In this next installment of our “Meet the Editors” series, we talk with our nonfiction editor Stefanie Brook Trout about, among other things, developing relationships with places the same way we do with people.
Flyway: In a couple of sentences, share something about your background—writing related or not.
SBT: I grew up in Michigan and, despite not having lived there for five years, still think of the Great Lakes Region as home. As much as I love going home for a week or two, however, I get a little restless after that. I believe that every place on Earth is remarkable once you get to know it, once it gets to know you, so I prefer to meet new places instead of staying where I know and love.
I’ve lived in Iowa for just over one year, but we are already fairly well acquainted. I call myself an Iowan and feel the need to defend Iowa to those who don’t understand. In two years, I’ll graduate from ISU and leave Iowa and try on some new place and eventually revise my self-identification, and that gives me a bittersweet kind of thrill. Iowa and I will always care about each other, but I can’t stop here, and I won’t just go home. I love the familiar, but it doesn’t satisfy my lust for learning. My only regret about life is that I can’t know all of the places.
Flyway: What book can you not stop talking to people about?
SBT: I spend most of my social time with other writers and/or my partner, who is a graduate student in literature, so it’s more that I can’t stop talking to people about books, in general, or the book I am reading at the moment, than one single book that constantly dominates my attention.
But if I have to pick just one book to answer the question, I must say Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar. It’s not cheating because the literary sandwich (with two novellas as the bread and a poetry collection as the veggies and non-CAFO meat) is sold in one volume. If you’re unfamiliar with Brautigan’s countercultural legacy, I urge you to check out this omnibus.
Flyway: What book inspires or compels your writing?
SBT: Whatever I’m reading at the moment. If it’s really great, it inspires me on a craft level. If it’s not what my tastes prefer, however, it compels me to actually start putting words down on the page. I sometimes get caught up in reading amazing books; my ideas can seem lame in comparison. But if I start reading something I don’t like as much, I love being able to put it down and write something that a reader like me would enjoy.
But the top ten authors on my obsession list are Haruki Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut, Barbara Kingsolver, Bill Bryson, E. O. Wilson, Rachel Carson, Ernest Hemingway, Rick Bass, David Sedaris, and Richard Brautigan. I’d make a spot for J. K. Rowling because I love HP, but I haven’t read her other work yet, so her place is on hold until I have more information.
Flyway: Which literary magazines (other than Flyway) do you read?
SBT: As much as I believe in the importance of online publishing (democratizing the industry for readers, writers, and editors alike), between editing, writing, and teaching, I spend most of my time in front of my laptop. So when I read literary magazines (other than Flyway), I often turn to print. Orion, Creative Nonfiction, and Ecotone are a few of my favorite print journals. I also love Crazyhorse and Fourth River—it’s hard to choose just a few. My favorite online journals publish micro-essays and flash fiction. Brevity, Newfound, and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place to name three. Short shorts are perfect for online reading. I can’t leave out Poecology and Terrain, though. They always publish great work.
Flyway: What writers do you seek out in literary magazines?
SBT: I’m an emerging writer myself, so name recognition in literary magazines isn’t very important to me. Sure, it’s exciting to see a familiar name, especially if it belongs to a colleague or a professor or a favorite author, but I read print literary magazines like a book—cover to cover—and online journals like the overworked, underpaid Millennial that I am—short pieces first—regardless of who wrote it.
Flyway: Is there an aspect of the writing life, or the writing industry, that deserves more attention than it gets?
SBT: At the risk of coming off as self-important, I must say literary journals. They showcase so much talent, with emerging writers alongside the established, that too many people never see—especially non-writers. As a writer, I know how much effort and emotion goes into each submission and how hard it is to find the right place for your work. As an editor, I know how much time and thought and collaboration goes into turning a submission into a publication. And as a relative newcomer to the creative writing world, I know how unaware much of the rest of the universe is about literary journals and the wonderful work that they do.
I have high hopes that electronic publishing will help combat this issue. As much as I like reading print, I accept that many more people prefer to read on their laptops, tablets, and phones. Soon we might all be reading on our Google Glasses. I feel like people are reading more now than, say, twenty years ago, but they’re moving away from the book. I love the book, but I am also excited about the revival of short forms that has come with electronic publishing and the implications of that phenomenon for literary magazines.
Flyway: What advice do you have for potential contributors to Flyway?
SBT: I love nature writing and travel writing, so please don’t stop sending me your best essays no matter what sub-genre they fall into, but I would like to see more variety in the types of nonfiction essays I read for Flyway.
Our environmental theme is to be interpreted loosely. I like a good hike in the woods as much as the next gal, but Flyway readers hunger for more diverse kinds of experiences. We want to read about your hometown (whether it’s urban, rural, or somewhere in between) and how it’s changed. I want to read about food and the difficult eating choices you make every day. I want to read about the time when you broke your leg and didn’t get off the couch for months and maybe that story could end with you recovering and taking a humorously unlucky hike in the woods where you’re bitten up by mosquitoes and chased by a bear. As long as it’s true.
The world already has a Thoreau. Write about your extraordinary life in your unique voice, and we’ll love it.
Flyway: You mentioned that you are “a relative newcomer to the creative writing world.” What world did you come from and how did you get here?
SBT: As an undergrad at the University of Michigan, I concentrated in history (with a focus on twentieth century world history) and the environment (with a focus on the built environment). After not finding a full-time job in any position related in any way to either of those fields, I joined Indianapolis Teaching Fellows and received my Master of Arts in Teaching (with a focus on special education) from Marian University. I taught Special Ed. for three years, two years of high school English and one of middle school science, in Indianapolis.
After my last graduation ceremony, my grandma jokingly asked what degree I was going to get next. I did a little research that night and discovered Iowa State University’s MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment. I hadn’t known the life I now lead existed until then. I am grateful to be where I am right now, surrounded by people who understand why I have to answer a question about “one book” with eleven authors. For once, I feel privileged to say that I have no idea where I’ll be in two years.