Interview with Cheat River Review
Interview by Kallie Falandays
How did Cheat River Review come about? When was it started and who came up with the name?
Editor-in-Chief, Clint Wilson: Cheat River has been in the works longer than it has been in the public eye. It is a love letter from an MFA program that has been taking remarkable strides over the last few years.
Jessi Lewis, Co-Founder and Editor Emeritus: The Cheat River Review was established by MFA students from the Council of Writers, with help from Professors Mark Brazaitis and Jim Harms. The concept came from Cheat River itself—the identity of the river as a beautiful spot as well as a local landmark that has shifted significantly due to efforts to control acid mine runoff and other pollutants. It is a symbol of what West Virginia is—ever changing and incredibly unique.
Also, Cheat River just sounds good.
Really it was a group effort. I think it came from an argument during an MFA party, but that probably isn't good to print. Right?
What types of work do you seek to publish?
Clint Wilson: I believe Cheat River is committed to aesthetic diversity. Scientists tell us that the more species an environment contains, the healthier that environment will be. We agree. And if this is to be a healthy environment, one which continues to grow, I think we’ll have to continue publishing pieces that fit no particular mold.
Maggie Behringer, Assistant Editor-in-Chief: I hope Cheat River Review continues to publish work the staff cares about and is interested by. I hope we publish work that challenges our readers sense of individual genres and "literary magazine" content.
Shaun Turner, Fiction Editor:We want work that sings, or hypnotizes, or leads us to a place of greater understanding. We want your words to wrap themselves around us like coats. We want work that occupies.
Xin Tian, Poetry Editor: Besides what Shaun said above, I'd love to see more submissions from PoC writers and writers from underrepresented communities and perspectives. We aren't focused on any particular regional focus or aesthetic; send us your best work.
Emily Denton, Nonfiction Editor: We want to publish great stories, fresh language, memorable characters. Work that keeps the reader turning the page (or scrolling, since we are an online publication).
What were some of your favorite poetry, fiction, and non-fiction pieces ever published in Cheat River Review?
Emily Denton: One of the first pieces I read for submission when I began as editor was Keith Rebec’s essay, “On Fire.” In this essay the author balances his personal narrative with historical and psychological studies of pyromania. I was most struck by the subject matter and the way the author was able to balance personal experience with historical figures and scientific studies.
Maggie Behringer: "Food Court" by Steven Sherrill, a piece of fiction in the first issue.
Clint Wilson: Jessie Van Eerden’s nonfiction piece, “The Helicopter,” captured a universal theme and a regional vibe that helps to demonstrate the fault line upon which our magazine sits. We are not a regional magazine, we do not evaluate pieces based upon setting. At the same time, however, Cheat River is born from a West Virginia culture of in-betweenness, from a state that is somehow neither the North nor the South, neither one thing nor its opposite.
Shaun Turner: I have enjoyed the poetry we've curated at Cheat River Review. Some of my favorite fiction is Gry Fincke's shorty story, “Human Subject.” I also really loved Justin J. Brouckaert's short story, “The Only Thing Blue” from Issue 1.
What are some literary journals that your magazine crushes on?
Maggie Behringer: Oxford American and One Story
Emily Denton: PANK, Hippocampus, Brevity, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review.
Clint Wilson: Magazines like [PANK] and AGNI, Hunger Mountain and Painted Bride Quarterly are just some of thriving homes of today’s most innovative writers. We would love to have that kind of accessible yet elusive quality.
Shaun Turner: I agree with everyone else here, honestly—there are so many great journals that publish strong writing. I also want to mention some of my favorites: Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, anderbo, and Big Lucks. Rattle and Sixth Finch are two of my favorite places to read poems. There are really so many great journals out there.
Do you see Cheat River Review subscribing to any particular themes, ideas, or schools?
Clint Wilson: Despite any intentional effort, I think Cheat River straddles a sometimes awkward but always interesting fence between modern attention to detail and postmodern displacement of that detail. To put it more simply, I’ve find that ‘place’ is an important part of the pieces we publish, but sometimes the place of these pieces doesn’t actually exist on the page.
