Mythlore Behind the Scenes
The following is a slightly edited version of an interview of intrepid Mythlore Editor Janet Croft. You’ll find interesting revelations on Janet, the history of Mythlore, tips for getting a paper accepted, and the care and feeding of small academic journals.
Enjoy, and much thanks to the interviewer in this case for allowing Horn of Rohan to publish it. She is Anna Faktorovich– Founder, Director, Designer and Editor-in-Chief of the Anaphora Literary Press and the Pennsylvania Literary Journal. She is working as an English professor at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and has presented her research at the MLA, SAMLA, EAPSU, SWWC, BWWC and many other international conferences. Anna has published critical essays, newspaper articles, fiction and art work in literary magazines and academic publications. She won the MLA Bibliography and the Brown University Military Collection fellowships, as well as numerous travel and research grants.
According to your website, “Mythlore was founded in 1969 by Glen GoodKnight, Founder of the Mythopoeic Society.” Do you think that there is a correlation between the quality of a given journal and its affiliation with a major society or association, such as the Mythopoeic Society? Do you think the fact that the Society kept a steady stream of financial and editorial support for the journal meant that it was able to persevere across the decades?
I think institutional support of some sort is important, particularly for smaller journals like ours, though not essential—a relatively new journal in the field, Tolkien Studies, is not associated with an institution per se (just the university press that prints it) and is doing quite well, while Seven, perhaps more similar to Mythlore, is associated with the Wade Center library at Wheaton College rather than a society. But a thriving society helps support a journal’s longevity. Because of The Mythopoeic Society, we have a steady pool of subscribers, a core of officers to whom the editor is accountable, and people we can call on as referees. We can also keep an eye out for likely candidates for future editors among the members. The price of the journal is set at a point that allows us to break even, but the financial support of the institution is there to help us during times of fluctuation in the subscription base.
The first issue of Mythlore was 48 pages long. Twenty years later, the issues were not much longer, at around 80 pages, with around 4 issues per year. For the 93/94 issue, when you took over the journal, the page count jumped to 190 pages, with two issues printed in one book. The page-rate has stayed at over 200 pages, with 2 issues in one book, and a steady 2 books per year. Do you think there is an un-spoken requirement in scholarly publishing that an academic journal needs to be around 200 pages? Is the reason for this common length the fact that it is a size that is long enough for a proper binding with soft-cover printing methods?
I think it’s actually mailing rates that affect this more than anything else! When you start getting up over 200 pages, depending on your paper weight, you may be on the edge of a rate increase that can dramatically affect your overall costs. Other than that, I can’t say that the length was something chosen that deliberately. Just because of the rate at which we receive submissions and our acceptance ratio, we seem to average about ten articles and nine substantial book reviews per issue, and that’s just what it works out to for the number of pages. That said, it’s a good size, like a small book, and two of those a year makes it a good value for the price of the subscription.
Is there a natural progression in a life of a journal that wants to be successful in the long-term from a short publication to longer and longer issues? Should a journal adjust its publication practices to the fluctuations in the academic publishing market, or should it usually stick with its initial rules and regulations?
Adaptability is very important. Mythlore has been through two substantial format changes (in addition to many minor ones), each corresponding to the tenure of a new editor. First we went from a full-size format with illustrations to a digest size in 1999 when we got our first academic editor; then when I became editor in 2006 I made my first issue a double one, and found that the twice-yearly double issue was simply the best way to work it around my other obligations as an academic as well as save on postage costs. Part of what influenced this progression was the fact that the society began publishing other journals that took over the less-academic aspects of Mythlore, so we could focus on being purely the scholarly arm of the society and having a format and publication schedule more in line with those of other scholarly journals.
Some of the Mythlore issues from the 1970s are labeled, “Same as Tolkien Journal.” What was the relationship between the two journals? Did they eventually merge? Did they share editors? Was Glen GoodKnight primarily interested in Tolkien when he started Mythlore in 1969?
Tolkien Journal merged with Mythlore in 1976, and the two journals produced several joint issues before then. Tolkien Journal also published several joint issues with Orcrist, the bulletin of the University of Wisconsin Tolkien Society, before our merger. With their issue #15, the Tolkien Society of America permanently merged with the Mythopoeic Society and Tolkien Journal with Mythlore. The Tolkien Journal name and issue numbering was added to the masthead for the next three numbers. With Mythlore #12, the new subtitle “A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams Studies” replaced Tolkien Journal on the table of contents page.
