Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Literary Magazine, of the Future

Bruce Sterling’s essay on design, the potential of design, and the design of fiction, is something that anyone interested in those issues should read–moving away from the tired arguments of why science fiction is dying, why it’s not dying…anyway, I tend to get those two things confused. Of course the pulp era has left its imprint on where the field is today, and how it sees itself, in ways that most people take for granted (still!). The more telling question resides in the use of experiential technologies:

What truly interests me here is the limits of the imaginable. Clearly, the pulp infrastructure limited what its artists were able to think about. They wore blinders that they could not see and therefore could not transcend.

The typewriter limited writers. Magazine word counts limited writers. Even the implicit cultural bargain between author and reader introduced constraints on what could be thought, said, and understood in public. Those mechanisms of interaction-the letter columns, the fan mail, the bookstore appearances, the conventions-they were poorly understood as interaction. They were all emergent practices rather than designed experiences.

I would also argue that most literary magazines, collegiately based or otherwise, also fail basic marks on design. But that’s another story.

After reading this, I thought it would be interesting to do a thought experiment on what a new “magazine” design might look like. I use the word magazine very tenatively, because not only would the cross-fertilization come from the content of fiction (if we take the assumption that genre distinction are, at heart, arbitrary) but also the use of various technological platforms. To perhaps build something from the ground up that can itself augment and shape the reading experience of the fiction.

Premise: using a wiki-like and custom social networking platform, allow for the collaboration between various writers who are invited to the site for one-month stints as “fellows.”

Hope: that the “fiction research” premise leads to greater experimentation and surprise during the duration of a group of writers’ stay.


1. The typography must be strong. It can’t be jokey, white text on black background, or shoddy.

2. The application process for a group of fellows for a particular month must be open to anyone; with any luck there is a good mix of older and newer writers.

3. The magazine must not be non-fiction (and theory) adverse. Whether this comes from blogging/microblogging tools embedded in the site, digressions and discussions, or whatever–there shouldn’t be a high wall between various forms of prose.

4. Serialization, as a nod to one of the hallmarks of the pulp era, will be encouraged. This might involve a mini-episodic arc of fiction within a given month, taking the reins of previous serializations from months past, and working with other writers to create shared worlds in unexpected ways.

5. Alumni of the magazine will be encouraged to participate in future months as readers, continuers of previous conversations, etc.

6. At the same time, the readership will be given all the necessary tools to find out how they would like to read the magazine–and by extension, how the magazine as an ongoing work should be written.


This is a first draft; any other suggestions would be appreciated. Of course, this is a thought experiment–I don’t really have the time of late to really implement this! Maybe some day.

Keepin’ It Real with 15,000 muses of the Missouri Review

So I got my latest issue of Literary Tiger Beat (aka Poets and Writers) and lo, on page 1, is an ad from the Missouri Review with the headline “Your 15,000 Muses Just Arrived”, with an etching of a muse-like women looking down at a down at a dreamy-eyed writer. And–here’s the clever part, see–she’s throwing money in the air like she just don’t care. She’s making it rain!

The body copy of the ad goes onto say:

The adage goes that nothing spurs creativity like a deadline. To that we add, “…and the prospect of $15,000 in cash prizes!”

Smashing! Well at least they are cutting out the crap about artistic integrity, quality and any of that other b.s.

It’s good to know that literary magazines are going all car-salesperson on an unsuspecting public, 99.9% of whom will never see the light of day with any of their jackpots. But that kind of money is something to keep them dreaming and musing, is it not? And by musing, I mean of course, writing $20 checks to the Missouri Review.

Bling bling!

Do You Have Trouble Finishing Poems? (Y/N)


Part of this is dwelling in novel-land…feeling like I have a permanent visa there.

However, something more curious is going on that I’m interested in. Because I don’t really feel blocked at all. But the field in which the lines live remains uncentered. This could be considered the kinesis of the poem, what animates it from start to finish. And it has tended to be wobbly. Attempts at narrative in poems have become too discursive, and the discursions have tended to fall flat.

Finally, I do think there is something else positive in this. For a long time I relied on what could be generously be considered jokey lines…puns, wordplay, the clever baubles of language. I don’t really feel excited about the very use of those anymore. The poem is something more difficult (which doesn’t mean it still can’t be fun) to delineate. The axes that I had written oppositional lines for so long against–taking a place/seat in the avant garde tradition of disassociation and dispersion of language–now feels pointless. The formal techniques, what are they tied to? Having poems “accepted”? This isn’t to say that poetry, the right poetry, is powerless…far from it. It’s just that I see so much of the dissociative techniques being used in the field of the field, so to speak. That is to say, poems as extremely conscious chits in the occupational realm of poetry. Which is one reason that contemporary poems about poetry, as a general rule (though there are certain exceptions) drive me fucking crazy.

I suspect that maybe some of this also has to do with the fact that relatively recently I finished a 165 page fucking poem. Maybe? There is the very real, no looming possibility that I will never write a poem as good as that ever again. And when I say good I mean, good for me. It did me good and made me/helped me change the way I think about myself and the place in the world. It’s a much different proposition than in a novel, and as I try to squirm around in the vast oceanic space of the novel’s potential and try not to drown, I have to remind myself that it’s all a matter of scale. Of the field. The white space of the style. Perhaps this is all at last moving away from the final imitative stages of a long tutelage. But I am speechless. What can I possibly say?