Interview: Marisa Siegel and Lyz Lenz of The Rumpus

Some of you might have heard that The Rumpus has a new Editor-in-Chief and owner, Marisa Siegel. Curiosity Quills Press were recently lucky enough to get an interview with Marisa, and The Rumpus Managing Editor Lyz Lenz.

Thank you ladies for joining us on the CQP blog, and agreeing to answer some of our questions!

For Marisa:

You have mentioned poetry as being your first love. Is it still?

Poetry is like breathing. I’ve been writing less of it in the last few years—though I scribble lines here and there—but reading more of it. I don’t know who or where I’d be if not for poetry. Something I’ve said a lot is that I starting writing poetry “before I understood what ‘poetry’ meant. That’s indicative, I think, of what poetry means to me. But is it still my first love? I have a child now. Nothing comes before him in my heart. But poetry is the foundation I built my entire life upon.

Which poem do you think best represent The Rumpus—and your hopes for it? 

This is a really interesting question. I’m going to with the first poem I ever read, and one from which I have a line tattooed on my arm, “Love Is a Place” by e. e. cummings. I think it speaks to my hopes for The Rumpus, and for humanity.

Love is a Place

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

– e. e. cummings


What poet are you reading now? 

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry written in response to Trump’s election and subsequent inauguration—we published the Rumpus Inaugural Poems project, put together by our Poetry Editor Brian Spears, and truly every poem included is amazing. I’m a little too busy these days to sit and read a collection in its entirety, but if you want poetry in your day-to-day life—which is, for me, critical in times like these—I recommend two things: sign up for the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day newsletter, and follow Kaveh Akbar on Twitter.

And, I’m always returning to the poets that are foundational for me: cummings, Neruda, Bishop, Plath, and Dickinson jump to mind.


How about a prose writer? 

The last novel I read was Abandon Me, forthcoming in February from the outstanding Melissa Febos. When I read it, it was for pleasure. I loved it so much, though, that I begged Melissa to help us make it our February Book Club pick. So, pleasure became business.

Similarly, I’m about to start Julie Buntin’s Marlena, which will be our March Book Club selection. So I’m reading it “for work,” but then again, I reached out to Julie and asked if we could make this happen because I knew this was a book I wanted to read, and that our readers would want to read.


Is this for business/review, or for pleasure? Is there a difference for you? 

I don’t have much time to read “for pleasure,” but the work I read for The Rumpus is a pleasure, almost always.


In your article, you mentioned your focus shifting to small presses rather than Big Five. Is there any reason for that? In our experience, a lot of publications hold to a different opinion. Will you also be featuring self-published authors?

The conversation began around the Simon & Schuster controversy. We didn’t necessarily feel that a “Rumpus ban” on Simon & Schuster books would be effective, and it might also unfairly punish authors we love and want to celebrate. But shifting our focus to small, independent presses allows us to make a statement about the kinds of publishers we support and believe in. This doesn’t mean we’ll never cover a book or an author from the “Big Five.” But in keeping with our desire to be a platform for voices and writers that wouldn’t otherwise find a home for their work, we’d also like to be a platform for and to champion the underdogs of the publishing industry who aren’t being covered elsewhere but are putting out important books and publishing wonderful writers.


I know The Rumpus has a Book Club, and started it before book subscriptions were cool. Are there any plans for it? I’ve read that the books are recommended by trusted sources—is that still the case, and if so, can you tell me a little bit about who those sources are? 

The Rumpus Book Club began before my time, and has remained a popular program. We actually have two clubs now: our Book Club and our Poetry Book Club.

I do have plans to help grow the clubs beyond the site’s audience and to be more inclusive of different sorts of writing—I’ll be working on the Book Club myself beginning with February’s book, as I mentioned above. Our Poetry Book Club is managed by Brian Spears, the site’s Poetry Editor.

I’m not sure whom those trusted sources were, but I can share that I will be choosing books by exploring the catalogues of presses I admire, talking with my editorial staff and our advisory board, and keeping my ear to the ground as to what people are looking forward to reading.


What has been the reader response to the book club from the start? What is the response now? 

I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this question. I haven’t been involved in the Book Club or Poetry Book Club for very long—I’m only just getting started! My role as Managing Editor didn’t involve working with the clubs.

