lit mags, updates, writing

Introducing Chronically Lit

chronically lit jay summer

Today is the official launch of a major project I founded and have been working on for hours a day–Chronically Lit. You can support the project by following it on twitter or instagram, and by signing up for the weekly email list (I’ll be sending out the first email today).

I’ve been doing so much writing for the site, I think I’ll just let it speak for itself rather than explain here. Consider checking out the following:

  • In an “In Conversation,” I and the site’s other editor, Annalise, discuss our vision for the site
  • For the past three weeks, I’ve written “Link Roundups” on Friday, which are collections of links related to chronic illness in literature and culture
  • Today, my first “official” piece of writing went live, the first part of a multi-part book review of Sonya Huber’s Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System

I’ve also been working with several writers on essay edits, and those essays will go live over the next two weeks. Exciting stuff!

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fear, lit mags, personal growth, weirderary, writing

Goodbye, weirderary

Yesterday, I wrote a goodbye post for weirderary, the online literary magazine I began with friends and classmates back in 2015. (I’ve blogged about it a few times before.)

Creating weirderary was fun, and I’m glad we did it. First-hand experience is an excellent teacher, and I learned so much reading the thousands (yes, thousands!) of submissions we received, editing those we selected, conducting interviews, and writing book reviews. I’m grateful I gained that experience and also proud of myself for pushing forward and starting a lit mag in the first place–something I’d wanted to do since high school but hadn’t, for various reasons, but mostly fear.

After us three weirderary editors graduated from the MFA program we were in and began seeing each other much less often, I could feel the energy and excitement around weirderary fizzling. Instead of the thrilling endeavor it felt like before, it became, to me at least, unpaid labor. A pile of tasks. And they weren’t horrible tasks, sometimes they felt rewarding, but when I looked at my overarching career, I knew they weren’t the best tasks I could do with my limited free time in order to move the direction I want to move.

When I was trying to decide if I should let weirderary go or not, I tried to envision the future best case scenario. It involved a lot of work on my end, with a disproportionately small reward. It also involved missed opportunities.

Being an independent lit mag editor is a labor of love, and I now understand why so many small lit mags don’t have staying power. I’m writing about all of this openly here because I think the burnout and at times even resentment editors can feel are things people don’t often talk about with transparency. (Hmm, should I write an essay about that?) I loved weirderary when we began it, and I love it still, now, but I think if I’d stuck with it another year or two, that love would’ve soured.

Thanks to anyone who read it. Stay tuned…I’ll soon announce my newest endeavors.

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creative nonfiction, fibromyalgia, health, ibs, migraine, pots, writing

New publication in MTV Fit

New publication: Staying Fit with Chronic Illness Required Me to Redefine “Exercise”

A friend shared a link to a (secret?) Google doc containing a compilation of tweets from editors looking for pitches. When I saw an editor at MTV Fit (a fitness vertical on MTV’s UK site) was looking for health- and fitness-related essays, I spontaneously pitched her one on exercising with chronic illness in that moment. She said yes!

This was exciting for me. I’ve only pitched a couple of times (that’s how I had the Marie Claire article published), and because my background is in creative writing, not journalism, I still feel like I’m sort of faking it when I send a pitch.

I’ve been submitting to lit mags for a while now and I feel like I have the hang of submitting. It’s relatively easy and mostly repetitive. You submit whatever you’ve written, in full, along with a short cover letter that is more or less copied and pasted aside from a personalized sentence or two.

Pitching, however, is a whole different ball game. The cover letter isn’t a formality–it’s the entire thing. Lit mag editors often purposely avoid reading cover letters accompanying submissions until after they’ve made a decision. Mainstream editors reading pitches generally make their decision based on the cover letter–the pitch–alone.

Lately I’ve been writing more personal essay than fiction, so I see a lot of pitching in my future.

 

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fiction, writing

New Fiction in Jokes Review Literary Magazine

jokes review jay vera summerCheck out my story “Federal Death Registry” in the Jokes Review! You can also buy a print version of the lit mag.

Getting this publication was exciting for a few reasons. One, the novelty of seeing my writing in print still hasn’t worn off (you may also find my writing in print here and here). Two, humor and comedy have a special place in my heart, so being part of a journal centered on that theme just feels right. Three, this was an old, not-so-good story that I nearly gave up on, but I dusted it off, revised it, and turned it into something good, so placing it somewhere cool is a reminder to follow through on things.

I wrote this story years ago, when I was working as a stand-in on the movie Divergent. For those who don’t know what a stand-in is, basically you just creep around in the shadows of a movie set trying not to get in anyone’s way all day, then once in a while when they’re setting up lighting and cameras, you literally stand in the spot your actor is going to stand in, because they get paid too much to waste their time standing there while people adjust lights and what not.

