Rohini Walker is the Editor & Co-Creative Director of Luna Arcana, an arts and literary print magazine, shining a light on the creative community around the Mojave High Desert. Here, she talks with Zoey Goto about the logistics of launching an independent magazine, uprooting her life in Britain to move to the California desert and her tried-and-tested method for tackling writer’s block.
Moving from the urban streets of London to California’s Joshua Tree desert in 2013 must have been a big shift in terms of landscapes. What was it about this desert that first drew you and ignited the transatlantic leap?
Well, where to begin? I had gone through a pretty harrowing few years prior to my big move, which ultimately became the catalyst for seeking out a completely new life, environment, everything. The trauma of my experience pierced through something in such a way that it became clear that the conditions and circumstances of my life weren’t in alignment with – at the risk of sounding New Agey – my soul purpose. I knew I couldn’t ignore this anymore when my health was impacted quite intensely with a plethora of autoimmune symptoms, and I knew instinctively that the causes were more than physical.
So I ended up leaving behind everything that was familiar, my life in London, my home, my friends, moving first of all to Bristol where I knew absolutely no one, and taking a 3-month road trip around the States with my now husband. That’s when I first came to this desert in the blazing heat of the summer in 2012 – and it was quite categorically love at first sight. All the parts of me that had felt dead started to come alive, ironically in the desert. My inspiration and creativity were fired up like never before – I started writing again after being blocked for a long time, my body started to open and relax and feel less under threat and attack. And we met some amazing people who were so warm and welcoming and just curiously fascinated by these two Brits so enthralled by the desert in its deadly summer. Back then, this place wasn’t quite as popular and well known as it is now, so we were definitely a couple of oddballs.
The landscape was just pure inspiration to me. Not just the big, wide vistas but the small things – all the critters, the plants and vegetation, the texture of the air and the smell, the warmth of boulders. Everything was a sensory reawakening after feeling pretty dead inside for a long time.
We returned to the UK fully decided and certain about our big move out here – it just felt like home. And then we were all systems go with making that happen.
You started the publication Luna Arcana in 2015 as a way to tell the stories of the Californian Mojave High Desert through language and visuals, giving a voice to the thriving local creative community. As a British transplant arriving in the area, how did you initially make these connections with local artists and writers to build this platform up? And do you think arriving on this scene as an outsider brought its own set of advantages and disadvantages?
The arts and creative community here were extremely welcoming and eager to have their work documented. Surprisingly, I didn’t encounter any hostility. On the contrary, the amount of support the project received was quite beautiful, and for a Brit, quite an alien experience! The community at that time was small yet thriving and rich in its creative output, and because high desert and Joshua Tree was still relatively unknown, the introverted artists and makers who had made their home there enjoyed gathering at a local spot which was open for a couple of years after we arrived and has since closed. Because it wasn’t a scene back then, people were just more open and genuinely interested in supporting each other – there wasn’t any competition or posturing. Really, it was quite a revelation! So that’s how I started to meet people in the local community and beyond. And as I started writing about the land, and the environment and the people, and started collaborating with others, the publication started to take shape. I can honestly say that there weren’t really any disadvantages in terms of being an outsider – it just seemed to flow. As for the advantages of being a foreigner, I think people were interested in my particular lens and interpretation of the environment and culture – especially as I was so endlessly fascinated and inspired by it!
You recently launched Luna Arcana’s first book through the Artlands publishing house. Alongside works from other contributors, it includes a number of your own writings and poetry. How did you choose which of your poems made it into the final book? Was there any overarching topic that bound the various writings?
Along with Luna Arcana’s Art Director, Martin Mancha, I went through piles of my own and others’ work, as well as Martin’s art, and then submitted a selection to the publisher for final curation.
The overarching topic and subsequent title of the art book – The Alchemy of Earth & Sky – is also the overarching theme of Luna Arcana, namely the process of rich inner alchemy that takes place when you allow yourself to surrender to nature, in this case, the desert. That was the thematic thread that guided our selection process.
This was the first volume, and we’re set to publish another one with The Artlands most likely sometime next year after we’ve published the next issue of our periodical.
Many writers carry around a mental catalog of stories that they are yet to tell – what are the stories or themes that you currently have brewing?
Pretty much everything I do as a writer and coach is focused on the work on inner decolonization, using mythology and inner alchemy, as well as propagating an intimate relationship with nature. These are the overarching themes that inform my creative output – and the stories I create as a result. In fact, one of the main things I’m concentrating on is telling stories around the exhuming of our own authentic – or indigenous meanings. This is the central point around which my work on inner decolonization revolves. I take a lot of inspiration from the artist, storyteller and philosopher’s responsibility to create and execute their own meaning – or the Hermeneutic Responsibility, the art and practice of interpretive meaning-making. So that’s a king of broad thematic overview of where I’m coming from.
