Westwind, Lillian Mottern (Interview)
Interviewed by Hannah Mackey
Westwind is a literary journal from the University of California, Los Angeles, that concentrates on the cultivation and sustaining of “networks between artists, writers, poets, and readers surpassing the bounds of UCLA’s campus.” They have been publishing fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, art, and music for over fifty years, and in their most recent Fall 2020 issue they feature creatives and their expressions of survival throughout the pandemic. It is a raw, very real issue that showcases the ups and downs of living during such a tumultuous time, and it demonstrates the passion and hard work Westwind puts forth in every journal that they publish. In this interview (linked below) I spoke with Westwind’s Managing Editor and Co-Fiction Editor, Lillian Mottern, about her role in the publication and her thoughts on the creative processes that occur at Westwind.
Hannah Mackey: So, what was your introduction to publishing and editing?
Lillian: That's a good question. I think that as an English major, I was sort of like always interested in that. I think that I was probably introduced to the idea of being an editor through...like magazine subscriptions that I got when I was younger when I was like a kid, but I learned about Westwind in my first quarter at UCLA when I had just transferred over and I saw like the staff—or the board members promoting it at an English event that they were having. And I just thought it was so cool. And I've always like also loved the idea of being part of some kind of like literary society. I think that all English majors maybe have that in the back of their head like some Donna Tartt-esque, like the secret history sort of thing so... Little bit less violent, of course, but I think that was—that was sort of like my introduction was ultimately just my experience at UCLA and seeing these people like working together to put this together.
Hannah: Yeah, I definitely can say like you know, being a part of like a literary society does ...like it...when there is like sort of that inclusion, I think that sense of community and everything is great and also great for creativity as well and innovation. So, and just like a follow up, question, how did you come—well, I guess you sort of answered this, but how did you come to be involved with West Wind and how long have you been with this press?
Lillian: I was involved with them last year. Winter of 2020 is when I really started being involved and so that was right before covid hit, but I think that—and then I've just been with them as managing editor for the past year. So I was, I guess, elected to the position in the summer of 2020.
Hannah: That’s amazing. So as managing editor at Westwind, what do you do? What are your normal things that you do as managing editor?
Lillian: I guess I interact a lot with people through email and I set up our releases. I just make sure the journal is being put together in a timely manner and I proofread the journal, which is. A really exciting part of it, I think, just to like be the final person to get to see the journal before it gets put out into the world is really exciting to me. And I have worked this past year to try to really connect Westwind with more like literary groups in Los Angeles, and it hasn't always been totally successful. It's been a process, but I think we're slowly but surely, like really spreading our wings and really trying to emerge into LA's literary scene as like a thing unto ourself? Like maybe even separate from the University. So, I'm going to graduate this year, but when I pass on the role, I hope that whoever takes it will will kind of continue that...I guess that—what we're striving to do with that.
Hannah: Of course, and this is sort of—I mean, I meant to ask this question like before, but and I know I already asked about your introduction publishing editing, but I'm curious now, so, have you had sort of a passion for writing and reading for a long time? Is that something that was more recent? How do you feel about writing and reading in the in relationship to publishing editing?
Lillian: That's a really good question, 'cause I feel like there is definitely a crossover. I have been super interested in writing since I was really young. I've always like been writing like stories and plays and poetry and all of that as I think a lot of English majors and literary inclined people do. And I think it's also reflected in the rest of our board, and our staff, often like many of them are writers in their own right, or artists or creators of some kind, musicians. So, I think that you know in some ways editing is a much more technical process—it is a lot about like logistics and money and compiling things and emailing people. And I think that I have enjoyed sort of exploring that side of my like wheelhouse of talents, because I didn't necessarily know that I would, you know, be able to—to do that 'cause I think there is like a stereotype around creatively minded people that they are sort of like frenzied and can't...stay organized, but I think that our board really shows that it is possible. I think everyone is immensely creative, but also extremely organized and also quite innovative because we haven't had any previous experience necessarily with creating like a journal of this, I guess, largeness? I don't know if that's the right word like, I think we've worked on zines before, we've done like little things like that, but this is like a full like magazine, so I think we've just had to figure it out for ourselves, but that's been a fun process, and I think that everyone is really good at what they do.
Hannah: Yeah, I definitely, I mean, there are plenty of magazines and things at Susquehanna, but I've only been involved with my currently my small press class, so we've dealt with like all the finances and the cover designs and fixing every little thing and the interior, and there's so many layers to everything and it becomes a lot more complex and intricate than people think. And then they also think I, I definitely agree that there is like the idea that creative people can't be super organized and like are kind of all over the place. But to run a magazine you really have to be focused and have everything together, and so for my next question, as Westwind has been UCLA's publication Center for Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, Art and music for over 50 years. Does that add to any pressure to the work that you as the Managing Editor and your team and designers shrive to push out?
