Suzanne Guess, Associate Nonfiction Editor
You’re an associate nonfiction editor with Mud Season Review. Tell us about your background with the publication and what your experience has been like.
I became involved with Mud Season Review after spotting a tweet that the publication was looking for nonfiction readers in 2019. I started as a reader and advanced to associate editor last year. We receive a lot of submissions, especially in the last week of each month. Getting through them is sometimes a challenge, but my teaching background has been an advantage when reading and evaluating our submissions. Getting so many submissions shows what a great publication MSR is.
Your creative nonfiction has received both publication and praise for its dry wit, thoughtful examination of people and place, and unrelenting search for understanding. Tell us more about your work and share some highlights of your writing career.
I have two large projects I’m working on right now, but I’ll just tell you about one; otherwise I’d be writing this all day. I’m writing about how I’ve been changed by the shock of learning about the last known lynching (1942) in my dad’s Missouri hometown. I’m really struggling to reconcile what I remember about that little town when visiting my grandparents and the barbarity that happened there. I’ve done a lot of research on race relations in the early 1900s and it is so difficult to read but I need to understand that era to write about it.
On your website, you mention that your family has lived in Iowa for five generations. What influence do you think your family history has had on your writing?
The five generations thing helps me to help others understand that, in Iowa, we do not grow potatoes. That’s Idaho. We grow corn. I believe my family history influences my writing because I write mostly about place, and people in Iowa are attached to the land. There are approximately 85,000 working farms in Iowa, with 20,300 century farms (in the same family for a minimum of 100 years) and 1,500 heritage farms (in the same family for a minimum of 150 years). People here put down roots and won’t quit when it gets hard because it was hard for generations before and they didn’t quit. My own house is a century home that has been in my family for 90 years.
As founder of the Raccoon River Reading Series, you feature writers of all genres, from the Midwest and beyond. Tell us about this, and where we can learn more.
I started the Raccoon River Reading series in 2019 when I discovered there were no reading events for local prose writers to share their work with others in the Des Moines area (capital city of Iowa). I worked with the owner of a local indie bookstore to give me the space and we met in person at first. The pandemic caused a shut down, and I thought about what to do for a long time and decided to go virtual. Doing so has expanded the Series reach as I’m able to host authors from coast to coast and expand the audience. Anyone who’s interested in reading at the event or attending can learn more here.
Share one piece of exciting news from your life that we can celebrate with you. Any upcoming publications? A new hobby, or recent accomplishment?
My big accomplishment in the last year is that I paid off a student loan. Not sure what to do with the extra money, but I’m sure I’ll find something.
Kristin LaFollette, Art Editor
Tell us how you came to Mud Season Review and describe your experience with the publication.
I’m a member of a Facebook group for writers and in the summer of 2018, someone posted that Mud Season Review was looking for poetry readers. I reached out to the then editor-in-chief, Erin Post, with my résumé and asked if I could join the MSR team remotely (I was living in Ohio at the time and now live in Indiana). Over the next several months, I talked with Erin, participated in some trainings, and officially started my duties as a poetry reader in August 2018. I served as a poetry reader for a year until Erin sent an email out about the Art Editor position opening up. I had had such a great experience with MSR as a reader, so I wanted to stay with the publication and move into an editor role. In addition, I’m an artist and photographer and was excited by the prospect of working with artists and curating the artwork for MSR. I officially started as the Art Editor in August 2019, so I’ve been in that role for two years now (and have been a part of MSR for three years). It’s been great being a part of the MSR team and I’m always so proud when our issues are released; it takes a lot of work and coordination between all our teams and team members to make our issues come together, but we make it work (and we do it well!).
As your website states, you have an interest in American Indian and Indigenous studies and gender studies. Tell us how these interests inform your work as a writer and as an editor.
These interests and my research in these areas inform my approaches as a writer and editor quite a bit. I’m passionate about women’s issues and the LGBTQ+ community; as a professor, research is part of my job and I’m always working to be an advocate for women and LGBTQ+ individuals in the work I do. Reading work from American Indian and Indigenous folks and doing research in that area has helped me connect with an aspect of my heritage I’m still learning about. As an editor, I want to showcase the talents and work of people representing diverse and marginalized groups. I also want to actively work against limiting binaries that tell us who can be a writer/artist or what “good” writing/artwork is. I want to support artists doing new, exciting, and experimental things.
