The following is a transcript of our Issue 40 release party, which took place on April 30, 2020 via Zoom.
Molly, managing editor: The first question we wanted to ask was just very broadly what inspired you to write your story? If there’s a particular backstory you have that’s really interesting that inspired your story—an experience, a person, or something like that—we would love to know! So if there’s an author that wants to start, that would be awesome.
Christine Vines, author of “Shirt”: Well, I’m happy to start since I just went. So actually I wrote this story a long time ago now, I think it was six years ago when I first wrote it. And I’ve been sort of editing, tinkering with it for six years, which is a very long time for something that’s like 500 words, but so it goes. But I do remember that I started writing it, because I was browsing through a boutique in Soho in New York. And I sort of stepped in one day, and there was this store that was out of my price range, but a lot of beautiful stuff that I wanted to at least look at. One of the tags started with this line, [when you] flipped the tag over, and it started with the line, I think it was verbatim, “I am 100% silk. Please be careful with me.”
Immediately this shirt had a personality, and I needed to know what this shirt was going to say, and what it would have to say about the character who was interacting with it. I think that was combined with the fact that all these shirts that I was around at the time, they were nice expensive shirts—I was wondering what impulse would be behind that sort of a purchase for someone [for whom the purchase would be a] typical thing in their repertoire. So thinking also about how small things can get us through difficulty, or the net things that we invest in that can be a comfort, so, that’s what it was about for me.
Molly: That’s so beautiful, that’s awesome. I think I definitely in my mind when I was reading this story, I had the image of a boutique in SoHo as well which is so interesting that you mention it in your , that’s incredible. Is there another author that wants to comment on their story inspiration? I think Zachary has his hand raised?
Zachary Davis, co-author of “Resignation”: Yeah, we did. The main inspiration for this story, my wife Christen [co-author] and I were IM’ing at work, and it had been a particularly shitty sort of day. And Christen asked how I was doing, how things were going that day, and I listed a litany of things, and said, “Oh by the way, my left foot turned its three week notice.” And she told me I should write a story about that, and I did, and it wasn’t quite right. And then Christen got involved, and it became a really good story, and then Mackhai became involved, and then it became the best possible version of the story.
Molly: That’s incredible, “Resignation” was actually the first story we actually voted to be published in the journal, last year in the fall, very exciting. Meagan did you have your hand raised?
Meagan Johanson, author of “Spent”: My story is not as exciting as both of those stories, but it came out of a flash fiction class earlier this year. I feel like I could be an eternal student, and so I definitely love classes, and prompts, and deadlines, and stuff like that, and the prompt was “Write a story that’s broken up in chunks of time.” And for me as a mom, basically that’s my other job, it came pretty easily: hours matter most when you have a newborn for sure, for me anyway, so that’s how my story came about. I love the idea of breaking things up into smaller pieces with flash fiction; you can break so many rules with it.
Molly: That’s awesome, are there any authors who want to answer this question before we move onto the next one?
Regina, managing editor: Not to put anyone on the spot, but Kristina I would love to know what inspired your story!
Kristina Kim, author of “Abandoned Things”: So I wrote “Abandoned Things” which is about a boy who’s living in a gigantic city by himself, and talks to all the inanimate objects. I wrote this story in—I wrote the first draft in high school actually, and it was around the time when I was taking AP art studio. You have to pick a concentration for that class, and so my concentration for the series of paintings was urban decay. So I was looking up a ton of photos of abandoned cities and abandoned places. And the scale of the pictures was so large, it was always these huge overhead shots of these places where you could get a view of what these places looked like in full. [That’s] when I was fascinated with the idea of being somewhere by yourself where there’s supposed to be a lot of people or there were a lot of people. And also because I wanted to write something on a small scale in that setting (which is why I chose a child character), because all the photos I had were so zoomed out. So I wanted to write about one particular experience in that story.
It was really hard going back to it and submitting it for this publication, because I wrote it a while ago. And so going back and editing it before submitting was interesting to re-inhabit my own thought process, since my writing process has changed since then, but it was a lot of fun!
Regina: Wow, thank you! And oh my god high school, it’s so good. I wrote zero things in high school.
