What Does Freedom to Write Mean to You?

Every year, PEN Center USA asks the five Emerging Voices Fellows to answer the question, “What does Freedom to Write mean to you?” Over the next five weeks, each of the Fellows talks about the role that freedom of expression, the keystone of PEN Center USA’s mission, has played in their lives as writers, readers, and literary citizens.


Photo: Bill Kennedy

“There’s nothing like a book. Its value is unique, a prolonged experience of engagement with the imagination. Those ratty paperbacks weren’t just an escape. There was something tying those stories together—underdogs and victims rising up and embracing their power, loyal friends banding together to face a great and terrible evil. Scared people doing things they were scared to do.”

PEN Center USA’s mission is to stimulate and maintain interest in the written word, to foster a vital literary culture, and to defend freedom of expression domestically and internationally.



California Literary Journals

This is a list of literary journals based in California. It’s long but not comprehensive, so if you know of any others, please feel to message me or leave a comment below. Happy reading!

note: updated March 7, 2017


580 Split: Affiliated with Mills College in Oakland. Published in print once per year.


Angel City Review: “Committed to bringing the cutting edge in fiction and poetry to a modern audience. We aim to present a diverse range of both writers and genres that run the gamut from experimental narratives to grittier fiction with a literary air.” Published in Ebook twice per year.

Angels Flight*Literary West: “Angels Flight • literary west is a new vehicle to explore uncharted stories of Los Angeles and beyond.”

Arroyo Literary Review: Affiliated with California State University, East Bay. Published in print once per year.

Berkeley Fiction Review: Affiliated with University of California, Berkeley. Published in print once per year.

California Quarterly:  a quarterly journal devoted to poetry, is sponsored by the California State Poetry Society. Published in print four times per year.

Chaparral: an online journal featuring poetry from Southern California.

Dash: “dash publishes content that pushes the boundaries of short, emphatic expression.  We communicate more with less.” Affiliated with California State University, Fullerton.

Dryland: Los Angeles underground art and writing. “Based in South Central Los Angeles. Los Angeles, the land of all skin colors and all classes. We’re looking for Los Angeles. Waste…decay…rebirth and all.” Published once every three months, in print and online.


Dum Dum Zine #5

Dum Dum Zine: Dum Dum is an extraordinarily crafted experimental art-lit zine. Published in print once per year. Online content added regularly.

Eleven Eleven: Affiliated with California College of the Arts. Published in print and online twice per year.

Entropy: “ENTROPY is a website featuring literary and related non-literary content. We like to think of ourselves as more than just a magazine or a website, but as also a community space. We seek to create a space where writers can engage with other writers, can participate in a literary community, and where thinkers can collaborate and share both literary and non-literary ideas. This means that we seek to cover topics such as video games, graphic novels, interactive literature, science fiction, fantasy, music, film, art, and other topics in addition to literary reviews, interviews, conversations, and articles on experimental literature, translation, small press practices, and performance.”

Exposition Review: “Exposition Review is an independent, multi-genre literary journal that publishes narratives by new, emerging, and established writers in the genres of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, stage & screen, experimental, art & photography, and comics.” Published online oncer per year.

Faultline: Affiliated with University of California, Irvine. Published in print once per year.

Fourteen Hills: Affiliated with San Francisco State University. Published in print twice per year.

Ghost Town: Affiliated with California State University, San Bernardino. Published once or twice a year online.

Haight Ashbury Literary Journal: “HALJ’s voices are often of people who have been marginalized, oppressed, or abused. HALJ strives to bring literary arts to the general public, to the San Francisco community of writers, to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, and to people of varying ages, genders, ethnicities, and sexual preferences. The Journal is produced as a tabloid to maintain an accessible price for low-income people.”

Joyland Magazine, Los Angeles: “Based on the idea that fiction is an international movement supported by local communities Joyland is a literary magazine that selects stories regionally. Our editors work with authors connected to locales across North America, including New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto as well as places underrepresented in cultural media.” Published online weekly and in print twice per year.

