Gwen (Beatty) Werner is a local writer, as well as an actor, musician, barista, and legal clerk.
1. What was the impetus to start Moonsick Magazine? How long has it been online?
It began as an “oh fuck, I’m about to graduate college” project. I was frustrated and filled with doom feelings about spring and my headspace was a little fucked. Between appointments I’d watch my friend look at grad schools or stress about her CV, and I came to the realization, and it sounds stupid as I say it here, that no one was going to give me an assignment ever again. Nobody was going to say, “Hey, read this, make this, do this thing.” I was working for a different literary magazine at the time and up until that point I didn’t think I was accomplished enough, whatever that means, to run one by myself. But I said, “fuck it,” beat down that shitty internal leviathan, bought a web domain, and Moonsick happened. It was the assignment I gave myself. Now we’re talking about it nine monthly issues later.
2. Moonsick solicits material exclusively from female-identified writers. What feedback has Moonsick Magazine received, both from authors who have submitted and your audience? How do you feel Moonsick has been received, and do you feel its intended purpose is being achieved?
Well, some dudes were pissed. One went so far as to tell me I was a bad feminist for not including men. But with each pissed dude comes the satisfaction of knowing I’m doing something important. There are journals for men, like BULL – Men’s Fiction. Here’s a quote from their website: “We’re looking for good stories that address men’s issues, span male perspectives, or otherwise appeal to a male audience.” Okay. And that magazine is pretty good, actually! They’ve published some work that I really, really dig. So that’s the magazine I point to when boys go, “Waaaah, these girls have a magazine! Why can’t I be in the club? Boo hoo!” Moonsick features women, but we aren’t necessarily publishing solely about women’s issues. BULL publishes dudes writing shit about being a dude! Like, damn! Go hang out with them for a little bit and stop sending me emails.
Moonsick’s inbox has a “MEN” folder. A lot of guys have tried to send work under female pseudonyms from Frank Whatever at Gmail dot com, or just under their real names. Some of it isn’t malicious. Sometimes it’s clear that they’re just idiots who didn’t read the submission guidelines, but other times it’s pretty clear they’re trying to get their work accepted so they can say, “HA HA I PULLED ONE OVER ON THOSE FEMINIST BITCHES.” We don’t respond. Those submissions go to the “MEN” folder to die.
“ I said, ‘fuck it,’ beat down that shitty internal leviathan, bought a web domain, and Moonsick happened. It was the assignment I gave myself. Now we’re talking about it nine monthly issues later.”
I’m not here to play the gender police, though. I’m not scouring the internet to find out people’s gender identities, or asking non-binary submitters if they feel more male or female today. That’s just bullshit and a waste of time.
The goal of Moonsick is to provide a safe space for women to submit. A lot of women I’ve talked to have told me it’s sometimes daunting to submit out into the big, wide dude-world. I’d say something like a fifth of the submissions I receive contain a thank you: for Moonsick, for saving them a spot on the internet. Those emails rule. So, to answer your question, yes. I think so.
3. In what ways is the lit scene actively and tacitly ignoring and/or dismissing women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and members of other marginalized groups? How do you, and other writers, subvert this?
The problem is multifaceted and I’m definitely not an expert. I want to point you to the VIDA count, a project born of Cate Marvin, Erin Belieu, and Ann Townsend. Each year, VIDA compiles data about top tier journals, press outlets, etc, and they map out gender disparities in easy to swallow pie charts. It’s just an illustration, and VIDA as an organization does a lot more than just make pie charts, but it’s an interesting thing to look at. A thing I’ve run into a lot is, “Oh, women aren’t getting published? Prove it.” So there you go. Let’s start there. I proved it.
“The goal of Moonsick is to provide a safe space for women to submit. A lot of women I’ve talked to have told me it’s sometimes daunting to submit out into the big, wide dude-world.”
The problem, like everything, is greyer, fuzzier, isn’t condensable into something easy to swallow. Everything is intersectional. And I’m white, so I’m not going to act like I understand the intricacies of the bullshit people of color are experiencing in the lit scene, but I am a queer woman, so I do understand at least my intersections.
The literary canon taught in school is made up mostly of cisgendered, white dudes. And okay! Some of that shit rips! Like, Spenser was a sexy weirdo and I’m into it! But when writers who belong to marginalized groups are taught, it becomes an auxiliary course, not a requirement. This alone is enough to tune our ears to the white, male voice, and wire our minds to think of white dudes as “real” writers, everybody else as an “elective.” Since the beginning of this Moonsick thing, people have said stuff to me like, “I didn’t think my writing was real writing worth submitting because I wasn’t [white, male, straight] enough.” And this, obviously, is coming from people in retrospect, and perhaps they hadn’t made that connection up until they said it to me, but think about how many non-white, non-male, non-straight people are unconsciously perpetuating this bullshit in their head. We need to read their work. Goddamn it.