That said, I am hoping to engage readers more, and in new ways. There are so many ways to connect online now, and I think we may try some new tools for the clubs going forward.


How difficult is it to manage the book club, on top of running Rumpus? What, for you, are the challenges and rewards of running it? And what are the challenges and rewards of running Rumpus itself?

I’m a multitasker and always have been. I’ve joked that I make my OCD work for me, but it’s really true. I’m compulsively organized, which allows me to wear a lot of different hats at once. And, while I’ll be taking on the task of running the Book Club, I’m also bringing on a new Managing Editor (Lyz Lenz) who will assume many of the responsibilities I used to handle as Managing Editor. This will allow me time to work on larger goals for the site, as well as to handle the business aspects that come with being the owner and Editor-in-Chief of a website.

The biggest challenge, for me, is to stop working. When you work for a website, you’re never “off” because the website is always live. There is always an email to be answered, a technical problem to troubleshoot, an essay to give thoughts on, etc. I admittedly am not great at setting boundaries when it comes to work, and so I’m pretty much always “on” when it comes to The Rumpus.

But because I can be flexible in the hours I work, I am also able to be home with my toddler (with part-time help). That, for me, is invaluable and the biggest reward. Of course, it is also incredibly rewarding to work with a talented staff and to connect daily with writers whom I admire greatly. And, now that we face so many dangers as a country, it is rewarding to have a platform to speak out against injustices.

For Lyz:

How long have you been with The Rumpus?

I’ve been working with The Rumpus in some capacity or another for three years.


How did you find your way there?

After the birth of my second child, I was desperate to find a job and honestly I just wanted to build out my resume. Despite what people may say, a resume that has a four-year gap due to taking time off to birth children isn’t looked favorably on. So, I was looking for a way to get myself back into editing. The Rumpus put out a call for bloggers and I thought it would be a good way to start working again, and for a place I loved. I also deeply believe in the value of being a good literary citizen and in working to put good words and good stories into the world. So, the opportunity to work with The Rumpus was one I couldn’t pass up. After working as a blogger for a year, I began helping Brian Hurley with the Books section, which was fun and has been a real learning experience.


What do you love the most about the publication, and what do you want to see changed now that Marisa is taking over the reigns?

I love how the Rumpus is dedicated to good stories and new voices. Under Marisa, I don’t see this changing; I see it being enhanced with better site design and more functionality. Marisa is an incredible manager with an eye for detail. I anticipate her being the Bert to my Ernie and together, rededicating The Rumpus to what it does best—telling good stories.


How do you pick your bloggers/reviewers, and how much autonomy do they enjoy in their pick of topics?

Our bloggers and reviewers come to us. In spring 2016 we began paying feature contributors and reviewers, but we still can’t pay bloggers, so we rely on people who come to us.


What sort of time commitment do you look for in your reviewers?

Some of our reviewers review regularly and do it for the love of books. Other reviewers write one review and move on. We take any kind of reviewer—the only thing we look for is a clear and incisive review that values analysis over opinion and shows thoughtfulness about literature.


Is the goal to make it possible for them to make reviewing a full-time job?

I think one of the benefits of The Rumpus is that we take people at any point in their career as long as the writing is good. So, if an emerging writer is looking for clips to begin a career as a reviewer, they can find a home with us. And Brian and I certainly do our best to help our reviewers in any way we can. I’ve connected reviewers with editors at other publications and helped them with pitches for other publications, to guide them on their way in their writing goals. I’ve seen Brian do the same thing.

This is true of all of our contributors. We are so grateful to our writers, and we do our best to help them in any way we can. If that means ushering them into a new career, we are here for it. The best thing about The Rumpus is that we are very much dedicated to writing and the writing community.


How far in advance of a book’s release date do you prefer a publisher send you an advance copy?

As far as possible. Since all our section editors are volunteers and our writers aren’t making much from us, we tend to run a little slower than other publications.


You do a lot of reviewing at Rumpus. Who picks the books? And what are the criteria you look for in picking/judging them?

Well, mostly our writers pick the books. We have books we are super-excited for, but if we can’t find a writer to review it we are often out of luck. The times I’ve written reviews, those reviews have been about books I was so passionate about that I begged Brian to give me some space.

