Category Archives: Jellyfish Review

Journey to Planet Write: Lost and Found

by Lynn Mundell


Bed Is for Reading

Squashed between warm bodies, I listened to my parents read to me in their bed. Soon, I read to myself. In public school, we all pored over the Scholastic Book catalogs and filled in order forms. I would order 10, 20 books. School was very dull. Then the delivery came, and a high stack of books bound together with a jumbo rubber band landed on my desk, and I was saved by Amelia Bedelia, that fantastic blockhead.

When I was 9 my teacher announced a writing contest sponsored by the American Legion. We all wrote about what it meant to be an American. I was a so-so American, so got third prize, a small bronze medal hanging from a heavy red, white, and blue ribbon. I wore it constantly until my older sister asked me to please stop.  If you were a writer, you were pretty much a dignitary. Practically royalty. Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?

Youth Was for Writing

I wrote poetry and newspaper stories in high school and college, while working a series of weirdo jobs — toy store clerk, men’s clothing saleswoman, failed florist (I was fired after sending the funeral arrangement to the baby shower, and vice versa), trailer cleaner, preschool flunky. A boyfriend asked me what I planned to write about. I told him I wasn’t sure, and he scoffed, fueling my doubt.

Chico Senior High newspaper staff. 
Lynn is second from the left, seated.

In the midst of being in big trouble at my newspaper internship for accidentally deleting the entire issue of the weekly during production, I was accepted to graduate school. At 20, I moved East to earn my MFA. More jobs. Hat shop worker. Postcard saleslady. Frank Conroy shredded my prose, then once gave me a friendly ride to class in his old station wagon. I wrote at odd hours and went alone into dark places in my head and wandered out again a little bit stranger and worse for wear each time. I worked at papers, and one sent me to St. Louis to interview U.S. Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov, simply because I was the closest thing to a poetry editor they had. I won a prize at the university. It felt almost as good as the one from fifth grade.


Throwing in the Towel

In my 20s I tried valiantly to be what I thought constituted a writer. I taught at a college, and whether due to circumstances (grammar night class) or myself (uncertain), it wasn’t for me. I chased literary magazines. The fat, healthy envelope would go off in the mail with a poem and an SASE, and a thin, pale one would return, sometimes months later. I stopped writing creatively. I thought my professors’ belief in me must have been misplaced. I threw myself into work life, married, moved home to California. On a whim, I took a creative non-fiction class from columnist Adair Lara, a wonderful teacher. An essay was published in The Sun, then another in The San Jose Mercury News.  The morning I went to a Merc box on Market Street and bought 10 copies of the issue with my essay, I broke down and cried. Somewhere in my now 32-year-old body, the writer lived.

Awakening

Also growing in that body was a baby. Then another. Nothing had prepared me for just how hard it is to be a working mother. Years passed in a blur of commuter trains and playgrounds. I read aloud to my sons in bed. I volunteered at the schools. (My favorite gig was  … the Scholastic Book Fair!) While I wrote for a lot of people and places, I never wrote for myself. I had given up.

One day my old friend Grant Faulkner invited me for a drink and asked if I would like to start an online literary journal with him. I didn’t understand the term “flash fiction” that he kept using, but I said yes. If I wasn’t a writer anymore, I could be a publisher. That invitation to start 100 Word Story five years ago was pivotal. Early on, we didn’t have enough stories for an issue. I sat down, wrote a trio of Halloween-themed “scairytales” in the proverbial flash, and was hooked. I interviewed masters of flash, who sometimes became treasured friends and teachers, and read thousands of story submissions over the years — seeing what worked and didn’t. Eclectica accepted a largely autobiographical story. Then Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine took another. I got word over my iPhone en route to a family vacation. Instead of tears this time, I gave a whoop of joy.

Stay with the Page

With time, I developed an actual writing life. Before going to sleep or when I awake, I write longhand in journals. (Bed. Again.) Stories are anywhere from 50 to 1,000 words and may take up to 30 drafts. After one is about 95 percent done, I type it up and keep it in my purse or pocket for a while, pulling it out at odd times to reread it and change it until I feel it is finished. I keep a long list of journals, alphabetized from A (The Adroit Journal) to Z (Zyzzyva) and spend a lot of time trying to find the right place for each piece. (I much prefer the age of online submissions, although I recently mailed a story in an old school envelope. Still waiting…) I’m grateful for every publication, heartened by the dedicated, generous writers, editors, and publishers in today’s literary community. I still have so much to learn, but I’m not giving up. At 51, I have a lot to say, fewer years now to say it, and I know what a very long time it can take to awaken the writer sleeping within.

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Lynn Mundell’s flash fiction has appeared in Tin House “Flash Fidelity,” Superstition ReviewLiterary OrphansJellyfish ReviewThrice Fictionand elsewhere, with more forthcoming this year in Mulberry Fork Review, A3 Review, and Five Points. Lynn is co-founder and co-editor of 100 Word Story.

