decision until the submission period ends and we have had a chance to review all the works.

Q: Do you work with writers to improve a submission that you would like to publish, or do you generally accept as is or reject entirely?

Some submissions you have to reject entirely. It’s not always worth wading into typos, or trying to sort out messy narratives. Some submissions suffer from a lack of introspection, or a self-consciousness. Some, from too little of the latter. But perfecting the the kind of writing we publish is about clarifying the writer’s vision of their own story, and helping them to find narrative meaning beyond the biographical details. That’s work you can’t do without the writer, and so when I believe in a piece of writing I’m often excited to work with its author. Its wonderful and very satisfying when a good story can be sharpened into something impactful.

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