One of the questions I had when working with all these amazing writers for BFR was “what was it like writing the stories you wrote?” What was the process like? Was there a part that was especially difficult to write? I know when I write, it’s such an uphill battle for me; it feels like I’m fighting my way towards a finished story, so I was really curious about the experience of writing these stories for you guys.
Josef Kuhn, author of “His Scaly Self”: I’ll talk on this one. Yeah, this story was an odd one for me because I would say usually, like Regina just said, I’m just fighting for every word. Like it’s an uphill struggle, and I sweat over stories, but this story was one of the rare ones that came out fully formed, at least the first draft came out. I think it came out in one sitting, and it kind of just flowed out. And then I did edit it and revise it obviously, but that was an almost once in a lifetime experience probably. But then I did come back to it several times like I just said, and I submitted it to some journals and didn’t get much traction. Then somebody at Threepenny Review, an editor there, gave me some recommendations and especially the ending; she recommended doing something different with the ending, so I worked on that more. That was definitely the hardest part. I had to write a completely new ending, but, yeah, that’s the exception that proves the rule. Even with this story that came out fully formed, I still had to work away on it and chip away on it a lot more than I thought I was going to at that time.
Regina: Wow thank you. I also really loved your story. I think this is one of my favorite issues of BFR; I genuinely have so much love for all these stories, so that’s really cool to hear. And, yeah, I feel like the short fiction circuit is so hard to be in sometimes.
Molly: Our students probably remember your story the best, since it was one of the most recent ones that was selected for this issue, so some of them are typing in the chat that they loved the story too. Does any author want to answer this question?
Zachary: For us, the process started with me writing the first draft of the story at work, and then thinking it was absolutely brilliant and that nothing needed to be done with it. And that’s usually how it goes for me when I write something. And then Christen took a look at it and said, “I’s a good idea but there are lots of things that should be done.” She gave me a lot of notes, and I incorporated those notes into a different version. It was actually for a reading, right?
Christen: I think so.
Zachary: Yeah, there was going to be a reading, and I was looking for something that was short enough that I could read. And I started reading the second draft and thought it was absolutely terrible, and that it’s not funny, and it’s terrible because, you know, when you’re a writer. But Christen read it and she was like no, this is really good. And so based on the reading and then Christen’s additions and edits, we actually submitted an old version to Berkeley Fiction Review, and somehow that got accepted. When we submitted the revised version, it was just so much better, richer—Christen had me really emphasize the parts of Martin’s body that are turning in their two week’s notice and had that come back at the end, and just tie all the story together. And then Mackhai was absolutely amazing with all his edits and suggestions, and that’s pretty much it.
Christen: I’ve never had more fun working on dirty puns with someone that I don’t even know, but there was all this creativity and fun merging between the three of us.
Zachary: Yeah, the number of butthole puns (Christen laughs) that didn’t make it in this story, those were a lot of fun. It was a really great process and just very happy to be a part of it.
Christen: You had dirty puns even as you talked to each other in the notes in the story.
Zachary: When else do you get the chance?
Mackhai, assistant editor and author of “Please, Be Sensitive”: I’ll just take this up a little bit; it was so much fun, your story was, is still my favorite. I consider it my favorite over my own story to be honest; I read it almost every week just because it always gets me a laugh. I think that it’s interesting, because for me the hardest part of the process was editing. I think for me it’s really easy to get bad ideas out there, especially when it’s really late at night, and you just don’t really know what you’re writing. And for me, this is the second story I’ve written, so I didn’t really know what was bad yet? Eventually I got so attached to what I believed was the best version of my story: this is my story, no one else is going to touch it. So Alyssa especially helped a lot in this process of guiding it around to the best possible version of my story.
Alex, assistant editor: We were muted, but I just said I love writer couples, I just wanted to contribute that to the conversation, that’s all.
Regina: Another question I had, again, because it’s another thing I struggle with as a writer is how you work to improve as a writer. Did any of you have any specific strategies or exercises that you did, any helpful tips?
