"We Just Want to Publish the Best Work That Comes Our Way." A Chat With Peter Field and Pam Wells, Editors of New Mag Timberline Review
Peter R Field, Publisher, is the First Vice President and Program Chair of Willamette Writers. A former story analyst for Miramax Films and New Line Cinema in New York, he is both an accomplished screenwriter and an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. At Spalding, he has served as Student Assistant Editor on The Louisville Review. He is currently adapting a book for the screen. about.me
Pam Wells, Editor In Chief, is the award-winning director, producer, writer and editor of My Shanghai (2014), a documentary which screened in U.S. festivals in 2014 and gained distribution. She is a former editor, reporter and humor columnist for The Bear Valley Voice in Big Bear Lake, California. Her essays and observations have been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Oregonian, and a prime number of other prime publications.myshanghaifilm.com
Interview by Sandy Ebner
In the opening section of your first issue you explain your reasons for starting a literary magazine. For those who haven’t had a chance to read it, will you give us a short recap?
Wells: Peter and I belong to a writing organization in Portland called Willamette Writers. I happened to be at a board meeting last October when Peter, who is on the board, brought up the idea for a literary journal, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization. I said, "I'm in," and the board said, "Yes," as long as we could have the first issue published in time for the annual conference, which is in August. That lit a fire under us and we scrambled to open for submissions in January.
How difficult was it to get people to sign on and volunteer their time?
Wells: In general, not too difficult, especially finding readers. Everyone on the Timberline staff has to be a member of Willamette Writers, and many of them are used to volunteering for different things. We're just grateful for whatever time and energy people can give us.
Field: Someone just came on board as Circulation Manager, so that's going to be a big help.
Can you explain your connection with Willamette Writers and the Willamette Writer’s Conference?
Wells: Willamette Writers is a big non-profit organization in Oregon with 1,500 members all around the state and elsewhere. It runs several different programs, The Timberline Review being the newest, but is probably best known for the Willamette Writers Conference which is held in Portland every summer. We typically have about 800 writers attending and dozens of teaching faculty and literary and film reps. Three days immersed in workshops, panels, pitching and networking.
Field: And this year, for the first time, writers whose work appeared in The Timberline Review could hold up the book and say, "I'm published in here."
You charge a small reading fee (donation) for submissions, but I also see that you pay your writers as well. There seem to be two schools of thought on submission fees of any kind. Can you comment on that?
Field: Members pay annual dues to be part of Willamette Writers, and we do not charge fees for member submissions. Anyone who wants to become a member can join and would then be entitled to all the benefits of WW membership.
Wells: We struggled with the idea of a fee but decided on $5 for non-members. For payments, our first-issue contributors were given two copies; second-issue contributors will get one copy plus $25. We know it's not a lot, so we do what we can to support our contributors in other ways, such as featuring them on the website and promoting their work in social media. We'd like to do more in the future.
We do what we can to support our contributors...
Do you find it a challenge to work as co-editors, and how do you handle the inevitable disagreements that might come up, regarding content, aesthetics, etc. Do you usually agree on which submissions to accept, and if not, does one person have the final say?
Wells: Actually, we work well together, partly because of personality and partly because we both seem to want the same thing for the journal. We have enough faith in it and in ourselves to muddle through. For aesthetics, we were lucky because we didn't have a graphic design volunteer and I ended up doing it. I say "lucky" because Peter liked what I came up with, and other people seem to like it, too. For content, we're pretty much aligned, though I tend to have the stronger reactions and opinions. We do agree on which submissions to accept, but sometimes one of us agrees more than the other.
Field: We haven't ever reached an impasse where one person decides how to proceed. We strive for consensus.
The cover artwork is beautiful. Did you pick this image for any particular reason, and do you plan on using the same artist in future issues?
Field: Pam found this image by an Oregon artist, and we knew it was our cover. The gorgeous perspective of the trees and looking beyond seemed to embody everything we were aspiring to in this first issue.
Wells: And how it relates to the timberline and a writer's vision, a poet's vision, of what that might mean. The artist, Kevin Clark, has turned out to be a great resource for us. Through him, we were invited to hold a reading at Oregon State University and to select artwork for our next cover. Which we did. The idea for future issues is to change the framed artwork but keep the background mountain essentially the same.
Your magazine is available in print, both online and in brick and mortar locations in the Northwest. I know it’s early days yet, but do you plan on branching out at some point? Also, do you plan on offering content online?
Wells: We've talked about offering content online but haven't settled on the right model. Branching out is definitely in the plans. The growth will come with demand, of course, so we have to create the demand with great content. We also plan to do a digital version.
You publish writers from all over the country, and the world. Are there specific types of submissions that you look for? Do you focus on emerging, or established writers, or a combination of both?
Wells: It's a combo. We just want to publish the best work that comes our way. In English.
Field: We're looking for riveting voices, plain and simple. Stories that engage us immediately and make us want to talk to those writers because they really have something to say about the human condition and the times we live in.
We're looking for riveting voices, plain and simple.
What are the Timberline and Kay Snow Prizes? And can you talk a bit about TimberNotes?
Field: The Timberline Prize is the award we created for our first issue to celebrate the piece “Read to You” by Robert Vivian, a writer who lives in Michigan and teaches writing at Alma College and in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program.
Wells: We each read that piece separately and immediately wanted it. I think Peter was the one who said, "Let's fly him in for the conference." I said, "Okay, let's do it." Which pretty much sums up how we roll.
Field: Plus, we helped fulfill his one wish, to go to Powell’s bookstore, the City of Books.
Kay Snow is an annual writing contest named after the founder of Willamette Writers. She had a vision to help encourage and support writers of all shapes and sizes, aspiring and professional. These awards are given every year in multiple categories—fiction, CNF, poetry, and YA, and this was the first year we took the winners of that contest and published them.
Wells: There's not much to say about TimberNotes. The idea was to have some original content on the website, an occasional column about writing or whatever, but right now it's just a page with upcoming readings and events.
Are you both writers yourselves? If so, how do you balance writing time and putting out a lit mag every month?
Wells: Fortunately, TR is semi-annual. So, yes, there is time to do other things like write and acknowledge our families. When we started last winter, I was wrapping up a lot of things for a documentary film I'd made. Peter is completing his MFA and a feature-length screenplay, so he sometimes goes dark for a day or two. I think we both want TR to succeed so much that we just set our priorities and do what needs to be done.
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to cover?
Wells: We could use some donations.
Field: The bigger, the better.
Sandy Ebner lives and writes in Northern California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the San Francisco Chronicle, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, the HerStories/ My Other Ex anthology, and other publications. Her essay, ‘The Clothes I Was Wearing’ was named a finalist in both the Press 53 Open Awards and the Glass Woman Prize, in addition to being nominated by Connotation Press for a Pushcart Prize. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism from California State University, and is an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She previously served as the Creative Nonfiction Editor at MadHat Lit and MadHat Annual (Mad Hatter’s Review), and is currently working on her first novel.