Glen GoodKnight, who passed away last year, did start as primarily a Tolkien fan. The society grew out of a Bilbo and Frodo’s Birthday Picnic he organized in Los Angeles in 1967. But he understood that to be a viable, long-lived society, we would have to consider Tolkien in the context of his group of friends and his writing in the context of fantasy as a whole. GoodKnight was also concerned to keep us from veering too far into either the academic or the fannish, which is why we insist on a readable and accessible style from our contributors, and why quality of writing is more important to us than the academic credentials of the author. Inklings studies in general is very congenial to independent scholars.
Why do a few other issues from the 1970s include Mythprint? What was the relationship like between Mythlore and Mythprint?
Mythprint is the society’s monthly news bulletin. At several times of low economic ebb or lack of editors for Mythprint or Mythlore, our content was combined. Mythprint has also been through a change of editor and format recently, and it is now delivered online, with the majority of its content being shorter reviews of fiction, non-fiction, and media items – but the current editor has some exciting new ideas for regular columns (some of them revivals of pre-1999 Mythlore columns) and other new material. We have some overlap in non-fiction reviews, but Mythlore’s reviews are far lengthier and more substantial. Each editor occasionally contributes to the other’s publication, and we alert each other if we receive a review item more suitable for the other’s content.
Why were there so many fluctuations in the quantity of issues published per year over the decades, ranging from one to four? How many issues do you currently publish per year? Can this number change easily, depending on the quantity of submissions, etc that you receive? Does it need to stay constant in order to fulfill library subscription requests, which might be for a specific quantity of issues?
We are all volunteers in the Mythopoeic Society, so there have been times in the history of Mythlore when “real life” interfered with the ability of the editor to do his or her job. It’s certainly one of the drawbacks of being a one-person shop (I currently handle almost everything except the mailing list and finances, including storage and shipping of recent back issues, though in the past there have been several sub-editors and section editors) and one of the reasons I settled on two issues a year rather than four. We also had difficulties at times when there was no new editor waiting to take over the position; one of my goals over the next few years is to start looking for a potential successor, even though I have every intention of continuing as editor for the foreseeable future. As a librarian, I understand how frustrating it is to deal with an irregular journal, so that’s one more reason I try to stick to our publishing schedule and have regularly published issues in the spring and fall since I took the reins.
Your mission statement states that Mythlore primarily focuses on the works of three writers, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. On your website you state that they were the “three authors who were also prominent members of an informal Oxford literary circle (1930s-1950s) known as the Inklings.” What separates these three writers from the other classical or current fantasy writers?
The Inklings came together and influenced each other at a watershed moment in modern fantasy. They were all practicing Christians, and all heavily influenced by both Edwardian fantasy and adventure and children’s literature—The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard, and so on—and a love for mythology. Yet they were also very much a product of World War I, Tolkien and Lewis both being veterans, and of the difficult relationship many post-war writers had with modernity. Post-Inklings fantasy is almost entirely different from what came before; as Terry Pratchett has said, fantasists may try to deny the influence of Tolkien in particular on their works, but he’s always there in the background like Mt. Fuji—and when you can’t see him, it’s because they’re standing on his shoulders. The Inklings are also increasingly seen as an example of the collaborative process of writing and how writers influence each other. For readers interested in learning more, I highly recommend Diana Pavlac Glyer’s The Company They Keep and Jared Lobdell’s The Rise of Tolkienian Fantasy.
Can you explain the difference, from your research and classifications in the journal, between the genre of “myth” and the genre of “fantasy?” Are the two concepts interchangeable? Do any fantasies lack mythic elements? Are some myths non-fantastic? On your website you define the name of your society, “mythopoeic,” as, “(myth-oh-PAY-ik or myth-oh-PEE-ic), meaning ‘mythmaking’ or ‘productive of myth.’” Elaborate on this concept, as it relates to fantasy.