Molly: One thing I love to hear about, it fascinates me, is my favorite writers’ routines: how they get into a writing mood, whether that’s waking up first thing in the morning and making sure that they write something or writing at work, or finding time in the evening, or if there’s a routine that helps you exercise that skill [of writing]. A lot of students in our course are creative writers, I studied creative writing as a minor, there are creative writing minors here, or English majors, or just people who love to write, and I think they’re always looking for tips and tricks, how to flex that skill.
Meagan: I don’t know if I have specific suggestions, but for me the morning is the best time—if I can get up early and do it. A cup of coffee, even if you can get out 30 minutes… 20 minutes? Anything will accumulate to a story eventually; three or four hours is usually my max though.
Kristina: I’m kind of the opposite, I’m nocturnal, so I write deep into the night. I’m also still learning how to write, but I think what motivates me most, whether it’s long pieces or short pieces, is making sure I have really compelling characters. Characters that I really, really like, or that I really, really hate. Because then I feel that if I leave them alone for too long, it feels like they’re frozen, stuck in time, if I don’t keep writing them, and they’re too fun and alive to leave like that. And so that’s why I think I like writing, because I want to interact with the characters that I made myself. But other than that I’m not disciplined enough to have a serious process yet, and so that’s the best way for me to motivate myself.
Regina: I love that, they’re too fun and alive to leave alone.
Christine: I love that too. That’s beautiful motivation; I feel like that’s the ideal motivation. In terms of what you just asked about getting into a writing headspace, I feel like the thing that pretty reliably gets me into the writing headspace is just reading. So I usually carve out about an hour for reading time before I start my writing day. I’ve also been very lucky this past year to write with the bulk of my day (so an hour might not be realistic all the time), but even reading a paragraph or reading a page, or something that you love that reminds you what you want sentences to do, or characters. For me that’s always the thing that helps me transition from whatever headspace I’m in while I eat breakfast to the fiction one, which feels like another dimension sometimes, and the reading serves as a helpful bridge to get me there.
Regina: I love that, yeah, and I love reading and getting information from that, so same boat, same boat.
Angela, assistant editor: Can I ask a super fast follow-up question to that? I was just curious when you read for inspiration, do you find yourself returning to the same couple of touchstone books? I know some writers work like that, or do you read new stuff to get inspired?
Christine: Ooh, that’s a great question. I feel like it’s probably half and half for me. Normally, what I’m reading and picking up of my own accord is new stuff, but because I have been teaching, I’ve usually been teaching stories that I love and have read a bunch of times. And those stories, the ones that I usually pick, are usually ones that have something in them that I feel inspired or motivated by. So I feel like the breakdown ends up being around half and half, which is maybe ideal for me: the reliable, go-to stuff is in there that gets me excited about writing and reading, and then the new stuff that’s constantly trickling in and changing it up.
Meagan: Can I just second the reading thing? I used to not want to read at all when I was writing for fear that it would interfere with my flow or sway me in other directions. But really some of my best ideas or mind-blowing moments come when I’m in that headspace of reading. It doesn’t even need to be an old standby too. For me, anything new, or even the genre I’m writing in, it can break you out of a rut in a second. So reading is my greatest writing tip for sure.
Christine: I want to follow up on that with one other thing because I think that’s such a good point too. I feel like reading anything helps, reading something that you love helps, reading something that you hated help, and reading something that you didn’t feel excited about at all also helps, because all of those things are something you can watch yourself react to. You can track the moments when you’re like “oh! I loved this sentence”; now, I know something more about my own writing process. Or an ending that did not work for me at all, I want to never do in my fiction. So I like to think [that] every sentence I read makes me a better writer.
Meagan: And sometimes it literally is just one sentence where you stop and it’s like I have a whole ‘nother story in my head now based on just that sentence. For sure, that’s a great break-out-of-the-rut trick.
Molly: We did publish a story in our issue last year, that was only one sentence, remarkably enough, so if you’re curious check out 39, [BFR Issue 39, “To Bask”]. Did Zachary and Christen want to follow up on that one?
Christen: Yeah, I’ll just say that in terms of writing, I’m most fresh and focused in the morning, so if Zach and I have been collaborating on something, and I don’t have a draft in front of me, I’m like “Zach, where is it? It’s still in your queue. Are you going to work on that? You said you were going to work on it on the weekend?”
