Bitch Session about Literary Fiction (Journals)

You know, i'm an incredibly patient man. i am. i've been told this many times and i'd like to think it's one of my unusual talents--like making up lame-ass jingles on the keyboard--it's just something i can do without putting any thought into it. the truth is, i rarely complain about the fickle and elitist nature of literary journals, but recently it's been pissing me off so i'm gonna bitch about it. i'll understand if you don't wanna read this.

Here are the reasons why american lit journals are a failure right now:

1. College MFA students shouldn't be the front line for lit journals.. i understand they make the editor's life a lot easier, and occasionally, some MFA readers have sharp eyes for sharp writing, but most of the time, they don't have a fucking clue. i mean, what do these little fuckers know about getting published? What did I know about publishing fiction when I was a reader for the Notre Dame Review? Absolutely nothing! Most fiction readers have never published a damn thing to save their fucking life, so the fact that they're simultaneously deciding what is basically publishable from the perspective of writers who are essentially opinionated amateurs, is fucking absurd.

2. The same 40 writers keep getting published over and over again and it has made this market dull indeed. i don't care if you're junot diaz, i don't want to read a story from you every time i shell out 5 bucks for a new yorker. what i don't understand about writers is why they don't understand their own saturation points. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. And there's def too much of a bad thing

3. My personal opinion is, it's better to write 4 amazing books than 14 very good ones, but writers feel pressured to pump out a novel every 2 years, even more if they're commercial writers

4. Until magazine start embracing short stories again, which creates an implicit message that the short story is not an intrinsic part of our culture, short stories are still going to be part of the domain of high-brow realist garbage literature, read almost exclusively by other writers. aspiring writers read them (the honorable ones, anyway), established writers publish them, and then other wannabe writers buy their journals to steal their tricks.

5. New writers shouldn't have token cameos in lit journals just so they can say, look, we're not the enemy of the emerging writer. it's gotten so bad that journals like Ploughshares actually have a new writers issue, which only points out how rarely they publish new writers.

6. If it takes you a year to reject me, you need to send me your home address with the rejection letter so i drive to your stuffy apartment and smack you across the head for wasting my time and feeding my irrational dreamworld.

7. Safe sucks. The traditional writing programs like Iowa + Columbia are injecting this industry with writers that are very polished technically, and most of the time, don't have one ounce of soul, originality, rebellion, genius or ambition to save their lives. for every tc boyle there are a million writers gifted at creating beautifully empty fluff that sounds amazing + doesn't mean a thing + doesn't have any staying power whatsoever. it has become enough simply to write + to publish, not necessarily to matter, to provoke, to critique, to explore, to take readers to a high place of awareness, to depict social injustice, to explore complex social issues, to create a place of beauty, to render deeper insight into our own existence

8. If only lit fiction writers had some of the imagination and intelligence of experimental writers, and if experimental writers could match the strength of their ideas with the quality of their prose that many lit. fictionistas have, we would be a changed world indeed.

9. Lit fiction writers, stop stealing ideas from newspapers! use your fucking mind and come up with something original.

10. The dullness of the lit fiction market has made our art obscure. how many times have i told people different journals i've been published in, only to see their mouths hang wide open like dogs overheating in the backseat? it's not their fault. most writers are so sick of getting rejected that they've created their own journals and now we have more lit journals than at any point in history but we DON'T have more readers. Karmically, if you want to get published in a journal, then shell out 20 bucks that you'd use normally for a second pint + fucking subscribe to a journal instead. Just one.

11. As long as lit writers ignore their readers or write for their friends who are editors, this market and this profession is doomed. i'm not saying dumb the writing down, but i am saying the experimentalists and the literary fiction writers can, and need to, acknowledge the blatantly dialectical nature of writing/reading (roland barthes, eat your fucking heart out), which is why commercial fiction is so successful because the authors give readers exactly what they want, dreary and obsequious as that sounds. likewise, i think commercial fiction writers can elevate their craft, originality and level of ideas and basically expect more of their readers too.

12. I'm all for working my ass off but goddamit, i want to know who my agent is and which company is going to publish my first novel inshallah. and if not, please tell me so i can send my shit to someone else who will passionately stick up for the kind of art that i create.

13. Sadly, the more into my writing and my profession i become, the more time i spend in limbo not knowing what the hell is going on.

14. BDG, please please please help me. this isn't actually a point, but i wanted to say it anyway.

15. I've come to the conclusion that i've wasted way too much time submitting short stories to journals without almost nothing to show for it. i mean, the number of print journals i've published stories is prohibitively small, and sometimes i feel like only inertia, pride, ego and stubbornness keep me writing and submitting the way i do.

