Alice Blue was beautiful and she still is
Alice Blue Review was one of the first lit mags I discovered when I stumbled across internet literature. I don’t remember how I came across the site but I do remember copy pasting some of the pieces published there into AppleWorks documents, so that I… Well I don’t really know why. Maybe in case I forgot where I could find them online? Or perhaps I was afraid the entire site would disappear eventually? I still have those files on my current computer, but I no longer have any way of opening them. When I try, I’m greeted by either an error message or pages of text like this:
Luckily, even though Alice Blue closed its doors last year (after running for 10 years!!!), their entire archive is still available online for our enjoyment.
Somewhere between my initial discovery of online writing and beginning work on this post. I actually did end up losing track of ABR (I suppose I was right to mistrust my memory). After interviewing Meghan Lamb for the first installment of this series, I asked her whether there were any other journals or small presses that she’d like to see featured and Alice Blue was one of her suggestions. I hadn’t looked at the site in a couple of years but when I clicked through to the final issue I recognised the layout instantly. The central logo bounded to the left and right by the words ‘alice’ and ‘blue’, and top and bottom by ‘prose’ and ‘poetry’ always reminds me of a compass, the names of the contributors scattered around it as a map of the issue.
A few contributors shared their memories of Alice Blue Review with me:
I always liked the editorial process of alice blue review, in that Sarah Gallien would write long emails during the editorial process about changes she would like to make, and then subsequently talk herself out of them 🙂 She was always open to my thoughts as well. Plus she was familiar with other work I was putting out and it never felt like a one-off relationship. I’ll miss alice blue.
I have undying affection for Alice Blue, firstly for their elegant name, and secondly, because they published “Boo Enema,” my favorite chapter in my novel, Memphis Movie. It was also Peter Coyote’s favorite chapter. So, Alice Blue, esto perpetua.
“I was really excited about Alice Blue because they were publishing such strange stuff, stuff that maybe couldn’t find a home elsewhere. Those charts I made really wouldn’t have fit anywhere else.” You can change what I said or add to it or delete from it or invent a whole new more helpful thing or not use it at all!
one thing i remember loving the most about alice blue was how they combined poetry and fiction while respecting the lineages and experiments of each form and maintaining a sort of distinctive alice blue feel that bubbled through tone and slant.
in 2009 i said “They publish both fiction and poetry, and their aesthetic reminds one pleasingly of mint leaves, gangplanks, polar bears, and polar bears who hitchhike.”
i was obviously much more creative in 2009 haha
you should use my 2009 self for the quote
Why did you first start alice blue review? Was there something specific you were trying to achieve with the journal?
Amber : We first started the journal in 2005. We (Amber Nelson, Sarah Gallien, Will Gallien) had just graduated from the Evergreen State College where we had all met in a writing class called Author! Author!. We all moved to Seattle together into a tiny apartment where we were writing and submitting and reading a ton and playing scrabble while drinking rum and cokes. But none of us were finding work we found really exciting published in most literary journals, writers we loved weren’t getting published, and all the work we did find interesting was being published online. So we decided to start a journal, something that would house the kind of work we found interesting—work that wasn’t too self-important or self-serious, that played and enlightened, where we could find our friends.
Sarah: That description makes me smile. Those were earnest days. Everyone should start a journal when they’re 23.
How did you source work for the site? Was it all just from open submissions or did you solicit as well?
Amber: The first issue was entirely solicited. We had a vision, and we wanted to encourage work like what we were interested in. We didn’t want to settle for less than we really wanted. And we hoped that, once that issue was out, likeminded submissions would come through. We asked the people we solicited to pass the word on to likeminded writers, we got our name on Ron Silliman’s blog and Selby’s List and Duotrope, we reached out to editors of the online journals we loved to do link exchanges because that’s how we did things a decade ago—you found new lit journals to like because the journals you already liked had lists! Giant lists! Entirely of the journals that THEY liked. Such a supportive methodology that I wish I saw around more—though I guess it can get kind of incestuous over time.
Anyway, it didn’t take long before all or nearly all of the work published were just needles discovered in alice blue’s slushy haystacks. Each issue turned into some kind of discovery. I still encouraged people to submit from time to time, or did formal solicitations, but generally speaking we got enough unsolicited submissions that we were turning away excellent work all the time.
