Interview with Meghan Pipe about Writing, Editing, and Literary Journals

Posted By Brenda Bota, GD Poetry Reader for 5.1Meghan Pipe - literary journal

Meghan Pipe, a SUNY Geneseo alumna, is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Colorado State University. As part of her program, she interns for the Colorado Review where she is an Associate Editor. She is currently in her second year of her 3- year MFA program. After she graduates, she wants to work with a non-profit organization that helps writers. She plans to continue her own writing and to eventually become a published novelist. She believes whatever she is learning at school now and through her internship will help her with her career goal as a writer.

Brenda Bota: Can you tell us about your program of study at Colorado State?

Meghan Pipe: The degree I’m working toward is an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction, so my major focus is the craft of writing. My program, and many MFA programs, do still require you to take lots of English lit courses, and studying literature has provided me with a valuable perspective on how readers engage with a text, and how a text might represent or reflect what’s going on in a cultural or historical moment. It makes me think about those reader-focused things when I’m revising my work, since ultimately, my hope is that someone (or best case scenario, many someones!) will be approaching my work as a reader, too.

BB: Why is it worth pursuing a graduate degree in writing?

MP: My MFA degree is “worth it” to me because I’ll be immersed in the study and craft of writing for three years and hopefully be able to produce a manuscript in that time. I also have funding, which I think is crucial—an MFA degree on its own is not going to help me land a job when I return to the workforce in a few years, so paying for a graduate degree like that without certainty of job placement later is something I didn’t have the financial means to do.

Writing, I think it helps me reflect on or try to make order of the world—both the one I inhabit and the more aspirational one I think we could all live in if we read more fiction and thought more deeply about human motivation and interrogated our own beliefs and ideas and where they come from. Wrapped up in that is also the desire to make something and put it out in the world—I can’t explain that motivation with any clarity, but it’s there.

BB: What do you think you would’ve brought to Gandy Dancer if the class was offered when you were a student and why?

MP: Ooh, interesting—that’s so neat to consider, though I think about this question more in terms of what Gandy Dancer could’ve taught me rather that what I would’ve brought to the table. Working at lit magazines has given me a sense of audience expectations in a way that you can’t get from a workshop of peers all focused on craft issues—when I’m reading the slush pile for publishable work, I’m focused on my own emotional response to a story rather than those craft issues. I wonder if having that perspective as an undergraduate student would’ve changed how I approached stories at all, though I think part of discovering that comes with time.

BB: What do you think literary journals offer the literary community?

MP: In so many ways, I think that lit magazines are our community—they represent the places where we come together to share our work, interact with new ideas and perspectives, and understand the literary landscape and how we might fit into it. It’s amazing to see how vibrant that landscape is now—the sheer number of fantastic literary journals and magazines out there speaks to that vibrancy, I think.

BB: What do you think you personally have brought to Colorado Review and what have you learned/taken away from it?

MP: Like I said above, reading for a literary magazine has heightened my awareness of audience in terms of my own writing—this isn’t to say that I make different decisions about what I write, but when I go back to revise, I have a better sense of what an editor’s expectations are in terms of delivery. Interning at the Colorado Review has given me invaluable job skills, too—I have worked each step from manuscript submission to publication at the Review, and since I’d like to return to the literary nonprofit world after the program, having that experience on my resume is such a gift.

I’ve worked hard to learn new skills at the Colorado Review and feel proud to have a hand in creating the journal, but I don’t think I’ve brought anything to the table that’s vastly unique from the other talented interns I work with. If anything, I try as a rule of thumb to always say yes, and jumping in to assist with whatever’s needed has meant that I’ve learned a lot and hopefully helped a lot, too.

BB: You mentioned that you “have a better sense of what an editor’s expectations are in terms of delivery,” what are some of those expectations for you personally? 

