Featured Locals: OLAS Literary Magazine

Samantha Chamberlain

I got to speak with some of the team behind OLAS Literary Magazine, a local magazine showcasing a range of underground artists. Meet Vanessa Perez, Melody Martinez, Joey Gonzales, Bella Carrasco, and Regina Polanco.


What is it you would say you do?

Vanessa: We're a local publication for literary works and visual art. The idea is to give as many people as possible a platform. We would like to give a platform specifically to locals, but it's not exclusively that. We do have other small artists who have submitted their work from San Marcos, Houston, a couple of different places. I wouldn't say we've got any particular genre, it's been a wide variety.


How did this start?

Vanessa: Joey and I always had this idea that being an up-and-coming artist can be a really intimidating thing in terms of trying to find a platform.

Joey: Definitely. Being a local artist is hard to showcase. It's hard to have an outlet. When Vané told me about this idea some time ago I just kept pushing her like, "Hey! This is your literary magazine reminder!"

Vanessa: It's been a thought for several years now but I think the point at which I was really pushed was when I decided to make this a collaborative thing. Where it wasn't just this thing I was trying to do, but a thing I was doing with my friends. We were communally motivated to do more.


Where did you come up with the name OLAS?

Vanessa: I've always liked the idea of going with a coastal theme to signify where we are, where this is coming out of -you know, the coastal bend. Initially I thought I'd call it "The Wave" or something but when I was reading poetry there's a line from a Pablo Neruda poem that I always found very beautiful in terms of how a single wave is made by all the waves. This single inkling of impact comes in on itself and I thought it was really beautiful. Then of course, it adds a little cultural splash.


Who all helped you?

Vanessa: I would say Melody is one of the newer additions but that was the point at which the process was getting deep and that was a couple of months ago. It's myself, Joey, our friends Bella Carrasco and Regina Polanco. That's essentially our team. We've had advice from other graphic designers, my friends Savannah Fortune and Callie Gabbert. It's been a very collaborative effort. It's really heartening to see how many people are willing to help whenever you just express how much something means to you.


Have you ever felt like giving up during the process?

Vanessa: Depression is a hell of a drug, especially during a pandemic. There were definitely times in which I don't think I ever consciously gave up, but was in the state of feeling like I had given up. That sunken, "What's happening?" everything-feels-really-ambiguous state. This weird state of "I'm not currently doing anything because I'm trying to do other basic things for myself and failing at that." There have been a number of fluctuations. In the beginning there was a two month period of excitement, of, "I want to do this" and then you flow into the next two month period of, "There's too much stuff, I don't know what I'm doing." It's been a good six months since we technically began, but it's been fun.

Melody: The whole pandemic thing slowed the process a bit because of the way I started feeling about my days. Each day started feeling the same then all of the sudden it's like a whole month has gone by and we haven't really done a whole lot with this. I think it's all a part of the process as far as the pandemic goes but we got into a really good productive stage these past couple of months. We worked super hard on grinding it out and making sure everything was clean, the designs looked good, and that everything was sorted out with printing. I'm really proud of us for that. This is more than I ever really anticipated but it's a lot of fun.

Vanessa: You definitely get in those periods were you're like, "Are people still listening? Are people still interested? Is there anybody out there?" I think that was especially nerve-wracking whenever you're going through the whole process of, "How many copies do I get?" There's a certain amount of pressure but sometimes it's good pressure.

Everything is a risk. Putting your work into the world is always going to be a risk. If it doesn't feel risky you're probably not pushing yourself.


What have each of your favorite parts been?

Vanessa: I've always loved the part where people are sending their work in and we're just looking at everything that people have to offer. I think there were certain contingencies where if we would have been able to publish every single person who sent in work, we would have loved to do that. There's a huge amount of trust that goes into sending your work out to somebody and you don't know who they are, and you don't know what their project is. People really took that leap with us and we're super thankful for that. It's really exciting. I love reading poetry, I love looking at paintings, I love looking at people's photos. It's so cool thinking, "Somebody made this. Somebody cares about this."

Melody: It's really cool to see how other people see things through their own eyes. It's cool seeing the way they take photos, sculpt things, whatever. It's really cool to see their originality come out.

Joey: I definitely want to piggyback off of what y'all are saying. I think my favorite part was the organization of everything. It was like, "Okay. These are our selected works that we have, how can we make this the most aesthetically pleasing? How can we make it look as best as it possibly could?"

Melody: Yeah, yeah! Making each page coherent with one another. I really liked doing that too.

Vanessa: The process of designing the magazine itself was a little intimidating in terms of experience each of us had. Melody definitely had the most experience, but--

Melody, laughing: -it wasn't even that much.

