Literary MagNet: Nicole Haroutunian

Dana Isokawa
From the March/April 2024 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In the late 1990s, protagonists Taline and Valerie meet in college and become best friends. During the following two decades, they move to different cities, attend graduate school, explore careers, have kids, and fall in and out of love. Their lives and their shifting friendship are the subject of Nicole Haroutunian’s novel-in-stories, Choose This Now (Noemi Press, March 2024). The premises of Haroutunian’s tales are simple—Valerie attending a Halloween party, Taline and some fellow artists checking out one another’s work—and many of the characters’ major life changes occur beyond the pages of the collection. The book, however, is filled with the complexities of how the women care for and misunderstand each other as well as how a woman’s body can change through pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. With each story, Haroutunian considers the ways friends can act as witnesses and companions to one another’s lives.

Nicole Haroutunian, author of the novel-in-stories Choose This Now.   (Credit: Sylvie Rosokoff)

After releasing her first story collection with Little A in 2015, Haroutunian wrote a novella about a twenty-year-old taking a painting class. She struggled to publish it, however, after encountering what she calls “this school of thought that I don’t understand and didn’t know existed...that one can’t write about teens and young people for adult audiences.” Haroutunian’s favorite books, however, include In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore, both of which feature teenage protagonists. She eventually adapted her novella into a chapter for Choose This Now and found a home for it when the Georgia Review accepted the piece after it was named a finalist for the journal’s annual $1,500 prose prize. The print quarterly, which is published by the University of Georgia, features poems, stories, essays, reviews, and art. In a recent editor’s note, Gerald Maa writes that the journal’s role is to “encourage, push, and advocate for different reading practices.” Submissions in all genres are open via postal mail with no fee and via Submittable with a $3 reading fee; the journal pays $4 per line for poetry and $50 per printed page of prose.

When Chaya Bhuvaneswar, an editor at Assignment, invited Haroutunian to submit, Haroutunian gave herself a literal assignment to write an “off-screen” story—in this case, a narrative that happened before the events of the story she was working on. The online magazine published the resulting piece, about the daughter of Choose This Now’s Valerie and the tantrum she throws before ballet class. Students and faculty of the Mountainview MFA program of Southern New Hampshire University edit the magazine, which features poetry, fiction, essays, and interviews every month. The editors also occasionally share short prompts, or “assignments,” and calls for submission on social media. The journal accepts submissions, rotating between genres, the first four Mondays of every month via Submittable. Haroutunian now leans toward submitting to online magazines, preferring for her work to be more accessible to readers.

In 2019 she published a key story in Pigeon Pages: “Choose This Now,” which appears in the book as “Landmark Decisions.” Haroutunian calls Pigeon Pages one of her favorite online journals, praising its vision, writing, pairing of writing with art, and the “sheer number of puns they find around pigeons.” Guided by an ethos that “creativity [is] an act of joy and social justice, not ego,” Pigeon Pages regularly publishes poetry, fiction, essays, and interviews. Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable with a $5 reading fee; all contributors receive $25 per piece.

Haroutunian likes to have eight to twelve submissions out at any given time and notes she “rarely get[s] discouraged by rejections these days.” Her story “Jesus Louise,” which contends with illness and motherhood, was rejected more than thirty times—often with personalized notes—before Michael Nye, the editor of Story, asked to publish the piece. Story, which comes out three times a year, has featured notable writers such as Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, and Anaïs Nin since Whit Burnett and Martha Foley founded the print journal in 1931. Over the past ninety-plus years, the periodical has gone in and out of print under different editors, with Nye most recently relaunching the publication in 2018. Submissions of flash fiction, short stories, and long stories are currently open via Story’s online submission system with a $3 reading fee; contributors receive $10 per page upon publication.

Although publishing “Jesus Louise” took many tries, Haroutunian placed her story “Parched” with the only journal she sent it to: Joyland. The online magazine regularly showcases fiction and nonfiction by writers from around the world. Joyland was founded in 2008 and is grounded in the idea that “fiction is an international movement supported by local communities.” In an installment of Agents & Editors Recommend—a column from Poets & Writers Magazine posted biweekly on—Joyland’s editor in chief, Michelle Lyn King, writes: “So often we receive stories to Joyland that are almost there. These are, without fail, the most difficult stories to reject.” She adds, “Rather than submit a story the instant you think it’s done, see what happens if you take some time away from the work.” Submissions in all genres are open year-round via Submittable with a $4.50 reading fee; contributors receive $100 per piece.      


Dana Isokawa is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine and the editor in chief of the Margins.