In your work as a professor at University of Southern Indiana you use art as a tool for teaching writing. Tell us about this.
I’ve always been interested in the intersections of image and text. My master’s thesis was a hybrid project that incorporated elements of fiction, poetry, and art/photography. As a doctoral student, my dissertation explored art as a tool in the teaching of writing. Now, I’m a professor at the University of Southern Indiana and I always find ways to bring art and creativity into the classes I’m teaching. In one of the first-year writing classes I teach, students write a profile on one of their professors and create an art piece to accompany the writing. In that same class, students write an analysis of a photograph they take. In a digital writing class I teach, students create a photo essay. Art is incredibly engaging and can help important ideas and concepts stick, so I’m grateful for opportunities to bring it into my classes!
As a writer, artist, and photographer, you have had many successes, publications, awards, and nominations. Share some of the highlights of your artistic career.
I am most proud of my award-winning poetry manuscripts: Hematology, my full-length collection that recently won the Harbor Editions Laureate Prize, and Body Parts, winner of the 2017 GFT Press Chapbook Contest. I’ve been nominated for Best of the Net and twice for the Pushcart Prize (I’m very thankful to the nominating publications for their support of my work). I’m excited about some of my hybrid work that’s been published; The Hunger published an excerpt from the master’s thesis I mentioned before, and Variety Pack, Posit, Slippery Elm, and others have published some of my collage work. I also had one of my photographs as the cover of the most recent Cold Lake Anthology, a publication from Burlington Writers Workshop (which is also responsible for MSR). I have some ekphrastic poetry (written about works of art from Remedios Varo and Mark Rothko) forthcoming from Harpy Hybrid Review and some poems from an in-progress project about my time spent working in a hospital forthcoming from Poetry is Currency. You can visit my website to read/see some of my work!
Tell us about your selection process for the featured art and paired art for Mud Season Review.
I love getting to interact with artists and their artwork at MSR. For the art feature, I am particularly drawn to abstract work and photography, but ultimately, I’m looking for work that helps me think in new and different ways. Our current art feature (in #57) is a perfect example of this. The collaborative portfolio (by Shreya Vikram and Anukriti Srivastava) offers a surreal depiction of a person’s morning routine using elements of image and text. The text in each panel creates beautiful and interesting tensions with the images. At times, the images and text seem to be at odds, encouraging reader-viewers to think about the material differently than if the panels just contained images or just contained text. With the pairings, I carefully read each poetry, fiction, and nonfiction selection first. I keep a log of the open art submissions that are a good fit for the journal, so I then comb through and select a few submissions that connect with/speak to the writing in some way. The team of editors-in-chief I work with are helpful in assisting with narrowing down the prospects. I send several options for each pairing and then we have a dialogue about which option fits each written piece. Even though I represent our one-person art team, working with the editors-in-chief is a fun process and reminds me how many collaborations need to happen for MSR to be a reality. Our team works together really well.
Jonah Meyer, Associate Poetry Editor
You are the Associate Editor for Poetry for Mud Season Review. In your own writing as well as in the selection process as editor of Mud Season, what makes a good poem?
I believe – as is the case with really any type of art, or craft – that so much of it by its very nature is subjective. Having said that, I can tell you some of the characteristics of poems which I, personally, tend to gravitate toward. Voice is exceedingly significant. The same is also true for diction, or word-choice. How something is told, is expressed, in a poem can make the difference for me. I tend to go for pieces which use language in creative, or even unexpected, ways. When it is apparent that the writer is heavily invested in the narrative, emotions, ideas, imagery, etc. and that passion blooms forth from the page, then I as a reader will give the poem increased enthusiastic consideration. When the poem sheds light in an authentic and unique fashion about some truth concerning the human condition, in a manner which lingers in the imagination long after the initial reading, then the poet has, in my opinion, created something not only beautiful, but compelling.
Why do you write?
I have literally written for as long as I can remember. Whether it was little skits my brother and I would rehearse and perform at family gatherings, or the pages I was compelled to fill with my words and thoughts in the nifty Garfield spiral-bound notebook my parents gave me around age five or six, I have always expressed myself creatively through the written word. Over the years, I have also used my passion for writing very much as a therapeutic exercise in dealing with various personal issues. I write to understand, explore, celebrate and contemplate. In truth, though it may sound corny or goofy, I write simply because I cannot not write.
