Journey to Genre (Part Two)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring blog posts by current and former Oyez Review student editors. Today’s post is the second of a two-part entry by Ryan Michael Johnson. As we transition from celebrating Issue 41 to opening submissions for Issue 42 in August, more attention will be paid to creative nonfiction. In this post, Johnson closes with some technical thoughts about the creative nonfiction genre. 

Journey to Genre

Part Two: So What’s the Point?

The last sentiment from the first half of this post was that I have pieces that will be ready for publication. Therein lies the point, kiddos. Creative nonfiction is a relatively young genre and it is still searching for a bigger niche. Guess what that means? There isn’t enough out there, yet. So send out work!

As a creative nonfiction editor for Oyez Review, I helped sift through submissions, searching for gold within the sand so that our journal represented the best of each genre. Overall, our submissions for Volume 41 were 45% fiction, 40% poetry, and less than 5% creative nonfiction. Some submissions were great, some were good, and some weren’t ready, but the overall number is something we’d like to see increased this fall.

As editors, we were assigned to review and analyze other literary magazines, ones that we wanted to submit to in the future. With my new interest in the genre, I focused my search on journals that were standouts in creative nonfiction. As I perused the shelves of my local bookstore, I found that there was seldom an issue with a dominance of creative nonfiction. Why? While the genre is relatively new, a good deal of writers have published some stellar essay and nonfiction collections. So why don’t writers submit these pieces more often?

With regards to Oyez Review, we are always look for promising creative nonfiction. Our previous publications in the genre were captivating, honest stories, with ideas and subject matters that were unique yet very universal. One writer explored the development of her sexual identity; another wrote about a tragic childhood of abuse and neglect, but in a fashion that created universality.

Everyone has experienced something in his or her life that is worth of being told. The job of the writer is to take that experience and think about how to write it in a captivating, inventive way. When this task has been accomplished, it needs to be shared.

Ryan Michael Johnson is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader and editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and his writing has been published in Chicago Quarterly Review.

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Journey to Genre (Part One)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring blog posts by current and former Oyez Review student editors. Today’s post is the first of a two-part entry by Ryan Michael Johnson. As we transition from celebrating Issue 41 to opening submissions for Issue 42 in August, more attention will be paid to creative nonfiction. In this post, Johnson explores his introduction to the genre, his appreciation, and how an understanding of its loose definition ultimately led him to progress in the genre, despite his preference for writing fiction.

Journey to Genre 

Part One: Introduction to Fear

After five years of teaching and really hating my life, I was elated to go back to school for an MFA in Creative Writing. I had spent a couple years writing a novel, but I needed outside help in the process of editing and (eventually) publication. My genre is fiction; I’m a fiction writer. However, my adviser recommended I take a creative nonfiction workshop in my first semester. I was terrified, mortified, and stupefied. Fiction’s in my wheelhouse, but creative nonfiction?

 My only experience with writing nonfiction came in college. It was also a requirement for my English minor. It was truly one of the most difficult classes that I took as an undergrad, but the course forced me to become a better writer. Why? It required me to shake off my safety blanket and focus on a given topic. I followed the advice that every writer gets: I wrote what I knew. But that was then. 

One of the most difficult aspects to this genre is that, because it’s relatively new, there is not a solid definition. I consulted the almighty Wikipedia to learn what the All-Seeing said about the subject: 

Creative nonfiction…is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction and poetry. 

If you are like me, you read this and thought, What? So, it’s…I still don’t get it. It is a sufficient definition, but not a great one. Reading further, however, Lee Gutkind helps us out with a quite from The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 1: “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”

Creative nonfiction is the best of both worlds, I have found. You get to take what you know and shape it into a story. Like all styles of writing, there is a lot more to the genre than what a simple definition can provide. I find profound beauty in lyrical meditations, experimental work, and essays that challenge the mind and perspectives. The most powerful aspect of this is that the events have actually happened. Fiction is boundless, but it sometimes lacks the punch of knowledge that something happened for real. Sure, fiction can give us fantastical aliens, pandemics, and wars; but the Titanic, for example, really did go down in the deep blue. 

Now that we know what we’re talking about, what should someone do to begin writing it? That was where I was most perplexed. In class, our professor told us to meditate on an idea and then write it out. It was so simple, and yet the best advice for me to begin dabbling in the genre. All of the trite abstract nouns popped into my head: peace, hate, loyalty, religion, and love. Wait: love was my first inspiration. I wrote for several weeks about friendship, family, and romance. It was a start, and now I have three strong pieces that I am proud of and have submitted to publications. 

