Back in May, long running story magazine Glimmer Train announced it would be publishing its last issue in 2019. Over their three decades of work, sisters Susan and Linda were able to foster lasting, meaningful relationships with emerging writers and provided support in a way that prompted an outpouring of appreciation even before the closing was announced. Glimmer Train’s legacy is one of love and gratitude, both in the care that they took in the creation of the magazine and in their dedication to their writers.
“I could’ve cried when I heard that Glimmer Train was planning its last run. I’ve heard more than a few people refer to this as “the end of an era.” But wow, what these two women have done is so remarkable. I have been lucky to publish stories in their pages three times; I call them my Fairy Godmothers. Susan and Linda have been the glimmer on the literary landscape for nearly three decades–paying writers well, reading every submission themselves, hosting important contests and launching careers. We writers are forever in their debt. THANK YOU, SISTERS GLIMMER!” -Melanie Bishop, author of My So-Called Ruined Life and founding editor of Alligator Juniper.
When you first started Glimmer Train, what did you focus on? Did you have a particular mission in mind? What was your original intention with the magazine, and how has that changed over the years?
At the beginning our focus was trying to figure out how a litmag came into being so we spent many hours over quite a few months in libraries and bookstores. (Imagine how different that process would have been – and likely the outcome – if the internet had been accessible. I think the physicality of the research helped us gather and evaluate the possibility in a more visceral way.)
But we knew from the start that we were looking for a different kind of fiction than we were finding in most journals. We wanted well-crafted stories, but didn’t have any particular interest in stories that were just clever or artful or had a great plot. We wanted to read memorable work that moved us, gave us a broader and deeper view of what it is to be human. We wanted to know the characters well enough to be able to empathize with them.
By the late ‘90s, stories were coming in at a good clip – paper submissions – big post-office boxes of them. For a few years, we had English majors who would pick up bundles of envelopes, take them home, bear the paper cuts, and return the best ones to us. We needed – and appreciated – their help, but weren’t happy having stories screened.
Finally, in 2001, when we were able to accept stories online, expanding access and allowing us to return to reading every story ourselves, the whole picture shifted – we began to get stories from people from different places and cultures, broadening the perspectives that were opened to us.
Over the years, there have been waves of different kinds of stories as issues have arisen or been acknowledged, such as child abuse, AIDS, 9/11, war, hurricanes and tsunamis, racial/gender/economic inequality, mental illness, homelessness, and, just now, a turn toward the metaphysical. Soon, we expect editors will be seeing stories tackling hopelessness, climate change, suicide, crazy leaders, and general abuse of power – it always takes a couple of beats for big waves to show up in fiction, but they do. This is something we’ll really miss watching.
The other part of our mission has been to provide equal access to new writers. Coming from a family where it was understood from experience that the underdog was at a disadvantage, but was not to be dismissed, we wanted to genuinely welcome unknown writers. We also don’t want financial challenges to prevent anyone from being able to send their work, so we have a no-fee category that we open on request to writers who need it. And those authors whose stories are chosen for publication still get $700.
What has surprised you the most about Glimmer Train’s journey?
Well, it became clear that we were not alone in our search for meaningful short fiction – that was a lovely thing to know and gave us the confidence and ability to move forward. We found that writers were eager to write stories that affected them deeply, many of those loosely arising from their own lives and experiences.
The biggest surprise, though, may be the sheer volume of emails that we’ve gotten since announcing our close at the end of 2019. Readers, and especially writers (whether we published their story or not) have expressed such warmth and gratitude for Glimmer Train – with the word “sad” in most of them – about our reaching the station after all these years. It’s been the most enlightening, enlivening, and emotionally satisfying way we could ever have spent three decades. Maybe people sense that.
It feels like Glimmer Train was really a place for writers to feel respected and looked after. How did you accomplish that? How do you feel Glimmer Train differs from other lit magazines?
Although we’re both quite introverted and neither of us can speak in front of a group, we like people, are very much interested in all the history, perspectives, troubles, hopes, proclivities that shape their inner and outer lives. Because we are curious people, and expect our readers are, too, we want to know who wrote the wonderful stories we have the honor of presenting. So we have two pages dedicated to the author – the page that prefaces their story has their childhood photo, first-person caption, and also a short standard bio; we also have our Last Pages, where each author can talk about pretty much anything, and we like a visual with that. It’s fun for the authors, who often have to contact their moms to send photos, and there’s a feeling of freedom in creating that Last Page. So that’s one thing. Another is that we like to stay in touch with our contributors, especially when they have good news to share, such as a first book release. We welcome them to write an essay for one of our free monthly bulletins where they can share their writing experience and perspectives with developing writers who welcome them, and we try to present those essays at a time that will give the author some good exposure, inviting them to include a link to their websites, to their new publications.
When writers know that their work is being read by editors who are grateful for the opportunity to do so, it seems like the dynamic changes. Rather than an adversarial relationship, there is a mutual affection and appreciation that often develops. Really, what would we have been doing all these years without people’s stories? Glimmer Train has needed writers as much as writers have needed readers and an honest chance at publication.
What advice would you give to writers who are trying to get their first story published?
- Write a story that means something to you.
- Don’t bore your readers with description that doesn’t forward the story, or with repetitive sentence structure.
- Each character must elicit compassion.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own literary magazine?
Print publication is very expensive. We’ve chosen not to have advertising in our pages – the world is already so commercialized and with just the two of us, we couldn’t practically add the work of selling ads and all that involves, but having ads likely would be of some help. Printers are going out of business, paper choices are diminishing, and prices are increasing, especially for good recycled paper. Postage keeps going up. Although we value the permanence of print publication – a book can’t be changed and it can be handed down or loaned out or rediscovered in 50 years – it would take some serious ingenuity to make it sustainable.
When you look back on the years of running Glimmer Train, what are you most proud of? What have you taken away from this experience?
We’re thrilled to have read such a huge number and wide range of significant, insightful fiction, to have discovered and presented so many stories in a handsome and non-commercial print publication where they will persist over time. We’re proud to have encouraged writers to write and to have tried always to treat every writer, whether accomplished or still-developing, with respect and gratitude.