I’m pleased to share this Q&A with Donna Talarico, the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine. Donna earned her MFA in creative writing from Wilkes and now fills her days with writing and connecting with the literary community at large. Visit her website and blog at http://www.donnatalarico.com.
Hippocampus Magazine is nearly a year old. Has everything happened as you planned or has the journal taken on its own life?
This reminds me. I need to plan a killer birthday party. We just launched our fifth issue and so far, so good. Way back in a previous life, when I worked in radio, I read an article about Kenny Chesney. This was in the late ‘90s. He had his first big radio hit while I was at Froggy 101, but the dude had been on the scene for years, and had about three albums to his credit before he became the tan, baseball-capped, beach bum of a stud we all love. I left radio in 2001 and Kenny has since become way bigger. But back to my point. The article talked about Kenny’s perseverance and this was his quote (probably an old saying, but this was the first I’d heard it): “Take off like a rocket, fizzle like a rocket.” I never forgot that. I announced in January, but didn’t launch until May. It could also be that I work in marketing and I know how much planning a product or event needs to be successful. Although I was enthusiastic and totally excited, I was and am very deliberate about why I do what I do, and when and how I do it. I have a lot of plans, but with time they will be rolled in. So, the short answer to this question is: yes. We’re right on track. It hasn’t grown a life of its own—instead, it’s added new life to mine.
Your vision for Hippocampus included creating an inviting sphere where readers and writers would mix and comingle, where craft articles were not just about how-to but how-to-dig-deeper, and where a “a mix of timely and timelessness” would keep people coming back. What sort of response are you receiving from the literary community-at-large? What’s the gossip about Hippocampus?
I am so pleased with the response Hippocampus has received since our first issue—and even before that, when we made our first call for submissions in January. When I put out the call for new staff writers and editors, I received several covers letters that just warmed my heart. It means the world to find out how excited people are about a home exclusively for creative nonfiction and how much people believe in the mission of Hippocampus, so much so that they want to volunteer their time and talent to help it grow and thrive. I also find such joy seeing the connections being made through the comments sections on the stories, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. Our most recent issue features a story, “Word,” by the fabulous Lori Myers, which celebrates the impact of words. This beautiful piece shares how one of her magazine stories—about rug hookers in a poor, Mexican town—impacted a community. The publicity from that article generated more work for these crafters. This, in turn, moved Lori; she realized how much power her words had. Now, her story about words moving her gets to move others: the comments section is filling up with praise, and writers sharing their own stories of moving experiences. There have been other examples, but this one is a great example of the kinds of conversations I hope Hippocampus can create in the literary—and greater—community. As far as gossip-gossip, I’m still waiting on the paparazzi to show up. I make sure I have makeup on at all times and, when I am participating in debauchery, I –well, actually, I usually tweet while I’m doing that. I can’t hide.
You’ve added some great helping hands to the masthead, many of whom are Wilkes students, alums, and faculty. Is it hard to fight them off?
I’m a lover, not a fighter, Lori! I am thrilled that people from the Wilkes program have been so interested in lending their amazing writing eyes to serve as readers and editors. Hippocampus was born (sort of) during my publishing class during the first MFA residency in 2009. I bought the domain name right after that, but sat on it for years. I was driving to the residency last January—now as an alum—and thought, “Gosh, I have been so busy with my new job that I have no answer to give people when they ask what I am doing now.” Then, during that lonely two hour drive from Lancaster County to good ‘ol NEPA, I made mental notes—no, I did not grab an envelope from above the visor and write on it while I drove on 81; that’s dangerous!—about the Hippocampus Magazine concept. I had been thinking about it for so long, and ideas don’t do anyone any good sitting in my head. When I arrived to campus—well, the bar—the first person I saw was Taylor Polites from a few cohorts ahead of me. He asked what I was up to, so I did it—I finally told someone about Hippocampus. He loved the idea. Then, I ran into my mentor, Becky Bradway; she also loved the idea and we sat and talked for a few hours about it—and other life stuff, of course. Maybe it was the winter brews and the camaraderie, but I felt major warm and fuzzies that night. The Wilkes community has been supportive in so many ways, from the encouragement when I first said something aloud to people reading and serving as editor.
What’s interesting, too, is that while there is a very strong Wilkes presence, there is no underlying favoritism since all submissions are read blindly by a reading panel. Why did you opt to go this route and how has it served your purpose?
Fairness has always been important to me. I’ve always rooted for the underdog. Maybe it’s because I never got picked for the kickball team, but I just do. I wanted Hippocampus to be taken seriously and I felt that, especially being new to the game, being completely transparent about our process was the right step to take. I didn’t want to prevent people whom with I may be loosely associated from submitting, but I also feared the favoritism you mention. A blind process eliminates that. Stories are judged on their own merit. However, I built into our process that we can also solicit work from published writers. Also, our craft articles, reviews and interviews are assigned. I am often quite surprised by what the reading panel collectively likes and doesn’t like—a piece that was very well-received turned out to be from a high school student. Had no idea until she sent her bio after acceptance. That’s an underdog story. I have to say that I am also very impressed by the caliber of writers submitting to Hippocampus—and the places they’ve been published. I am thrilled we are attracting established writers and equally thrilled to be a new home for people looking to get their first piece published.
There’s still time for writers to enter the Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction, with a deadline of Sept 15. How will this writing contest support the National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month? How can readers and writers contribute and do some good?
We’re donating $2 from every $10 entry fee to the Greater PA Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association. We have their blessing as well—they’ve helped promote the contest. Submission guidelines are on our website. Winning entries will be published in November, which is also National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Some craft articles and reviews pertaining to memory will round out the winning entries.
Speaking of helping out, are you still actively seeking volunteer editors and writers? What opportunities are available and what do you seek in an applicant?
I’m always looking to diversify our reading panel. Like most literary magazines, the biggest audience is other writers. I do hope to attract a readership full of more “normal” people. I am looking for people who enjoy reading and wouldn’t mind reviewing and commenting on submissions when they have some spare time.
So, with that one year anniversary just around the corner, what can we look forward to in the terrible twos? What does Hippocampus have up its sleeve for year two?
Oh! Terrible twos. We promise to limit the tantrums and make it through potty-training without too many accidents. But seriously, I hope year two brings an increase in high quality submissions and see a continued growth in readership and interaction on our website and social media channels. With the addition of a reviews and interviews editor, our outreach to the literary community will no doubt grow. We have other things up our sleeves too. Can’t give it all away!
Thanks, Donna! Visit www.hippocampusmagazine.com for submission guidelines, contest information, and—of course—some great reads!
Photo note: all images obtained from Hippocampus.