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Inspired by the Imperfect Muse

Letter from the Editor

Today I went to the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum in Key West, where the famous author lived and spent his time writing nearly seventy percent of his work. I’m here for a few extra days of sun and relaxation after the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Tampa, Florida, and a visit to the home of one of the most prolific and influential American writers seemed only apropos. In fact, just three days ago I sat in an auditorium full of around five thousand writers, listening to George Saunders deliver the conference keynote and talk about how, in order to find his own voice as a writer, he had to get over his “Hemingway boner.”

     We all laughed because, if it wasn’t Hemingway, there was some other famous prolific author who we obsessed over in our younger aspiring writer days, and whom we futilely attempted to emulate. I think what Saunders meant by getting over his “Hemingway boner,” is that we all have to eventually come to terms with the fact that the writers who turn us on to the writing life and get us excited about language are unique and individual humans who, try as we might to imitate, can never be replicated.

     I imagine that Saunders also meant he had to realize that maybe Hemingway, and any other writer he had a “boner” for, actually wasn’t worth copying. Not because his work isn’t valuable, but because it cost him many relationships and, ultimately, his own life. Not because his writing isn’t exemplary work of the storytelling craft, but because magnificent writing does not have to come at such a great cost.

     Simply put: a reckless life is not a prerequisite for writing compelling stories. Further, idealizing writers who have inspired us (and to be clear, there is nothing wrong with inspiration—we all need it, heck that is a requirement for a life of art-making) causes a problem when we waste too much of our time and energy worshiping at the pedestal where we have placed them, trying to copy someone else’s legacy rather than creating our own.

     I write about this with confidence because during the three days I spent working Under the Gum Tree’s table at AWP, I met and reconnected with more than twenty of our contributors who have consistently shown me the value in working hard to find their own writing voice. Every single one of these people have taken the time to write a piece of creative nonfiction, sharing a piece of their life, and no two of them have been the same. No two people process a similar experience the same; no two people follow the same path through a difficult time; and no two people learn the same lesson in the exact same way.

     That’s what makes publishing this magazine so humbling and so rewarding, something I’m newly reminded of each year when I attend AWP. It’s the only place where I can connect, in person, with so many of the writers we have published. They come up to our table, one after another, telling us how much they love the magazine and how much they appreciate what we are doing for the creative nonfiction literary community.

     Hearing these words makes my entire year. These writers are the ones who keep me doing the indie lit mag thing when it seems at times that it’s not monetarily sustainable. These writers are the ones who tell me that I’m inspiring them and that they are honored to be in the magazine, when they have no idea how much they inspire me and that the honor is, in fact, all mine.

     Look out for the names you see in these pages. I have a feeling that someday we’ll be visiting one of their homes to catch a glimpse of inspiration from their writing studio.

     Here's to telling stories without shame, 


    Janna Marlies Maron
    Editor & Publisher

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