Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Narrow Escape of the Desk Monkey: Or, How I Came to Intern for Our Stories

The morning before I emailed my resume to Alexis E. Santi, Editor-in-Chief of Our Stories, I had a devastating interview with a magazine I had long admired. It wasn’t that the interview went poorly, or even that I didn’t get the job; it was that I learned I didn’t want the job. I was the moment that I realized that, in this first tentative conversation between potential employer and employee, the interviewee is also searching for the right match. Up until then, I had always gone into interviews as the desperate supplicant needing a job. But this time, in a two-part interview with Magazine X (renamed for the purpose of this blog post), I found myself unconsciously evaluating them as much as they were evaluating me

In my two separate conversations with the chief editors, they both informed me that this position would involve little more than deskwork. I would be packaging issues and sending off rejection letter after rejection letter, never forwarding anything onward to the editors. I was told: “A lot of people have this mistaken belief that working for a literary magazine will involve lots of sitting around a table talking about fiction. It’s not like that here.” If I took their offer and moved 1,400 miles to work unpaid, I would have little contact with the editors themselves, and never see the pieces that went into print. Not to sound ungrateful for the opportunity, but the job just wasn’t for me. Not only could I not afford the flight, the housing, and the transportation just to get to work, I also couldn’t envision doing all that to be a desk monkey. Even for a magazine for which I had long dreamed of working.

That’s where Our Stories came in. That evening, still crushed about my conversation with X, I went prowling around the internet for other magazines that were looking to hire. I was struck by the amount of consideration Our Stories gives to its submissions. Whereas X showed me exactly how impersonal the entire business can be, Our Stories proved that there were people out there still thinking about the struggling writers behind every painstaking piece. It was almost unfathomable to me that a professional magazine even had the time to make a connection with every single author.

After I emailed Alexis, I received a startlingly prompt response, and we quickly got to work. From day one, interning with Our Stories has been a unique experience. I have been granted major undertakings—such as designing the layout for the two upcoming printed volumes (exciting!)—and I have been allowed the perfect balance of guidance and personal freedom. Even better, I do get to have conversations about fiction—about the art in general, about fiction printed in Our Stories, or even about my own work. I’ve been able to see what goes into making a literary journal, and how pieces are selected for publication.

Recently, I have begun learning the art of reading fiction—debatably the most exciting part of this internship. Though I’ve edited for magazines before, it’s hugely beneficial to see how it works in the real world—when you’re staring down hundreds or thousands of submissions instead of fifty.

By the time X sent me the job offer, it was weeks later and I had already mapped out three months of interning with Alexis. Needless to say, I thanked them for the opportunity, made my excuses, and haven’t looked back since.