Journal Spotlight: Whale Road Review
Written by: Katya Cummins

I am very excited and pleased to invite Katie Manning of Whale Road Review to Niche Features. I want to take this opportunity to thank her again for taking the time to conduct this interview and giving our readers and submitters an insight into her lovely magazine.

Katie Manning is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Whale Road Review and an Associate Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She is the author Tasty Other, winner of the 2016 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and four poetry chapbooks. Find her online at

NICHE: What role have literary magazines played in your life, and what are some that may have inspired Whale Road Review?

KATIE MANNING: When I first encountered Poetry and other literary magazines in college, I was stunned by poetry that was recently written and newly published. I still feel a thrill when I read brand new work. I was further shaped by the magazines I worked on in graduate school: New Letters and Rougarou. I knew while I was working on Rougarou that I’d like to start an online journal someday, and some of the journals that especially inspired Whale Road Review were Boxcar Poetry Review, elimae, The Pedestal Magazine, Stirring, and THRUSH. I love that online literary journals reach readers who might not otherwise seek out print literary magazines.

NICHE:  What are some of the differences–if any–between working for a mag like Rougarou vs. Whale Road Review?

KATIE MANNING: The most important difference for me is that Whale Road Review is mine. I dreamed it up, named it, funded it, and built it from nothing. That’s been a much different experience than taking on an editorial role for a magazine that’s already established and in motion. I’ve got much more creative freedom with my own journal. At the same time, I was on Rougarou‘s staff with two of the people who now work with me on Whale Road Review, and our ways of logging submissions and doing peer review haven’t really changed.

NICHE: What is the concept behind the Teachers’ Lounge?

KATIE MANNING: The idea is to have a curated space where teachers of creative writing can share and find ideas for exercises, assignments, activities, and more. I used to love the pedagogy forums at the annual AWP conference, and I wanted to channel some of what was great about them: interesting ideas, brief presentations, and good-natured sharing.

NICHE: What can a poem do to distinguish itself?

KATIE MANNING: That is a wonderful question. As a writer, I wish I knew the answer. As an editor, I guess I’m glad that I don’t know the answer because poems keep surprising me. No matter how well-written they are, poems have to find the right reader at the right time, so part of what distinguishes a poem is completely outside of the poem itself.

NICHE: The prose section of your submission guidelines details that Whale Road loves “this messy place where genres collide.” Can you explain a little more what you mean by colliding genres?

KATE MANNING: Yes, I love how genre boundaries get blurry with very short prose. Is it a short story, a prose poem, a micro-essay, or something else? People tend to think the lines between poetry, fiction, and non-fiction are clearer than they are. When short prose is given a genre label, what assumptions do we make about that genre before we even read the text? How do we read short prose differently if we encounter it without a genre label shaping our expectations? This fascinates me.

NICHE: Writing a piece of prose that is under 500 words is extremely difficult. What advice would you give writers seeking to accomplish this task?

KATIE MANNING: Read a lot of great writing, especially short-form writing that is memorable and makes you wish you’d written it. Write a lot of short prose and expect that much of it will not be good, but trust that some of it will be.

NICHE: What do you hope readers will gain from reading Whale Road Review?

KATE MANNING: I hope readers find rest, humor, beauty, and new ideas to try in their own writing and teaching of creative writing. I also hope that they find things that trouble them and make them think. I hope readers will be haunted by something they read in Whale Road Review in a way that might make them more compassionate and engaged people in the world.

NICHE: As an Editor, what has surprised you the most about starting a literary magazine?

KATIE MANNING: One of the biggest surprises has been the quantity and quality of submissions we’ve received in these first two years. I didn’t expect that writers would trust a new journal to be the first home for some of their best work. One writer just told me this week that his poem we published is his favorite poem that he’s ever written. The other big surprise is that some brilliant writers have agreed to spend a substantial portion of their time and energy to work on Whale Road Review with me. I’m so grateful for their thoughtful, thorough work.

