Welcome to Craft Talks. In this bi-monthly post, we’ll have a mini-interview with our own editors about craft, what they look for in submissions, and all things writing.
Today, I talked with Libby Maxey, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor. She told me about her nine years at LM, Barbara Pym, and her love of seeing clever humor in submissions.
1. Tell us about yourself and your position at Literary Mama.
I joined the Literary Reflections department as an editorial assistant in 2012. I had been reading Literary Mama for more than six years by that point, but I was only just beginning to think of myself as a writer, having won a local poetry contest in the spring of that year. Sure enough, joining this writing community made it seem much more natural to submit my own work to journals. Meanwhile, I enjoyed my job compiling reading lists and creating writing prompts for LM—so much so that I dragged my feet about moving into the role of department editor. It has now been almost seven years since Andrea Lani and I became coeditors, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve never met in real life! We’re both senior editors, too, which gives us a more complete view of the journal and each issue as it takes shape.
2. Is there a passage, sentence, or line of a poem that you absolutely adore? Why is it so good?
I’ve been a fan of Barbara Pym’s novels since high school; she’s probably the only writer whose entire oeuvre I’ve read more than once. There’s a moment late in Crampton Hodnet where two clergymen are setting out together on a holiday to France, and one is already regretting it:
It wasn’t as if they had ever liked each other. Still, it was too late to do anything about it now, and at least they would be able to have a good talk about old times, rejoicing over those of their contemporaries who had not fulfilled their early promise and belittling those who had.
Although this was one of Pym’s earliest novels, written in 1939-40, it wasn’t published until the 1980s, after her death. In fact, it was one of four novels that her literary executor saw through to posthumous publication. So, while Pym had little hope for Crampton Hodnet, she worked that charmingly balanced phrase about rejoicing over failures and belittling successes into a later novel as well. Pym was a great one for keeping a diary, and the phrase appears in the pages of those notebooks, too, an elegantly catty bit waiting to be incorporated into a story (or two). Of course it’s funny, but I especially love the way its recurrence, which we weren’t meant to see, gives us a glimpse of a developing writer recycling good material, moving on to the next project in the face of rejection.
3. What do you look for in submissions? What type of writing grabs your attention?
As evidenced by my previous answer, clever humor is a reliable way to win me over, as is prose that makes deft use of language and structure. Literary Reflections has a minimum word limit of 1,500, so our essays aren’t short, but we want them to have something of the impact that poetry can have, especially when the threads of a piece begin to pull together. We want writers to take their time and give their voice space to tell a layered story about mothering and literature. There are perennial topics that we see again and again: children who don’t share their mother’s love of reading; mothers trying to find a way to nurture a creative life in the crush of parenting; parents rediscovering the books of their childhood. But each story can feel unique and fresh if it’s shaped with care.
Read something you liked? Let us know in the comments!