As we go forward, The Rumpus is really going to look for books published by small and independent presses. We are also looking to highlight the work of underrepresented writers, PoC, and writers with disabilities. There is so much exciting work happening in the publishing world, and we hope to highlight what might otherwise be overlooked.


Will you be putting out any physical publications/collections/anthologies in the foreseeable future?

My motto in life, besides “valar morghulis” is that I’ll do anything once except eat hemlock. So, I’m not ruling out this as a possibility, but we have a lot of groundwork to cover in solidifying our baseline as a business and working on site redesign. So, one big project at a time.


Is this a job you would recommend to your daughter or younger sister?

I never recommend writing or editing to anyone. So much work for so little money. And the hate mail is always in plentiful supply. But I can find no other job that justifies my extreme reading habit. I am pushing my own daughter into a career in engineering.


What other job would you want to see more women coming into, that they haven’t in the past?

President of the United States

For both Lyz and Marisa:

What is your audience, and are there any specific segments you’re looking to connect to more in the next few years?

Our audience is really varied in many ways. But we know that if we are going to affect real change, in addition to inspiring those that think like we do and talking amongst ourselves, we also have to reach across the issues that divide us and try to offer new perspectives to those who wouldn’t necessarily find them otherwise. This is a big challenge, but storytelling has always been one of the greatest tools in breaking down walls.


Where do you see The Rumpus heading in the next few years in general? Will The Rumpus be participating in any sort of political activism in the next four years? If so, in what way?

Marisa: As I said in the announcement on the site, The Rumpus will not back away from the dangers ahead and we believe that writing has an important role in the fight against inequality and injustice. The Rumpus will continue to be a voice of dissent against policies of hate. We’ve already been participating in political activism and partnering with other organizations who do so, and we’ll continue to grow those relationships and to do what we can. We are limited financially, but again, we have a platform and do intend to use it for these purposes alongside more traditional literary content.

Lyz: Any story told well is a political act. Stories give voice to the voiceless. They celebrate what is good, while also revealing what is rotten. Any story is political, because anytime you show truth in story it becomes a weapon for change. Is there anything more political than Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat”? Or Bartleby the Scrivner saying, “I would prefer not to”? These stories accomplish more than any hot take or op-ed ever could, because they reveal essential truths about political systems and people in a compelling way.

I hope that the stories on The Rumpus become agents for change. In the next four years we are going to focus on sharing the stories that might not be read anywhere else and in the process we hope to better tell the story of America.


If you could feature an interview with any author/actor/political figure this year, or personally review any upcoming or newly released book, which one would it be?

Marisa: If I could feature an interview with anyone it would absolutely be Barack Obama, especially now.

If I had the time to personally review a book, I’d definitely review Abandon Me by Melissa Febos. You’ll read an interview with her on the site in late February and again, Abandon Me is our February Book Club pick so in late March you’ll be able to read a transcript of the chat we have with our club members and with Melissa. This is a special book—I wrote Melissa a “love letter” to this book when I finished reading it. Every sentence feels finished. The story is so compelling, and the language is perfect. I cannot think of another instance where I felt both story and language were on such equal footing. I hope this book receives the acclaim and audience it deserves.

Lyz: There are so many writers I love and admire that I know I am going to leave some off. But as far as people I’d love to talk to, who aren’t currently answering my calls—Chris Adrian (write me more books, Adrian!), Marilynne Robinson, Junot Díaz, David Grann, Maggie Nelson, and A.S. Byatt. I’d also commit many crimes for the ability to talk to Milan Kundera. His work just suddenly became very prescient for the United States.

And books I want to review, well—I’m excited for Morgan Jerkin’s book from Harper Perennial, and Esmé Weijun Wang’s book forthcoming from Graywolf. Nicole Chung’s book through Catapult is going to be fantastic. And I also love the work of Matthew Salesses. Michelle Dean is never wrong and her book is going to be aces. Sarah Weinman’s forthcoming book sounds very exciting and I can’t wait for it. Same with Saachi Koul, Rachel Syme, and Alana Massey. And whenever Jia Tolentino writes a book, I absolutely demand that I be allowed to interview her and review it.

Marisa Siegel currently lives and writes near NYC but thinks twenty times a day about heading back west. She is Editor-in-Chief and owner of The Rumpus. Find her on Twitter at @marisasaystweet.