Lillian: I think it does to some degree, to know that we have that history kind of to keep up, but I also feel that every iteration of Westwind has the potential to be fresh and kind of reinvented, and I think especially this past year, we've seen our website has really grown a lot and our digital presence has increased as well, so I think well, of course we're not going to leave...like the literary like solid, tangible elements of, you know, publishing a journal behind. I think we are also migrating to some degree into a more online space of virtual space and kind of combining that like with what we've done in the past. So, I think in some ways it is a lot of pressure because we do have these amazing things that were published in the past. But I also think that it's exciting because, like just like literature, like the concept of a literary journal is continually evolving, and I think Westwind specifically is a very fluid and kind of transient journal in the sense that it has had a lot of different iterations, and I've said this before, to other people, but I think because we are so tied to Los Angeles, there is this certain sense of like the shifting urban-scape influencing the journal to some degree. I am super interested in urban theory, and I think that in some ways there is like there's a certain connection between literature and the space in which it's created. And so, I think in some ways the journal could be seen to be reflective of Los Angeles and it's sort of like shifting, moving like never quite the same feeling, so I don't know if that answers your question, but yeah, I think there's a lot to be done. It's exciting. I also think, sorry to ramble, but I think I'm just really inspired by our generation and the way that we're kind of approaching literature and art. So, it's really exciting to see like how we choose to make Westwind and what we choose to do with literature more generally.
Hannah: Of course, and do not apologize for rambling. I am really enjoying this conversation, especially with how you've described writing and how writing’s influenced by the environment around us. And I definitely agree with that. And you worded that very eloquently . What is your submission process like then? Given all of the things you publish as well, fiction, poetry, I mean I was looking at it and I was like wow. They cover a lot of a lot of different genres and topics. So, what is your submission process like?
Lillian: I think it's probably pretty similar to other journals. We have...we put out a call for submissions every like sort of quarter and we seek submissions. Come from truly any person, whether they're a student or not. And that's something that we've discussed and even argued about in the past, because I think there is a feeling that with student literary journals, you want to just be accepting work from students. But I think there is some value to really opening it up to whoever wants to submit. So, that's what we've been doing currently. We'll see how that might shift in the future, but I think our submission process then is...after we put out the call for submissions—we receive submissions and then each board will kind of assign like, I’ll assign. Well, how does it work exactly? I guess each board, we have poetry, fiction, creative fiction, and art, those are our four sections, so each board will take the time to evaluate the submissions in their medium or genre, and then they'll decide—they'll vote if they want to accept the work, they'll have conversations about the work currently that's on Zoom just because of covid, but in the past we've all met up together, which has been really lovely. And after that, we will email the contributor and get their work in the journal and then... We also have a certain, I don't know if this is common to all journals, but we do—if somebody work has potential, but we just don't feel like it can fit in the journal, we will ask them to resubmit it with like a lot of notes. We will send them a lot of notes, so we are hopeful that people will take the time to edit their work and I think we are trying to promote a sense of...to promote the idea that work is evolving and that nothing is perfect, the second that you create it, it can become more perfect if you work towards that. I don't know if that makes sense, but I think there's often an idea that if you write a story and you submit it and it's accepted that you then are a good writer, and if...you if that doesn't happen then you're a bad writer, but I think...writing is almost like fixing a car in some ways, and it's such a mechanical process, so of course we do have probably like little muses and little bits of inspiration that we can, you know, pick up from the world, but at the end of the day, it is just about like sitting down and trying to make something so, yeah, all that all that is to say that we really try to foster that idea in in our in our contributors.
Hannah: Yeah, that's wonderful. So, along with the submission process and sort of, this as well, but like who do you feel is the envisioned audience for Westwind, in your words?
Lillian: That's a really good question. I think we talk a lot about how we hope the journal does speak to some degree to the experience of living in LA in California more generally, so I hope that people in Los Angeles will read the journal, but I think that our—I mean, personally, I feel that the people we're speaking to is our own generation. I think that there's a lot of. power to that, I think there's a lot of comfort that can be gleaned from work written by your peers. I was so inspired by seeing Amanda Gorman, the poet laureate, sort of representing our generation in some ways on that stage. I was...it...I think it was the first time it had really hit me that people of our age group could create like amazing art and so I think that it's really exciting to see how, you know, we can influence each other and speak to our own experiences and maybe to each other's experiences and so, I do hope that people of our peer group will read the journal specifically, but if other people want to pick it up or interested in, of course, I hope they do as well.
