I am very excited and pleased to invite Tim Elhajj and Holly Huckeba, editors of Junk Lit: a literary fix to Niche. I want to take this opportunity to thank them again for taking the time to conduct this interview.
NICHE: Can you tell us a little bit about how did Junk Lit come about? Why creative nonfiction in particular?
TIM: Holly and I are married. When our twins were in 5th grade, Holly volunteered for a school project that involved making souvenir booklets for each of the kids. Of course, nothing got done on the project until it was almost due. We bought the kids a pizza and went to my office on the weekend. We pulled an all-nighter making copies, cutting and pasting pages, and building these really fabulous chapbooks for each of the kids. They were so gorgeous! Each child had some of his or her work featured. I was really impressed that we pulled it off, but I was also so delighted at how fun it was to work on a creative project together. Junk is an effort to find some big creative project for both of us to work on. Something to work on together after the kids leave home, which is still a long way off, but you have to have five- ten-year plans. I knew I wanted it to be creative nonfiction because I’m so passionate about memoir.
HOLLY: I’m glad Tim mentioned the 5th grade memory book project as the origination story for Junk, because I think one’s childhood and one’s stories have a lot to do with each another. As an editor and a writer, I’m paying special attention to creative non-fiction for young adults
NICHE: You have a page on your website that define what the word “JUNK” means to the editors. How has the conception or meaning of that word changed or evolved since Junk Lit launched in 2010?
HOLLY: The meaning of the word “junk” remains the same; but what has changed is Junk itself. We’re expanding the journal to include all works of creative non-fiction, not just addiction or addiction-related stories. If you like the stories you see published on JUNK, and you’re excited at the thought of seeing your work published on our site, you should submit to us.
NICHE: Junk Lit has published a number of well-known authors, including Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild), Alan Kaufmann (author of Jew Boy), Dinty W. Moore (author of Between Panic and Desire), Fiona Helmsley, and many others. You have also published lesser-known writers. What is it about a piece that makes you go, yes, that needs to be published?
TIM: We’ve been very fortunate indeed. I tend to lean towards stories that have a strong narrative element. From the start, we wanted to define addiction broadly enough that anyone would feel comfortable submitting work. With stories about addition, there is potential for writers to go big, to tell stories that rely on the outrageous or the scandalous. Those kinds of stories can be fun. Maybe we’ve even published a few. But often times it’s the precision of feeling that draws me to a story, especially a story about addiction.
HOLLY: I hate it when an editor (or the Supreme Court) says things like “I know it when I see it,” but that’s exactly how I must answer this question. Sorry!
NICHE: Are there any particular pieces about addiction that stand out in your mind?
TIM: I know this sounds coy, but, really, all of them have moved me. Something about each one of the stories we have published has stood out. We often have passionate debates about what to publish and why. We also want to give people a forum for talking about their own individual experience with addiction. It’s a unique time for a journal like ours. Attitudes about addiction have changed immensely in the last 50 years and they’re still changing. In just my lifetime, I’ve made huge investments of time and effort into therapies that have long since been abandoned. No one does it like that anymore. You often hear that addition is no longer considered a moral failing, as if talk about morality and addiction is old fashioned, but if you go to an AA meeting or talk to anyone who considers themselves to be in recovery from alcoholism or, say, heroin addiction, you’ll soon be talking about God. It’s just an interesting subject to me. One I really want to know more about.
HOLLY: My favorite piece that Junk published is “Slow Burn” by Erin Murphy. It stands out to me for a couple of reasons: Murphy does a wonderful job of using white space and not telling her story; her prose is sparse and poetic, it’s more like a prose poem than anything else; and I responded to it immediately because it has crossover appeal—both adult and young adult readers will appreciate this piece.
NICHE: What features appear on the sister website Junk Talk: A Community Fix that does not appear on Junk Lit? What should readers look out for?
TIM: We wanted to keep the journal clean and tight. The journal is like the hallowed hall of stories and pictures. If you go in there, you can hear your footsteps echo on the walls, as you walk through and read the stuff we have posted for you. The blog? It’s a little less formal. When we’re letting it all hang out, it goes on the blog. We have some really great interviews on the blog. Who knows what might appear next?
NICHE: What has running a lit magazine taught you? What things surprised you? What things did you wish you had known going in?
TIM: I’m surprised how much good work there is out there. How much of it has been written by people who have been addicted to something or have fallen in with, fallen in love with, or somehow become attached to someone with a problem with addiction. Probably the most surprising things I’m discovering are about myself. I want to return to writing about my childhood experience, but it’s such a different head space than writing or reading about addiction. For some reason, I can see myself best and truest in the places in American culture that seem most steeped in stigma. What can you do with an urge like that? Try to make art I suppose.
HOLLY: Starting up Junk has taught me about how the Internet is influencing artistic expression. I am interested in learning as much as I can about new business models for the arts. There’s always something new to learn about Internetland, and publishing on the Internet is no exception.
NICHE: What is next for Junk Lit?
HOLLY: JUNK, JR. No, seriously! I want to expand Junk into the area of young adult creative non-fiction. And Tim and I want to get out work that we’re accepting submissions for any and all short creative non-fiction.
NICHE: As writers and editors of a literary magazine, what advice would give writers who are looking to be published? What advice would you give writers of creative nonfiction?
TIM: Write honest. Go easy on the people who appear in your life, but don’t be afraid to be too hard on yourself. Send you work out, but don’t get too focused on publishing. Publishing will come. Read and evaluate other people’s work. Do it for free. Do it because you know that each time you do, you get a little better at evaluating your own work. Mix it up. If the serious, heartfelt stuff you want to write is weighing you down, write a little porn. That’s what I try to do.
HOLLY: Be patient; wait until your work is polished to a spit shine and you know there is not one word you would change, even if Dinty Moore or Cheryl Strayed suggested it; then submit.
This Journal Spotlight was originally published on Niche’s website on September 26th, 2013.