“What I’m looking for often comes down to a feeling I have while reading. It’s a glow that heats up when a writer’s moves keep surprising.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
I’m originally from Atlanta, but over the past two decades I’ve lived in multiple places, and they’re rooted in me. So I’m not sure how far back to go when asked where I’m from. Georgia seems too far back, though it keeps haunting my writing. From Georgia, I went to Seattle, and from there to LA, and from there to Northampton, MA, and from there to Minnesota, where I am for now. In the Minneapolis area, I moved four times in five years, so even locally I’m from all over. When I’m not moving or reading for NER, I read a lot of poetry and fiction, I write as much as I can for a harried pandemic parent, I take long walks, and I daydream too much about finishing my basement so that I can obsessively curate my media and indulge my movie habit. Confession, there: I’m a horror-movie junkie. I guess that extends to literature, too. When seeking an escape read, I’m a sucker for so-called “weird fiction” and for everything Gothic.
What made you decide to be a reader for NER?
There was this bookshop in Seattle that had an amazing stand of literary journals, and I’d pick up copies of NER there and read them in the cafes or pubs on University Ave. I never thought I’d end up reading for the journal (or that I’d have anything to do with New England, for that matter). Later, I went to graduate school in Southern California, where I met Janice Obuchowski, who soon became the fiction editor for NER. We stayed in touch when I went off to grad school again in Massachusetts, and eventually she invited me to join the NER team. I was stoked! I worked steadily as a reader for about five years, and then Carolyn Kuebler and Janice agreed to let me serve on the editorial panel. I’ve been with NER for eight years now—all right!—and I hope to keep going. It’s been a surefire worthwhile time.
Have you ever read a submission that later got selected for publication?
I advocated for Kenneth Calhoun’s wonderful story, “Ivory Tower,” published in the fall 2020 edition of NER.
What is your reading process like? What do you look for in a submission?
This question is difficult for me to answer, since what I’m looking for often comes down to a feeling I have while reading. It’s a glow that heats up when a writer’s moves keep surprising, so that I start leaning closer to the page, and my knees bounce and I’m just possessed, basically, by the language and the eagerness it builds inside me. You know? I have to trust that feeling—that it’s not random but based on the amount of time I’ve spent dipped in good writing. Or, as a mentor once said to me when I was having a moment of self-doubt: You know you deserve to trust your instincts. More practically, I can say that I approach reading submissions in the same way that I approach my own writing. My first rule is to stay in my seat. Reading carefully, for me, is pretty ritualistic: I need a routine time and space and within-reach pot of coffee, and once I’m sitting, there can be no getting up until I reach my self-imposed quota. NER submissions are more than often entirely competent, so I sometimes need to read a solid batch before I can tell which ones stick with me. This may make me annoying at times because I’ll sit on a few submissions for a while longer than usual and return to them so as to re-experience their stories. I like feeling I’ve given writers their due—done my job well.
Of the pieces you’ve read at NER, which was your favorite or most memorable to you personally?
I have to say that Calhoun submission that I mention above. It’s a gutsy one.
How has reading for NER influenced your own writing/creative pursuits?
I’m exposed to real talent constantly. I hope it rubs off on me! Seriously, any given month, my assigned batch of submissions will be very diverse in style, and that diversity has no doubt given me ideas about tone, structure, risk, and so forth in my own work. Also, if I’m in a writing lull, seeing new submissions each month is a dang effective way to get me working again. Evidence of everyone else’s discipline will get me revving.
What do you read for pleasure? Is there something you’re reading at the moment that you would recommend?
Stories, poems, what’s happening in my garden, lately histories of the occult, my wife’s histories (she’s a historian). This weekend I finished a book I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time: Brian Evenson’s Last Days. I recommend any of his works if you have a taste for absurdity or the macabre—or if you enjoy seeing how much an almost clinically spare style can accomplish. If you like spare but not so much absurd/macabre, then I recommend Yoko Ogawa. I read her mesmerizing The Diving Pool a few weeks ago—another one I’ve wanted to read for a long while—and now I’m on to her Revenge.
NER‘s staff readers, all volunteers, play an essential role in our editorial process and in our mission to discover new voices in contemporary literature. A full list of staff readers is available on our masthead.