Travis-Kurowski-author-photoSo literary magazines, eh? What gives?

Well I’ve been reading literary magazines since college at Southern Oregon, where I used to troll the library between classes. My creative writing teacher, Vincent Craig Wright, had mentioned the names of a few lit mags in class one day—Ploughshares, Missouri Review, Mid-American Review—so I was curious to see what these things were. And I liked what I found. (Work from Jim Shepard and Yiyun Li memorably drew me in, as did the famous Paris Review interviews. Nowhere else in Oregon had I been given direct access to maps of the imagination.) Soon I began reading some of them kind of regularly. The Paris Review. Story Quarterly. New York Quarterly.

“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

Charles Bukowski

Over the years, I’ve been proud to have my fiction appear alongside writers I greatly admire (William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Margaret Atwood). The first poems I ever published came out in an issue of The Hudson Review that contained James Wright’s last-from his wonderful final book, This Journey. It meant a lot to me.

I’ve recently been doing a big clean out…and in staggering down memory lane, one name keeps appearing with baffling frequency…LYN LIFSHIN. She is everywhere. And of course, my humble publication record doesn’t even give the slightest hint of just how truly ubiquitous she is.

If there’s ever been a journal that has published poetry, the Vegas odds are she’s been in it. It’s astounding. Over 120 books she’s published–I think. Thousands of mag publications. Literally.

I’m torn between admiring such prolific output…and wondering about all the postage. I imagine all the cover letters…the envelopes laid out in long hallways (like M.C. Escher winding stairs). What must the machine behind that enterprise look like? Simply to keep so much material out in the mail is a logistical feat.

And keeping track. Last week I got a “thanks but no thanks” letter from the Indiana Review–for work submitted three years ago! I’d forgotten I’d written the piece, let alone sent it. Maybe Lyn’s just really well organized.

I think too of the loneliness of some poor editor of what will end up being a two issue journal or webzine…and they don’t get a submission from Lyn. How would you feel? Lyn, we’re waiting…

I’ve occasionally considered the possibility that Lyn isn’t actually an individual, but a code name for a cooperative.

Then the truly disturbing notion occurred that perhaps she’s doing a Joyce Carol Oates on us (one of the funniest articles I’ve ever read was on Oates, in the Atlantic Monthly, called “Stop Me Before I Write Again”)…not only publishing endlessly under her own name, but under a range of pseudonyms. Lyn might be sitting back and thinking, “Hmm, I’ve got 200 poems I wrote yesterday, how am I going to get them all out?” Yes, a ticklish question arises for Lyn Lifshin scholars-just how much contemporary poetry is she responsible for?

Questions fill my mind in the case of writers like Lifshin and Oates. Do they lick all the stamps themselves? Have they ever lost a piece of writing? I just found a whole book I’d forgotten about and am resurrecting. A BOOK-not one poem or story. Admittedly, one of the reasons I’d forgotten about the book is that it was written in a period of deep alcoholic and narcotic confusion in Tonga, where it actually seemed like a reasonable proposition to shoot a speargun at a government official trying to protect himself with a giant tortoiseshell (I got the bastard, don’t you worry–right in the thigh-and then I got my passport back).

I watched 200 handwritten pages blow out the window of a twin engine Otter over Papua New Guinea and seriously considered going after them (I was skydiving then and figured the jungle canopy would be kind to me). Then I thought they looked rather lovely floating down. They reminded me of a great moment at an old Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference concerning the soon to die John Gardner–his angry ex-wife had hired a plane to drop leaflets all over sunny green Middlebury, exposing his cadlike behavior. My friend Stanley Elkin, who had to walk with a cane because of MS, insisted I scurry after some. Tim O’Brien and I laughed ourselves sick.

I wonder too if Lyn and Joyce are now diligent about backing up. They’d be good backers up. Press Save. Press Send. I only recently lost 150 pages in a computer crash. Bang. Gone. Imagine how Lyn and Joyce would feel.

I’m very suspicious of people who are well organized and save everything. Hunter S. Thompson (someone you’d think I’d be pretty supportive of) worried me with his neatly mimeographed letters.

As Miles Davis once said…and I happened to hear because I was the only one with him…he wasn’t exactly talking to me…”Not all music has to be heard to be listened to.” It was kind of a Bruce Lee insight.

Some writers are so prolific you wonder how they have time to even proofread their work, let alone actually read it back and consider. William T. Vollman is a good example. You can skip not just pages, but whole sections. Hell, you can skip books.

What’s my point? Well, I don’t apologize for that speargun incident one bit. That dill hole had it coming and I nailed him. I tracked him down and I hit the target. It happened in the lobby of the Dateline Hotel. I pressure packed him and reassured the guests who witnessed it. “Just a personal matter,” I said.

It’s easy to forget words-and let’s face it, most of them should be forgotten. I couldn’t quote a Lyn Lifshin poem to save my balls. You remember people you wound-and help.

The strategy of trying to put out as much as you can into the fossil record of culture is fair. Just as long as it has the thzing. That’s what the speargun sounded like.

Saknussemm on the Beach

It was beautiful. I took a pompous little civil servant down, on the run, at 10 feet, missing a major artery. I got my passport back and legal clearance to leave the country. I left behind the book I was writing then. Cost of doing business. It’s taken me a long time to learn just what business I’m in.

It’s called Thzing. Our mission statement is “Wounding and helping.” We choose our shots-and when to extend a hand. Let others crank shit out.