Zachary, responding: I have the notes—
Christen: Did you get to that?
Zachary: They’re there.
Christen: You said you were going to write it after work? You were going to edit it after work? I still don’t have it. Where is it?
Zachary: It’s coming. See, like, you gotta think about creative process (Christen laughs). I didn’t do it. I don’t really like the act of writing, so it’s really hard for me to get in the mood to do it, but I do think about the stories that I’ve got floating around a lot. I think about that when I probably should be thinking about other things like “Should I change lanes now…?” I tend to put things way off, and when I do sit down to write, I end up writing a lot. The way I’m trying to work now is to think about each sentence as “what would Christen think doesn’t belong in that sentence”. So that’s how I’m self-editing now, and actually that one over there [Christen], you have to tell me how good I did.
Christen: That’s okay, I’ll just rip it up, and then we’ll start again.
Zachary: We can do that.
Molly: That’s awesome. It’s always good to have someone motivating you along the way, keeping you in check.
Mackhai: Just on the reading thing a little bit, and this is just to say that it can be anything. The inspiration from my story came out of… (he hesitates) a fanfiction piece I was reading at the time, and also Reddit, which is not usually a great combo. But I think one of the reasons fanfiction—I’m just gonna try and put an academic spin on it—the reason why people write fanfiction is because they love the characters of the original series so much, kind of like what Kristina was saying. But it can really be just the idea behind a piece of writing as well, not even the sentence itself, but what is driving me to read this particular sense or the story? Or what is driving this author to write? And how can I use it to drive myself as well.
Molly: Anything can be inspiration!
Zachary: Right, and one quick thing that reminds me of Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, in the last paragraph he talks about someone asking him “what are your influences?” And he lists a bunch of things that happened in his life and ends with, “It was an absurd question, I’m influenced by every moment of my waking life.” So, try and keep that in mind while writing, or talking about things, just showing that I know things.
Josef: Yeah, I’ll say that I used to be more a night-owl, and this reminds me of that. Because being influenced by everything in your life, I used to like writing at night because I felt with the weight of the whole day pressing down upon me, everything that happened that day would be in my mind, stewing. A lot of that stuff would then come out when I wrote that night. I’ve never been a morning writer, like early morning. I’ve never really tried it so I don’t know if it would work, but that’s the counterargument to the morning writers here, I guess.
Molly: Will definitely take note of those tips! We have some individual questions that our editors came up with for each author that’s here specifically, the questions that came up when we were reading and editing your stories, so we’ll ask you those questions one-by-one. Alyssa did you want to start?
Alyssa, assistant editor: Yeah, hi Mike! So you and I worked together on your story “Behind the Birch Woods.” For those of you who don’t know, the main character is an immigrant mother from Hunan, China, and it’s about her relationship with her son. There’s a specific scene where the mother cuts up a bowl of fruit and gives it to her son. And to me that’s such a heartbreakingly specific and important part of Asian immigrant culture, so I just wanted to ask you how have your personal experiences with your family and your culture impacted how you wrote your story and your writing in general?
Mike, author of “Behind the Birch Woods”: Yeah, I’m so happy for all your help in getting the story together; you really carried me really hard on this. When I was writing it, a lot of people told me that the main character, the mother, seemed a little bit flat because all she seemed to be worrying about was how her son was doing. And they also commented on how the son also felt a little bit flat: there weren’t much conversations going on between him and the mother.
I don’t think the characters are flat, but rather I think for Asian immigrant families in reality that’s how the family works a lot of times, because a lot of stuff you don’t say to each other. A lot of times a mother at home… it’s true that all she worries about might be her son—she might be doing other stuff—but what she’s thinking about she’s thinking about how her son is doing, whether he’ll became a good person in the future. And then a lot of times, there might not be that much conversation going on between the son and the mother because they don’t really got that much to talk about, so I was really trying to go for something really ordinary in the story. I was really influenced by Jhumpa Lahiri, when I was writing it, something that’s really ordinary, really normal, just two characters, a mother and a son, how their relationship works with or without much conversation, how much they care about each other, whether they say it or not. I think it’s true for a lot of Asian families, even though maybe not everyone will have the exact same experience, but I think in general it could be pretty true to the overall Asian family experience. That’s what I was trying to go for.
