Hold an issue of the slightly outsized High Desert Journal. It has a nice weight and feel. The exterior's appearance is spare, professional and visually analogous to the West that the journal hopes to represent--earth-colored, not overwrought and possessing an almost desolate beauty. The cover invites the reader to come inside. The journal's interior is equally visually appealing, with a mix of poetry, prose, fiction and non-fiction, color and black-and-white photos and reproductions of original art, and plenty of strategic white space.
Headquartered in Bend, Oregon, High Desert Journal is a brand-new literary journal and the brainchild of editor Elizabeth Quinn. Publishing semiannually in April and October, the journal is on the cusp of releasing its third issue this spring. But since the release of the first issue in 2005, High Desert Journal has published works by such well-known Western writers as Craig Lesley, Kim Barnes, John Rember, William Kittredge and Ursula K. Le Guin. Not bad for an infant.
Quinn says she began working out the idea of a specific kind of literary journal about two years ago. There was a niche, she felt, that wasn't being filled. It was impossible for Quinn not to see that in this region of the country, all of the attention to the arts goes to the major metropolitan areas. She says she just thought, "It's time that something opened up for people on the east side of the Cascades." And if she was going to open up that "something," Quinn decided, she wanted the journal to include both writing and art that would embody the unique landscape of the West and "get the full, fleshy voice of the place and to do it justice."
After that, it was a matter of taking the concept and doing the work that needed to be done to turn the vision into concrete reality. Beginning with a "small but active" three-person board of directors and an advisory board, everyone agreed that a journal like this one was necessary. From there, High Desert Journal was born. For that first issue, they did a lot of soliciting for material--putting out a lot of press releases and embarking on what Quinn called a "go-out-and-do-everything-at-once sort of attack." Nearly a year after publication of the first issue, the journal's board has grown to include seven members, and the advisory board now has eight.
High Desert Journal is committed to publishing a range of authors from the established to the unknown. Says Quinn, "That's what has to happen. We have to have that mix." She sees that mix as a way of validating emerging voices with established voices. Alongside the authors people already know and admire, such writers as Annemarie Frohnhoefer, a University of Montana graduate, or Sean Prentiss, a graduate student at the University of Idaho, are able to publish their works, too.
As publication of the third issue approaches, Quinn says High Desert Journal has received a "stunning public response--fabulous," well beyond what they had hoped. They continue to work hard at grassroots distribution. One way they do this is through establishing connections with the booksellers who carry the journal, so High Desert Journal won't become just another cover that comes in through a distributor. "Relationships are paramount," Quinn says.
She's obviously on to something. Believing in putting faces to the title may be one good reason that it took just a month for the minds behind High Desert Journal to get their baby into 30 booksellers--many of which, says Quinn, who don't even carry literary journals. Quinn feels that speaks highly of their efforts, and also of the quality of the journal itself.
High Desert Journal has subscribers from all over the United States, and they hope that subscription base will only grow. Says Quinn, their subscription numbers are growing. They publish 2,000 copies of each issue, and have distributed about three quarters of issue one and close to 1,000 copies of the second issue have been distributed already.
As to growth, Quinn says they hope to move to four issues per year at some point, and to get the journal into bookstores in all of the Western states they cover in content--Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Washington and Utah (and sometimes Northern California). In Boise, High Desert Journal is available at Vista Books.
Currently, says Quinn, the journal's readers are mostly people in the region. However, they have a substantial number of subscribers across the country--Hawaii, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida are a few of the states she names--that are seeking "a connection to this place."
The next issue of High Desert Journal will be the Spring 2006 issue. The submission deadline for that issue was December 31, but the next deadline isn't until June 30. High Desert Journal is actively seeking submissions, Quinn says. Visit their Web site, www.highdesertjournal.com, to view the submission guidelines. Because High Desert Journal is a new journal with a very specific voice, they receive a "nice" but not overwhelming amount of submissions. "But," says Quinn, "I still want to hear from people." She says that the process of finding writers is sometimes like turning over rocks to see what's hiding underneath.
Quinn feels it is important to note that writers know how to submit their work and are quite familiar with the process. Artists, on the other hand, don't usually submit their work to journals, so submissions from visual artists are less forthcoming. Even so, Quinn is enthusiastic about the challenge of finding artists who work in both word and image.
"There's some amazing, impressive art in the region that takes a little searching for--and I like that process also," she says. "Let me know who you are."