The new LGBT-centric literary journal Peculiar
contains stories, poems, artwork and other creative works from members of the community, touching on various themes that have impacted their lives and stories they wish to share with the public. The book has been doing well at local book shops, and the crew already have the next volume underway. Today we chat with the two Editors-in-Chief, Jack Garcia and Aaron Gates, about forming the journal and its impact on the community so far. (All pages courtesy of Peculiar.
Aaron Gates & Jack Garcia
Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a bit about yourselves.
I’m a writing studies major at Utah Valley University, where I’m Editor-in-Chief of Intersections
and Tech Editor for Touchstones
, both of which are student journals. All that on top of Peculiar
! I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but I’ve lived in Utah now for three and a half years.
Like Aaron, I’m not originally from Utah, having moved here from Colorado seven years ago. And I also attended UVU,
but graduated earlier this year with a BA in English–Creative Writing. When I’m not at the jewelry store I manage, I volunteer with a local LGBT non-profit, Provo Pride, where I serve on the Board of Trustees and act as Festival Director. We just had our third-annual Provo Pride Festival this September.
Gavin: How did each of you first get into writing and literature?
I basically read every book I could get my hands on. I read a ton of fantasy and science fiction, as well as Calvin and Hobbes
, which I’m obsessed with. I just always liked how books and literature let you step into something else and see things from a different perspective.
My mom would often take me to the library growing up, and reading was a big part of my childhood. I still remember when my third-grade teacher read us The Giver
by Lois Lowry. She’d read a chapter a day and I was enthralled. My love for literature really took hold in
Gavin: What were the biggest influences on your writing style, and what you like to read?
Growing up, Harry Potter
was a big one, as well as classic authors like Jack London. But it was in college, taking classes from poets like Rob Carney, where I really got into writing poetry.
Gosh, what is
my writing style? Sometimes I still feel like I’m figuring that out. I’ve been working on and off on a novel that’s sort of urban fantasy, but most of my writing tends to be creative non-fiction. My poetry leans towards the confessional; at least that’s what the other members of my poetry group, the Rock Canyon Poets, tell me. I like reading David Foster Wallace and Neil Gaiman and pretty much anything. I still love The Giver
Gavin: What has it been like for each of you living in Utah and being a part of the LGBT community here?
It’s been a really eye-opening experience to see the unique culture that Utah has compared to what I was exposed to in Pennsylvania. I “came out” after I had already moved here to Utah, so it’s been a really good experience for that because I was able to meet a lot of people who also grew up Mormon and had to come to terms with being gay.
I also didn’t “come out” until I moved to Utah, which seems like the last place anyone would want to do that. It’s a pretty conservative place, and there’s a lot to be done to help protect the LGBT community here. But it’s not all bad. I met my husband here in Utah, and I have a lot of wonderful friends who are gay or trans or who are just awesome straight allies.
Gavin: When did the two of you first meet and become friends?
We met through some mutual friends in… 2013?
Yeah, that sounds right. It was at our friend Andrew’s house party.
And we were like, “We’re both English majors at UVU… we should be friends!”
Gavin: What made you decide to produce a literary journal?
We saw a need and wanted to make a difference. We wanted to expand the conversation in Utah related to LGBT individuals and issues.
Plus we both just love really good writing. Basically, we wanted to make the kind of journal here in Utah that we would want to be published in.
Gavin: Prior to this, did the LGBT community have anything like this, or was it more sporadic publishing?
Nationwide there are plenty of queer-focused literary journals, but we couldn’t find anything like that within Utah. At least that we knew of.
Yeah, and the writing that comes from the LGBT community in Utah compared to other states is definitely going to touch on different themes, so in that aspect, I think Utah needed its own queer literary journal.
Gavin: How did you get the word out about the first book and getting submissions in?
We told everyone we knew in every possible format multiple times! Lots of Facebook ads. Lots of emails. Lots of sharing.
We just pestered people we knew and the word spread on its own. Honestly, I was pretty surprised when authors we didn’t know from all across the state submitted work. Since then, we’ve been featured on some local radio shows and podcasts, which has been fun.
Gavin: What do you look for in a piece when you consider a submission?
Quality writing. Something that stands out from the rest. Work that really is saying something, has a point to make. Work from authors that show they understand the genres they’re writing in and know how to execute it well.
There really are no set guidelines in terms of content, and all art is subjective. A piece that we might fall in love with might get passed over by other editors, and vice versa. But I echo what Aaron said. We want quality pieces that tell things beautifully and honestly.
Gavin: What was the process like for you putting the first book together and getting it out?
If there is a word for something being both stressful and amazing, we choose that word! It certainly took a lot of effort and many nights staying up until midnight doing my own homework and then doing Peculiar
edits until about two or three in the morning.
Yep. A lot of editing
. I had never used InDesign before, so that was a fun learning curve. But formatting the pieces ended up being my favorite part, even if it was time-consuming as hell. Then we pulled in our friend Emily Mattson, who’s a graphic designer, to help us with the book design and printing.
Gavin: What did you think of the community's response to it when it finally came out?
It was overwhelmingly positive.
We held a launch party at Pioneer Book in Provo and it was really well-attended. We had select
poets and writers share their work and it was really moving. I think Peculiar
is affecting people the way we had hoped.
And we had to do a second printing because we sold out of our first batch of books.
Gavin: What kind of impact do you believe having this kind of publication has for both the LGBT community and the literary community as a whole?
While we’re obviously spotlighting queer writers in Utah, we also hope we’re publishing quality work that the literary community as a whole can embrace. We also think that Peculiar
functions as an autoethnographical work created by the queer community.
It’s important for minority groups to write their own histories, and that’s something I think we’re doing here with the journal. We’re leaving our thumbprint on this part of the world.
Gavin: You just wrapped up taking submissions for the second book. What was the response like this time around?
We had roughly twice the number of submissions, so we were pretty happy about that. We know there’s still way more people that we can tap into, for both submissions and support, but we’re happy that the journal seems to be growing.
People can expect a greater page-length this time around, plus some artwork and photographs and even a short comic. Some of the authors were selected for publication in the first issue, but the majority of them are brand new to this second issue. We’re excited to share the work of more queer Utahns!
Gavin: Are you looking for any additional help with the next book, or are you good to go as a group?
The journal is still small enough that we can manage reading
, selecting, and editing works between the two of us, but as the journal grows we will most likely need more help. Perhaps people who could help with publicity or events.
Yeah, if anyone wants to help us get Peculiar
into local bookshops, hit us up at email@example.com
. We would love that.
Gavin: What do you hope people will take away from these books after reading them?
I really hope that it will help more people understand the diversity that exists within the LGBT community. I think that a lot of times LGBT people are stereotyped or grouped together and often people ignore the fact that we’re just as diverse as anyone else in our beliefs, attitudes and characteristics.
I hope readers who are gay will find a voice they can relate to, one they might not always find in popular literature. But mostly I hope readers—gay and straight—will be moved. Moved to tears, moved to laughter, moved to action. I want people to be surprised.
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you and the journal going into 2016?
Expect two more issues of Peculiar
—spring and fall—and perhaps some sponsored events such as poetry readings and workshops. Maybe even an album that mixes poetry with music by queer artists.
And hopefully, more blog posts. We really want to build an online community of queer writers and artists that extends beyond the scope of the printed journal.