In 1927, Ernest Hemingway was paid two hundred dollars for his short story, “The Killers.” The story appeared in Scribner’s Magazine and is considered by scholars to be his first mature work. Over his career, the income from his stories only went up.

Today, the situation is rather different. Whatever the cause of the decline of the pay-scale—often heralded to be a lack of interested and/or paying readers—the writer is left in a tough spot: He/she wants his/her story out there, but thinks the piece deserves compensation. I agree; however, magazines and literary journals often make little or no profit. Therefore, pay tends to be in copies, subscriptions, or a small honorarium.

With the inexorable growth of online journals, the pay has been reduced to nothing. In tandem, several new start-up journals use Print On Demand (POD) technology and they only pay with a digital copy. The situation, at least financially, remains bleak.

The question remains: why do you want to be published?

For the prestige? Seeking tenure? To see your work in print? To say something important? For the promotion of art? For the money?

In terms of the latter, and to backtrack a tad on what I said earlier, slick international magazines, such as, The New Yorker, Playboy, The Atlantic, etc. will often pay several thousand dollars for a short story. Of course, most work is carefully agented—few pieces making it out of the slush pile.

So, then, the realistic options: several current literary journals, The Sun (up to fifteen hundred dollars), Subtropics (one thousand), Glimmer Train (seven hundred, and more for contest winners), One Story (one hundred) pay well. I wrote an earlier post, which discussed several of the top literary journals. Getting published in these journals can help a budding academic career or attract an agent.

Contests are the other chance for making money. Often they have top prizes of one thousand dollars or more (watch out, though, for the entry fees of ten to twenty dollars!). Send only to reputable places, like, Crazyhorse, Narrative, Cream City Review, New South, and so forth. The Internet is rife with various scams, including journals set up only to produce profit from contests.

As always the best advice is to write, send work out, get drunk at AWP, accumulate publications, graduate from an M.F.A. program, gripe about the state of literature on HTMLGIANT, get on the tenure-track, switch to novels, acquire an agent, and then shift into memoir, collect literary prizes, publish more books, elope with a grad student, publish a magnum opus, refuse literary prizes, and then end your days teaching undergrads in a small liberal arts college somewhere in the Midwest.

Sounds like bliss to me.

During the sweltering summer of 2009, I first came across the writing of Tobias Wolff. A friend had given me a battered copy of the 2008 edition of The Best American Short Stories. In the book was a short story entitled, “Bible,” a lengthy piece that focuses on Maureen Casey, a teacher, and an angry parent who threatens and half-kidnaps her. Written in the third-person limited point of view, I admired through this perspective Wolff’s acute capturing of psychological realism and then the heady manner in which the narrative played out. The story became a mediation on religion, parenting, loss, and redemption.

After finishing the story, I became ravenous for more of Wolff’s fiction, and I decided to find out more about him. In my research, I discovered, along with Raymond Carver, Wolff had emerged from the “Dirty Realism” strand of American literature. He had authored eleven books, including, the novel The Barracks Thief (1984), and the memoir, This Boy’s Life (1989), which was later made into a film with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. He was educated at Oxford and Stanford (the latter, he later won a prestigious Wallace Stegner Fellowship), and Wolff had remained within academia ever since. During the 1990s, he taught at Syracuse and since then back at Stanford.

Two years later, and it was summer again. This time not so hot. In preparation for his visit to Virginia Tech, I read Wolff’s short pieces, “Powder” and “Say Yes.” The stories are brief; perhaps paragons of the short-short form, using an economy of language and imagery to maximum effect. Utilizing only a couple of characters for each piece, Wolff was able to convey a story beyond the simple vignette, to a plot-driven narrative that garnered a certain degree of absolution, but also mystery of what would happen next.

The night of the reading, Wolff strolled to the lectern wearing dark dress pants and a light pink shirt. He was an easily recognizable figure with his bald pate, tanned face, and well-groomed grey mustache. In front of the assembled two hundred students and faculty, he had a confident manner and easygoing stance. Before he read from his books, he told the crowd an extended anecdote on his writerly influences. “Yes, there were Jack London and Ernest Hemingway,” he said, “but before that was a series of children’s books about collie dogs.” He riffed on these early memories for several minutes before aptly segueing into his short story, “Her Dog” (published in the 2008 short story collection, Our Story Begins). The story was a brief, but fascinating surreal narrative of a man conversing with his dead wife’s dog. Although I found the story to be poignant and attenuated to the fine craft of the short story, I preferred the engaging excerpt from his 2003 novel, Old School.