How did the journal change over the ten years it ran for?
Sarah: Well, what Amber said—at some point, fairly early on, we didn’t have to solicit at anymore. I never really had to solicit after I took over prose. Though we did for special issues—issue eleven and the last one. There were definitely events that changed things, at least on the back end—Will and I swapping editorial positions, adopting Submittable, Amber’s interview with Poets & Writers—but mostly there was just a sort of natural refining of style. A sort of alice blue aesthetic started to emerge, and evolve, as the literary landscape changed and as we grew individually and collectively. Did that sound good? Is that too vague? Most of what we did stayed the same. There were very few conscious changes. alice blue became herself, only more so.
How collaborative was the editing process? Did you each just work on your own genre or was there a lot of overlap and discussion?
Sarah: Basically Amber would narrow poetry subs to the top thirty or so and I would do the same for prose, and then we (with Will) would read those sixty and meet to discuss them. When we took up Submittable, we started using the voting and notes features to narrow our focus for editorial meetings, to advocate early, but when we met, it was still a three person negotiation. Any actual editing of pieces, if/when we did that, was left to that section’s editor. As were acceptances, rejections.
Amber: Oh god. Submittable was such a game changer. Tracking all of it in email like we used to do—it was so hard to keep track of who got what when where and it seemed like submissions slipped through the cracks more. So, you know, thank you Submittable. Also, weirdly, I just discovered a bunch of notebooks from the early days that had all my notes about the submissions we were considering and what we decided got in and whatnot from when we were doing all of it by hand. Tiny time capsules.
Are there any pieces that you’re particularly proud to have published?
Amber: Isn’t this a little like asking a parent which of their children they love the most? I’ve been thrilled to publish all of the work we’ve been able to publish over the years, to meet and get to know some of these writers, and to eventually consider some of them my friends. That said, I probably felt the first issue the hardest. We were just little then—nobody knew us, fresh out of undergrad, scrappy blah blah blahs. And that first issue I go back and read and think we just got really fucking lucky. Elizabeth Robinson, Maged Zaher, Matt Hart, Leonard Schwartz, Zhang Er (who wrote one of my favorite chapbooks of all time), and we published a few of our friends to boot!
Sarah: Yeah. Mulcahy, Kathy Fish, Corey Mesler too—all in that first issue.
Amber: Oh god—yes! Mulcahy! Kathy Fish! Corey Mesler! We were so lucky.
Sarah: Those early days were kind of special. Will was the prose editor for the first—I don’t know—six or seven issues, and I know he still did a little soliciting in those years, but a lot of those people I liked a decade ago, I now just love. Brilliant writers. And some of them came back for the final issue. I mean, we’ve published some of my favorite living writers. How can you not be proud of that. And the pieces I nominated for Pushcarts, some of them by first-timers—stunning. But really I’m most proud of the odd-balls, the outliers. The fiction that maybe didn’t have a beginning, middle, and end, but were definitely stories—stories that needed to be read. Things people sent to us because they didn’t know where else to send them. I think that’s really what kept me going over the years.
What did you enjoy most about running the journal?
Amber: Discovering new work, new writers, and having the opportunity to provide a space for other people. When I look back, one of the things I will continue to be most proud of is how many young writers we made a space for, sometimes (or so I’ve been told) their first publication or a publishing opportunity at just the right moment. It makes me feel like we made a difference in the lives of specific writers and in supporting the “writing community.”
Sarah: I’m with Amber. That sort of stuff just makes you feel good. That’s the heart of it. Making space for new voices.
And space for experimentation too. Sometimes I’d get these pieces with cover letters that essentially said, “I’m not sure what this is, but…” and every time, my gut-emphatic response was, “’but’ nothing. It’s brilliant.” It’s thematic. I love the outliers and I’m building them cities. I’m an idiosyncratic reader and I like to be challenged. I like to be surprised. Running a journal is a service to the writing community, but it’s not entirely unselfish. When you run a journal, the things you love find you.
And, you know, on a super literal level, I like making things. I like designing, laying things out. I’ll miss looking out at the world for images I can cut into six neat little squares.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Amber: Maybe fought less about scrabble AND about our editorial decisions after drinking too many rum and cokes? Except not really. Sometimes I miss the passion of our earlier editorial conversations, but I don’t really miss the tears and regret. Truthfully, I don’t know what I would have done differently. I love what we did.
