109996499_5082f762f3_b

Amazon’s announcement that it has begun offering opportunities to riff off of the work of Kurt Vonnegut on its fan fiction licensing site, Kindle Worlds, has caused a stir. Rightly so. Amazon is The Man and Vonnegut tilted against The Man, as all great artists do.

“Thank you for your interest in Zoetrope: All Story,

 

We are a staff of two, assisted by a small team of brilliant and generous volunteers, who are collectively dedicated to reading and responding to the 12,000 submissions All Story receives annually…

…All-Story does not accept submissions via e-mail. Send stories to:…”

The above guidelines come from Zoetrope: All Story, one of the top tier literary magazines of today. My response:

Dear Zoetrope,

Your submission guidelines are fucked up. Snail mail had a purpose…once. There are better options, and the time is now.

The list of deservedly established writers published at your magazine is formidable: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Woody Allen, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Roberto Bolaño, Robert Olen Butler, Don DeLillo, Mary Gaitskill, Kathryn Harrison, Ha Jin, Jonathan Lethem, Yiyun Li, Naguib Mahfouz, Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie, Kurt Vonnegut, & David Foster Wallace. Many writers would love to join this crew, do not mind submitting, and hope to be “discovered” on the slush pile. Yet how do the majority of your authors submit? I doubt Woody Allen stuffs an envelope and drops it in the mail, fingers crossed, hoping Zoetrope will make his proverbial day. But that’s what you demand of the regular scribe, and while all writers are not stereotypical “starving artists,” they would love to save a dime or two, unlike ol’ Woody, who can afford the postage. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Woody’s earned the privilege, but then why bother taking submissions from the masses? No matter how good an unknown’s story is, Woody and friends aren’t gettin’ bumped. Fetid grapes aside, The New Yorker now accepts E-subs, but even The Diddle Ass Review should. And so should Zoetrope.

Electronic mail or submission managers are no longer science fiction, and function more efficiently than snail. E-subs might create an overflow of stories, but there are solutions: short windows for submissions or charging nominal fees (not writer friendly, either, chief sinner Narrative Magazine, charging nasty clam so they can pay all the writers they solicit, but that’s another rant). Here’s the analysis:

Estimated annual cost of 12,000 nine-page stories plus cover letters:

  • $ 600 12,000 8½ x11 envelopes 120 x $5 per packet of 100 envelopes
  • $14,040 $1.17 Postage for 12,000 submissions
  • $ 240 12,000 4×9 envelopes for SASE 120 x $2 per packet of 100 envelopes
  • $ 5,280 $0.44 Postage for 12,000 SASE
  • $ 1,200 120,000 pages @240 x $5 per 500-page ream
  • $ 960 Printer ink cartridges @10,000 pages per cartridge = 12 x $80

Total = $22,320 or over $1,800 per month.

  • Not included but should be considered wasteful:
  • Gas to deliver 12,000 submissions plus 11,998 rejections and two rewrite requests
  • At 3 inches a 500-leaf ream, a 60-foot tall tree of paper

Time at printer preparing envelopes, etc. @five minutes/submission = 100 hours (not to mention time spent by “brilliant and generous volunteers” who, with Bartleby-like futility, refine skills in a Sisyphean search for fabulous stories that will never be accepted by Zoetrope)

Fifty Zoetrope clones would push the cost over a million dollars. Smaller mags? Every 100 subs/month = $2,232/year. Yet as the smaller mags regularly publish from slush, the waste not as egregious.


Zoetrope, your guidelines continue: “Before submitting, non-subscribers should read several issues of the magazine.” What a deal! I’m sure you’re not intentionally trying to screw writers, but c’mon, this is way totally like effin’ really just absolutely too fucked up.
Certainly, writers should do their part, not waste editors time with inappropriate submissions, and buy, read, and support literary magazines; that’s yet another topic. Bottom line: writers might buy more magazines if they had more money, and they might read more if they had more time. Right? If one writer has ten stories and submits each story twenty times that’s over $350 a year a writer could spend on food, rent, books, and subscriptions to literary magazines. Sure, Zoetrope, you are not the only guilty party. Those lovable stalwarts over at The Sun, despite their concern about social issues, environment, and poverty, refuse to evolve. Others? The list includes The Atlantic, Crab Creek Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, The Texas Review, Zyzzyva, etc., not to mention the publishers and agents that postpone electronic. The cost rises into millions of dollars, a forest of paper trees, and oodles of wasted hours. So Zoetrope and cohorts, big and small, agents and editors and publishers, take heed: Stop the snail. Or be fucked up.

Sincerely,

Caleb “The Mad Writer” Powell

Please explain what just happened.

Everything? Nothing? It’s hard to say—I’m a planner, probably due to my compulsive nature, so I’m always looking more to the future than the past. But, I did just send out a pitch packet for my (hopefully) forthcoming graphic novel Terminus. I’ve also been playing a lot of Mass Effect 2. A lot.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Running around outside my house on the South Side of Chicago, wearing Superman sandals.

 

If you weren’t a writer, what other profession would you choose?

