Tangled Locks Journal is an online literary journal committed to sharing complex, well-rounded stories, poetry, and essays that illuminate the experience and lives of women. We’re excited to explore this beautiful journal with founder and editor-in-chief Teresa Berkowitz.
Teresa Berkowitz grew up in a family of storytellers. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She has a background in marketing, graphic design, and art direction. A content writer and marketing consultant, Teresa is currently working on a novel and a poetry manuscript.
Before we start the Q&A, let’s get a feel for the magazine’s personality. From the About page:
“Too often, women in stories are plot devices designed to move the male protagonists along on their journeys. This is a place for full-bodied stories where no one is marginalized. We are looking for unvarnished truth. We come to you with tangled hair and dirt under our fingernails. The words you read are of people who do the unexpected, who are complicated, who break the mold or meet expectations with an inner narrative that shocks you.”
Tangled Locks Journal is open for stories, poems, and essays. Authors are paid $15 per published piece in the quarterly journal. The journal also offers occasional special projects. A limited number of no-fee submissions are available for each issue to enable those with financial hardship. Submissions are always open, and there are rolling deadlines.
WOW: Hello, Teresa! Thank you for taking time to talk with me. I’ve been a fan of Tangled Locks Journal since the first time I read your submissions page. This line grabbed me and would not let go: “We welcome all authors and their words with one caveat in mind—if you can sum up your female character in one line (or worse yet: one word), our publication is probably not for you.” I love the bold confidence of that statement, and the vibrant personality that infuses every story.
Tell us how Tangled Locks got its start. What are your goals for the journal? How do you maintain the unique attitude and aesthetic of the publication?
Teresa: Thank you for inviting me, Myna. It is an honor to be here with you.
Tangled Locks Journal was born in the pandemic. Prior to the Covid pandemic, I kept saying to myself, “I will write again after I retire. I will start a journal when my son is grown up.” I kept pushing everything to “after.” The pandemic shook up my professional life, and I was able to see that I wasn’t happy being an executive of a nonprofit organization—and hadn’t been for quite a long time. My work lacked the creativity that was essential to my joy. And I didn’t have the community of writers and artists that I craved.
There needed to be a restructuring of the organization which had been dramatically impacted by the pandemic and I embraced the opportunity to step back. When turned into now. We launched our inaugural issue two years ago.
The primary goal for the publication is to publish well-rounded stories that feature strong female protagonists.
I had a dear friend who I was in a critique circle with. He was such a clever writer, but his female characters were flat and offensive. The young, eager-to-please junior executive with a great body. The old bitter divorcée. They were props. He’s an extreme example, but the lack of developed female characters is all over the place. It affects what we read and what we watch. I remember being a preteen and curling up in our velour armchair with the TV guide looking for something to watch. I would read the actor’s names that were listed. If there wasn’t a woman’s name in the two or three that were listed, I had a good idea that I wouldn’t enjoy that movie.
When people’s stories aren’t being told, it limits our vision of our potential. Originally, my vision was women, but I quickly realized that there were other voices that needed a place where their stories could be told as well, and we expanded our vision.
Another important goal we have is to increase the visibility of each writer. We provide social media tips as part of our communication and encourage the writers in each issue to promote each other, as well. That builds community. We intentionally keep each issue small, six works, so that we can really connect with each writer.
WOW: The journal looks fantastic, and each published story gets its own unique artwork. As an author, that is such a treat! How did this practice come about? Does the process create a lot more work for you?
Teresa: I’m thrilled that you appreciate the artwork. For me, creating custom art for each published writer is one way I show each writer how much I appreciate them and their work. I reread their work multiple times while developing the artwork, looking for the images that resonate with their words. It’s one way I can express the gratitude I feel for their voice. For some writers, Tangled Locks Journal is their first publication and I like imagining how it feels to have your name and story or poem title in what looks like a mini book cover. I hope for some, the artwork is a vision board for their future publications.
But there’s a practical side, too. Posts with visuals get more attention and I want them to have the tools to promote their work. The images are formatted for social media and writers can use them on their social media posts and websites.
“The primary goal for the publication is to publish well-rounded stories that feature strong female protagonists.”
WOW: What are you looking for in terms of submissions? Are there any subjects or themes that you see too often? What advice would you offer writers wishing to submit?
Teresa: We do get a surprising number of submissions for each issue that don’t meet the guidelines. My first bit of advice is to make sure your work fits the guidelines. Read a few pieces online and see if your work is a fit.
We are looking for literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with strong female characters. We like the word count to be around 1,500 words or fewer, but have made occasional exceptions. Work that features gorgeous language, some wonder and magic realism, a compelling point of view, and something unexpected usually makes the long list.
The next phase is reading long list with the issue in mind. We want the pieces to work well together. We have to reject a lot of well-written pieces. I think many writers don’t realize that very good work gets rejected quite a bit.
Sometimes we see a lot of one subject or theme and plan on giving it a rest, then there’s a new submission that shines so brightly that we know it belongs in the issue. If anything, I would say that one type of writing we see a bit too often is memoir pieces that lack a story arc or dramatic tension. Often, at the core, there’s a good story, but the details need to be pruned.
