Oyster River Pages: Why did you choose Oyster River Pages?
Bill Gaythwaite: When researching magazines to submit my work, I was really struck by the What We Love description on the ORP site, with its fierce dedication to art in its various forms and the commitment of the editors to showcase diverse voices. Not only was the description beautifully written, but it dovetailed with my own view of why I love literature. I’ve seen submission guidelines which actually stated No gay-themed work. I can’t imagine what these folks would have considered gay themes—a plot involving a Golden Girls marathon? A Judy Garland costume exhibit? I wrote those editors asking for some explanation, suggesting that perhaps all themes are simply human and only expressed from different perspectives. The carefully worded response was predictably tone deaf and dismissive. It was obvious (no surprise) that what they really wanted was to silence the voices of gay people or pretend they didn’t exist at all. These editors probably felt the same way about other marginalized voices too, but weren’t as comfortable stating it in their guidelines! The point is this is another reason why I chose ORP and why I value and celebrate their mission statement. I am happy and proud to have my work appear in its second issue.
ORP: When did you first learn that language had power? What was that experience like for you?
BG: My parents were both great storytellers, but in very different ways. My mother told very funny stories, peppered with hilarious one-liners. My father’s stories were funny too, but they were slower-paced and often had a philosophical bent. They each knew how to work a room. I suppose from a very early age I noticed how words and their delivery could elicit a real response.
ORP: What’s the most unexpected place you have seen great art?
BG: I think there is a true art to writing obituaries. Sometimes I can feel as transfixed by a half-page obituary in The New York Times (these small, poignant biographies) as by a novel or a short story. I used to read obituaries when I was a kid too. (This did not go unnoticed!) I was always fascinated by the choices people made in their lives and the things that happened to them. I am sure this has spilled over into my fiction.
ORP: What’s your favorite under-appreciated work of art?
BG: There’s a movie from the late eighties called Men Don’t Leave, directed by Paul Brickman. It was written by Brickman and Barbara Benedek. I think it’s based on a French film. Anyway, it’s about a family trying to move on after a great loss. It was apparently a bit of a misfire when it came out and unsuccessful at the box office. But the film had a huge impact on me. There’s this wonderful line in it about how Heartbreak is life’s way of educating us which has probably become a running theme to much of my own work. And Jessica Lange gives this beautiful, stunning, central performance that just knocks me out. But I’m not sure if it is truly under-appreciated, as I appreciate the hell out of it and I know others who do too!
ORP: What advice would you give someone who has never been published?
BG: I think some of this goes without saying, but it’s important to put time and effort into the work before focusing on any specific publishing goals. Then research the magazines or venues where you think you want to be published to get a sense of what they are publishing, to see if it’s a good fit for your piece. Try really hard not to get discouraged by rejection. I’m fortunate because I think I’m kind of a stubborn person. This isn’t a great quality generally, but as a writer it can be helpful. I’m very persistent. I just had a story published (not The Lost Ones!) that was accepted after twenty years of rejection—though it had been revised a number of times along the way. That’s another thing. Keep revising. Be open to editorial suggestions and readers’ comments, not toward the view of publishing, but simply to improve the piece!
Bill Gaythwaite is on the staff of the Committee on Asia and the Middle East at Columbia University. His short stories have appeared in Subtropics, Grist, Alligator Juniper, Superstition Review, Lunch Ticket, and elsewhere. Bill’s work can also be found in the anthologies Mudville Diaries: A Book of Baseball Memories and Hashtag Queer: LGBTQ+ Creative Anthology, vols. 1 and 2. Read Bill’s story “The Lost Ones” from Issue 2.