Journey to Planet Write: Mickey Mouse to Jellyfish

by Christopher James

Part One
I always wanted to be a writer. Or, more accurately, I wanted to be an “author.” I feel a little silly saying “author” because it reminds me of the child I was back then. I was odd at five. Smart, yes, but too shy to raise my hand in class when I needed to pee, so I had more than one disaster. Good at sports, probably from running to reach the loo before it was too late! I remember having many friends, but also spending time alone, chasing butterflies and trying to walk with shoes on the wrong feet. Odd, right? And I must’ve read constantly.
I got a Mickey Mouse annual, full of comic-strips, letters to Donald and EuroDisneyland adverts. It had a do-it-yourself frontispiece – a space to draw your favourite character and some questions. What’s your name? How old are you? What do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t recall my favorite character (I feel like saying Goofy, but suspect it was Pluto. We later had a dog called Pluto). But I remember my answer to that last question. “Author,” written in a handwriting that’s barely improved in the thirty years since.
I found the annual some time later, when I was moving into teenagehood and starting to think more seriously about my future, and I saw that answer, “author,” and I thought YES! That’s exactly what I want to be. Nailed it aged five! And it’s been with me from then till now.
Part Two
Of course, wanting to be a writer and wanting to write are not one and the same. I didn’t write a lot. Zadie Smith once described being told that Ian McEwan wrote only fifteen words a day. That seems impossible to reconcile with his fairly prodigious output, and I don’t think it’s true, but for years I wrote even less than that. Fifteen words a day? Ha! Who had time for that hard labour? Nevertheless, whenever people asked what I wanted to be, I still said the same thing. A writer.
There were exceptions to my fourteen-or-less-words-a-day days. I spent a year in Central America and wrote constantly, a terrible spewing of handwritten nonsense, tiny cramped-up letters that wouldn’t fill my already-heavy backpack with any more notebooks. I finished a novel, since disappeared, about a hopeful plot to destroy manufactured pop, and started another, also disappeared, about god-knows-what. I wrote without reflecting back on what I’d written, and learned nothing. I was writing, but I still wasn’t a writer – I was a notebook-filler.
Back in London, I got a real job and the notebooks disappeared, and I waited for the day I’d wake up, look in the mirror, and magically be perfect at all this. About then, the Times (the newspaper) ran a competition for a love story in 300 words. I’d never written anything so short, but I gave it a go with a story about a man who spray-painted a love message to the woman leaving him, on a bridge where she’d see it every day. The same night, another man jumped from the bridge, and the world thought the message came from him. I called the story “Amore Eterno,” and it won third place. I was ecstatic!
They published it (the fools!) in the paper, meaning people all over the country could read it. Someone then told me about this website called Zoetrope, where writers workshopped stories, and this thing called Flash Fiction, stories in under 1000 words, and, buoyed by my national success, I thought that this was something I could do. Something that could really teach me how to write.
Part Three
So began an apprenticeship. I ‘met’ writers like Randall Brown and Kuzhali Manickavel! I slowly improved. Slowly got published. Now I was writing every day, or almost every day, and learning what worked and what didn’t.
Sometimes it was hard. I learnt to care less about rejection slips! Sometimes it was rewarding. I had pieces picked up by Smokelong, by McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, by Matter Press. I won a few prizes, with Camera Obscura, with Tin House. I discovered some amazing writers, and a new way of reading.
At the same time I moved to Indonesia. I stopped drinking so much, stopped taking drugs on the weekend, met a nice girl. I made more time to write, finally acknowledging that this writing dream wasn’t Just Going To Happen. I had to make it happen. I dedicated myself to it. And it was working. I was becoming a writer.
Then one day – I think it was Idul Fitri – I started an online magazine. I’d half-heartedly thought about doing this before, but on this particular day I did it. There were personal reasons – it would help take my writing to the next level. But there were other reasons too. It was a time when many magazines I loved were starting to charge for submissions, and when it felt harder for writers to take risks on what they sent out. I wanted a venue that encouraged risks.
I opened a WordPress thingy. I started a Facebook wadjamacallit, and invited thousands of people (sorry!). I announced a call for submissions. In honour of my favourite animal, beautiful and dangerous, I called the magazine Jellyfish Review. It would only publish flash.
Part Four
Jellyfish Review is now blossoming into a bit of a minor success. We’ve published stories by incredible writers, including Elaine Chiew, Beverly Jackson, Sara Lippmann, Len Kuntz and Gay Degani. We have stories by even more incredible writers lined up. We’re developing our own style, unique and unpredictable.
I spend hours every day working on it. Reading submissions, formatting stories, choosing artwork, promoting the magazine, keeping everything ticking. It’s hard work, but wonderful.
For the first time ever, I think I’ve found something I want to do even more than being a writer. And I love it. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.
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Christopher James lives, works and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has previously been published online in many venues, including Tin House, McSweeney’s, Smokelong, and Wigleaf. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.