Coffee, Laptops, and Lots of Bad Name Ideas: Starting up a Lit Mag

Coffee, Laptops, and Lots of Bad Name Ideas: Starting up a Lit Mag

It was the summer of 2015, and that was all the time we had. There was an idea for a literary magazine–a vague one, even though it’d been simmering for three years. There was an opportunity to act fast on it. So we needed a place to meet, and we needed coffee.

At first, it was going to be the posh, artfully-appointed shabby chic coffee shop. Beautiful people drinking perfectly foamed lattes among globes and maps and vintage sign decor.

But their internet was awful and intermittent at best. So we ended up at Bob’s Java Hut.

Situated between a tattoo parlor, a punk hair salon, and a yoga co-op, Bob’s Java Hut was a rough and rowdy coffee shop filled with motorcycle decor and actual motorcycles and a most eclectic cast of characters. We can’t imagine Razor being created anywhere else.

[aesop_parallax img=”” parallaxbg=”on” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”off” floater=”on” floatermedia=”A Simplified Yet Convoluted Flowchart of Literary Magazine Creation” floaterposition=”center” floaterdirection=”left”]




Razor Summer Diagram

[aesop_parallax img=”” parallaxbg=”off” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”off” floater=”on” floatermedia=”The barista was falling in love that summer.” floaterposition=”center” floaterdirection=”left”]






The barista was falling in love that summer. She said so, to her friends, different friends every time.

We were there, in the back corner by the old-time gasoline pump that hid the old pay phone mount on the wall. In between our discussing and silent thinking and website coding, we heard it all.

She was good. She knew our orders as soon as we walked in. Made an Americano as strong and black as the devil’s heart. She played Ted Hawkins and Nirvana and John Coltrane on the satellite radio. Bantered with electricians, cops, alcoholics, hipsters, the homeless lady that came in for a glass of water–every one of us was her friend.

At first she said, “I think it’s a something?” Later she said, “We’re definitely hanging out.” And one sticky August morning, when Razor had a mission statement and a website and we couldn’t believe we’d pulled off launching a magazine, she said, “I think I’m in love. Yeah.”

This wasn’t the kind of coffee shop that drew a heart into the foam of a drink. She wasn’t that kind of barista.


[aesop_parallax img=”” parallaxbg=”on” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”off” floater=”on” floatermedia=”The Unwitting Dramatis Personae ” floaterposition=”center” floaterdirection=”left”]


Cast of Characters

COP 1: Drives the unmarked cop car and makes two attempts to wedge himself between a Prius and a Civic. Burly man with belt holding handgun, flashlight, and other mysterious small, black items. Drinks Americanos.

COP 2: Heckles COP 1 for his crooked parking job. Lumbers in at a massive 6’5″. Lowers his voice and orders a steaming Berry White Mocha.

ELECTRICIAN: Dons a bleach-stained polo as professional attire. Clambers up and down a ladder to install a disco ball above the restroom. Snakes extension cords between tables and customers, apologizing incessantly.

MEN IN SUITS: A rarity that attracts attention at Bob’s. Wield clicking pens with the sleek logo of their advertising company. All craning necks to see which side of Lyndale Ave. has the best lighting.

HIRED ACTOR: Sits at the head of the MEN IN SUITS, arms crossed, silent. His blonde hair has a subtle curl at the end, which looks unintentional, but took several minutes to perfect. MEN IN SUITS discuss which angles will accentuate his features.

BIKER: Announces presence by motorcycle screech up to the door. Readjusts his leather jacket and walks with each leg stepping outside of the width of his shoulders — the walk of a man who has ridden his bike through a looooong rush hour.

HIPSTER 1: Orders cold press dark roast black coffee with non-fat soymilk and a shot of pretension. Asks barista if muffins are made with stone-ground organic wheat.

HIPSTER 2: Hates everything and everyone. Scowls at HIPSTER 1, at black coffee, at duo in back corner who are huddled over laptops discussing magazines.

[aesop_parallax img=”” parallaxbg=”on” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”off” floater=”on” floatermedia=”The Creative Process: RAZOR before the razor” floaterposition=”center” floaterdirection=”left”]

In the beginning, it was easy to push away the pressure. “It will come to us,” we would say, “when we least expect it.”

The stakes were high. The magazine’s name could intrigue readers, or it could be scrolled past in the daunting list of literary journals.

When the time came to get serious about names, it did not come easy. Spurts of words were added to a long list, all of them bad ideas. There were stretches of silent pondering, of staring out the window, hoping for a word or collection of words that would encompass everything we were trying to do.

We wanted a name that embodied the trials of the creative process. We tossed around Double-Blind, Concoction, Dry Run. Dry Run would have been awful. Dry Run would be the magazine with yellowing pages, essays about filing taxes, and strange sketches of shadowy figures in the margins.

Days later we talked about how the creative process is almost mythical. Could a mythical creature represent our mission? Unicorns would attract a strange audience. A Phoenix would be pretty cool, but it didn’t quite hold the meaning we were looking for. Maybe there just wasn’t a mythical creature as elusive as the creative process.

After a week we switched our thinking to aspects of the creative process. We burned through Puzzle, Perplex, Flash. We toyed with Failure. If we didn’t come up with a name soon, this would be perfect.

Then, one afternoon, as warm light poured in from the bustling streets of honking horns, screeching brakes, clicking heels of the life on Lyndale Avenue, there was an idea that emerged from more silence.

“Have you heard of Chekhov’s Razor?”

Even the sound — Razor — sliced through the air. We stared at each other. We didn’t know what to do. We’d been through so much discussion, silence, dulled panic, and straight desperation.

Then there it was.

[aesop_parallax img=”” parallaxbg=”on” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”off” floater=”on” floatermedia=”So Many Magazines” floaterposition=”center” floaterdirection=”left”]



Somewhere in one of the books we read that summer was a line that killed us.

It said, in effect, “To start a literary magazine these days is egotistical.” There are so many magazines, so many books already–good ones, great ones–that to add one more is nonsense.

We couldn’t quit, though. People who believed in us had given us a little time and a little money. But still, we thought, “Who are we? Why us?” Our egos are usually small or medium in size.

Then we realized that Razor isn’t about us. It’s about y’all, the creatives in the world, doing the work, failing better, experimenting and risking again and again.

It’s about sharing that great final product and then making community around the process of making stuff. It’s the very same process we went through to make Razor.

We hope you enjoy it. We’re excited to share in it with you.




2 Responses to Coffee, Laptops, and Lots of Bad Name Ideas: Starting up a Lit Mag

  1. Egotistical? If starting a literary magazine is egotistical, then what is it to tell everyone else NOT to start a literary magazine?
    Thank you for sharing this story.