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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Another Sad Face

It hasn't been a good week for Literary figures. Timothy McSweeney, the namesake of McSweeney's Literary Journal, has passed away at the age of 67. More here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Death of Literary Fiction

Is Literary Fiction dead if University-funded journals go by the way side? That was the question posed by Ted Genoways in Mother Jones last month in his essay "The Death of Fiction?" and it has received strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

I for one think that Literary Journals have been leaning toward irrelevance for quite some time and they are trending similar to the publishing industry as a whole, so I don't really view them as the canary in the coal mine that Mr. Genoways does. But the evidence brought up in his article (i.e., there has been a significant increase in writers submitting to journals but not a similar increase in readership) is both damning and a little self-serving.

I think it is perfectly fair for Literary Journals to expect writers to read...everyone should expect writers to read, just like we should expect athletes to run and stay in shape. It's what we writers do, read and write. But Genoways stops short of following to the logical conclusion this evidence by not addressing the issue from a writer's perspective. Yes, it is unfair that journals are receiving thousands of submissions every year and yet not receiving a similar readership, but it is also unfair to expect every writer to subscribe to every journal to which they submit. In order to get published in today's marketplace one must submit one's work to, on average, 6-12 markets to get a piece published, and if one is an author who writes in various genres the number of markets one will submit to over a yearly period can literally tally in the hundreds. Considering most authors are only able to read and write in their free time it is ridiculous and selfish to assume writers can subscribe to, and read, hundreds of journals every year. Who has the time for that?

Among those who pay attention to the publishing industry (admittedly there are few now), Literary Journals maintain a high degree of credibility and importance and their decline is a woeful situation ideed. But the fault does not rest purely on writers who do not subscribe to journals, but rather on a complex set of variables that are being felt across the entire publishing industry. From declining readership, a flooded marketplace, lack of shelf space, the relative ease of self-publishing, and the stuffy reputation of Journals, the publishing industry is in dire shape and it is harder than ever for a new writer to break into the industry.

Regardless, the Journals have an important point: If you are a writer who consistently submits to Literary Journals, sack up and subscribe to at least one of them. It'll be good for the industry you love, and it will be good for your craft.

You can read the essay that started the debate here.

And here is a response from the editing staff of The Virginia Quarterly.

Here is a brief history of Literary Journals from Wikipedia.

Word of the Day!

Hobson's choice [hob-suhnz-chois]
A choice without an alternative; the thing offered or nothing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vonnegut is the truth

Here is a FAH post from Sloshspot, which lists some of Kurt Vonnegut's more hilarious truthities. My favorite:

"One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us."
Thanks, Kurt, for another busted gut.

Word of the Day!

fop [fop]
A man who is overly concerned with or vain about his dress and appearance; a dandy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Magical Mystery Tour

After the huge success of Sergeant Pepper’s The Beatles threw themselves into another, equally ambitious project: a new movie titled Magical Mystery Tour which they would write and direct entirely themselves. Slated for release around Christmas, the film followed The Beatles, and a host of misfits and freaks, as they hopped on a tour bus and headed cross-country to find whatever adventure befell them.

The movie was a total disaster, stunted, badly written, overly insular, and the critics tore it apart, leaving in its wake the first truly epic Beatles failure. But on the plus side The Beatles had lost none of their potency in the studio and had fashioned a six song EP for the movie soundtrack, which they released in November of 1967. Consisting of classics like “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Fool On The Hill”, and “I Am The WalrusMagical Mystery Tour would have been a powerful release on its own. But in the US the EP was combined with previously released material from the Sergeant Pepper’s and Mystery Tour sessions to make the definitive statement of The Beatles psychedelic period.

Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Between December, 1965 and December, 1966 The Beatles released Rubber Soul and Revolver to wild commercial and critical acclaim. They toured the world, playing stadiums for the first time in their career. John Lennon upset the Bible Belt of the United States with his “bigger than Jesus” comment, the whole band upset the Japanese by playing in the Buddakan*, and Ringo was becoming a bit paranoid about his safety after receiving several death threats. For all intents and purposes for those in the middle of it all Beatlemania was beginning to spiral out of control. The boys needed a break.

So in August of 1966 The Beatles played what would be their final show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and then headed home for a much-needed holiday. When they reconvened in December it was to find a newly animated, and raving Paul McCartney who had this “really great idea for a new album”. Partly inspired by Elvis’ Gold Cadillac Tour of late-1966, and a mishearing of the term salt and pepper**, McCartney thought it would be a great idea for The Beatles to use their new record as an updated version of an old vaudeville revue, replete with lots of different bands, and then to sort of “send the record on tour” so The Beatles didn’t have to.

Word of the Day!

mondegreen [mon-di-green]
A word or phrase resulting from a misinterpretation of a word or phrase that has been heard.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Tower of Books

When I was a kid I loved books so much that I became obsessed with collecting them. I would sit and stack them on my bookshelf, stack them next to the shelf when I had finally collected too many, alphabetize endlessly and repeatedly. Whenever I got a new book I would look at it, feel it, test its weight and solidity and then set it amongst its friends on my book shelf, taste how its spine looked among the others. I was in love with the wealth of ideas represented by all those spines; I wanted to see my name there...some day*.

Now I know that artist Tom Bendtsen probably had something else in mind when he created his massive art installations in New York titled "Arguments" and "Conversations" but I gotta tell you seeing these photos brought a little of that childhood thrill to me. Seeing all those books piled high, each one a unique set of ideas and thoughts, emotions, stacked to the ceiling, representing infinity. It's like seeing my childhood dream carried to the extreme, in brilliant technicolor.

Check out the aforementioned installations here as well as some of the artist's other work.
For a pretty good explanation of "Arguments" and "Conversations" go here.

*As an adult my love of books has parlayed into a secret desire to own a house large enough to have a massive, oak shelf-lined library with shelves built into the walls and so high that I need one of those rolling ladders to reach the top shelves.

The nominations are in...

Here are the nominations for the Oscars, just announced today. Notice the unusually large field for Best Picture. This is the first year to have ten nominees instead of five, so we'll see if this actualy allows a truly good film to get the win.

Word of the Day!

propound [pruh-pownd]
-transitive verb
To offer for consideration; to put forward; to propose.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Sometimes it is easy for authors to forget that selling books is not just about writing good stories (although that is a pretty good starting point). Lots of other people with different, but complimentary, talents must be employed in order to get the book off of the shelf and into the hands of readers.

One of the most important, and equally creative, is the cover jacket design. Jacket design is one of those nuanced things that hold incredible sway over whether a reader will show interest in a book or not. Think about it. In order for a book to get from the store to your shelf you must first see the cover and decide whether the book looks interesting or not from the design. What do the font and graphics tell you about style and genre? Is the author's name prominently displayed, signifying that this is someone you should have heard of, even if you haven't? These are some of the myriad ways design influences your decision to buy...and none of them have a thing to do with the author's work.

Blogger PK understands this and has been compiling interesting and evocative CD and Book designs on his blog BibliOdyssey. Each entry is given a short description but for the most part PK lets the design speak for itself. And more often than not the design is gorgeous in its own right, divorced from context.

You can visit the blog by clicking here.
Or you can purchse PK's book based on the BibliOdyssey concept here.

Word of the Day!

canard [kuh-nahrd]
1. An unfounded, false, or fabricated report or story.
2. A horizontal control and stabilizing surface mounted forward of the main wing of an aircraft.
3. An aircraft whose horizontal stabilizer is mounted forward of the main wing.