By Zach Powers, The Writer’s Center Maryland-based writer Steve Majors recently published his gripping, startlingly honest debut memoir, High Yella, with The University of Georgia Press. He talked with us […]20 Jun 2023
A chat with the editor of Taco Bell Quarterly
By Amy Freeman
MM Carrigan is the Editor Grande Supreme of Taco Bell Quarterly—yep, that’s a real and prestigious literary journal. TWC sat down with her to find out what goes on in the journal’s backroom.
Let’s start with the obvious question. For the uninitiated, what the heck is Taco Bell Quarterly?
Taco Bell Quarterly is a literary magazine that publishes “Taco Bell-adjacent” and “spiritually Taco Bell” fiction, poetry, essays, CNF, art, and more. We are also a literary movement, encouraging writers to think outside the bun in terms of their writing, their talent, their movement through the slog of the writing life, and rejection. We absurdly approach writing through a lens of Taco Bell to disrupt the writing process, destroy it, and put it back together. We also imagine that is how Taco Bell approaches making food.
There are lots of interviews with you about TBQ’s origins, in publications ranging from Salon to Food and Wine to Vox, so let’s use this interview to instead pull back the curtain on how you make a journal. What happens to my work, on your end, after I hit “submit?” Who reads it? Do you have multiple readers weighing in? What’s the next step, if a reader thinks “yes,” “no,” or “meh?”
First I read it, and then I pass it onto our “day crew,” a volunteer group of talented writers and poets, as well as a few non-writers whom I think provide an important point of view. Everyone gives their thoughts, which I take into consideration. I don’t believe in a meritocracy and ranking when it comes to what makes great writing. I believe every submission has a unique merit worthy of publication.
At the same time, when a piece isn’t working, it just isn’t working.
What makes a submission sing?
A great opening sentence, an established point of view that we can immediately relate to, and a profound truth that makes us sigh.
Conversely, what’s going to get my submission dinged?
You can tell when people are writing with too heavy of hand, when you can really just see the writer working through it on the page, when it’s still a rough draft. We’re essentially a writing prompt about Taco Bell, and writing prompts are actually challenging to do successfully, because you do end up with a lot of plodding and muddling through the prompt. When Taco Bell disappears into the background as white noise, that’s where you should start writing.
How do you feel about writers following up, if they haven’t heard back about a submission and are feeling antsy?
Some publications give tiered rejections, as in, a flat “no, thank you” if you don’t like the quality or style of the writing, or a “no, thank you, but please submit again,” if it seems like the writer could be a good fit, but not with that piece, or a revise/ resubmit request if you think it’s almost there? Or in that last instance, would you work with the writer on edits?
I love to publish “almost there” pieces actually. Writing is a spectrum, from draft to “there.” Most writing probably exists within the “almost.” I read books by big name, big 5 authors that I think are “almost there.” We should always be writing to get to that place, and we’ll all be lucky if we make it “there” a few times. When we reject writers, it has very little to do with merit, and much more to do with the overall story the issue is shaping up to tell.
Some publications post new pieces all the time. What factors come into play when you’re assembling a magazine? Do you consider how the pieces work together?
Yes, I’m very interested in the magazine working as a small novel or maybe as an album, with the pieces speaking and singing to each other. Each writer is doing solo material within the entire band of writers.
What’s the worst response you’ve ever received from a writer, after sending a rejection?
Everyone has been cool and professional. Mean people don’t like Taco Bell. Have you ever seen a mean person in a Taco Bell? Nah, everyone is chill, happy, sipping on Baja Blasts. Our writers are like that. We’re not Long John Silver’s Review. I imagine everyone who eats Long John Silvers is having the worst day of their life. That would be a terrible magazine.
What’s your view on simultaneous submissions (where a writer sends a piece to multiple outlets at the same time)?
Now three issues old, TBQ is still quite new, but it’s a hot byline. If someone reading this wants to submit, are there common themes you’re seeing and of which you’ve had enough?
Don’t go balls to the wall. You don’t have to start with werewolves, nuclear war, serial killers, and hot air balloons. A lot of people come into it with a head full of steam, writing the biggest, wildest story of their life taking place inside of a Taco Bell. I admire that power move, but it’s probably still a first draft. Serial killers and hot air balloons need to simmer until the 3rd or 4th draft. Take some time to really sit in that Taco Bell.
I’ve seen you on Twitter, doling out free taco coupons to writers who share rejections from other pubs. What’s that about and may I have one, too?
We occasionally have a stash of free tacos to give out from Daddy Taco—I mean, Taco Bell, ahem. We’re not affiliated whatsoever, but it never hurts to ask for free food, so we ask them for it and give it out to writers. Follow us for occasional free food, great writing, and dreaming mas.
@TBQuarterly / tacobellquarterly.org