Otherwheres is a Lit Mag for True-ish Stories

The fourth issue is out this Friday.

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Otherwheres is a young-ish Oakland-based literary magazine that publishes true-ish stories by Bay Area authors with striking imagery and design. Its fourth issue is about to be born —on June 24, to be exact — and the theme is "disaster." I asked co-editor Joseph Bien-Kahn some questions to get a taste of what the mag is all about and what the new issue has in store. 

What’s with the name Otherwheres?
The word Otherwheres is actually the brainchild of my co-editor, Aaron Kingon. We opened our first issue with an explanation of the term, which he takes to mean the spaces between everywhere and nowhere: a “place where there is nothing yet.” I love the name because it fits what we’re doing so well — we’re small, which means we can try things, make mistakes, and hopefully build a magazine that is a spot where talented writers and artists want to share their personal, mostly true stories.

Why did you decide to start a literary magazine as opposed to another type of publication?
I interned at 826 Valencia, right across the street from McSweeney’s, and then at Zyzzyva, so I was excited by what you can do with a literary magazine. We’ve had a crash course in InDesign, Photoshop, indie printing, trimming, and actually trying to sell the things — but with this fourth one, we’ve finally gotten our footing and can really take some chances with the issue. Obviously, McSweeney’s has played around with form as well as anyone, and it’s exciting to think where we can take Otherwheres to in the future. The literary magazine is a perfect medium because all it takes is about ten great contributors to share their personal stories. And we’ve been lucky enough to work with some ridiculously talented people.

What types of stories does Otherwheres specialize in?
I’m a journalist and Aaron is a fiction writer, so coming together to make a magazine that’s true-ish personal stories was exciting. I make a point to not ask the writers what parts of their stories (if any) are fictionalized, which has led to some incredibly raw storytelling in the magazine. There’s a freedom to “mostly true” — it lets a writer turn him or herself into a character and really expose some honest, and sometimes unflattering, actions and feelings.
Katie Wheeler-Dubin, who has an amazing piece in the new issue about stomach flu and heartbreak, is the model of writing we’re looking for. She’s found a way to write like she speaks, while telling hilarious and sad and raw stories. We all just try to do our best impression of her.

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The theme of the newest issue is disaster. Why?
Picking the themes is one of my favorite parts of putting out Otherwheres. Our first one, Truth and Fiction, led to some great takes on truthiness. Our third issue, Comics, led to unbelievable collaborations between artists and authors. I felt like Disaster was a great theme for the issue because a disaster is a single moment usually followed by many tremors and a massive change. That’s what great stories should have too. And Disaster can mean different things to different people.
I think the writing in this issue is the best we’ve had. And the range of stories is incredible. We have a piece about a death at brunch in Savannah, a traumatic train ride outside Cape Town, and Britney Spears’s VMA performance from 2007. Each writer found a disaster of varying scale, placed themselves at the center, or to the side, and wrote beautifully on the experience.

Otherwheres doesn’t just feature writing, there’s also gorgeous imagery. Tell us about the artwork in the mag.
The artwork is definitely a highlight of the magazine. People think we’re nuts to print in full color, but our illustrators and photographers take the whole issue to another level, so it’s worth it.
Aaron and I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by an incredible community of artists in San Francisco and Oakland, so it’s never been too difficult to find amazing artwork for Otherwheres. Jeff Cheung drew our first cover upstairs at a house party. Rachel Marino has given us a bunch of her beautiful, grotesque illustrations.
We’ve had a photo spread in the center of each issue, and Volume IV is our most photo-heavy by far. Toby Silverman, who’s now our design editor, has had photographs in every issue, and his shots from the Baja 1000 are the center spread of the Disaster issue. They’re insanely beautiful.
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Why do you find it worth it to print the mag, as opposed to having it online?
Printing is expensive, so it’s probably not worth it. We haven’t quite cracked the getting rich off printing a literary magazine part of this. But a bunch of our contributors have only written online, and there’s something special about seeing your byline printed on a page. There’s a pretty amazing resurgent zine culture out in the East Bay right now — our friend Max Stadnik runs Tiny Splendor and they are selling these beautiful printed Risograph zines. And at the end of the day, there’s nothing like holding a magazine in your hands and reading a story. So, though it doesn’t always feel that way when rent is due, it is worth printing the magazine. 

You can order issues of Otherwheres and submit stuff for the next issue here. 

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