4. What is your writing background? Along with founding Moonsick, you also edit. Do you have previous editing experience, and are there other editors and/or regular contributors to the magazine?
As far as editing goes, I worked for a magazine called Cease, Cows for about a year in 2013 and First Stop Fiction, both during and after that. I’ll always love those magazines and the people who run them for teaching me to do what I’m doing now. First Stop Fiction also published my very first fiction piece, so double marshmallow hearts for them. Academic editing actually helped in ways that I didn’t expect it to. When I was teaching kids who barely spoke English or who didn’t give a fuck, I had to figure out how to explain what worked and what didn’t work in their writing in a way that was simultaneously clear and engaging. A lot of times with Moonsick rejections, I send a bit of feedback because I don’t want submitters to full stop after a rejection from Moonsick. Evolve, evolve.
“The literary canon taught in school is made up mostly of cisgendered, white dudes. And okay! Some of that shit rips!”
Moonsick is just me for now, although, I constantly refer to myself “us” in emails. Actually, I think I’ve even done it in this interview. Yeah, fuck, I don’t know why I do that. Anyway, I’d love to have an editing crew, as submissions are increasing every month and it’s a lot for me to tackle alone, but I like being in charge of what I publish. It’s a perk I didn’t have as much while reading slush at other journals. AND I’d like to be able to offer more than just experience to an editor if I hired one, so until I stop losing money on this literary baby, a reading team seems out of reach.
5. In addition to being a writer, you are also actively involved in local theatre. What are your experiences as an artist in Dubuque? How is the city accommodating of artists and the arts? How can it improve?
Theatre isn’t really a part of our shared cultural consciousness anymore, so it’s a hard thing to market, especially in a place like Dubuque. We need money, space, an audience. But that’s the arts, I guess. In a lot of ways I think Dubuque is getting better, and for such a small community we’ve put up some great shows. We can hold on to that. In recent years, I’ve seen a pretty big shift in the kinds of shows we’re doing, how we’re doing them, where we’re doing them, what kind of audience we’re drawing, and I think the theatre community as a whole is headed in a neat direction. Two summers ago we did a show about weed with props made of cardboard, I simulated a blowjob on a small stage in a bar, and goddamn if that wasn’t the biggest draw we’d had in years. It provoked people. It wasn’t even close to being the best show we’ve ever done, but people showed up.
6. You recently self-published a chapbook (Kill Us On the Way Home), and founded Moonsick as an independent internet publication. Were these decisions conscious or made of necessity? The power of controlling your own mode of distribution is subversive in its own right – in what other ways does calling your own shots benefit both your art and the diversity of the scene? What is the attitude toward self-publishing, and how has that changed in recent years?
Kill Us On the Way Home was sort of self-published. Ryan Werner, my partner, runs a press out of our apartment. He knows how to do what I don’t, like formatting and design, and he definitely got the last call on everything. He has seen me naked, though, so I guess it’s self-published because otherwise it’d be nepotism. I was on the fence about whether or not I’d have him put it out under the umbrella of his press, or if I was going to make up a press of my own, but I knew from day damn one I’d be putting it out on my own terms. I watch writers send their manuscripts all over the goddamn planet for years and years before it gets picked up, and what a stressful waste of time! It’s a saturated market, but your work is valid! Just fucking do it and then maybe someone will notice and pay you American dollars for it!
7. Any plans for 2016? Last year you put out a book and traveled to the West Coast to read – will there be a tour this year? What is the future of Moonsick? Any desire for a print edition or compendium of previous issues?
I’m hoping to go out for a little five day tour in March and then a bigger guy at the end of July. It’s a little daunting because I haven’t been out reading for more than a weekend at a time, but reading, even when the turnout isn’t great, reaffirms that this is what I’m going to do.
As for Moonsick, I’m hoping to do a print edition of my favorite pieces from past issues within the year. It’s a big project, though, so I’ll definitely need some help. Takers?
Moonsick Magazine: moonsickmagazine.com
Find more about Gwen at: gwenwerner.com
About The Author:
Bob Bucko, Jr. has been in a thousand bands you’ve never heard of. He has released three solo LPs as BBJr, as well as loads of CDs and cassettes under his own name and in collaboration with friends. He also operates the Personal Archives record label and is Board President of the Dubuque Area Arts Collective.