An introduction to literary magazine editors of Beeswax Magazine, Laureen Mahler and John Peck, who also run an independent letterpress and book arts studio. The dynamic married couple publishes Beeswax Magazine from their print studio, Volta Press. Mahler and Peck have backgrounds in writing and literature, which lends them unique perspective as editors and printmakers.
Quick Facts on Laureen Mahler & John Peck
- Website: Beeswax Magazine | Volta Press
- Home: LM & JP live in Oakland, California
- Comfort food: For JP, Japanese junk food (bento box type stuff), Japanese BBQ, anything fried, Tom Ka Gai. For LM, anything breaded and fried, pizza, whatever JP cooks.
- Top reads: Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov, David Mitchell, Amy Hempel, Wallace Stevens, Anne Carson, Emily Dickinson, George Saunders, Jack Spicer, Black Mountain Poets—especially Robert Duncan & Charles Olson
- Current reads: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, after reading his The Savage Detectives
What are you working on?
Day and night we are working on Issue 6 of Beeswax Magazine.
Who do you picture as the ideal audience for Beeswax Magazine?
Someone open-minded about genres, who won’t expect to read only poetry or only fiction. People who will read a text and let the piece of writing itself determine what it is, where its place is. Less conservative readers; we really like classical fiction and classical poetry, but that type of work is generally not what we publish.
When do you prefer to read submissions?
In the middle of the night, late, later. After the day is over. When there are no distractions or interruptions, and we can read undisturbed. There’s something about the wee hours in which everything feels closer, the piece in front of us feels closer, the world feels closer. It’s more intimate and tranquil.
What do you like about working and living in Oakland, California?
We love that the Volta Press studio is in Jack London Square. Oakland has influenced the character of Beeswax Magazine through the supportive local arts community and strong DIY (do-it-yourself) atmosphere. People nearby are interested in art, making things, and making things happen.
What do you listen to when you work?
LM: Absolutely nothing, especially while reading. Silence allows me to focus. I love music but if it’s on I feel like I have to pay attention to it. When I finish working I put on the Old 97s or The Knife.
JP: While reading or writing, nothing. When printing, Black Sabbath, the Misfits, NoMeansNo, Jawbreaker—punk rock.
Do you have a philosophy for how you put together Beeswax Magazine?
Each issue is more than words on the page; it becomes an object of art. Holding the magazine, touching it while reading lends more meaning to the pages. It’s the idea of definite content, the implication that a piece loses something by not being viewed it its original context and form. We want to produce something substantial. Every issue is different from the rest. Most have a non-standard spine. It begs to be shelved cover facing out, to be picked up.
We want an issue to be cohesive, thought-provoking, meaningful, aesthetically pleasing, but also remain a magazine. We like the incongruity between what some people expect when they hear the name Beeswax Magazine, and what they find when they see an issue. The word magazine implies a certain amount of accessibility, which we appreciate.
What do you look for in the submissions you select?
Work that follows submission guidelines.
Always, writing that has a soul to it. We like things that feel different. We look for narrative, but done in an unconventional way. What we want to illuminate is more cross-genre, unclassifiable work. Innovative pieces. We look for quality work that has something a little bit out of place, something off or odd going on.
As we develop an issue we look for work that will be coherent together. Admittedly, that’s unpredictable for us, and for submitters. Sometimes we have to turn down awesome pieces that don’t fit with what we’re publishing.
What would you love to see Beeswax Magazine shelved alongside?
Well, McSweeney’s was definitely an early inspiration for us. The creativity behind their issues made us feel like, okay, we can do this. It can work to make a magazine that is published as something different each time. Publications like Fence, jubilat, and Watchword.
Is there a quote about writing that motivates you?
Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Gilbert Sorrentino: “Form not only determines content, but form invents content.”
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Write whatever you want. Don’t think you have to be “a fiction writer” or “a poet.” Master the basics, then feel the writing. Write anything that strikes you. Don’t write to be published—that shouldn’t be the inspiring factor.
Do your homework; send work during the submission period, follow the submission guidelines. Read an issue of the journal if possible. If you can’t afford to buy it, try the library.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?
To be a good literary citizen. Read a lot. Be interested in other writers, other journals, and what’s happening around you. Support the arts community that you are a part of. Interact with other writers.
What’s an unusual question you’ve been asked about publishing?
Everyone asks how we come up with different design ideas. We ask ourselves the same thing. It’s hard to say. Usually, it starts with accepting the work we like best, asking, does this fit with the issue as a whole? We do know that each issue comes together and makes sense in the end. It’s a little bit magical.
About Laureen Mahler & John Peck
Laureen received her MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts, where she discovered that community, good books, and letterpress are the keys to a happy existence. John graduated from Stanford with an MA in English Literature; in addition to editing and printing, he plays bass in the bands American Steel and Communiqué.
(Interview first published on Suite101.com in March 2010.)
[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Editors Laureen Mahler & John Peck.” Words With Writers (2010), https://wordswithwriters.com/2010/03/27/laureenmahler-johnpeck.]