Earlier this week, we received an exciting piece of Alumni News: after a long wait, MAWP graduate Zhanna Vaynberg‘s series of six short essays had finally gotten published in the Michigan Quarterly Review. We asked Zhanna how this unusual publishing contract had come about, and when she sat down to write out an answer, the story turned out to be quite long. We’re posting Zhanna’s story here as a guest post in hopes that it interests those of you looking to publish your writing in literary journals– and we would like to send Zhanna our thanks and congratulations!
On how I got six essays published in MQR’s winter 2013 issue:
Back in December of 2011, I e-mailed Michigan Quarterly Review asking if they’d had a chance to read over a short-short called “Roots” I’d sent them in the mail back in August (I was new to the whole submitting process, or I would’ve known that four months was basically one second in magazine-publishing time). Surprisingly, I got an e-mail the very next day from Jonathan Freedman, the head editor, saying that he’d just read it — I think it had gotten misplaced or they just had forgotten about it or something — and while he’d really enjoyed the essay, they just didn’t publish things that short (it was about a page long). He said, however, that he’d be happy to read something else I’d written. So I sent him two things — one of which was a short fiction piece that Bellevue Literary Review ended up publishing in fall, the other, a piece I’m still working on. His response was basically “I love your writing, but these aren’t stories that I want to publish.” Which I wasn’t offended about at all, because at that point both of them were quite old, and my writing had moved far past it. Then Jonathan presented me with a challenge. He said that the original story, ‘Roots,” which was basically about the ambivalence I’d felt towards my Ukrainian upbringing, had really stuck with him, and what if I wrote 5-6 more short pieces like it — in his words, something “world-weary in the best Russo-Jewish-American-Chicago way” — and he would publish them together?
We then went on to have a very long e-mail exchange that ranged in topics from our mutual hatred of Jerusalem (coincidentally, also a subject of one of the essays) to whatever happened to CBGB’s (it’s now an outlet store) to the best Thai food in Chicago (Thai Avenue on Broadway and Argyle). Then I didn’t really hear from him again until March or April of 2012. Meanwhile, I had just finished up the DePaul MAWP program, and after taking Michele Morano’s Travel Writing course was honestly a bit fed up with writing nonfiction and really didn’t want to do it again; and that is in no way to say I did not like Michele Morano or that class — I loved that class, and I think Michele Morano is one of the best professors out there (in fact, that I write nonfiction at all can be entirely traced back to a summer multi-genre course she taught, and four of the six essays in this bunch were originally written in classes she taught). It’s just that I don’t enjoy writing nonfiction all that much. I’ve always been a fiction person; even though much of it is intertwined with real experiences I’ve had or people I know, I like being able to play around with facts, and to hide behind that curtain of “it’s fiction!” anytime someone asks how much of a story I’d written was true. I wanted to get back to that.
However, it had been a few months already since we’d discussed the possibility of a collection of essays, and Jonathan asked me, in a very friendly way, if I had made any progress on our little project. I’d had some early drafts of two of the essays that would eventually end up in the issue, but I hadn’t really been working on it much. I’d also been published a few times by then, so I wasn’t in a big rush at this point. However, after a few weeks of relishing my post-grad-school freedom, I did slowly begin working on them again because I am an anxious person and don’t like to leave things unfinished. By July I had about half of them done and sent away to Jonathan. He wanted more — I wrote more. Then, just when I thought I had a good batch, five total, and would never have to write nonfiction again, he said “Yes, I’ll take them! But you have to write one more; something more current.” (All of the essays took place circa 2005 – 2010.) Luckily, it was nearly September, and my sister’s wedding was coming up — what better occasion to write about the authentic Russian-Jewish experience? So, even though it was very strange to write something I knew was for sure going to get published, and even though I’d drunk enough vodka to make an elephant pass out, I still managed to remember enough of the event to write a final essay about the experience. It wasn’t intended to tie together all the other essays in a neat bow or anything cheesy like that, but in a subtle way, there was a somewhat final tone to it. A little bit after that, I found a title to encompass all of them — as much as I could, away, considering each one is a separate entity to me. Then it was just a matter of waiting. First, it was supposed to go into the fall issue, but it didn’t fit — then, the winter issue, which was supposed to come out some months ago. Now, two days before May, the issue has finally been released! End of very long-winded story.
I’m actually very appreciative of the whole experience — it definitely helps to have deadlines and someone pushing you along so you don’t get too lazy, especially when you’re just out of school. Now that I’m used to being on my own, I have no problem writing on a pretty regular basis, but who knows if I’d still be at that point without having had that goal to work towards. And of course, the very patient Jonathan Freedman, who really gives magazine editors a good name.
You can order the Winter 2013 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review at michiganquarterlyreview.com/2013/04/winter-2013.