Nonfiction Critiques with Kristen Elias Rowley

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Show Notes

Kristen Elias Rowley, the editor in chief of The Ohio State University Press and its literary imprint, Mad Creek Books, sheds light on the nonfiction publishing landscape. She discusses university and small press publishing, the types of books Mad Creek publishes, the importance of discovering new voices, diversity in publishing, how she works with authors, and trends she sees in memoir submissions. Finally, she critiques the opening pages of three nonfiction submissions submitted by Ohio writers.

In this episode:



Kristen Elias Rowley (00:00:00):
Most folks who feel entitled to reach out do so anyway, so,

Laura Maylene Walter (00:00:02):
They sure do.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:00:04):
I would love to encourage everyone else to be submitting and reaching out because the publishing world can use new voices and fresh experiences and we want to hear from you. So please do reach out.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:00:15):
Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're speaking with Kristen Elias Rowley, the Editor-in-Chief of the Ohio State University Press, which includes the 21st Century Essay series, as well as the literary and trade imprint, Mad Creek Books. Kristen is here to discuss her work as an editor and to critique three nonfiction submissions from Ohio writers. Kristen, thanks for being here and welcome to the podcast.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:00:56):
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:00:58):
Well, I'd love to start by hearing a bit more about your work with the Ohio State University Press. Can you tell us when and how you entered that position and what some of your key responsibilities are as the editor-in-chief?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:01:11):
Sure. I have been working in University Press Publishing since 2006, but I was recruited in 2015 to come and lead the editorial department at the University of Ohio State Press. So they recruited me to be their editor-in-chief then, and I came on to sort of lead the direction of their editorial program and had been doing trade projects at the University of Nebraska Press where I was before, and the director of Ohio State University Press asked me when I came on board as Editor-in-Chief, if I wanted to also acquire trade projects here at the press. And I did. So I created the Mad Creek Books Imprint in 2015/2016 and then we published our first book on the imprint in 2017 and sort of launched from there, the couple of series that we have on the imprint. So in addition to working with scholarly authors, on our regular Ohio State imprint, I handle the entire Mad Creek imprint myself. And then of course my staff works on all of the books when it comes to publishing them. But in terms of acquiring and reading those submissions, I'm the one behind all of that working on the 21st Century Essay series on our Machete non-fiction series and on our Latinographix series, which is non-fiction and fiction depending. And then on our two prize series that are selected by the university English Department but are published by us, the Poetry Prize and the Non/Fiction prize. So I stay busy with the imprint.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:02:42):
Definitely, it sounds like it. And I'm wondering for any listeners out there who might not be familiar with how university presses work or how academic publishing works, can you discuss how an imprint like Mad Creek Books is different from the scholarly side of things?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:02:58):
Sure. So on the scholarly side of things, and the reason why we created a separate imprint was to sort of help delineate between those two. On the scholarly side of things, all of our manuscripts are sent out to scholarly readers in the field. So if we're publishing a book about Latinx literature, then we are sending it out to literary scholars that work with Latinx literature and we're getting that sort of sign off and then taking the project before a faculty board to approve that. We've sent it to the right kind of readers that the scholarship is appropriate and engaged with in appropriate ways. For our trade projects on the Mad Creek imprint, we aren't necessarily doing that. I had the imprint approved by the faculty board, but they trust us to then make those selections ourselves and to publish those. And I do occasionally send things out to readers, but there are other writers, I think this writer might have some useful feedback or I think this project still needs some help in this way that maybe I can't give them. But otherwise I do the majority of the developmental editing, um, all of that work myself directly with those writers one-on-one. You know, we're a small press and a lot of those things are similar across the same people at the press are working on copy editing, type setting, marketing publicity. They're doing that for our scholarly and our trade book initially. The process that I go through with the projects is really different for the different kinds of projects.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:04:18):
Can you give us some examples of the kinds of books you publish at Mad Creek?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:04:23):
Yeah, so it runs a pretty wide gamut. We do a lot of non-fiction. We do have the poetry prize that we publish, but those selections are made by the journal, which is the English department journal and the folks who support that they choose what to publish. And then I work with the authors on preparing the manuscript and we do all of the marketing and publicity there. But in terms of the kinds of books we publish, I can give you just a few examples of things coming out right now. The winner of our most recent Gournay Prize, which is our essay prize for writers who it's their first book of essays, is Christine Imperial is the most recent one that's coming out in print this spring and it's called MISTAKEN FOR AN EMPIRE and it is a very hybrid manuscript, non-fiction but poetry and is about being a dual citizen in the US and Philippines.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:05:14):
And it's actually about a third in Tagalog, which is the national language of the Philippines. So the manuscript is really different from what we've published before. We've not published anything in Tagalog before, but is a really interesting examination of nationality, of colonialism, of belonging, of citizenship, and a really important book that I'm excited to see out there because it is really challenging for readers in a lot of different ways. Other books that we have coming out or out right now, we have a book that's about the body. Megan Baxter's book is coming out this spring. It's about the body and the way we live, the way our body both protects us from the world around us, but also is our skin the way that we feel the world around us, the way that we take it, in the way that we keep it out.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:05:56):
And so the whole book really resonates around that plot point. It's also in the 21st Century Essays series and then our newest book in the Machete non-fiction series is by Tom Gannon and it's called BIRDING WHILE INDIAN. And it is a memoir of mixed blood, Lakota white man talking about this experience of being indigenous but being on the periphery in a lot of ways what this identity is. And it's all through the lens of sort of birding while Indian, which is what he wanted to call it, because of these ideas of colonialism and how it has affected all of these nature spaces, these landscapes, even the idea of birding the way we interact with the world around us. Very sardonic, very witty, but again, challenging in terms of forcing us to look at the way that we interact with the world and species other than ourselves.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:06:40):
That's the newest Machete book. And in the past we've done anything from sort of straightforward memoirs to very straightforward essay collections like Jerald Walker's, HOW TO MAKE A SLAVE AND OTHER ESSAYS, which was a National Book Award finalist for us just a couple years ago. And in our graphic and comics series, the most recent book in that was, or one of the notable books I should say in that that continues to get picked up is TALES FROM LA VIDA by Frederick Luis Aldama who used to be faculty at Ohio State University actually. But it's a collection that really showcases, I think it's 85 plus voices and artists from Latinx community and it is all snippets and snapshots of different styles, voices of Latinx artistic work that's out there in terms of graphic, comics, all those different kinds of pieces. And it ranges in topic anywhere from looking at language, looking at identity, looking at violence, a lot of different topics.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:07:36):
