“I like more than anything to be surprised by freshness, especially freshness of language; I’m always looking for the novel turn of phrase, the inevitable volta that I somehow never saw coming.“
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
I grew up in northern California—along the stretch of coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz—but I left for good in 2013, and I’ve been in Brooklyn for six years now. I’m currently in a social work grad program at NYU, so when I’m not reading for NER I’m mostly reading, writing, and interning for that. I also have a handful of freelance writing jobs, the most interesting of which is my role as a senior writer for the NPR program Ask Me Another, which is less time-consuming than it sounds.
What made you decide to be a reader for NER, and how long have you been on staff?
I’ve been reading for NER since May 2017, when NER put out a low-key call for readers via their mailing list. (I should note that my value as a reader was pretty limited for the first year or so, and I credit then–fiction editor Janice Obuchowski with some incredibly deft, patient, and not at all confrontational mentorship on that front.) I was also, at that time, casting about pretty desperately for some way to feel connected to the literary world—I’d attended a writers’ conference put on by the Virginia Quarterly Review but was otherwise very much at sea—and in that regard NER has been a terrific lifeline.
Have you ever read a submission that later got selected for publication?
Yes! After three years of reading and a handful of near misses, I was finally able to recommend a submission that ended up being selected for publication—a short story by Scott Broker, which is scheduled for inclusion in the next “Emerging Writers” issue (NER 42.4). I am very excited about this piece, which is so unlike anything else I’ve encountered in my time reading for the magazine.
What is your reading process like? What do you look for in a submission?
I like more than anything to be surprised by freshness, especially freshness of language; I’m always looking for the novel turn of phrase, the inevitable volta that I somehow never saw coming. There is also a feeling, which I’ve gotten while reading certain submissions, when I can tell that an author is completely in control of their process: they know where they’re taking you and how you’ll be getting there, and they allow the story to unfold exactly as it needs to.
Of the pieces you’ve read at NER—whether in the magazine or among the submissions—which was your favorite or most memorable to you personally?
Hands down the best story I’ve read in NER was Emma Duffy-Camparone’s “The Package Deal,” (NER 40.3), which is a rich and funny and very sexy story about a woman navigating her relationship with a newly-divorced father and his young son. Some other favorites have included “The Elephant God” (40.1) by Lauren Acampora, “The Corridor” (41.2) by Ryan Eric Dull, and “How Can You Be Happy?” (40.2) by Steve Almond—all of which, I’m now realizing, walk a fine line between comedy and despair—as well as a pair of stories by Scholastique Mukasonga (41.3, 39.1), who is top-notch. As for submissions, a few stories that didn’t make it to print still stay with me: there was one in particular, about a girl who stars in the DIY horror movies that her brother makes, that I think about fairly often.
How has reading for NER influenced your own writing/creative pursuits?
Honestly—and I’m no Malcolm Gladwell apologist by any means—the greatest boon has been the whole “ten thousand hours” thing: assessing the strengths and weaknesses of several hundred short stories annually is pretty well guaranteed to make one a better writer; at the very least, it’s made me a better, more critical editor of my own work. The variety of work I encounter as a reader has also empowered me to take more chances with my own writing, linguistically and plot-wise; it’s also helped me to crystallize my understanding of the nuts-and-bolts aspects of writing like story structure and character.
What do you read for pleasure? Is there something you’re reading at the moment that you would recommend?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I tend to read a lot of short fiction—I recently read Joy Williams’s collection of microfictions, Ninety-Nine Stories of God, which I enjoyed a lot, and am currently reading the Karen Russell collection Orange World, which I’m not particularly enjoying at all. Other recent hits were Brian Evenson’s collection Contagion and Emma Duffy-Camparone’s Love Like That (see above—I picked this up as soon as it came out and cannot recommend it highly enough). I also subscribe to One Story—I’m a sucker for anything shaped like a zine—where I recently read the story “Breastmilk” by ’Pemi Aguda; I’ve since tracked down some of her other work online and I think she’s terrific.
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.