Will The Revolution Be Electronic?

(a very long thought)

In October, Alyson Books announced that it would focus on ebooks, meaning that authors who signed contracts for print books might not see their money, but also that being a gay publisher is...well, hard. While former publisher Donald Weis stated that the switch was due to financial situations and not because they were a gay press, interim publisher John Knoebel said that the decision was partly because there are less gay bookstores: "There are just fewer places to sell books," he said. in a Publisher's Weekly press release. Indeed, it was about a year ago that my local gay bookstore, Lambada Rising, announced that it was closing under the banner of "Mission Accomplished," even though I think that they closed down because porno magazines such as Freshman stopped printing.

Being a print journal has always been hard. Perhaps being a queer print journal is harder. Around the time of the Alyson announcement, Chroma: A Queer Literary Journal's editor Ben Fergusson announced the uncertain future of his international magazine:

"As with all arts organisations, Chroma has been hit by the current financial situation and specifically by cuts to public arts budgets. This has led to Chroma having to slightly rethink the way it’s funded. Because of this Chroma is taking a one-issue break to secure its financial position for the future."

Meanwhile, Ganymeade ceased publication due to the editor's, John Stahle, death.

But in light of these, some queer print spaces are still thriving (you know you've made it big once you start citing your own writing as sources). As I've mentioned in another post, from Ganymeade, Sibling Rivalry Press was born. A project of poet Bryan Borland who edited the last volume of Ganymeade: Ganymeade Unfinished, Sibling Rivalry Press promises the same exquiste design--I'm starting to get into book design, I get overexcited about layout and fonts and margins!--as well as some top notch writers. In mid-November, for example, it is releasing poetry by Ocean Vuong. Additionally, the 2011 line-up includes work from Raymond Luczak, Theresa Senato Edwards, Jessie Carty, and Saeed Jones.

There is also, of course, Sibling Rivalry's journal: Assaracus.

Another literary magazine that is making waves is Mary: A Literary Quarterly. Around since 2009, it is one of few queer/gay magazines that has visibility in brick-and-mortar bookstores, thereby obtaining a larger audience. This compared to Assaracus, which--like Ganymeade and Borland's other titles--is published print-on-demand style via Lulu. Mary, in contrast, is available in New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Hollywood. It is more accessiable.

The digital age has brought in the age of accessibility. Yet it is precisely this point that it has been shunned in the past. In the feature article of this month's Writer's Digest by Vanessa Wieland and Jennifer Benner, this is addressed: "Not so long ago, having an online publication credit might have been considered the same as--or even worse than--not publishing at all. Many writers and readers assumed that because anyone could post a story or poem on on the web, online publication didn't imply quality."

Yet this has changed, and the article goes on to list 50 of the best online literary journals--including Word Riot, Flash Fiction Online, and Diagram--as well as some interesting statements from editors of online journals.

Leslie McGrath of Drunken Boat: "The online world is democratic--it's available to all, for free, easily translated with translation software. It's at our fingertips. And this [is] where literature should be."

The statement of democratic literature is radical, compared to the attitude long held literary institutions including many print journals published by MFA programs.

Case and point is a recent post by Greg Schutz about the dying art of the short story and how it doesn't matter to real artists (while the article is anti-capitalist, it is still classist-):

"Full appreciation of the short story, then, would seem to require a degree of formal intelligence; our enjoyment of a particular short story is at least partially predicated upon (1) our understanding of the particular challenge of the short-story form, and (2) our ability to read the story as a showcase for creative responses to that generic challenge....It's difficult to break into this loop; doing so requires a sort of literary education in the short-story form (though not necessarily the kind one receives in a classroom)."

While Schutz does qualify his statement, it clearly shows the attitude of many leading institutions: that literary fiction can only be enjoyed by a selected few. "The few" is the class of college graduates who read Jonathan Frazen's Freedom, not William Gibson's Zero History, not to even mention mass market releases (the horror!). They're mass market because they're the opium of the masses. Literature is should be available only to those who can afford the college education, or those who have the chance at it, or those who are willing to put up with the debt. This is the discourse of literary institution.

