Meet the Staff: Q&A with New Online Editor Holly Bowers

Holly Bowers is the incoming online editor for the Little Patuxent Review. She is currently a student in the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University, where she is focusing on creative nonfiction. Holly also works as the copy and content editor at DuckerFrontier, a global research and consulting firm located in Washington, DC. Her prior experience includes roles in marketing, research, and editing. Holly’s love of the literary life was honed at Dickinson College, where she graduated with a degree in English in 2012. She has lived in Northern Virginia since then. Holly loves to travel, and collects books from independent bookstores in every city she visits.

We’re very grateful to have Holly joining our team as online editor. She will be responsible for all the content that appears on our website. In this post, she answers a few questions as an introduction.

Q: How did you first learn about LPR and what made you interested in becoming online editor?

An instructor in the writing program at Johns Hopkins University first introduced me to LPR. The more I read, the more I fell in love with LPR’s mission and dedication to the local artistic community. Honestly, it was the website columns “Concerning Craft” and “Meet the Neighbors” that really pulled me in! Getting involved in the local writing community has been one of my favorite aspects of my graduate program, and joining the team at LPR seemed like a way to take that further.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

I always struggle to answer this question, because it can change based on what I’ve read recently. Jane Austen is a constant. My other current favorites include David Grann, Rebecca Traister, Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, and Mary Oliver.

Q: When and how did you decide to pursue writing seriously?

I think I’m still very much in the process of giving myself permission to say that I am pursuing writing seriously—that I am a writer. But to the extent that I have gotten there, it is because I’ve carried a germ of biography with me for several years, and I’m committed to telling that story. That was my big motivator for taking the plunge and enrolling in the MA in Writing Program at Hopkins. I knew that that program could give me the tools and the time that I hadn’t been carving out on my own.

Q: You are now in the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. How is that going?

It’s wonderful! I love being a student, and I feel like being in classes with other writers, studying craft and critiquing each other’s work, has really electrified my thinking about my own writing. The opportunity to study with great writers and to just spend time talking about literature and process is such a privilege, and I’m trying to make the most of it. The program has also helped me realize that I have more in me than just this biography.

Q: Any writing projects or plans for this summer?

Yes! I’m taking a summer intensive on narratives of the American West. It’s going to be a week of reading, discussions, workshopping, and author talks in Missoula, Montana, and I am very excited. When it comes to my own work, I’ll be using the summer to do secondary research and transcribe newspaper articles. I’m writing about a war correspondent in the First World War, and all of her articles are on pretty poor-quality scans from microfilm. One of my big projects is transcribing each article so that I have a clean digital copy—it’s much easier on the eyes than 1918 newsprint! I’m really enjoying that process so far. It’s giving me a chance to really sink into her writing voice, and I feel like an archaeologist pulling these lost words out of the dark corners of the archives. It’s giving her a voice back, in a way. Apart from that, I’m hoping to apply for a few grants so that I can do more archival research.

Q: What might be some other passions or activities that are important in your life?

Being part of LPR is allowing me to indulge my passion for literature, so I feel very lucky in that sense. But when I’m not working, doing homework, or writing for myself, I’m an advocate for reproductive rights and a (recovering) runner. And I love to travel. I’m taking a few days after my class this summer to go to Glacier National Park, which will move me one park closer to visiting all of the national parks!

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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