Lyz Lenz is Managing Editor at The Rumpus. Lyz’s writing has been published in the New York Times Motherlode, Jezebel, Aeon, Pacific Standard, and others. Her book on midwestern churches is forthcoming from Indiana University Press. She has her MFA from Lesley and skulks about on Twitter @lyzl.





At The Rumpus, we’re here to give you something more challenging, to show you how beautiful things are when you step off the beaten path. The Rumpus is a place where people come to be themselves through their writing, to tell their stories or speak their minds in the most artful and authentic way they know how. What we have in common is a passion for fantastic writing that’s brave, passionate and true (and sometimes very, very funny). The Rumpus wants to change the conversation. We want to introduce you to authors you’ve never heard of before and to provide perspective on books, films, and media that will make you look deeper.

Pitch Contests, Publishing Queries, Na-No Virtuoso contests, and Halloween! Oh MY!

As the leaves turn red and gold (which might have something to do with the steadily worsening near-drought conditions here in Virginia), I am reminded of the spirit of the season.

And reminded that we don’t have many new Halloween-y, horror-y offerings this year.
We will have sales, and themed posts, and tubs of pumpkin spice lattes consumed between the CQ crew, but nothing that screams (ha!) Halloween.
Which brings me to wondering why that is. Is this our personal wishlists and tastes? The lack of submissions WE receive that fits what CQ currently sees as our standard of quality? Or is it that authors these days are feeling increasing need to limit themselves to such a strictly limited definition of any genre that perforce, the titles that do pop up via the contests and regular submissions all too often feel stale?
Of course, during contests, one is limited to 140 characters – or at most, 3 lines of text – doesn’t exactly help matters. The elevator pitch is king, and even queries are only expected to range from 1 to 2 longish paragraphs when it comes to describing the actual story.
All of which seems to contribute to dearth of submissions that do not have that sense of been-there, read-that, wore-out-the-T-shirt.
And strictly genre-identified fiction, such as contemporary romance and horror fare, seem to suffer the most from this sort of confirmation bias. But not just on the authors’ side.
We, as publishers, ask for a unique voice. For a different story. For something to catch our attention – but do we really mean it? Do we feel confident in being able to sell something that doesn’t quite fit into a specified niche? For that matter, do we, as readers want to give something really original a try on the off-chance we will like our venture into the unknown?
So, you gentle reader, author, fellow publisher – what do YOU want to see in you query wish list / beta reading queue / among your seasonal offering? Asking for a friend here! 😉

Flying The Friendly Skies

Customers have long memories.

As I have sat down to write a blog post about picking winners (or those we hope will be winners) for our next year’s catalog, I was rudely interrupted by our cat being chased by our 3-year old across the foyer floor in concentric circles.
Needless to say, whatever thoughts I had rattling in my pregnancy-addled brain just went and disappeared – and were replaced by the gem above. A truism if I ever wrote one.
But that doesn’t make it any less…well, true. And so, I figure, I might as well expand on that while I’m still of relatively sound mind.
I have long made it a point to fly Delta if I can. Not because they have the best customer service in the world. Or have been the most scrupulous airline company in the world. Or, Mammon forbid, the cheapest.
No, it is because when 12-year old me came to the United States from Uzbekistan, all woozy from the mother of all jet lags and a steady, near 20-hour long diet of non-stop Fanta guzzling, it was only to realize that Delta has forgotten my kitty in her cage on the last waypoint of our journey.
And what did they do in the middle of the night, when confronted with a non-English speaking teen crying her eyes out in front of a yawning clerk’s counter?
Yep, they went and sent a PLANE, an empty one, to a different city – AND flew it back – just so they can deliver that teen her tiny, shivering kitty.
Mind you, they wouldn’t have had to do that if they didn’t forget her cage there in the first place or allowed us to keep it with us in the passenger compartment, but the very fact that they had gone out of their way? Yeah, I am a believer.
And where am I going with that?
Oh, only to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. Real life, even!
Dear authors, CQ and otherwise, please, please remember we are not working in a vacuum. We are not writing for ourselves – or even for just the rather insulated community of booktubers and reviewers.
We are writing for friends, coworkers, lovers of the genres we hope will become our lifelong customers.
Do not spam them, folks. Do not expect them to like us just because we think we are God’s gift to publishing. Do not expect instant praise. But instead, give THEM value – and let THEM get to know your writing – and you.
Get them to like you for the person you are, and then let them fall in love with your talent. They would really be much more likely to do so once they know who is behind the pen (or the keyboard), and be helluva lot more forgiving of an occasional bum piece when they know you help your granny with her shopping, have kids to take care of, a cat to feed in between producing your next magnum opus, or a haircut to wrestle into place despite two full loads of laundry clamoring for your attention.
Oh, and don’t forget to help out those that are in the same boat we are in – a review posted, a sale link spread around, a part of proceeds donated to a charity of your pick, even a kind word said in response to someone’s Instagram picture is exactly what can make a difference between your next BookBub flying under the radar – or propelling you to the Top 100 overall.
And now, having proselytized my piece… off I go, to see if I can rescue the cat again – considering that Delta doesn’t yet do housecalls!

