Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Interview: Sunday 7 with Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay (writer, associate editor of PANK, woman, student, teacher, all around good person) was kind enough to "sit" down with me recently to answer a few questions. Here's how it went:

1) The word "PANK" conjures a spray of different images/definitions in my mind when I look at it. Sometimes I think "Pink," or "Spank," or "Grilled Cheese." What's the meaning behind "PANK?" Or, if you're not comfortable answering that question, what does "PANK" mean to you?

I often think PINK too, as do many others. It is annoying trying to say our name when I'm making phonecalls on PANK's behalf. People always think I don't know how to spell pink which I'm pretty sure I do. Also, I make that association because pink is my favorite color. As I understand it, PANK is an old mining/Upper Peninsula term. It means to tamp down dynamite or to tamp down snow until it becomes a hard pack. I interpret it as pushing something down until it becomes something new, and in some cases, something explosive.

As an aside... grilled cheese? (MB. I like grilled cheese. And PANK. Both yummy.)

2) You're a prolific writer as well as an incisive editor. I know from personal experience that PANK (and you, of course) takes the time to encourage, nurture, and foster writers and their prospective works. Do you think this is something that's lacking in the overall exchange between writer and editor these days?

You're special. Special people get special attention. (MB. Hey!)

Seriously though, as of late, there is something often lacking in the editor/writer relationship. Many editors are very much in the "as is" mode of publishing. So many editors seem so frustrated/tired/burnt out and in some publications that (understandable) fatigue really shows. The fatigued editors are looking for writing they don't have to work with because they have so much going on or so little tolerance for having to put more effort into what they publish. Other editors seem to publish magazines merely because they want a magazine and thanks to the Internet anyone can have a magazine. Many of these "I want one" editors seem to have no real understanding of writing or editing or how an editor can work with a writer to improve their writing. They just take whatever and throw it up on an ugly website and think they're doing something.

Everyone is fairly familiar, at this point, with the litany of things that make editing very frustrating work, and fostering relationships with writers is one of those things that has really fallen to the wayside because editors can't or won't make the time. Now, there are some editors who think that a writer's vision is a writer's vision and as such it should be preserved. That's fine. To each his or her own. But the indifferent editors who can't be bothered, who only want to find perfect work in their submission queues or who don't think that fostering relationships with writers is their responsibility, they make me sad. I often think, if you're that burnt out that you're indifferent, maybe it's time to take a break. (Disclaimer: I have days when I think fuck it or have no patience for anything. I'm trying not to be judgmental here.)

I am not looking for perfect writing nor am I a perfect writer. As an editor, I am looking for writing that makes me sit up and want to do a dance, that makes me exhale, that makes me think, "holy shit." Sometimes the stories that ellicit that reaction are also flawed in some way. I'm not going to reject them because of those flaws. There are many instances where writing can be improved through editorial suggestion. I do try, when possible (alas, life sometimes intervenes), to work with writers on their stories (poetry not so much as that's not my wheelhouse). I've really been doing more of that type of work this summer and thus far, it has resulted in some really exciting work. Just as a shout out, Matt Bell of The Collagist is an editor who has a keen understanding of fostering a writer/editor relationship. He always sends thorough, thoughtful rejection letters with valuable feedback for improving my writing.

I do go on. I will stop now.

3) After reading submissions for a long stretch, do you find it difficult to disconnect when reading for your own pleasure, or is the pen and notebook still by your side? Do you use a pen and notebook?

No, I don't. I think that's mostly because I love what I do something fierce even when it is annoying. Or I'm a masochist. Either way, reading submissions doesn't make it hard for me to read for pleasure. In fact, it makes me want to read more, sometimes to cleanse my palate from unfortunate writing, other times to sustain that euphoric feeling found when I've read something amazing. I use a pen and notebook sometimes, Moleskine, because they're cute and they fit well in my bag and my hand.

4) As a writer, have you ever been involved in a heated exchange with an editor? And if so, what was the outcome?

Sadly, no. Though I have in recent months gotten two rejections that made me rant like someone in need of medication to my friends. Then I got over myself.

As an editor, I have been in heated exchanges with writers. One was an angry heated exchange wherein a poet responded with one of the funniest lines ever uttered, something like, I guess I underestimated my importance as a poet. That is classic. In the other exchange, there was a different kind of heat but I don't know how it's going to turn out. The exchange is ongoing.

5) The print edition of PANK is ridiculously well done. Which do you enjoy working on more--the print edition or the online edition?

Thank you very much. I love working on both equally. I am a Libra, after all. I love instant gratification so the online edition satisfies that need for now now now, and I love that it can be read by a wider audience. On the other hand, the print edition is always a labor of love. It is a thrill to put a unique range of writing together to create this new, awesome thing. I also really enjoy the production of what we hope is an artifact and something memorable both visually and in terms of the writing within.

6) What aggravates you the most about writing? What thrills you the most?

The only thing that really drives me crazy about writing is the interminable wait once I've sent my writing to a magazine. I have been writing for years and have yet to develop a modicum of grace or patience about the submission process. Two things thrill me--the act of writing itself is always a pleasurable thing for me and I know I'm lucky in that regard and I am also thrilled by people reading my work and getting it and liking it.

7) Finish this story: The year is 2030. Roxane Gay wakes up and....

...claps twice to illuminate her sleeping chamber. The sexy beast next to her continues to sleep. She stares out of the porthole at the darkened space through which her spaceship speeds then orders a Starbucks Venti Vanilla Mocha from the replicator. Before she sits at her desk, she takes a sip of her coffee, brewed perfectly, then glances at herself in the mirror. She winks and says, "My shit is flawless." Then she sits down to write. (MB. I love that story.)

(Keep up with PANK here. Keep up with Roxane here. Here here here.)


Lauren Becker said...

roxane speaks the truth: her shit IS flawless. now. she doesn't have to wait until 2030 to think/say it.

i think the two of you need to share a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate milk ...

j said...

excellent taste in notebooks--Moleskine rules!

Teresa Houle said...

Great brain picking, Mel. I really enjoyed reading the interview.

I'll take a grilled (in non-hydrogenated margarine) soy cheese on organic, sprouted whole grain bread. Not because I'm a hipster, either. I'm freaking allergic to everything now! *scratches rash on forearms*

Back to you guys - cool shmool, I heart you both.

Ethel Rohan said...

I so enjoyed this, thank you. Excellent questions, excellent responses. I loved: "I interpret it as pushing something down until it becomes something new, and in some cases, something explosive."

Kudos all round.

Jenn Bower said...

Great insight. I would imagine the fact Roxane is a writer is what makes her such a stellar editor. She has felt the heat of battle.

Matt DeBenedictis said...

This interview is my morning coffee. Readiness thanks to this.

Jason Jordan said...

Nice job you two.

OH said...

Great interview, especially Roxane's excellent speculative fiction at the end.

Her point about everybody wanting a magazine (and the inevitable ugly website that ensues) is especially and painfully on the mark. Oh, internet.

~otto~ said...

PANK only conjures spank for me. Predictable, right? So what am I going to say next? You got it:

My word verification was "bingsk."

(Although you couldn't possibly have guessed "bingsk.")

Mel Bosworth said...

Thanks for reading and for the great comments, everyone. And thanks again to Roxane for playing. Roxane nice. You all nice too. Happy.

R. Gay said...

Thanks all for reading our little interview. I had fun.

I am verified via the word deelaze. I am verified, therefore I am?

M.J. Nicholls said...

I want to have an affair with Roxane's mind.

I want to frame her words and prop them above my mantelpiece.

Hopefully, the sands of modern publishing are shifting. The revolution will begin online, and end off.