Woodland Magic: Interview with Alina Rios

Welcome to this week’s author interview! Today I’m proud to present the multi-talented Alina Rios. I was fortunate enough to work with Alina on the debut issue of Bracken, the new magic realism magazine for which she serves as founder and editor. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience, so of course, I had to invite her to appear on my blog.

Below, Alina and I discuss Bracken as well as her inspiration and future plans as a writer, editor, and photographer.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Alina RiosI never decided to become a writer. I just wrote. I started early, when I was five, and the process of writing my first poem is still vivid in my mind. Adults were talking, I was bored, I was given a pen and paper to draw, and I wrote a poem about a bunny. I can still recite it. Since that time, I wanted to write more than anything else. The backs of all my school notebooks, except perhaps the ones from my Spanish classes, were filled with poems and story starts.

My father left when I was very young and once I started writing, I used it, as I see clearly now, to escape into my dreams. Fortunately or not, I never grew out of it.

Moving from St. Petersburg, Russia to Cleveland, Ohio slowed me down quite a bit because for a long time I found myself between languages, where Russian was starting to slip away—and sadly I let it—and English had not quite come in and taken over my dreams. It was years later that I decided to take writing seriously and enrolled in an Intro to Writing workshop at the Story Studio in Chicago. That’s where I realized, Hey, I can do this. No more non-native language excuses.

In Russia, I read and fell in love with “Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov. It was and still is my favorite and most formative book. This is going to shock people, but before discovering this book, I found Russian literature boring, and favored European literature always, devouring the translations on my mom’s bookshelves. After coming to America, I discovered Diana Wynne Jones—funny, as she’s British—whose worlds and humor, and the infectious spirit that permeates her books, found a home in me. Neil Gaiman is another favorite, especially his earlier books, and his short stories. I have a very soft spot in my heart for Stardust. In the last few years, I’ve discovered Patricia McKillip, and a worn-out copy of her “Winter Rose” is always on my bedside table.

You are the editor at Bracken, a new literary magazine dedicated to magic realism. What inspired you to start this magazine, and what are your plans over the next year or two?

The idea for Bracken came to me at first because I wanted to create a place where all of my favorite stories and poems could live. But as I began working on it, I realized that this was more about giving back to the arts community. I was in a position to support authors and artists with affirmations of their work, encouragements of “almost-there” submissions, and the gratification of first publications.

My plans are rather simple. I want Bracken to stay alive.

My Creative Director, Piper Robert, and I have talked about doing a print anthology at the end of the year. I hope this happens, because both of us are very partial to print and we think the beautiful aesthetic that we have developed for Bracken would translate very well to print. If there is to be an anthology, there will be a release party, somewhere in Seattle, possibly in this little bookstore I know of in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, which is the oldest part of the city.

We’ve also talked about adding music to the magazine. We haven’t explored the idea fully, but I keep finding pieces that would fit very well with our theme.

What can readers expect from the forthcoming second issue of Bracken? Also, do you have any tips for those writers who are submitting to Bracken’s slush pile?

BrackenThere will be more magic, more sadness, and many ways to disappear. We already have the cover art lined up and it is amazing—very different than our first cover but it just fits. I feel like poetry is shaping up quite a bit differently for this issue and I like that. It still does everything you’d expect from our poetry but there is a lot more water in this issue. I have a strange feeling that fiction might follow suit. Piper noticed that there was a lot of silver in our first issue. It is intriguing to discover that we have a themed issue after the content is set!

As far as submissions go, I would say a simple hello with a name attached to it is a great beginning. I also like hearing about the person who’s submitting. Not a bio, just a few words on where the author is coming from. If I know that, I feel I can help the submitter better in my response. It also puts me in a better mood for reading the work.

As far as the actual work goes, we’re looking for lyrical prose and poetry. That means that it must sing. Yes, even your prose. Read any piece from Issue I and you’ll know what I mean. In fiction, we are looking for character-driven stories, which means we want you to go deep, usually inside yourself, to write the kind of story we want to publish. We will always choose an internal transformation over an external adventure. Also, we love the woods, as the name suggests. We also love gardens, fields, backyards. We love rivers and lakes because they often at some point end up near the woods. Once we get into seas and oceans, it becomes a tougher sell. However, that might change, as we’re finding we have to let go of some very good fiction and poetry because it doesn’t quite fit our theme. It is this dynamic tension between keeping the content on land and simply getting amazing magic realism that is going to evolve this magazine.

Also, please oh please follow the submission guidelines. It could make the difference as to whether we read your work.

In addition to your editing, you are an accomplished fiction writer and poet. Have you found it challenging to balance your Bracken duties with your writing schedule? Do you have any tips on time management for other writer-editors out there?

I have found the balance of creating my own work and running a magazine quite challenging. Let’s add on top of this being a single mom of a seven-year-old. However, I have found the magazine to be so soul-feeding that it keeps me going.

As far as tips go, I would say, ask for help. I was so lucky to find Piper. I am lucky to have a nanny who drops off my son at school three days a week. That’s three days that I get to write at a café in the mornings before work. And those hours are precious. Also, I have enlisted the support of some secret readers. They can cut down on my obsessing over submitted work that is hard to part with for such a sympathetic soul as myself.

I have stopped submitting my own work for the moment, because there is just too much to do. But I know I will get back to it, having learned so much already from being on the other side. Another approach that works for me is to have designated writing and editing times in my day. Mornings are for writing. Evenings are for editing Bracken. This works for me because I’m most creative in the mornings, and more keenly focused in the evenings.

You are also an amazing photographer! Has your imaging work ever inspired your writing, or vice versa?

Thank you! I am just starting to move into that area. I have always used photography as a tool to help me get inside myself, to slow down, to really see. In that way, I usually take photos when I cannot write, either because of external circumstances (like being out with my son) or when I’m stuck in a story and need to step away.

Where would you like to see your career as an editor and writer in five years?

Love this question. It is something I haven’t thought of too much because I’m trying to live in the present for a change. But, now that you’ve asked, as a writer, I’m really hoping to start writing plays. Theater has always been such a key part of my life, as has writing, and it is only natural to want to bring them together. I am nursing an idea of a play and I’m very curious how it will come out. Also, there is a chapbook of fiction and poetry I’ve had in mind that I would love to finalize and start sending out. I also hope to get Bracken to a stable enough place that I can start writing and submitting more.

As an editor, I want to keep publishing the true, real voices that are laced with the sadness of the world. I hope to inspire those who are struggling to write, and those who are writing to write better—to go into the darkness of their hearts, and find the beauty. I also hope to be trusted with an anthology some day.

Any links you’d like to share to others’ work?

Here are [some sites] where the creativity is resonant with the spirit of Bracken:

Tim Walker Photography

Kristy Mitchell Photography

Caroline Shaw, Composer

Big thanks to Alina for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her author site as well as on Bracken Magazine!

Happy reading!