Editor’s note: Listen Up is a Q&A featuring locals in the arts and culture community.
This week: Eric Rasmussen, editor of “Barstow & Grand” literary journal, reflects on the journey it took to create Eau Claire’s first community literary journal and what it means to be a part of it. The “Barstow & Grand” debut reading will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.
Why did you think the Eau Claire area needed a literary publication?
B.J. (Hollars) is a good friend of mine, and watching what he’s done with the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild is very inspiring.
I really wanted to play along so I tried to come up with an idea for how to do that.
I've served as a fiction editor for an online journal and a reader for a different journal.
That gave me just enough experience to think I knew what I was doing, but not enough experience to actually understand what I was getting myself into, which is like the sweet spot of actually making something like this happen.
Eau Claire has a really strong writing community. There are tons of writers’ groups and people interested in writing and well more than a handful of people out there publishing, so it felt like if there was anything we were missing, it was an outlet.
What do you think about the first issue?
Just the fact that it exists is such a huge thing. I’m really proud of it.
We’ve got some really fantastic local authors and some people who have never really published before, big names from around town like Bruce Taylor and Jerry Poling, alongside some folks that have much more tenuous connections to the area, but that’s what we really wanted.
We wanted this to be a community journal in the broadest sense possible, so (have) people who’ve lived here their entire lives and people who visited one time and liked what we have going on around here.
There’s some very high-quality writing in there.
It’s been a lot of work, but I’m very proud of what came out of it.
It really makes an interesting argument for what constitutes a writing community in the 21st century.
(For example), people who visited to go to the Cirenaica (writing) retreat and are still in contact with people around town because of the internet.
Do pieces have to be about this area?
No, not at all, but it ended up that a lot were. That was one of the ways we put the journal together. We start off with some very Chippewa Valley-specific pieces and then as it goes it kind of spreads out.
We even have some science fiction in there that takes you to outer space and certainly elsewhere in the country.
What was the process of putting this together?
For sure this never ever would have happened without all of the help. We had a brainstorming meeting last fall to invite people to come in, say what they thought about the idea.
Then we took applications for editors and readers. We had six readers that read through everything blind and three editors who looked at the pieces the readers liked and pulled it together from there.
How does it compare to your expectations of what this publication would look like?
I knew if I was able to rely on the talents of others, even if I didn’t have a real clear picture going in, I knew it was going to be fantastic. Obviously the eidtors and readers contributed a ton.
Last spring a designer, approached us to say he could help. He handled a lot of the page layout and did our cover, which was nothing I could ever come up with.
And then tons of help, my wife is in publishing. Bridget Olson did some design work, too.
I didn’t want to take too tight of control of this thing because I knew it would be better if everyone made contributions of their own, and I think we were pretty successful.
What does it mean to you to be a part of this production?
Enough people have talked about Eau Claire and the investment in the arts and all of that, and I’m really flattered to play some tiny role in that.
To say I’ve contributed to the Eau Claire renaissance we’re going through is cool.
I’m honored to participate and that’s what I wanted to do all along.
What will happen at the debut reading?
We’ve got I think 11 readers. They’ll each read something from the journal or something of their own, and then we’ll talk a little bit about the process.
What are your goals now that you’ve done the first issue?
For issue two I really want to expand the pool of submitters.
I think Eau Claire has a lot of voices we didn’t hear from.
That’s everything from attracting maybe some more of our successful authors to send in work and be seen as a legitimate publication opportunity, all the way through the tons of fantasy and sci-fi writing groups that may have assumed they didn’t have a place in the journal, and we really want this to be a community thing.
Maybe reaching out to some other genres, other types of writers.
We did manage to build a pretty diverse group, but it’s still pretty university-heavy.
There’s plenty of support for writers to write in town, and there is not a lot of opportunity to learn about what happens next.
If we can provide someone with a little experience in submitting — every writer has been rejected a billion times, so if we give you the support of rejection or, even better, the first publication, that would be huge.
How do you hope to be different from other area publications (ie. Volume One, NOTA, Leader-Telegram)?
Those organizations are fantastically supportive of writers around the community, but opportunities are a little more limited and approaching an organization like Volume One or even the Leader-Telegram, that’s maybe a much bigger step than a lot of people know how to take.
We’re always going to stick to the idea of being a community journal, represent the writing the community does.
There are definitely places for creative writing but if we can be maybe the Chippewa Valley’s best example of that, then we’ll have done something pretty cool.
— Katy Macek