Portal del Sol

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The First Year: Midwestern Gothic

In The First Year, editors of magazines in their first year of publication write about what they are doing and why, and the challenges and triumphs they encounter along the way.



You know, if we’re being honest here, running a literary journal can suck sometimes—I don’t mean the “I hate it” sort of sucking, more like the “It’s sucking all confidence from my being” sort. Sure, the final product is always nice to see, and for us (so far), well worth the work put into it, but there is no manual on what to do here, how to reach an audience, how to get started in general when tackling the world of literary journals.  All you can do is stick to your guns and hope to put out a product people actually want to read.

And, truthfully, I think our biggest triumph has been finding an audience…in any capacity. There are a million (okay, maybe hundreds of thousands?) literary journals out there (some only online, some only in print, others a combo of both), and I think it’s only natural for all creators to stop at certain points and ask: Will anyone really even care about us? About what we’re doing?

I think for most journal founders (and I know this was true for me), ideas for literary journals start out on a whim…a little germ of an idea that starts from a selfish tirade of thoughts.  “Wouldn’t it be cool,” you muse, “if I made a journal that featured the type of writing I like?”  Indeed. And that’s okay, because you figure, if you like it, someone else might like it too, right?  Then you get going with it, bring in a staff, start coming up with a website, a design, a theme, and it really does heap up on you: “What am I doing here! Oh dear Lord, no one cares about us?!”

For me, as I’ve mentioned in my previous post, Midwestern Gothic started as an idea when I was studying American Regionalism, and I discovered there was no major push for Midwestern writers. So, I thought, why not start a journal that focuses exclusively on that? And that’s what Jeff and I did. But the panic, as it tends to do, did eventually set in.  “Maybe there’s a reason there was no push for Midwestern writers and writing? Maybe no one really cares? Should I? Oh no!”

But maybe this is a rite of passage. All you really can do is trudge ahead and hope there is some merit in your new literary empire, and I think that’s the hardest part for most, the believing in yourself part—I’ve seen many journals just flat-out stop because of that.  I can’t imagine anyone puts together a journal with grand hopes of making a mint off it.  At least for us, that’s not the point.  And I think that’s how a journal eventually finds its audience: You keep trudging ahead, and people see that you’re doing this because you love it, because you believe in it. And eventually people believe in you too. Because, you know what? Your idea wasn’t half-bad.

In our case, we’ve received wonderful feedback from writers all over the country who were at various points in their lives clamoring for a journal that focuses on the Midwest, a place that holds meaning for them.  And that was our initial goal: To reach out and have a purpose, to fill a niche we noticed was lacking. And seeing people gravitate toward us more and more with every issue published, with every tiny step forward, watching these people fall in love with what we’re doing as I have time and time again, makes all the thoughts of  sucking and self-doubting…*poof*…disappear.

Robert James Russell is co-founder of the literary journal Midwestern Gothic.  His work appears or is forthcoming in LITSNACK, Joyland, Thunderclap!Red River Review, Greatest Lakes Review, Eighty Percent MagazineDown in the Dirt, and The Legendary, among others. In September 2010 he edited and contributed to the anthology Sex Scene: An Anthology.  Robert lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Find out more about him at www.robertjamesrussell.com.

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