The Los Angeles Review: “The Los Angeles Review, a semi-annual literary journal established in 2003, is the voice of Los Angeles, and the voice of the nation. With its multitude of cultures, Los Angeles roils at the center of the cauldron of divergent literature emerging from the West Coast.” Published in print once per year, and online 52 times per year.

Lunch Ticket: Affiliated with Antioch University. Published online twice per year.

tnb-pillThe Nervous Breakdown: “The Nervous Breakdown features the work of published and emerging authors and poets from around the world. The Nervous Breakdown celebrates vibrant and provocative voices in contemporary fiction.” Online content published on a rolling basis.

The Normal School: Affiliated with California State University, Fresno. Published in print twice per year.

Penumbra: Affiliated with California State University, Stanislaus. Published in print once per yer.

only_light_cover_smThe Rattling WallThe Rattling Wall is funded by PEN Center USA and published by Narrow Books. Their most recent issue is titled Only Light Can Do That: 100 Post-Election Poems, Stories, and Essays. 

Reed Magazine: “A West Coast journal with worldwide reach, Reed, like California, is an ongoing, expanding, and wondrous mosaic of thoughts, ideas, and emotions. We are proud to be the literary heart of Silicon Valley.” Affiliated with San Jose State University. Published in print once per year.

RipRap: Affiliated with California State University, Long Beach. Published in print once per year.

The Rumpus: “At The Rumpus, we’ve got essays, reviews, interviews, music, film, short fiction, and poetry—along with some kick-ass comics. We know how easy it is to find pop culture on the Internet, so we’re here to give you something more challenging, to show you how beautiful things are when you step off the beaten path.”

San Pedro River Review: Published by Blue Horse Press and located in San Pedro. Published in print twice a year.

Santa Ana River Review: Affiliated with University California, Riverside.

2016-fall-smrcoverSanta Monica Review: “In nearly thirty years of production, the Review has featured both first-time writers and established literary authors, with a focus on showcasing the work of Southern California and Pacific Rim writers.” Affiliated with Santa Monica College. Published in print twice per year.

Sensitive Skin: “Sensitive Skin features art, writing and music without rules or boundaries by both famous and emerging artists, writers, and musicians from around the globe.” Published in print

Spectrum Literary Journal: Affiliated with University of California, Santa Barbara. Published in print once per year.

Statement Magazine: Affiliated with California State University, Los Angeles. Published in print once per year.

Tayo Literary Magazine: “Tayo cultivated emerging poetry and prose, publishing writing that knifes, lifts, and strikes at the emotive truth of all things lost and adrift.” Published in print once per year and online Quarterly.

3p_logo_bigThe Threepenny Review: The Threepenny Review is a well-regarded quarterly of the arts and society which has been published since 1980. Every issue contains excellent essays, stories, poems, and memoirs, plus beautiful black-and-white photographs. The Threepenny Review Reading Room features several incredible pieces, including work by Roberto Bolano, Victoria Chang, Henri Cole, Mary Gaitskill, Yiyun Li, David Mamet, Cynthia Ozick, and Gary Shteyngart. Published in print four times per year.

Westwind: “Los Angeles is a crazy collision of intersections, and Westwind, UCLA’s student-run journal of the arts, strives to capture this spirit. We seek to provide a platform for the weird and wonderful voices found all over the greater Los Angeles area in whatever form they arise.” Affiliated with UCLA. Published in print once per year, and online twice.

Zoetrope All-Story: “Zoetrope: All-Story is a quarterly literary publication founded by Francis Ford Coppola in 1997 to explore the intersection of story and art, fiction and film.” Published in print four times per year.

ZYZZYVA: “A San Francisco journal of arts and letters.” Famously introduced American readers to Murakami. Published in print four times per year.

