Saturday, May 2, 2015

A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH GILBERT

Sarah Gilbert is editor-in-chief of Stealing Time, a new literary magazine for parents. Gilbert holds an MBA as well as undergraduate degrees in late British literature and journalism. In 2004, she cofounded urbanMamas in Portland, Oregon. Gilbert is mother to three boys, a writer, a photographer, and a military wife, and is passionate about sustainable living.

Carol Smallwood:  Please tell us about Stealing Time.

Sarah Gilbert:   Stealing Time is a literary magazine that tells real stories of parenting. We wanted to take situations that mainstream parenting magazines might write about — sleep, life with a new baby, childbirth classes, pets, birthday parties, sending kids to college — but instead of telling our readers what to do, we tell them a story. Stealing Time is devoid of product recommendations and lists. It is devoted to showing the parenting journey through someone else's eyes and experience.

Practically, Stealing Time is a quarterly print magazine in black-and-white, with fiction, memoir, essays, poems, and photographs. We also have an annual pregnancy/childbirth issue. We have been compared to The Sun literary magazine, which makes us happy.

CS:  What inspired you to start a new parenting magazine?

SG:   I’d had success publishing essays that did not deal integrally with parenting, but my essays with parenting at the forefront — the ones I considered my best work — were receiving little attention. Over dinner with one of my college friends and her MFA students, I had an epiphany: The first readers/editors for most literary journals are in their young 20s and unlikely to connect with a parenting theme.

While I was contemplating this, I had an annual exam. I looked at my OB's beautiful office, every surface covered with peppy advice and product recommendations, covers of magazines featuring gorgeous pregnant celebrities and photo shoots with children whose outfits cost more than my bike (and my bike is my car). I said to my OB, “I should start a literary journal for pregnancy and childbirth!”

“You should!” she said. A week later Brain,  Child announced it was closing (the magazine was later purchased by Marcelle Soviero), and those were enough messages from the universe for me. I launched the Stealing Time website a week later.

CS:   How is Stealing Time similar to, or different from, other literary magazines for parents?

SG:  Stealing Time carries on the tradition of Literary Mama, Brain, Child, and so many amazing blogs and online journals, a tradition of telling stories of motherhood in a non-commercial context without judgment, advice, or product recommendations. Our magazine offers the perspective of mothers, fathers, stepparents, grandparents, and those who parent in completely unconventional ways. We also believe that print still has a place in today's world. Our editors hold a visceral belief in the analog, in a magazine that can be tucked in laptop bags or jogging strollers, read while the airplane is taking off, hidden under pillows.

CS:  How did you fund Stealing Time?

SG:   I have no money! I've stayed home with my boys and freelanced for the past few years while my husband, an Army reservist, has been in Kuwait. I wanted to maintain artistic control over the magazine and didn't want to pitch to investors or big advertisers. I believed that there was enough need for this magazine to fund it through the crowd. So I launched a Kickstarter campaign to make enough money to pay for the first printing, for postage, and for writers and artists. I had this lofty goal: to bring the magazine to Blogher, which was seven weeks away when I launched the website.

As it turned out, my timeline was a little too quick; we were able to bring a half-sized issue to Blogher, and then launch our full issue in September 2012. Financing has been slower than I'd like, but I'm terribly optimistic. We're now publishing our magazine 90 percent through subscriptions and about 10 percent through ads. We're applying for non-profit status and hope to follow the lead of Bitch magazine and use a mix of reader support, subscriptions, and ads.

We are so lucky to have the amazing talents of a number of brilliant editors and designers who are volunteering, or working for pennies, in our startup phase. We can't wait to pay them. We're close!

CS:  Please tell us about your personal writing.

SG:  I think of myself as a memoirist, but I write in several genres. For years, I have made my living writing about personal finance, but I feel most natural writing essays. Many of my essays have started as posts on my personal blog and I incorporate pieces of my blog posts into my book-length projects, as well.

I am working on two book-length projects right now. Penelope and Other Heroes: Retelling the Myth of the Waiting Wife expands on my essay “Veteran's Day,” which was recognized as “Notable” in Best American Essays 2012. Another project is about raising children with emotional, behavioral, and pervasive development disorders.

CS:  What writers have influenced you the most?

SG: Virginia Woolf, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ford Madox Ford, Yeats, Keats, Blake, Ovid, Byron, Tennyson ... nearly everyone I've read and whoever I am reading at the moment. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and even befriending some modern greats like Anne Enright, Cheryl Strayed, and Anakana Schofield and they have also influenced me.

CS:  What writing classes have helped you the most?

SG:   My friend Mara Collins and I started what we called the “Kitchen Table MFA” three years ago. We developed our own syllabus with books, essays, and exercises from John Gardner's and Ursula LeGuin's books on craft. That “MFA” and two-plus years of a weekly writer's critique group have taken me from a person who could write good sentences to a person who could conceivably write a novel.

I do take every chance to learn from contemporary writers. I was lucky to take a class from Cheryl Strayed on memoir writing about a year before Oprah discovered her, and that was amazing. I go to readings and to the local Wordstock festival, and last year was enthralled by the AWP conference, an event chock-full of brilliant writers, editors, professors, and MFA students.

CS:  What advice can you offer writers, both in general and when submitting to Stealing Time?

SG:  You should always read your work out loud! I tend to reject clunky writing with word-sounds repeated accidentally (“said Sirius seriously” is my favorite example). A not-quite-right word can make a big difference. As for content and structure, we decide against submissions that fail to reveal a universal truth. The best pieces relate to everyone because they illuminate a universality.

In general, I think writers need to read and write. That sounds very basic but every writer gives essentially this advice. Read as much as you can, and read works that challenge and push you. Write all the time, write until you cry and sweat and feel nauseous, and if you are not writing, be right there in your own life. When I run or walk to school or ride my bike, I try to see things, and I describe them to myself, telling myself the story of the world again and again.


Earlier parts of this series include interviews with Brooke Warner and Christine Redman-Waldeyer.