Myth is generally something which is not “authored”—it arises almost organically from the interaction of human beings with the world and speaks to deep, universal emotional, psychological, and developmental needs. Fantasy is generally more individual—written by someone relatively identifiable, as an exercise in storytelling. Fantasy may use or attempt to create myth to a greater or lesser extent. There are many sub-genres within fantasy—wainscot fantasy, sword and sorcery fantasy, urban fantasy, and so on. Mythopoeic fantasy is also sometimes called “high fantasy” to distinguish its more serious purpose. Farah Mendelsohn’s The Rhetorics of Fantasy provides a well-thought-out taxonomy of fantasy types. Here’s how we define mythopoeic fantasy for the purposes of our society: It is literature that creates a new and transformative mythology, or incorporates and transforms existing mythological material. Transformation is the key—mere static reference to mythological elements, invented or pre-existing, is not enough. The mythological elements must be of sufficient importance in the work to influence the spiritual, moral, and/or creative lives of the characters, and must reflect and support the author’s underlying themes. This type of work, at its best, should also inspire the reader to examine the importance of mythology in his or her own spiritual, moral, and creative development.
Has Mythlore ever published classical myth, such as the Greek and Roman myths? If not, why not?
Our interest is in how literature, particularly fantasy literature, makes or uses myth. So we have published many papers on the roots of particular fantasy works in classical or other myth, or on how classical mythic motifs appear in or are used or transformed in fantasy, but we don’t do studies just of myths or of mythic motifs in isolation. For example, a recent paper, “The Ogre Blinded” by Daniel Peretti (in our Spring 2007 issue) applied the tools of folk-tale analysis to the Mount Doom sequence in The Lord of the Rings to show its structural kinship to the Polyphemos episode of The Odyssey. Most of the Inklings had a strong background in classics and were quite familiar with the myths, legends, and literary works of the Greeks and Romans, so digging out these influences is a rich vein of scholarship.
Were you affiliated with Mythlore as a reviewer or an assistant editor before you took over as Editor-in-Chief in 2006?
I had been a contributor, and I was the editor of a book recently published by the society’s press, a frequent presenter at the society’s conferences, and the winner of one of the society’s awards, so I was well known to the editor at the time and to the other members of the Council of Stewards, our governing body. Since we switched to the academic format, Mythlore has been pretty much a one-person shop with no assistant editors.
You are the Head of Access Services at the University of Oklahoma Libraries, where you hold the rank of Associate Professor, as well as being the Editor of Mythlore and publishing your own research in two distinct fields, mythopoeic fiction and librarianship. Describe an average day on your job. How do you juggle tasks? How do you organize your schedule to finish all of your plans?
As a department head, my major responsibility, as I see it, is to be available to solve problems and to deal with crises. To this end the day-to-day routine is delegated throughout the department as much as possible. Probably only a quarter of a typical day is spent on my own recurring tasks, committee work, in-library training, and so on. What this means is that I seldom know if I can sit down and devote hours or even days to research and/or editing, or if I have to drop it all on a moment’s notice to deal with something that’s come up. This has forced me to be very organized! I keep detailed lists of projects and commitments and their due dates, and I pick them up as I can throughout the day. There are times when I take a lot of work home to meet deadlines. My editing is organized around a series of workflows and checklists, making heavy use of Excel charts in which a submission is moved from category to category throughout the process.
Is the experience you gained managing library services essential to your business and management roles as an Editor of Mythlore? Would you recommend for a new academic that wants to edit a national journal to begin in library or university administration to build the necessary management skills?
An editor needs to combine two skill sets: scholarly, at which they must be highly competent though not necessarily brilliant, and organizational, at which they must be outstanding. My skills as a librarian are very relevant to my job as an editor. Librarians generally excel at organization, task management, and bibliography-related skills, and are very detail-oriented. The basis of our training is, after all, in how to organize, retrieve, and evaluate information. More specifically, working for a large university library means I have easy access to the materials I need to check quotes and to find further material to suggest to contributors.
I see that you have achieved tenure and promotion in rank, though without a Ph.D. Do you think the Ph.D. is necessary for further advancement in your field? Do you plan to pursue one?
The MLS or MLIS is considered the terminal degree for librarians, like the MFA in the arts. The MLS is generally sufficient for achieving tenure and promotion at institutions where librarians are tenure track. In these institutions, the specific job a librarian does is considered equivalent to the classroom teaching done by other professors. However, librarianship has been suffering from “degree creep” for decades, and since the time I graduated in 1983, I have seen more and more jobs listed requiring a second masters or Ph.D. in another field, even for entry level positions. (The Ph.D. in librarianship is generally only desirable if you wish to teach in a library school.) If I ever have time, I do intend to pursue another degree, but I’ve been far too busy working and writing to do so yet!