Does your work with Mud Season Review affect your writing?
It does. I think it’s safe to say that being exposed to such a diverse wealth of talented writers and poets, with the great abundance of poetry submissions we receive for each issue, has expanded my own horizons as a writer. I have gained greater appreciation for, among other things, the importance of re-writing (self-editing) as well as critical feedback from other writers and editors. To always grow as a writer (indeed, as a human being) is what it’s all about!
Your poem “Form 4-B, To Be Attached To Application Materials, In Consideration of Employment, Revised 10-2017” has been published in the Burlington Writers Workshop 2021 edition of Cold Lake Anthology. Tell us about the process of writing this piece.
It’s funny, often when I compose a new poem, the inspiration or the idea for the piece comes to me during the most mundane of daily activities: such as taking a shower, or immediately upon waking. In this case, I had the idea of writing a poem which takes the format of an employment questionnaire. The basics are covered: How do you see yourself fitting in here? Please list your strengths. Please describe how you handled a challenging situation in the past. However, in the poem, the “applicant” for the job very much has other phenomena on his mind, such as evolutionary biology, creation of “overwhelming” music, the “exhilarating” gorgeousness of celestial bodies in orbit. I imagine some stuffed-suit H.R. bureaucrat sitting down with the poem’s protagonist, utterly dumbfounded and yet completely convinced that this individual – who brings “thinking outside the box” to an entirely new level – shall indeed have a long and fruitful career with the organization. Imagine if corporations habitually hired poets and lofty dreamers for their business teams because it was generally understood that the poet, by his very constitution, would bring creative capital to the enterprise! The poem does not take itself too seriously; rather, it is more of an exercise in simply having fun with a bizarre little idea I had, arranging it in words on a page.
Ann Fisher, Fiction Editor
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU FIRST BECOME INVOLVED WITH MUD SEASON REVIEW?
I joined the Burlington Writers Workshop years ago and was part of the fledgling Middlebury, VT satellite workshop. I was a member, then the workshop leader, for a few years. I give the BWW a lot of credit for supporting me as a writer; it was through the group’s encouragement and honest feedback that I started submitting and getting published. From there, I joined Mud Season Review as a nonfiction and fiction reader. I wanted to learn more about the publication side of writing. After a few years of reading for that genre, I took on the newly minted role of Associate Fiction Editor, where I spent a lot of time working with our amazing readers. When the Fiction Editor role opened up, I was interested in learning about that position, and I morphed into my latest role with the magazine. Mud Season Review provides a lot of opportunities to learn all sides of the writing business.
DOES YOUR WORK WITH THE MAGAZINE INTERSECT IN ANY WAY WITH OTHER PROJECTS? DOES IT AFFECT YOUR OWN WRITING, AND IF SO, HOW?
The volunteer aspect of Mud Season Review, alongside our focus on learning all there is about writing and publishing, has been an invaluable part of my growth as a writer. From learning what gets moved up in the journal slushpile, to working on edits with authors, Mud Season Review has informed all aspects of my own writing and publishing. I have a better eye now as I edit my own pieces and prepare them to submit. Seeing the inside of the publishing world has given me a great perspective on my own tally of declines – a part of the writing life. You can’t work on a journal and not understand that sometimes, strong pieces just aren’t a good match for a journal’s issue. It may be because a piece with a similar theme was just published in the previous issue, or the publication leans toward a certain kind of genre and the submitted piece misses the mark for the staff. Which is why I now like to frame my own declines as “my piece didn’t like that journal, so let’s find one it does like!”
WHEN MAKING THE FINAL SELECTIONS TO SEND UP TO THE CO-EDITORS, WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WORK OF FICTION?
I listen to the staff readers’ voices because they’ve been in the trenches, reading all that comes in. When they are jazzed by a piece of writing, I pay attention! We are all looking for strong craft skills – sentences and paragraphs put together in a way that makes the characters into real-life people that you can’t stop thinking about. Plot lines and scenes that pull you into the story. Anything that replicates stereotypes without any underlying analysis or deeper commentary gets pushed to the wayside. And, of course, we all appreciate authors who have gone the extra mile to read our submission guidelines and then, actually follow them!
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK ON FINAL EDITS WITH A FEATURED ARTIST? WHAT KINDS OF ISSUES COME UP?
