the internet literature magazine blog of the future
Author: Catherine Lacey
Catherine Lacey is a 2012 NYFA Fiction Fellow. She has published work in The Believer, The Atlantic.com, a Harper Perennial's 40 Stories, Diagram and others. She writes for Brooklyn Magazine rather often and is a founding partner of 3B, a cooperatively operated bed and breakfast in downtown Brooklyn.
The internet is a cannibal. Things come out and things get chewed right back in.
I don’t know what compelled me to start a blogger account in 2007 or 2008 or whenever it was. Loneliness probably and the sense I had back then that “one should blog,” a sense I no longer have but an impulse that ended up teaching me so much.
Anyway, from this weird ring of blogger accounts of fledgling writers and poets, the giant grew. We wrote things we might regret. We argued. We read so much internet our eyes stung and swole up and we maybe lost real life friends and gained internet friends that became real life friends. It was here I started writing stuff that strangers read, that I learned to defend myself in words. I read a lot, thought a lot, went to school, had this second school of folks here, teaching me the shit they actually do not teach you in school. I hope the writers younger than us have their giants, too. I’m sure they’re out there.
I don’t blog anymore (though I suppose this is one last exception!) and my internet consumption is way, way down, but it still means a lot to me, that this place was here, that it was what it was for a time. Thanks Blake & Gene & all you little lovely weirdos.
Catherine Lacey: I read How Literature Saved My Life during a two-week period when my only exposure to the internet was responding to a few emails on my phone. I read almost a book a day. It felt like it was saving my life. Since then my disdain/distrust of the internet seems to grow every day and your book made me remember, in a way, why. When I got to the list of fifty-five works you swear by, I realized that of all the works I find the most admirable, very few of them came to be online. And yet I have spent a lot of time reading things online, disproportionate to the enjoyment or worth I’ve found here. In light of this book and Reality Hunger, I’m curious about how you use the internet.
David Shields:I use the internet as a tool to figure out where the war is being waged that day on our individual and collective minds.
Catherine: Specifically, what websites and what kind of content? News? I’m assuming you still read books, too?
David: I read books almost entirely offline. Stuff online: I just follow what links come in to me and I explore them. There are no websites I return to in any predictable way.
Catherine: When I read Reality Hunger in 2009 I think I was feeling more positive about the possibilities and influence that the internet was having on literature, but now I’m not so sure. Am I just turning into a crank? I am starting to get the feeling that the brevity and quick turnaround time of internet publishing is not our friend. Do you think it is our friend?
David: Hmm. Internet publishing. Not sure I even know what that is. You mean the way you can write an article and it will be up on the web within minutes?
Catherine: I mean exactly that. The immediacy of online magazines.
David: Not hugely crucial to me—this aspect. I’m not running a newspaper. I’m trying to write books that will alter how people think in 20 years. Seems to me that we’re not quite there yet with internet publishing. I’m virtually certain that within a generation—if not much sooner—publishing as we know it will be no longer, and my sense is that any decentralization of publishing, any removal of the middleman, is good. It’s more chaos-making, but it’s largely for the good. I gather you were/are writing a book about religion, and you may have religious impulses that I don’t have. I have zero drive toward anything beyond this; there is nothing beyond the world of humans as nature and animals—and so if this is the particular chaos that we occupy now, it’s no more and no less “meaningful” than the chaos occupied by our ancient amoeba-ancestors. Continue reading “David Shields in Conversation: Notes from the Highly Self-conscious Rat Lab”
I don’t like typing I read I saw or saying my endless opinion of the weird book I read, the thing it was like, a metaphor a simile and I have almost grown to hate the internet after 15 years, how I know all the office workers have 35 tabs open and are watching a video and reading an article at the same time and mentally composing a tweet about it or wondering about how Roxane Gay is going to say it better and Blake Butler is going to say it weirder or if we’re supposed to like or hate Tao Lin right now or whether or not the novel is living or dead or who cares or which author we should interview or if that galley of that novel is worth reading or reviewing and how is it that those publishers still send out all those galleys to all those people who ignore all those galleys, and that’s called work and earning a living, well I’m not going to write any more blogs like that. I’m not going to blog about author news or how publishing houses are hemorrhaging money or how eBooks are stabbing people in dark alleys or about how eBooks are Jesus or how eBooks are just Books with a little ‘e’ hanging on. I’m not going to write another blog after this one. This is my last blog.