Yeah, that's really fantastic. I love the range of the types of books that you publish and the focus on being inclusive and and really putting a focus on identity and maybe exploring voices that we don't always hear in the publishing industry. So I think that's fantastic.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:07:52):
Thank you. That was very much our purpose in when I created the imprint was to look at what voices aren't getting the opportunity to be heard because they've been told their stories can't reach a mainstream audience or that not enough people will be interested in them or it's a little too experimental or hybrid, it doesn't fit neatly in one place or another. And that was really the impetus for creating the whole imprint in 2015.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:08:13):
Well, so speaking of being an inclusive place for writers, can you talk about the submission process? So if a writer has a non-fiction manuscript to maybe essays or a memoir or something hybrid, how would they go about trying to submit to Mad Creek? Do they need an agent? What is the submission process for them?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:08:30):
So we work with agented or un-agented authors, that doesn't matter, you know, sometimes it's, I know an agent and so they'll send me something because they know that I'll like it, but the majority of what I published comes from un-agented authors, especially because we've made a commitment to working with diverse voices. That means a lot of folks that maybe haven't found a publisher prior to this or whose work hasn't been able to place somewhere or maybe they need some help instead of developmental editing to get the book book where it needs to be. So it's not uncommon that I work with folks that are unaided and I take queries via email. So if people just want to know does this sound like something that you would be interested in or that might fit the imprint? If someone wants to send a sample of their work though, I ask that they use our Submittable portal simply because my inbox is very full and so submitting manuscripts or parts of manuscripts to my email is not going to be good for anyone.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:09:18):
So we have our Submittable open most of the year. It's closed right now, but I'm getting ready to reopen it this week actually. And then typically I have things sorted by series so you can submit directly to the series. So you can look and see what books we published in this series. The Submittable website gives a brief description of each and you can see where your work fits. Authors only need to submit to one area. If I think a manuscript might be a fit somewhere else, I just send it to those series editors to take a look too, or I just consider it for the other series. It doesn't have to be submitted into multiple places. Since I'm reading it all, I'll be able to weigh in on it either way. And yeah, I ask authors to submit sort of typically a proposal or a cover letter that kind of goes over the main points of their manuscript.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:10:00):
So maybe a short summary of the project or overview of it if they don't have the full manuscript. That indicates to me what the other pieces are and that summarizes sort of the main pieces, you know, how long is it, has any of it been previously published, what makes this different from what else is out there? And I would say that's what's really important to me is really the author taking a stab at what makes this project important, what makes this new, how's it going to speak differently? Why has no one else written this project before? What am I doing that no one else has done before? That can be really helpful in thinking through, especially because I received so many submissions. What makes this a little bit different from anything else I've published, I get tons of wonderful manuscripts, you know, work from wonderful writers.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:10:43):
So it's not about publishing the 12 books a year or the 10 books a year that I think are worth it. It's how do I pick only 10 or 12 books from this, you know, several hundred that I get that are worthy of publication? How do I decide which ones we can do the best with that we can be the best partner for the author and that we can be the best platform for that particular project. So I don't care whether authors send a 25 page sample or if they have the whole manuscript attached as long as they attach some kind of proposal or cover sheet that goes over those other pieces. Any format is fine and it doesn't need to be the first 25 pages of the manuscript. I always tell authors to send me the strongest section of the manuscript. So if you have an essay done that's going to be the sixth essay on your project, but you think this is the most polished, the best representation of what this collection's going to be, send me that. Even if it's a chapter from the middle of a novel, if it's the best representation you have and it's going to get my attention, send me that.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:11:37):
That's really good advice to hear because in general the common advice seems to be agents and a lot of editors want the beginning. They want it to be able to start and already be great in the beginning and ready to go and ready to publish. But it sounds like based on the work that you do and maybe the special kinds of projects that you look for, you're really looking for something that stands out to you in a very specific way. And so do you work with authors if you love an idea, if you love the project, but maybe it's not completed yet or maybe parts of it are complete but parts are really rough. How much do you work with an author or how in place does the manuscript already need to be by the time they're pitching you?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:12:18):
I think it really depends on the project, but I am a big believer in the editor and the author hopefully being able to be collaborative partners with each other in a really useful way. Especially as we look at who's getting published and who gets the opportunity to publish. I think too many writers are turned away because you know, they haven't been at one of the prestigious MFA programs or something where like, yes, they've had the chance to polish their work in really productive ways. And so every year I'm more and more try to do more with developmental editing. University presses don't often have time.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:12:48):
Yeah, almost no one does. So that's great that you do.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:12:51):
I do a lot more of it now than I used to just because I feel like it's really important to the mission of Mad Creek and the mission of University Press Publishing. So I just make more time for it than I was told I have so that we really can live up for a mission in that way. So for that reason, I don't mind if an author reaches out with just one piece of that manuscript ready and polished because maybe it gives me the opportunity to weigh in before that other work has been done on what I really think is working or what I'm worried about not working in the scope of what their other plans are. Or maybe they need feedback at that point in direction. I have one writer who I've worked with for several years on their manuscript is it's gone through different iterations.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:13:29):
One of them being sort of the essays back to memoir sort of concept or flow. And I think they had really tried to force it into the more of an essay structure when in reality it had more of a connective memoir feel to it. But that's the conversation we got to have really early on. And so they were able to redirect really productively in a way that I think has been a benefit to the manuscript. And I'm always really careful to centralize the author's vision within that. So I think it's great if authors are open to feedback and want that feedback early. I don't mind that process starting if authors just have one chapter or one piece or 20 pages or whatever that looks like polished, as long as they have a vision for the rest of the project, they can fill me in on that. I'm open to that changing as long as they're open to it changing. But I do want to see that they have some, you know, not just, I have 20 pages. Do you think I could turn this into a book? I know a little bit more than that.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:14:19):