Alyssa: Thank you, that’s really enlightening.
Amanda, assistant editor: Hi Sarena, I have a question for you about your story. So your story spans several years in such a small space, and only choosing the most important moments to show. So I was wondering what draws you to this sort of vignette style of writing, and what is the writing process like?
Sarena Kuhn, author of “Fitting Rooms”: Thank you for the question! I think a lot of the ways I think about anything, or the way I organize my thoughts is into lists. So I actually know some people struggle a lot with making things short and wanting to say a lot. I kind of have the opposite problem where sometimes I just have two sentences, and I’m like “okay, that’s it for this scene”. So, putting all that time into the story didn’t feel unnatural or difficult to me, especially because I don’t know if I so much view it as spanning several years so much as that being one moment, and looking at things in the past that have influenced the way the narrator is feeling in that moment. So for me, it doesn’t really feel like a progression so much as these are all the thoughts, and this is how it’s happening right now, if that makes sense.
Amanda: Yeah, thank you!
Mackhai: I had a question for Christine, who just read her story. I was curious how reading aloud changed your story, and what do you think is gained and lost in the process of reading a story aloud rather than reading it on paper.
Christine: That’s a great question, I love that question. I always think there is something gained from reading a story out loud, not necessarily with an audience—I mean this so nice to be able to do, but when I edit I often read pieces out loud—in a room, alone, where people don’t have to be subjected to my drafts. So, I’ve read this story out loud a gazillion times, as I’ve edited it over the years, and for me that’s a really helpful editing tool. Because something that I can let myself get away with on the page is much harder when you have to say it out loud and hear it. Because it’s so much easier to hear the moments when you’re like, “No, not that” or rhythm things are easier to catch, general voice moments when you slip out of the voice, it’s all I’ve just found so many times that a story I will have read over and over on the page in my head is suddenly noticed a hundred more problems the first time I edit it out loud. So I think there is a lot to be gained and not a lot to be lost.
Mackhai: Thank you!
Alyssa: So I had a question, you guys [Zachary and Christen] have talked about the amount of funny and dirty jokes in this story, and I know that was one of our favorite things to read when we read the story. So if you can recall, or if you have your piece in front of you, I was just wondering if you could just share one of your favorite jokes from the story, both in terms of how funny it was and how funny it was to craft it with each other.
Zachary: So, my personal favorite, and it might be my favorite sentence that I’ve ever written, I was talking about how Martin’s anus turned in its two weeks notice. I said, “With the fundament tainted,” and that’s just the introductory clause, but I couldn’t stop laughing at that, and it makes me happy to this day. “With the fundament tainted…” I think the original sentence was “The constituent parts of Martin’s body went off in search of higher ground” or something like that.
Christen: Okay, this is my favorite. So, “Martin’s right hand announced that it was leaving, so it gave its two weeks’ notice. And that’s when Martin really lost control,” so he said, the story goes, “Martin used his right hand to the point of exhaustion, clicking and dragging, typing and re-typing, writing longhand and answering emails the entire night through, trying to shore himself up against the unyielding flood of work his manager rained over him. When it saw the abuse its friend and frequent collaborator the right hand went through, Martin’s penis made its letter of resignation effective immediately.” So, that’s my favorite.
Zachary: It was a lot of fun. We don’t get many chances to be juvenile and artistic, so took that inspiration and ran with it.
Maddy, assistant editor: Hi Kristina, I loved your story “Abandoned Things,” and I didn’t edit it, but I was there in the classroom when it got passed a whole year ago, so it’s nice to see this full-circle process. But in “Abandoned Things” you used a lot of unique formatting and grammatical techniques like the Trees’ dialogue and the multiple small buildings coming together under one proper name. Can you describe why you made these stylistic choices?