NICHE: Is there anything else about Whale Road Review that you want our readers to know?

KATIE MANNING: You can follow us on social media if you’d like to get announcements about our issue releases and submission windows:


Twitter: @whaleroadreview

MFA Spotlight: Indiana University
Written by: Katya Cummins


I’m pleased to welcome back author Joseph Hiland to Niche Features, and I want to take this opportunity to thank him again for taking the time to offer advice to aspiring authors and to chat about the MFA Program at Indiana University. Joe Hiland received his MFA from Indiana University and is a former fiction editor of Indiana Review. His short story “When the Green Went Away” was published in Colorado Review, won an AWP Intro Award, and was a “Notable Nonrequired Reading” in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. His story “A Mango for the Viceroy” was published in the latest issue of Niche.

NICHE: I like knowing beginnings. How did you find yourself in an MFA Program at Indiana University?

JOSEPH HILAND: I ended up at IU because they were the only MFA program that wanted me. I’d been working a corporate job in New York for about five years and trying to write in my spare time. Aside from a few encouraging rejection letters from editors, I wasn’t making much progress with my fiction. I saw the MFA as a way to devote myself entirely to writing for a few years, to turn writing from a hobby into a vocation. So I applied to a few dozen MFA programs around the country, and IU was the only that accepted me.

NICHE: What can you tell us about funding? Is Indiana’s program fully funded? What financial assistance or opportunities does this MFA give to students?

JOSEPH HILAND: IU’s MFA is well-funded, especially compared to programs at other public universities. The program trains you as both a writer and a teacher. It’s a three-year program, which is rare, and students are guaranteed TA positions each year. The teaching ranges from basic freshmen comp classes to undergraduate fiction and poetry workshops. I even had the opportunity to teach a class on literary editing and publishing.

There are also a few other funding opportunities through Indiana Review and the Indiana University Writers’ Conference. Most of the available funding opportunities include tuition and offer decent stipends that are enough to cover the cost of living in Bloomington.

NICHE: What can you tell us about the workshop experience?

JOSEPH HILAND: I was fortunate to have mostly positive workshop experiences at IU, and I think that had a lot to do with the other writers in my cohort. I’ve been in workshops elsewhere that turned tense, if not outright toxic, because of personal conflicts and professional jealousies. I’m not saying that the workshops at IU were all sunshine and rainbows, but I think there was a basic level of respect and a desire to see each other succeed that helped keep the workshops positive and productive.

Having a story workshopped is a stressful experience, and that stress can quickly become debilitating when you feel like the people in the workshop are being petty or ungenerous with your work. The most useful critiques—even the harsh ones—always come from a desire to build the writer up, rather than tear the story down. That’s something I’ve tried to instill in the students I’ve taught in workshops, and it’s something I was lucky enough to find in most of my fellow fiction writers during my time at IU.

For me, one of the unexpected benefits of the workshop setting was getting to read so many different stories from the people in my cohort. We were an eclectic group with widely divergent styles, and that made for interesting reading week to week. Also, workshopping a story requires you to read with a critical eye and close attention to detail. That helps develop your skills as an editor and, ideally, helps you view your own work more critically as you go through the drafting process. The MFA program made me a much better reader of my own work and gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to turn a decent rough draft into a strong finished story.

Finally, I left the program with a small cadre of trusted readers who know my work and whose opinions I respect. I still trade stories with folks from my cohort, and it’s nice to know that at least a few people are out there rooting for me.

NICHE: Who have you had the opportunity to work with?

JOSEPH HILAND: At IU I had the opportunity to work with a number of great fiction writers like Tony Ardizzone, Alyce Miller, Samrat Upadhyay, and Jacinda Townsend. They each took a different approach to the workshop, and they each had unique ideas about what makes a story work. That made the workshop experience different each semester, as they each challenged me in different ways. I also had the chance to interact with poets in IU’s program like Ross Gay, Catherine Bowman, and Adrian Matejka. Even though I was never in a workshop with any of them, they’ve all been very supportive of my work.

