Half a year in the making and all the effort was worth it. Two weeks ago, Alex and I officially launched Transect Magazine: Fiction Across Borders… and what a journey it’s been!
Before I take you behind the scenes and elaborate on the entire process, let me briefly explain what Transect is: a new international literary magazine that showcases fiction (short stories, poetry) written by multiculturals/cross-culturals/TCKs from all over the world. As the subtitle suggests, we aim to cut across human borders and eradicate boundaries between nations, ethnic/racial groups, languages and cultures.
To begin with, you might be thinking: why on earth would you want to start a literary magazine aka ‘lit mag’? You’re not the only one wondering that. In fact, in a wholly timely fashion, the New Yorker published an article just last month entitled ‘The Persistance of Litmags‘ written by Stephen Burt, a Harvard professor of English, which asks this very question. In fact, I’m going to repost the entire first paragraph:
Why on Earth would you start a literary magazine? You won’t get rich, or even very famous. You’ll have to keep your day job, unless you’re a student or so rich you don’t need a day job. You and your lucky friends and the people you hire—if you can afford to pay them—will use their time and energy on page layouts, bookkeeping, distribution, Web site coding and digital upkeep, and public readings and parties and Kickstarters and ways to wheedle big donors or grant applications so that you can put out issue two, and then three. You’ll lose time you could devote to your own essays or fiction or poems. Once your journal exists, it will wing its way into a world already full of journals, like a paper airplane into a recycling bin, or onto a Web already crowded with literary sites. Why would you do such a thing?
It’s all true. We won’t likely ever get rich or famous (we can only dream of reaching Granta or Popshot fame and renown), and it’ll require (as we’ve already learned) a lot of invested effort for no pay whatsoever. It certainly takes up a lot of time that could be spent diligently working on our own fiction. Edwin Thumboo, pioneer of English Literature in Singapore and highly acclaimed poet, cautioned me: ‘Don’t waste too much time on it. You have to be selfish. You need to dedicate time to work on your own stories and novels.’ And I completely agree with him.
Then why start one? Am I (and Alex, who’s through and through a co-conspirator) simply insane?
Burt continues by expounding a successful lit mag: ‘you have to do something that hasn’t been done well before.’ In other words, it ‘[comes] down to whether your journal brings something new to its scene’ and is able to create a community that has ‘some raison d’être, aesthetic or ideological or ethnic or geographic or even generational’. His final paragraph contains this valuable insight:
A new journal needs a reason to exist: a gap that earlier journals failed to fill, a new form of pleasure, a new kind of writing, an alliance with a new or under-chronicled social movement, a constellation of authors for whom the future demand for work exceeds present supply, a program that will actually change some small part of some literary readers’ tastes.
Essentially, Alex and I wanted to bring something new to the lit mag scene, to do something that hasn’t been done well before, to gather a specific community by creating a platform, to fill in that gap… and yes, we ultimately learnt (in Burt’s concluding words) certainly ‘it’s exhausting, albeit exciting, to do it yourself.’
My first encounter with Alexandra (whom I’ll refer to as Alex) was when she sent me a Facebook message out of the blue back in January. I didn’t know her at the time but soon realised she was a fellow English Literature third year undergraduate student at Durham University. She’d read and enjoyed my blog (this one), saying I wrote really well (I always welcome any such compliments) and that we had the common aim of wanting to show the world the beauty of our countries, Mauritius for her and Japan for me.
We ended up going for tea a few weeks later and immediately hit it off. Not only did we have the same vision of writing fiction about the countries we dearly loved, we had also grown increasingly frustrated with Western magazines who would reject our multicultural-themed pieces for being ‘inaccessible’ to English readers.
Equipped with a relentless ambition and renewed passion, we started a new blog to help us on our endeavours that unfortunately fell through (read about it here). But we were both aspiring and (hopefully) competent writers, and I had a strong sense early on that we were going to shake up the literary world in some form or manner.
In February, while showering one morning, an idea unwittingly popped into my mind (side note: showers are the best places for rogue ideas and inspiration, as I explain in ‘The Five Ws for Ideas and Inspiration‘). If it was so difficult for our cross-cultural works to be accepted by lit mags… why not start one on our own? Why not create the very platform we wished we had for other aspiring international, multicultural writers?
When I proposed the idea to Alex, she was ecstatic and fully on-board. From the very outset, we knew this was going to be a special passion project and we were determined to see it materialise. But where to begin? How did one even create a lit mag?
It just so happened that during this time, I was in the process of writing an article for a well established, highly renowned online magazine and community called Denizen (read about it here) ‘dedicated to people who grew up in multiple countries, international school alumni, or Third Culture Kids.’ It features non-fiction articles from all across the globe, including personal anecdotes, firsthand advice on moving or relationships or identity crises, etc. (By the way, you can read my piece here on how English accents and identity issues are interrelated: ‘What accent are you?‘)
Essentially, Alex and I wanted to create a Denizen but dedicated to showcasing fiction. Magazines such as Denizen are brilliant because people easily relate with personal stories, especially when the reader undergoes a similar situation or experience as the writer. There is a sense of solidarity, that sense of ‘I’m not alone in this world, it’s not just me.’ But we suspected there were a lot of people like us, international and growing up in different countries, who also had fictional stories to tell.
The founder of Denizen, Steph Yiu, was my immensely helpful editor and I got to work on my piece alongside her. I decided to drop her an email asking about the process she went through to create Denizen and received in response an insightful blog post: ‘From the inbox: Starting a side project‘. In it, she explained how she’d started the magazine, as well as mistakes made and lessons learned. Her conclusion as to why 7 years later she still maintains the site was this: ‘I do this work because I believe it needs to be done.’
Alex and I both believed (and still believe) in the importance of providing an accessible platform that would allow multicultural writers to tell their stories without any inhibitions or limitations. Well, we had a goal and the ambition… what next?
[Continued in Part II!]
Please do check out Transect Magazine. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter. We launched our [Issue #1: Birth] featuring 10 quality pieces of fiction (7 short stories, 3 poems) + artwork (photographs, illustrations) by people representing 9 different nations! We’re also open for submissions for our [Issue #2: Sea] so if you’re a multicultural writer or artist, please submit!