Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice is the Editor-in-Chief of Split Lip Magazine. Her short fiction appears or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Copper Nickel, Paper Darts, and Booth. Find her online @thelegitkar or thelegitkar.com.
Alex Quinlan: One of the things that was most apparent from your reading at AWP Tampa is that Split Lip has developed a community that is as strong, vibrant, and diverse as it is geographically widespread. How have you gone about cultivating this sense of community?
Thank you for noticing this! The writing community is an interesting thing, particularly when you leave academia. Since Split Lip Magazine is independently-run (e.g. not affiliated with a university), it was important to me that we build our own community and to do it differently. Post-MFA I took several years away from writing and worked as a marketing consultant, attending too many happy hours in uncomfortable shoes. About four years ago, I had the opportunity to blow up my life (it sounds terrible, but it was actually a good thing) and finally pursue writing and editing seriously.
I had been out of the writing world for so long, most internet literary journals were new to me (Am I dating myself? I graduated from my MFA in 2009 and back then there was no Submittable). And while I could see how the proliferation of online literary journals had opened up more avenues for publication, I could also see how many people were getting lost in the shuffle. Every week there are dozens of new stories, poems, and memoirs floating across my Twitter timeline, and I started to wonder how we could do better. It was part existential crisis (if no one reads, what’s the point of publishing), part practicality (how can we get people to read our journal?). So I had this wild idea to treat a literary magazine like I would have a client in my former life.
About a year ago, Split Lip transitioned to a less-is-more format. Online we publish one piece per genre for a total of four pieces per month. We also published our very first print issue in March of 2018. This scaled-down approach allows to give more time to each contributor, whether that be on the editorial side or on the promotional side. And this level of attention doesn’t end after publication. Our entire team keeps track of contributors, logging new publications and other publishing-related news. Becky Robison, our incredible Social Media and Marketing Coordinator, runs our social media accounts, where she celebrates achievements of current and former contributors. Becky’s work is integral to our community, and we want our contributors to feel like they’re a part of something long after they publish with us. It’s also important to me that we promote everyone equally. I’m pretty adverse to playing favorites with contributors, mainly because I’m sensitive to how that feels as a writer myself.
Internally we also discuss how to be approachable whether you’ve published with us or not. Ever gone up to one of those Very Important Lit Mag tables at AWP? It’s not always the best experience for an already introverted writer type, so we want Split Lip to feel like a place where everyone is welcome. To that end, we host frequent live FAQ Twitter chats where writers can ask editors questions and get real-time responses, and we welcome feedback on our submission process by surveying readers/submitters to get a better sense of how we can do better.
From what I understand, Split Lip began by publishing books and has since grown to include a print journal. Oftentimes, the development is in the other direction: a press will begin with a periodical and then add a book publishing arm to their operations. What is the story behind the growth and development of Split Lip?
Split Lip was founded by J. Scott Bugher in 2012. Scott was a once a top Nashville session musician and wanted to apply lessons from the indie music scene to publishing. The Press started small so Scott founded the magazine to put out work in the interim. And because of his interest in music the magazine also featured art, music, film, in addition to the traditional fiction, poetry, and memoir, giving us our pop culture twist.
Amanda Miska, former Split Lip Magazine Editor-in-Chief and current Split Lip Press Publisher, took over Split Lip from Scott in 2014. Amanda really brought Split Lip into the spotlight, cultivating a community online and publishing creative, voice-driven work. In 2016 Amanda asked me to come on as Flash Fiction Editor, which was an entirely new genre for us. Although Split Lip had been publishing flash-length work, we really made it a priority in 2016 to publish unique flash that might not have had a home elsewhere.
A little over a year ago Amanda decided to step back from the magazine to free up time for her own writing, and she asked if I’d be interested in taking over the magazine.
How would you characterize your aesthetic with the journal? What kind of work are you most hungry for?
Voice-driven writing with a pop-culture twist is our tagline, but I’ve been wondering lately why “voice-driven” is such a hard thing to define. What do they say about love? When you know, you know? I feel this when reading submissions. My favorite pieces feel like one big inhale and ultimate exhale. I prefer writing with a POV and energy, work that could have only been written by the author, the kind you can pick out of a line-up, the kind where you know immediately who the work belongs to.
