“I try to read every submission with the expectation that I am going to love it.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
I live in swampy, beautiful Washington, DC, where I spend my time biking around the city, reading at the pool, writing on my porch, and working at a local nonprofit (where we fight for safe, sustainable, affordable, equitable transportation options for everyone!). I have an MFA in fiction from the University of Maryland, College Park.
What made you decide to be a reader for NER?
I’m a writing-craft nerd. I love unpacking what’s going on in a piece of writing, trying to unspool and articulate what the author is doing and how and to what end. NER publishes stories that play with form and language in the service of telling meaningful, relevant stories, and I read the magazine before I read for the magazine for that reason. So I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of the process as a reader! I love going to bat for the stories that resonate with me, and I learn so much from hearing Emily Mitchell’s responses to my comments, her take on the stories I’ve passed up to her.
Have you ever read a submission that later got selected for publication?
Not yet! But I have passed on work by writers who, though that particular story doesn’t make it into the magazine, submit again and see subsequent stories published. Observing that journey is exciting and satisfying.
What is your reading process like? What do you look for in a submission?
I try to read every submission with the expectation that I am going to love it. Writing is hard, and seeing other people’s consciousnesses on the page in the form of a story is wild and exciting every time! So that’s where my process starts. (Unfortunately this makes me a slow reader, because if I’m cranky and that’s affecting how I read, I take a break.)
In a submission, I am looking for writing that makes me forget I’m reading. This is part voice, part mechanics. If I have to pause in the first paragraph to reread a clunky construction or frown over a cliche, I’m likely to stop. Beyond that—and I know this isn’t a sexy take—I am looking for plot. I want stories that leave me thinking, “dang, then what?” after every paragraph. I think contemporary fiction sometimes gets preoccupied with form and forgets about plot. I love stories that use language and form in innovative, unfamiliar ways—but for me, it has to be in the service of the story. One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received was, “if you’re writing a story and a convention you’re using gets in the way of the plot, lose the convention.” I find myself remembering that as I read; often, commitment to a formal convention comes at the expense of telling the story. When the two work together, that’s a winner!
Of the pieces you’ve read at NER, which was your favorite or most memorable to you personally?
Setting is what makes stories most memorable to me. My favorite submissions are set in moments and places where I haven’t spent time.
How has reading for NER influenced your own writing/creative pursuits?
Nothing inspires me to write like reading other folks’ work. When I read a submission that blows me away, the next step is to write a note explaining why I loved it, and that’s a great exercise for me. If I can put my finger on a particular move or technique I’ll often experiment with it myself, see if I can make my stories do a similar thing. Additionally—reading for NER has given me some insight into the inner workings of literary magazines, and has made me feel braver about submitting my own stories to lit mags.
What do you read for pleasure? Is there something you’re reading now that you would recommend?
I read a random smattering of literary magazines. The story “A Brief Update on Language at the End of the Anthropocene,” by Debbie Urbanski in the Winter/Spring 2020 issue of Gulf Coast has really stuck with me as an example of unconventional form elevating a story.
I always have a novel in my bag or on my bedside table. Great recent reads include: Memorial by Bryan Washington (made me want to visit Houston!), A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (taught me the word “ecumenopolis!”), and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (sharp, funny, fast-paced, timely commentary on racial justice and the harmful impacts of good intentions). I am also still reeling from The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett—there are chapters of that novel that read like perfect short stories, something I have been trying to achieve in my own writing. Next up on my to-read list is Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejide, a novel with a speculative bent set in Anacostia, Washington, DC, in the 1970s.
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.