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4.30.2010

Say It Ain't So, Fiction

I remember the first time I bought Fiction Magazine. It was at the college bookstore and it was at the bottom of the magazine rack: a thick pile of four or five copies of book-like things that was supposedly a magazine. I picked it up between classes and read whatever was in it. Eventually I bought an issue and I was hooked. Aside from the fact that editor Mark Mirsky kinda used it as a platform for his fiction (I hate his experimentalism, a type of experimentalism that says, "Look at me, I can be European too!" A high and uppity kind of prose that uses too much exclamation points, as if to say, "Ah, I am so experimental and pretty and witty and gay! [I doubt he'd ever read this, but I hope it does nothing to my chances of getting published there, but then again, I'll probably get a rejection anyway]). I found many great writing in the four or so issues that I bought.

I remember reading Justin Quarry's "Blowing Out Jesus' Birthday Candles" about a woman who runs over a kid on a bike and then takes the bike and gives it away as a Christmas present (I'm not quite sure what happened, but this is the general gist).  I remember "Scumbags" by Peter Ferry about two strangers (one a regular guy on a bad day, another a mobber) sit down for drinks, which would later end in a hilirious double irony. Looking back at the archives, Fiction has published some of the biggest names: Carver, Oates, Ballard. Fiction was my dream magazine. A perfect bound white book with a stunning picture on the cover, a simple design that calls out to readers--Hey, that's something different. The stories it published was different and I was never disappointed. Since last semester (my last sememster in school), I have been waiting for the next issue.

Mark Mirsky, however, has issued the following statement on the website:

Editor's Statement
by Mark Mirsky

As the editor of Fiction, I have been frustrated by our inability to bring out more issues annually and devote a larger number of pages to all the fiction that is submitted to us or that we could publish with pleasure. Our mission is to extend the experiment in writing that questions the border between fantasy and reality; and to find worlds of imagination in cities and countries that are hardly known, or not known at all.

I remain committed to print, a love that began in childhood with books, a love that matured under the guidance of my late friend, Donald Barthelme. Donald's attention to the way his books were printed, to the look of Fiction's pages, as its original designer and layout engineer, and happily for me, a book of my own, The Secret Table, remains an inspiration. Donald, though he loved "HOT TYPE," was willing to design and work with offset printing from photographic plates. Technology advances and with it opportunities present themselves. The Web hopefully will mature to return to the human eye, and the touch of human fingers, some of the feel and look of books that are set by hand. Meanwhile it offers us at the magazine the chance to make available more of the excitement we experience as editors when fiction we want others to see is submitted. I am adding a piece of my own to this first collection printed in Web form under the magazine's sponsorship, and I hope other writers who have published in the magazine will join me. We want these Web pages to reflect not just individual writers but a community ready to read each other's work and to exchange ideas.


While it does not mean an end to the print edition, it does hints at troubles that many magazines had to deal with.  I remember when Pindeldyboz said they were going to do an online version only, which greatly reduced what they could publish (mainly, they now only publish fiction under 2,000--fine, but there are some good stuff above 2,000 as well). And many other magazines have faced the same dilemna. It has finally hit one of the major literary magazines (one of the ones I read at least)--and one that is connected to a college to boot!

While I guess I am being hypocritical (this brings about many things: a faster, freer spread of knowledge via the interwebs, it kinda decenters literature as something only for college educated--anyone can publish quality literature now), but I guess what I'm lamenting about is the possible ending of something print, and I guess I just love the printed word in my hand, something I can carry around and read while walking. The printed thing is something tangible. Something I know it's there because I can feel it; compared to internet media written in a language I don't know--HTML, CSS, XHTML. ("My online stories bound in the archaic clumsiness of HTML..." says Owen Egerton. Also, he said: "What does online publishing mean to me?...It means having my prose only a click away from the pornographic video that it may or may not have inspired..."). And then we can turn the question to: in the internet media age, who does have control over information: only those who can use this digital language?--compared to the printed word, where all you needed was some level of literacy and some paper and a pen.

The questions publishers must answer now is: how can it survive?, and if surviving means getting up with the times on the internet, how do they do that?; can we see something like YouTube, maybe YouWrite or YouRead? (have you seen WeBook?); can literature stay uppity on a multi-user internet model or will it have to give power to the reading public who love vampires so much? Maybe all of this is not important and all because I have a nasty habit of over-analyzing everything.

Hopefully all be well with the magazine. Hopefully the literary magazine can survive (Stephen King says it's not dead, but it's not well either, and he said that of the short story, but I think it applies to lit mags as well). Because I still wanna get that story published...

PS: Does anyone know if the major mainstream magazines (Esquire, GQ, Playboy, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, etc) still publish short stories? If so not, that might be something else to look into as well...

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