16. The sheer arbitrariness of lit journal acceptances has turned me off completely to submitting. i have friends who have worked in the editorial dep't of journals and readers/editors have picked stories (and rejected them) for the most ridiculous reasons you can imagine, from the fact that the reader likes butterflies and unicorns to the fact that he can't stand stories with hispanic voices or second person narratives.

17. I'm calibrating my submission technique. now i'm only gonna submit my stories to the best lit journals (defined in my own way), journals that accept online submissions, and journals that give me good rejections. enough of this flooding the market stuff. i tried giving the small, indie, obscure journal its fair share, and with some notable exceptions, it just feels like a small journal trying to be a big journal, not a small journal celebrating its smallness.

18. New Yorker: what the hell is wrong with you? does it really take you over 7 months to send me this as a rejection email:

Dear author,

We haven't read your story and never will because we don't know who you are and your name won't attract readers. So why don't you stop sending us stories until people know who you, then we'll make you (more) famous.

Okay, they don't say that, but they might as well. . .

19. I'm gonna get into journals through my the way most authors are doing it these days, so most of my attention is going towards getting BLANK and my (soon to be) 2 collections of short stories published.

20. Watch: the instant after i post this rant, i'm gonna get an acceptance from one of the journals i just excoriated (or not). but that's fine. my tastes change, my sentiments and my critiques change over time. i may even feel differently tomorrow morning, but right now, this is exactly how i feel. I make no apologies.

What Universe Am I In?

These past two nights, i've been doing strange shit RIGHT before i go to bed. Why do I do this? For example:

Last night, i was just about to close my little polar white Macbook when i suddenly decided to write three novel query letters to literary agents and try to pitch my novel to them, even THOUGH i'm waiting to hear from Mcsweeney's, Simon & Schuster, and my friend, BDG at Hachette promised she would read The Amnesia of Junebugs and talk to two of the greatest agents in the history of literary representation on my behalf, after a gentle push email, that is, and the strange thing is it just happened, just like that.

And tonight, i was about to go to bed, Erika was badgering me to fall asleep with her like she always does, and i was just about to follow her into the bedroom, and then the next thing i know, i uploaded a short story to Crazyhorse's 2007 fiction prize contest, wrote up a quick cover letter, and signed a check that's ready to be mailed off tomorrow. sometimes, i can be so random.

Strange thing happened in the course of 10 hours: one of the queries i sent at 2 in the morning was to Miriam Goderich at the illustrious Gystel & Goderich, and i got this rejection email from her ed assistant later this morning that began with "Dear Author". that's a rejection in less than TWELVE HOURS. that has GOT to be a record in some time zones. the strange thing is, this lit agency hates generic queries but they sent me a generic rejection. there's a word for that.

There's a word for that. It's lame. L-A-M-E, lame.

I also discovered last night that the Writers Post Journal, the small indie magazine out of pittsburgh that was about to publish "Hula Dancing in the Bronx" suddenly shut down for good, without any real explanation. They didn't even email me to let me know. In fact, all of my follow-up emails got bounced back. Somehow this is worse than getting rejected. Putos.

Anyway, onward then.

Lastly: I sent out 19 more submissions for my last push of 2007 to journals like playboy, the virginia quaterly, the atlantic monthly, fiction international, iowa review, fugue, tin house, and many more. i think i have sent out close to a 120 manuscripts in the past 7 months. it's gotten so bad that the clerk recently asked me if i wanted to open up my own private account with the post office, complete with a free post office box and complimentary USPS cap. okay, that's not true. but it might as well be.

Get Your Game On Jackson Bliss

University of Iowa has a short fiction contest, awarded to a first book of fiction, so yesterday i sent DEFIANCE OF OBJECTS, my first, and more experimental collection of short stories to iowa city, all 234 pages of it, for the short fiction award. i'm also planning on sending this collection to one or more of the following first book contests in the next few months:

1. umass juniper prize
2. FC2 prize
3. bakeless prize

I'll continue working on a second collection of short stories very soon that is more plot and character-based, with more controlled language, that i hope to get ready to submit in the spring. i'm aiming at one or more of these first book contests:

1. ohio state prize
2. the flannery o'connor prize
3. the pitt prize

Ginny, one of the editors at simon & schuster told me she was really impressed with my novel. she called it a great novel and had some insightful suggestions on making the ending more potent, so, right now i'm following a lot of her suggestions, and i have to say, she's right. her ideas are making the climax stronger, and the novel, simpy better. thanx ginny.

I wrote an email to my friend, bdg, at hachette/grand central publishing, who is a senior editor there, and i asked her, hey do you know these two agents, one is Michael Chabon's agent, the second is junot diaz's agent, and bdg, was like, yeah, i know them, i know them well. . . SOOOOOO i asked her if she could talk to them and get them to check out BLANK, and she said, god bless you bdg, lemme read your novel first jackson so i have something to talk about, and then i'll talk to them. let it be known that my internship is STILL changing my life for the better.