“. . . writing that creates a space that I believe in, even if it’s nowhere I’ve ever been, a story that catches me in its machinery like that, that’s what I look for.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
Originally, I am from Philadelphia. Although I grew up mostly in Westchester County, New York, and in Connecticut. I have also lived in Southern California and currently live in Seattle, where I’ve been for the past decade. I think of myself as bicoastal, and while my values are more in line with the Northwest, my personality and driving style probably make more sense in the Tri-State area. When I’m not reading for NER, I write (currently working on a collection of short stories) and teach English at two local community colleges. I live with my wife and two children, ages six and four and a half.
What made you decide to be a reader for NER?
A good friend of mine from grad school, Janice Obuchowski (former fiction editor at NER), brought me on board.
Have you ever read a submission that later got selected for publication?
Not yet! I’ve come close, but haven’t yet broken through.
What is your reading process like? What do you look for in a submission?
I try and clear my head and see if the story convinces me. That’s it, really. Does it convince me its world is real or does it seem like writing, like a writer trying to be smart or make an argument. I don’t really enjoy writers trying to be smart or make arguments. I do enjoy smart writing and, sometimes, writing that makes an argument. But if the attempt to do those things is too bald, too apparent, I bail. If it’s too much about the writer and how clever they are, I bail. But writing that creates a space that I believe in, even if it’s nowhere I’ve ever been, a story that catches me in its machinery like that, that’s what I look for.
Of the pieces you’ve read at NER, which was your favorite or most memorable to you personally?
There was one about two women sitting on chairs in their driveway, somewhere in suburban Arizona if I remember correctly, during some sort of apocalypse. I remember a ball rolling down the driveway, and a child chasing it. A lot of red and orange in the story. It was something like that. The image of that driveway and those women in the chairs have stuck with me. It’s been years since I read that story. I recommended it for publication, but unfortunately it didn’t make it.
How has reading for NER influenced your own writing/creative pursuits?
I’d say it’s made me more aware of doing the thing I said I was looking for in the submissions I read: just worry about creating a credible world. A story should be more seduction than sales pitch. It’s also improved my cover letters, I think. I know what I appreciate in the cover letters I read and what puts me off, so I use that as a guide in my own cover letters.
What do you read for pleasure? Is there something you’re reading now that you would recommend?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I enjoy reading short fiction. Chekhov, O’Connor, McCullers, Dubus, Hemingway, Carver, and Munro would be my desert island gang, although if forced to choose—I’ve only got room in this suitcase for one book and then we’re off on a years-long journey—I’m packing Flannery O’Connor. She’s the writer, more than anyone else, who if I could bring back from the dead and hand my stories and if she said, “yeah, this is good,” that would be all the validation I need. I’ve also been reading a good deal of poetry, particularly before going to bed because, not being a poet myself, I don’t generally approach poetry analytically or critically (unless, of course, I choose to) so reading it doesn’t automatically stimulate those portions of my brain, which is a good thing just before going to bed. Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Oceanic are two collections I’ve read and enjoyed recently. Agha Shahid Ali has always been a favorite of mine and I recently reread his collection The Country Without a Post Office, which I first encountered in college. I also just reread the collected works of Nella Larsen, who always staggers me with her sentences. I wish she wrote more. Rounding out my recent reading: Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation of Beowulf and Márquez’s wild, wild novel The Autumn of the Patriarch. Those are at least a few recommendations that I can think of off the top of my head. I could talk about books I like all day!
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.