Do you plan on splitting your time between library work and Mythlore in the coming decades? Do you plan on focusing primarily on one of these tasks?
I do intend to continue both. Editing Mythlore is an integral part of my continuing service and research agendas—like most professors, I have to continue to produce in the areas of teaching, research, and service even after getting tenure—while librarianship provides the ideal framework in which I can achieve these goals. I have cut back on research and writing in librarianship, though.
Can you easily receive funding to present your research at conferences through your library or university? It looks like you have been presenting in at least two conferences per year over the last decade. Are you motivated to travel more to conferences in the future? Do you have any advice for new academics on how they can take full advantage of presenting their research in conferences? What are the benefits of sharing your work in local or national meetings? Are there any drawbacks?
Funding for travel to conferences is not as easy to come by as I would like. We have a limited pool to draw from, and try to share it our equally among the library faculty. I do sometimes find funding through other campus sources as well. But I find conferences extraordinarily rewarding and therefore dip into my own pockets when necessary, and I would encourage new academics to do the same. I can’t do much better than point them to a piece written by Peter C. Rollins, co-founder of the Southwest-Texas Popular Culture Association, about the value of conference attendance, which can be found at http://swtxpca.org/documents/elements.html. Do go, read your paper, participate in discussions afterwards, go to other peoples’ papers, join the discussions, go out for meals with the people you meet, and take full advantage of what the conference has to offer. The connections you will make are invaluable. And really, there aren’t any drawbacks, as long as you know how to accept any criticism as a challenge to improve—the reason you give your paper before an interested audience is to get their feedback.
Did you become a fan of fantasy as a child, or was this a more recent development? You published several academic articles on Tolkien before winning an editorship at Mythlore. Were publications in the field one of the top requirements for editing the publication?
I have been reading fantasy as long as I can remember, along with pretty much anything else I could get my hands on. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Cycle was probably my first experience with fantasy. I also read a lot of mythology, the D’Aulaire books on Greek and Norse myths being my favorites. I didn’t actually start writing in a scholarly way until I was hired at my current tenure-track position and had to develop a research agenda—but I took to it quickly and found it very rewarding. The main requirement for becoming editor of Mythlore was interest in the job, frankly, but my combination of scholarship, editing experience, and organizational skills were what clinched it. They are certainly what I will look for in recommending a successor.
In addition to running Mythlore, you worked as the Editor of the Oklahoma Librarian 2006-2009. What are the differences between running a librarian and a fantasy journal? Are there challenges or difficulties to running one versus the other type of journals?
Oklahoma Librarian is a newsletter, running about 12 pages per issue and published every other month. It has just recently switched to electronic delivery. There are a number of ways in which it was quite different from editing a scholarly journal. The deadlines are far tighter and more firmly set, it prints an entirely different type of material, and there is more emphasis on visual design and illustration. It was often a challenge to get sufficient material for an issue or to get contributors to honor their commitments on time. It’s also unlike an academic journal in that there is no need to have submissions refereed or to check bibliographic sources. On the other hand, personal skills of time management, page design, and ability to develop and follow workflows are equally important to both. It was a good experience, and I learned a lot from it and still edit the book review column. Starting with a newsletter can provide valuable experience to the beginning editor.
Please give some advice to new academics on how they should edit their critical, creative or review submissions to make them more appealing to a journal’s editor.
The most important thing is to look at the submission requirements and follow them to the letter. Use the format, file type, and citation style specified by the editor. A really outstanding submission might shine in spite of not being formatted correctly, but one that is only good or needs work can be sunk by a failure to follow directions. You should also be familiar with what the journal publishes. Look at the table of contents for the past few issues, and skim a few articles. Does your paper have a “voice” that will fit in? Is the length of your bibliography approximately the same as the average article’s? How about the overall length of the paper? If your paper is dependent on illustrations, does the journal typically include them or might this make more work for the editor and printer? If you include passages in other languages, does this journal typically provide translations? Are you too colloquial, or do you use too much jargon? You want your paper to look like it belongs already before it even gets to the editor’s desk. (However, you don’t need to go quite as far as one submitter, who formatted his submission to look as close as possible to the way it would look if published—font, dingbats, page size and all!)
