Phoenix is home to a literary magazine that features proficient writers from all over the world, as Four Chambers culls quality prose, poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction and more to fill up its pages. Four Chambers was founded in 2013 by Jake Friedman, a 25-year-old Phoenix resident who started the magazine when he saw the need for an outlet for high-quality independent writing in the Valley. Now, Four Chambers is slated to release its third issue this upcoming spring — the last issue had more than 1,100 submissions. The magazine, now with an editorial staff of 20 people, is expanding as a publishing house with a new Phoenix Art Museum-themed chapbook it is currently accepting submissions for.
Friedman, who works as a server at Phoenix Public Market Café, talked about how he started Four Chambers, as well as five of his favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
It was more or less of a whim. I had just finished my undergrad degree in English and philosophy at a small liberal arts college called McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. My best friend was moving out here with her boyfriend to get her master’s. I wasn’t really doing anything in Maryland, so I figured I’d come out here with them, and moved in 2011. I was born in Laurel, Maryland.
What’s your earliest memory of being interested in writing?
In high school, I used to read a lot of books and remember thinking I should give something back in return. I had a novel I wanted to do in college and had always had a big interest in creative writing.
I started seriously writing in junior year of college when I took a poetry class. It was where I felt comfortable. I had done visual art in high school but wasn’t doing it in college anymore, so I guess I needed an outlet. I was in the English department, and that was the environment I felt most comfortable, where I could really communicate with people and have discourse.
I co-edited the literary journal there. The college I went to was in a pretty small town in rural Maryland where there wasn’t a lot there as far as arts and culture, and the college itself was really small, about 1,800 students. I read for the magazine, called Contrast, for a few years, doing associate editorial work. It was exclusively an undergraduate review. When I finally came into the editor position, we were running an open mic at a coffeeshop, and there was a weekly writing group we ran. We had a great budget from the English department, and we were doing it as part of our curriculum. It was nice to have the editorial experience.
How did Four Chambers come about?
When I came to Phoenix, I started going to writing groups I found online, including the Central Phoenix Writing Workshop, which has about 800 to 900 people in it and about four to five meetings a week. They had a ‘zine they were working on at the time called The Palo Verde Pages. I had this unconscious track of that’s what I wanted to do, and I was looking to get involved with something.
We worked on it for an issue or two, and it was really small-scale. It sort of fell apart after an issue because a guy was printing it out of his house, and he was a couple hundred dollars in debt. It wasn’t being treated as a business in the sense of being incorporated and having a business model, budgets, revenue streams and long-term sustainability.
Some people from the writing group and I formed an LLC to bring it back and restructure it to have a literature venue in Phoenix, since there really wasn’t any. I had been going to the writing groups, and there was really, really good work coming through, but there was no way to take it home and purchase it because most of these people didn’t even have self-published books at the time. We did that for six months, and it fell apart for various reasons.
In 2012, I went to literary journal Hayden’s Ferry Review, which is based out of Arizona State University, to talk to the managing editor to try to figure out how to even do something like this. I read submissions for them for about a year, then got enough of a group together from my previous writing groups who could be readers for a new magazine, which began in June of 2013. We started reading submissions, I put together an editorial board, and we found a designer and published our first issue that December.
How did you come up with the name Four Chambers?
The idea of a heart informs what we’re doing and explains our position. We’re trying to connect and circulate and support and be a part of this larger body, where Phoenix is as a city and where arts and culture is.
How do you choose the works you feature?
We’re open to anything. We really don’t think it’s our position to be telling people what they should be writing. We’re just looking for good work.
We have an editorial board of six people with pretty divergent tastes, and we have a collaborative process to decide what gets into the magazine. We have had pretty vehement arguments about what to publish, and we have 14 associate editors who have an even larger set of tastes who we manage the process through. Each piece has basically been approved by eight to 10 people before it even makes it to the page.
We want people to send us quality work – poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, personal essays. We’re open to screenplays and more experimental forms. If a person wanted to send us a Craigslist ad or newspaper column or recipe, we’d certainly be open to that, too.
We have a policy of the magazine of sending personalized letters for every submission, which is completely crazy because we have more than 1,000 submissions, but we think it’s important to develop relationships with people.
What are your goals for the magazine?
We want to be a full publishing house in Phoenix, because our goal here is to create a market for independent literature, with a focus on Phoenix, since this is where we live. We’re trying to build community. We want to create some smaller publications, such as a chapbook for the Phoenix Art Museum, which we’re currently working on. We accept submissions from all over the world because we want to be a part of a historical conversation of art, culture and literature.