The faculty were great models for an aspiring workshop teacher (which I consider myself to be). Tony was my thesis advisor, and we had some epic one-on-one meetings during which he’d tear apart nearly every aspect of one of my stories, only to end by saying, “Hell, it’s your story. You know what you want it to be.” To me, that was a perfect model of good mentoring. He respected my work enough to be brutally honest with his critiques, but he also respected me enough to avoid dictating solutions to the shortcomings he saw. It gave me both guidance and room to grow.

NICHE: How involved are graduate students in Indiana Review? Did you find the experience beneficial?

JOSEPH HILAND: Indiana Review is run almost entirely by graduate students in the MFA program, with a few internship positions held by undergraduates. There’s a faculty advisor, but the editorial decisions, production, and distribution are all handled by the graduate students on staff. The journal uses a mentoring model, with senior staff members guiding newer staff members and eventually handing over the editorial reins when they graduate. That means there’s a good deal of turnover on the staff from year to year, but it also means that each issue reflects the unique aesthetics of that year’s editorial staff.

I started as a reader for the journal and eventually worked my way up to fiction editor in my final year in the program. It was a ton of work, but also one of the most rewarding experiences of my MFA time. I read a few thousand submissions during my tenure, and I feel like this gave me a good understanding of just how competitive, even saturated, the fiction market is right now. I came across many stories that, frankly, shouldn’t have been submitted in the form they were. They read like rough drafts that the writer had cranked out in a night and sent out to fifty journals the next day, often without even proofreading. It’s hard not to feel a little insulted when someone is asking you to spend your time considering work that they haven’t put in the proper time to revise and refine.

On the other hand, I also came across many stories that were strong, but not quite strong enough to publish. Those were always the most difficult submissions for me to deal with, but they often turned out to be the most beneficial to me as an editor and a writer. If a writer’s story made it most of the way through our selection process but didn’t make the final cut, I would try to send him/her an encouraging note that included with my thoughts about why the story almost worked but ultimately fell short. This forced me to clarify my own ideas about what I wanted a story to do for me as a reader and, by extension, what I wanted my own stories to do for my readers.

More than anything, my time as fiction editor impressed upon me the importance of a strong opening. I tried my best to give each submission a fair shot, but I couldn’t help but feel frustrated when I’d get three or four pages into a story and still not have a clear sense of the characters, or the conflict, or some other essential element that would make me want to continue reading. The worst thing I could say about a story was that it bored me. As an editor, I was praying that each new story I came across would be a gem, which meant I was reading with a generous mindset, ready to be won over by the story. If a story failed to capture and hold my interest in that scenario, there was no way it would win over our readers.

As a result, I think I write with a sense of empathy for the editors who will eventually read my work. At some point during the revision process, I always ask myself if a story’s opening paragraphs would make me want to turn the page. If the answer is no, then I don’t waste an editor’s time with it. I keep working until I’m confident that the opening is engaging enough to demand the reader’s attention.

NICHE: Could you describe your best experience during the MFA?

JOSEPH HILAND: It’s hard for me to choose a best experience, but I really enjoyed going to the AWP conference as Indiana Review’s fiction editor. I met a number of writers whose stories we had accepted a few months, or even a few weeks, prior to the conference. Their appreciation and excitement made me feel like all the hours of work I’d put into the journal were really worth it.

NICHE: Could you describe your worst experience during the MFA?

JOSEPH HILAND: I don’t know that I can describe a single worst experience during the MFA, but I definitely had times when I doubted my own abilities as a writer, teacher, and editor. Being surrounded by other talented aspiring writers can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s good to feel like you’re all going through the same experiences together, but it’s also tempting to compare yourself to other people and find yourself lacking because you haven’t published enough, or you haven’t finished a manuscript yet, or whatever.