Our editors also have a soft spot for innovative work that is slightly rough around the edges. We love humor and sass. We prefer exciting, interesting voices over well-written competently plotted work, and we will often choose to work with a newer writer on edits over publishing a more established writer whose work feels stale or generic. It’s important that new writers know how much we want to pluck their work out of the slush, and we’re interested in publishing diverse work from writers across the globe. Recently we’ve published work by current high school students, U.S. Marines vets, and former Hollywood executives. Our contributors range in age from teenagers to retirees.
Who are your favorite editors?
The judicious answer is all of them. Anyone running a literary magazine in our current world is my own kind of hero.
I love Brigid Hughes and A Public Space. APS is one of the most beautiful, thought-provoking magazines out there. I’m also a longtime fan of the work coming out of the Indiana Review. Even though they work with a rotating team of student editors, the IR aesthetic is consistently interesting and entertaining from beginning to end. I love Paper Darts. Editors Meghan Murphy, Alyssa Bluhm, and the entire team put out gorgeous issues both online and in print, and their emphasis on art is unrivaled in the lit mag scene. The team at The Adroit Journal is putting out some of the best poetry and prose of any online lit mag, and I have a small obsession with Black Warrior Review. Samantha Edmonds’ “The Space Poet” from their most recent issue is a story I can’t stop thinking about.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list. Literary magazines are my one, true love.
Dorothy Chan: Hi, Kaitlyn! I’m excited to be continuing this great conversation with you. Building off Alex’s questions, I first want to say that I LOVE your statement on Split Lip Magazine’s website, regarding the type of work you’re looking for: “Voice-driven writing with a kick. A spicy margarita. A martini with extra olives. Side of guacamole. Send us your words, preferably your best words. When in doubt, send us words with character (and characters) over perfectly written yet boring work. We like to fish interesting work out of the slush. That’s the good stuff, and that’s why we’re here.”
I love this statement. I mean, it helps that there’s descriptions of food involved, but seriously, I love it because it’s about passion and the type of writing that keeps us up at night. That’s the type of writing we live for. I’d like to know: what are you currently obsessed with? What’s fueling your own writing right now?
I realized recently that I write about food more than anything, and honestly I plan most of my day arounds meals, so this is probably the most me question you could’ve asked. All of which is to say I’m obsessed with food. I love food and I like to cook food and watch shows about food and read books about food (yes, you can read cookbooks), but I’m also interested in how food becomes its own kind of language. How what you serve tells your guests a story about who you are. For example, a massaged kale salad might mean you’re uber-healthy and you cared to prepare it with your own hands. Or maybe grass-fed meat wrapped in wax shows you care enough about the environment to drive extra miles to the Whole Foods where you also purchase spinach blended with banana blended with spirulina, which you pretend to like when you run into the woman from your yoga class who thinks your name is Samantha when really it’s Sara and the whole time you’re thinking how much you actually hate green smoothies and maybe it’s true what they say about smoothies being full of sugar and then you realize what a scam this is all is but the next week you’re back there ordering the same smoothie.
See. I can get a little carried away.
I read an article about suburban moms who switched their groceries from Generic Supermarket paper bag to a Whole Foods paper bag before returning home. They went through this charade just so they could signal their worth and wealth to other mothers. We literally live in a world where your grocery bag is a status symbol! So it’s safe to say this is one of my biggest obsessions, the dichotomy between our inner lives and the lives we try to portray on the outside, all of us walking around trying to convey something important to others. Our creativity, our intelligence, our cool factor etc. We filter pictures of vacations and brunch. We hashtag babies, showers, weddings, and recitals. We’re always trying to create a narrative of what we think our lives should look like and before long it becomes an almost meta thing where you’re the author of your own life. How could you not want to write about that?
What’s the most beautiful or thought-provoking image you’re either seen, stumbled upon, or read about this week?
