LSQ Year 10 Special: Editor interview – meet Caroljean Gavin

This is Luna Station Quarterly‘s tenth year in publication and we’re celebrating in lots of different ways, one of which is showcasing the amazing women who sit on the editorial staff and, behind the scenes, curate the magic that culminates in a gorgeous speculative fiction journal every three months. Today, we’re happy to introduce to you of one of our editors, Caroljean Gavin.

Tell us about what drew you to LSQ. Why do you think it’s important for a publication to hold a unique place for women authors? How do you see the genre of speculative fiction fitting into this?
CJG: I came across LSQ on Twitter. I wasn’t familiar with LSQ so I decided to check out some of the stories. At that time “The Thing in the Walls Wants Your Small Change” was being highlighted [Issue 034 story by Virginia Mohlere], and I checked it out. I loved that story so much I instantly wanted to be a part of LSQ. The work spoke to me.
Speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc.) is so often seen as fun, entertaining: escapism. There is this Flannery O’Connor quote I love: “I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it is very shocking to the system.” Speculative work is often sparked by something in reality, whether an event from history, or a disturbing social, political, or environmental aspect of the present. Speculative fiction plays the “what if” game to yes, taking readers on a ride, but also to push the boundaries of their thoughts and perspectives.
Women have different concerns than men, and women who are writing for male-run publications, and publications where they have to compete with the mainstream male narrative, might not feel safe writing their truths through their fiction. Brilliant work might not get picked up because the stories don’t resonate with male editors. Whenever possible I go to women doctors because they at least understand the physical experience of being a woman. LSQ is like a woman doctor taking care of the stories carefully handed over to us.
Within the broad realm of speculative fiction, what are some of your favorite sub-genres and why? Please give us a few of your favorite authors and books and explain if/how they’ve influenced your own writing.
CJG: I was raised on fantasy and science fiction. The first movie I saw in the theater was Tron. Even though my parents raised me Catholic, my dad preached Tolkien’s works way more than the Bible. When I hit high school, I became all about horror (reading not watching – it’s complicated). But somewhere along the way, when I started writing I discovered I loved writing these weird stories that were like the real world but with crazy elements. I discovered the term “magical realism” and started finding authors who wrote in this way, so every time people treated me like a weirdo who didn’t really belong in workshop, I could clutch these books, and feel not weird, and not alone. They gave me inspiration and permission. The huge one was Aimee Bender. I am also a huge fan of Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Jonathan Carroll, George Saunders (also Borges, Calvino, Kafka…) but it was Aimee Bender’s “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt” that was the closet to the stories and the voice I was working with that really more than influencing my writing in a direct way, told me that whatever I was, it was fine, actually more than fine to be that, but that I should try my best to be as that as possible.
As an editor for LSQ, can you tell us a bit about the top aspects you want to see in a submission?  
CJG: I’m a sucker for voice. Even in third person narration I want it to feel like an actual person with an actual personality is telling me a story. Emotional connection is also extremely important. The characters should connect emotionally to the world and the other people around them, and the author should make an effort to create an emotional connection to the reader. This is not easy. It’s not all lost loves and dead dogs. There is a huge difference between emotional connection and emotional manipulation. Go deeper. Go unexpected.
Tell us a bit about the road to accomplishing your MFA. How has that degree helped shape your writing?
CJG: My MFA road was long and winding. I started at the New School in ’02. It was insane to me that I got in there and it was like hitting the big time, but New York reality didn’t take long to settle in, and even though I did all the course work, I didn’t finish my thesis. I went back home to California and fell into a deep depression. I became a single mom, moved to North Carolina. I always regretted not finishing the MFA. One day I emailed the director of the low residency program at Queens University of Charlotte to see if they’d take the credits I earned so long ago, and not only would they, but they actually had a last minute space open up for the residency that was coming up in a few weeks from when I emailed. I sent them a portfolio that day and was accepted in the program the next day. That doesn’t answer the question. But from that I learned that failure isn’t permanent. If you have your heart set on accomplishing something, you can finish later or try again. I didn’t think I could for the longest time and it haunted me, but when I finally made up my mind to try, things came together miraculously.
Also, by being the girl who wrote weird things in “literary” MFA workshops, I learned a lot about developing a thick skin, and stepping away from my workshop’s critiques until I was able to process them, to see what was helpful, and what feedback just came from people who were never going to be an audience for the types of things I wrote.
Please tell us about your ukuleles and what happened to Moxie’s eye. 
CJG: I don’t actually play my ukuleles that much anymore, but for awhile I was obsessed with them. When I was younger I had such a hard time learning guitar but when I picked up the ukulele it was so much more accessible, especially for someone with small hands. I love singing along when I’m playing and playing covers, making my favorite songs my own, or showing off the softer side of a Metallica song.
I adopted Moxie from a shelter and they didn’t know what happened to her eye. I asked because I was afraid the other one might pop out at any minute. Not that I would have loved her less. It’s just good to be prepared for something like that. Actually when I adopted her, her name was Sweetie, and she was this scared, trembly thing. She didn’t respond to the name and I felt that an anxious, one-eyed, fluffy dog needed something more than Sweetie. I didn’t want her to identity with that name, didn’t want it to bring her down. So I called her Moxie and she immediately took to the name and started chasing the cat and barking all the time!
What’s the most common typo/grammatical error you come across? 
CJG: I actually don’t come across that many. Usually it’s a missing article, preposition, or other tiny word. And of course commas are mystical. No one in the world understands them.
Are you working on any writing projects currently? If so, can you tell us a bit about them? 
CJG: This is the hardest question. I have a short story collection I’ve been tinkering with forever. It’s like a best of album by now including stories from 15 years ago and stories from like two months ago. Mostly they’re some form of magical realism, or surrealism, or other brand of weirdness held together by a common, strong, first person voice. I tell people I write strange little stories about broken, smart-assy girls. So that’s what it is. I hope to actually get it published some day.
The other thing is this monster of a novel I’ve been trying to write for like 15 years based on a short story I wrote my first semester at The New School. The idea was that it would be a sort of mythologized autobiography based on my experiences with my mom and with growing up in a place plagued by fog, earthquakes, and landslides. I don’t even know how many times I have started it over. There are at least 100,000 words written in its name. So far I have not been able to get it right. I haven’t even finished a complete draft yet. I keep going at it, though. I’m not giving up on that one.