From the Editor:
Our theme may be “recovery,” but that doesn’t mean all of our stories are about characters who are successfully recovering. Often it’s not the recovery story that says the most about the process of recovering. I like to read stories that show heart and depth of character. I look for a piece of writing to tell me something universal about the human condition. Writers should love their characters; even if they don’t give them happy lives, they need to respect them or the story won’t work for me.
I look for interesting language. Word plays, lyricism, music, these are all very important to me. And bear in mind that when I say “music,” that doesn’t mean only classical. Rock and roll, punk, hip-hop–these are music, too. A story can be hard-hitting and gritty and still have music to the words.
I look for strong sensory descriptions. Take me there. Let me see, smell, taste, hear the world, the experiences of your characters. Give me something I can relate to with my body.
Typos and grammatical errors bug me but they aren’t deal breakers if the writing is otherwise sharp and exciting. Poor-pitiful-me stories are usually cathartic to write but not much fun to read and we do receive a lot of those. I’m not big on navel gazing stories. I like for things to happen, for conventional ideas to be challenged, big concepts explored.
I’ve learned how important it is to start strong, to grab the reader right away. In my writer’s heart, I wish there was more time for exposition and thoughtful asides, but in reality–at least in the world of on-line publishing–there isn’t. You’ve got to get into the meat of things right away.
I’d like to see more work that is humorous. The fastest road to recovery involves humor and if we can’t laugh at ourselves, or see our foibles in a fictional character and laugh at them, then we won’t get very far down Recovery Road. I’d really like to see more stories about environmental recovery or lack thereof. Mountaintop removal, ocean degradation, oil spills–these issues are vitally important to me and should be to anyone who, you know, drinks water or breathes air. And yet they are not often addressed in the world of fiction. We should never underestimate the power of stories to change thinking and thereby change the world.
An interview with r.kv.r.y.’s founding editor, Victoria Pynchon
Victoria, can you describe for readers the beginnings of r.kv.r.y?
I’ve been an attorney since 1980. Like so many attorneys, I was a literature
major with an inclination to earn a decent income. Hence, law school—the
default profession for liberal arts majors. The year I turned 40, in ’92, I began
to do some major re-thinking about the direction my life had been going. I felt
empty and sad, and frankly, my marriages hadn’t gone so well.
So I decided to start writing fiction again. I enrolled in extension classes at
UCLA, joined a writers group and began to feel good about my life. Then there
was that little social drinking habit I had, which I cut in ’94, making 2004 an
anniversary of sorts.
All of life’s tumblers clicked into place in ’04. I started r.kv.r.y. first as a way of
staking out my dream without knowing what that dream might turn out to be. I
was casting about for something new. I took a mediation course through a
local law school and said “this is it.” I went back to school to earn my LL.M in
dispute resolution and now I’m mediating full time.
Can you describe the focus of the Journal?
The focus of the r.kv.r.y. is pretty much what it says it is: recovery. So the subject matter focus is pretty wide open—people’s recovery from limitations or oppression of any kind. Political, ecological (we did an issue on natural disasters), familial, physical. It’s a journal of hope and reconciliation with a focus on overcoming obstacles.
We’re looking for high quality writing. I don’t know how to say what that is very quickly. Whole libraries have been written on the subject. The journal has links
to other literary journals that we’d like to set our standards by and the submission guidelines urge people to read those journals that we link to. I’m always surprised when people who are, for instance, submitting poetry, say they don’t read it.
Literature and poetry are a conversation and you have to be part of that conversation, I think, to have any hope of becoming a good writer. So I tell
people to read like their lives depend upon it, which I must say I believe to be the actual truth of the matter.
How do you market or carve out your niche in the literary journal
You just start networking. I was innocent. I downloaded Yahoo’s free internet-
design program, taught myself to use it and am continuing to use it to this day.
I think the website costs me about $20/month and the ad in Poets & Writers
costs $60 every other month. I just do it.
That’s what I’ve learned since ’04 about everything in life. You just start the
thing. You take a single step in the direction of a dream and another the next
day, and the one after that. Things begin to grow. People start to hear about
you or tell their friends or post something on a blog like you’re doing. You
become a kind of attractor. I’m not new age so you’ll have to understand that
what I’m about to say is truly metaphoric and not a concrete belief.
I think the power of intention coupled with action creates a kind of force that
becomes bigger than you are, and everything you’ve ever done aligns with that
intention and becomes part of the engine of the dream.
What are some typical mistakes writers make that you see at r.kv.r.y.?
Oh, the poetry. The poetry. People think poetry is easier to write than prose because they think all they have to do is break prose up into lines. Prose is actually easier to write because I think we’re all genetically hard-wired to tell stories.
If I had to give advice to poets, I would quote Shakespeare: “A poet gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name.” Readers need to be brought into
what John Gardner (The Art of Fiction) calls a continuous lucid sensory dream. Poetry cannot be filled with abstractions. It’s a hologram of the lived world.
What experience do you hope writers will have working with you?
Obviously, I hope they’ll feel that their work is well-respected; that editorial
suggestions are just that—suggestions for their consideration and not mandates from on high. I hope they’ll like the photography or other art that we
publish with their work. If they don’t we hope they’ll feel free to say, “I don’t like
it, please use something else.” I hope they’ll be proud to have appeared in r.kv.r.
y. with other writers of like quality and that someday something we’ve published
will appear in Best American Short Stories or be short listed for a prestigious
What is it to be completely fulfilled in this work and in life?
Wow. These questions are deep. The poet Donald Hall interviewed a sculptor for
the New Yorker once. The sculptor was in his 80s and Hall asked him what the
secret to a successful and happy life was and he replied, “Choose to do
something with your life about which you’re passionate but which you cannot
ever accomplish.” That’s what I’ve done. And for me, that’s what being
completely fulfilled feels like. To be on the edge, like a blade of grass pushing
itself up through the dirt for the first time. The grass has already laid down its
roots, which must be a hell of a lot of work. The moment you live for is the
moment you first break through the dirt. Then, you know, my “mow and blow”
guy comes and cuts it down. You have this really small moment and then you
have to move on to the next one. It’s what the Tibetan Buddhists call the
“indestructibility of impermanence.”
It’s all about the moment of coming into being. So there’s no durability to
failure and no experience of failure because I say, “Okay, that didn’t work; let’s
see what I can make up tomorrow.