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.

***

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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Ben Rowen, BFR Editorial Staff

Teachers always told me to write like Hemingway. With that lesson in mind, I feel the need to preface what follows: I apologize for, amongst other things, my long-windedness, loquacious garrulousness, bombastic verbosity, rambling blabbiness, general predisposition towards being voluble, and distaste of the laconic and brusque. Chiefly, I apologize for possessing a thesaurus.

One eleventh grade teacher (anecdotally, a teacher I once caught wearing a beret) read a personal essay I wrote about the blooming of Bradford Pears on Swasey Parkway. This seemed an appropriate, humble essay topic, so I was confused by my poor grade. Mr. Lee, hopped-up on a recent re-viewing of The Dead Poet’s Society, had me leap up on my chair to read a story to the class.

It was a Hemingway story. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Mr. Lee then recited the apocryphal tale of its origin, which he, nonetheless, took as gospel. Hemingway walks into a diner; a bar is not a wholesome enough place for irreverent high schoolers to encounter in lessons, so Hemingway walks into a diner. He turns to his friends—who weren’t on their cell phones, Mr. Rowen—and says, “I bet you I can write a short story that is only six words long.” They make the bet, he writes about baby shoes (how twee!), and everyone at the table cries (their drinks are taking forever to come). Mr. Lee told us that this was the power of brevity.

My response: “Hemingway’s bet, itself, took fifteen words.”

Mr. Lee suspiciously ignored this and dared me to write him a six-word story by the beginning of next class. I one-upped him and delivered my story on the spot, the spot still being atop my wobbly desk chair. “Yard sale: baby shoes, already worn.”

Mr. Lee said I missed the point. The Swasey Bradford Pear blossoms remained reserved, bundled tight like a baby in a blanket, on the precipice of splitting open like the spray on a lake’s surface as a falsely skipped stone plummets after a solitary hop—and I received my C-.

A few months of English class bereft of joy later, I was cutting words from essays like someone making space to cram more accomplishments into a character-count limited college application. My writing did get better. Mired in a positive feedback loop, I truly immersed myself in brevity, and my sentences became strings of monosyllables. My writing got boring.

Here’s the thing. Mr. Lee was half-right. Overwriting is miserable to read. But, the power of Hemingway’s short story is not in its brevity. The most obnoxious people you know are probably pros at telling stories in 140-characters, but you would never assume that means their stories are high literature.

The power of his story lies not in its succinctness but rather in the definiteness that succinctness exports. You can tell Hemingway’s short story over-and-over again in six words that don’t create a good piece: for example, “She miscarried, needs her money back.” Brevity is important, but only insofar as it is evocative and not on the nose. Hemingway’s story is clear enough to convey meaning and is still suggestive.

If brief writing sacrifices the latter, give me thesaurus-heavy writing, prolix prose, and interminable gabbiness.

Elva Bonsall, BFR Staff

woods

While it’s easy to forget stories, their details, characters, and perhaps even the imagery so painstakingly created for the page, it’s unnervingly difficult to forget the impression it leaves upon you. Cold, slippery, and often creeping into your thoughts long after the story itself has been filed away and stored in memory, old emotions from stories often appear to the reader in different forms.

Miserable, lost, and fed up with underpowered technology, I once happened upon this little house, deep in the woods somewhere in a countryside far away. There’s no joy in being lost. Nothing wonderful about being late and out of place, either. And while consumed with hunger, disorientation, and a general aura of grumpiness I stumbled halfway up a muddy hill and found this tiny, tiny home.

While it’s easy to forget stories, it’s hard to forget the emotions behind them; what first connects someone to a page. Seeing this tiny house, I was no longer miserably lost but in one of the fairytales that was read to me as a kid. A sense of place from a small piece of literature I had read long ago made finding a random shack, far away from my intended destination, a magical and special happening. My emotional connection to this sense of place from a story meant I was no longer lost, and instead needed a picture to remember it by.

Robert Tooke, BFR Staff

Driving town to town, I see little beauties and tiny facets that make and break the area: people, attractions, personality. It’s a nebulous idea and an easy ability being able to characterize an entire populace with a brief generalization in good accuracy, especially since road trips don’t offer much time and experience in three or four days, if that.

Social media, namely every youthful adventurer and their blog, helped breed this absolutely gorgeous idea for me that the Pacific Northwest is a lucid daydream where Evergreens, abandoned railroads, and delicate espresso shops lay along the coast, hidden in the fog as discoverable gems, waiting for wanderlust couples to find them.

Trekking up north from Berkeley during spring break, I realized it’s true. Actually, kind of. I spend some time scribbling down every detail and idea that wanders through my head about what I see, or what I wanted to see, because after scrolling through Instagram or reading way too many Gary Paulsen novels as a kid, I created this little monster inside of me that yearns to see everything that would make up the aesthetically pleasing Pacific Northwest.

It’s funny though because you also discover things you wish you hadn’t.