NICHE: What has your life been like writing wise and career wise since the MFA?

JOSEPH HILAND: Career-wise, I think I’ve done fairly well since the MFA. I’m still at Indiana University, and I’ve spent the past few years working as a speechwriter and communications specialist in the provost office. Speechwriting wasn’t a career path I’d ever considered, but it often puts my MFA training to use in interesting ways. Writing dialogue in a work of fiction and writing a speech are similar in the sense that you’re putting words into someone else’s mouth, or more accurately, you’re trying to convey ideas in a voice that isn’t your own, but which needs to sound natural coming from the speaker. Speechwriting also demands close attention to details like sentence structure, assonance and alliteration, and so forth.

Writing-wise, I’ve been struggling since the MFA. In many ways, I feel like I’m back where I was when I was working a corporate job, spending most of my time trying to make a living and only writing fiction in my spare time, and usually only when I’m in the mood. There’s nothing unique about my situation, of course. Most writers struggle to find a balance between making money and making art they care about.

NICHE: What advice would you give aspiring applicants or writers?

JOSEPH HILAND: I would tell any aspiring MFA applicants that there’s no perfect program out there. Apply to programs in places where you want to live, and see what happens. If you show up willing to put in the work and willing to take criticism, then you’ll almost certainly get something out of the program. If you show up expecting everyone to tell you you’re already a genius and should be awarded a Pulizer posthaste, you likely won’t get much out of the experience.

I would tell aspiring writers to keep on writing and writing.

Meet the Niche No. 6 Contributors!
Written by: Katya Cummins

    W. Jack Savage

    W. Jack Savage is a retired broadcaster and educator. He is the author of seven books including Imagination: The Art of W. Jack Savage. To date, more than fifty of Jack’s short stories and over four-hundred of his paintings and drawings have been published worldwide. Jack and his wife Kathy live in Monrovia, California.

        Sidney Taiko

        Sidney Taiko is the Editor-in-Chief of Storm Cellar, a literary Journal. She is the recipient of several creative writing awards including  the John L. Rainey Prize in fiction, the Junior Quinn Award in poetry, the Thatcher H. Guild American Academy of Poets Award, and the Florence L. Healy Scholarship. She graduated with an MA in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she was the recipient of the Ellen Hunnicut prize in fiction. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming in Sage Hill Press, CutBank, PANK, Comstock Review, and Montage. You can listen to her read her two flash fiction pieces here.

            Amryn Soldier

            Amryn Soldier’s photographs have been published in a number of print and online publications such as Sugar Hill & Suwannee Life Magazines, The Southern Regional Honors Council, as well as a number of literary magazines. Her most noteworthy achievement was delivering a TEDx talk on overcoming fears in artistic endeavors. She has also exhibited photographs in the Hudgens Center for the Arts, S. Tucker Cook Gallery, the YMI Cultural Center, Owen Hall Flood Gallery, and the Highsmith Art and Intercultural Gallery. She graduated cum laude with a BA concentrating in photography from UNC Asheville with distinction as a university scholar earning the Leadership in Arts Award, All – Academic Athletic Award, and the International Tennis Association Scholar Athlete Award. Her most recent work focuses on self representation and utilizes a combination of alternative processes

                Lara Dunning

                Lara Dunning received her MFA in Creative Writing with a dual focus degree in nonfiction and children’s/young adult writing from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her essays have been published in Soundings ReviewSilver Apples Magazine, and Mountain Gazette. Her young adult novel Aleutian Pearl won 2nd place in the YA!2015 contest.

                    Sheila Moeschen

                    Sheila Moeschen is a Boston-based writer who’s work has appeared in Huffington Post, Feminine Collective, bioStories, and Red Line Roots. She is represented by Full Circle Literary Agency.

                        Joseph Hiland

                        Joe Hiland received his MFA from Indiana University and is a former fiction editor of Indiana Review. His short story “When the Green Went Away” was published in Colorado Review, won an AWP Intro Award, and was a “Notable Nonrequired Reading” in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012.