MP: I have a better idea of things that are important to an editor, in terms of character development and pacing. When I started reading a lot of the writing that is sent to Colorado Review, that is when I realized that a lot of the stories are in the character’s head and not written or expressed in a way the reader can get an idea of what is going on. Reading other people’s work helps me know what to do and not to do and how to build a story. Also being careful about things like small writing techs and professionalism.

BB: At Colorado Review do you guys have a template or something that you guys use to measure the standard of submissions?

MP: Not a template but we read 8-10 stories that have been previously published to get a sense of the magazine’s aesthetic.” It helps them to know the level of writing expected, as well as the kind of story that the Colorado Review is likely to accept.

BB: Other than Colorado Review and Gandy Dancer, what other literary journals do you like and why? 

MP: Paper Darts  is a favorite, though full disclosure: I’m on staff there, too! The magazine pairs short fiction with original illustrations and its motto for submissions is “weird + honest + ugly + beautiful,” which describes it pretty perfectly. I also love Creative Nonfiction; while I’m often pretty reticent when it comes to writing CNF, reading it is a reminder that great writing—regardless of genre—has a truth, or a kind of witness, at the heart of it, and seeing that exploration of “truth” in nonfiction feels instructive to me as a writer.

BB: In my first creative writing class, the biggest takeaway for me was about revision. I became okay with the idea that my first draft might be vastly different from the next draft—and the next. Do you agree with this? How is that reflected in your own writing? 

MP: I do agree that a big part of writing is understanding that it’s a process and that the first and the final drafts might look very different from one another. A lot of the time, I hope my final drafts will change significantly because that means I’ve been rigorous in revision (which is something I’m trying to get better at doing—understanding that the bulk of writing is revision, really). Poet Gregory Pardlo gave a reading here at CSU a few weeks ago, and an audience member asked him if he often revised his work, or if poems just issued forth when the muse struck. He responded by saying that he always revised, often over a long period of time, and that he’d never trust something he’d just written because a part of the writing process is interrogating what you’re working on to make it better. I’m not paraphrasing perfectly here, but I’ve been thinking about what he said in terms of revising my own work.

BB: What is your favorite book or poem and why? Who is your favorite author and why?

MP: My favorite poem is Li-Young Lee’s “The Cleaving.” I love it for so many reasons, but I’ve been returning to it lately in thinking about how backstory can reveal itself in present action—the way that memory and history are folded into the present moment (“flesh rocking flesh until flesh comes”) is so intricate and beautiful. And the violence and tenderness of butchery—ah! I could go on and on.

BB: What have you written that you’re proud of or really liked? 

MP: I am a part of a community of writers that have gotten comfortable with each other, making it a safe environment to share their writing. I wrote a story in which the narrator was narrating through a video blog. In another story, the character was working on an art project as the story unfolded, and so an illustration developed on the page alongside the narrative. Even though it didn’t totally work, it was fun trying out that type of writing and it helped me ask myself in most of my writings, “what can a story do”?

BB: What would you tell someone interested in an MFA in creative writing? 

MP: Wait a while. I had a couple of years between Geneseo and this program, and in that time I had several jobs that became formative to both my writing and my long-term career goals. The years after undergrad did not work out the way I planned them to, and though it was hard to navigate at the time, it became useful. Those post-grad years will feel so hard at times, but use them to learn about yourself, as a person and a writer. That said, I have brilliant writer friends who began MFAs right after undergrad, and it’s been a great direction for them. That just wasn’t the case for me, personally.

BB: Besides writing and reading and editing, what do you like to do in your free time?

MP: I moved to Colorado last August to begin the MFA program here at Colorado State, and as I quickly learned, hiking and craft beer are staples in people’s lives here—they’ve become staples in mine, too! There are so many trails to hike here in Fort Collins, and my friends and I brew beer on the weekends. I have a part-time job making jewelry out of aspen leaves up in the mountains, too—so much of my life is now steeped in writing and teaching and words in general, and it feels like a respite to do something repetitive and tactile and wholly unrelated to my academic life once a week.

Here are some links to read some of Meghan Pipe’s pieces!

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