We want to get the magazine to a place where it is sustainable. We want to make a profit, but that is going straight back into the business. We’re interested in compensating contributors for their work beyond a contributor copy, and we’re interested in expanding the product itself. We have a strong events and programming track, as well, and rely on local businesses to let us use their spaces. We’d like to be able to pay for spaces and provide catering at events. We want to get a subscription base and expand distribution.
I really would just like to help people write and read. A lot of art forms can be intimidating, and publication is a goal for a lot of people. I think when they’re submitting to places outside of Phoenix, it’s very impersonal, cold and electronic, and it seems like they won’t be able to achieve it because all you do is get rejected. Our position is we’re local, we want to work with you, and we want you to be published.
What’s in store for the Phoenix Art Museum chapbook?
One of our editors had a poem about the firefly room at the Phoenix Art Museum, and I’ve had a few pieces come out of visiting the museum, too. We have an interest in reaching out and having these art forms in Phoenix collaborate so we can have a stronger identity as a city and more unified scene.
We’re looking for people to go visit the museum and see what inspires them, but people could even write something about not going to the museum, or using the bathroom there. We want pieces loosely inspired by it to enhance people’s experiences at the museum and really plug literature into a larger conversation, especially at a place like the Phoenix Art Museum, which has such a high caliber of work. The Phoenix Art Museum is a really lovely thing for Phoenix, and we want to be able to pay a little bit of homage back to that.
Considering people’s short attention spans these days, why would you say literature is an important art form?
Flash fiction and poetry are really short forms that don’t require a lot of attention. I know novels can be intimidating for people, but you can read shorter forms of fiction on the bus in a second. Having a literary magazine here in the Valley is important because it’s the only place people can read and publish independent contemporary work.
We have a really thriving arts and culture scene here in Phoenix. In just the three years I’ve been here, I’ve seen Phoenix develop at an incredibly fast rate in terms of visual art and music. Literature, reading and writing is a really common activity for a lot of people, but for some reason it’s in a semi-unprofessional sense of a scene or organization in the respect that a lot of people who write do so very privately, for personal reasons, with no explicit goal of getting their work out there, creating revenue, or even having some kind of career compared with, say, visual artists or musicians, who usually have these goals a bit more foregrounded. We do have some spaces here that pull people together with open mics and featured readings, but in terms of places in the sense of material venues, products and goods, we don’t have that community here yet.
I think the magazine is important because it gives people a place to find that and gives them resources if they want to develop their own craft or start doing art in a more serious fashion.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to try writing but doesn’t know where to start?
My advice is to write and keep writing. Writing is best when you’re doing it for yourself and not just to get published. Always having a journal with you is helpful, to be aware and write things down as you go, because otherwise, you’ll just forget them. I’m really productive when I designate a time and make it a habit to get out of the house and write. I do it a few hours a day, which is a great goal.
The best thing you can do if you want to write and to do so in a serious fashion is to just keep coming up with things and to surround yourself with people who are trying to do the same things you are, so they can support you. I was going to writing groups for a year and a half and going to open mics and reading old work before I ever started writing seriously.
Reading literary magazines is also helpful. It’s important to find your voice and be open to critiques, but also not to do what people tell you to. I think the best thing people can do is to not isolate themselves, and to share their work, and when they’re writing, to be aware of where they are. I used to feel really bad because I used to write things and think they were not that good, and they weren’t, but that’s OK.
Also, keep in mind any art form has a craft aspect but also has to do with how you’re looking at the world and what you have to say. It’s a process that takes a really long time. When people are playing musical instruments, you forget they had to practice 10 to 12 years to get to where they are. With writing, it’s easy to forget just because you know how to speak English doesn’t necessarily mean you’re practiced with that instrument. It’s a different use of language and different considerations. It takes me six months to a year to finish a piece, because things have to build and settle.
Why would you encourage people to pick up a copy of Four Chambers?
The work is really good. When you say the word “literature,” it sounds pretentious and stuffy, but we’re not into that. We’re very laid-back about what we’re doing. It’s really fun. We have a very wide selection of work we’re offering, and there are a lot of distinct voices.
There are pieces on everything from Juggalos, to sex with Anne Hathaway. Reading it is a really enjoyable experience, and we’ve offered pieces we feel are really meaningful and engaging. If you’re someone trying to write, reading it could help you become a better writer.