Alagia Cirolia, BFR Editorial Staff

College writers are desperate creatures, yearning for attention and audience. Hungry for praise, popularity, and even infamy, we all seek that fix—the sweet glory of publication—to validate those hours upon days upon weeks spent with head bent in humble supplication to whatever god may grace us from within the void of the blank, white page. The arduous journey from intangible thought to published work is wrought with rejection, and yet we must march on. Often, much of this rejection comes from publications that are merely mirages, beautiful traps designed to depress us with their authorial exclusivity. I say, enough of those nights spent checking my email to see if maybe, just maybe, I might be the next up-and-coming college writer published by The New Yorker. Let us march down different roads, all leading to publication.

While it’s still an excellent idea to submit work to traditionally renowned publications like The New Yorker or big names like Huff Post, consider expanding your pool of places to submit, as well as your body of work. I encourage you, my dear peers, to do a little dabbling. Write a short story, write a poem, write a heart-warming personal essay or comedically spiteful political commentary. Write more, and submit more. Cast more lines, follow more paths, and grow. And in the great empathy we all share on this NewYorkerforsaken trek across the hilly terrain of making a name for oneself, I share with you some strange (and familiar) places to take detours as a writer.

  1. Clickbait

As I’m sure you’re aware of, since you’re reading this, clickbait articles are all the rage on social media. Ranging from quippy and provocative to mind-numbingly cute, a good clickbait piece is one of the best ways to get your name on a popular piece,  and is particularly accessible to freelance writers. Although I say “clickbait,” many of these articles are admirably well-versed in pop-culture and artfully crafted with different styles of humor. In an age where cultivating an online personality is an art, writing successful is indeed an envied skill. Consider submitting to places such as Buzzfeed Community, Vice, College Humor, and Cracked. Now, these are pretty big names because, well, social media is everywhere. But they’re an interesting and ultimately valuable exercise in drawing from experience, testing your originality, and becoming internet famous. See: this article on eating steak with G-Unit, written by a boy who goes to Columbia. That could be you, man.

  1. Essays and Nonfiction

As preached in my school’s required 4th grade reading of Dear Mr. Henshaw, though fiction is a wonderful outlet for imagination and fantasy, it is just as important to write what you know. Drawing from experience is always a wonderful tactic, and writing personal essays and nonfiction pieces are an excellent way to hone that skill. Many holistic literary magazines include a non-fiction category, like the famed Emerson publication Ploughshares, which holds an emerging writer’s contest in poetry, prose, and nonfiction every year. Rookie is another site–an online zine by and for young women and teens–that accepts almost all forms of media pitches and encourages personal, intimate pieces. And finally, I suggest the Modern Love College Essay Contest held annually by the New York Times. This contest is begging for your torrid sophomore-year-club-retreat-turned-aching-3-year-sexual-engagement tale, and speaks directly to the principle of turning your personal experiences into art.

*Another mode of nonfiction to consider is science journalism; the scientific community desperately needs poetic writers like you to communicate its ideas!

  1. Non-traditional, Non-college Based Magazines

As a college student, it’s pretty standard to submit work to college publications. However, there are many excellent magazines to publish with that aren’t college affiliated and will add some variation to your published portfolio. Many of theses magazines also deviate from the cut and dry literary magazines produced by most colleges. For example, Brevity specializes in flash fiction that’s only 750 words or less. Or, you could follow in the footsteps of Shel Silverstein and become a Playboy contributor through this college fiction contest. Beyond your local college publication, there are a million amazing independent ones like Word Riot and Drunkenboat that also accept everything from poetry to flash fiction to small press literary reviews.

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So come on my wonderfully ambitious peers, branch out a little. Give The New Yorker the bird and use other publications, other genres of writing, as training wings. Your work is worth more than a two year wait for a response from the Big Guy. Get your name out there and support yourself through social media, support small press, support the transformation of experience into expression, and don’t wait around for an answer from an intangible entity—get published.

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Leonardo Valdez Ordoñez, BFR Staff

“Mom. I’m okay. Really,” I swung my backpack over my shoulder and closed the car door. The cold, morning mist clung to my pale skin. I could see my breath come out of my mouth. My mother’s face looked sad and tired through the car window.

“Okay, honey. Remember, when you come home, I’m still going to be at work. Either Sarah or Matt will be home,” she said. My older brother and sister both went to the community college and they had the day off. It wasn’t fair that I had to come to school.

“Fine. Bye, Mom. Love you,” I waved at her through the window and walked through the dew covered grass and through the doors to my school. The halls buzzed with the excitement of the last day of school before Christmas break. I arrived at my locker just as the bell rang. I stuffed my jacket in and took out my books for first period. The kids in the hall were beginning to disperse as they rushed to class, not wanting to be late. I ran down the hall and straight into my ninth grade Geometry class. Everyone stared as I walked in, and as soon as they saw it was me, they continued their conversations. Nobody gave me a second look.

The day went by slow. By the time it was lunch, I felt sick. I felt like throwing up and my head hurt. Deciding to ignore it, hoping it would go away, I ate my lunch in the library alone. I took out my phone and checked my email. They library was warm and cozy. The chair I sat in was hard, and the table was scratched and scuffed from years of being used. Being surrounded by shelves and shelves of books was comforting. I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t mind. Ever since we moved to Washington from Florida, I had been miserable. We lived in a suburban home, and the neighborhood was supposed to be really nice, but in reality, it was dirty.