Kristina: Thank you for your question. I know for the Trees’ dialogue, so the way that it’s formatted I chose different ways of stylizing each of the characters’ dialogue, so there’s the Tall Buildings, the Trees, the Small Buildings, and the Factories, and I wanted to sort of give these inanimate objects personalities. Also when they spoke I didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the reading. So I wanted to make each voice really distinct without making it like “said the Tall Building”, or something like that, because it kind of ruins the, it makes you constantly think about the fact like “oh, this is like an inanimate object talking. why is it talking?” I wanted it to just be like a normal conversation, so that’s why I really wanted to make distinct voices for each of these kind of characters as they are objects.
And I wanted to group them because, one, I think it would be too many characters if he [the main character] talked to every single building individually. But also the story is about, it’s called “Abandoned Things,” and I think what I wanted to emphasize was the fact that the main character “Little One,” he is alone sometimes even if he doesn’t feel like it because all the other objects speak as a group or collective, and he’s the only who just speaks for himself. And so, at the end when he finally does realize loneliness for the first time. I kind of wanted to pronounce the buildings leaving him behind, but also the fact that his voice is left, and then another voice comes in at the end. But, yeah, I kind of wanted [the stylization] to isolate his character amidst all these collective objects around him that speak to him.
Alex: Hi Mackhai, so I have a question for you. So your author bio mentioned and also earlier you mentioned that this is one of the few fiction pieces you’ve written, if I remember correctly, this is the second piece you’ve written. Can you talk about why you decided to go with this more experimental and poetic style, instead of something more traditional?
Mackhai: Yeah, thank you for the question. I think it’s always kind of interesting to me when people mention a poetic or a prose style, like the dichotomy between the two, because to me it’s just my style of writing, and I don’t really think of it in terms of my writing style is poetic or my writing is prose, it’s just the style of writing that I have.
And I think that any story can be chosen to be written with a different style, and there are certainly different issues taken up with it. To put it more specifically, my story is about sexual assault, and in writing a poetic and more artistic style, something that I became very interested in is the ethics of it in aestheticizing and fictionalizing sexual assault. And the danger of that, and making it appear more, in a way, beautiful, than it actually is. So I think in some ways there are definitely issues that you have to take up when the form of your writing style matches up with the content, but I also think that there are incredibly new and interesting generative questions that come out of it, that lend uniqueness to every sort of content or form that you choose to write in.
Molly: Thank you for that, Mackhai.
Julia, assistant editor: So I have a question for Meagan. So we all really liked “Spent” because we felt it was really powerful with the emotional impact even though it felt like a very short piece at the same time. So like do you have any tips and tricks for creating empathy for a character in less than 1000 words.
Meagan: I always have such a tough time with tips and tricks because writing is so individual, and sometimes magic happens on accident, many times, like accidental greatness. But then for all those moments of accidental magic, there’s also the pulling teeth moments. So I think in terms of sudden fiction, and actually all stories, empathy comes when we saw the characters’ reactions to what is going on, right, how they internalize the story line, how they interpret the story unfolding, rather than the experience itself. So with sudden fiction, although I’m not an expert on anything really, but I feel like sudden fiction or flash fiction is more character-based and thought-based, which is maybe one of the reasons why I like it so much. You can get right into the character’s response and the action real quickly. So I don’t know if that answers your question, but it’s sort of our job as writers is to get into the character’s heads, seeing them react, more than actually just seeing what is actually going on in the story. Getting into the character’s head, but I’m not actually sure how to do that. I’m sure everyone has their own magical way to do it, but I don’t know if I can define it. That’s probably not a great answer (laughs).
Aaron, assistant editor: So I had a question for Josef, Joey. So one of our favorite things about your story was the fact that transformation of the main character is clearly symbolic, but it was never really shown exactly what that transformation means on a symbolic level. And it seemed like an intentional decision for you to withhold that from us. So to you, does it symbolize something specific, this change, and bouncing off that when do you think it is important for an author’s intention to be clear?
Josef: That’s a very good question, that’s like the million dollar question for this story I feel like. And I think that’s why I reference Kafka explicitly in the story because I feel like he does that too, and I was very much drawing from that tradition. I don’t think it represents anything specific for me. If it is, it’s something vaguely specific, like the character who turns into a monster whenever anyone is not looking at him, Maybe it represents feeling generally like self-hatred or self-loathing for whatever reason, whatever those psychological reasons may be, which are different for different people. I guess it’s the idea that everybody feels a little bit like a twisted, dented can inside, but when you interact with people it has the ability to make that go away, it seems like. You realize that it’s just your own internal monologue or “monkey-brain”. So I guess that’s kind of what it means to me, but I did leave it kind of vague so that people could associate with it, so it could be a little more universal. I didn’t want it to be an allegory for one specific thing. Does that answer the question?
