Written by 3:55 am Editor's Picks

Vautrin Fall 2023 – The Pleasures of Running a Lit Mag

By Todd Robins /

Hey everybody. It’s not like I haven’t wanted to steal an Edwardian jacket from a thrift shop, purple crushed velvet with gold braid. But in Jeff Esterholm’s “Tollund Man,” Jack Sogard actually does it. “Tollund Man” presents a trip through the sixties in the light of the here and now.

Stories with voice, for me, are like whatever your favored sweets trip is. I’ve only made it once in my whole life. But I borrowed a bundt cake pan from Watermark Books… what do they call it… flourless chocolate cake. That thing was some kind of delicious, misshapen primordial sludge. James D. F. Hannah, Michael A. Gonzales, and Scott Richard tap the Vautrin voice jones one hundred percent.

Lyz Mancini dials up mood and milieu. Evocative prose. Tent City, Portland. The narrator struggles to keep her phone charged.

Ilyn Welch creates a world in singular style, as does Saira Viola, this time about a raffish lawyer going nine rounds with a London tabloid.

Rob D. Smith knows basketball (yes!) and has a compelling sense of place and an ear for dialogue.

In “Back to Hell House,” Nick Kolakowski delivers a richly made detective story. The word count is somewhere over what—oh, never mind. I let this narrator have the floor. He draws you in, carries you along. Seedy goings-on at a Spanish Colonial pile. And JoJo Fried Chicken!

It’s not like you can’t get in Vautrin if you send me something witty. Michael Maiello’s mirth and sense of irony did the trick.

In “They’re Coming for You, Baby,” Jen Conley puts you right in the room. No spoilers. This one’s edge-of-the-seat. Pour your drink. Sit up straight.


The issue features Tim Hennessy’s review of Lou Berney’s Dark Ride, while Hannah Miner’s intriguing urban photography is the theme of the mag in action.

Don’t let anyone tell you different. Running a lit mag is the way to go. I should have thought of it sooner.

Buy now: https://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9780983679974

Table of Contents

Nick Kolakowski, Back to Hell House
Jen Conley, They’re Coming for You, Baby
Saira Viola, Seven Red
Rob Smith, Our Most Sorrowful Mother of the Blessed Hardwood
Jeff Esterholm, Tollund Man
Lyz Mancini, Sugarhigh
Michael Maiello, Deb Needs Braces
Ilyn Welch, In a Snap
Michael A. Gonzales, Brazil
James D.F. Hannah, Murder Ballad

Scott Richard, The King Queen of Sixth Street

Book Review
Tim Hennessy on Lou Berney’s novel, Dark Ride

Photography by Hannah Miner

Design by Beth Golay

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