In the second half of the reading, the novel excerpt he read centered on a young prep school student entering a writing competition to see who would meet the famous visiting writer. Through a well-realized setting, and through the humor and pathos of the situation, I felt myself transported to that school—where I became another one of the boys. Afterward in the brief Q&A session, Wolff mentioned this school was modeled on the one he had attended and had later been expelled from. Although he had never been a winning boy he once met a tipsy William Golding in the headmaster’s office, after being sent there for some minor offense. This anecdote encapsulated the tone of the evening—one replete with a fine attention to detail and the ability to tell a story that encompassed many associative abstractions: humor, sadness, joy, and despair. The night marked a fruition of the writer come full-circle. He became a teacher, an inspiration to others, including myself, in the room, perhaps leaving us with a sense that if we all tried long and hard enough, we could be writers, too.

A quick post on the latest volume I digested and consumed.

The Best American Short Stories 1999:

Standout stories: Ha Jin’s “In the Kindergarten,” Tim Gautreaux’s “The Piano Tuner,” and Junot Diaz’s “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars.”

Overall, there were some strong pieces within this edition. Although, all things considered, I felt the chosen stories to be not quite to my liking, as they were in previous years. But anyway, I recently came across a useful table of data assembled by Bookfox that details the magazines and literary journals which receive the most re-printings and honorable mentions. Unsurprisingly, The New Yorker tops the list. If you check it out, you’ll see some surprises.

Recently, I’ve managed to publish a few flash fictions. There’s “Dear Id” at Atticus Review, “The Temple at Avenue D” at Big Lucks’ online arm Quick Lucks, “Notes From a Fruit Dentist,” at Penguin Review, “The Sale” at RipRap, and finally “The Walk” at Rougarou. In addition, I have a full length story, “Moonbow,” in the inaugural issue of The Lindenwood Review.

The first two posts charting my odyssey through thirty volumes of the Best American series can be found here and here. While reading another one of the books, I came across a recent survey by VIDA, an organization that deals with women in the arts. VIDA completed a statistical analysis of the gender discrepancies in each of the Best American Short Stories, Poetry, and Essays anthologies. They found over the last thirty years women accounted for 29% of the essays, and 39% of the poems. However, in terms of the short stories they discovered practical equality:

…of the stories published in the anthologies from 1978 through 2010, 47% were written by women. Of the thirty-three years of the Best American Short Stories we counted, there were sixteen years in which the number of works by women published in the anthologies were equal to or greater than the number of works by men.

Some fascinating data there. I leave it to others to draw their own conclusions. So onward with my latest year:

The Best American Short Stories 2000

Standout stories: Geoffrey Becker’s “Black Elvis,” Ha Jin’s “The Bridegroom,” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent.”

Overall, I found this edition to be lackluster, many well-written but so-so stories. Often I found myself wanting more profundity in the work, the type of insight gleaned at by the guest editor, E.L. Doctorow, in his fascinating introduction:

It was the Freudian disciple Wilhelm Reich who realized that extensive dream analysis was not necessary to uncover a patient’s psyche: anywhere you looked — in actions taken, habits of thought, tone of voice, body language — you would find the typified self. That about describes the working principle of the short story as practiced by James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.

Throughout his short essay, Doctorow offers his thoughts on the short story and its development and progression over the last few years. Of particular interest, he examines episodic and epiphanic narrative modes and discusses the strengths and pitfalls of Frank O’Conner’s The Lonely Voice (1963), a sweeping and yet detailed study of the short story genre. In the past, I’ve read sections of O’Conner’s book. I think it may be time to pay it another visit.

In my first post on the Best American Short Story series, I outlined my plan to read the last thirty editions. I’m reading the books for craft, the nuts-and-bolts of (short) storytelling, and to read some damn-good fiction. As I mentioned in my previous post, many of the magazines that submitted to the series are now defunct (Antaeus, Four Quarters, Kansas Quarterly, Ontario Review, TriQuarterly) for various reasons. Others, mostly university-based journals, have simply changed their names over the years. It’s interesting for me also to read writers I’d previously never discovered: Kent Nelson, Tess Gallagher, Jessica Neely. I will be checking out their collections in the years to come.

The Best American Short Stories 1986

Standout stories: Charles Baxter’s “Gryphon,” Ann Beattie’s “Janus,” Ethan Canin’s “Star Food,” and Mona Simpson’s “Lawns.”

This really was a stellar year for short fiction, or perhaps the selections were more to my tastes. It’s no surprise, I suppose, the guest editor of that year was Raymond Carver — one of my major influences.