I really enjoy the connection with our authors. It’s one of my favorite parts of the work because I learn so much from the back and forth conversations with writers. For me, there aren’t issues that come up; just a meeting of minds as we work together to make the piece shine. I’ve really enjoyed doing the interviews as well. Delving into how writers bring their ideas to the page is so fascinating. It’s really an honor to fine-tune the details and get so close to another author’s process.
Grier Martin, Poetry Reader
Do you put your own reading preference aside when reading for MSR?
This is something I think about a lot. I prefer short, spare poems. I’m also more interested in poetry that focuses on people and relationships than in poetry that focuses on nature. That being said, when reading for MSR I try to be open to every new submission. I have voted ‘yes’ on long prose poems and poems that dwell on desert landscapes, pine trees, and volcanoes.
What makes you want to send a submission to the editors for consideration?
There has to be some emotional connection. I need to feel like the poem puts me in touch with another spirit, whether that spirit be wry and funny, depressed, joyful, or better yet some layered combination of feelings. Concrete, vivid details are also very important. The whole ‘show don’t tell’ bit is a cliché for a reason.
What turns you off in a submission?
I don’t respond well to overly formal language. I think sometimes people believe that to be serious poets they need to write in an old-fashioned or antiquated style. But, we don’t need the great writers of the past to be copied. We need new voices speaking the truth in their own authentic ways. Please, no ‘thee’ or ‘thou.’ Also, I don’t love imagery involving Greek mythology or the Bible unless it’s portrayed in a truly original way.
What is your favorite thing about being a reader for MSR?
I’ve had to really think about what makes a poem strong. I still react to poetry on an emotional level, but now I think more critically about it as well. This has helped me to edit my own work. And I like being connected to other readers and writers. It’s nice to read as part of a community.
Olivia Box, Nonfiction Reader
What made you want to read for Mud Season Review?
After moving to Vermont, I began searching for ways to get involved in the writing scene. One thing led to another, and I stumbled on Mud Season. I was really enamored with the title and began reading more.
How has reading for Mud Season Review informed your own work?
Every writer I’ve ever spoken with has said to read more of what you want to write, and being a reviewer for MSR has totally solidified that value that for me. Reading more CNF has made me more actively ask myself the questions I ask a submission, like: did this piece inform a new perspective, or what was the change? What was the overarching point? Why does this piece work?
What makes you want to send a submission to the editors for review?
It always comes down to the simple elements of storytelling (which are of course, hard to master and achieve). Maintaining a good story, a strong voice, and clarity. Too often I read well written submissions that don’t ever come to a more solid ending or point, and I’m left thinking, “They write beautifully, but—” …
What are you working on in your own writing practice?
Finishing things. I have been working on this piece about bees, ways of knowing, and pollination for months, circling back to the same few sections…
Cathy Beaudoin, Fiction Reader
What made you want to read for Mud Season Review?
I joined MSR as a reader in 2015. At the time, I lived in Burlington, Vermont, and was an active member of the Burlington Writers Workshop. I was also in the middle of a transitioning from writing as an academic to writing fiction and nonfiction stories for literary journals. I knew if I volunteered as a fiction reader, it would force me to learn the nuances of the writing craft.
What do you write?
I write both fiction and creative nonfiction short stories. I started writing creative nonfiction because I wanted to document my journey as a blind woman. I knew there was endless medical information online. But stories about what it’s like to lose your vision as an adult are hard to come by. Once I was comfortable with my ability to write outside the world of academic research, I expanded into fiction. My fiction stories have dealt with issues such as immigration, war veterans and PTSD, homelessness, family, and the ways people cope with life.
What makes you want to send a submission up to the next level?
I’m looking for a story that makes me stop and think about something in a way I’ve never thought about before. Most of the time, that attribute is driven by a strong, unique voice. I want work that makes me think or feel something new or different. This sounds so simple, but I read submission after submission that may well be a cleanly written story but offers nothing new to think about. Touching someone’s soul with words is not easy to do. But the good writers, they know how to nail this.
What is your favorite thing about reading for MSR?
Selfishly, reading for MSR provides a constant reminder that if my writing is good enough, my stories will eventually get published. Also, being a reader helps me feel like I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. While I may be working alone most of the day, being a volunteer reader for MSR reminds me I am part of a community of writers and editors who are willing to donate valuable time to publishing good writing.