By Lauren Becker
For those who may be new to the Valley, Barstow & Grand is an annual print journal, published in the fall, that highlights writers connected to western Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley.
We’re happy to share that submissions for issue three are now OPEN! And to celebrate, we asked the editor we all know and love, Eric Rasmussen, to share a few words.
Lauren Becker: Could you give us a brief snapshot of the history that's built Barstow & Grand into what it is today?
Eric Rasmussen: It all started with BJ Hollars and the work he did in establishing the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. Watching him build the organization was very inspiring, and I wanted to play along. So, we brainstormed what else the local literary community might need, and where that intersected with my skills and the skills of those who might want to participate. After lots of years working with literary journals and trying to get published in literary journals, creating a local publication made the most sense. We hosted some organizational meetings, put together a staff, and just like that we’re gearing up to produce our third issue.
As both a fiction writer and an experienced high school English teacher, can you speak to the importance of literary opportunities such as this for beginning writers?
Most writers start by writing for themselves. A lot of the advice new writers hear fits with this idea. “Write the story you want to read,” things like that. For many poets and authors, writing can continue to be an act of self-discovery for their entire lives, for which they often receive loads of support from friends and loved ones, and that’s a powerful and worthwhile thing. But some writers desire to take that next step and share their work with strangers, and this requires a subtle yet profound shift. What the writer wants to write must take a back seat to what the reader wants to read. Life is short and money is tight, and people will only read what appeals to them, not what appeals to the author. For this reason, the literary journal game becomes an important rite of passage for many creative writers out there. It’s a little Darwinian, but what makes your writing better than the other dozen (or hundred or thousand) pieces in the slush pile? When a writer is able to push through the inevitable heartache that accompanies sending out work and receiving rejections (and all writers receive loads and loads of rejections), they can ask the question “How do I better appeal to a reader?” And that is where all improvement in writing begins.
For those of us who may be hesitant to submit, for fear of putting ourselves out there, what would you tell us?
Sending out your writing is like going to the gym (all stereotypes of writers not being fitness oriented aside!) At first, it sucks. No matter what. For everyone. But if you stick with it, changes will occur. Progress will be made. Guaranteed. It’s never as fast as we want it, and the steps we take are usually less dramatic than we envision. But one day, almost as if out of nowhere, you’ll take a step back and admire your list of publications, or your manuscripts, or your agent and book contracts, and you’ll be so thrilled you kept at it. And if you keep working, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving whatever goal you’ve set.
If you had to summarize the beauty of Barstow & Grand in only a sentence, how would you capture it?
Barstow & Grand seeks to fulfill a humble mission: to support, grow, and professionalize the community of writers associated with the Chippewa Valley. (Stolen from our website, but I couldn’t say it any better!)
What are you most looking forward to in this next issue and where is the publication growing from here?
After issue #2, we received a letter from a submitter whose piece we rejected. He explained that at first, he was pretty sore about the whole process, but then he took our suggestions, revised the piece, and it was picked up by a publication that, in all honesty, is way more prestigious than we are. This story fits with our mission exactly. I would love to see work from those folks who have submitted before, especially those whom we’ve rejected, to see how their writing is improving. And I’d love to see submissions from the area’s authors who have proven themselves in other publications if we’ve successfully earned their esteem. More than anything, I can’t wait to hand copies of the journal to the issue #3 authors. That moment makes the mountain of work this journal takes worth it.