The New River, Issue 23, Fall 2011

Virginia Tech’s The New River: a Journal of Digital Writing and Art is proud to announce the publication of our newest issue.  Thematically centered on collaboration, this edition features work, such as audio-visual poetry, a surreal campus map, interactive digital narrative, script-fueled poem generators, and a transnational exploration of myth, from established writers as well as some new voices.  In conjunction with a new site design, the issue features new media works by Alan Bigelow, Andy Campbell and Lynda Williams, Chris Funkhouser and Amy Hufnagel, Nick Montfort with translations by Natalia Fedorova, and Jason Nelson in conjunction with a group of creative writers at Virginia Tech.

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.

“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.