Being a stand-in gave me a lot of time on set to read and write, and at first, motivated by the movie itself and the recent success of Hunger Games, I thought I’d try my hand at writing a dystopian YA novel that’d be a prime candidate for being made into a movie someday.  My premise was this: a death-centered society in which people got to choose how they’d die. All deaths would be carried out publicly and played on televisions everywhere. In retrospect, that I even temporarily thought this could be made into a bestselling YA series and movie franchise seems both absurd and and endearingly naive. Divergent and Hunger Games have some violence, but not the level of onscreen gruesome death that I had in mind.

jay vera summer federal death registryOnce I got to writing my dystopian YA masterpiece, I realized I was writing a short story, not a novel, and my audience was adults, not teenagers. I did some rewriting and revising to convert my novel pages into a short story, but ultimately pushed the idea to the side. That was in 2013. Thankfully I held on to the papers (yes, I was writing by hand, since, like I said, I was doing this writing while creeping in corners of the Divergent set.)

Fast forward to 2017, when I was nearing graduation in my MFA program. I decided I needed to work on revising and finishing what I started–even if that meant revisiting things I’d written prior to entering the program in 2014–instead of always being quick to move onto my next exciting idea. I pulled out a bunch of pre-MFA writing and got to work, sorting through it all and seeing what could be salvaged, polished up, or rewritten, and what should be tossed. “Federal Death Registry” still felt fun and special to me, so here it is!

Fun fact: Drew, the character, is based on a real Chicago comedian named “Drew.” In the original draft, I called him “Mark” and changed his physical characteristics so he wouldn’t resemble the comedian. Last year, when I was revising, however, I was very into mixing more reality into my fiction (that was when I kept using characters named after myself), so I revised Mark into Drew and made him more like the person I’d drawn inspiration from originally.

Now that I’m thinking about this idea again…maybe it’s not fully finished. Maybe someday I could revisit this, drop the YA angle, skip the novel, and go directly to writing a screenplay geared toward adults?

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writing

New fiction in The Conium Review

In December, I had my fiction printed in The Conium Review (volume 6) right around the time I had my nonfiction printed in the Hawai’i Review. Like I’ve said before, even though I prefer having my short pieces published online because then they’re (usually) free to read and easier to share, it still feels really cool to be in print! There’s just an added level of legitimacy to it. It also feels one step closer to putting out a book.

My story in this issue of Conium is called “Holy Water,” and it’s completely surreal. I had a lot of fun writing it. The character has my birth name, and the story begins in my high school as it’s filling up with water. She’s on a journey of sorts, and meets many interesting men along the way. If you want to get a copy of the issue, head over to The Conium Review‘s website and buy it for $12.

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writing

First published poem

jay vera summer alien mouthAlien Mouth published my poem “Schiller Woods Head” last October. PLEASE READ THE POEM BEFORE READING THIS POST.

All of my publications are exciting, but this is especially exciting because poetry isn’t my primary genre, and I feel less confident in my poetry than my prose. But, the acceptance wasn’t an accident, and I’ve had a second poetry acceptance since then. Yay!

I wrote this poem while taking the one poetry class I took as a (fiction) MFA student. As part of a class exercise in which we had to pick a place on the map and write about it, I imagined myself walking in the Schiller Woods forest preserve in Illinois and wrote based on that. I zoomed in via Google maps, then closed my eyes. I’ve never actually been to the Schiller Woods forest preserve, but I hope to one day. The map labeled an entrance “Schiller Woods Head,” and I liked the idea that only some readers would figure that out. I think most would take “head” literally, as a human head, so the title has a double meaning.

My purpose was to focus on colors and images and to play with that it’s-okay-if-people-don’t-know-exactly-what-you’re-talking-about-as-long-as-you-convey-a-feeling aspect of poetry that isn’t really there in (non-experimental) fiction and creative nonfiction. There is a literal translation to the poem, however. As someone who has migraine and fibromyalgia, I have very sensitive eyes and can be extremely photosensitive to the point where on a sunny day without sunglasses I can hardly make things out and there are just blobs of color everywhere. I imagined myself entering Schiller Woods on one of those extremely sunny days, being unable to make out everything around me but still enjoying the beauty of it, and I thought that made a nice metaphor for how I’m going through life, sort of stunned and overwhelmed but also in awe of the vastness and never-ending feeling of it.

PS, I think “real” poets don’t explain their poems, or something? But whatever, I do, and I’m a real poet now, so deal with it. :)

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creative nonfiction, writing

New essay in the Hawai’i Review

hawaii review jay vera summerMy essay, “Fibromyalgia, Me, and Doris Lee” is in the Hawai’i Review ’87. I’m excited to be getting some print publications, since most of my publications thus far have been online. I kind of like online pubs better because then I can share the link with my friends, but print publications seem to still be viewed as more prestigious, and it’s fun to hold something that feels like a book and see my work in it. Seeing my work in print gives me confidence that some day I’ll have an entire book of my own. :)

hawaii review jay vera summerYou can order a copy of the Hawai’i Review ’87 by sending a check for $10 along with an address to:

Hawai’i Review 
Hemenway 107
2445 Campus Road
Honolulu, HI 96822

For more info on the Hawai’i Review, click here.

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mfa, writing

New fiction in animal: a beast of a literary magazine

Okay, so this publication isn’t that new, but check out “The Grooming Salon,” a story I had published in animal: a beast of a literary magazine last November.

The story is fiction, but the setting details draw a lot from my past work experience as a dog groomer. An earlier (but longer and not as good) version of this story is what I used when applying to MFA programs.

I really enjoy this story and am so pleased that it found a home.

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