Vanessa: It was really fascinating trying to figure out the best way to put this together that was going to translate well to print. That's a huge part of our process that differs from a number of other mediums we could have gone with. I really do think that people are interested in seeing the kind of product we've put out explicitly because of that. Having this print medium was a good idea and it's been fairly accessible. As time goes on hopefully we'll be able to put out a pdf or something like that, especially as we start gearing up for issue two.

It's been interesting because sometimes people will buy the magazine from us, start looking at it, flip to a certain spread we have and say to us, "I love the way you did this!" There's nothing really that quite feels that way, it's great.

Joey: I definitely think that the coolest part of working on this magazine was how all our different collaborative efforts were brought to the table. For me and Bella, it was primarily visual like, "How does this work together?" or, "What palette works best with this?" Then Melody and Vanessa worked very closely on formatting. Regina helped give it an aesthetic. It was really cool the way we all came together to make this what is is.

Vanessa: It's been interesting seeing our different qualities shine. As somebody who's fairly introverted, I don't think I would have been able to put myself out there as much and push this kind of product the way that we have had it not been for Joey, Bella, and Regina. I know Melody is introverted like I am -like we've just been working on computers this whole time. I feel like Joey, Bella, and Regina have really put our product out there and told everybody about it.


What's something you wish you would have known when you first started?

Vanessa: I wish somebody would have told me, "Don't be so worried about this thing being perfect," or "Don't get caught up in this initial image that you had." As time goes on that image is going to shift. It's not going to shift because it's any less perfect, it's just going to be different. It doesn't mean worse. Sometimes that was hard to tell myself and in the middle of everything I would feel less motivated to do things because I'm like, "I still don't know how to figure that thing out."

Melody: I feel like I kinda kept going back and forth with myself this past week on, "I should have done this earlier" or "I should have done that earlier." I was talking with my dad about it and he was like, "You shouldn't worry about that because it's all a part of the process. Now you know for next time." Don't get so caught up in what you wish you could have done.

Vanessa: Yeah, I think people underestimate what a learning experience is. As much as this first issue was fun and as much as we loved it, so much about it was a trial run. What is it like to be in publication? What comes first? At what point do I send something to the printer? You learn things in the process.

Learning to modify one's expectations while in the middle of a project can really determine the longevity of that project.

I've never been good at going with the flow, I'm a very high strung person.

Would you say you need to be in control?

No. It's not necessarily feeling I need to be in control, but being in a position where I have to strike the balance between what I can and can't do. Last year I had two of my organs at different points of the year stop working. January my gallbladder was like, "We're gonna stop paying rent, we're out of here," so I had to have it removed. Then in June my appendix is like, "We're gonna go now too!" They both just stopped working. I feel like that was the point of my life in which I realized there's no such thing as control.

Joey: One thing we maybe should have done before we started was to give greater emphasis to outcomes. I feel like we were so focused on the day-to-day that once we got to the end we were sort of just like, "Oh hey, we forgot about that." But it all worked out.

Vanessa: It was fine. It was the kind of thing where it was always going to be the way it was and we had to take account of that.


What is success to you?

Vanessa: I was talking with one of my friends yesterday who wants to work in movies, specifically writing for television and stuff like that. He's living out in Houston right now, not having a super great time. It's been a rough year. Having graduated college, some of us are seeing other people thriving. Like those tweets that are like, "23, just bought a house" kind of thing. It's like, all those people are finance majors. They were always going to be fine. They accounted for this security. Working as a creative, you really have to adjust what your measure of success is. Am I successful in terms of what I'm bringing in monetarily or am I successful in that I'm doing this thing I love everyday and that's my life? I feel like that is the point at which I would feel I'm in a successful position.

Joey: I think I've always defined success in terms of creating communal space for others that's lasting. A lot of times we create communal space and through that space sometimes there becomes a figurehead. Once that figurehead falls that communal space, that inclusivity, that equity that has been built -oftentimes goes away. I think the goal is really just to create a space that's lasting.

Vanessa: Yeah, like you said, a scene that is associated with a single figure is a scene that's not going to last or have that consistent impact.

Joey: I think the way that we do this is by starting locally. Things tend to last longer if there is a collective behind it that's raising awareness about your community, building impact within your community. This space is created by local creatives.

Vanessa: I think also being open to introducing new people to your project who are thinking of different ways of doing things, and being able to evolve with the scene in which you're existing. We're in the business of dealing with mediums and content that are consistently changing. We have to have the patience to deal with things that are less trendy because trends are fickle. Being able to adapt and have an open mind about things is really important. 


Where would you like to be in the future with Olas?

Vanessa: The idea of having created something that can live here would be nice -even if that means having different people- would be fine. Having established some sort of tradition, having a home where this thing can thrive and help others thrive sounds like exactly what I always wanted this to be.

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