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:14:20):
But hopefully that writing piece gives me an example of their writing capabilities and of their voice because that's going to tell me too if there's potentially what's different about this project and what might make it stand out in the crowd. But I don't expect authors to come with a polished, you know, 60,000 word book. I just think that's unrealistic, especially if we are looking at folks who maybe haven't had that background in a lot of different ways or that don't have that kind of support if they're not at an institution where they're like getting support on their writing development or those kinds of things.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:14:52):
And I would imagine that must be really satisfying as an editor to have a part in watching a manuscript grow and helping the writer nurture it along. Especially you know, in an industry where there's usually no time for that at all. I'm sure you don't have the time either, but you're able to make it, especially with the big five, it seems manuscripts or proposals need to be pretty solid and ready to go and yeah, I just think I've edited manuscripts, not in an official capacity with the publisher, but I could see that being a really fun and fulfilling part of the process. So I'm glad you get to do that.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:15:25):
Yes, I love getting to work with authors and I love seeing the author's voice grow and develop as we work on a project together or get stronger as they get feedback and realize that this is what's unique and different about them and that they can keep that voice, especially with writers who their first book, there can be a lot of nerves around that, especially when you are talking about non-fiction, you know, talking about real people or your own life. And so to get to be a part of helping validate people's experiences and that they should get to relay them in the way that they want to, it is one of the best parts of my job.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:15:57):
If you were to look a bit more broadly at the publishing landscape for creative nonfiction right now, do you have any insights you'd like to share? Anything writers should be aware of in terms of the industry and trying to publish creative non-fiction?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:16:13):
I mean I think there's, I mean there's a lot of things. One thing I always recommend to writers is that you know, before you submit, that you're really taking a look at where you submit to and seeing what folks are publishing. I think one thing we're seeing with the industry now is a much better awareness of the kind of gatekeeping or lack of diversity that we've seen across the industry. Publishers are being called out for that more. That's becoming, I think, more prevalent in terms of on people's minds. But one thing I would advise writers to really look at is like, how is that work treated at different publishers, I guess to just make sure that isn't lip service that's happening. It is one thing I feel like we get really keyed into buzzwords or who's doing what, but I also think about things like a piece, I'm not able to think of the title now, but it essentially was a focused on the "book blob" book cover, which was a disservice that is done to writers of color where it's let's give them a bright colorful cover that is just blob colors and shapes.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:17:06):
We don't know what else to do but this will indicate this is an important voice from, you know, writer of color's voice. And that to me, that treatment can speak to sort of what the treatment of the project overall or the author could be at the press. So I guess I encourage writers to look at not just who's publishing books, but how are they publishing them, how those voices being published, are they being published in really genuine ways? And to talk to other writers about how they feel about working with different presses too. I do think, you know, getting to know how writers feel about their experience is important in figuring out those decisions about where to submit and where you'd like to see your work. I do think what's nice to see in the field is that there's a little bit more variety or more space allowed for writers who are playing with hybridity or blending genres.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:17:51):
I mean I feel like we continually talk about the resurgence of the essay, but I do think the essay, you know, we're in a moment where the essay is being more celebrated than it has in the past. And so I think there's just more space for manuscripts that take a chance on different forms, which is exciting to see. Really exciting work is continually coming out from small trade houses and from university presses and I always encourage authors to take a look at those venues if they're not familiar with them. You know, every author wants to take a shot at the big five and the money from those publishers is much better than from those, you know, independent or small houses. But I do encourage authors to not think, you know, if their writing isn't picked up by one of those houses or not picked up by an agent, that that doesn't mean that what they're writing isn't important or can't find at home at a really great press doing exciting and new and interesting and different work. So that's something I think that is really greeting from 20 years ago where I feel like there were less of us trying to publish trade in that way. And I feel like now 20 years later to see how many presses are taking that and even how many more university presses are doing exciting creative trade projects is really encouraging.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:18:57):
You know, that's a good point for writers to remember. Most writers seem to want to start with the big five and then they maybe work their way down to start submitting to smaller presses, university presses. But sometimes you're better off with a smaller press. They might be more equipped to give you the attention, give your book the attention if your book is a bit experimental or daring or doesn't quite fit neatly into one box, sometimes the big publishing machine isn't always going to be the best place for it. So yeah, it can be a real benefit to publish with a smaller publisher I think. Okay, well we can move on to getting your professional insight on three excerpts of creative nonfiction. These were sent to me by actual Ohio writers and as always I want to thank the writers who submitted their work. I think this is a definite act of bravery to share your work in any capacity like this, but also to have it on a podcast.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:19:52):
So writers, we are really, really grateful to you and I'm grateful to Kristen for offering some feedback. Now just to set the scene, I did not ask the writers for a detailed proposal or anything like that. A few of them I did ask if they wanted to submit extra context. A few of them did and, and that will help and I'll share that context. But otherwise I asked for the first two pages. I won't read them in their entirety, but I'll read a few little snippets and we can talk about it and we can pretend maybe you had this piece land in your Submittable and what you would think or what you would recommend. Okay. Our first submission is called "Acceptance." It is part of a longer creative non-fiction piece and it is by Aaron Holden. And I will read a little bit from the first paragraph:

