Behind the Scenes at KtB
I am honored to be tagged in my very first “blog train,” thanks to the awesome Melissa Duclos, my grad-school colleague and writer-editor extraordinaire, whose latest venture, The Clovers Project, seeks to create mentoring groups for student, emerging, and established writers to support each other. That’s a spirit we can definitely identify with around here at Killing the Buddha, affectionately known as KtB. As the current editor of this 14-year-old literary magazine founded by writers Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau, I am proud to be the flame-keeper of an ongoing conversation from and about the far margins of faiths of all kinds. It’s a conversation that my own writing intersects with, as well as that of many of my awesome fellow Buddha-killers (see below for shout-outs to three in particular).
What am I working on?
This month I declared to be “India month” at Killing the Buddha, so we’ve been working on gathering personal narratives about encounters between self and other that take place in or around India. That’s what we do best here, personal narratives that don’t fit into simple journalistic or religious categories.
My own recent nonfiction writing tends to be more critical than narrative. Recently I have been enjoying writing shorter, more timely pieces on religion and pop culture for The New Republic, and the informal constellation of other non-religious religion websites of whom KtB is a member, including Religion Dispatches, The Revealer, and Religion and Politics. So I’m working on more of those, hopefully intersecting with a larger book project in the works about the history of the 1923 spiritual classic The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
For this one I think the answer is the same for both Killing the Buddha as a magazine and for my own writing: a willingness to be irreverent, humorous, questioning about topics than many tiptoe around, both in real life and on the page.
Why do I write what I do?
I think I am one of those writers who write to figure out what I am thinking. And the more regularly I write for others, the more I notice ongoing threads of obsession–with particular books, historical eras, recurring arguments that need debunking–and I just can’t stop myself from wading in! We publish what we publish at KtB because we know that there are still readers out there who feel isolated in their faith or lack of it where they live, and we aim to be a misfit refuge of sorts.
How does my writing process work?
Like many nonfiction writers I know, I am an omnivorous gatherer of information, finding out as much as I possibly can on one of my aforementioned obsessive topics and then using the page and the drafting process to figure out where my argument hides in all those facts. Recently I’ve become enamored of a first-draft process where I write the beginning paragraph of whatever I’m working on over and over again in different ways until I hit on one that allows me to continue to the second, then third paragraphs. It’s messy, but it works!
And now to introduce three of my fellow Buddha-killers, writers I have collaborated with here at the magazine whose work I very much admire. Check out their blog posts next week!
My fellow KtB editor Mary Valle is possibly the funniest and most prolific writer (and illustrator) I know. Her special obsessions as KtB’s “The Communicant” and as our social-media maven include the Pope and Satan, and she recently interviewed Jesus for us. Mary is the author of KtB’s first original e-book, Cancer Doesn’t Give A Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. You can’t get more Buddha-killing than that. I want to know: how does she do it all?
Writer Briallen Hopper “teaches and preaches” at Yale University, and also somehow finds time to write about religious transformation, African-American literature and religion, and even the movies. For KtB she has written a sermon on the Sandy Hook shooting, and a beautiful collaboration with KtB editor Ashley Makar, Dear Flannery: letters to friends, God, and you.
Kaya Oakes is the author of Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church, and Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture. Her KtB essay “Torn Bread” sparked heated dialogue about womens’ ordination, and her most recent piece for us, “Waiting for Facts,” chronicles both the intervention of the Catholic hierarchy into the Berkeley church that had become her spiritual home, and her struggle over whether and how to write about it. Currently she’s working on a book about the spiritual lives and social contributions of the much-discussed “nones,” millennials and others who have left organized religion.