Handing Over the Helm

This time last year, after taking the helm as Fiction Editor, I wrote what I wanted to do, see, and accomplish with my year navigating The Blue Mesa Review. I was eager, excited, and ready to sail into uncharted literary waters. Now, after the call of land-ho, the gangplank is secured and I’m handing the sextant over to Tanya Duvanova, who I have no doubt will be an excellent helmswoman.

So, as I retire to the seaman’s pub to spend my hard-earned ducats and dream up the next port of call, a pause for reflection feels a worthy purpose. I’ll start with the high seas before describing the balmier days.

Rough Waters:

  • Very few submitters, say less than 10%, read or follow submission instructions. Sixty page novels were submitted. Single spaced, 8-point font dystopian-sci-fi tales of zombies battling vampires for the love of a fair maiden were also found the inbox. Cover letters worthy of tenure-post consideration were submitted. Clichés, typos, horrendous dialogue, and title-less first drafts also flooded the slush pile.
  • There were loads of great stories badly written and bad stories written greatly.
  • There were loads of stories with great beginnings lacking great endings.
  • There were loads of stories. I lost count around 933. But anything with a tight first three pages beat the cull into the second round of reading.
  • University literary magazines are under the majesty of The University and can be looted, re-structured, or simply folded at anytime for no explicable reason or logical explanation. Just look at the national budget and extrapolate.
  • Being an editor is extremely time consuming. I knew that taking the helm and love reading vast amounts, but make sure you have a healthy dose of staff readers to help batten down the hatches.


Smooth Sailing:

  • AWP is much better as an editor. People give you more time. People give you more attention. The imposter syndrome evaporates because you are actually an editor. You make the decisions.
  • Interviewing writers rocks. Lori Ostlund, Andrew Bourelle, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, and Erika Sanchez are all fabulous, generous, and talented. It was a pleasure to pick their brains.
  • Writing those acceptance letters and telling the writers why and what you loved about their stories is worth a thousand treasure maps.
  • Continually attempting to understand the readership and how you can serve them and the community can be frustrating, but extremely rewarding.
  • Watching the magazine grow (Yes, we now pay our contributors!) and surviving the growing pains feels like a strong knot wind on your back.
  • Stepping aside when your watch is done, knowing good people are in place to continue the journey, emanates both satisfaction and relief. That little voice in the head saying, I didn’t mess up. I left it better than I took it. I enjoyed it. I’d do it again but better… is what we all need to hear sometimes.


Outside of BMR, this has been a hell of a year, personally and politically. Although, I would love to keep the helm for years and years and take the ship around the world and back, it’s time to focus on my own little kayak dodging in the rapidly approaching, rushing Dissertation River. With great gratitude and joy, I step on terra firma knowing much more than when I departed, and knowing The Blue Mesa Review will continue on course.

David OConnor