Skirt the Issue Interview: Amanda Miska

Amanda Miska is a writer living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She is Publisher/Editor of Split Lip Magazine + Press and former Fiction Curator at Luna Luna Mag. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in dozens of print and online literary journals, and you can find most of them here. She is at work on her first book. She’s also a vintage fashion queen and drugstore makeup sorceress.

Skirt: Amanda, I was trying to remember how, exactly, I know you. Do you remember how you know me?

Amanda Miska: Hmm! I think it was just through Twitter and our circle of good people. Usually I don’t follow people unless I connect with them through an actual thing, so I’m trying to think of…it was before your Rumpus piece about Weight Watchers because I think we were already friends before that.

Skirt: Yeah.

AM: I would have jumped on that. I don’t know what it was! Maybe one of your Hobart pieces?

Skirt: It could have been. But I was thinking you were one of the first writers that approached me like, “hey! I like fashion too and it’s fun to dress up for AWP and readings” and stuff like that, so that kind of sticks in my head as one of the first times where I was like “oh, I really want to know her better” and that sort of thing.

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Portrait of interviewer and interviewee.

AM: Yeah, I remember planning for last AWP, right? In LA, wasn’t that the first time that we met? No, we met in Minneapolis. But we didn’t really talk about fashion then. That’s when we just met, and LA we did a little fashion Q&A, but all of my fashion kind of went out the window because it was hot and walking and tends to happen with me and AWP also because people dress down, and I like being comfortable so if everyone around me is not doing it, then it’s not easy to find the motivation. But it seems like you’ve become really comfortable and confident in doing that. I think because I work from home and if I wear something that’s just not jeans and a t-shirt I’m like, whoa! Watch out, world!

I still make myself up and stuff a little because I feel better, but not being out and not selling vintage like I have in the past, I dress up a lot less. Usually I plan for AWP and things like that to really do it up. It’s a weird conversation and thought I’ve had about it, because in the literary world, people usually don’t dress up and it’s thought of as frivolous or whatever. And that’s okay, if it’s not something people are interested in, but sometimes my interest makes me feel like I’m not as intelligent or that it’s seen like that, which is why I was so excited about you starting Skirt the Issue and having more people talk about the fact that it’s feminist and creative expression, especially if you’re thoughtful about it.

Skirt: Have you ever had a reaction at a reading or AWP that made you feel weird about you were dressed, or do you feel like it’s more of your own perception?

AM: I think it’s insecurity. I’m a “woman of a certain age” now and those young women dressed like hipsters are so cool, and there’s some aspects of that style I really like but I can’t pull them off. So then if I’m wearing certain things I feel like I look like a grandmother or something—when I was feeling cool and that I was looking good in what I was wearing, but then I see that and I feel like I don’t fit in.

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Skirt: You’re living in Philadelphia. There are quite a few literary happenings going on there, right?

AM: It seems like there’s a pretty big poetry scene, but not a bigger prose or literary scene in general. It seems like there’s a lot of literary stuff because there’s so many universities right in the city and a few of them have MFA programs. They do a lot of stuff, but it’s very student-centered and student-driven, and transient because people are there and then people are gone so I haven’t yet experienced a lot of community. But there seems like there’s much more than when I lived in DC. 

Skirt: Part of what’s big in Philadelphia is what you’re doing with Split Lip, which is creating a lot of opportunities for new writers. I was published in Split Lip before you were there in the way way back, and I watched you become the editor and now the Empiress.

AM: Yes! That’s what my goal was!

Skirt: So how did you make that happen?

AM: I curated fiction for Luna Luna Magazine, and I wasn’t really editing. I was more soliciting people for their work and it was only about one story a week, so it was very simple and I wanted to do more. A friend of a friend knew the previous editor and knew he was looking for someone so he could step down, and so they put us in touch. His vision for the magazine largely fit for what I had in mind, a little different and transition, but the goal initially was that I would edit the magazine and he would be running books with the press. That lasted about a year and then he had some issues come up, and I was helping edit Katie Schmid’s poetry book that won our chapbook contest. It was my first time editing a book and I loved it. I loved working closely with the writer on a big project.

Then one day I got an email where the other editor didn’t think he could do it anymore, and thought he might have to fold the press or give it to somebody else, and I was like, I can’t let you do that! Can I try? I had no experience with press and I had learned a lot from doing that book, but I didn’t know a lot about the marketing and all of that jazz. So then I was doing both the magazine and the press up until right about now, and so because the press is really growing and the magazine, I couldn’t do both anymore. So now I really am just focusing on the press, and right now I’ve been putting out four books a year. I’d like to double that in the next five years, I hope. Bring people on and be able to pay more—at the rate we’re selling books it seems like a real possibility, which would be awesome, but I’m kind of on my own. I’ve just gotten some volunteers, like my sister who’s done all the covers. It’s been a little overwhelming, but I like working on books more than magazines. I like the bigger project; I feel like I get to know people better and that’s part of my whole community-building feeling about the literary world. 

Skirt: It’s outstanding that you’ve gotten things to grow. It’s so difficult to get projects going. How have you been able to expand and sell so many books for a small press, get people to volunteer…how have you worked to foster that excitement?

AM: The most direct correlation, at least for selling books and such, is how excited the writers have been about it. The more readings that they do and the more that they’re involved in the process makes it naturally flow without me doing anything to force it. We do the traditional reaching-out-for-reviews, we do AWP, I do social media off and on when books launch and the preorders. Again, I’m just learning and sometimes I don’t know why a certain thing might “click,” or it won’t and then I’m surprised. I think I have a good sense of as a writer and an editor of writers that are going to be big deals and are doing a lot of work, so I try to get in there before they get really big. That helps to elevate the press too.