New Story in PINBALL Issue #11

My short story “The Gift” is out today in PINBALL Issue 11!
You can read the story for no charge online, or buy the ebook (which includes 7 other pieces of fiction, non-fiction and comics) for just $2.99. 
“Dad put The Enforcer in park and turned back to us. We were still little, both of us in the backseat. I was eight. You were only five and had your hair long and in your eyes. You were wearing a black LA Kings t-shirt that had the number 99 on the back, a shirt that used to be mine, but then I started getting chubby and all my clothes wouldn’t fit anymore…”

Pete Lands the 2017 PEN-USA Emerging Voices Fellowship

Big news. I just got the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship for 2017! It’s a great honor and includes a local literary mentorship, classes at UCLA Extension Writers Program, three sponsored readings, and a nice little stipend!


PEN Center USA, an organization whose mission it is to foster a vital literary culture, encourages all emerging writers on their journeys onward and upward. Look out for the 2017 Emerging Voices bios this week on our program page.



2016 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest Results

This year’s Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest is in the books. The winner is Toby McCasker of Sydney, Australia for his story “All Gone,” which will be published in an upcoming issue of Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts

My story, “Drogheda,” received honorable mention, which doesn’t include publication or a cash prize, but is still an honor.

Lorian Hemingway is the author of Walking Into The River, Walk On Water and A World Turned Over. She is Ernest’s granddaughter, and is just about the most open-hearted contest judge on earth. I’d highly encourage anyone interested to submit next year.

“The Gift” to be published in Fall issue of Pinball

My short story “The Gift” has been picked up by Pinball Literary Magazine. It’ll come out in their fall issue (October 15th). Keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, Pinball’s latest issue is out and can be read online. Lots of great stories in there, among them Lucie Britsch’s “Me Michael and Ben and Janet and Sandra and Lee,” which is especially dear to me for its psychotherapy references and the inexplicable stickiness of MJ’s essence.




The Arrival, A Short Story


You never know what the heart requires. Even when you leave, you think, always, in the back of your mind, you should have stayed. And then, when you come back, you think, always, in the back of your mind, you should leave.

But this time you’ve been away for quite a while, longer than you’ve ever been before. Away from your husband, away from your son, away from all that you’ve known as your life for the past 62 years. You know it has been a while by the way the airport in your hometown smells. It smells foreign, dirty, dusty. You want to sneeze, but you don’t. There’s no actual sneeze in your nose, just the sense that you need to get the air from this place out of your system as quickly as possible.

“Psychology,” you think to yourself. “This is just psychology.”

You are not allergic to your hometown. You are not going to be sick from breathing the air here. You ex-husband is not actually going to drive you insane.

These are just delusions.

But still, you can’t fight how these things feel. You can’t convince yourself that you do actually want to be here, in this place with this man.

As you deplane, you wonder these things, over and over as you take in the dry dusty smog of the airport. You think about Vancouver. Wreck Beach. Coming alive on the shores with your kindred spirits. Nothing but the clean salt air and the cold bite of the Pacific Ocean to clothe your 62-year-old body. You feel peace. Or you felt peace, while it lasted. But that’s gone now.

Roy is hopeless. He called to tell you that he has lost his job. And this time it’s not likely he’ll find another. He’s thinking about filing for SSI. He hasn’t eaten anything except kimchi and rice since you’ve left.

“Not my problem,” you told yourself.

But it is your problem. He is your problem. You swore to love and care for him all of your days. How can you turn your back now? After all he’s done for you. Or at least after all that he has tried to do for you. If intentions counted for real blessings, Roy Ruskin and all those he loves would be the most blessed of all mankind.

But intentions don’t count, do they?

As you walk towards the exit doors, you see your son John, waiting for you, standing next to his illegally parked truck, smoking a cigarette. It’s not just Roy. Coming home means dealing with John too. So many lost boys. You, so tired a mother.

John doesn’t see you. You choke up a little bit, for just a second. Then turn around and head back towards the ticket counter.


I’m not mad. I swear. It’s not anything I would lie about. I mean, I think I’d be justified in being mad if I were actually mad, but I’m not. And, much to my credit, I’m not taking this opportunity to blow off steam in a self-righteous moment of indignation.


This is me being a good guy for once. And, I must admit, it feels pretty good.