Laura Maylene Walter (00:20:42):
"In the bottom of suburbia, I grew up in a two-story basement-less slab. It had white aluminum siding, a breezeway that connected a one car garage, and a hilly backyard enveloped by a red wooden privacy fence. With its horizontal cedar strips woven intricately around their vertical counterparts, I’m sure it was once the most beautiful fence in the neighborhood." And then just for time, I'm going to skip a few sentences and get to the end of this first paragraph: "Dilapidated and brittle, it slowly fell apart until just the posts remained. With rusty nails that snagged our shirts, pant legs, and sometimes… even our skin."

Laura Maylene Walter (00:21:08):
From there, the piece goes on to discuss the speaker's parents. The fence is coming back as a motif. The speaker is a young child named Aaron. There's I thought a fun moment with different Aaron, A-a-r-o-n, of different ways to pronounce the name, which was kind of fun. It made me think of Key & Peele, if you know that sketch. And it ends with: "...I’d hide under the kitchen table with my Matchbox Cars. Circling them around legs and feet while the party madness raged, I’d drift into another realm." So Kristin, when you read this two-page excerpt, can you tell us what your first reactions were and what you thought of this piece, how you experienced it?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:22:04):
Yes. So I was immediately pulled in by the description in terms of the setting describing this sort of cross-section of suburbia and this, you know, the way they described the aluminum siding, the fence that's dilapidated, particularly the sentence about the rusty nails that snagged like even their skin. So that for me set up, you know, I felt like that gave me a sense of what was coming in terms of the kind of tone.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:22:29):
Yeah, it was ominous.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:22:31):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:22:31):
That snagging the skin. Yeah, I highlighted that.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:22:34):
Yes. The way that paragraph culminated really felt like it gave me the right foundation to then jump into the rest of what came in particular use of words like dysfunction and this setting up this relationship between the father and the mother figure this antagonistic relationship and the relationship of these parents with alcohol, again it felt like it had great synergy, although I don't love that word that I'm using there, but the great synergy between you know, what the setting gave me in terms of tone and then setting up the relationships. And so I felt like I then had a physical setting and a relationship setting up maybe what with the tone of this house, with the tone of this child's early life was. So I was really intrigued by how that relationship was set on the page and what that said about what the experience of the writer was going to be like overall. I also thought the way Aaron represented dialogue on the page worked really well. As you mentioned those sort of different pronunciations or spellings of Aaron and how that was maybe said in different contexts, but also representing the speech of his parents when they've been drinking. I really felt like I could feel and hear what that would've sounded like.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:23:49):
Yeah. Do you have an example of one of the lines of dialogue you liked?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:23:53):
Yes. "Sssthuch a beautiful fence, RayJo." Like I can hear a parent blurring their words as they've been drinking and I liked that it came back around to what the author identifies as like maybe what could have been at one point the prize, maybe not prize possession, but this point of pride in terms of the exterior of the home, this fence. And then circling back to that, as this point of contention or point of focus and the way that the piece, you know, the little snippet left off in terms of this young child recognizing to some extent what's going on around him and trying to escape that made me want to read more.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:24:31):
Yeah, the writing is really lovely. I highlighted a line at the top of the second page: "Mom went off on anyone who called her Nora, especially once she was drunk." I think I highlighted it because it almost felt like an opening line to me. I'm not suggesting the writer should use it as an opening line, but it felt like this great entry point into the characters and into the world and what the mother was like. This is a piece of creative nonfiction starting in childhood with definitely some tension there with the family, some conflict with the alcohol. I love this symbol of the fence and the fences decay, right? And what that could also mean. Do you have anything more broadly you'd like to share about, do you get a lot of submissions that are written in a child's point of view kind of looking back at that time? Is there anything writers should be aware of to make sure their work stands out or just any general advice you'd have for someone writing this kind of story, which is a common type of memoir of course.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:25:27):
I do think what's really important for writers to think about when they are writing either significant portion of their memoir or piece from their vantage point as a child is to really think through what as a child they were recognizing and what they maybe weren't recognizing until later on. I mentioned that because sometimes it's easy to slip between the two and a lot of it will work and then I'll get to something where I'll think is that really a realization that a child would come to. And of course every child is different. So these are questions I ask my writers when I'm editing their work is, is this something you really did realize at the time? Is it something you came to understand later? So that writers understand that they can also shift those perspectives while they're writing. So even if they're writing from this historical place that if there's something later on that sheds light on that, that they can still incorporate that, but to do that in a different way so that that character themself as a child is still believable as a child experiencing that situation.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:26:21):
I think it's done well in this piece, at least from the snippet I read. Everything feels like something depending on the age of a child that a child could pick up on. So none of that seems out of place, which I think is really great because that can be a really difficult thing. That's one thing I mentioned just because it feels like that extra work and time has been put into thinking through it and that is one of the things I'm looking at when I'm screening, you know, it does this feel like something that the writer has tried hard to craft, tried to work on? Because there are so many people who have interesting stories to tell and I can't publish all of them. I'm looking at things that are unique and different and represent not just details but voice in a different way or experience in a different way, background, you know, but and a diversity in any of those experiences. But I'm also looking at who I think is willing to work on crafting that too. So that's at least one thing I would say about folks who are writing from a childhood perspective.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:27:14):
For this piece, do you have any questions for the writer or maybe suggestions for ways to possibly improve the work?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:27:24):
There was a little bit of line editing that I did just for clarity in places, you know, there were places where a sentence, the writer's talking about the fence and then inserts the sentence, "An integral place to my survival because of the kids who came over to play..." The rest of that sentence is talking about the backyard, not the fence. And then the next sentence is about the fence again. And so for me it was that space looked like at first it referred to the fence and so that sentence or that paragraph could be tightened a bit to either remove that sentence, put it into a different place, refer to the backyard space and then back to the fence. So that was one thing that again is very picky but is the kind of fine tuning I would do with an author. It's not something that would put me off of the piece by any means, but it is a thing that could be strengthened or even the sentence, you know, other sentences that have a similar, you know, a sentence about the father, Raymond and then it uses the phrase until they were drunk, but the sentence was just about the father.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:28:23):
And so I added in they both so that it was, you know, clear that this was referring back to the mother as well. So just really looking at those like very fine tuning moments because it, I think it is overall in really great shape. So it was just those small fine tuning line edits that I really looked at.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:28:40):
I noticed when I was reading it out loud—when I first received the submission and I read through it and I thought, oh the writing, you know, is really strong. And I think it is when I was reading it out loud, I became more conscious of in the first sentence, maybe first two sentences, just a lot of adjectives. And I'm not one of those people who's absolutely against all adjectives or anything like that, but sometimes when they're stacked on each other so much it can, it can affect the reading experience a little. So.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:29:07):
Yes, there were a couple of just, I will admit I'm not familiar with the phrase "bottom of suburbia" and maybe it's a very common phrase, but that would be another question I would ask is what was intended by "bottom of suburbia" and maybe was that achieved just with the description in and of itself with just, "I grew up in a two-story basement-less slab. It had white aluminum siding..." Maybe we don't even need that bottom of suburbia thing because the descriptive portion is doing enough to show us that, that we don't need to be told I think where in terms of middle class or lower-middle class or et cetera where this falls. So yeah, I do think that sort of like fine tuning that sentence that you brought up, mom went off on anyone who called her Nora, it's especially once she was drunk and I think I would say especially when she was drunk or even especially whenever she was drunk, either of us could indicate this is a state that happened with some frequency for Nora.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:29:57):
So yeah, it was really those line-level edits, which are I think the most difficult because you know, as the writer you know what you're trying to say, you've written it down, you've read it a couple times, like now you read what you want to read. And so I think that can be really helpful to get either an outsider's perspective on it or to really sit and read it and focus on it at the line level or force yourself to read out loud what it actually says, not what you think you wrote or wanted it to say. So yeah, just that sort of next level of fine tuning.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:30:27):
Yeah. And then if I'm just being extremely nitpicky, which I am and this is very subjective, but near the end of the sample we get a better sense of how old the narrator is and I think he seemed younger than I would've expected at the beginning. So I think I realized right there that maybe I'm not fully rooted in where we are in the narrator's life. So I did, I wondered about that but I know we're only working with two pages and I don't want to hear it in the first paragraph explaining the age or anything like that. So do you have any thoughts on that?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:30:58):
I will say I was also a little bit surprised potentially by the age of the narrator and it is one reason I brought up that sort of situating the narrator, make sure that they're having age appropriate revelations because that was hard to tell. You know, that second to last paragraph about being in footy PJs and the difficulty with which this child had like carrying a hammer or how they were holding it, that to me also indicated youth. And so maybe it's as easy as a sentence insertion earlier that's, you know, that's something to the effect of some of these things I knew than others I know now, you know, whatever that looks like. Or maybe it's enough that as it builds towards something in the coming pages that will reveal that. And you're right, that is really hard to tell I think in just a two page sample. But it is definitely something that would be on my mind as I was reading to see how that clarified itself in the coming pages because that ambiguity works for me for a few pages as a way to build suspense or way to build intrigue. But it only works so long if it isn't supported then by the manuscript and by the developments as they move along.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:31:56):
Definitely. And I did, I love that image that you alluded to. "I'd follow him at 9 in the morning, still in footy PJ's, out the back door." It's a really simple image, but I could see that. The footy PJs, you can almost feel them on your body. So I really, I thought that was really great.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:32:11):
I also liked too, that clutching the hammer and having to hold it against their chest with both hands, I really felt like I could see a kid doing that. And again it was a really useful indication of the age of the writer without having to be like I was five.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:32:27):
Right. Small enough to have to use both hands. Yeah. Great. We'll move on to our second submission. The author included a brief author's note: "I am sending in the first two pages of an essay called 'Can You Smoke Weed on Mars?' that talks about my early experiences with marijuana, the circumstances that led to my first time smoking and how I equated being high as a way to get closer to God on a spiritual level." It is one of the coming-of-age stories the author is including in a set of memoirs about growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s and, as she writes, "all of my shenanigans." <laugh> So I will read just a little bit from the beginning. It opens with an epigraph from the author, who is Silk Allen. The epigraph says, "I would like to be the first celeb to smoke weed in outer space. -Silk Allen, age 14." And then we go into the piece:

