Selecting a story or essay for a Gordon Square Review editorial mentorship is a gut-level, instinctual process for me. While I always set out with the best intentions to stay ahead of the workload and select my mentor piece early on in the reading period, I inevitably wait until all submissions are in so I can choose from among the widest possible pool. After all, it’s not just about plucking out a submission that feels “close,” but rather one that inspires an immediate revision roadmap in my mind.
In this issue, for the first time, I selected a contest entry as my mentorship recipient. We accept blind contest entries, which means I first read “Ordinary” without knowing the author’s identity. But I knew from the start that the story had a smart, compelling voice, and I loved the movement of the first paragraph: it starts with a fever, transitions to a sly critique of a former professor, and ends with an admission of “febrile” marital relations. As I read on, I continued to enjoy and celebrate the story’s startling turns and imaginative language. One moment, however, kept holding me back—the scene involving a confrontation between the protagonist and her neighbor. As I saw it, the dialogue got away from the writer at this point and became too dramatic. If that scene could be improved, I thought, this could be a story I’d like to accept.
Once our contest finalists were sent on to the final judge, and once our team confirmed “Ordinary” was unfortunately not a finalist, I was able to contact Anne and offer her story a second chance through this mentorship. I reread “Ordinary” a few times to suggest ways to improve the neighbor scene. I also marked lines that seemed to explain too much, and I encouraged Anne to trust the reader a bit more. Additionally, I suggested a few places where we could benefit from more visceral detail, questioned a confusing timeline issue, and noted some inconsistencies in tense. The story as a whole was already quite strong, but I was trying to help make it shine even brighter.
When I finished with my first round of edits, the story was adorned with a flurry of red Track Changes edits and marginal comments. While my changes largely addressed smaller, detail-oriented edits, I worried that the mere sight of the marked-up document might overwhelm Anne. I know what it’s like to look at a forest of comments and feel intimidated. Anne, however, accepted my notes cheerfully and got to work straight away. She made intelligent, thoughtful changes that shaped the story into its final form. I offered one more round of notes on her revision, she made more excellent edits, and “Ordinary” was finally ready to go.
But something surprising happened during the process. As I worked on Anne’s edits, I felt a direct connection between the comments I was making and the comments I’d received on my own writing. With every suggestion I made on Anne’s story, I felt as though my past teachers, beta readers, editors, and literary agent were working through my hands. I started to view our revision process as not just one single story with one writer and editor, but instead part of a vast network of writing and publishing professionals working together in good faith to make the work stronger. And what could be more beautiful than that? So please, take the time to read “Ordinary” by Anne Cudnik and appreciate her hard work on this fantastic story.
Laura Maylene Walter
Laura Maylene Walter is a writer and editor in Cleveland. Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers, the Sun, Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She was a Yaddo Fellow, a Tin House Writers’ Workshop Scholar, the recipient of the Ohioana Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant, and a past Fiction Editor of Mid-American Review. Her debut story collection, Living Arrangements (BkMk Press), won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize, a national gold IPPY, and a Foreword Book of the Year Award. Laura holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University, is a contributing editor for Cherry Tree, teaches workshops for Literary Cleveland, blogs for the Kenyon Review, and works for Cleveland Public Library. She is no stranger to rejection.