                            Lana Bella

                             Pushcart nominee, Lana Bella is an author of two chapbooks, Under My Dark (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2016) and Adagio (Finishing Line Press, forthcoming), has had poetry and fiction featured with over 300 journals, including, 2RiverCalifornia Quarterly, Chiron ReviewColumbia Journal, Poetry Salzburg Review, San Pedro River Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, The Ilanot Review, The Writing Disorder, Third Wednesday, Tipton Poetry Journal,  and Yes Poetry among others.  She resides in the US and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, where she is a mom of two far-too-clever-frolicsome imps. 

                                Bill Vernon

                                Bill Vernon’s novel Old Town was published Five Star Mysteries in 2005. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Recent nonfiction publications include stories in Indiana Voice Journal, The Magnolia Review, Star 82 Review, Dryland Lit, Scarlet Leaf Review, Memoir Journal, and Heartbeat Literary Journal.

                                    Doug Bolling

                                    Doug Bolling currently resides in the Chicago area while working on a collection. His poems have appeared in Basalt, Juked, Water-Stone Review, Redactions, BlazeVOX, Posit, Agave and many others. He has received several Pushcart nominations and a Best of the Net nomination, earned the MA and PhD from Iowa and has taught at colleges and universities in the Midwest.

                                        Lynn Holmgren

                                        Lynn Holmgren lives and writes in Boston. She is a community organizer, bicycle advocate and co-founder of the WWF (Women Writing Fiction).

                                            Heather J. Macpherson

                                            Heather J. Macpherson writes from New England.  Her work has appeared in many fine publications including Spillway, Pearl, The Broken Plate, and OVS. She has twice been a features editor for The Worcester Review, and is the Executive Director at Damfino Press. Besides writing poetry, essays, and occasional fiction, Heather teaches poetry writing workshops and works part-time as a high school librarian. She is a visiting instructor at Framingham State University. She holds a Masters in Education (Library Media Studies) and is completing her Masters in English, spring 2016.

                                                Bruce McRae

                                                Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician, is a Pushcart nominee with over a thousand poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review. His latest book out now, ‘An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy’ is available on Amazon and through Cawing Crow Press.

                                                    Stephanie Papa

                                                    Stephanie Papa is a poet and translator living Paris, France. She has an MFA degree in Poetry from the Pan European program at Cedar Crest College. She is poetry co-editor of Paris Lit Up magazine. Her work has been published in NOONgreat weather for mediaFour Chambers PressParis/AtlanticLiterary Bohemian5×5, RumpusCleaver MagazineCerise PressThe Prose Poetry Project. She organizes anglophone writing workshops in Paris. Listen to her reading “Lebanon on a Map” and read her interview at Niche here.

                                                        Peter Fortenbaugh

                                                        Peter Fortenbaugh is 25 years old and from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He has been working on the fictional Chesapeake island of Johnsontown for five years. He currently lives in Madrid with his girlfriend Cecilia. This is his first publication.

                                                            Ryan Francis Kelly

                                                            Ryan Francis Kelly is a two-time Pushcart nominee whose poems, stories, and articles have appeared in dozens of print and online journals. You can find a full list of his published work at his website or message him on Twitter @RFrancisKelly.

                                                                Richard Vyse

                                                                Richard Vyse has shown in galleries in Manhattan, Boston and Honolulu. He has studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and taught at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. His art has been featured in Agave Magazine, The Magnolia Review, and was the critics choice art in Heart Mind Zine Magazine. His art is in the Leslie+Lohman museum in New York City. Visit for more information.

                                                                    Paul Pekin

                                                                    Paul Pekin has published numerous stories, essays, and features in commercial and literary markets including, this year, Little Paxutent Review, Gravel, Compose, and Waterford Review. Some of his older work can be seen at his website.