Laura Maylene Walter (00:33:21):
"'Why do you smoke weed?' I paused. Not to gather my words, but to see how honest I could be with the person asking, I looked into their eyes and saw nosy amusement, not the sincere thoughtfulness that I always look for before answering any personal questions. 'Because I like it,' I said simply and with a finality that made all further questions cease." So from there these sample pages go on to talk a bit about the author's attention deficit disorder. I really love the line: "Until I discovered marijuana, the only way that I could think clearly was by reading and writing." This aspect of the drug, kind of quieting the mind and then finding other connections in culture outside of the white dominant culture and personal connections with meeting someone who would have marijuana and so a very coming-of-age [story] surrounding marijuana and the author's experiences with it. I'm being repetitive now, but please take over for me. Help me out. <laugh> What was your reaction when you read this piece?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:34:24):
So I found myself the most pulled and I think right at the end of this piece, I will say one caveat I have or that I will mention is I receive not a small amount of submissions that position themselves as coming of age stories with weed and or spiritualism or connection to spiritualism sort of tied into marijuana in that way. So I will say my first thought was that I felt, you know, that potentially had had already quote unquote "seen" a piece like this before. But I really felt that start to shift towards the very end of the piece and in earlier places that did talk about the relationship to ADD, which I thought was an interesting and more unique take than I had seen in submissions before. So the aspects of it that really stuck out to me were describing their brain with ADD and sort of what's going on, words, abstract memories, and then this description of everything floating through it.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:35:23):
And I did chuckle out loud when I got to the statement about not just rap lyrics and Christmas songs, but also David the Gnome, which aid make me chuckle, although I'm, I did not come of age in the late nineties. David the Gnome was around in the early eighties anyway, so you know, there was some levity there, but I think still very interesting description and a snapshot into someone else's mindset, which was really interesting. And then what I really found actually interesting was this gesture towards, at the very last couple of sentences about their discomfort as one of the few Black students at a private Christian for the most part white elementary school. And they end this little section that they sent with. But that's another story and I actually find myself asking like, I really wonder what that story is because maybe that story, at least from my perspective as an editor who receives a lot of manuscripts, that story sounded like one I hadn't really read before or a story that I haven't seen related as often by an author. So it wasn't that I was uninterested by this sample, but I did think to myself, is this the most, you know, maybe it's cause it's the beginning or that's where people want to start, but I did find myself asking myself, I would love to see more of this, or I would love to know what that other story is or what those other stories are because that to me is really the unique perspective here. Maybe slightly more so or maybe not, but that's how I came at it.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:36:45):
Yeah, I was perking up at different points earlier. The author mentions growing up reading books like Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club, also of my era. But then saying, leaving those behind because they're "basic white girl problems," leaving those behind for the rap music. That would include a lot of mentions of marijuana even though that wasn't on the author's radar yet. But then where I was really starting to pay attention was the friend named Meka is introduced who's cooler, taller and prettier than me, and most importantly experienced everything before I did. You can really hear the author's voice start to come out in this section. I highlighted because I laughed at this part: "One day I had to stay at Meka's house after school and when I walked in she was on her cool house phone that lit up when someone called" and, in parentheses: "YES SHE DID HAVE HER OWN PHONE IN HER OWN ROOM!!!" Three exclamation marks, which is just really fun.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:37:37):
And you get a sense of that tension between the friends, someone is, you know, the cooler friend who has more things, right. Maybe about to introduce you to a new world, which I thought would be a great entry point for this piece. And then yes, like you, I highlighted the end about "the private Christian elementary school I attended for six long confusing years where I was one of five black students. In my whole six years of attendance" and ending it with, "But that's another story." I'm thinking, well, I'm ready to turn the page, you know, and get to that story. Absolutely.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:38:07):
Yes. I thought the same thing there. And I will say the part that you mentioned too about leaving those books about basic white girl problems, I didn't get a sense until the last sentence or last two sentences why they're abandoning these basic white girl stories. I couldn't get a sense of if this was a writer who's trying to live through other experiences other than their own or is just tired of basic white girl stories and wants more advanced white girl stories, wasn't, until I got later on that I thought, oh, that's probably a good reason to want to abandon basic white girl pieces if you don't feel like they're representing you in any way and their replication of what you're seeing around you in a school where you could potentially feel isolated or different than a lot of your classmates. Not that that needs to be revealed like an, again, an author can use those cues to the reader in whatever way that they want and and reveal to the reader and whatever sort of slow reveal they like what they're trying to get across. But I did feel, not like a bait and switch, but a little bit sort of, oh, I'm reading this from a very different perspective than I thought and I'm sort of shifting my paradigm. Those cues didn't indicate until now that that's how I should shift it because I was trying to get at this as what is this person's entree to wrap? Like is it cause they think it's cool and the way that they're looking at Meka or what is that sort of draw to it? Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:39:21):
I highlighted one line that I had maybe a suggestion about. So to carry on the basic white girl problems line: "Those books about basic white girl problems took a backseat to the stories being told in rap that mentioned activities that I could relate to and actually see going on outside my window." When I read that the first time I highlighted the last part of that sentence, "activities I could relate to," okay, but what are those activities? "Actually see going on outside my window." Okay, well what's going on outside your window? I think that was when I wanted specificity just to give us the texture of the life. What is it like where this person is? So I thought that could be a helpful way of trying to get more of that texture into the pages.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:40:04):
I think so too, because immediately what I focused on was that the writer elucidates that: "Even if I didn't grow up pucking roaches out of a cereal box like Ghostface Killah." So they elucidate what they didn't do, but we don't get a sense of what they did do or did see or did experience. And so yes, I also felt that hole there and I think almost read past it because it was an absence in a way that didn't get filled.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:40:29):
Yeah, absolutely. So I'm really intrigued by your mention that you get a lot of pieces about marijuana and the connection to maybe some kind of spiritual awakening or something around the drug. I guess I never would've thought about that, but it is good to keep in mind that there are certain topics that come up a lot in editors in boxes. Maybe for some editors it's grief stories or I know for some literary journals it's affair stories; I just had a conversation with editors about that with Mid-American Review. So this is one I hadn't really thought of. Is there anything you'd like to share more broadly about common stories that come up? And of course writers can still make anything new no matter what the topic is or how well trod it is, but what do you think writers should know when they are approaching topics that might be more commonly used in writing?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:41:18):
Maybe it's not necessarily marijuana in spiritualism as much as it is potentially drug use and spiritualism or drug of some kind. That is maybe a trend I see in submissions periodically or something I get a lot of submissions on. I do think something can on the outside sound like something I have seen a million submissions on and on the inside be a manuscript that is really interesting or different just in voice or perspective in a lot of different ways. Taking, for example, the National Book Award winner, I mentioned he's writing about race and masculinity and blackness in America. I mean, I could use that very paired description to describe maybe a lot of books, but it does not mean that all those books are the same or not worthy of publication. So I don't want people to think just because someone somewhere has written some book about drugs and spiritualism that that means that can't exist.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:42:08):
