Why I loved editing a small Canadian online magazine, and why I’m leaving

Before I ever joined a magazine, or published a novel, for that matter, here’s how I imagined people who had responsibility over publishing texts. They were working in fancy university offices or in stylishly decorated apartments in artsier parts of town than my own, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine, casting a disdainful eye toward the “slush pile” sporadically (in my mind’s eye, the slush pile was either physically manifested, or online, it didn’t make a difference insofar as the disdain goes) and here’s what would happen if ever they came across my submission. They’d read a line, chortle to themselves, and say, “This poor, desperate bastard. Why does he waste our time?” Then all the editors would say in unison, “Let’s publish one of our friends, instead!”

That’s how I imagined it.

Maybe some literary journals are nepotism-only zones, I don’t know. I’ve only ever worked for carte blanche. I joined as fiction editor in 2014 and the first issue I worked on was Issue 20. Our most recent issue is #29, so that’s ten issues in total. As of Issue 23, I took on more responsibility for the magazine, taking over from our illustrious founder, Maria Turner, first in partnership with Ben Spencer, then with Gregory McCormick.

Though the years, I have come to enjoy my vexed relationship with the slush pile. Every time I sit down to read, I want to LOVE the next piece I’m going to discover. One of the very first stories I ever picked was Matthew di Paoli’s “Other Forms of Life,” and I found it so funny and quirky that I immediately started reading it aloud to Monika, my partner. I invited Matthew to read his story at a carte blanche event we were doing at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal, and he couldn’t come, so I read out parts of his story in his place. I loved the texture of someone else’s sentences coming from my lips, and the rhythm —  almost like a form of breathing that was not my own.

So yeah, the slush pile wasn’t like I’d imagined it, not at all. It was sometimes a source of some frustration, but also of great excitement and pleasure.

Over the years, the comradeship of the entire carte blanche crew, and the support of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, was constant, making me realize that one of the biggest benefits of the literary life is not the writing itself but the community of other writers, editors, publishers, curators, and do-it-all’ers, who keep culture humming along and livening up lives that would otherwise be lived in dank, solitary darkness.

Chalsley Taylor, above all, has made the magazine the beautiful online presence it is today, and so it’s to her I would like to express my biggest THANK YOU. We started this journey at pretty much the same time. It’s no over-statement to say that this magazine would not be in the fine shape it is without her. With Cason Sharp now on the team, I believe carte blanche is going to keep on kicking ass in its cool, classy way. How can it not, with Nicola, Georgia, Bronwyn and the two Gregs bringing their brilliance to each and every issue?


Path in the Dromore Wood Nature Reserve, County Clare, Ireland. By Drow69 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I am shortly going to be leaving the team in my official capacity as editor. I do so with mixed feelings. Once upon a time, I honestly felt I could tackle any amount of work that was thrown at me. The days seemed elastic. I could stretch them at either end, conjuring up just enough minutes or hours to always get things done. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I am trying to figure out how big each relative part of me is, and how to accommodate all those parts within a finite body. What’s the size of the editor in me, compared to the writer? And more importantly, the loving husband? The communications director? The friend? The son? The cooker and eater of meals, and the drinker of ales, and the sporadic watcher of Liverpool FC, and everything else?

A few weeks ago, my second oldest friend disappeared from social media. In recent years, we hadn’t established any other form of communication except for twitter and in-person visits. I had no phone number or email address for him. I started to wonder, nervously, if he was still alive. In 2016, I lost a dear friend to suicide. Another of my friends has struggled with brain cancer. These experiences and many others made me think dark and fearful thoughts.

Day after day, my second oldest friend didn’t reappear. There was an envelope icon lit up in twitter, indicating a message from him, but the message was an old one, and because his account was deactivated, the message itself had ghosted away. I tried to figure out what was the best course of action. Should I just show up at his house to check on him? No, I told myself. It wasn’t time for that. He’s not dead, I said to myself. He’s just taking a break from twitter. Who can blame him? Donald Trump is president.

My friend eventually reappeared, thank God. He found my email address and wrote to me. I was relieved, and felt a little foolish for my quiet panic.

Realizing just how agitated I had become gave me yet another confirmation that I need to reappear — to myself. Working sixty to seventy hour weeks means you’re obliged to run on adrenaline and anxiety half the time. I get bent out of shape easily. I sometimes get inordinately fearful about small things. It’s time to slow down a little. Time won’t be warped and woven into shapes that better accommodate me. I must accommodate to time.

Whatever happens, I am going to remain a friend to the carte blanche crew. I became an editor at approximately the same time as I had my first novel accepted for publication, so the two experiences effectively took me from zero to one as a literary person, according to my own weird binary measurement, and I am extremely grateful for that.

I still send stories to magazines sometimes, and I get my share of rejections, but I don’t get resentful about them. I am pretty sure that the people at the magazines are just that, people. Maybe some of them have similar traits to me. Maybe they’re a bit fucked up. Maybe they’re anxious, maybe overworked, maybe worrying about a loved one — like us all.

And here’s what I’ll remember most

Part of the joy of editing is seeing what the other editors are picking. My colleague in poetry, Greg Santos, picked “Ours” by Nejoud Al-Yagout, which, after repeated readings, still makes me want to crawl up under a tree and look through the branches at the sky and try to see if I can see a higher spirit moving. I have fallen in love with comics thanks to Georgia Webber’s picks, seeing how an entire narrative can be conveyed in just a few panels. “Old Shit I Still Feel Guilty About” hits my sweetest sweet spot. I fell in love with every photo series we ever published, but I still harbour a soft spot for Nord pour tous, depicting industry in northern Quebec. I loved the audio submissions — closing my eyes and listening to sounds (and accents) from often far away. Thanks, Cristal Duhaime. And I read creative nonfiction with a sense of real awe, because I’ve never been able to do justice to a true tale, but would love to, one day. I’m a particular fan of  Gregory McCormick’s pick, “City of Losers: The Tradition of Loserdom in Downtown Montreal,” because I think one of the essential truths of Montreal has been conveyed perfectly, like one side of a polished diamond. My fellow fiction editor, Bronwyn Averett, joining less than a year ago, has already pulled beauties like this one, “On the Rocks”, from the submittable foliage.

One of the unique strengths of carte blanche has been navigating the French world for the edification of an English-reading audience. Nicola Danby has discovered so many gems I don’t have space for them all, but I would like to share my personal favourite, this dark piece called, “November”.

I also loved it when Guillaume Morisette joined us as guest editor for fiction.

Recently, we started to invite writers to pitch ideas that might not fit the regular submission window, and to solicit articles and interviews. Brad de Roo continues to contribute excellent, insightful interviews for us, like this one about graphic artist, Seth; the conversation between Heather O’Neill and Madeleine Thien is one of the most insightful explorations of the writer’s world I’ve ever seen; and if you haven’t yet discovered Domenica Martinello’s “vulgar appreciation” of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, what are you waiting around for?