Five By 5×5: John Milas



We’re launching a new feature here at 5×5 and in this premiere post we want to highlight the work of our tireless, trusty fiction reader: Legit word-sorcerer, John Milas.

A bit about John:

John Milas grew up in Illinois. His first involvement with literary magazines occurred when he took advantage of an opportunity to read submissions for two Ninth Letter web issues as a college student at the University of Illinois. He moved on to grad school and read fiction and nonfiction submissions at Purdue University for Sycamore Review, eventually working with Roxane Gay as his thesis director. Before his engagement with the literary community, John served in the Marine Corps on active duty. He’s currently at work on two book projects inspired by his military experiences. He is grateful to read fiction submissions for 5×5 as well as the recently founded magazine Rejection Letters. Every year he looks forward to judging the fiction writing contest at University Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois which he has done since 2015. His work has appeared in The Southampton Review, Superstition Review, X-R-A-Y and elsewhere. Learn more at

AND NOW! John takes five for our new feature, Five By 5×5, where we throw exactly five questions at lightening speed to a smattering of literary community members…let’s see what happens….

1. Finish the sentence: At the end of the day, it’s a good story if 

JM: …it cannot be re-written as an argumentative essay with a thesis statement and a conclusion paragraph.

2. How do you know when a piece is done?

JM: When I’m revising something, I like to read it back as a .pdf or hard copy if possible. I find that you catch more stuff that way, rather than if you just look at the file in a Word or Google doc. After that, I like to read it out loud to myself. Sometimes at an open mic event. At some point I also try to have two or three of my generous writer friends read the piece and give me their two cents. Maybe the piece isn’t done after all this, but I’m at least comfortable sending it out.  I find this harder to describe regarding lit mag submissions. I think you hone your editorial intuition from spending time reading a lot of submissions and contemporary work in literary publications.

3. What was the last animal that inspired your writing?

JM: The dogs in this article.

4. Whose writing do you think is under appreciated?

JM: I admit I’m biased, but I would love to see more space provided for the work of enlisted military writers. The enlisted voice occupies the lower level of the military class strata; the working class. Commissioned officers would constitute the upper class. Prior enlisted writers include authors such as Kayla Williams, Matt Young, Anthony Swofford, Brooke King, M.L. Doyle and a number of others, like the canonized Tim O’Brien. The enlisted side of the military includes a diverse array of marginalized voices, in particular that of immigrants who may not be citizens of the United States. The literary community at large seems to be lacking in terms of seeking out this particular work and giving it a signal boost. I’ve found that people often see the military as a monolithic experience, and are typically unaware of the class divide between officers and enlisted, which is fairly considerable.

5. Have you ever judged a book by its cover?

JM: My Year of Rest and Relaxation has a great cover, so I positively judged the book by that standard and was not disappointed once I read it.


Check out John’s work in X-R-A-Y literary magazine here.

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