Thus, electronic publication is very radical. And in electronic publications, boundaries are being broken. Writers are experimenting and publishing things that face head-on the challenges of the form.

Short attention spans? There's Twitter-poetry and Twitter-fiction (made [in]famous my Rick Moody's experiment). Can't find a publisher for your book of short stories (because short stories don't sell!)? Publish it yourself, make it an ebook, give it away for--free! Tao Lin did it with Today The Sky is Blue and White with Bright Blue Spots and a Small Pale Moon and I Will Destroy Our Relationship Today. Lin is an example of what can be done in digital form. If Lady Gaga is the first pop icon of Generation YouTube, Tao Lin is the first literary superstar of the digital age. (Just for Googliblity: TAO LIN IS LADY GAGA) Have a radical and explicit zine idea, but no printing press? PDF it a la Johnny Murdoc or Mira Bellewether.

The queer press have not shied away from electronic publishing. Somewhat. What is avaliable--aside from electronic journals like Velvet Mafia or Wilde Oates (romance-based, but still)--are mostly e-publishers like Loose-Id (not really a queer publisher, just a sex and romance publisher) or MLR Press, who specialize in romance and erotica, which are becoming more popular since ebooks are discreet. Queer realism and science-fiction and fantasy are a bit harder to find in electronic form. Yet there magazines that are queer friendly. PANK, for example, is very gay-friendly. Smokelong Quarterly likes publishing everything as long as it follows one rule: it's good.

Some might argue that it is the mainstreaming of queer literature. Bigger publishers and nonqueer publishers are publishing queer works. This was why the owners of Lambda Rising saw it as "Mission Accomplished:" queer was becoming mainstream. Yet one cannot help to think that there isn't enough of a queer voice in publishing. By mere statistics, a mainstream press will publish more nonqueer voices than queer voices. As a rule of mathematics, queer voices are silenced.

Thus the need for queer spaces, both in print and online--especially online, since online is one of few venues where we can have a voice (it's democratic).

Yet the question is: isn't queerness (not as a term for L/G/B/T, but a word for something beyond that) about non-identity--post-identity? Queer is definitely not straight, yet it is also not gay. Queer is about individuality and not having identity. Thus, is having a specific queer space--like Chroma's "Queer" Journal-- anti-queer by calling itself queer? Does queerness disappear once it is spoken of? Can queer lit become mainstream when it is vehemently anti-mainstream? Is the queerness in mainstream literature really queer? Or by the fact that it is mainstream make it nonqueer? Additionally, because of the freedom in it, is electronic literature more queer or is it less queer (who owns the internet?)? Will the revolution be electronic or will it be in print?

While I hate it when essays contradict themselves, or end by negating everything that was said, making what was discussed somewhat useless, I think I have to end with a quote on Rick Moody about the future of literature (via Twitter):

"The writers are going to write, and the publishers will be around to try to organize and schematize this work for the reading public...who are hungry, despite the gloom and doom, the apocalyptic anxiety, for stories, and for the pathos and the drama thereof."

Writers will write. Queer writers, then, will also write. Queer spaces or no. Published on e-readers and computers or print books or off-brand post-it notes or bathroom stalls--You have not written a poem until you've written it on a bathroom wall.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post, Eric. I do want to mention that we hope to follow in Mary's fabulous footsteps and get Assaracus in bookstores. Thankfully, Mary and Assaracus are BFFs. Where Mary goes, Assaracus will tend to tag along. My Life as Adam, my book, is available in stores, as will be the case with all full-length titles SRP publishes. Chapbooks, which, by design, are smaller, will be available primarily from SRP's website and Lulu, though we'll make great efforts to reach out to specific bookstores to carry those titles, as well. While we do utilize print on demand, we can also pre-print, stock up, and distribute with the best of them. You'll see these options unfold over the next year as we continue to grow. These growth spurts will also include ventures into e-publishing, but because my personal preference is a printed copy (especially for poetry), we’re only in the exploratory stage.

    Thanks for giving queer publishing the spotlight! Sibling Rivalry Press is a toddler, but with your help, we’ll be bringing home boys to meet mom and dad before you know it.