As I sat in History, I felt sicker than I had in the morning. I couldn’t pay attention to anything the teacher was saying, no matter how hard I tried. I stared out of the window, daydreaming, when the loudspeaker buzzed with static.

“Gabriel Thomas. Please report the main office at once. Gabriel Thomas. Report to the main office at once.” The entire class turned to look at me. I stood up, collected my things, and the teacher ushered me out. I ran to the office. My head hurt worse than before. I opened the door and walked in. There, talking to the principal stood two policemen. My father sat in a chair and my sister in another. My dad stared at the floor, and my sister was sobbing into his shoulder. As soon as my father saw me, he stood up and embraced me in a tight hug.

“Dad, what’s going on? What happened?” I asked. He let go of me and looked into my eyes.

“Gabe. Please sit down.” I took a seat next to my sister. She wouldn’t look at me. The policemen and the principal came over. One of the policeman knelt down next to me.

“I’m sorry, Gabriel,” he said. He looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and he smelled like coffee.

“What happened? Please, someone tell me!” I was frustrated.

“I’m so sorry. Your mother,” His voice broke. He coughed and tried again. I looked at my dad, his eyes were welled with tears, and he looked like he was trying not to cry.

“Your mother has died. I am so sorry,” The policeman stood up and slowly backed away. What had he just said? My heart raced, and I felt dizzy. This couldn’t be. But then, the realization struck. They all looked serious. They weren’t kidding. I didn’t notice until after I had begun to cry. I sobbed and hiccupped as my sister held me. Slowly, I slid down my seat and onto the floor.

“Gabriel, kid. I know. I know,” My father lifted me up and held me. I was gradually blacking out. The last words I heard were: “We don’t know. All we found was the body, but there was something. A slip of paper.”

******

My mother died in a river. They found her body. The morning they found her, it was cold and dreary. No wonder I had felt sick the moment I left my mom. I felt sick the moment she left me. The moment she left the world. Nobody knows what happened. The investigators thought it might have been suicide. I didn’t know what to think myself.

When they found her, a piece of paper was wedged under her tongue. When they found it, they immediately contacted my family to see if we knew what it meant. The words written on the paper in my mother’s small scrawl were barely legible, but I could tell what it said. It read:

“The beginning of the end.”

Still, three years later, I haven’t totally found out what she meant by that. I have formed bits and pieces of what I think it could mean. When I put them together, they don’t make sense. But, I will not stop until I figure out what the last thoughts of my mother were, before her last breath. I will not cease. I will only stop at the end of the end.

Georgia Peppe, BFR Editorial Staff

Sci-Fi.

An abbreviation that has the power to invoke utter joy or disgust given the beholder of the topic.

I personally used to be one of the blind that discredited this genre as gimmicky and meritless. Though I appreciated the concepts and imagination, I never considered anything even faintly classified as science fiction to be “literary” or of “literary merit.”

That was until my mother put Pastoralia, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, in my lap. Tenth of December soon followed.

These anthologies had no boisterous, graphic design cover art or obsequious font, so I doubted that this was in fact science fiction.

What I like specifically about Saunders-esque science fiction is its subtlety; how the science fiction aspect of his writing does not come from blatant exhibitions of, or references to, subjects preordained as science-y.

His literary trick is best described as continuous discontinuities. For Saunders this manifests in some of his short stories in an extremely unnerving manner.

The difference is this:

In most science fiction, the reader is presented a fictional world where everything is different. It is garnished with flying cars, dinosaurs, etc. There are innumerable rules governing the world and not all of them are cohesive when put in place next to each other. How this world exactly works gets confusing because the ambiguity surrounding what is different about this world is not consistent. Too many extrapolations, additions, twists, and throw away, last minute explanations that shoddily fill in gaping plot holes. In other words what is different about the world from ours, the discontinuity, is not continuous.

In Saunders’ worlds, it is typically difficult to first perceive the slightest difference between his literary world and our own. He chooses and places perversions of the expected in a setting the reader is all too familiar and comfortable with: a world without flying cars or dinosaurs, a world that is otherwise their own. Except for the twist.

I personally prefer Saunders’ more subtle approach, but, subtlety aside, even mainstream action-centric science fiction could stand to observe his skill.

A Saunders’ twist is the discontinuity, and this discontinuity is continuously integrated into the world it inhabits, creating a new world for this fiction to take place in. It is an eerie alteration of what we know so well. Though it is not as outrageous a presentation as mainstream science fiction, it leaves much more room for metaphors and allegories, but most of all, a real fear of that world which is only a slight deviation away from our own.

Continuity is crucial to world building. But of course we all knew that.

What is even more crucial is the continuity of a discontinuity. Being meticulous about your representation and presentation of an aspect of your world that defines it and distinguishes it from “reality.”

You, as a writer, want this discontinuity so well integrated that your reader is taken aback when it surfaces, when they finish your story and are left with a discomfort,  an eeriness regarding how clear and permeating that world felt.