Portal Del Sol Interviews

Interview with Dinty W. Moore
     by Angela M. Graziano

An Interview with Dinty W. Moore, editor Brevity

Dinty Moore

Dinty W. Moore is the author of the memoir Between Panic & Desire (University of Nebraska).  His other books include The Accidental Buddhist, Toothpick Men, The Emperor’s Virtual Clothes, and the writing guide, The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction.  He has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse, and teaches in the creative nonfiction PhD program at Ohio University.

An interview with Dinty W. Moore, editor of Brevity. Brevity publishes “concise literary nonfiction” of 750 words or less as well as book reviews and craft essays. Read on for Moore’s thoughts on CNF, MFAs, selecting submissions, and the beauty that is the Internet.

AMG: How did Brevity first come about? What were some of the original goals for the journal?

DM:  Brevity began eleven years ago, as an experiment, more or less to see if I could learn how to design a webpage.  The web and HTML were fairly new at that time, hard to believe as that is, and I was intrigued.  So I started a magazine, imagining I might publish three or four of my friends, and produce maybe two or three issues.  The idea, it seems, was stronger than my initial commitment, because it is still here, and growing.

AMG: How did you first stumble upon creative nonfiction?

DM:  I was actually an undergraduate student of Lee Gutkind back in the late 1970s.  Gutkind is now the editor of the journal Creative Nonfiction and one of the genre’s strongest proponents, but at the time Lee was teaching a course in what was commonly called “New Journalism,” highlighting writers such as Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese.  It wasn’t until I started graduate school in 1987, in fiction, that I started to hear the term creative nonfiction and realize the connections.

AMG: On a cultural level, what do you think is fueling the recent rise/interest in creative nonfiction?

DM:  I’m not sure.  I’d love to give you a smart answer here, and I’ve heard various theories, but I’m just not sure.

AMG: What changes and/or trends have you observed in creative nonfiction in recent years?

DM:  There is much more experimentation – with form, with voice, with language and imagery – compared to ten years ago.  The trend that pleases me the most is that the lines between the memoir, the personal essay, literary journalism, and even the lyric essay, are blurring, so that all of these various modes can live side-by-side, in one essay, or one paragraph, or one sentence.  There is some utility in these sub-genre distinctions – at least in teaching newcomers – but they don’t need to be impermeable, and seasoned writers needn’t concern themselves with “what kind of nonfiction is this?”  It is good writing, we are after, right?

AMG: It seems that students are beginning to enroll in MFA programs at a younger age. What are your thoughts on younger CNF writers? Do you think there is potential here for an interesting new perspective, or is there a lack of “life experience?”

DM:  I started my MFA at age 32, so you can guess my answer.  I think my graduate student experience was far more valuable to me having already tried six or seven other career paths – dancer, actor, journalist, tech writer, waiter, experimental filmmaker, mopper of floors – and I certainly had more to write about.  That said, I’ve taught some outstanding 20-year-old writers, and know a good number of amazing writers in their mid- to late-twenties. Life experience is great, but the real determiner in nonfiction is the willingness to think, and to challenge yourself in your thinking.

AMG: What are your thoughts on MFAs in general? Are they a necessary component in the shaping of a serious writer? What type of work do you see coming out of MFA programs?

DM No, the MFA is not at all necessary to become a serious writer.  It is a great way to immerse yourself in the craft and artistry, however, with other dedicated folks.  The MFA doesn’t grow non-writers into writers; it allows writers a fertile Petri dish within which to grow themselves.

AMG: Since online publications are able to update their work more frequently, do you think they are a good venue for beginning writers to solicit their work? Does the fact that these publications are “online” help the beginning writer’s odds?

DM:  Good writing wins out over unfinished, poorly edited, stale writing no matter what the venue, online or traditional. Five years ago, online journals were certainly great beginner’s territory, but right now, 2008, I think the playing field is about level between the print journals and the better online journals. Brevity is always looking for new voices, and we’ve published some wonderful beginning writers, but I don’t think we are any easier to crack than the print journals now.  The volume and quality of our submissions is staggering.

