Literary Interview: The Bookends Review
Literary Interview with Jordan Blum, chief editor of The Bookends Review
- What made you decide to create The Bookends Review?
Well, I was in the middle of getting my MFA and I’d just started submitting fiction and poetry to places. That made me interested in being on the other side of the process (reading, voting, and seeing how it feels to accept or reject a piece), and as every creative writer will tell you, it’s important to give back to the community and have a sort symbiotic relationship. I thought, Well, why don’t I start my own journal and get a better sense of what it’s like on both sides of this and help give other writers a place to publish? I pitched the idea to two of my friends who were also into creative writing—neither is still involved, though—and they liked it. Plus, I was in one of my occasional Simon & Garfunkel periods, so that helped with the name haha.
- Who are some of your favorite writers that you’ve published?
It goes without saying (yet here I go) that I’m proud of everyone we’ve worked with. That said—and if push comes to shove—“Doesn’t Mean Happiness” by Jose Romero still sticks out most because of how exceptionally it uses ethos, logos, and pathos to portray the struggles of adolescent homosexuality in the face of surrounding homophobia. I even use it sometimes when I teach creative writing and the concept of Self vs. Other. Other than that, I also really love "Snapshots of a Damp Soul" by Ginevra Lee because of how cryptic and emotional it is, as well as how it kind of mixes poetic sentiments into prose. I’m also happy with how many essays we’ve been publishing recently, be they musical criticism (“Hey, Blue, There's a Song for You" by Carter Vance) or explorations of childhood sexuality and gender (“Keeping Abreast: A Personal History of Boobs, Bras, and Confidence” by Anca Segall).
- What turns you off from certain types of submissions?
Good question! Aside from the technical stuff (like going over the word max or submitting it under the wrong category), I don’t really respond clichés or formulaic storytelling. For example, love is probably the #1 topic in all creative works, so how are you going to explore it in an interesting and fresh way that will resonate with our readers? With poetry, I don’t really like pieces that are transparently trying to be as “poetic” and clever and esoteric as possible. Sure, use fancy language and structures and all of that, but if I can’t tell what your poem is about beneath all of that, it’s just opaque and superficial fanciness for the sake of it. No thanks. Oh, and while there’s pretty much no subject matter or kind of language that’s off limits (I don’t believe in censorship at all), there has to be a reason for it. You have to use it meaningfully. I know of other journals that won’t publish pieces about this or that (say, rape or pedophilia or bigotry); I don’t believe in preventing those topics, but if they need to be used sensitively and purposefully. Some of my favorite films—like Requiem for a Dream and Irréversible—are brutal in their own ways, yet they need to be that raw and audacious to make their point. Creative writing is the same way.
- How important are cover letters?
I’d say marginally important. It helps to know a bit about the creator, and it does show that they take their work and our journal seriously (so there’s an inherent sense of professionalism that needs to be there). That said, a great cover letter won’t save a submission. You can be incredibly accomplished and known within your field, but if we feel that your work isn’t a good fit for us, we won’t accept it.
- Who reviews what when submitting to The Bookends Review?
Well, we have three category editors—Steve does poetry, Alexis does book reviews, and Madison does fiction/CNF—so that editor will vote on their submissions. If they don’t want it, it automatically gets turned down; if they do want it, I’ll give it a look and decide. I’d say that we agree at least 85% of the time, too, which is great! As for other content—multimedia/art, interviews, essays, etc.—I look at it and decide. Part of my goal in growing TBR is getting more of those kinds of submissions.
- What book influenced you most as a child/teenager?
Okay, this is going to sound stereotypical or predictable or whatever, but hear me out. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is my immediate answer, but not because I’m all about masculinity and privilege and that stuff. On the contrary, I’m overtly against things like heterosexual white male privilege, toxic masculinity, and the like. I see Fight Club as a commentary against that stuff, which is partially why it’s so much more than the “book about a bunch of guys hitting each other” that a lot of outside readers may dismiss it as. Beyond that, though, it’s brilliantly structured (I can’t imagine how many notes he must’ve had in terms of foreshadowing, hints, connections, etc.) and it explores many interesting concepts, such as consumerism/materialism, gender roles, the id vs. the superego, and above all else (at least to me), cultism. Tyler Durden and Project Mayhem represent how easily some lunatic can spout their rhetoric—no matter how ridiculous and/or dangerous—and still find enough followers to become a serious religion/cult/movement. Twenty years later, its concepts are still quite relevant and biting, and I actually teach it every semester because of how deep it is if you really look into it. Then again, Palahniuk could say that I’m full of shit about all of that, so who knows?
- What do you think is the #1 quality of a good writer?
Fearlessness. So many creative types—not just writers—spend a lot of time thinking about conventions, marketability, and things like that. You want to be successful financially and achieve celebratory within the lit culture, right? Therefore, you might play it safe by not being too bold in terms of subject matter and/or style. I say do the opposite: be true to your vision, no matter how others may react. Write about something uncomfortable; write in a style that’s hard to get at first. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself. Yes, you may shoot yourself in the foot in terms of the business end, but at the end of the day, you should create for yourself. Do you like what you’ve got? If so, good. Keep it as it is and then see how others respond.
Links from The Bookends Review include: