I was lucky enough to be able to interview Laurie Jackson, a SUNY Oswego alumni of 2014, who graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing and Art. She went on to get her M.A. in Writing from Coastal Carolina University in 2016 and is currently a freelance writer and artist.
Laurie has been published in the Great Lake Review, Gandy Dancer and has a review published in New Pages. She gave some great tips and personal experiences on being published and was excited to see the GLR flourishing!
Laurie: I received my B.A. in creative writing, with an art minor, from SUNY Oswego (’14). I continued on, getting my M.A. in Writing from Coastal Carolina University (’16). Currently, I’m working as a freelance writer and artist, using any opportunity I get to travel to new places.
What is your current profession? Does it have to do with writing or publishing?
Currently, I’m a freelance writer and artist, which means I’m working for myself, creating my own hours, giving myself the freedom to travel. I’ve entered in an art show, and I’m currently working on my second show for April. I’m still fairly new to freelance writing, so I’m still teaching myself how to pitch to companies, and discovering what I need to know behind travel writing, web writing, and creating case studies—this list can go on forever. I learned pretty quickly that even after graduating, I’d never stop studying and learning new things.
There are many writing opportunities, but I started with copywriting and copyediting. I was hired by a website design and development company, After Five by Design, and became their content writer. When a company needs help writing about themselves and what they do, they get sent to me. I research other websites in their field, interviewing the owners to learn more about their company from what they’ve already sent me, and then I write the landing pages to their websites. Sometimes a well-written welcome and about page still won’t cut it, and I have to work with the owners to get the text to what they want. After all, it’s their website and their company. Eventually I’ll gain more of a clientele and people will come to me for pieces—that’s the goal at least.
If so, what made you want to go into this type of work?
I was a TA in the introductory to poetry for Laura Donnelly at SUNY Oswego, and I was a tutor in the OLS writing center. When I graduated from Oswego all I wanted was to teach creative writing at the college level, which later, at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs ’15 conference, I learned was every writer’s idea. As a graduate teaching assistant, I taught English Composition, the First-Year Experience course, and helped instruct an ironies class in the MA in Liberal Studies program. I didn’t enjoy teaching classes that students had to take, rather than wanted to take. After sitting in panels at AWP ’16 on working outside of education, I fell in love with the idea of freelancing, being able to be wherever I want to be—as long as there’s a Wi-Fi connection. If you can write and persuade people to take action, you can freelance. If in high school I could write an email that persuaded my AP Biology teacher to have her last test of the year as a take-home test, then I can do much more today. Freelancing relies more on self-motivation, but I’ve always been a competitive person, and goal oriented from years of swimming.
When did you discover you loved to write? Also, what is your preferred genre to write in?
I believe writing and reading kind of go hand-in-hand here. I wasn’t a journal writer when I was little. My journal entry was a sentence or two that said something like, “Doing homework,” or “Wow, I peed five times today…nope, six now.” I have many unfinished journals that turned into notebooks instead. I also wasn’t much of a reader. During the school week, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV, so I did homework and went to swim practice. During the weekend, I’d rather play outside…and when it rained, I imagined my bed was a boat, floating through the water and ice of Alaska, or a cave in the forest. My parents tried to pay me to read—an allowance of sorts. I’ll have to say, I wasn’t a fan of English class. I didn’t start to read for myself till I was in high school—and very few books were read by my choice. I saw the stories as a way of seeing other worlds, other perspectives…another view of someone else’s boat trip through Alaska. I became more patient with myself, allowing myself to visualize the movie in my head…I became the main character. I wanted to write a world of my own.
I still have my child-like imagination, and many have told me I should use that imagination to write children’s stories. So, Oswego is when I knew I loved to write. I still look at that first story I ever wrote in fiction, a horrible, cliché love story—ending with just a dream—that shows me how far I’ve come. Even if I’m writing a new piece and I hate it, I always look at my first piece—so much worse. I find nonfiction easier to write, but I’ll never stop pursuing fiction. I write both nonfiction, to understand this world, and I write fiction, to escape reality. I’m currently working on a fiction YA series.
What pieces were published in the Great Lake Review and when? Did you submit/get published in any other literary journal?