Ryan Michael Johnson is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader and editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and his writing has been published in Chicago Quarterly Review.

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Oyez Review 41; Preparation for Oyez Review 42

 Greetings! Before we begin, look at issue 41 of Oyez Review. Look at it. Gaze. Imagine what delicious contents are contained within. The student editors, along with faculty advisor Janet Wondra, were thrilled to see this issue take shape, from its start as a daunting amount of great submissions to its final version as a printed and digital literary magazine. The artwork (both the cover and the inserts) was done by Dan Augustine; inside, we featured a variety of killer essays, stories, and poems, from writers like J. Weintraub, Julie Marie Wade, Chas Hoppe, and Cathy Warner, to name a few. 

 Do you want your own copy? Sure you do. Oyez Review 41 is available as an eBook, as well as in physical form. 

 As much as the staff is thrilled about this issue, it’s summertime. That means production for Oyez Review 42 is around the corner. Throughout the summer, we’ll be charting our progress, from events around Chicago to calls for submissions to posts on craft, submissions, and altogether valuable information about publishing, literary magazine development, baseball, and tacos. 

Wait. Those last two were just summertime daydreams. But we can work tacos into a discussion on essay submissions or something. 

Stay tuned. Until then, keep gazing at our newest baby. Or purchase a copy to call your very own, yeah? 


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Coming Soon: Oyez Review Volume 41

Coming Soon: Oyez Review Volume 41

Featuring “Icarus” by featured artist Dan Augustine, we couldn’t be more excited to share this sneak peek at Volume 41 with you. Want to know what else you can look forward to in this issue? Stay tuned!

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Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween! To get you in the spirit, check out Ben Percy’s reading of “Goodnight Moon,” courtesy of Graywolf Press. And be sure to check out Graywolf, an awesome press producing great books.


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From Folios and Signatures to ePubs and Mobis: Creating the Oyez Review eBook, Part 2

We recently discussed the motivation behind creating the Oyez Review eBook, but the story and method behind the effort definitely warrants an entry all of its own.

As with any technology, a lot of people believe that the work behind creating an eBook is hard, like you have to throw on your druid robes and take to a misty plain in the twilight for some intense chanting or become a half-human half-squid version of a programmer, typing away furiously into the dead of night and subsisting on a diet of Red Bull and cold pizza.

Neither of these are true, even though the latter comparison might describe my working habits. That’s totally unrelated to my eBook work, though. Continue reading

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Embracing the Digital: Creating the Oyez Review eBook, Part One

A lot of people have asked about how Oyez Review went about creating its eBook edition. Who did we use as a vendor? What software did we use? How much did it cost?

This post is the first in a two-part series to explain both our motivation and vision for producing a digital copy of the magazine and a venue for talking shop, exploring the details, the frustrations, and the triumphs of the process. Continue reading

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Submission Season Bonus Round: Handling an Editor’s Decision

You’ve written, you’ve examined the marketplace, you’ve formatted your manuscript, and you’ve submitted with a great cover letter. Time goes by. Months, perhaps even close to a year. Suddenly an email shows up in your inbox or a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) shows up. The moment of truth! What does it mean?

Getting a piece accepted usually becomes the high point of a day, a week,  a month, and usually editors are as excited to be taking a piece as a writer is to have it taken. In that envelope is a publication contract to read and a questionnaire to answer. What are First North American Serial Rights? What about contributors’ copies? Are you getting paid?

And what if that envelope or email is just a rejection? How do you handle it? Is the editor breaking up with you?

Rejection and acceptance are the two outcomes of a cycle of publishing. Now that submission season is underway, let’s talk about judgements on your work and how to handle them. Continue reading

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Now Accepting Submissions for Volume 41

The reading period for Oyez Review Volume 41, Spring 2014 has begun!

You can submit your fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or art for our consideration by visiting our online submissions portal.

We’re excited to begin considering each piece carefully, discovering what shape the first volume in Oyez‘s fifth decade is going to take.

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Preparing for Submission Season, Part III: Cover Letters and Bios

So you’ve written a great story or poem and you’re ready to send it out into the world for publication. Great! We’ve spent the last two entries talking about how to format your submission and general pointers at playing the publication game. The last piece, though, is about representing yourself. Continue reading

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