Before I ever joined a magazine, or published a novel, for that matter, here’s how I imagined people who had responsibility over publishing texts. They were working in fancy university offices or in stylishly decorated apartments in artsier parts of town than my own, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine, sporadically casting a disdainful eye toward the “slush pile” (in my mind’s eye, the slush pile was either physically manifested, or online, it didn’t make a difference insofar as the disdain goes). And here’s what would happen if ever they came across my submission. They’d read a line, chortle to themselves, and say, “This poor, desperate bastard. Why does he waste our time?” Then all the editors would say in unison, “Let’s publish one of our friends, instead!”
That’s how I imagined it.
Maybe some literary journals are nepotism-only zones, I don’t know. I’ve only ever worked for carte blanche. I joined as fiction editor in 2014 and the first issue I worked on was Issue 20. Our most recent issue is #29, so that’s ten issues in total. As of Issue 23, I took on more responsibility for the magazine, taking over from our illustrious founder, Maria Turner, first in partnership with Ben Spencer, then with Gregory McCormick.
Though the years, I have come to enjoy my vexed relationship with the slush pile. Every time I sit down to read, I want to love the next piece I’m going to discover. One of the very first stories I ever picked was Matthew di Paoli’s “Other Forms of Life,” and I found it so funny and quirky that I immediately started reading it aloud to Monika, my partner. I invited Matthew to read his story at a carte blanche event we were doing at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal, and he couldn’t come, so I read out parts of his story in his place. I loved the texture of someone else’s sentences coming from my lips, and the rhythm—almost like a form of breathing that was not my own.
So yeah, the slush pile wasn’t like I’d imagined it, not at all. It was sometimes a source of some frustration, but also of great excitement and pleasure.
Over the years, the comradeship of the entire carte blanche crew, and the support of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, was constant, making me realize that one of the biggest benefits of the literary life is not the writing itself but the community of other writers, editors, publishers, curators, and do-it-all’ers who keep culture humming along and livening up lives that would otherwise be lived in dank, solitary darkness.
“I loved the texture of someone else’s sentences coming from my lips, and the rhythm—almost like a form of breathing that was not my own.”
Chalsley Taylor, above all, has made the magazine the beautiful online presence it is today, and so it’s to her I would like to express my biggest THANK YOU. We started this journey at pretty much the same time. It’s no overstatement to say that this magazine would not be in the fine shape it is without her. With Cason Sharp now on the team, I believe carte blanche is going to keep on kicking ass in its cool, classy way. How can it not, with Nicola, Georgia, Bronwyn and the two Gregs bringing their brilliance to each and every issue?
I am shortly going to be leaving the team in my official capacity as editor. I do so with mixed feelings. Once upon a time, I honestly felt I could tackle any amount of work that was thrown at me. The days seemed elastic. I could stretch them at either end, conjuring up just enough minutes or hours to always get things done. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I am trying to figure out how big each relative part of me is, and how to accommodate all those parts within a finite body. What’s the size of the editor in me, compared to the writer? And more importantly, the loving husband? The communications director? The friend? The son? The cooker and eater of meals, and the drinker of ales, and the sporadic watcher of Liverpool FC, and everything else?
A few weeks ago, my second oldest friend disappeared from social media. In recent years, we hadn’t established any other form of communication except for Twitter and in-person visits. I had no phone number or email address for him. I started to wonder, nervously, if he was still alive. In 2016, I lost a dear friend to suicide. Another of my friends has struggled with brain cancer. These experiences and many others made me think dark and fearful thoughts.
Day after day, my friend didn’t reappear. There was an envelope icon lit up in Twitter, indicating a message from him, but the message was an old one, and because his account was deactivated, the message itself had ghosted away. I tried to figure out what was the best course of action. Should I just show up at his house to check on him? No, I told myself. It wasn’t time for that. He’s not dead, I said to myself. He’s just taking a break from Twitter. Who can blame him? Donald Trump is president.
My friend eventually reappeared, thank God. He found my email address and wrote to me. I was relieved, and felt a little foolish for my quiet panic.
“I am trying to figure out how big each relative part of me is, and how to accommodate all those parts within a finite body. What’s the size of the editor in me, compared to the writer? And more importantly, the loving husband?”
Realizing just how agitated I had become gave me yet another confirmation that I need to reappear—to myself. Working sixty- to seventy-hour weeks means you’re obliged to run on adrenaline and anxiety half the time. I get bent out of shape easily. I sometimes get inordinately fearful about small things. It’s time to slow down a little. Time won’t be warped and woven into shapes that better accommodate me. I must accommodate to time.
Whatever happens, I am going to remain a friend to the carte blanche crew. I became an editor at approximately the same time as I had my first novel accepted for publication, so the two experiences effectively took me from zero to one as a literary person, according to my own weird binary measurement. I am enormously grateful to have had such opportunities.
I still send stories to magazines sometimes, and I get my share of rejections, but I don’t get resentful about them. I am pretty sure that the people at the magazines are just that: people. Maybe some of them have similar traits to me. Maybe they’re a bit fucked up. Maybe they’re anxious, maybe overworked, maybe worrying about a loved one—like us all.
Laurence Miall is a Montreal-based writer and communications expert. His first novel, Blind Spot, was published by NeWest Press in 2014.
Photo credits: Ben Brooksbrank; Owen Egan (author headshot)
One thought on “Why I Loved Editing a Small Canadian Online Magazine, and Why I’m Leaving—by Laurence Miall”
Thanks, Laurence. The few people I’ve known who are editors are as nice as you seem to be. As a person who also runs on adrenaline and anxiety, I wish you good things in the future.