Skirt: Obviously you have good instincts to be thriving like that, and just to stay alive this long seems to be a huge accomplishment.

AM: I definitely feel like “I can’t do this anymore” all the time, so. It’s also my stubbornness, which has been beneficial in this case.

Skirt: What are you working on for yourself?

AM: I’m about 10% away from finishing the first draft of a novel that I’ve been working on for almost two years. Which has been a huge learning process, focusing on that and putting my time and energy into making space to finish it. It’s meant not publishing smaller things, not publishing online, not getting the immediate gratification and feeling like I’m toiling in the dark. Everybody’s going to forget me.

Skirt: I know these things so hard!

AM: It’s a dark place! I’m in the dark place. I’ve had a few things that are out but I haven’t been writing a bunch of stuff.

Skirt: One of the things I have seen you on though is Instagram, where you post pictures from your daily run. How did that start?

AM: My best friend here is a runner who runs a lot of 5Ks, and I needed to exercise more regularly. I like gardening or hiking, or something that has another purpose. There was something about having a plan that seemed good. I know that exercise is good for me in terms of stress and emotions and body image and all that, but it’s still the last thing I want to do on any given day. It didn’t work out because by the time the 5K came around I’d barely run two miles, but I kind of kept up the habit. I’ll never be a race person, I’ll never run a marathon. I just have zero desire for that.

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Skirt: I always see your pictures and I want to like them but I get self-conscious at the idea of liking ALL of you running pictures. You know if you like the same kind of picture somebody posts and you feel like a stalker?

AM: Yeah! That’s my motivation. I’ve joked that there’s this person from high school who will like every picture of mine…unless it’s a selfie.

Skirt: I remember that Tweet! That Tweet has stuck with me! Usually I’m the opposite. I’ll like people’s selfies and I’ll ignore their children pictures.

AM: I like seeing people’s faces! Living in this technological world, it’s easier to connect with them that way. Not to mention cheering people on like, fuck yeah you look hot today! You should take a picture!

Skirt: I find it interesting when I see writers and literary journals embracing Instagram. How do you see people embracing that tool in the writing community?

AM: At the magazine, when we post a story we also post a photo of the author with their bio. Not all places do that, and it’s typically something that takes place in the back of books. The former editor did that, and I kept going. But some people have a real fear of it, or I had someone email me and ask if it had to be a real picture. It wasn’t as if they used a pseudonym or anything, but they just didn’t want to have an image of them out there. I personally just like to put a face with a name, because it helps me remember people. If I invest in people’s work, I want to know who they are.

Skirt: I like the combination of seeing people’s Tweets and what they put on Instagram. It seems kind of shallow, but our writing communities are so fractured. My community is basically online and that’s how I “see” them.

Imperfect transition—If you were Queen and you had to mandate someone try your favorite beauty product, what would you make them use?

AM: My favorite hair product is hair powder from Target, and it’s light and adds body but it doesn’t do the weird turning-you-hair-a-different color thing. It’s great when you’re trying to do braids or curls, so I’m a convert. I tried a more expensive brand but it did not smell as good or work as well as this Bed Head. As far as makeup and beauty products, I use a Garnier BB Cream with SPF in it every day. It makes my face look a little bit glowy. I have some scarring on my skin so I don’t necessarily wear it without foundation, but it protects and shimmers. I think it’s doing pretty good for 35!

Skirt: I was going to say! [ed. Note: no way she’s over 31; don’t believe the lies.] It’s working. Were you an early makeup adopter? Did you do your makeup in high school, or later?

AM: My mom didn’t want us to use makeup. She doesn’t use it much at all. But I’ve had zits, so I had a little cover up. Maybe in middle school I did a little mascara, but she didn’t so it was never really a big thing. Then in high school I really started, and once I had my own job I had my own money. Plus then my skin started breaking out. I had perfect skin through middle school and high school, and then once I turned 18, my skin decided it wanted to have acne and not stop! Makeup became much more important to me because it helped me leave the house. In graduate school I started to play more. I got the NARS Orgasm blush that I read about in magazines…

Skirt: I had that!

AM: And the lip gloss version! I’m a big believer though in drug store makeup. The thing about it is, you have to replace makeup. I think, I could spend $30 on this foundation, or I could buy a shirt.

Skirt: But it’s a shirt for your face!

AM: Okay, that’s a great point.

Skirt: Have you tried any of the subscription boxes?

AM: No, I’m living vicariously through you!

Skirt: Girl! You need to try.

AM: I do! Because my skin is sensitive, I’m worried about getting those things and having something go haywire.

Skirt: If you could partner with any designer for a collaboration line, who would you pick?

AM: That’s hard. Probably Ulyana Sergeenko. She does a lot of vintage, pin-up style. That’s my vibe. I like her updated vintage style. The cuts look amazing on a lot of people. As a curvier woman, I embrace fashion that most people could wear, not that could only be on the runway on a long, thin body. Kind of like what I was blogging about in me and my sister’s fashion blog…did you know I had a fashion blog?

Skirt: NO.

AM: It was kind of in the early days of fashion blogs. I like to find the actual vintage pieces, but the problem with that is, people were so much smaller in the day. I have big hips, even my shoulders which are as a broad as a normal person’s, don’t fit into vintage dresses. But so much of what I love is 50’s, 60’s styles, which won’t fit no matter what original size I’d find. It’s nice to have so many designers embracing those styles and bringing those options to so many more people.

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