For the first part of this summer — before I start work at a temporary Johns Hopkins’ job — I’m reading through multiple Best American Short Story anthologies. Each volume contains twenty stories in their entirety and mentions one hundred other distinguished stories of the past year. Around three thousand published stories are whittled down by the series editor and then the guest editor selects the final one hundred and twenty. The commercial magazines and literary journals from which the stories are chosen includes: the famous (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s), the established (The Paris Review, Agni, Ploughshares), the university-based (The Minnesota Review, The Indiana Review) the challenging (Conjunctions), and the less well known (Upstreet, Kestrel) and many, many others.

The series has been running since 1915 and has reprinted some of the finest and most widely anthologized work in American literary history. Working through the volumes from the 1980s (more on them in a later post) I noticed many writers and magazines I’d never heard of. Many of the writers were supremely accomplished; yet through various factors, including my lack of knowledge about the eighties writing scene, these writers have faded from public life. Whether through death, retirement, or literary tastes changing, other writers have taken their places.

It’s my aim to read the volumes 2010-1980 this summer. That’s 600 stories! My wish is to pick up some of the finer points of craft and gain a few answers on the eternal question: what makes a short story? And more importantly, what makes a good short story? By the time of the hundredth Best American anniversary arrives in 2015, I hope to place at least one story in that top one hundred and twenty of the year’s best.

Below I note the books I’ve read so far and the stories that leave me in awe:

The Best American Short Stories 2010

Standout stories: Marlin Barton’s “Into Silence” and Maggie Shipstead’s “The Cowboy Tango.”

The Best American Short Stories 2008

Standout stories: Nicol Krauss’ “From the Desk of Daniel Varsky” and Katie Chase’s “Man and Wife.”

The Best American Short Stories 2007

Standout stories: Lauren Groff’s “L. Debard and Aliette: A Love Story” and Mary Gordon’s “Eleanor’s Music.”

The Best American Short Stories 1995

Standout stories: Andrea Barrett’s “The Behavior of the Hawkweeds” and Don DeLillo’s “The Angel Esmeralda.”

Interestingly, there was one writer — Andrew Cozine — in this edition who seems to have completely disappeared. When the story was published (first in the Iowa Review), Cozine was an MFA student at Columbia. A Google search revealed no other published stories by him or any clues to what happened to him. Perhaps he changed his name? Or became disenchanted with the publishing world? Or something sadder? If anyone knows what happened to Andrew Cozine, post a response, or send me an email at clinfor (at) vt (dot) edu

“Cooler than cool, the pinnacle of what is ‘it’.” — Urban Dictionary

The realm of literary journals that may be termed “hip” was recently brought to my attention by George Bowering. George, who I presume is the one noted here, wrote about my list of best journals (see post here) were “square.” I agree that many of the journals I noted are not known for experimental, challenging, ground-breaking, or avante-garde literature, but, in fact, focus on traditional forms of storytelling.

Here, then, are a few hip journals (the last two, perhaps, for the Beat crowd). Feel free to add others in the comments section.

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The Believer

McSweeney’s

Noon

Electric Literature

NY Tyrant

Chiron Review

Evergreen Review

In my previous post I covered online journals, in this one I want to turn to print-based literary journals.

The following discussion will disregard magazines like The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, Harper’s, and The Atlantic, as these are transnational and commercial magazines with high circulations. Instead, I will examine journals that often have a circulation of a couple of thousand and are non or low profit. My personal criteria, which of course is subjective, included prestige, time-in-operation, inclusion in the Best American series, Pushcarts, and the calibre and accomplishments of the writers included within their pages.

The Top Ten

1. The Paris Review

2. Ploughshares

3. AGNI

4. Virginia Quarterly Review

5. Georgia Review

6. Sewanee Review

7. One Story

8. Prairie Schooner

9. Fiction

10. Crazyhorse

Other fine journals that just missed out on the top ten include Glimmer TrainTin House, Five Points, American Short Fiction, The Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, A Public Space, North American Review, and The Kenyon Review.

Small Journals

These five journals I rate highly in terms of the writing and the breath of content and style on display.

1. Mid-American Review

2. Cimarron Review

3. Florida Review

4. Beloit Fiction Journal

5. Ninth Letter

Student-Only Journals

Lastly, to even out the playing field, I have a few journals that accept students’ work only.

1. Susquehanna Review (UG)

2. Touchstone (UG/G)

3. Red Clay Review (G)

4. Zaum (UG/G)

5. Prairie Margins (UG)

6. Outrageous Fortune (UG)

7. Aubade (students and the community)

Note: ex-student journals now open to everyone include: Penguin Review, Emerson Review, and Eclipse. Also, the Southampton Review seems to accept “mostly” student work.