Aaron: Yeah, 100%, I mean I think that’s why it resonated with so many different people in our class, from all walks of life, where they were like “I feel that on a spiritual level.”
Regina: Wow, thank you. So we’ll open up to some questions from the staff. It’s eight now so it’s officially ended, but if any authors want to stay behind for some of the staff questions or just to chat, feel free to stay.
Molly: Or if you have to go as well, I know people are coming from different time zones, it might be late, so it’s totally fine if you have to go. So me and the editors are going to stick around for a little while if there any lingering student questions that want to be asked. Yeah, so feel free to stick around. And thank you so much for your thoughtful responses to all of our questions. We had such a good time thinking these up after having read your stories and worked on them and everything. And all of your responses, it’s been really cool for us to be able to talk with you and see what the process is like, and what it’s like being a writer on the other side of the story.
Regina: So if any of the staff have questions for the authors? Oh, okay, Nessa!
Nessa, staff: I was wondering why you guys decided to submit to Berkeley Fiction Review specifically.
Molly: Good question.
Zachary: I can go ahead. It’s very prestigious, and I had tried the first time in 2009, and I tried again I want to say in 2013, 2014. And I got some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten in a rejection letter. It was just wonderful to get. And it emboldened me, I guess not that much since five years later, five or six years later, I submitted something else. But it was really great to hear, to see that people went into that much detail and cared that much about what I had written and submitted to give feedback on a rejection. That’s very, very rare. So just thought maybe if I did something kind of along the same vein, that would work. And then Christen obviously joined in, and then I think we made something really really good.
Christen: And this is obviously the best group of editors…
Zachary: Well yeah, the people before they were okay. They had work to do. They got better. And then they got great.
Molly: That actually means a lot to our current team of editors. We had a previous team of admin people that left some things in shambles, and we’ve done, I would say, a great job of picking up pieces and reorganizing. We have a really, really, really great team.
Zachary: The shambles is probably why we got that rejection.
Christen: We’ll blame it on the shambles.
Zachary: Yeah, in the past. We’ve moved on.
Molly: Any other authors want to answer that question? Why Berkeley Fiction Review?
Kristina: I have the boring answer, I guess. I submitted through Student Story week, because I was part of the DeCal. But I especially submitted because I’d been a part of the class, and both reading other people’s stories and giving comments on other people’s stories, and kind of the same thing that Zach said, being able to hear how carefully people would parse these pieces let me trust my peers to give me good feedback. And as much as I wanted to be published no matter what, it was really rewarding too to just sit in the room and hear what people had to say, without them knowing who wrote it. And that was kind of the best part, I got to pretend it wasn’t mine too, and kind of ask questions and make my own comments. But I think because I did it in the classroom before especially, I knew that it was a group of people that I knew I could trust to give me really good, honest feedback no matter what.
Meagan: Can I just add something that is aside to that, kind of going back to a previous question, but a critique group of peers of writing that you like and people that you respect is wonderful as a writer. I mean I can’t say enough about that as a tool. And in a way Berkeley Fiction Review did that on the back-end of it with the editing, so if you can find a small group of people that you work well with, that will be fantastic for writing careers, for sure.
Regina: Okay, thank you! Nessa, thank you for that question. Did any of the other staff have questions?
Molly: Thanks for sticking around by the way.
Sukhmony, assistant editor: Yeah, I’m curious about, you mentioned that community and finding your own writing community, and so I kind of want to hear from the authors whether you’re a student or have a writing partner, how do you find your own unique community in writing?
Meagan: Classes (chuckles), if you take any of the classes from the literary magazines, you will find people who are like-minded, and you will find, usually, one or two people who you can connect with after the class is over to continue working together. That’s how I’ve done it; it’s been great.
