Literary Journal Spotlight: Literary Orphans

NICHE: Tell us a little bit about how Literary Orphans came about. What was the idea behind it? The name of your magazine is intriguing. Was there any story behind the name?

MIKE JOYCE: In typesetting speak, an orphan is a short line left stranded, hanging at the top of a page. It’s the end of a paragraph, bleeding on to a new page and ending there, out of context. Fragmented and disjointed, something print-publishers can spend hours fussing over and trying to fix. And yet, it’s almost rendered completely useless online. It was this, more than the many other reasons that lead me to this choice in a name. We are a literary magazine that was founded to explore the liminal space between technology and humanity, and how the traditions of those two great areas intersect in literature. What a great question, thank you for asking us! Normally people overlook the name.

As for how we came about–after graduating with a BA from the University of Illinois at Urbana in Creative Writing back in ’09, I reached out to a number of friends and former classmates to form a writing group in Chicago. We met and workshopped stories, continuing our love of the word. This is meaningful. We are a labor of love–and I saw a need for that in the literary community. We are here to do the undone, not to make money. I want to walk away making real the ideas writers joke about as they sit on stuffing-exposed couches with beer stains on the cushions and beer stains on the enamel of their teeth–clinking their bottles together and saying “someone should do that.” I want to be a ten-years-older Mike Joyce and be able to turn to a ten-years-older Scott Waldyn (Managing Editor) and say, “remember that time we were the first literary journal to experiment with photography/ cinematography/ whateverthehellwewantology?” I want to do things with LO that have never before been done in any lit mag–and you know what, excuse me while I pat myself on the back: we already have.

NICHE: It appears as if your issues are named or themed around a famous person or author. Can you tell us a little about how the titles for your magazine are chosen?

MIKE JOYCE: After we accept the majority of fiction and poetry for an issue, we choose a name. All issues except issue 8 were named after famous people who were orphaned: Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday, etc. These are unexpected superstars–people who rose above their means to become more than anyone would have bet. The underdogs. In some cases, underdogs that may have rose above but could never quite shake that rocky beginning. We like that. We select them on the basis that something about that issue could be personified in that orphan–a mood, a tone.

That said, we have just begun to embark on releasing occasional themed issues, and plan to do a whole lot more in the future. 

Our eighth issue, Maria Tallchief, is composed of two parts. Half of the writing is “general,” unthemed submissions. Roughly 15 pieces are of this nature. The other half of the issue is themed, and was edited by Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu. The issue was meant to showcase brand-new writing from Native American authors, and that’s exactly what it did. Ashley chose the name in honor of Maria Tallchief, a famous Chicago ballerina of the Osage tribe. While not an orphan, Ashley makes the case of the “orphanhood” of all Native peoples quite well in her Letter from the Editor for the issue.

In cases such as this, where an issue is not solely general, names are chosen in a more complex way than usual.

NICHE: What are the virtues of having an exclusively online magazine?

MIKE JOYCE: The catalyst behind the creation of Literary Orphans Press as an online venture, was a increasing self-analysis on how the digital world affected the things we love… that, mixed with a large part of DIY practicality. I can tell you the exact moment I realized I had to be in on this digital wave–it came when reading an article. The article was based on a list that Princeton or some other Ivy gave to its instructors, a list detailing what to expect from their upcoming student body. The list said that most new freshmen would have had been using a cell phone since they were 10 years-old, and access to broadband since they were 5. This terrified me.

I wanted to be on the inside, examining this. The virtues I have found, are many. You can do more, reach more, for much less in cost. As of this moment, October 2013, Literary Orphans hasn’t made a dime from what we do. No investors, no outside influences. We want to craft an image, build an audience, become something of note–then once we have that, we’ll build. I take much of my inspiration from the punk community, and from said place I know you have to start on the fringes and make your way towards the center. If we do it right, we’ll be print one day, doing it like The Sun Magazine, paying our writers and artists and doing it ad-free. We’re already collecting our best pieces from the first two years to put in a print anthology.

NICHE: You are now nine issues in. Congratulations. What has surprised you the most about running a lit mag? What do you wish you had known going into it?

MIKE JOYCE: To go into this with no money isn’t easy. Hell, not to sound either insane or whiny, I’ve sold my plasma to make the website payments. But it has been immensely worthwhile. What has surprised me the most is the audience. I get notes from time to time, people telling me to keep it up, or people telling me the importance of the journal to them. And that’s it, really. A literary rag will never change the world–but I can tell you about a few who have changed me. 

If we can elicit some response in our readership–if we can help illuminate the way they perceive the world; well our impact then is immeasurable. I’ve gotten plenty of people telling me I’m foolish to put this sort of effort into something that has no financial reward; but I think of the hundreds of conversations that I’ve had with people–some of them quite tense–and it makes me honest-to-God laugh at the idea that money is the way to measure it. A recent feedback favorite was with retired editor of a now-defunct part of the Chicago Sun-Times. To talk with people who once sat and worked next to Ebert, and drank coffee in the same area as Mike Royko–to imagine that in some way the work we’ve done could have made an impression on a person like that… It’s a good feeling. My favorite conversation was with someone who is actually now a fiction judge of ours, Art is his name. We were the first of a slew of magazines to publish him–he has a tattoo with the initials L.O. and the date we published him! 