Hannah: Yeah, and so along with that, what are some of the greatest challenges that you've faced in your position and what are some of your greatest successes along with that?
Lillian: I think it has been a challenge to, just quite technically, to put the journal together. And to make sure, unfortunately, English departments never have enough funding, so it has been a process to kind of convince people to give us money. And to, you know, work with the Department to get the funds that we need, which are often not very much, but it is a very like long process, so I think that's been a struggle but I think a success that we all really appreciated was that we had our journal, our first journal release a couple weeks ago on zoom, and it was really lovely and we had our contributors reading, and it just it was, it felt like a very much of a community experience, even though we weren't all from California or all in the same place. I think people really felt connected to each other on kind of a creative level, which is ultimately, I think like my dream come true is that people would be able to feel like they could connect through this medium of Westwind. Yeah, so I, I think that that yeah that answers the question for the most.
Hannah: Yeah, I don't—like this past year, I feel it feels like it's been like two or three years honestly, has been extremely difficult for many magazines and journals to adjust to, so it is nice to hear that you did have your launch and I know, oh God, how many—we had like a we had a lot of like different creative writing events and things going on, but it really shows that throughout a struggle or whatever might happen. Journals can persevere and can't push through, even if faced with like a really difficult challenge of communication and being so far apart from each other. But, this is more of a question for you, but what is your favorite genre to work with within Westwind, whether it be fiction, poetry, nonfiction, art?
Lillian: I think for me it's definitely fiction. I also serve as our co-fiction editor, so I work with somebody else, Kurt Klaus is our other co-fiction editor, and we worked together to evaluate the fiction submissions with the staff members, and I think that fiction, short fiction is...like really, a truly specific and beautiful form of writing like it, it truly is distinct, and I think the stories told in short stories are often stories that couldn't really be told in other like longer forms. And it is such a tricky form to work with 'cause you have to get so much into such a short space? But I think, yeah, I think restaurant has published some really interesting fiction pieces recently. So yeah, that would definitely be my favorite to work with in.
Hannah: Yeah, I also love fiction. Yes—
Lillian: But you also write poetry, right?
Hannah: Yes, I do write a lot of poetry. I started writing a lot of poetry when I first came to Susquehanna. Before that, I was kind of just like short stories, and I want to write a novel, but I also love poetry.
Lillian: Do you think you would ever go into novel writing?
Hannah: Most, yeah, definitely. I still want to write like a novel or a few novels in my lifetime, but I've also been really hooked on short stories recently...like reading them and writing them in flash fiction, especially, I think flash fiction is probably like becoming my favorite genre fiction.
Lillian: So cool yeah, I agree, I know I've been recently introduced to it and I think it's so fascinating.
Hannah: It's so great and I'm trying to remember the flash fishing pieces we just read in my fiction class, but we read reread a ton, and we got to write some of our own and it's just like there's so much that you can't explain so much you don't have to explain to the reader and a lot of it can be vague, but it can be vague on purpose and...I like ambiguity in stories. I tend to be more ambiguous and vague, and sometimes what I write and like be imagery that I show and all that sort of stuff. So, I definitely think like flash fiction is like just the perfect vessel for it, and in fiction—fiction, is just like I just I really, really enjoy fiction. So yeah, I definitely understand your love for the fiction genre. And our final question, so, do you have any advice for aspiring editors looking to contribute to the future of publication at Westwind? Or really at any other undergraduate magazine or journal?
Lillian: I think probably one of the best things to do is to just read a lot of whatever it is that you're interested in publishing, I mean, you were just speaking about reading flash fiction and then wanting to write flash fiction as well. So, I think there's such like reading, writing or just so tied together, and so I think the same can kind of go for editing as well, because if you read a lot then you can recognize what's good and what's not good and also like what you personally like. I think of course I think that in some ways, the editors' personal tastes affect what we decide to publish in Westwind, and so in some ways, maybe that's wrong, because art is somewhat subjective, but I think we also have enough that we've read and good enough taste that we can generally choose that even if it is kind of in line with our own specific tastes that it also accomplishes something interesting. So yeah, I would say and also to get involved with other people who have similar interests to you. I think writing and literature in general is kind of a—can be a solitary pursuit and kind of a lonely one. So, I think that. A literary Journal is interesting in the fact in the sense that we're all working together and it's collaborative. So, I think if people are interested in getting involved with their peers, even you know making a scene together or making something together, that's like one way to start—like kind of taking on the role of an editor. And then of course, if there is like a journal at someone school, I think getting involved in some way is always positive.