What are the most common reasons why an article might be rejected from publication in Mythlore?
The most likely reason is lack of depth in the research. A scanty bibliography shows sloppy research; this field has been around a long time, and if you don’t do your research and simply re-hash arguments that were first aired in the 1960s, you haven’t gone far enough. (I used to think this was unique to us, as a field where there is a strong non-academic interest in the topic, but other editors have told me it happens everywhere.) The next most typical reason is not being suitable to our purpose. There are always authors who merely look at the title of the journal and don’t pay attention to our mission statement, but this has been improving since we gave it more prominence on our website. A third common reason is simply poor writing skills; by this I mean more of a lack of understanding of how to frame and state an argument and sustain it for the length of a paper, than English not being the writer’s first language. And sometimes we find we have several papers on almost exactly the same topic and must simply choose the best one. The big thing, though, is the “so what?” factor. If the paper lacks originality and the referee finds him or herself saying “so what?” after reading it, then no matter how well-written and researched, it won’t make the cut. As in the title of a book I recommend below, you must first have something to say.
Do you recommend any books on writing and editing for editors, graduate students, or academics editing their works for publication?
I would recommend How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J. Silvia; while most of his examples are from his own field of psychology, his advice is universally applicable. Also good is First Have Something to Say: Writing for the Library Profession by Walt Crawford. Again, though it is somewhat focused on librarianship, the advice is good for anyone. For the writer who wants a look inside the mind of the editor or eventually plans to become an editor, I recommend the concise The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists by Arthur Plotnik. The editor who may be dealing personally with the physical design of his journal should absorb as much as possible from Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. For both aspiring authors and editors, I’d also strongly advise attending editors’ roundtables, panels, and chats at conferences. The Modern Language Association and Popular Culture Association both have them, and I’m sure others do as well.
What should graduate students who are interested in editing a journal later in their career do to improve their chances of winning a job as an academic journal editor? Are there classes they should take? Jobs or internships that they should do? What type of work should they accept after receiving a Ph.D. to improve their chances of becoming an editor in the future?
I kind of came at this backwards, getting interested in editing from the perspective of a contributor and not even really thinking about doing it until it became clear the previous editor of Mythlore was planning to step down—so I didn’t really prepare for it consciously. But I would suggest building up a record of scholarship, and paying attention to the mechanics of editing from a writer’s perspective first. What do you like about working with certain editors and journals as compared to others? If you edited that journal, what would you change? Editing a book is also an excellent preparation, particularly with a smaller press where you may have the opportunity to do more than just send off the contents and may be able to work on layout, indexing, permissions, and marketing as well. Doing some behind-the-scenes work like proofreading, quote-checking, and indexing can be useful experience; try your society’s press, or see if friends could use a hand with manuscript preparation. Go to the editors’ panels I mentioned above, and talk to the editors there about editing. Get involved in your scholarly organization, hold offices or volunteer, and generally show responsibility and a capacity for hard work. Hone your organizational and task management skills any way you can, since you will have to prove you can handle large projects to deadline and repeat your success issue after issue. And as soon as you do find work as an editor or assistant editor, join the Council of Editors of Learned Journals and take advantage of the experience of other editors.
Are there any other comments that you would like to add?
There are lots of small journals out there like Mythlore that still run rather informally compared to the big names, but which publish outstanding scholarship and offer you a chance to really have an impact and bring your own personality to them. It’s rather appealing to be this small and independent, in a way; not being affiliated with a large journal publisher like Emerald or Haworth or Johns Hopkins may be a little more risky or less profitable in some ways, but it means we can do what we want, make any changes we need to in a moment, and so on. It also means that my office is the back issue storage and shipping center, but that comes with the territory!
Here endeth the interview.
Although this interview was done for another purpose and gratefully appropriated for Horn of Rohan, it occurs to me that series of similar interviews that helps you get to know all the Stewards might be of interest. (Although buying each one a drink and/or chocolate at Mythcons might work too). If anyone is interested in being an interviewer for another Steward, contact me and we’ll talk (virtually).