It’s all in the pages

WALL staff members Birute Bruzas-Ranes, Lizeth Tello, Sophia Matossian and Victoria Romero (in order from left to right) discuss the designs and content of past versions of WALL Literary Journal.  Fern Helsel-Metz | Metz House

An inside look into the production of WALL Literary Journal and the staff’s experience

As I arrive home from a morning full of classes, I sit at my desk and turn on my tablet to log into Zoom. Though a bit sleepy, it’s difficult to tell whether from social interaction or the fact that I stayed up until the early morning, I remain excited for the WALL staff meeting I am about to attend. The Zoom meeting screen pops up and it is once again time to get to work on the upcoming WALL Literary Journal 2022 edition.

Blank faces, photo portraits and the occasional live stream stare at me as professor Gina Shaffer, the faculty advisor of WALL, leads the charge as we all start off reporting our progress since the last meeting. First up is the poetry committee, nothing new to report.

Next come the personal narrative and fiction committees. There is still nothing particularly new other than the copy editing process is now underway, for the most part. The art committee is in the process of making selections now that they know what the theme is, as well as producing a few layout designs for the printed publication.

Now, based on my description alone, it may seem pretty calm and quiet and it is for the most part. However, make no mistake, the environment in no way indicates how busy the staff can get, especially with over 100 submissions to go through. There’s a lot that goes into making this publication and it’s certainly a process.

“I’ve always been interested in the publishing side of things and so it was really cool to be on the team and see the ins and outs of the process,” says Sophia Matossian, one of the poetry and copy editors for WALL.

For those who don’t know, WALL Literary Journal is a Saddleback publication that was founded in 2001. It features poetry, personal narratives and fiction short stories, as well as a variety of different types of artwork like photography or graphic design.

The journal has a history of winning awards every year since 2012 with the most recent one being the first place Magazine Award for the 2021 edition. This year, we are hoping to continue that streak.

As the editor in chief of WALL this year, I can say that it is currently a very busy scene now that the production process has reached the halfway point. Final selections have been made and the theme has been announced among the staff. However, there is still a lot of work ahead of us yet to come.

Though our staff team is a small group, everyone is very passionate about what they do and it is apparent through their hard work and dedication. Everyday, they all come into the meeting and set about doing their tasks.

“I always enjoy the process of seeing students produce WALL,” Shaffer says. “It’s really exciting to see them reading through the pieces and finding ones that really pop or make an impression … finding these gems. It’s really fun to see them go through that process.”

Starting at the beginning of the semester, the workload was rather easy-going. The four different committees, which are fiction, personal narrative, poetry and art, were in charge of reading and evaluating the 2022 submissions, using the rubrics they each created. The top ten from each, excluding the art, were then selected to decide which works would be published in WALL.

“We have many talented writers at Saddleback College, and having the honor of reading their stories and going on these written journeys with them has been the source of my favorite memories within this class,” says Alicia Glass, one of the fiction and copy editors and an English and Liberal Studies major. “Everyone did a wonderful job, and I wish we could publish more of these phenomenal writers.”

My job within the staff is to basically oversee and manage everything, among other things like determining the running order and theme and editing, with the help of professor Gina Shaffer, who acts as a guide and informs us of what works or what doesn’t. She’s a very nice person and is clearly passionate about what she does. It’s been a joy working with her and the rest of the staff seems to agree.

“Professor Gina Shaffer, the WALL advisor, is a wealth of information and a joy to work with,” says Alicia Glass. “I have also loved the collaborative spirit this year’s WALL staff has exuded. Knowing that you have people on your team that care as much as you do, and will work as hard as you do, has made all the difference by fostering a supportive, mission-oriented environment.”

Now that selections have been made, we have moved onto editing. It is a learning process for a lot of us, but it is very rewarding work.

“I learned a lot,” says Birute Bruzas-Ranes, one of the fiction editors. “I learned that collaboration is really important and there is a lot of time and effort that goes into it, but being able to work together with writing staff, illustration staff, graphic design staff— to put together this literary journal is a team effort.”

She states that editing the works and offering suggestions to the author helped teach her what aspects of a story make it good. She says that by editing, not only does the author improve their story but the editor is also given the opportunity to improve their own writing as well.

The hands-on work that the WALL staff experience is not only fun but very educational since it simulates a professional work environment, albeit virtual. Shaffer says that the class is scheduled to be in-person again come Fall, though the change will bring its own set of challenges.

It might be inconvenient for some students, but others might feel more engaged. One thing is for certain, soon none of the staff will be able to hide behind a screen and will be forced to complete their yearly quota for human interaction.

Still, even with everything being done online, everyone still had the opportunity to make nice or interesting memories. Brandi Ortiz, an art and fiction editor, reflects on her feelings being a part of WALL, stating how excited she was to join the team.

“I am very excited and honored to be a part of, not only one part of the process, but two,” Ortiz says. “I loved looking at the illustrations and creations as the art editor. I loved overseeing and reading the story submissions. I got to see so many different types of writing styles and art styles that were really ‘out of this world.’”

Photographer editor Fern Helsel Metz, who has been with WALL for 3 years now, recalls an encounter she had while doing a staff photo shoot, involving the police. To this day, she likes to look back on it, finding the experience rather humorous and a good little story to share.

“Two years ago during the first spring with COVID, I was doing a photo shoot for WALL on campus and there was a miscommunication about permission to be on campus to do the photo shoot,” says Metz, laughing a little while replaying her memory. “It was just, you know, an honest misunderstanding, but the campus police didn’t know about that. The police came and they had to ask us to leave.”

Though the semester is over, for WALL, our adventure is nowhere near over with multiple major events planned for the fall and more work to be done over the summer to make sure said events go off without a hitch.

Shaffer takes pride in the fact that WALL is interdisciplinary. The publication will be teaming up with the art, speech, dance and music departments for its public reading, which is scheduled sometime during the third or fourth week of October.

During the event, attendees will not only be able to listen to a live reading of the works of various authors featured in this year’s journal but they will also be witness to dance and theater performances related to the theme.

The journal is set to be published at the start of the Fall semester and will be available throughout the campus to all students for free.

For those who are interested in the chance of having your work featured in the 2023 edition, you may submit your submissions and forms to [email protected]. The deadline will be announced later on the WALL Instagram page @wallliteraryjournal.

For those who’d like to become a part of the staff, Shaffer offers ENG 160 during the Spring semester, where students will have the chance to not only study the publishing process but also get one of their own work published.

I would definitely recommend this class to anyone who is looking to try out something new, is interested in publishing, or just plain loves stories. According to Shaffer, every year the experience is different, with new staff, new works and new memories.

“I have to say, it is one of the best classes I’ve taken at Saddleback so far,” says fiction and copy editor Katherine Johnson, who also happens to be the owner of WALL’s temporary and unofficial mascot Blaze the cat.

Being a part of WALL has been a unique and great experience and I’ll admit that I originally didn’t intend to join the staff this year, mostly because I knew I would already be very busy with the Lariat. I am very glad I took the chance anyway since I had the opportunity to meet this group of wonderful people, who also share the same passion that I do.

It’s a great opportunity to make new friends and gain some experience in publishing in a fun and interactive way.


Updated May 25 at 11:02 a.m. to improve readability of one quote and update information on publication release date.

Updated May 25 at 11:32 a.m. to fix AP style issues and add hyperlinks