So, this is the deal, I’m at the airport. I’m here to pick up my mom. I wasn’t aware that I was going to pick up my mom tonight. Actually, about 2 hours ago, I was in bed. Then, my step-dad Roy calls me up and tells me to go to the airport to pick up my mom.

Mom’s been in Vancouver for the past six months. She split. She was sick of Roy’s idiotic antics. She was about 20 years too late, if you ask most people.

But, even a ridiculous old man’s antics can be forgiven, I suppose. After all, despite all the frustrations that come with living with Roy Ruskin, one thing everyone can agree on, when the shit hits the fan, he never ever bails.

There’s been a lot of times he’s been there for me. Every single idiot time I got drunk and wound up in some mess: wrecked car, fights (which means mostly getting beat up and left for dead) and then that one time I inadvertently ripped off the head honcho of the local chapter of the Mogs. Not a big deal, I thought. I didn’t realize who I was dealing with. So I figured I’d get him his money back and we’d be square. But that’s not exactly what the Mogs were thinking. They were thinking about something a little bit more, how can I put this, permanent.

Anyways, I’m bound and blindfolded and God knows what’s gonna happen, when Roy shows up. He’s been tracking me for three days. I didn’t even know I’d been missing three days. And he catches up with the Mogs.

Dude is smooth when he’s gotta be. He’s got with him a bottle of 40-year-old Scotch from his family distillery in Scotland. He’s been disowned, so this booze is special to him. And the Mogs know their booze. And even if they didn’t, this thing is in a gold hinged rosewood case. They crack it open and pass it around. Civilized, of course. Every one drinks from the bottle but no one spills. Roy makes a deal. I don’t know what he offered. But they accepted. Later when I ask, he says it’s between him and the Mogs. He never mentions it again.

That’s the kind of guy Roy is.

That’s not exactly the kind of guy I am. But, given the opportunity, I am the kind of guy that knows when he owes someone a favor.

So, when Roy calls me in the middle of the night to drive two hours and go pick up my flakey hippie dippy mom at the airport. I go. And when I get there and wait around for another hour for her, I don’t complain. And, after all that, when it turns out she never shows up, and I just wasted my night like a first class chump, I consider myself lucky that I have dude in my life that’s been so good to me that I feel it’s the highlight of my week to get out of bed at 1:00 in the morning and spend five hours on a pointless errand on his behalf.


Kimchi is not meant to sustain a man for six months. It is said that a diet consisting primarily of this fermented and spice infused Korean pickled cabbage can lead to the early onset of stomach cancers, this due mostly kimchi’s abundance of nitrogen oxide compounds. But such are not the concerns of Roy Ruskin.

Following one of Roy’s favorite axioms, the 80-20 Rule, he has concluded that he eats kimchi and rice every meal for two reasons.

One: he is too poor and lazy to eat anything else. This comprises 80% of his reasoning.

Two: he is doing penance.

This second reason makes up 20% of Roy’s conscious thinking about his diet. He is punishing himself for all the pain he has caused the woman he loves. The woman that he would give his life for. The woman that he drove away with his countless unfulfilled dreams and unrealized potential.

Barbara. A saint among saints. Wise and patient and supportive, carrying a heart that seemed willing and able to be broken in every way that a human heart can be broken.

His last epic swing for the fences finally compelled her to leave. It was not a simple decision, made out of anger or even from self-preservation. It was, even then, an act of compassion. She saw, finally and clearly, that she cannot help Roy. That, in fact, her kindness and forbearance denied him the tension and desperation that he needed to be successful. She honestly and truly left for him.

Roy understands this. At least in his own way he does.

“80-20,” he thinks to himself. “80% for me, 20% for her. That’s why she left.”

But despite all this, Barbara has come back. He watches her from the far side of the luggage claim. He’s sitting on a bench, his baseball cap pulled tight over his teary eyes. He sees John, his step-son, outside. He doesn’t know why he called him to come pick her up. He doesn’t even know why she has come back. But he does know that this time, there is no chance he going to mess this up. Whatever obstacles may come, he is certain, he will do right by her. He will devote every ounce of himself to her. And not just some illusion of what he wants masquerading as what she wants. He will submerge his will, and choose, from this day forward to follow her lead, to serve her as his mistress and as his captain, as his goddess.

