The Inside Scoop on Ball State's Literary Magazine: The Broken Plate

We sat down with Professor Mark Neely, faculty supervisor of The Broken Plate, and Jackson Eflin, a former Broken Plate staff member who has also had his work published in the literary magazine. 

What is The neelyBroken Plate?

The Broken Plate is a literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, and photography (among other things) by writers and artists from around the world. Each issue is edited by an interdisciplinary group of Ball State undergraduate students and released at our annual In Print Festival of First Books.

You’ve been the editor of the magazine for several years now. How have things changed over time?

When I took over as faculty adviser for the magazine, it was a small operation run by a few student volunteers. They only published the work of Ball State students, mostly that of a small group of friends.

I wanted to make it a more valuable experience for both the editors and for the Ball State writing community, so I used our existing course in Literary Editing and Publishing as a way to professionalize the magazine, and to spread the word more effectively about our submissions process. Eventually, we opened up submissions to all writers, which increased our pool of pieces to choose from, and I think it makes for a more rewarding experience for students.

How does the Broken Plate differ from other literary magazines?

We’re one of a handful of magazines run by undergraduates that is nationally distributed, and we accept submissions from all writers and artists. Lake Effect and Copper Nickel are two other good examples.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking of submitting their work?

Revise, revise, revise. Proofread carefully. Show your submission to a reader you trust before submitting it. Make sure you have a strong opening.

Is there anything in particular you look for when accepting pieces?

I don’t make any editorial decisions—that’s all left to the student editors. Each group develops their own aesthetic, and I’m always impressed by the work they choose. Mostly I think we’re looking for work that is unique and well-written (or in the case of art and photography, well-composed). And for pieces that provoke some kind of response—laughter, thought, emotion, action.

Why should students submit to the Broken Plate?

Submitting work to magazines is a great excuse to revise work until it is as good as it can be, and this kind of serious revision will improve a person’s writing immensely. And students who have their work accepted will be published alongside writers with national reputations and will forever be a part of The Broken Plate community.

To your knowledge, of the people who have had their work published in the Broken Plate, are there any “success stories”? 

Every publication is a success story! Beyond that we’ve had authors and editors from the magazine go on to creative writing grad programs, and jobs in editing, writing and publishing. We’ve also had the privilege of publishing the very first piece of writing by authors both young and old. A few years ago we ran the first published story of a seventy-five year-old man. We were so excited to hear this.

Who are some of the bigger names that have been published in the Broken Plate?

Roxane Gay, Michael Martone, Jim Daniels, Ashley Ford. We’ve also published pieces and interviews by many of the authors who have come for Ball State’s In Print Festival of First Books, including Celeste Ng, Marcus Wicker, Elena Passarello, T Fleischmann, and many others.

Do you remember your first publication in a journal?

Of course! My first publication was a poem called “Four Panes,” which appeared in the 2000 issue of RHINO when I was a grad student at the University of Alabama. I’m grateful to them to this day!

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What’s your experience with the Broken Plate, both as an editor and has someone who has been published in it?jackson.jpg

I was the one who laid out a lot of formatting in the Broken Plate’s 2014 edition. One of my most memorable moments was making a foolish mistake that could have been a calamitous setback. I’d never really found myself in a position of so many people relying on me and letting them down, but I realized I’d learned enough to fix the problem in a single night, and I might never have realized how much I’d learned if I wasn’t in a crunch. Taking ENG 489 is basically power leveling for editorial skills, and you don’t realize how far you’ve come until you’re on the other side. I really can’t imagine a better course for getting English Majors ready for the Big Broad World beyond, and I hope more people take it. As someone who’s been published in it, I felt like an expectant father, hovering in the hallway outside the delivery room wringing my hands and hoping the child would be okay. And of course it was, the formatting was lovely and I wish I’d been able to make it look half as pretty.

What was your preparation process leading up to your submission?

I wrote my piece about a year before it was published and really never stopped editing it.  I think it was something I really needed to get out of me, and I was never quite satisfied with how it turned out. I’m still not, if we’re being honest, I’d revise what’s out there, but eventually you have to let go or your work stays on your computer and no one ever sees it. That piece got submitted here and there and I’d revise it every time it got rejected. I’m pretty sure it was basically ready to go when submissions opened last year, I just tinkered a few more times and made my friends read it yet one more time to make sure it was right, but by that time I’d made all the changes I was ready to make.

Why should students submit to the Broken Plate?

The Broken Plate, being essentially student run, places so much power and educational determinism in the hands of the Student. In an era where the curriculum is being strangled by the Koch Brothers, it’s so cool that one of the things the English Department has going for it is this ongoing project proving that the department continually produces these bright, talented people capable of learning on their own terms. And being a part of that is really cool. People should submit so that the teams have the best possible works to bring into the world.

Explain what it felt like to find out your work was going to be published.

There was something vindicating about being Published in my Alma Mater. I felt like I’d done it proud, as it were. Especially because the Broken Plate isn’t specifically a Fantasy Mag, and in general it’s harder to get Fantasy, or any genre piece, published in a mainstream press. Doubly so since it was queer lit. I’m reasonably sure that I’m going to be writing queer lit until the day I die at a minimum, so it was a good sign that my first proper publication started as I meant to go on. It was affirming, that my writing had a place in the world, like I belonged, like I was on the right course.

Have you had work published elsewhere?

Yep!  An anthology of Viking Fiction, No Horns on These Helmets! published a short fiction piece, “Gullveig Drowning” that was later republished by Witches and Pagans Magazine at their request, with illustrations. There’s basically nothing cooler than seeing someone bringing your work to life. That’s all so far.

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