P is for Publishing Today (being a newby in the field of Publishing)

PDandelion, oh dandelion,

You are the spring’s bright bloom

You are lovely and fluffy

But a cow will eat you up

As quietly as you were born,

So quietly will you go to your grave.

Of course, it looses something in the Russian to English translation, but essentially, this is my first magnum opus, written at a ripe old age of three, finally seeing the light of day. You could say, I have now published it 🙂
Which I suppose is fitting – for both what I do in the general run of things and the purposes of meeting today’s A-Z challenge. Letter P.
I should note Eugene and I had not originally set out to do any such thing – publishing, that is. Coming into this as a programmer with a background in foreign currency trading (Eugene) and an entertainment industry marketing professional with aspirations of authorly fame (me), we have first ventured into this arena with our joint upper MG novel, the Gatecrashers, and its spunky teenage universe-hopping heroine. Now, before we have ever set out to find ourselves an agent, we have undertaken a massive crash course via Google on just what it takes these days to sell oneself successfully to both the gatekeepers of the hallowed halls of the then-Big 6 as well as to the general readers.
And what we have found is – this is the age of self-marketing, and social media is an unprecedented (and unprecedentedly affordable) king.
Which happened to mean the beginning of our joint blog, Curiosity Quills (nearly named Curiosity Kills – and only changed to something a little less bloodthirsty at the last possible moment; who says one can only see the error of one’s ways after the fact?). Soon, CQ turned itself into a bit of a portal, where innovative authors such as Lizzy Ford, educators like DIYMFA’s Gabriela Pereiera, and industry big names such as Jane Friedman and Nathan Bransford were given a progressively taller soapbox, from which to share their opinions and experiences with other writers and readers.
As a pleasant, albeit not very long-lasting, side-effect, that also meant we now had time to put final polish on Gatecrashers before finally deciding whether we wanted to go the traditional publishing route or self-pub it, as an increasing number of authors were trying at the time.
But why not very long-lasting, you ask? Why, because we are gluttons for punishment – and because of Eugene’s mile-wide entrepreneurial streak that went and infected me too 🙂 That, and author Michael Shean’s talent that immediately made fans of us both.
In October 2011, we have signed our very first author, Michael Shean, and opened the fledgling Curiosity Quills Press’ doors to submissions, promptly adding Rod Kierkegaard, Jr., Matthew Graybosh, and Vicki Keire to our little catalog. All of them are still with us, and we haven’t looked back since.
While incredibly rewarding, our journey as publishers has been incredibly nerve-wrecking, as well, and fraught with as many ups and downs as that of any individual author’s – or, in a way, more so. Because all our authors successes and failures are our own, and we feel that’s one of the things that stands us apart from the somewhat impersonal nature of how now Big-5 run their business.
Yet having witnessed the challenges and changes that the last three-plus years have wrought in our professional world, we feel that our approach of personalized marketing, our consistent innovation in the areas of marketing and production (hello, PaperBrain TM and Novelful TM), is what is going to continue keeping our heads above water, our names on authors’ and readers’ minds — and our own writing firmly on the shelf.
Time, even for us, especially for us, is not elastic. And that’s OK, because with the authors we are consistently retaining and acquiring for our catalog, we know that if not our own novels, at least CQ authors’ books will find their way onto Kindles, iPhones, and bookshelves of more and more fiction lovers everywhere!
And for now… well, at least my little tragic Dandelion has finally found its audience. Who knows what that bodes for Gatecrashers…