But it does mean I think that authors need to look at, you know, what am I bringing that's a fresh perspective to this. And it was why the things that really stuck out to me here were the way this author was able to describe sort of what ADD felt like from the insider, how their brain felt about that, how the bits of humor stuck out to me. You know, whether that was how they talked about Meka and what their visuals as a young adult or as a teen of Meka's life and why they looked up to them, why that stuck out or just the humor in little places and certainly why. "but that's another story," about situating what sounds like an experience that maybe not a lot of people had also stuck out to me. So that's something, especially in proposal materials or a cover letter, I definitely want to see the other kinds of things.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:42:53):
I tend to see the trend or that over the years I get submissions on all the time are I tend to get a lot of grief memoirs and also caretaker memoirs, which can sometimes be combined with grief memoirs. And again, it isn't that there's no place for those manuscripts, but it's really looking at what am I bringing to this that is different or why is my perspective or my story or my voice or my form or genre, whatever it is, why is this different than what has been out there? And especially for an imprint like Mad Creek where we're really looking at trying to represent a diversity of voices and a diversity of experiences, that's already something we're asking about because we want to give people a place to put forward stories that aren't portrayed in the mainstream for whatever different reason. But those genres in particular, I would say, or those kind of subject matters, are the ones that I tend to see a lot of submissions. And so the ones that I would especially caution writers to think through what is making my perspective different, maybe adoption narratives. And again, that doesn't mean that that's not a really important manuscript, but I may not know that from the sample you submit or from the cover letter that you submit if you don't recognize what's already out there or engage with what's already out in the field and in the world.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:44:06):
Yeah. And these are questions all writers should always be asking themselves, regardless of whether you've published no books or five books or 50 books. And also just I think being aware of what is commonly written about is half the battle right there that shows the writer is engaged with contemporary literature and what small presses are publishing, what the big presses are publishing whatever they're interested in. And having that information is always helpful. Okay. Our third submission. It is an excerpt from an essay called "Dragon Pearls." It is one of seven essays in the writer's anticipated collection called STEEPING. The writer includes in her author's note: "In late July of 2015, my sister was flown to the Mayo Clinic for a series of experimental surgeries. She has a rare heart condition..." And I won't read through everything, but suffice it to say it sounds harrowing, an extreme condition that involves several comas, 104 cardiac arrests, having to take over 20 pills a day to stay alive.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:45:09):
"Learning about and drinking tea became a form of coping through my sister's situation and being her trusted caretaker. STEEPING consists of a combination of experimental essays that will follow the story of the caretaker, a family member, and a person who loves someone whose life expectancy is always questionable and uncertain. It's a collection of grief, family, love, and tea." For this piece that we're going to look at, it has some creative formatting as you saw. So I'll try to describe it for our listeners who can't see it. But basically one part of the story there is a myth, a fictional myth about tea that runs on the left side of the page, a left column. On the right side of the page, there's a column about the author's personal story. And in the middle of the page, beyond those columns, there is research and facts about tea. So we've got kind of three layers going on, the hope to make connections between the two stories told on both sides. The author is Cassandra Lawton, and I'll read just from the beginning. It's one of the middle sections.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:46:11):
"Dragon Pearls. Each time I brew Jasmine Dragon Pearl tea, I watch it. When the pearls unfurl, their forms sink and rise within the infuser filled with boiling water. Some look as if they’re growing limbs, crawling along the bottom for an escape, while others mimic flowers blooming. Eventually, over the course of the four-minute steeping time, many “unfold like mist rising out of a ravine” as the work of those who hand-rolled the balls comes undone." And I'll stop there, but it goes on with a lot more beautiful writing. So this one is definitely experimental in form. Tell us how you reacted to this piece when you read it.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:46:51):
Sure. So I was really intrigued when I read, you know, this is a caretaking memoir, but I'm juxtaposing it with tea. I thought to myself, that is not an angle I feel like I have ever seen anyone submit to me, which immediately then perked up my interest in sort of seeing it. And I'll return to the formatting in a second, but I did like this idea of sort of these three strands accompanying each other and how they're being laid out on the page. I thought the description was excellent in what you just read. That whole section where she's describing what it actually looks like as the tea is steeping. I thought that was really evocative. It didn't feel overwritten. I felt like I could really see what was happening. Even just looking at these little beads and even the acknowledgement that some of these balls don't unfurl, that they just kind of sink to the bottom that this idea of not fulfilling their purpose.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:47:46):
I thought that was a really interesting way of looking at that. I did like that the sample that the author provided too also gave a little bit of each of these sections. So we got that bit about tea, we got bit of the fictional myth and we got a bit of the personal, real time contemporary story of the, of the sister and her as a caretaker of her sister. So I felt that the writing was really strong in this piece. I definitely had some questions about not just format, but some, I guess like underlying questions, things like she refers to the section as the myth or fiction on the left side of the page. And I found myself asking, is this a fictionalized account of an existing myth from another culture or is she calling this a tea myth? But she has created it. And so I did have some questions about how that was being represented and what it meant.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:48:40):
I definitely had those questions too, and I even very briefly tried to look it up and I didn't really find anything, but I also didn't dig too deeply. Because there is a difference. We should talk about that. If someone is taking a myth from another culture and re-imagining it versus creating one, what do you see as possible differences there?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:48:58):
Yes, especially I feel like using that word myth to me says that we are looking at potentially the belief of another culture or another country or another potentially religion. And so I think the use of that word to me indicated that it was from an existing story that someone else is telling. So I do think authors should be careful about the use of that word if that's not what's happening, or to situate it as creating a myth or a story. I think if you wanted to still be able to use that language. So I would in a cover letter that was going to be fully fleshed out, I would want to have a better understanding as the editor of what exactly is happening in those portions, where exactly that comes from. Cause I do think it's important, especially if we're borrowing from other cultures or riffing off of, or building on things that we are thinking about what we're building on and that we are clear in those expectations.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:49:49):
So I don't ask my non-fiction writers to have notes or footnoted notes on their books, but if they are borrowing significantly, it's not uncommon that we would have a note section in the back or for further reading or for this piece I look really closely at this particular myth and I'm rewriting it here. So that I think is what I would definitely want to see. In particular with that left section. And I even had some questions about the center section which the author had situated as facts or research about tea while in the section that they provided. It's more of a description than it is what I would call facts or necessarily research. I think the visual is great. I really, really loved it. They would maybe situate how she's describing that center column as being focused on tea or maybe include something about the particularities of tea. Something that indicated to me, well this really isn't facts or research. I expected more of a sort of, you know, reportage kind of field intersection. And so when I kicked off that way I thought oh that's not what I expected at all. And again, it was not bad. I really loved the visuals there. It just didn't fall under what I thought I was going to reading.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:50:58):
Right, what you expected. Yes. Yeah, I loved all the, the growing limbs, the crawling, the blooming, the unfurling, really great words to describe tea. I could really see it. Yeah. But yeah, you're right. It's not factual so much as an experience which makes it a bit more similar to the column on the right side, which is the personal part of the piece. So what was your take on the right side column?