I’m fascinated with how cities work, especially the manner in which space is allocated and utilized. If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I’d probably work in city planning.

Steve Almond’s latest book of non-fiction, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, is written for “Drooling Fanatics,” people, like Almond himself, whose fixations with music take on an almost religious fervor. Almond’s past works include story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow, the novel Which Brings Me to You (with Julianna Baggott), and the non-fiction books Candyfreak and (Not That You Asked). He is also a TNB contributor, and his submissions have ranged from a self-interview to a criticism of fellow contributor Joe Daley’s “Five Bands I Should Like, but I Don’t. At All.” The latter ruffled some feathers at TNB, and Steve accepted my offer to talk about the dust-up, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, and the larger concerns of his work.

When I Fell in Love – Greg Olear

I “fell in love” in the same manner that Mike Campbell, Hemingway’s drunken wastrel, went bankrupt: gradually, and then all at once. Here is a timeline of my formative years, with the year read in parentheses:

(Note: I’m skipping the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Charles Wallace, Boo Radley, the Tripods, the Chicken Man, various two-dimensional pilgrims to the Boulder Free Zone, and other childhood crushes for whom my ardor has not stood the test of time.)

1984 (1984)

The first grown-up book I ever read, at age eleven, impacted me almost as much as the video for Macintosh that ran during the Super Bowl that January. Not only do George Orwell and I share initials, his (pen) name is almost an anagram of “Greg Olear.” If I squint, it looks like I’m the author.

Lord of the Flies (1986)

The first and only time I finished the entire book when only the first three chapters were required.

Welcome to the Monkeyhouse (1987)

In which we are invited to identify with Billy the Poet, intercourse apologist and deflowerer of damsels in distress. Wow did I want to boink a Suicide Hostess.

The Sun Also Rises (1989)

Continuing the trend of crushing on novels that had absolutely no relevance to my dorkwad existence, I picked this for a book report because my mother had a copy, and it was short, and it was featured on an episode of Cheers, in which Sam Malone, upon discovering that Jake Barnes had gotten his you-know-what shot off in the war, drops Diane’s coveted first edition into the bathtub. I’ve read this seven or eight times. I’m still in love with Brett Ashley—of whom Totally Killer‘s Taylor Schmidt is, perhaps, a kickass Gen X reincarnation.

Ulysses (1993)

Semester at NYU. Class on Joyce. Three months reading Bloomsday. Day he met Nora Barnacle. Name makes her sound clingy. Paddy Dignam and Simon Dedalus. Old professor. Irish of course. Name escapes me. O’Connell, O’Donnell. Long discussion on a single paragraph. Epiphany: dog spelled backward is God. Or is it God spelled. Profound anyway. Deep as a. Over my head, most of it. Understand it, no. Read it. Eyeballs scanned every word. Yes yes yes yes YES.

Paradise Lost (1994)

I did everything short of selling a kidney to get out of the “major author” prerequisite necessary to graduate from Georgetown with a bachelor’s in English literature, but after suffering through Shakespeare, I had no choice but to submit to a dourer DWEM. Lucky thing, because Milton turned out to be the best class I took in college, and Paradise Lost superior, in my view, to anything composed by the more-celebrated Stratford-upon-Avon Bard. (Sidenote: the professor who annotated my text, who also wrote the Cliff’s Notes, makes dubious claims such as, “Paradise Lost is not about politics,” when that is, in my reading, the epic poem’s main concern.) Milton is also the author of my favorite poem of all time.

From there I moved to Dolores Haze and John Shade, Pierce Inverarity and Bucky Wunderlick, Teresa Durbeyfield and Libbets Casey, Michael Valentine Smith and Andrew Wiggin, Maximilien Aue and Major Major, Vince Camden and Matt Prior, Jason Maddox and Wayne Fencer and Will the Thrill, and Paul Theroux in any of his various forms.

Literary love, it seems, is not monogamous.

[Author’s note: In honor of Jonathan Evison, I wore sweatpants when I wrote this].


JR: I met Riley after I inquired about his book, Our Beloved 26. He had done a reading with Patrick DeWitt, who is a friend of the blog. Riley seemed like a no bullshit guy, which was refreshing, to say the least. Once we started this series of guest posts, When We Fell In Love, I thought he would be perfect for it. -JR

RMP: I have lived my life in books, have been an avid reader since my youth, and I have been affected by so many great authors – my behavior and outlook of any given year directly corresponding to the fiction I was reading. To try and pin-point when it began would be extraneous, but there were a few authors that really shook me; that surprised me; that made me aware of what fiction is actually capable of doing.

I was a sophomore in high school when I first discovered Kurt Vonnegut. I read BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS on the advice of a librarian, and I developed an immediate crush on both the novel and the woman. I had never come across anything quite like that book, and I read it twice in a row, which is something that I never do. Everything was so small, so tight, and so deliberate, with each little section functioning as a short story… It was like going to a restaurant, and instead of being presented with a meal, my dinner was brought out from the kitchen bite by bite. I had never known that stories could be told that way. I felt, after reading it the first time, like I had just read a book where nothing happened, but I loved it. I knew there was so much going on in those pages, but when I tried to tell people about it I discovered there was nothing I could say that could make the book sound appealing. I read it again to try and figure out what I had missed, and I found that I hadn’t missed anything. It was then that I realized that it is the writing and the voice behind a novel, not the plot, that makes it work.