Maggie Behringer: Hopefully, we just care about good writing.
What type of work do you hope to see more of?
Shaun Turner: I'm drawn to fiction that balances somewhere between line and story, between place and character. I want to see stories that make new connections, stories that provide insight. I want stories that make me excited.
Emily Denton: I’m drawn to essays that can join seemingly unrelated or unconventional themes and ideas within a larger personal narrative.
Maggie Behringer: I would love to see more work about the US and the world and real political, social and culture issues we face on a daily basis.
Xin Tian: Poetry that dares to take risks. Poetry that gives something up in order to gain something.
Clint Wilson: Poetically, I like to see pieces whose voice is so clear as to be unmistakable. In terms of fiction, I want to see natural prose that resists the urge to explain anything. The nonfiction pieces I love are those that are so true and so well-crafted that, in the end, the distinction between genre is beside the point.
What type of work do you hope to see less of?
Clint Wilson: Poems with a voice that could be confused for another poet; fiction whose characters make decisions in order to teach the world a valuable lesson and not because it’s the actual decision the character would make; and nonfiction that in its attempts at honesty, lack the detail to make us believe, really believe, in its truth.
Xin Tian: Writing that lacks engagement with its subject.
Emily Denton: Anything with a moral at the end of the essay.
Shaun Turner: Underdeveloped or over-thought writing.
Maggie Behringer: I would like to see less work that is focused solely on the internal life without any connection to the outside world.
What is the best advice you ever received about writing?
Xin Tian: I don't (yet) think of anything or anyone as my “best.” I've received a lot of wonderful advice from many wonderful people. Two are:
Mary Ann Samyn, who says that when writing a poem, "you're just trying to be with your mind."
My friend Sean Pagaduan: "The things you rarely hear in workshop or see in writers' manuals-- sensibility, depth of artistic vision, novelty, heart—are the things that matter most."
Emily Denton: Grammar is reality.
Clint Wilson: My MFA supervisor at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Allyson Stack, told me, “Writing is nothing but a series of decisions.” It seems so obvious, so nearly cliché, that it is actually the best advice I ever heard. Great writing flirts with the idea of the familiar, but it knows where the line is, and it knows how not to cross it.
Shaun Turner: Work with an editing eye, not a hypercritical one. Sometimes, we writers can edit something great to death.
Maggie Behringer: "Write what you know" is the best advice, but it's only useful when paired with the other best advice, which is "Write what you don't know."
What advice do you have for people looking to submit? What type of information do you like to see in cover letters?
Emily Denton: Read the magazine. Read the guidelines. I enjoy getting to know the people who submit to CRR, especially if they share interesting, relevant, or even quirky details in their cover letters.
Clint Wilson: We’re not concerned with histories or long lists of various degrees. We read blindly, we judge blindly, and we look for all the things I mentioned above. We want to see that you love what you do, but that’s obvious in the writing itself.
Shaun Turner: My advice for future submitters is to have a fresh pair of eyes look over your work before submitting. Reading one's work aloud can also help catch problems with syntax and punctuation.
Xin Tian: For cover letters: the shorter and sweeter, the better.
Where do you hope to see Cheat River Review in five years?
Xin Tian: I hope that it keeps publishing good work.
Clint Wilson: In five years, I hope Cheat River is both larger and smaller. Larger in its presence, especially among writers hoping to get published. Smaller in the effort required to maintain that presence. If Cheat River were to become truly self-sustaining, then the staff could spend more time with the wonderful work we get to read every week. We’re working hard now, so that there can be more time later. It’s an exciting time. We have no complaints.
Shaun Turner: In print. Honestly, I'm just excited for our third issue, which is slated for release in early November, 2014.
Emily Denton: I’d love Cheat River to be overrun with submissions, so much so that we would have to rely on dozens of readers. I’d also like to see if Cheat River could experiment with a mix of visual and textual based pieces.
Maggie Behringer: Still here.