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:51:23):
I almost wished I'd gotten a little bit more, and again that's really hard because of the work that this project is doing and that she is using these three different strands in two pages. It's very hard to give enough of each of those. We did get, it felt like the least of that portion, which was at least in the description, the most of what we got about the project as a lead in. And so that was a little bit jarring in terms of expectations versus what I was reading. So I wasn't entirely sure what to do with it. But I did like the little glimpses I got of some of those visuals even from discussions of tea and how just the use of words like slathered when she's talking about the toast or talking about how they're drinking tea to try to create calm in atmosphere that doesn't have calm.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:52:09):
So I felt like this setting was described really well too when we're talking about cold tiled hospital floors and barefoot feet. Again all those little details to me showed that attention in the writing voice. But yeah, I wanted a little bit more, I think the intro I was given didn't quite match up and I think that's really common that writers write out their sort of, here's what the manuscript's going to be and here's what's going to look like and don't necessarily go back and adjust that after parts of the manuscript have been written and things have maybe shifted whether in dynamic or in weight.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:52:40):
Do you think maybe—I'm just having the thought now as I look at the manuscript—maybe moving a section with the sister closer to the beginning and moving the myth later? Because it is the sister that is going to be, I have to imagine, the real emotional heart of the piece and the the myth or whatever we're calling that is almost serving that actual main story.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:53:02):
I think that would be incredibly helpful. I knew more about these fictional sisters than I did about these real sisters and particularly about this younger sister. I feel like we are getting quite the vantage into her mind. But again, not the real younger sister, the fictional younger sister. So I do think there's a danger in flowing from that really descriptive language to the really fictional piece before we even get introduced to the realities. And I think the description could lead really well into the realities, especially as that tea becomes the tie-in. I mean the key here really when you're going to work with these threads and really overt separate ways as opposed to, you know, interwoven throughout the pieces using tea as a motif or something like that, is that you really have to be making sure each of those pieces fit not just with the pieces around them but that the overall arc works for the reader as well who doesn't know already your full story or any of those other aspects. Because I feel like I should be less interested in the fictional element if this is truly a memoir with that at the root and the core and it feels like that's what it's supposed to be.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:54:04):
So in terms of the form itself, I mean we're talking about ways right now, the form might be a little bit working against the content of how things are presented and the focus, I want to be clear, I'm not making this as a real suggestion to the writer, but just for the purpose of this discussion, I'm sure there are some maybe publishers or editors or agents out there who would have the suggestion of why do these columns. You could make it kind of a braided essay, right? Where it looks like it's in a traditional format but you still have the three pieces that you're kind of rotating through. So I would just love to hear your thoughts on experimental formatting like this and the author's vision and the kind of value that can bring to a piece and maybe also the challenges that writers will face when they do make choices like this.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:54:50):
I absolutely can see the value in different kinds of formatting and thinking through and the the visual aspects of things, but I do think there's a couple things that can happen. We can rely on some of those visual cues as a crutch when there are other ways to represent them. In addition to that, the two other aspects of different forms that I like to impress upon people are both the difficulty it can pose from a production standpoint and the difficulty it can composed from an accessibility standpoint. So in terms of an accessibility of a reader with visual impairments or you know, they would use an accessibility reader or potentially an accessibility program. And those programs are not always great at determining between, you know, justification or where things fall on the page in terms of right or left. So that's not always going to be something that's going to carry over to those additions.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:55:38):
And so some kinds of formatting can really be a disservice to readers with accessibility challenges. So that's something I ask authors to think through, are you doing this because there's no other way to represent this or is this just what occurred to you first and are there other ways that it could be represented on the page? Because braided essay is definitely what stuck up to me and there could be different formatting used or different fonts used, even representing those though on the page as a flowing text but with breaks between them and things that would indicate that they are a different voice, different perspective, you know, that they are the fictional aspect versus the descriptive tea aspect and that would be a lot easier for an accessibility reader to handle in terms of that program and how they're set up. Additionally, I will say having done several projects with very different formatting with the production team who is so flexible and so encouraging right justification is almost entirely impossible in e-books.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:56:31):
Oh, I didn't know that.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:56:32):
Yeah, I didn't either. So it's difficult in terms of then figuring out how that's going to flow in an e-book representing that, you know, whether you read it on your phone or on an iPad or on a Kindle, they're all going to intake that information differently from those, I believe it's HTML, from the packaging that flows to create the eBooks. And so again, it's another thing I caution writers against also because most writers are working on an eight and a half by 11 inch page when they're putting things down on paper. So even if in this eight and a half by 11 it seems like this idea of like a center column and a left and a right works really well, well think about how much smaller a book page is. So you know, you go from eight and a half 11 inches, which is, I'm going to estimate seven by nine in terms of actual text space.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:57:18):
If you're working on a very standard trim size for a trade book, it's five and a half by eight and a half inches, which is really more like four by six and a half in terms of text space, it's a huge difference in text space and four and a half inches across or four inches across is not enough to do three columns even if they are overlapping each other. So it poses I think, significant formatting challenges both from a production standpoint but also from a reader's standpoint. And I think that in this case, because of how these sections aren't trying to speak to each other simultaneously, it's not as if we're being asked to read the left column in the right column with each other. And that's where I would say that formatting is really necessary. And it is something that we did in some pieces in that book that I talked about by Christine Imperial MISTAKEN FOR AN EMPIRE. But in this case I would definitely suggest, I think the readability would be improved and I think it would force the author to really think through what she's trying to relay in each piece and also would help look at how much weight is being given in terms of length and time spent on each of these sections too when they're represented in a way like that.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:58:24):
This is such good advice because you know, writers and we sit down to write, we're not always thinking about production and how eBooks can't do write justification. So this is so helpful. I love thinking through these kinds of things. And I do want to say with this piece I remain compelled by the subject matter by the connection to tea, which does feel really unique to me. And even in the personal section about the sister, you know, it opens with the narrator is drinking green tea from a paper cup and then later I put the tea on the side table letting her hold my hand the sister who is ill. And it is just wonderful how tea is playing what feels like an authentic role in the piece.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:59:05):

