by Taissa Rebroff Photo by Erin Dobosiewicz as part of a series titled "Heirlooms"
TOSKA, an online literary magazine of nonfiction and photography, was aptly inspired by Vladimir Nabokov: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
Founded in the Spring of 2012 by 20-something year old writers Emily Mullin & Shane Barnes, TOSKA is all-embracing-- it's an inspirational project meant to reach both seasoned and aspiring writers, and the lovers of both. BRINK had the pleasure of talking with Emily & Shane about writing and we may have even gotten a haiku out of it...
What inspired TOSKA?
Emily Mullin: As a journalist, I’ve always had an appreciation for well-crafted nonfiction writing, and I feel like there just aren’t that many literary journals solely dedicated to nonfiction. With literary journals that publish fiction, poetry and nonfiction, those typically feature a disproportionate number of fiction pieces and poems compared to essays. Whether it’s because editors prefer fiction and poetry to nonfiction or there aren’t as many nonfiction writers out there, I’m not sure. I’ve always been hesitant to submit my nonfiction writing to literary journals because of this, and I wondered if other writers had the same concern. My goal with TOSKA was to create a non-intimidating platform to showcase the work of nonfiction writers of all backgrounds. That means, we don’t care if you have an MFA or were previously published in 15 literary journals; if you can tell a good story, we want your work.
Shane Barnes: Emily and I are both young writers/editors who write nonfiction pieces that, beyond that, are not always easily categorized. We'd found that many journals—at least, accessible ones that weren't solely publishing already established writers—had constricting guidelines that ruled out our type of writing. We knew we weren't the only ones, and so we wanted to create a platform for writers in similar positions.
Also, on a somewhat different note, we were tired of journals having ugly designs, and Emily has created something that is pretty pretty.
Who is behind TOSKA? Tells us about your background and how you came upon this entrepreneurial endeavor.
EM: I’m a 20-something journalist living and working in the Washington, D.C. area. Before I moved there, I lived in Baltimore, Md., for a year and participated regularly in a creative writing critique group, which really helped me grow as a writer. After moving, I never really found something to fill that creative void. I decided to start TOSKA as a way to bring nonfiction writers and readers together across geographic boundaries.
While I would consider TOSKA more a labor of love than an entrepreneurial endeavor, we would eventually like to be able to pay our contributors a small honorarium.
SB: Emily approached me with the idea of co-editing a journal, and at the time I was unemployed and living in my mother's basement, so I said yes. But, really, Emily and I—who both attended Ohio University—have been mutual fans of each other's work for a while, quietly, and I'd long wanted to be involved with a literature-related upstart, so when she approached me it was a no-brainer.
Who is TOSKA for?
EM: TOSKA is for anyone who can appreciate diverse, well-written nonfiction.
SB: As a platform, TOSKA is for anyone who writes nonfiction that captures a moment within a larger reality while speaking truly of both. As a journal, TOSKA is for a reader who prefers shorter pieces that pack the same punch as a novel.
Who are your favorite writers?
EM: My love affair with the nonfiction genre began with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, so I have to count him among my favorite and most influential writers. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania and going to college in a tiny Appalachian town has also made me a huge fan of Breece D'J Pancake, a West Virginian short fiction writer who, at 26, killed himself in 1979, shortly after his first stories were published in The Atlantic Monthly. There is something hauntingly beautiful about his stories, and I think he could have been a dynamic literary figure if he had lived long enough to produce more works.
SB: My all-time favorites are Kurt Vonnegut and Joan Didion. The folks I enjoy reading on a more regular basis are currently Cheryl Strayed (specifically her Dear Sugar columns on the Rumpus) and Todd VanDerWerff, who writes criticism at the AV Club.
What is the ideal piece for TOSKA entail?
EM: We accept anything within the vein of nonfiction, so leaves a lot up to interpretation. In that sense, there isn’t any sort of formula for an “ideal” piece. There are plenty of components that could make a piece engaging – detailed descriptions, expressive dialogue, tempo and cadence, etc. But to me, the best pieces leave an impression well after I’m done reading them.
SB: I honestly can't speak to specifics, as my favorite pieces of the first issue vary wildly in tone and subject matter. The one thing, which is vital in all writing but especially in nonfiction, is that the writing has energy and a point of view. The trouble with nonfiction is that it can very easily come off as simply a recounting of an event, which isn't the hard part of writing nonfiction. The hard part is writing about that event well, and being able to direct the reader to that event's significance in the larger scheme of things. A good story is not necessarily a good essay, but it's definitely important.
What is your advice for hopeful writers?
EM: Keep writing.
Write us a silly haiku (pretty please)!
EM: Poetry is not my forte, so I’ll let Shane handle this one.
SB: Hair of golden straw
Blades of rubber
worn down raw
BRINK: Man. Myth. Legend.
For more information on TOSKA, including their submission guidelines, visit: www.toskamag.com. Hurry, the fall submission deadline is August 30th!