On a crisp Vermont afternoon in fall 2011, plain china nonfiction editor Naomi Washer sent her first email to writer Zachary Green, at Columbia College Chicago. Her intention was to solicit his piece, “I Will Send You This,” for plain china 2011. Written in letter form and later chosen as an honorable mention by 2011 nonfiction judge Jonathan Lethem, Zachary’s piece sparked another, entirely unexpected exchange of letters. Naomi and Zachary’s ensuing epistolary friendship led to the creation of Ghost Proposal, an online literary journal featuring poetry and creative nonfiction from emerging and established writers. Just in time for the launch of their second issue, we (virtually) sat down with Ghost Proposal editors-in-chief Naomi and Zachary as they discussed everything from the rise of creative nonfiction, love, and the unshakable haunt of a ghost proposal.
Can you describe the inception of Ghost Proposal?
Zachary Green: Naomi and I first started talking when she published a piece of mine in plain china. Through several e-mail exchanges I took a liking to her thorough editing approach. But for some reason I thought she was 35, with a career, and that we would never have the opportunity to meet. I must admit I found her on Facebook and much to my surprise saw she was the same age, in the same place in her life as I was in mine. We met up a few times and decided that we were both pretty stylish and should start a journal. That’s how these things happen; over pizza and fashionable garb.
Naomi Washer: There was the day Zach asked me if I wanted to start a journal someday, and the subsequent conversations about our literary ethics. There were the New England towns in which we sat on porches and mused over possible journal titles. There was the summer afternoon Zach went for a bike ride and the name “ghost proposal” just came to him. There was the message “ghost proposal” I received from him that day, to which I replied and agreed. And there was Greg Frye, our designer, who made it happen in a matter of weeks. So it was a series of ghost-like proposals, as each piece of our idea found footing.
The authors you’ve published in the first issue run the gamut—from recently graduated undergrads to well-known essayists—how did you acquire the pieces in your inaugural issue?
NW: Having decided to solicit for the first issue, I considered which writers had made an impact on my work and my beliefs about nonfiction as a genre. I have been equally impressed by the work of established writers, emerging writers, and my peers. I wanted our first issue to illustrate that good writing speaks for itself, regardless of age or experience. But I also think that our dedication and publishing experience helped people see Ghost Proposal as a venue that’s going to be important, and it made them want to get involved. I’m humbled and excited about that.
ZG: Both of us we really wanted to enter the publishing arena in a strong way. We knew we had to reach further than was realistic, and we both developed some notable contacts to that end. We’re also just starting out in our writing careers, so it made sense to invite writers who reflect our demographic as well.
Can you describe the submission process? How do you and Zachary plan on compiling future issues of Ghost Proposal? How often will you publish?
ZG: We are using Submittable, which has been blowing our minds, and we have a listing at Duotrope. We also plan to solicit writers in order to keep the caliber of writing high. For now we are looking at being a quarterly magazine.
NW: I am seriously blown away by the reach we’ve achieved in so little time. You can anticipate quarterly issues for now, but we hope to turn this into a small press someday. We hoped for a first issue “someday” only about six months ago, so who knows: Stay tuned.
Why creative nonfiction and poetry? As writers, how do you define the current relationship between these genres?
ZG: The simple answer is that Naomi writes creative nonfiction and I write poetry; this is where we are comfortable and excel. Personally, I find that both genres possess a lyrical quality and are always approaching truth, but sometimes have a hard time getting it right. It’s kind of like my love life, but most of the time I’m not getting it right.
NW: Genre was the first aspect of the journal that we knew would set us apart from others. So many journals are poetry and fiction, or poetry and “prose,” so we knew that having poetry and nonfiction would be a defining factor. As a writer, I don’t feel entirely uncomfortable labeling my work under any genre. But essays are what I live inside of, because of the way they circle or spiral around something, using every avenue—imagination, line breaks, other poetic strategies, whichever form fits the content—to get there. There’s a current push in the essay form to break genre and use more poetic tendencies, but when you go back far enough, you find that there were similarities all along.
And finally, on your “About” page you write: “…we write as an act of presenting and offering. However, we cannot always claim to know where the inclination to do so comes from.” Can you talk further about the nature of a “ghost proposal”?
NW: When I critique essays or work with my students, my biggest question is always, What are you trying to uncover? We write to find clarity and truth, not because we’ve already found it. It’s like this D’Agata quote I like very much: “Sometimes the essay is where we end up when everything that we know must change.” I think the name “ghost proposal” implies this letting go of assumed control of where ideas come from. The most exciting pieces of work feel as though they’ve come from a wider place than any one brain, seeking larger understanding. The act of bringing ideas and questions to the page without knowing the answer is scary. I revel in that fear.
ZG: I believe in some sort of organic process where the writing is coming from the subconscious (but we all know Breton beat me to that notion). In essence, this is the ghost; the loose embodiment of that other life inside of you that feels and receives the world intensely but doesn’t always communicate that process directly. Instead it comes through a third voice—and ideas are in words, right? Ideas are proposals, so naturally we must explore them.
Issue Two of Ghost Proposal will come out on March 1st, 2013.
In the meantime, check out Issue One of Ghost Proposal, keeping your eyes peeled for work from former plain china contributors Lauren Bailey (read her own epistolary piece here and her prize-winning nonfiction here), Joanna Vogel (read her nonfiction here), and former plain china editor-in-chief Crystal Barrick (read her poetry here). You can read Zachary Green’s nonfiction piece, “I Will Send You This,” in Issue Two of plain china 2011, and his poem, “A Solar Storm in the Cockpit,” in Issue Two of plain china 2010. Naomi Washer’s poetry and prose has been published in Bennington College’s The Silo—check out her pieces here.
Eager for a real haunting? Naomi and Zachary will be at the 2013 AWP Conference in Boston—look out for the Ghost Proposal team at the Bookfair in Boston, March 7-9.