There are so many great literary magazines out there, from established favorites like New England Review, Iowa Review, and Ploughshares, to exciting newcomers like Midnight Breakfast, Ink & Coda, and Origins, a new journal accepting submissions for its first issue.
I’m an avid journal reader and like to share my favorites, especially now, at the beginning of submission season, when journals are re-opening their doors for submissions and writers are revving up to seek homes for their work.
One of the most prestigious journals around, New England Review always features superb writing. The current issue (Vol. 35 No. 2) is no different. If you’re new to the journal, you can get a flavor for the journal’s high standards by checking out “Some Animals are More Equal Than Others” by Lou Mathews, my colleague at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and a superb writer. “Some Animals” presents a fantastically entertaining account of a movie shoot gone awry in 1987 Nicaragua, told from the first person POV of Dale Davis, the movie’s jaded writer who’s promoted to director when the director himself disappears.
If you want to experience NER first-hand, the mag is staging its first-ever West Coast reading this Friday, September 26th at Stories Cafe, featuring Lou, Steve De Jarnatt, Sands Hall, and Charles Hood. It’s sure to be a wonderful event and a great introduction to one of the top literary magazines in the country.
Another well-respected standard, Ploughshares consistently offers outstanding fiction that rates at the top of every prize collection list. If you’re unfamiliar with the journal and looking for a good introduction, read “The Sugar Bowl” by Memory Blake Peebles, fiction winner of Ploughshares’s 2013 Emerging Writer’s Contest. It’s a glorious story, set in 1973 Alabama on New Year’s Eve, the night that Notre Dame delivered a resounding thrashing to Alabama in that year’s Sugar Bowl. Amidst this televised thrashing comes the demise of a family as told by one of its sons, teenager Bryant, with heartbreaking hilarity. The precision of language and characterization, coupled with the explosive situation, makes for an unforgettable story.
The Iowa Review‘s gorgeous new website is reason enough to check out this longstanding journal. And of course, there’s also the work inside it. IR only posts excerpts from stories online, but those excerpts are enough to keep you wanting more. Take, for example, the excerpt from “The Accident” by Maria Kuznetsova. Another period piece, “The Accident” takes place on April 27, 1986, young Ivanna’s “last good day in Kiev,” the day after the Chernobyl disaster, when a nuclear reactor exploded at a Chernobyl power plant, changing the lives of Ivanna and everyone around her. The story’s opening is gripping in its specificity, not in details about the accident itself, but in the whispered rumors shared by the children populating the story, the games they make up about the explosion and its fallout in order to abate their fear. It’s a story that begs to be read in full.
On its third issue, online journal newcomer Midnight Breakfast delivers great storytelling in a clean, elegant website that’s easy to navigate and beautiful to look at. In addition to fiction, creative nonfiction, and interviews, MB has a great section called “Small Plates” that features excerpts from upcoming books. like an excerpt from Rainey Royal, Dylan Landis‘s upcoming novel from Soho Press, a chapter of which won an O. Henry Prize. According to submission guidelines, MB accepts work between 1,000 and 10,000 words, so if you write long, check out this gorgeous online journal.
Ink & Coda, a new online journal with two issues to its credit, has a promising, unusual premise. It publishes both prose and music, pairing “experimental and surprising prose” with instrumental music that “suggests rather than dictates mood, is as free of cultural baggage as possible, and revels in varieties of timbre, tone, and texture.” The site is spare and straightforward, a nice contrast to its eclectic, engaging fiction. “Seismic” by Mandy Campbell Moore is particularly noteworthy, a taut, absorbing story about an earthquake and its aftermath as experienced by Oscar, a Los Angeles landlord whose keen sense of the do’s and don’ts of landlord/tenant relations is challenged by the havoc wreaked by a destructive tremor.
Even before its first issue, Origins caught my eye as a journal to watch. Its unique vision statement explains that the journal seeks to explore how an author’s identity impacts the writing process: “What does it mean to hail from different backgrounds and cultures? In what ways do we reach back to our beginnings to explain who we are, who we’ve become, and who we aspire to be?” The journal will explore the origins of creation both through literary pieces and through author interviews, a combination that I always find exciting and informative. Origins will have both an online and a print component. Its first edition is due out in Fall, 2014.
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