“Your obsessions come out in everything you write. It tends to become a part of the conversation of your work, and I think that this is true for a lot of writers”
Heather Bartel is a writer and founder of the women-owned and operated literary journal The Champagne Room. She reveals her unique style and obsessions as a writer and editor, and how these contribute to the entire conversation of her work.
[IHS] Your nonfiction pieces The Knife Speaks and Murmurations(I): First Memory of Birds are two completely different, yet brilliant pieces of writing. I noticed that you have a rhythm in your writing that is reflected in the craft elements. You make it seem so effortless! What is the process of editing for you and going back to make the piece “flow” better?
[HB] In the writing of both of these pieces, a lot of the initial crafting was intuitive. I often write
a draft without punctuation to get into the flow of my writing. I temporarily forget
structure and get everything out and then once I’m done, I revisit it and begin editing.
After I revisit, I discovered the need for commas, punctuation, breaks in the pages, change the
pacing, etc. Letting the writing take off and getting into that “flow” intuitively is important first
and foremost; figuring out how to construct it comes secondary for me.
[IHS] Do you ever get inspired by work submitted to The Champagne Room? How do the submissions you read influence what you look for in future submitted works?
[HB] I am inspired by so many of our submissions. Obviously, we can't accept all of them..but I
think about those words all of the time. We read pieces that make me want to keep writing, because I want my writing to be in conversation with these voices. I am constantly inspired. We like to have an unspoken theme for every issue related to the cover art, which we tend to decide on before we begin accepting submissions. We don’t solicit work based on a theme. However, when we read, we start to think about what we are looking for. For example, for issue two our cover art was a mouth. The mouth was an interpretation of a room, as a place where stories were being told. We started reading pieces and realized that this links to our cover image, and this links to the notion of storytelling and conversation, secrets kept, swallowing things, and blurting things out. The more pieces we read, the more we see the ways in which certain submissions are in conversation with one another. They complement each other well. It’s really just a process of reading through all the submissions and starting to get a feel of what works.
[IHS] Does being an author and someone who also submits to other presses and
journals influence the way you look at a piece that wants publication in your
journal? If so, how?
[HB] Being both an editor and a writer who submits to journals, I feel that I have a better
understanding of the whole process now. For example, sometimes Emma and I read a
piece we really like, but decide it's not a fit for the journal for whatever reason. Suddenly, I
realize the same reason why I get rejected in some journals. They do actually like it- It just
doesn't fit in their journal at that moment in time for a specific reason. It's nice to have that
realization about my own writing, and to look at other authors' writing and think, “they are
doing a great job, this just isn’t the right space or the right time for this piece.”
[IHS] From observing the pieces you have previously published, they both are unique and
different in their own way but still have moments where the texts seem they could be related. As a writer, do you believe it is more important to stick to a particular type of writing that makes a writer’s work more identifiable or is it important to create balance and publish pieces that show your talents and creativity as a writer?
[HB] I think both of those happen regardless of which one you're focusing on. For example, for the
two pieces that you read, they were written two years apart. I was thinking about different
things, I was reading different things, I was experiencing different things, but I've remain
interested in and a little bit obsessed with this notion of disappearing women, the types of ways
women can disappear, and sometimes that means dying and sometimes it doesn’t. That is
definitely a thread I am always revisiting, whether I’m conscious of that or not. I think the same is
true for a lot of writers. I think that your obsessions come out in everything you write and that
tends to become a conservation within your work. People will recognize oh, this lady is always
writing about women disappearing, or always writing about mirrors; mirrors come up a lot too.
I definitely notice it in the authors I like to read. You tend to pick up on their common themes or obsessions so I think it's pretty natural and I think it makes it more interesting to want to stick with the writer because you’re ultimately writing the same thing over and over, at least that’s what I’m always doing. I often feel like I’m repeating myself but I guess what I’m actually doing is looking at the same thing from every
[IHS] What inspired you to create the “Contributor Conversations” in your women-owned
literary journal The Champagne Room? How do you think this benefits other writers?
I have my co-editor Emma, who goes by E.A. Midnight, to thank for the contributor
conversations. That was her idea and she runs that portion of our website. We both want to
create a community and we both want our writers to feel like they’re part of something bigger
than the journal. The journal is extremely important, but by asking these writers more questions
about their processes and what they are reading and what advice they have to give, we hope that it
makes them feel like we care about them beyond the publication. We want to keep talking, we
want to promote you, and we want to continue to support our contributors beyond publication.
That was the ultimate goal, to keep a conversation going. We get a lot of good feedback and I
have always loved to read what the writers have to say.
Writers tend to be excited about it. We say this is all for you, we just want to talk to you more.
You can answer all of the questions or none of the questions and typically, people are thrilled
and they respond quickly, and are happy to answer more questions. Being a writer can be very
isolating and everyone says you spend all of that time in your head and it is nice to get to talk
about the process with other people who are interested in that process.
[IHS] I noticed you are holding your first writing workshop meant to influence and guide you to “get their hands in motion.” As more established writers, what has influenced you to write
especially during times where you feel emotionally uncreative? What advice do you wish you had received as an aspiring writer?
What I am learning is that community is so essential to writing your way through the uncreative
periods. Working with Emma is extremely important for me. We try to write together sometimes
but don’t live in the same place. Emma lives in Colorado and I live in Georgia so we are on Zoom
every week. We still accomplish a lot in that way and we try to schedule times to write together.
We are going to sit here with our computers on for ten minutes and then we are going to read
each other whatever line, just very basic things to try to remind ourselves that no matter how
busy we get or not matter how uncreative we are feeling, we still have something in us and
it’s good to just get started. That community is essential for me. I also recently have liked the idea of
maintaining a routine, but I am not good at it. I think actually getting into a routine is helpful. I
really admire writers who say “I write for thirty minutes every morning” or “I write for two hours
every afternoon.” I’m like “Wow, I don’t.” But I think a little more structure can be helpful
because it’s like any other habit you just get into it and suddenly you are there every day. I also
get stuck in an editor's brain a lot of the time, and these days, I am writing but I am writing very
slowly because I have more work to do as an editor. I am working right now on just being kind to
myself because of the fact that I am spending more hours editing than writing, and that’s good
and that’s okay. The writing will get done.
Heather Bartel is founder and co-editor of the literary journal and community,
The Champagne Room. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Qu,
MAYDAY, Grimoire, Miracle Monocle, Fence, Heavy Feather Review, Leavings,
and Birdcoat Quarterly.
You can try to fight your obsessions and showcase a bunch of different styles, but I think they’re going to come up no matter what or how you write.