After a while, it became a routine to notice practically everyone staring at your racially mixed family walk into a hotel, restaurant, or gas station, and even worse, endure the occasional drive-by heckling, “Hey, boy! Look-y here…” It was frightening, disappointing, and wholly confusing. It was reminiscent of the antagonism in Deliverance and severely distorted my view of what I thought I could call an escape from school, ironically giving me more social anxiety than ever before. Before I make another generalization about what it’s truly like as an Asian-American spending his spring break in seemingly smaller, impoverished, and occasional racially driven towns, I guess I came to a conclusion the morning after I left Josephine County in Oregon that there exists a minute façade in front of every pretty idea. This time, it was that there was this heaven north of SoCal. I really don’t know how to accurately generalize the experience—I guess it wasn’t picture-perfect and I couldn’t exactly put it on a postcard.

The beauty of it is that I can always dream about the spectacular fantasies of driving by elk in Ecola State Park and meandering through the fog from Mendocino to Cascade Locks in my writing, but can never escape the reality of actually experiencing the living partition of racism up there in the paradise I used to speculate about.

Carolyn Insley, BFR Staff

There are a lot of trees in New York City. No, I don’t mean Central Park—of course there are trees in the park. I mean it’s like someone looked around at this dark grey place and thought, “Hey, why don’t we just plant a bunch of shit so that when they try to say New York City is cold and unforgiving, well, they won’t really be wrong but at least they can look up and say it into the trees.” And I’m not saying they’re those beautiful rust-colored trees that line New England streets They’re really just plain, average, nothing special trees, but they live in New York City. They breathe the bad air, endure the yuppie brunch conversations, and live in and around the garbage just like the rest of us.

“Hey”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“What can I get you?”

“Oh, uh, coffee. Iced. Black. A morning bun too.”

The disinterested barista scooped ice into a clear unmarked cup and contemplated quite philosophically the grit beneath her nails. She held the lever down with the other hand until the cup was brimming with overpriced stale coffee. She didn’t look once at the cup and yet, managed to avoid spilling a single drop. Her name tag read “Kate.” Kate seemed like a pretty average girl, working a pretty average job. Minus the transition metal addiction.

“Hey, lady, are you gonna stand there and stare at me all day, or are you gonna pay for this?”

“Sorry, Jesus. Here.”


“Is anyone sitting here?”

The small Asian girl barely looked over her hip, square glasses before refocusing on her fancy tablet decked out in indie label band stickers. Granted, she had large headphones on and couldn’t have heard the woman who asked. Not that it would have been polite to take her headphones off when she saw someone mouthing words at her so he or she didn’t have to feel like a total idiot and look like they were talking to themselves. God.

“Okay, taking that as a no. Thanks.” She said under her breath as she sat down at the little corner table for two. It was raining outside and her coffee was ice cold as it warmed the palms of her hands as she peered outside at the soggy grey people on this soggy grey day. >>(Too Dr. Seuss-y?)

“Hey. Is anyone sitting here?”

“Oh, no go for it.”

“Actually, I just needed the chair. Sorry.”

The tall and unusually broad-shouldered man stopped, hand on the chair, and contemplated the potential immensity of the situation. The girl sitting before him, now slightly embarrassed (in the cutest possible way), was looking to him for his next move. He didn’t particularly consider himself a determinist, but maybe this was it. Maybe this was her, the girl of his dreams…

The low, slow hum of the chair dragging across the “distressed” wood floor was excruciating.  

Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

We all know genre fiction. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are the most well-known examples, but most any fantasy (Eragon, A Song of Ice and Fire) or science fiction (Ender’s Game, Dune) counts. These kinds of stories, while many are popular, are rarely if ever touted in academia, and often lack credibility in terms of intellectual merit. “Literary fiction” books such as Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby take their place, in literal classrooms and in discussions of academic nature. I posit that works of genre fiction—written well, of course—have no less a capacity for meaningful intellectual contribution than any work of literary fiction.

The simplest way to distinguish between genre fiction and literary fiction is the focus on plot versus thought, respectively. Literary fiction is often introverted and reflective, while genre fiction focuses on actions and reactions. This makes the idolization of literary fiction for academic and intellectual study seem obvious: any work that goes into the thoughts of a character and the ideas of a theory is surely going to be more worthy of thoughtful discussion and consideration. This seems only natural—events do not provide insight into mentality or philosophy.

Yet to take this stance fails to heed some of the most fundamental advice given to writers of all fiction: “Show, don’t tell.”

This is the crux of my argument. Anyone who picks up one of the literary fiction examples listed above, or even books a bit more ambiguous such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, recognizes immediately and inevitably that the author is trying to tell you something. There simply isn’t enough plot, enough “story,” for the intent to be anything else. A message or allegory or symbolism so blatant that, while the message may be entirely valid and important, the book or story becomes immediately less about the characters within and more about the ideas and thoughts it discusses, dissects, or encapsulates.