Regina: This is a little off-topic, but I guess one of the questions I had was did all of you guys, was it always the dream to become a writer, get published, or is this more like a passion, a hobby in the side. How is it, your relationship with writing and publishing?
Mike: Just for me, I wanted to be a writer since I got in college, even though I’m majoring in Psychology and Spanish. But I started writing a novel in my freshman year, and finished a novel, and a chapter was published too, but the novel itself I put in my drawer. But for me it was when I got to college, I mean I’ve been wanting to write for a while, since high school, but then I got really busy doing all kinds of different things and applying for college. So once I was finally in college, I got more time, started writing more.
You know I totally agree with Meagan about finding your group of writers who you can share your work with. Because for me, I’m not really taking writing classes in college; I am doing an independent study with people in the English department, but it’s just me and the teacher, so it’s not really a group. But in my summers I went to writer’s conferences, Bread Loaf in Vermont, and stuff like that. And when you go to a writing conference, it’s really helpful not only in that it helps you critique your stuff, but hopefully you can find a group of like-minded people, and keep in touch after too. So it becomes a long-distance group, but it’s really helpful, so I totally agree with what Meagan was talking about with finding your group.
Christine: I’ll just second that, or third I guess, about the writing community—groups are so important. And to answer your question, I think Sukhmony is this your question, about where we found it, I found my primary readers through my MFA, but I found a few in various other classes too. Like after I graduated from undergrad, I took some writing courses in New York and met some people there. I don’t know if you all have been in workshops, you will know that workshop can be an amazing find of reader who can be a good fit, because you get such a range of exposure to types of readers and types of aesthetics. But someone really vibes with your writing and it’s clear that they’re a good reader from over time, that’s so valuable and hold onto that. So if you feel like you’ve found those people already, keep exchanging work with them. Actually some people I exchange work with still are from my undergrad workshops, there’s one, we still exchange work. So it’s such a valuable, also emotionally roller-coastery experience to go to a workshop, but it will really teach you who’s a good reader for you.
Zachary: Do you want to start?
Christen: You can start!
Zachary: Well in terms of writing communities I’ve been part of a lot of writer’s groups. I led a writer’s group, I was the fiction editor of a magazine for a number of years, I was an editor for a fiction magazine for my college way back when (I’m a very old man), and I’m currently part of a playwriting group at a theater that’s less than a mile from the house. We are working on short plays about ten pages at the max or podcasting during the pandemic, so that’s primarily what works for me. Really the only person I show things to first is Christen. I don’t value anyone else’s opinion. I’m not trying to impress anyone else except for Christen at the start, so that’s what I’m going for.
Christen: Aww, that’s precious. I appreciate being able to read his stuff. We have a really good collaborative relationship. He’s really, really creative, and I love being able to help streamline and fully recognize his creative potential in the stories that we write. And then in terms of wanting to be a fiction writer or just a writer in general with regards to a career, we both work, obviously, just day jobs. It’s kind of where stuff like “Resignation” comes in. We both majored in English, and they told us we’d starve, and you won’t because people in the day to day business workplace, they don’t know how to write, and they don’t know how to successfully communicate with one another. So don’t listen to them, you will be hired. You will be well-paid, because you can communicate effectively, verbally and written, so that is what has allowed us to have good jobs and then also be able to write creatively on the side.
Molly: That’s very motivating thank you. As I go off into the real world.
Regina: I think that’s about it for questions, thank you so much for coming, this was so amazing: our first online digital release party, so this was amazing and eye-opening, and I had so much fun just listening to you guys, so thank you so much for coming. I know because the time zone difference right now, so again thank you so much, and also thank you so much for picking BFR!
Molly: Yeah, we are so grateful to have received your work, to be in your presence and learn from you, I hope for a lot of our staff this was a really incredible learning experience for them as well as it was for us. So yeah, we’re excited to have your work in print and share it with you and send it along. As always, stay in touch, reach out. Thank you so much!
Christine: Thank you so much for having us!
Zachary: Yeah, thank you so much for having us, and really can’t wait to read everyone else’s stories. And the artwork looks fantastic. Thank you for sharing that.
Meagan: Yeah, thank you! It’s been a delight. Good night!