Publications in the Great Lake Review: “Free to Be Me” (Fiction, SP ’14), “Dancing Phalanges” (Poetry, SP ’14), “Snow Day” (Poetry, SP ’14), “Take a Bite” (Artwork, SP ’12), “Dancing in the Rain” (Artwork, SP ’12).
Actually, because of GLR, my artwork “Take a Bite” was one of two possible pieces to be selected for the literary magazine plain china, but it was declined because they had no writing to place with it—yes, that could have been an auto response, but still felt nice to be selected. Then, just recently the Z Publishing House reached out to me after noticing my piece “Free to Be Me,” asking if I’d like to submit any unpublished work to their “America’s Emerging Writers” series. I still haven’t gotten word back yet, but I submitted both a nonfiction and fiction piece.
I’ve submitted to Brevity, but the piece, “How Long Can I Last,” wasn’t accepted. Instead I used the piece as part of my thesis, “Breaking Boundaries.” I submitted to Gandy Dancer, and my piece “Webbed” was accepted in their Postscript section, Issue 6.1, Fall 2017. I also wrote a review for the Atlanta Review Spring/Summer 2014, which was published in New Pages in December 2014.
Side note: My thesis can be found on my website: https://ljjackson4.wixsite.com/nostalgia/thesis
Question 5: What did you feel when you learned you were being published?
I submitted writing to the GLR in 2012, but only artwork was accepted. So, when my writing was accepted in 2014 I was thrilled. It was also nice to get a declined letter from Brevity, which I’ve printed and saved. The acceptance to Gandy Dancer was an amazing feeling. They only chose one alumni for their postscript section and I feel honored they chose my piece.
I also learned how it feels to tell people I’ve been published. You have writing friends who congratulate you, and then others who can slightly crush you with the simple words of, “How much did you make?” It’s hard, but I always keep reminding myself that publications is writing for my art, while freelancing is when I’m writing for money. Two separate types of writing, art and money—something I picked up from AWP ’15.
Do you have any advice for students, or people in general, who want to be published in a literary journal/magazine?
It’s always smart to place yourself in others’ shoes. So, when submitting to a journal, I always try to place myself on the other side of things, as the editor. I imagine myself looking through the slush pile, I pick up this piece, my piece, and I do the first page test—or three pages if you have double-spaces. When reading the work, I ask myself, “Does it capture my interest?” and “Would the piece make it to the next pile, to another pair of eyes?” If I make it there, to another set of hands, I know I’m ready to submit. I take time from the piece, so I can see things I may have missed when looming over editing and editing. It also gives me the chance to see from the editor’s perspective—even if I’m still biased with my own work. Usually a piece I write doesn’t get submitted till months, maybe even a year from when I’ve written it. Even if I don’t get accepted, I understand how big the slush pile is, and how straining it can be to stare at piece to piece, I just have to keep trying.
There’s more to it than just following the submission guidelines. When submitting to a journal, you should know the journal: the background, the editorial process, the types of writers they’ve published in the past, and the aesthetic. Your writing should resemble the type of work they usually accept. Knowing the journal also helps when writing your cover letter—letting your letter stand out, when you have information on their past issues. Some journals don’t even read your cover letter, so it doesn’t carry your piece, but it should never hinder an editor from reading your work. With so many journals out there it can feel overwhelming. Where do you start? Journal of the Month is a great way to get a variety of journals to see which ones you would like and subscribe to. I was introduced to it after taking my literary magazine class at Coastal. I also go to Barnes and Noble and look through their magazine section…I’ll see if anything catches my eye, and resembles the type of work I write. Going to writing conferences, like AWP, can also help your writing and understanding of different journals.
Do you have any current favorite literary journals/magazines?
Currently, my favorite literary journals are The Common, The Carolina Quarterly, New England Review, and West Branch. They became my favorites because I had more notes in the margins in these journals. As I read I always write down my interpretations of things, and ideas I could try in my writing. I’m striving to get a piece published in each of these. I’m also currently looking at Breathe and Oh Comely, which I recently discovered while hanging out in Barnes and Noble.
Thank you to Laurie Jackson for allowing me to conduct the interview. Also, thank you to Professor Laura Donelly for recommending Laurie as a candidate for Publishing Perspectives.