This is not true for those books of genre fiction that focus on events and happenings. We get wrapped up in what happens next, in the characters and relationships and developments. We are not being told, we are experiencing. This is how humans learn—not through the raw consumption of knowledge but through the experience and test of that knowledge. Thus, in genre fiction we are granted the opportunity to learn from the experiences of our characters, and derive lessons and concepts that are personal and more real than the metaphorical lecture of literary fiction.

This is not to say literary fiction is inferior, either, and certainly these two categories are arguable and occasionally ambiguous. I mean only to say that we should not discount a work’s intellectual merit solely because it has ogres or lasers, because it may be that laser-toting ogre will face hardships that mirror your own, and in doing so indirectly provide insight into your own life, rather than tutor you directly on matters of lost innocence or obsession and affluent debauchery.

Caroline Riley, BFR Staff

When I tell people that Lolita is my favorite novel, I usually receive a reaction straddling the line between fascination and horror. Yes, I know what it’s about. It wouldn’t be my favorite book if I hadn’t read it too many times to count. Yes, I think it’s disturbing. It’s deeply disturbing in a way that still leaves my skin crawling and stomach churning. Yes, it’s still my favorite book.

Lolita is not a work to be taken lightly. First published in 1955 by its author, Vladimir Nabokov, it delves into a plot narrated by professor Humbert Humbert, who enters into a sexual relationship with a twelve-year-old girl after she becomes his stepdaughter. Its narrator is more than unreliable: Humbert is manipulative. His narrative deliberately intends to mislead, to deceive, to trick the reader into believing his side of the story. Cloaked in beautiful, romanticized language, Humbert’s first person narration has the power to strategically persuade the reader that his relationship with Lolita is amorous rather than abusive, beautiful rather than horrifying. Even more unnerving, sometimes it works.

Lolita challenges us in more ways than one. It attacks a controversial subject in jarring, heartbreaking ways. It forces us to listen to a self-described “murderer” wax poetic in dulcet tones about non-consensual sex with an underage girl. It confronts our moral stances and attempts to break them down, evoking sympathy for a narrator with whom we would never want to identify. It is not, in any way, shape, or form, an easy book to read.

This being said, Lolita teaches us how to read. It informs us that as readers, we are just as malleable as the novel itself; our perspectives and positions can ebb and flow just over the course of a single narrative. It presents us with a self-conscious “fancy prose style” whose goal is implicitly to confuse us into feeling slightly less disgust and slightly more pity toward its narrator. As readers, we are responsible not just for the words on the page, but also for their subtle connotations, hidden meanings, and cunning agendas. From first page to last, Lolita presents us with a narrative perspective and then begs us to question it, to read more deeply, more closely.

John Milton wrote in his 1644 speech “Areopagitica,” “I cannot praise a fugitive and  cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.” Humbert Humbert, armed to the teeth with clever wordplay and exquisite language, is this adversary. As readers, we are called to consider not only the literature that supports our viewpoints, but also the literature that tests them. Without a doubt, Lolita tests us. It requires us to read with a critical eye. It forces us to face the immoral disguised in beauty. It inspires us to decide how to stand our ground not by default, but by battle.

Hiba Ali, BFR Staff

Sitting in front of the computer, you’re only trying to finish that last assignment for the night. You have been struggling to keep your eyes open and can feel the heavy weight of your day slowing your fingers.

PING

You get a desktop notification for Twitter. You quickly look around to make sure no one notices you leaving your Word document. It’s a well-deserved break! You’ve been working hard and just need two minutes away from academia.

What is it? A funny video? A vine? 140 characters that speak to the very depths of your soul?

A hashtag.

#ChapelHillShooting

What? Wait a minute. You have to Google this…what are the facts. Is this some stupid joke?

Two articles. TWO ARTICLES.

This is all you can find.

Three human beings were executed in their home and that is all you can find. No mention that they’re Muslim Americans. No mention of how they were killed. NO MENTION. Jon Stewart is trending at the top in your area. People died and Jon Stewart retiring is more important in the media. Major news networks haven’t even reported on it! Where are the shocked citizens? Where is the outrage?

This was my Tuesday night. I’m a Muslim American, and I honestly thought that meant something. I thought being American afforded me the rights of protection and validation. That was until Chapel Hill. I realize I will always have to prove myself as worth it. Deah, Yusor, and Razan are still trying to validate themselves from the grave. No one wants to call this a hate crime or an act of terrorism. The world lost three people who exemplified what it means to be a good human being. Regardless of what you do or don’t believe in, never forget that they only got a line at the start of this. They weren’t afforded the basic human decency deserved by all. The rest of the world was outraged and I didn’t know until almost eight hours after the fact. My religion is not my only identity, just like it wasn’t the only identity Deah, Yusor, and Razan had. They were so much more than one word. I will never forget that moment Tuesday night when my stomach dropped, and my exhaustion was replaced by fear, anger, and loss. Incredible loss. Loss of lives and loss of security. That is what weighs heavily on my fingers now, and I don’t know if what I type matters or what backlash I will face.