Laura Maylene Walter (00:59:05):
It's not just really being tacked on, it feels like a thoughtful addition, which I think feels pretty special. So I appreciated that.

Kristen Elias Rowley (00:59:13):
Yes, again, because I do see so many memoirs written from a caretaker's perspective cause it is something so many people face when we were talking about how our healthcare system works in this country and and how we try to care for our loved ones. The key aspect, the way you described it is really authentic to the story that's being told and like this gave me a lot of hope that the way those threads are carried out through the manuscript really braided together well. And I will say I did want to read more, I wanted to know more and not just because of the description provided or the sort of background provided, but what I actually saw on the page in the sample.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:59:48):
And I'll also just add on a personal note, I love tea, I love green tea. I don't know a ton about it. I would like to learn more. So if there are research sections in this later on, I would be really curious. I would also, I think be curious about an intersectional look at it and where the tea has grown the working conditions, which I'm guessing this writer will cover at some point in the collection because that seems like there's a really important basic things to include. But I would be curious.

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:00:16):
Yes, agreed. I tend to really, I mean on a personal level, but I do think it works well for other readers as well. This concept of taking the "I" in memoir and really turning it outwards and for me, those kinds of research components can really help do that and take this story to something that readers are interested in, both because of the way you're telling it but also how that personal story relates to the outer world. And so I was hoping to see a little bit of that potentially research in there and, and I don't know if that's just elsewhere in the book, but I was also hoping that's part of this reader's goal or writer's goal.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:00:48):
Yeah. And then really quickly, I'm just going to get very nitpicky. I think we talked a lot about the writing, which we agree the writing is fabulous, love the writing. No matter how good writing is. I think maybe I'm just so nitpicky, I always have just little suggestions. So one example is the second sentence, "When the pearls unfurl, their forms sink and rise within the infuser filled with boiling water." So I immediately crossed out "filled with boiling water" because I felt the attention went first from the tea, the pearls unfurling and their forms, right? And they're in an infuser. But then the sentence ends with me thinking about the water in the infuser. And it's such a small, tiny, tiny thing. I mean this would never get rejected because of this, but really thinking about where the attention is placed. And then my other, on the very end of the sample, the "electronic vital signs monitor's beeping sped up." I thought just cut "electronic vital signs." We just need [to know] that it's a monitor, we all know what that is in a hospital. And then the last line reads: "We both knew what was coming, but still she remarked, 'I feel one coming on.'" And my suggestion would be just end it with "We both knew what was coming" and then later we'll see a scene...

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:01:58):
No I agree. I think that would've in the way that the other sample had "But that's another story," which sort of left me as a reader wanting more. I think that I would've had the same response there with "We both knew what was coming" if it had been ended there, cause to some extent my brain sort of auto responded, "Then why are we saying that?" Like if we both knew what's coming, then why do we need that particular remark? And it is, you know, as I tell my non-fiction writers, like you're writing non-fiction, but it doesn't mean you need to relay every single thing that happened in exactly the order that it happened, right? Like you can leave things out. That's the advantage of writing the book. You don't have to relay every single tidbit to us. And I do think that sentence with the boiling water, it strikes me as, I don't think it's a split infinitive, but where we have that information in the wrong place.

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:02:41):
So if you really want to hit home on this idea of like, if it's important that this boiling water is part of the imagery because of maybe the tension that it places or you know, boiling water and its destruction or whatever you're looking at there, that it could be earlier in the sentence in terms of when the pearls unfurl in the boiling water, their forms sink and rise within the infuser. You know, again, it still allows you to get the full imagery across, but it's in the right order and it's not splitting up the idea of the forms sinking and rising within the infuser. It's not trying to insert itself into that spot.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:03:11):
Exactly. I think that's perfect. Well we have gone over our time, but do you have anything else you'd like to add about this piece?

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:03:18):
Like I said, I was taken by, you know, how they took what could seemingly be a topic I felt like I'd read about before and really gave it an angle that I felt like intrigued me and drew me in.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:03:28):
Yeah. And that's a huge accomplishment that really is. So kudos to the writer, and thank you to all of our writers again who submitted their work. We really appreciate it. Thank you for your bravery and for not only receiving feedback yourself, but I think this conversation...I learned a lot and I think our listeners will really benefit as well. So before we go, Kristen, is there anything you would like to leave writers of creative nonfiction? Any final bits of either advice or maybe encouragement for writers working on their own creative nonfiction pieces?

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:04:00):
I just want to reiterate to writers that they should not be afraid to reach out to editors with questions queries. I always say, look at the website. If it says we encourage you to query us, please query us. Or don't think I don't have the whole manuscript done so I can't reach out now. And I think I see, especially from writers who maybe don't have that really polished writing background or that MFA from a fancy Ivy school or from writers who maybe come from a marginalized backgrounds, a hesitancy to reach out to editors or a feeling like there is a gate keeping there. And while that could be the response of some editors, I think any editor that you'd want to work with or that's worth working with should not have that response. And most of us are really eager to hear from folks who are outside of our network who we don't necessarily have a connection to or we haven't read their work before and we want to be encouraging and useful and if we can work together on a project, we're excited about that.

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:04:55):
So I really would encourage folks not to be turned off on submitting just because they don't have an agent or don't have the whole book done or don't have a lot published in prominent places. That those are the voices often that a lot of us are looking for. And that a lot of us, especially in university press publishing or small trade houses, want to be a stepping stone in a building block to an author building their career and being able to grow things from there. So I just, I like to encourage writers, especially who think that they shouldn't be reaching out. cause I feel that most folks who feel entitled to reach out do so anyway so.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:05:26):
They sure do.

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:05:28):
I would love to encourage everyone else to be submitting and reaching out because the publishing world can use new voices and fresh experiences and we want to hear from you, so please do reach out.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:05:38):
That's a perfect note to end on. Thank you so much. You've been so generous with your time and your expertise today. Thank you for joining us.

Kristen Elias Rowley (01:05:44):
Yes, thank you so much. And thank you again to the writers for sharing their work. I really appreciated that.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:05:52):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at, follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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