Roy watches Barbara stand for a moment at the doors. She’s looking at John, their son. She hesitates and then turns and heads back into the airport. He rises, brushes off his shirt and pants and takes off his ball cap. He leaves it on the bench and walks towards her, his strides quickening until he’s at a full sprint.


“The Arrival” a story from the collection THREE: Stories Told In 3 Parts. Find more stories from THREE [here].

The Robbery, A Short Story


It’s not like I woke up in the morning and planned this. Sometimes, stuff like this just happens.

It started out like this, I was just looking for somewhere to spend a couple hours waiting for my mom to finish with her bridge club or something. I seriously don’t know what the hell she was doing. Just that I wasn’t gonna be doing it with her, but I needed to wait for her to get it done.

I know, I’m a jerk talking about my mom like that. Sorry. But, lord. At least I waited for her, right?

Anyways, I’m getting off track. So, where was I? Waking up and planning bad stuff? Yeah, no, that’s not me. I’m not a bad guy. At least not on purpose, you know? I’m a, what do they say, a opportunist.

So, I’m waiting for my mom. Just sitting in front of the Gerry’s Liquor, smoking my menthols, drinking my big old Monster lemonade. And this dude walks out with a lotto scratch card, and he’s got this look on his face like he’s just won a million freaking dollars.

Now, I’m not a dumb ass, I don’t think people walk around holding a scratch card with a look on their faces like they won a million bucks unless there’s some good reason to walk around holding a scratch card with a look on their face like they’ve won a million bucks.

So I ask the dude, “Hey, you got a look on your face like you’ve just won a million bucks.”

And dude says, “Yeah, I think I just did.”

At this point, I’m cozying up to him, nice and easy. Trying not to spook him. I don’t even know what I was doing, but I did. You know, like instinctual. So I creep up to the guy, take a nice slow gander at his lotto, make a nice friendly comment like, “well, well, well, congratulations, old chap.”

And I pop him, right in the mouth, and grab the ticket and bail the freak out. Good night.


You know some people are just lucky. You think, for most of your life, that isn’t you. You wake up every day, and your life is kinda lame. You got this lame job, lame friends, lame lovers, when you even have any lovers at all.

And a resignation sorta falls over you. You kinda give up on things getting better, on the possibility that maybe, some day, your lucky day will come.

But still, some weird little part of you won’t let go. Some stubborn and optimistic little piece of your soul just keeps insisting that your lucky day actually is going to come. You just need to hang on, one more day.

Just one more day.

Do not give up.

But that little voice, most days, just sorta goes about its quiet business. Not really making a fuss. Not really getting loud and preachy. It’s not like you wake up with Tony Robbins taking you by the shoulders and demanding you give it the old college try.

So, this little voice, this little character, the thing it does: it makes you go buy lottery tickets.

And so you do.

And lo and behold, one day, one perfectly ordinary day, it comes through and you win.

At least for a minute, you feel like everything is different. That you’re one of the winners. That you’re lucky.

And then somebody punches you in the face and steals your ticket.


Gerry makes a point of making conversation with everyone that comes into Gerry’s Liquor. She calls it “her” liquor store because they share the same name, but she doesn’t own it. She just works there. The late shift, most of the time. But the way she takes care of the place and the way she treats the customers, it’s not unusual for people to assume that she is actually the owner.

There’s one man that Gerry has known for years. A sad person, usually in to buy beer and cigarettes and, randomly, lottery tickets. She notices that he has come in with a slightly elevated attitude tonight. It’s not that he’s happy. It’s more that he’s not so burdened.

He comes to the counter with his case of Natural Lights and asks for one of the new tickets, the Wheel of Fortune. She smiles as she pulls the ticket for him. She’s got a feeling about this ticket, it’s gonna change his life.


“The Robbery” a story from the collection THREE: Stories Told In 3 Parts. Find more stories [here].