Lit Mag Spotlight: REAL
by Treehouse Editors
REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters has been serving up great writing since 1968. Their editor Andrew Brininstool told Treehouse’s Casey Mills about genre, Internet publishing, and an unusual cover letter that might have fared better in a preschool.
Q: If you could sum up the aesthetic of REAL in a few sentences following a colon, it would be:
A: The journal has its roots in lyrical realism and mainstream fiction / poetry. We’ve made changes to that aesthetic insofar as we’ve more or less done away with an aesthetic Mission Statement. I don’t like Mission Statements; they remind me of ConglomoHotels, or the kinds of things you find in Interstate chain gas stations: We strive to provide our customers with a satisfactory… REAL will take anything from anybody if it’s striking, earnest in its attempts to capture whatever it’s attempting to capture, and says something to us about life or art or language. That’s abstract, generic, and unhelpful. Unfortunately, it’s also the best answer I can give you.
Q: What story have you published recently fits that aesthetic in every degree and why?
A: I’m head-over-heels in love with Ben Hoffman’s “The Great Deschmutzing.” It’s a meaty piece with a lot of heart, humor, and a hand so behind it I would almost allow Ben to perform surgery on my person. Katrina Denza’s “What it Takes to Let Go” is another story so good I feel lucky to have it with REAL. We’re showcasing the work of Ezra Carlsen on the REAL website along with an in depth interview Billy Longino did with Stewart O’Nan; and we took a cycle of poems by Abigail Cloud that are sublime. All of which is to say that the most recent issue of REAL fills me with pride.
Q: As an editor, what is the most interesting cover letter/short bio you have ever received?
A: It involved glitter.
Q: You posit that your magazine is not interested in genre fiction unless it does some kind of “cheeky genre-bending.” What is the cheekiest story you have ever published in response to that idea?
A: To be honest, we’re still waiting. We haven’t had anything cheeky in a long, long time. Where have all the cheekmeisters gone?
Q: That said, with the rising momentum of online publishing, what do you make of the emergence of genre-bending work?
A: I’m not certain the two are related. Are they related? In the Contributors’ Notes section of B.A.S.S. 2003, Dan Chaon discusses the creation of his short story “The Bees” and the influence some of the stuff he read as a kid had on his work. He mentions dark fantasy and horror, and rather than seeing those early reads as a precursor to the more adult, more important ‘literary’ writing, he began to question how he could use some of the conceits he enjoyed from those novels.
Q: If online publishing has influenced this, okay. I’ve never been much of a genre reader—whatever that means.
A: I can tell you that since we’ve begun to post pieces online—a short story, an interview—I’ve had more than a few writers email to ask that their work be featured online (as well as in the magazine). Writers are beginning to realize that, contrary to how many felt not long ago, there’s an advantage to having work out there and free for the public. Good work. In 2005, my first year in grad school, the common sentiment was that publishing online was kind of spare—not far from publishing a short story on your own Myspace page. Writers are now realizing that the first thing somebody does after meeting you at a conference or on Twitter or after reading your job application is to Google you: if they can find quality work online, that can be of tremendous benefit.
Q: What’s the greatest thing about being an editor?
A: We love publishing writers who have not published before. I have read a lot of interviews with editors at far larger magazines who feel the same way. There’s something lovely in saying your magazine was the first to publish a writer.
Q: Your current issue has a story by Johannes Lichtman in it. How did that guy possibly bribe you to listen to his rants?
A: Johannes got his story into the journal the old fashioned way: by claiming to have compromising photographs of our editorial staff.