In the backwoods of central Canada, there exists a place named Toronto (which is pronounced by locals with all letters being clearly articulated and by giving each syllable equal emphasis, I understand). In Toronto, there exists a university, creatively named the University of Toronto. Here, students in the Creative MA program have been publishing a magazine known as Echolocation. Apparently, they’ve been doing so since 2003 and have published a swarm of great writers. As one of the few student-run magazines published this side of the Great Lakes (the great Great Lakes, that is, not the Not-so-Great Lakes), I took the opportunity of commiserating with one of their co-managing editors: Emily Fraser-Jeffries. Read on to discover how the greatest thing Emily has done in her editorial role was her co-managing editor, how rubbing two pennies together magically makes issues get published, and how studying in Toronto somehow has some advantages. Discover how some people actually read CanLit for fun, the leviathan-like challenges of running a magazine, and how doing so is a labour of love, not the self-aggrandising power trip that most people suppose. (PS: Toronto, I kid ’cause I love)
What was the best thing you learnt in being an editor? Can you explain a bit how/why you learnt this nugget of wisdom?
Since I’m in the finishing-up stage of my MA, I’ve been going on a number of job interviews, and recently an interviewer asked me what the smartest thing I’d done in the last year was. Rather creepily I said “Laura” – my co-editor. What I meant to say was that partnering up with Laura was the smartest thing I’d done. After I was asked to take over Echolocation by its previous editors, my first thought was that I’d need someone to help cut my work in half; otherwise, the magazine wouldn’t get as much attention as it deserved while I toiled on my thesis. In some ways partnering up did that, but Laura had so many fantastic ideas that simply needed to be undertaken that minimizing the work hours became secondary to finishing these new projects – like our new website which launched earlier this year. So the importance of working with others has really come to the forefront in my past year as co-editor. We also brought on two of each genre editor, so our board has really expanded from what it once was and this has definitely allowed us to take on bigger projects. I think it also adds a nice balance to the tone of the magazine, and we can be comfortable knowing that everything we print is of amazing quality, since it managed the task of pleasing six picky editors.
What was your most discouraging moment as an editor? How did you solve the problem/issue?
This is going to be a boring but truthful answer. Our funding is fairly limited, but we’re working on expanding it and opening up new channels. The bulk of our funding comes from the generosity of the Graduate English Association, but it’s simply not enough to cover all of what we’d like to do. For a magazine on the smaller side, our sales don’t come close to offsetting the cost of printing, and since accessibility to our magazine and the authors we publish is so important to us, we’re unwilling to raise the issue cost to make a profit. This is the constant complaint of the small press magazine.
What’s it like for Echolocation to be part of U of T? Is it arms length, or is faculty involved?
As I mentioned, we get most of our funding from the GEA and most of our staff come from the graduate English department. This year we’re mostly made up of students in the Masters in English in the Field of Creative Writing program, which is a small (7 students max) program. For the past few years the magazine has been edited by MA CRW students and we’re looking at taking steps towards bringing the magazine closer to the program. We don’t have any faculty members on board right now, but certainly one of the benefits of having a U of T based office is that we have access to some of Canada’s most celebrated writers, and they’re generous enough to let us pick their brains. In the past we’ve been lucky to have published George Elliot Clarke, a member of the department here.
What is Echolocation looking for in submissions? Are there particular tastes amongst your genre editors? What have you been reading lately? Do you read CanLit for fun? Why or why not?
I certainly read CanLit for fun, and also professionally since I am a teaching assistant for a Canadian Short Story class. It’s been really rewarding to see first and second year undergrads get excited about reading Michael Redhill and Lisa Moore and realize that they don’t have to look to the States to find amazing writers. I think I can say the same for the rest of the staff. Since our program is pretty involved with a number of Canadian writers, they’re who we end up meeting at events and working with, and so we often end up reading their work.
Something that got me excited recently was Room’s crime issue, which is a couple issues old now, because it fully legitimized one of my guilty pleasures. To me that’s one of the exciting things about working in a CanLit setting: there are so many opportunities to do what you love instead of focusing on what’s going to appeal to the widest audience or what is going to sell. And I think that passion makes for better writing. We certainly look for a spark of that in our submissions. We like to see original, daring, dazzling — something that will make our reader drop the magazine into the bathtub while they’re reading it.
What does a typical week look like for Echolocation? What about the weeks before the release of the next issue?
It’s hard to say what a ‘typical’ week looks like, but often it involves a lot of email answering, tweeting, and writing blog posts. We’ve been writing a weekly Writer Feature on our website, and communicating with past writers is a big part of getting that organized. I also get to visit the post office about once a week to mail out orders, which is always a fun time (I’m not being sarcastic, I legitimately love the post office). In the coming weeks we’ll be reading submissions for issue 14 and meeting to discuss them in our swanky downtown Toronto office (you can see the CN Tower from our window), which will mean a lot of cookie-bringing and heated discussions. Actually putting the issue together involves a lot of email correspondence about thrilling things like fonts and page counts. Laura and I emailed each other about twelve times a day during the lead-up to the release of our most recent chapbook, and that doesn’t include all the fretful texts we sent each other either. I can only imagine what it’ll be like leading up to the main issue. We’ll probably crash Gmail.
Managing Editors at magazines are often writers themselves. Are you? If so, how do you balance the demands of running a magazine, writing your own work, and taking part in whatever else it is people do as part of the CWP at U of T?
U of T’s Creative Writing Program is structured so that the first year is part creative work, part intensely academic, so that students are essentially doing a regular academic MA in English plus their own writing. Then during the second year we’re set loose to write a thesis. The other board members are either in their first years of the MA CRW program, or are in the only year of their MA, so they’re still up to their knees in theory, but my last year has been spent writing a novel set in a Toronto theatre school in 1983. It’s been a busy time. Echolocation has actually been my chosen form of procrastination; since all the emails and blogs and tweets are actually productive, I don’t need to feel guilty for taking a break from the novel writing to do a little Echo business. It’s also incredibly supporting to have this invisible network of writers that you know you’re working alongside of. It’s certainly made me a more conscientious reader and editor to have been in the shoes of the submitters.
I’ve read recently that Canada’s literary culture is a writing culture, and not a reading culture. In other words, there are many people who want to write, but not enough of these writers, or other people, are willing to read thoroughly, or obsessively, or, sometimes, at all. Thoughts?
This is actually a question that used to come up often in a writing group I used to run back in my undergrad days. I’m very much of the camp that to be a writer, you have to read. And read thoughtfully. On a smaller level, reading improves spelling and basic sentence forming skills (there have been studies down on elementary-aged kids), but on a wider level it can teach you how to treat a topic or character with empathy, how to look at an object in a different way, how to speak with someone else’s voice. I think that I learned how to write by reading, and still, when I’m reading a book, if I come across a sentence that sticks out to me, I’ll dog-ear the page and come back to it again and again until I understand how it’s working. The idea of work has always been important to me. Although the idea of natural-born genius is rather romantic, I think that good writing doesn’t come easy or naturally: it’s a lot of work. It’s an act of endurance to sit down and work on the same thing every day, and yeah, you’re going to hate it sometimes and only rarely is it going to come easy. Same with editing, it’s definitely a labour of love.