salessesMatthew Salesses holds an MFA from Emerson College, where he edited Redivider. He is the author of The Last Repatriate (forthcoming, Flatmancrooked) and Our Island of Epidemics (forthcoming, PANK). His fiction has or will appear in Glimmer Train, Witness, Pleiades, American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, Mid-American Review, and others. He writes a column for The Good Men Project.

You can read Matthew’s story “How to Be a Conqueror” on Fictionaut.

What online journals are you most excited about currently… and why? Which journals are taking risks that please you?

I like a lot of literary journals, though at times the sheer number of them, I think, can be overwhelming (and even perhaps dilutive). Some of my favorites are the likely suspects, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Missouri Review, One Story, American Short Fiction, Glimmer Train. I love the big print journals. It’s very hard to put together a consistent issue. You’re relying on people sending in their best when they have various reasons not to. The big journals have the cache to get the best from the best writers. I know some people would argue that these journals are not taking risks, but I’d say that while maybe it’s not so risky to accept stories from “big-name” writers, these writers are usually taking the risks I want to read with their stories.

All of this is not to say that I don’t love smaller journals. I like a lot of the graduate lit mags, for example. But I think they go through phases. Often, like with Redivider, their editors turn over annually, so the aesthetic and quality shifts slightly (or sometimes dramatically) each fall. I’ve really liked this past year’s string of Gulf Coast and Hayden’s Ferry, for instance. In past years, Indiana Review and Black Warrior Review. At Redivider, we were sort of looking at these journals as our model. Again, it’s so hard to be consistent. But it’s also, in a way, easier for these journals to take risks, because you’re only there for a year.

Then there’s the online mags. So many. And there’s this strange phenomena now where you can sit down, write a short short, submit it, and have it accepted all in the same day. It feels great, but it could never happen, at least for me, with a longer story. I don’t know what to think about that. Also, there’s just not enough time to read everything, and it’s so easy to move on to something else online. I end up following single writers in a way that I don’t usually do with print journals. With a print issue, I’ll  give each story more of a chance. There are only a few online journals like that for me: Hobart, The Collagist, PANKDiagram. (I don’t want to leave anyone out, so let’s just say those off the top of my head, and that goes for the above, as well.) Again, there are many places publishing writers I like, but it’s often hard to get to more than those individual stories before I wander over to Facebook.

I’ve left out other mid-size journals (Witness, Open City) and journals from abroad (The Lifted Brow), but this answer is getting very long already. I’ll just say that I love lit mags and could go on with this for a while.

What is a day like for you? How do you balance editing/writing/family life?

Well, I don’t have editing anymore, but there was a time when I was working 40 hours a week, editing Redivider, revising my thesis novel, and carrying on married life all at once. I was going crazy. I basically asked my wife to deal with a lesser version of me until December, which put quite a lot of stress on both of us.

I’m not sure there’s a good way of balancing. I’d say, write as much as you can at work, and when you’re home, be at home. If you can’t write at work, get out of the house to write, or quit. And editing: I burned out. I loved Redivider, but I was ready to let go when it was time.

How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”

I heard Ryan Call takes showers. I think that’s pretty good. Take a walk. Eat something. Watch a movie. Reread a great story. Go to the bathroom. I think the last two work best for me. It’s something about your subconscious.

Do certain themes emerge in your work, ideas and themes that seem to keep coming back to you in different pieces/ forms?

Actually, for a long time, I ignored certain obvious set pieces. I never included anything about adoption. Hardly any of my characters were Asian. Then I decided that this was stupid. It was a very big realization for me. I had these shadowy characters full of pent-up anger or sadness or missingness–longing–and I knew there was something that explained this. I had this obsession that I was avoiding. So I started letting my life into theirs, and their desires and problems became much clearer, and in the process I became clearer to myself. I credit my wife.

How did editing Redivider affect you as a writer? What are the biggest lessons ABOUT WRITING you learned in your years of editing?

I started at Redivider four years ago, as a fiction reader and Editorial Assistant, which basically meant reading slush. Then I moved on to Assistant Fiction Editor, which meant reading much more slush and soliciting, and finally to Editor, during which time I hardly read any submissions at all. As far as writing goes, the first year was the most eye-opening. Simply articulating my thoughts on why something didn’t work helped a lot, as in workshop. I made friends who knew more than I did. And I learned about literary journals and the submission process. I began to see common mistakes not only in stories but in cover letters, and to see how much slush was all the same, even if good. I realized what I wanted from stories: basically for them to explode, slowly or suddenly. I didn’t want them to simply go on, unless that was somehow unexpected.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing about my marriage for The Good Men Project and working on a revision of a story I’m hoping will turn out to be my best. I’ll soon go back to revising a novel set in Prague during the Hundred-Year Flood, getting it ready to send out to agents. Then I have a couple of small books coming out, one with Flatmancrooked about the last repatriate of the Korean War, and one with PANK about an island of epidemics. So I’ll be working on revisions of those.   Thanks for taking the time to interview me, Meg! I’m honored.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

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