I’m current reading The Nix, which I love, and I just read the chapter where a character tries to give up his addiction to World of Elfquest (it’s a video game). Pwanage is the KING of this game. His entire world revolves around it, and all of his friends are characters in the game, and he is divorced because of his addiction. And while Pwanage is trying to give up this game (which is his whole life!) he’s in the process of having a pulmonary embolism. The scene is one long, winding sentence, and it was one of those I-love-writing-holy-crap-can-you-really-do-this? moments because 1. Nathan Hill was pulling this thing off in such a human and hilarious way and 2. It made me want to write. Reading this book gives me hope that it’s possible to write hilarious, innovative work that people will read. Hope is a great feeling.
What are you currently working on?
The more appropriate question might be what am I not working on! Right now I’m not working on a story about a woman who has teach a federally-mandated class about tampons to middle school girls, and I’m not working on a story about robotic nannies who go rogue and murder their owners. Both of these stories are causing me all kinds of distress. And I’m having a serious flirtation with a novel about abandoned malls and the lonely kids who find a home there, but mostly I’m just thinking about these things and not doing them, which seems to be my motto as of late. I decided to give myself permission for a summer sabbatical. If I’m creatively stuck I’ll allow reading instead of struggling. It’s in the interest of self-care, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
Bonding with you over fashion was one of my highlights from last AWP. What do you think about the relationship between fashion and creative writing? Or what kind of relationship do you think fashion and creative writing could have?
It was one my highlights too! I felt such joy knowing for the first time I wasn’t alone. I completely reject the notion that writers should absolve themselves of all materialistic wants. I used to feel this weird shame that my primary interests (other than books) were fashion and TV shows about teenagers. There’s an idea in our literary world that some things are “less serious,” and therefore you’re less of a Legitimate Writer than someone who read Moby Dick cover-to-cover and dresses in plain linen. Not judging anyone who reads Moby Dick or loves linen, but this does seem to be a pervasive problem. Writers are surprisingly the first to forget that people can exist in shades of gray. I can love Chanel and Middlemarch. You can love NASCAR and War and Peace. The best characters are fully-realized, full of contradictions and confusing wants and needs. The same should be true of the writers creating these characters.
In many ways, fashion, particularly couture fashion, is its own kind of art, and to suggest otherwise is absurd. I wasn’t planning to quote The Devil Wears Prada in this interview (movie not book), but here we are: (imagine my best Meryl Streep voice): “Oh. OK. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you….However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”
Also, this brings me to another point about writing and fashion. Who decided writing was the frumpy art form? I don’t see why writers can’t be glamorous and fabulous and still be considered serious. Maybe the reason writers don’t get the same kind of press as actors is because we all decided writers shouldn’t be so frivolous as to want a multi-page Vogue spread. Maybe if we took ourselves a little less seriously we would be taken more seriously?
Kaitlyn, thank you so much for taking the time to have this wonderful conversation with us. We love the work that you do. We love the work that Split Lip does—it’s just so innovative. To close, I’d like to ask you, what are your current top three: 1. Summer reads, 2. Favorite websites, and 3. Fashion brands?
1. This summer I’m planning to short story binge (in lieu of a Netflix binge) and have been amassing short story collections for this project. Top of the pile is A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin, The Collected Stories of Grace Paley, Florida by Lauren Groff, a re-read of Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, Orientation by Daniel Orozco, Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, a re-read for the tenth time of Saunders’ Tenth of December, plus others TBD.
2. In the interest of what I said earlier about not feeling shame I’ll admit that one of my most visited websites is Shopbop. I like to window shop. They have the best curated selection of contemporary fashion, allowing me to live out my NYC fashion It girl fantasies. My second most visited website is the New York Times whose journalists are doing the good work in our troubled world. I had to delete the news from my phone because I was obsessing, so I try to limit my screen time in general.
3. Gucci, Loeffler Randal (all the shoes), and Riller & Fount who makes the chicest caftans. In my heart of hearts I’m a woman who can pull off a caftan. Right now I’m a woman who wears a fleece robe while looking at pictures of caftans on the internet, but hey, there’s still time.
Alex Quinlan is the former Editor of The Southeast Review. His poetry, criticism, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Bat City Review, Pleiades, Tampa Review, Scout: Poetry in Review, Dictionary of Literary Biography, and elsewhere.
Dorothy Chan is the author of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018) and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, The Cincinnati Review, The Common, Diode Poetry Journal, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. Chan is the Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.