Edi­tor’s Let­ter

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - — Jes­sica John­son

As some­one who works pri­mar­ily with non-fic­tion writ­ers and ed­i­tors, I’m often asked how I edit fic­tion. I al­ways say it’s the same way you edit non-fic­tion — just look for pac­ing, voice, and struc­ture. The truth is, I prob­a­bly edit non-fic­tion the way I edit fic­tion, be­cause fic­tion edit­ing was the first and the most in­ten­sive kind of edit­ing I was taught as a stu­dent in the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s cre­ative-writ­ing pro­gram. When I read a sub­mis­sion, I look for whether a story makes sense to it­self. Does the reader have the in­for­ma­tion they need — no more, no less? Does the writ­ing make you want to keep read­ing, or does it feel like work? A lot of drafts are great for the first few pages but then just peter out as if the writer had an idea for a scene or char­ac­ter but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Pro­fes­sional writ­ers often say that the short story is the hard­est lit­er­ary form. It is also a genre in which Cana­di­ans, not just the No­bel Prize–win­ning Alice Munro, are pro­lific. At The Wal­rus, we pub­lish ten short sto­ries in print a year, with an ac­cep­tance rate of less than 3 per­cent. We re­ceive sub­mis­sions via agents and pub­lish­ers but also reg­u­larly find new voices in our gen­eral in­box, fic­tion@the­wal­rus.ca. One of the hard­est things about edit­ing fic­tion at The Wal­rus is re­ject­ing it. In my two years here, I have found that many of the sto­ries we re­ceive aren’t that far off. It would be eas­ier to de­cide what to accept if the sub­mis­sions were all long shots, inap­pro­pri­ate gen­res from writ­ers who just found us on the internet. In fact, most of our sub­mis­sions are from pub­lished writ­ers who know the magazine well; a lot of sto­ries are al­ready 60– 80 per­cent there. My job is to find the ones that can make it to 100 per­cent. When we find a story that I think could speak to a wide au­di­ence, I usu­ally ask the writer for a phone call. A lot of writ­ers are sur­prised, and not just be­cause fic­tion writ­ing can be lonely, soli­tary work. There are few gen­eral-in­ter­est mag­a­zines that still pub­lish lit­er­ary fic­tion, and even fewer of them edit the way we do: over a se­ries of con­ver­sa­tions and with a fact-check. On the call, I might talk to the writer about what I think is miss­ing from the story or ex­plain where I was con­fused. This is where fic­tion edit­ing most de­parts from work­ing on non-fic­tion. I’ll ask ques­tions like: Is this story set on a dif­fer­ent planet? Does your main char­ac­ter have su­per pow­ers? Is he or she dead and com­mu­ni­cat­ing from the af­ter­life? The se­lec­tions we do pub­lish are the ones in which the writer is able to cre­ate a world. That is true of all of the sto­ries in this sum­mer read­ing is­sue. Mireille Sil­coff’s re­al­is­tic fam­ily drama “Up­hol­stery” is set in Que­bec’s Lau­ren­tians. Troy Se­bas­tian’s “Tax niʔ pik̓ak (A Long Time Ago)” is set across time pe­ri­ods, in­ter­spers­ing Ktu­naxa and English vo­cab­u­lary. Award­win­ning writer Zsuzsi Gart­ner’s fa­ble “The Sec­ond Com­ing of the Plants” de­scribes a fu­ture in which hu­mans are no longer the planet’s over­lords. Zsuzsi was one of my first fic­tion teach­ers, and I still re­mem­ber her giv­ing us a hand­writ­ten chart de­pict­ing the dif­fer­ent “story struc­tures.” There was a tri­an­gle, a spi­ral, and, off in the cor­ner, an in­de­scrib­able scrib­ble just la­belled, “ge­nius model.” I al­ways think of that when I re­mem­ber the range of things — in style, in sub­ject mat­ter, in scope — a good story can be. The same is true, of course, of other forms of writ­ing. In this is­sue, we have ded­i­cated con­sid­er­able space to an in­creas­ingly press­ing con­cern: the en­vi­ron­ment. Science writer Anne Cas­sel­man re­ports on an am­bi­tious col­lab­o­ra­tive au­dit of Canada’s ef­forts to ad­dress cli­mate change — I think it’s the sex­i­est story you’ll read this sum­mer about a bunch of bu­reau­crats (“Emis­sions: Im­pos­si­ble”). Josiah Neufeld de­scribes the strug­gle of dis­parate groups over a pipe­line project in his home prov­ince of Manitoba (“Cross­ing Lines”). Ethan Lou pro­poses a new growth area for the Al­berta econ­omy: Bit­coin min­ing (“Un­nat­u­ral Re­sources”). And, in her “Ex­tinc­tion Son­nets,” poet Su­san Glick­man con­sid­ers the fi­nal days of an­i­mals all over the world. Our an­nual sum­mer read­ing is­sue is tra­di­tion­ally one of the most pop­u­lar edi­tions of The Wal­rus. We hope you will en­joy this one. And if you are, like so many of us, a writer, please send thoughts and sug­ges­tions to let­ters@the­wal­rus.ca. B

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.