AMG: Brevity accepts CNF submissions of 750 words or less. Why stop at 750 words?

DM:  It started because I didn’t want to read long pieces on a computer screen.  Since then, I’ve learned all sorts of wonderful things about brief writing, flash nonfiction, micro-essays, and what I’ve learned makes the short form all the more intriguing. But the real first impulse was to save our eyesight.

AMG: When it comes to Brevity’s submissions, do you have a preference to certain styles and/or topics?

DM: As soon as I say that I’m tired of a topic – love of grandparents, for instance – someone submits an essay on that topic that blows my head open.  So we are open to anything, but try to be fresh, not familiar and safe, and edit ruthlessly.

AMG: What really makes a submission stand out?

DM: Tight prose, from the first sentence to the end, and surprise.  Take the reader somewhere she didn’t realize the piece was going.

AMG: Are there any trends you see (either positive and/or negative) in the submissions Brevity receives?

DM: A few years back, Brevity was almost all memoir and scene until a few writers called me to task for not publishing much in the way of the ruminative or lyric essay.  I made a concerted effort to widen the scope of our nonfiction, and it has paid off wonderfully. Now the submissions reflect our wider scope, and I think the magazine is better.  Belated thanks to Pat, Desirae, and Shannon.

AMG: Can you explain the reading/selection process at Brevity?

DM:  We accept e-mail submissions only, and each one is read by an editor.   Essentially, the pile is sorted into “not right for Brevity” and “maybe,” and the “maybe” pile is then studied more closely by multiple editors.

AMG: Be honest: do editors really care about the information provided in cover letters when reading potential texts?

DM: I try to read each entry with an open mind, but of course, to be honest, when you see the name of an author whose work you have admired in other journals, or when you see in the cover letter that the author has published well in numerous respected journals, you probably visit the first sentence with higher hopes.  This is just human nature.  Yet, good work always wins the day.  

AMG: Brevity publishes a nice selection of craft essays and book reviews. Do you look for certain author credentials when publishing this sort of work?

DM: In most cases, for Book Reviews and Craft Essays, I have reached out to my friends and colleagues. We have just brought a new Book Editor and Craft Editor onto the team, however, so we will be accepting queries and submissions over the transom.  See the website for how these two sections develop – including, we hope, audio.

AMG: There are so many online journals sprouting up nowadays. What do you do to help Brevity stand out from the crowd?

DM:  Not much.  I think our longevity and word-of-mouth are enough.

AMG: According to Brevity’s website, you have a readership of roughly 12,000 visitors per issue. That’s a very strong number. What are some of the publicity strategies behind a web-based journal as opposed to those of a print journal?

DM: That’s the beauty of it.  I’ve never purchased a single advertisement.  Word of mouth, word of mouth, word of mouth.  The internet truly is amazing.

AMG: Describe a typical Brevity reader.

DM: Smart.

AMG: What are some print/online journals that you read regularly?

DM: The Iowa Review, Crazyhorse, The Gettysburg Review, Arts & Letters, Diagram, Narrative, Etude, The Mississippi Review Web, The Exquisite Corpse, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, West Branch, New Ohio Review, Alimentum.

AMG: When it comes to your own writing, which wins the battle – paper and pen or a blinking cursor on the computer screen?

DM: Blinking cursor.

AMG: Where do you see the future of Brevity?

DM: I couldn’t have predicted the last ten years, so how can I honestly try to predict the next ten?

AMG: In a word, describe Brevity.

DM: True.


About the Interviewer:
Angela M. Graziano’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Apple Valley Review, Ariel, Dislocate, A Long Story Short, Miranda Literary Magazine, and Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, among others. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, where she teaches writing. She has recently completed her first memoir.

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