And as far as stories go, I’ve recently finished a proposal for a book exploring the power and necessity of personal mythology – myth being a potent receptacle of transcendent meaning – as a way to move into radical self-empowerment and liberation. In a nutshell, inner decolonization work through myth, story and alchemy.
Could you tell us a little about the nitty-gritty of your role as editor and creative director at Luna Arcana? What’s the process of getting an independent magazine off the ground?
It definitely takes a certain amount of obsessive motivation to get an independent magazine off the ground! But equally, there is an audience for more niche publications like Luna Arcana, so what my job as Editor and Creative Director comes down to is striking a balance between identifying, creating and curating to speak to that audience, while not compromising the publication’s authenticity in terms of voice and content.
Until now, we’ve been relying on covering our production and print costs with just enough ads from local, independent businesses. So all ad revenue goes directly to print costs. We’ve been getting it printed locally, which has been mostly fine so far. But we might potentially look elsewhere for printing going forward as we’re looking at changing a few things up for the next issue, in terms of print format, paper stock and price point, and are currently working out how we can do this either without any ads, or with just very minimal ads….so a version 2.0 of Luna Arcana is in the pipeline! Being an independent publication, a lot of this comes down to collaboration, and finding the right collaborators. So far, we’ve been very lucky in that department.
As for distribution, we stock them in select independent retail outlets in the high desert area, as well as down in Palm Springs, and Los Angeles. We have a couple of places in Oregon and northern California which also stock our issues. And outside of that, we get a lot of sales directly from us online. With distribution, if there are new retailers we’d like to approach, we usually do so at the launch of each issue, sending them an electronic version of it, along with our wholesale options.
We generally print 2-3 issues a year, although this year with the book, the next issue is likely to be launched at the start of 2022. With commissions, we start approaching people once we have a rough idea of the theme and content of the issue. We also have some regular contributors, as well as receiving submissions of work throughout the year, which I go through to see if anything is relevant for the upcoming issue.
I’m not too heavy handed with my editing, as I think it’s important to maintain the integrity of the writer’s own voice. When necessary, I offer direction and alternative suggestions. The main thing, if it’s a factual piece is making sure due diligence has been done in terms of research.
Luna Arcana has now expanded beyond publications, to include live events and merchandise. What do you see as the brand’s next move?
I think that’s going to be it for now! We definitely want to keep our focus on the print periodical, as well focus on producing more online content. We have an essay style newsletter series called “Letters from Luna”, which you can subscribe to for free on lunaarcana.com, which has been gaining considerable traction, so we want to keep growing that, and cross pollinate some of the content between that and the print publication.
Regarding your writing process, you’ve previously written an article for Medium about how you’ve used the process of morning pages – the daily practice of free-flow writing – as a tool to tackle creative block. Having started your day with your morning pages session, how does it then play out? Are there any other techniques that help with your writing process or with finding inspiration?
I am such a devotee of the morning pages practice! It’s definitely a creative unblocker, if engaged with consistently. I find that amongst a lot of the drivel that comes out, there are little nuggets of treasure that end up addressing or pointing to some sort of inspiration that I can take and create from later on. It’s definitely a potent way to keep channels of communication with the muse clear. Morning pages also helps to keep stagnant creative energy moving so that your work isn’t affected by it.
I am also a big advocate of the poet Mary Oliver’s recommendation to always have a notebook with you – and these days, the notes app on your phone will also suffice, although nothing beats a battered old notebook full of scribbles. In this notebook, jot down all the little things you notice, that tug at the sleeve of your attention however subtly or loudly. Snippets of conversation, the way the lights hits a certain object, a flickering facial expression, flashes of inspiration- and especially sensory things. The way things feel in your body or smell or taste. Small things which are also big things. As a writer, your notebook is your living documentary of noticing. Nothing needs to be linear. And then when you sit down to write and you’re feeling a bit lost, engage in a bit of bibliomancy, and open up your notebook to any page, and see if that speaks to you somehow, if it’s a little breadcrumb in the trail of whatever mystery is awaiting to emerge from you.
I hear that you’re in the process of writing a book? Can you shed any light on its subject and the current state of play?
Yes. I’ve recently finished the proposal and sending it out to the world looking for the right literary agent. It’s a work of narrative non fiction, using the framework of my own continuing journey of inner – decolonization using the lenses of myth, inner alchemy and practices of creating a reciprocal relationship with nature to guide the reader into weaving new, empowering meaning for herself. I’m excited about it!