Introducing Gandy Dancer’s Section Heads for Issue 5.1

Posted by Marley DeRosia, GD Fiction Reader for 5.1

It’s that time of the year! The new Gandy Dancer staff is starting to pick up speed as our submission deadline draws to a close, along with the dying rays of summer heat (thank goodness!) As we all settle in with our warm mugs of coffee or cider, we’ll begin reading and assessing the quality and craft of the pieces submitted. For those of you considering submitting, we’ve extended our deadline to October 8th! To get us ready to read, I asked the section heads some hard-hitting questions. This year’s fiction editor is Sarah Steil, the poetry head is Robbie Held, and the creative nonfiction editor Alexis Sammler. Here’s what these clever individuals had to say about their goals for Gandy Dancer and their reading interests:

Marley DeRosia: Sarah, what do you hope to accomplish as the Fiction Section head for this edition’s issue?

Sarah Steil:  I hope to feature different voices/writers that offer stories so powerful I need to go take a walk after reading them. There are always some poems/stories that move me so greatly that I think how did they do that?, and then, how can I do that, too? I want every fiction story featured in Gandy Dancer to, metaphorically, punch the reader in the face.

MD: What made you want to be the fiction editor this semester? Have you had experience writing or publishing fiction in the past?

SS: I, like many others, started writing fiction and exclusively wrote fiction stories until college. I think fiction enables you to combine the lyricism of poetry and the complexity and rawness of nonfiction into one venue. In the past, I’ve published both CNF and fiction in Gandy Dancer. I am always writing about my family and being able to change a true story into fiction has the added perk of my siblings not uninviting me to future Thanksgivings.

MD: I’ve heard that Virginia Woolf could only write while standing up; do you have any rituals to your writing/editing process?

SS: When I write, I need to listen to repetitive, unengaging music (i.e. pop) really loud (like I’m-gonna-regret-this-when-I’m-60-and-can’t-hear-anything loud) because it stops me from overthinking and over-editing what I’m writing as I write it. If I don’t listen to music I get distracted, or, I think so much about what I’m writing that I don’t wind up writing anything at all.

MD: And… What would you say was your favorite book/series growing up?

SS: That’s a really tough question but I’d have to say Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls!

I realize the autumn leaves are the same colour of the cider I wish I was ingesting. With this poetic thought in mind, I turned my gaze to this issue’s poetry section head, Robbie Held.

Marley DeRosia: Robbie, what do you hope to accomplish as the Poetry Editor for this edition’s issue?

Robbie Held: Personally, I’d love to publish formally experimental/playful poems. I have a responsibility to let the everyone in the section have their voices heard, though, so overall my goal is to create an environment conducive to that.

MD: What made you want to be the section head for poetry? Have you had experience writing it in the past?

RH: I was a poetry reader for Gandy awhile back, and after that I knew I wanted to be the section head. After two semesters of workshop, working on Gandy is a fresh way to interact with the writing of my peers. It’s a different sort of responsibility, even though you have the power to flat out say “no” you have to maintain a level of respect and engagement because ultimately we’re presenting this writing to the public. It feels a little more open in the sense that its up to everyone to choose how they engage with the work we receive. Even though it can get sticky sometimes, it seems to foster lively, fun and “brain tickling” discussions.

MD: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

RH:  I used to carry around a notebook where I would scribble down every little line or stanza that came into my head, then I would try to mush them all together into a poem. It took me a little while to realize this never resulted in anything other than piles of crap. I still do the same thing of letting lines accumulate and ferment, but I do it in my head now. I forget some good stuff but I also forget all the bad stuff. When it comes to actually writing I do like to stand up or walk around. As for editing, I re-write my poems on a word processor and a notebook a couple of times, the change in speed helps. I dug a sewing machine out of my parent’s basement this summer so I think I’ll start using that to really slow things down.

MD: What would you say was your favorite book/series growing up?

RH: The Monster at the End of This Book by Grover was always a thrilling read. Every single time I read it, I would get so nervous. Grover would build brick walls just so I wouldn’t turn the page, then I would feel such a great relief when I realized, yet again, that the monster at the end of the book was Grover all along. Thinking back on it now, this might have been the first time I recognized the materiality of text.

With my poetry venture complete, I realized that it was actually getting pretty cold outside; it was like a slap to the face and I didn’t have a scarf to shield myself. Taking note of the realness of this situation, I moved on to nonfiction: where you can’t get any realer.

Marley DeRosia: Alexis, what do you hope to accomplish as the Creative Nonfiction editor for Gandy Dancer 5.1?

Alexis Sammler: As the Creative Nonfiction Section head for this edition’s issue, I hope to read and edit pieces where I learn something. I want to discover. I want to learn information I didn’t know before reading, and feel myself growing with the writer. I want readers to feel something special after reading a story. To be able to turn a page and to feel the magic evaporate from the pages into your own literary pores–this is a gift.

MD: What made you want to be the section head for nonfiction? Have you had experience writing it in the past?

AS: I have always wanted to be an editor for a literary magazine, and specifically creative nonfiction because of how personal and compelling the pieces can be. I have written a few creative non-fiction pieces; I enjoy writing them because they are cathartic to me. Writing can be cleansing, purifying, and ultimately healing.

MD: What should writers know about your writing and editing process?

AS: I would say living deeply, observing closely, and intently listening to the world around me are important for generating new work.  As far as editing, it’s critical to read, re-read, formulate questions, and always get a second opinion.

MD: What would you say was your favorite book/series growing up?

SS: When I was young, I loved Where the Wild Things Are. As I grew a bit older, I would read R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books until the late hours of the night.

There we have it, folks. Three editors, three genres that will work together to form the next Gandy Dancer. We’re all excited to read submissions and get started on this next issue. For more ideas about what we look for, check out previous issues online at

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