Sapling Interviews HDJ editor Charles Finn
Sapling is a curated weekly e-newsletter of Black Lawrence Press, highlighting the best of the small press world for writers looking for new venues for their work. The interview posted below took place in early January 2109.
Sapling: What should people know who may not be familiar with High Desert Journal?
Charles Finn: The most important thing to know about High Desert Journal is that we’re a regional magazine publishing regional writers and artists. The whole idea behind the journal is that for too long the interior West of the United States has been overlooked for its contribution to the literary and visual arts. High Desert Journal’s mission is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the landscape and the people of the interior West, to buck the idea that great writing and great art come only from the two coasts. We accept work from residents of the interior West working with any theme, and from anyone living outside of this region creating with an element or theme of the interior West. It’s also important to know that our definition of the interior West is pretty broad. Our geographic region spans eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and all of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, eastern California, and New Mexico, as well as leaking into western Texas.
Sapling: How did the name come about?
CF: Being a regional magazine it was pretty easy to come up with the name even if we do play fast and loose with the true definition of high desert. What was harder was the subtitle, “Witness to the West.” We finally settled on this as a way to say we’re here to show the West in all its aspects, not just the pretty and beautiful, but the gritty, dirty, and real in whatever shape and form that might be.
Sapling: What do you pay close attention to when reading submissions for High Desert Journal? Any deal breakers?
CF: Lyricism. Be it in a work of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, we like the words and the language to sing. This doesn’t mean we don’t like good, straightforward, even blunt writing, but we like writing that has some music in it too, that has a cadence and a flow that carries the reader along. The other thing is authenticity. You can’t fake the West. We get far too many clichéd stories about an old guy in a truck with his dog and it’s accompanied by the most stilted dialogue you can imagine. As for deal breakers, if you’re not from the region you better darn well be writing about the region.
Sapling: Where do you imagine High Desert Journal to be headed over the next couple years? What’s on the horizon for each?
CF: With any luck, producing a print edition again. High Desert Journal began in 2004 as an oversized, 4-color glossy journal that looked like the very best of the art magazines. As is the sad trend in the industry, however, finances required us in 2014 to become an online journal, but our goal has always been to get back to producing a print edition. Two things we’re really excited about in 2019 is that we’re adding a new podcast series where we interview writers and artists who have appeared in our pages, and will be premiering a new feature on the website highlighting artists residencies in the interior West and the work that comes out of them. These are just two of the new features we have planned and by growing in this way we hope to expand our base and in the very near future get back to producing a print journal.
Sapling: As an editor, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
CF: Fundraising. High Desert Journal is a 501(c)3 and we’ve been lucky over the years to have the support of so many very generous donors, but no one I know likes asking for money and I’m no exception. With so many worthy organizations in the world it’s difficult for people to pick and choose, and my job is convincing them that a little, regional, online, literary magazine like High Desert Journal is truly important in the grand scheme of things — which I believe it is. As for the best part, publishing new or little-known writers and artists is thrilling. I love being in contact with famous writers and big names in the business, but when a great piece of writing comes in from someone I’ve never heard of and that writing really sings it makes my day. In this last issue we published a brilliant essay by the native writer CMarie Fuhrman, so being able to publish voices from marginalized and minority populations is also a great honor.
Sapling: If you were stranded on a desert island for a week with only three books which books would you want to have with you?
CF: My first choice might be The Duino Elegies by Rilke. I can read and reread these and always come away with something new. The complete works of Mary Oliver would be a close runner up [She was and is one of the greatest influences on my poetry], and finally, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t?
Sapling: Just for fun (because we like fun and the number three) if High Desert Journal was a person what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?
CF: Good god, I don’t know. I suppose the first thing I’d say is landscape, how does the land shape a person and influence who they are, what they become, and how they think. How does landscape mold a person inside and out? High Desert Journal also has a series called What is the West?where we ask our writers and artist to try and define the West, so I think this is the second thing, trying to put a finger on what makes the interior West stand out and be different from the rest of the country. Thirdly, I’d say the importance of wide-open spaces and the care of those spaces and the creatures that live in them, human and otherwise. Even if you live in New York City, there’s a need for the open lands of the West and a need to protect them for future generations, as well as a need for the art and writing that comes from such places.
Charles Finn is the editor of High Desert Journal and author of Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters (OSU Press 2102). He lives in Federal Way, Washington with his wife Joyce Mphande-Finn and their cat Lutsa.