As kids and young adults, our parents frequently rope us into doing things we don’t want to do — things like looking after our younger siblings, unloading the dishwasher, or vacuuming the living room. So when your mother is a co-founder of a literary magazine called Pulp Literature, you get roped into helping. At least, that’s what happened to Elizabeth Pieters, a second year engineering student at SFU.
“A lot of what I do is called working in the slush pile,” explains Pieters. “I essentially get to be the first person to read new incoming stories, and I provide a recommendation to the editors based on the quality of the story. I also do copy editing, which is checking the final manuscript for any typos or errors.”
Pulp Literature is formatted like a paperback book, and has a genre-bending focus. Genre fiction — such as sci-fi, speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror — is often denigrated as low-brow literature, but the founders of Pulp Literature magazine believe that genre fiction can also be literary. Featuring everything from short stories to novellas, poetry, illustrations, and graphic novels, the magazine bends the confines of these various labels.
For Pieters, being roped in isn’t so bad, as she actually likes what she’s doing. “I’ve always been interested in writing and stories, so this was a perfect opportunity to get involved in the writing industry. I think it’s really cool to actually be a part of a magazine and actually see how the selection process for each story works.”
Most people would associate these traits and this knowledge with an English major, not an engineer, but Pieters insists the skills she’s using and learning are essential for any professional.
“Having to evaluate other people’s stories has made me a lot more aware of what to avoid in my own writing, and how to make my own stories stand out. Writing and communication is one of the things that engineers stereotypically struggle with, yet it is a key component of engineering. Volunteering at a magazine like Pulp Literature really rounds you out.”
The nature of the slush pile means that it ranges from hidden gems to completely unsuitable submissions. “I truly dislike very few; most are fun to read, and once in a while you strike gold. It’s a great feeling to not only read a fantastic story, but to share it with other people too,” she says. Of course, that also means delivering rejections.
“The really good ones and the really bad ones are easy to decide on,” explains Pieters. “The really good ones grab you right away and don’t let go; it’s not even a question of examining the writing or plot, you know it’s good because you just can’t put it down.
“The really bad ones, likewise, are the ones that you have to force yourself to finish and that you never want to read again. Ever. It’s rating the ones in the middle that are more difficult, the ‘meh’ stories, the ones that might have potential or might just tank.”
The magazine seeks contributions from writers, poets, and graphic artists that fit into any genre fiction category, or cross-over genre, or those that haven’t found a home elsewhere. After their first successful year of publication, Pulp Literature is now fundraising for a second year.
Backers can get editorial feedback on writing, attend a writing retreat on Bowen Island, or receive a year’s subscription. Pieters insists that there’s something entertaining in every issue, and that you’re supporting local writers and artists in the process.