Sarah: Yeah. I don’t think so. Anything I would have liked to do would have required me to be a different person in a different moment of time. I mean, I would have liked to have had more parties. Made more friends. But I don’t like parties and I’m unlovable. I should have been tougher, maybe. Out in the world, more. But that skin takes time to grow.
I did want to do print. I wanted to publish books. (Like Amber!) But it could still happen. alice is dead, but we’re not. And alice was beautiful. She still is. Why risk changing that.
Why did alice blue come to an end?
Amber: I really decided it was time for me after a particularly rough Fall. My boyfriend dumped me. My mom was diagnosed with a malignant inoperable tumor on her liver (which we learned over the course of 4 months was not the case, thank god, but you know…). My job situation was… really bad to say the least. I was having a hard, hard time. And I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it because I was doing a new issue of the journal, 6 shotgun wedding chapbooks, 1 handmade alice blue chapbook, and putting out the only full-length I ever did: The Tahrir of Poems: Seven Contemporary Egyptian Poets edited by Maged Zaher (which is still for sale, btw, if anyone is interested—it’s great!).
Anyway, I was barely getting by and I knew after I got through all of that that I needed some time to focus on taking care of myself, just as a human being. And that it wouldn’t hurt if I also had some time to write my own work again. It’s been a number of years since I’ve really felt like a writer myself. I write a piece here and there, and some of it has been alright or even pretty good, but certainly not much in the way of new work in any given year.
Sarah: And when Amber brought it up, that she was thinking about quitting, I was just hugely relieved. I’d just had my second child, and keeping the journal going… it was just untenable. I’d been struggling to find time to write since I had my first kid (back in 2011) and by the time Amber felt she was done, I had stopped writing entirely. I barely read outside of submissions. For more than a year this had been going on, but I just couldn’t stop. I’d tell Will I needed to quit, that it had to end, but I just couldn’t do it. I think part of me was afraid I’d disappear. I’ve always been sort of afraid I’m on the brink of disappearing entirely. And great writing just kept coming in too and I don’t know. It had to happen and I’m relieved, but still. I mourn.
Do you plan to keep the website online indefinitely?
Amber: Yes! That is the goal!
Sarah: Some day I hope to make it more archive-like, but yeah. Definitely. That’s the plan.
What have you been up to since alice blue closed shop? Any other editing projects? Writing your own stuff? Completely unrelated pursuits?
Amber: It is only just now feeling like an ending because closing down the press portion ended at AWP. After we announced the end, I still had two book fairs to get through so… but now that it’s over, I’m sleeping reasonable amounts, cooking delicious food, concentrating more energy on my day job, working out a ton. I’ve been doing a few manuscript readings for friends. I’m shooting for a poem a day in May, but if that doesn’t work out, I might try a couplet a day. We’ll see how it goes. Feels kind of like I’m starting from scratch! Oh yeah, and hanging out with my friends and my cat and spring cleaning my apartment and just trying to be a better human!
Sarah: I’m about 70k words into a Science Fiction novel I excerpted/made -a-story for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in February. It’s almost done, I know how it ends, but the final 30k will probably take me a year. And I’m working on a Lit project, something style-similar to the piece I had at Fanzine. It may work itself up to some sort of disjunctive novella. I don’t know. I’m hoping. I’m pretty behind. Thirty-mumble and no book. But it’s tough. I spend most of my time with my kids and kids are no joke. Ours especially. They are beautiful and brilliant, but hard—smack down from the Will/Sarah tree. I have to be every-where-all-the-time and steal every extra moment I can for The Work. I told myself I wouldn’t take on any editing projects until I finished these books, but. I’m not going to lie. I think about it all the time. Last night Will—he’s learning PHP right now, and messing with Bootstrap for his jobby-job—was talking about writing an algorithm, something that would pull in sentences by length and type, mimic good paragraph structure, and I was like, “and people could submit to it? Submit sentences?” I just can’t turn it off. But I have to. The kids are young and there are books to write. Ssshh. Listen to me convince myself. Hold my hand. No, no—close your eyes. Tell me I have what it takes to stay strong.