WOW: This might be an unfair question, but can you recommend any stories that are exemplary of a Tangled Locks piece?
Teresa: This is not an easy question to answer. We have been fortunate to have submissions from so many talented writers. Your piece, “Slippin’ Away,” took my breath away and our readers loved it. Every word was perfectly placed. There’s a music to it.
Here are a few others that also stand out. We’ve published several modern reimaginings of fairytales with fresh perspectives, such as “Fractured,” by Josephine Sarvaas. We love it when writers take risks like Sarah Garnham did in her choose-your-own adventure piece, “Decisive Action.” Some stories, like “The Folding Gardens of Eden,” by Elizabeth Collis, reveal truths through magic realism. We also love poetry that tackles challenging subjects with powerful imagery like “The Saints Have Eyes,” by Stacey Manos, and “Message in Simple Delusion,” by Shatara Liora.
WOW: Thank you! These pieces brim with attitude and personality, and I’m honored to be among them! While reading these, I noticed that Tangled Locks does more than just publishing stories. Can you explain the services offered by Tangled Locks Journal? How are those implemented?
Teresa: We offer a developmental editing service. As a writer, I know how important critiques are to refining our work, and many times in my life, I have struggled to find a good critique partner who can tell me what works and what needs to be improved.
I believe, as writers, we are crafting an experience for our readers. Sometimes we pull our readers away from the experience by adding too much and we have to prune away beautiful and beloved clutter to give the readers the experience we are designing for them. Other times, there are challenges with voice, point of view, or pacing that need to be addressed. We intentionally keep the price affordable and often provide helpful resources to help refine the story and further develop the craft. We use Submittable so all writers have to do is upload their short prose and, usually in a few days, they have what they need for a revision.
I also consult with authors on marketing and social media strategy, develop author websites, and I have designed book covers and social media promotional images. The first step for those services is a complementary meeting with the author to see if we are a good match. From there, I create a proposal with clear deliverables, prices, and timelines.
WOW: You’re extremely busy! What do you do when you’re not working on Tangled Locks?
Teresa: I spend a lot of time with my family. When I have time alone, I write, create art, hike, and do DIY projects.
“I would take what was troubling me and give it to a new character in a new magical world and just let a fairytale-like story unfold. When the protagonist battled her nemesis or found her way out of a dark and dangerous forest, I was the one who was transformed.”
WOW: Speaking of your own writing, how did you get started? Are there certain themes or styles you like to explore?
Teresa: My whole family writes. For me, writing was a process to make sense of things that were going on. I grew up in a cinematically dysfunctional family. My process was to take a journal on long hikes in the Marin headlands, get a little lost (before cell phones), and then settle into a gorgeous location and write a fairytale. I would take what was troubling me and give it to a new character in a new magical world and just let a fairytale-like story unfold. When the protagonist battled her nemesis or found her way out of a dark and dangerous forest, I was the one who was transformed. I would pack up my journal in my fanny pack and return to San Francisco.
Writing was social for me then. My sister and I started writing groups. In one of them, I met and fell in love with my husband, all the while wondering if his fiction was really autobiographical. I’ve taken many workshops, including some fantastic ones led by Ariel Gore in the literary kitchen where I honed my craft and developed relationships with other writers.
My work still tends to have a bit of wonder in it and the protagonists usually experience some sort of transformation. Right now, I am enjoying writing sci-fi. Two of my short stories, “Quantum Tunneling to the Bright Radiance of Peace” and “Without Time,” have recently been published by Soft Star Magazine, which features sci-fi with a good measure of hope and optimism.
In May, Literally Stories, published “Suburban,” which is exemplative of my work. It’s a coming-of-age story based on my love for my younger brother who passed away last year.
WOW: Thanks for those links, and for the hopeful, uplifting stories! What’s next for you?
Teresa: Tangled Locks Journal is in good shape.
In my own writing, I have a vision of completing two in-process projects: a short story collection about the people we work with and a novel set in the 1990s that explores misogyny and two women’s quest to break free.
WOW: Nice! Good luck with both of those projects! Now, for a fun question. Imagine you have a full day off, with no responsibilities. What will you do?
Teresa: Probably a bit of everything that I love: a DIY project, a long hike to the beach, art, writing, and a delicious dinner.
WOW: Sounds like a great day. Thank you so much for this glimpse into Tangled Locks Journal, as well as your own writing!
Okay, writers, now it’s your turn. How do you infuse your writing with personality? Does your own unique outlook shine through your essays? Or perhaps you experiment with wildly different personas in your fictional characters? This might be just what Tangled Locks is looking for! Submissions are open for the summer issue until June 30. But the journal’s rolling submissions are always open, so why not give it a try!
Myna Chang (she/her) is the author of The Potential of Radio and Rain, now in its second printing. Her writing has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton 2023), Best Small Fictions, and CRAFT. She has won the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction, the New Millennium Writings Award in Flash Fiction, and the CutBank Books Chapbook Award. She hosts the Electric Sheep speculative fiction reading series. More at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.