Bret Easton Ellis was my next big love, starting when I was nineteen. Before delving into RULES OF ATTRACTION and LESS THAN ZERO, I had never read a novel about people that the author himself did not care for. I can’t remember which of the two I read first, because it was one after the other, but I remember making it twenty or so pages in before I realized that Ellis was being funny, that the writing was full of sharp, biting jokes with these little slivers of punchlines, so I had to go back and start the novel again. I like when artists explore cruelty in their work, and selfishness, and apathy, and those things are Ellis’ bread and butter. It took me a few years before I was ready to take on AMERICAN PSYCHO, but that book really is his crowning achievement. I can usually get through a book in two or three days, but that novel took me well over three weeks. I have never had to put something down so many times, shocked and disgusted. Also, I laughed a lot, even when I didn’t want to. I will love him, and his first few books, forever and ever.

Brautigan was the big one though, who I discovered when I was twenty-two. I ended up back in my home town, watching my father’s house for the summer because there had been a few break-ins and he thought that having someone there would detour the hopefully non-violent thieves. I’m from a tiny little place in the California mountais, and there is nothing to do there but read and write and paint (and fuck and smoke meth and break into empty houses, but I’m a square), so I spent all of my time doing just that. I read thirty-seven books that summer, and a few graphic novels – and some cereal boxes and Jesus pamphlets, I’m sure, because I was hard-up for entertainment and would read anything I could get my hands on. There were three great things about that summer, which were JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE by Jincy Willet,COSMOS by Witold Gombrowicz, and Richard fucking Brautigan. It started with WILLARD AND HIS BOWLING TROPHIES, and then it was THE ABORTION, and then REVENGE OF THE LAWN, all of which I have read again, which is something I so rarely do. Richard Brautigan is my favorite author, hands down. He surprises me every time I read his text – with his humor, and his sadness, and his ability to construct beautiful stories from nonsensical sentences.

But Brautigan is dead, and so is Vonnegut, and Ellis isn’t writing much these days (he’s involved in film now, I think)… Yet I still find myself in love, and falling in love, nearly every day. I fall in love with Zachary Schomburg, and Chelsea Martin, and Leonard Michaels (also dead, but only recently discovered), and Gary Lutz, and Miranda July, and so on, and so on. I don’t know when it first happened, but I am in love, and as time passes I keep finding more and more reasons to stay that way.

JR: Of the many things Riley is working on, you can read these: OUR BELOVED 26TH (Future Tense),  WHEN SHE COMES HOME (Mud Luscious Press, February 2010).


Joshua MohrJE: WWFiL is a new series we’re starting here at Three Guys, in which the fellas and I ask some of our favorite writers to guest blog a short essay about a book or books, or maybe an author, that made them fall in love in with reading. We wanted to know who they were, and how the book changed them, and who they’ve become as readers and writers and book people. In the coming months, you’ll be hearing from a dizzying array of writers, all of whom have one thing in common: we’ve covered them here at Three Guys One Book.

A couple weeks back I covered Joshua Mohr’s badass and unsettling debut from Two Dollar Radio, Some Things That Meant the World to Me. We Three Guys love watching young talent emerge and develop, and look forward to more from Mohr, beginning with next year’s follow up, Termite Parade, also brought to you by our favorite family joint, Two Dollar Radio. Here’s Joshua Mohr on when he fell in love:

Joshua Mohr: I was one of those high school students who thought reading was bullshit.  And books like “Red Badge of Courage”, “Ethan Frome”, and “Pride and Prejudice” weren’t helping my opinion that literature was pretentious and stuck up.  I didn’t want any part of the canon, if it was comprised of stilted and boring narratives.  Or as Bukowski put it in his introduction to John Fante’s “Ask the Dust”: “…nothing I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me.”

Then my senior year in high school–having literally faked my way through every book report I’d ever written–my English teacher busted me on it.  He said it was obvious that I hadn’t read the assigned book and handed me a copy of Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”; I had two days to read the book, write a report, hand it in, or he’d flunk me.  I begrudgingly left with yet another novel I didn’t want to read.

But read it I did because repeating my senior year didn’t seem like a solid option, and the book changed me. Everything I thought I knew about literature was wrong.  It wasn’t boring or stilted, or at least it didn’t have to be.  In the right hands, literature was vibrant and exciting and unpredictable and could make you laugh and break your heart and it could even do all these things at once.  I was hooked.  I asked that teacher for a reading list and he recommended Plath, Kesey, Paley, and Huxley, and just like that, I was a fiend.

As an aside, I tried to contact this teacher years later to let him know the immense influence he’d had on me: that I was turning into a writer myself, thanking him for first showing me Vonnegut.  He never responded to my email.  He didn’t care or didn’t get it.  Or he remembered me as a piss-ant stoner wasting his time.  I can’t really argue with that.  As Billy Pilgrim would say, “So it goes.”