NICHE: You have quite a staff for the magazine. How do you go about splitting work and choosing submissions? Are there pieces that Literary Orphans gravitate towards?

MIKE JOYCE: It’s more simple than you’d think. We use Submittable now, which is an online application manager that automatically filters and sends e-mails out to staff when pieces come in. I hound them (nicely) every once in a while, but they’re all wonderful and do what it takes to get the job done. If they can’t, that’s where I step in and do their role.

In the beginning it was a nightmare–I wanted to make the journal a journal of the people. Thus I modeled the reading and judging of submissions off of a democracy. If you think we have a lot of judges now, you should have seen then! I think we had 20-something. I would take the names off of manuscripts and send it to 3 judges blind, they would rank it on a scale of 1 to 6, and if it added up to a certain number I’d read it and usually rubber-stamp it. At the end of the day, however, you really can only rely on people who have a passion to make the project work. This is all volunteer, so I don’t blame anyone for dropping out. Those people who really wanted to be involved, and believe in what we were doing, well, they’re still around and their impact in shaping this journal is immense.

Regarding pieces we gravitate towards–we tell writers to read our About Us: To Live How We Believe. It’s a short read, and once one of your reader’s has finished it and still wants to submit, they should do it!

NICHE: What is the Tavern Lantern?

MIKE JOYCE: I’ll let my colleague, Scott Waldyn, Managing Editor answer this:

SCOTT WALDYN: You ever walk into a random tavern, a dilapidated joint on the corner of a square seething with history, in the downtown area of a small town or a city? Just stroll right in, lean against the bar top, that swirl of smoke and beer and hard labor and pub food assaulting your nostrils, and shout for the first thing you see on tap? You can tell that you’re at the right place because it’s made of old wood or bricks, and painted signs along its walls have long since faded with time. And you’re an alien here. There are all sorts of regulars around you, all sorts of people from working stiffs to young lovers to would-be tough guys breaking a new game of pool in the back corner. Happy people. Sad people. Exhausted and worn or chipper and hopeful. They smell the fresh meat, but they pay no mind, most of the time, so long as you tip the bar master. Why? Because you’re in a sanctuary, a safe haven, a place where we all come to unwind, tell our stories, and imbibe the drink. (Note: A tavern is different than just any old bar; it has history, personality, and grace along with the sports dancing across electric screens on the wall. It’s a hub of local culture where we can have our informal town hall meetings.)

The Tavern Lantern is where we have our “off the cuff” conversations. It’s where we place the Academia glasses on the table and share our stories with one another, share our adventures and our journeys, be they in our own backyards or on another continent. You’ll see news updates here. You’ll see interviews and reviews here. Most importantly, you’ll see columns from our writers, many of which will be creative nonfiction pieces documenting things they’ve seen and felt, heard or witnessed across this sometimes mystifying planet of ours. It’s where our orphans go after hours, and once it gets chugging along, it’ll be updated more frequently than our normal issues. 

Expect more stories here, but expect ones that are true tales. You may also see one of our editors cataloguing an adventure here as well. The Editor-in-Chief and I have been cooking up a lot of ideas to feature, be it point/counterpoint opinions on the creative, reviews of local places, or co-authored adventures in our own backyards.

NICHE: What’s next for Literary Orphans? What unique things does your readership have to look forward to?

MIKE JOYCE: Right now we have three really anticipated projects. First, we have our special handwritten project. This is essentially a journal (the kind you write in) that is being mailed around the world. Writers then hand-write a piece of fiction that is tied to the area they are writing it. After a brief hiatus in which I re-examined both the purpose of the project, the parameters, and then finally the application for the selection of participants–it is now set to mail off to Krishan Coupland, Editor of Neon sometime within the next week. You can follow it’s progress here!

We also have a “Ireland & the Irish” themed issue, set to release we’re thinking next April (Easter). Submissions are open until December, it’ll be guest edited by James Claffey. He is one of our Fiction Editors, and originally hails from Dublin, though now lives in California on an Avocado Ranch.

Finally we have our project, Bruce, which is a comic-book anthology. It will be print, and essentially we are crafting artists to illustrate each story. All stories center around the theme of super heros. It is ongoing, and at times slow going due to the difficulty of finding artists pro-bono, thus no firm ETA is announced. However, Scott Waldyn our Managing Editor has taken control of it recently, and has been making some pretty interesting changes and forward movements! You can submit to it here.

NICHE: What advice does Literary Orphans have for authors who might be seeking publications in your magazine?

Submit work you are proud of via our Submission page. Follow the word limits for fiction and nonfiction. Follow the quantity limits for poetry. That’s it. We want great writing, and we can overlook anything else. There is no ideal cover-letter, no ideal genre–if it fits the LO mood, the mood of the orphan–the mood of our era, then we want to see it.

This Literary Journal Spotlight originally appeared on Niche’s website on October 28th, 2013.


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