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Paul Lai

Summer has sprung! I can always tell because I become a walking smorgasbord for the mosquito and other blood-sucking insect populations here. But I do enjoy taking longer and more frequent walks with the dogs and being able to read outside in the yard as well as on my enclosed, shaded porch. It sometimes feels like the seasons turn around where I can curl up with my books around the house and around town!


Now that I’ve spent a good half year back in the submissions inbox for Kartika Review, I thought I’d offer some quick advice for writers interested in publishing in this literary journal. First of all, please continue to send in your writing. It’s lovely to see what people are working on, and even if pieces don’t seem quite right or ready for our pages, I like to see that people are writing and writing and writing. I hope my responses declining a submission are not too discouraging, and if I extend an offer for you to resubmit revised or other work, I really mean it! In the submissions I decline, I often still see a voice or a perspective or an idea or a particular musicality of language that I really like, and I would love to see many of these writings find a home when they are polished up.

Secondly, as many of you have no doubt heard, the editorial selection process can be very idiosyncratic, so it’s best not to worry over why your piece was declined. In fact, to borrow advice I once got from a faculty advisor about the academic publishing world, don’t think about revising your poem, story, or creative nonfiction piece if it is turned down at a journal. Simply send it out again to another journal, and another, and another, and another... Think of it as trying to find an editor who understands your work, whose idea of writing resonates well with yours, rather than trying to shoe-horn your work into someone else’s editorial vision. My advisor also put it this way: If you try to revise work based on every editor’s feedback, you might end up with something that is pulled in many different directions or end up with a Frankenstein’s monster type of writing with bits and pieces of suggestions tacked on from different creatures (editors). And you can take heart in stories like Lisa Ko’s, who aimed for 50 rejections in 2014 as a way of increasing the chances that she might connect with a publisher. And she ended up winning the PEN/Bellweather Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for The Leavers!

That being said, of course writing is always about revision and about figuring out how to connect the beauty of words and ideas in your head to what shows up on the page to what a reader will actually experience upon reading those words. And that’s where an editor who is a good match for you comes in. Such an editor helps bring out what might be muddled in your writing; an editor helps you figure out what isn’t working in your writing and unobscures what does work well in your writing. Sometimes, it’s the organization of the story or an essay that makes it a bit confusing, or it could be the unbalanced emphasis on some elements over others, or it could be the unclear use of line breaks in a poem, or it could be a number of other kinds of problems. You might be asking, well, how do you know when to move on and when to try to work with an editor—I don’t know if I have a good answer beyond saying that you will just know. If it’s more exciting and rewarding to work through an editor’s suggestions for revision than it is frustrating, then you’re probably working with someone who is good for you and your writing. If it feels painful to take into account those suggestions or if you find yourself often disagreeing with what the editor has suggested you change, then it might be better to move on.

I should note that some of my favorite experiences in editing involve working with authors to revise their writing fairly extensively before we publish it. Although I mostly accept pieces that are pretty much ready for publication, I’ll also do a bit more work with a handful of authors a year who are open to a back-and-forth dialogue about possible revisions to clarify a piece and make it stronger. I’m also happy to offer quick feedback on submissions I decline, so feel free to ask for it if you’d like (but, again, my usual advice is to keep sending out your writing to different journals that publish work like yours).

Finally, I cannot emphasize enough something that most other editors also mention—please take the time to read at least a few pieces in the literary journal you’re submitting your work to so that you have a sense of whether or not it’s an appropriate venue for your writing. Despite having carefully crafted editorial statements and author guidelines, those of us who accept open submissions at literary journals often see many, many submissions that are so outside the scope of what our particular journals publish that it is immediately clear the author has not ever bothered to look at the journal or the guidelines. Don’t be that person!


This latest issue of Kartika Review is chock full of new stories and interviews with authors of some exciting new books. As always, I was intrigued by the range of submissions that came in, and what I gravitated towards for this issue seemed to be distinctive voices that ruminated on some kind of dissatisfaction, uneasiness, or potential problem. The contexts of these ruminations differ greatly, of course, and in many ways those contexts form the crux of the stories as characters negotiate their lives and the people in them.

In this issue’s APIA Writingscape section, we’re trying something a little different with some of our interviews, offering a bit more of an artist profile than our more typical Q&A format. See Simi Kang’s conversation with poet and children’s book author Bao Phi for some wonderful reflection on the stories Phi tells about and for Asian Americans. And see Shilpi Suneja’s exploration of visual artist Annu Palakunnathu Matthew’s photographic projects and thoughtful conversation with the artist herself. I welcome suggestions for author/artist profiles and conversations for future issues—just send me an email.

Finally, I wanted to thank the contributing editors who conducted some of the interviews in this issue. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of conducting an author interview, know that it is both a great joy to connect with writers whose words have moved you but also quite a bit of work: reading the authors’ published books, reviewing selected other writing if applicable, and studying as many previously-published interviews as possible to avoid redundancy before thinking hard to come up with interesting questions that will elicit insights into the authors’ work and process. Thanks to Stephen Hong Sohn for jumping in with his sharp mind to come up with questions for Jiwon Choi and her debut collection of poems. Thanks to Anne Mai Yee Jansen for her extensive legwork in preparing for and conducting an amazing interview with Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen. And thanks to Alexander Chee who, in a lovely bit of symmetry, returns in this issue to interview his interviewer from Issue 4 of Kartika Review—Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, whose debut memoir about regaining her memory and sense of self after a stroke, Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember, was published earlier this year. And, of course, thanks to the authors themselves for taking the time to answer our questions so thoughtfully.

Happy reading, everyone!

(And, yes, I will set myself the task of writing the next editorial without a single exclamation point. Challenge accepted!)

Published June 30, 2017
© 2017 Kartika Review