I’m not going to write about that piece I read on another blog, another online magazine, that article that essay that story that tweet that video that everyone is talking and how can anyone figure out anything if they still have those 35 tabs open and I suppose that’s called an experience of Life. Continue reading “My Last Blog”
It’s disheartening and necessary to see the same VIDA numbers every year, but I’d also like to see three different (and more difficult to obtain) statistics next time.
1. A gender breakdown of articles and stories submitted & pitched to magazines. In my experience with slush piles, they can be quite male-heavy and I’ve heard the same from editors.
2. A gender breakdown of books submitted to agents and publishers. (See above)
3. A breakdown of how many books written by men are marketed as “literary” or serious works versus how many by women are marketed as such. This, I think, is the one of the biggest and harder to tackle problems. Books written by women get a picture of a bare shoulder or a pair of legs on it and then men don’t buy it and “serious” reviewers don’t want to review it. Pretty simple. Pretty much a bummer.
4. A gender breakdown of how many male writers are solicited by these magazines. Because, you know, your short story probably isn’t going to make it out of the The New Yorker slush pile. It just isn’t. We know the major magazines (hell, even a lot of the smaller ones) are made almost exclusively out of solicited material. We know that. And because of the same problems that the VIDA numbers point out each year, editors know less women they want to solicit. So, yeah, it’s a vicious cycle, blah blah blah, but one thing you can do about it is be a woman and work hard and submit everywhere until you cannot be ignored.
Well, it’s finally started happening. Penn State’s MFA program decided to commit harakiri rather than go on forcing its students to go into debt over a degree to no where. I don’t think it will be the last we’ll see to go. I don’t even know if it’s the first (and it seems likely that it isn’t.)
What I do know is that we have too many MFA programs in this country. And the ones we have are often too big to succeed in giving their students what they need/want.**
Consider this: Let’s just say that this country needed 250,000 new plumbers every year. That’s the number of plumbers we would need for all plumbers to get enough work and for all pipes to be fixed and for all the water to flow into the correct places water should go. Let’s say we had 5,000 plumber schools in the country turning out 500,000 plumbers a year because plumbing started sounding so glamourous and enjoyable and some people discovered they deeply enjoyed turning on a really good faucet or flushing a Pulitzer Prize winning toilet. What we’d have if that was the case would be cafes chocked full of unemployed plumbers dreaming of the pipes they could someday plunge, or sad-looking Mario-ish plumbers walking in and out of bathroom fixture stores just to run their hands over hot and cold knobs. We’d have would-be plumbers writing cover letters to total strangers, begging to let them plunge a toilet for free.
As both author and editor, Bradford Morrow, has been a major figure on the American literary scene for more than three decades. To date, he has published six novels (including The Almanac Branch, Trinity Fields and, most recently, The Diviner’s Tale), a novella (Fall of Birds), five collections of poetry, two illustrated books (including A Bestiary, a collaboration with Eric Fischl, Kiki Smith, Richard Tuttle, and fifteen other contemporary artists) and has edited nine collections of poetry and prose. Morrow is also the founding editor of the literary magazine, Conjunctions, which will publish its fifty-eighth issue this spring. His first collection of short fiction, The Uninnocent, has just been published by Pegasus Books. —Stephen O’Connor
O’Connor: You call your book The Uninnocent. I am very interested in the idea of “un-innocence.” How do you distinguish it from guilt (not in the sense of the emotion, but of being responsible for a wrong act)?
Morrow: The way I think about it, if innocence is a state of grace, an absence of inner darkness, uninnocence is its antithesis: a state of perpetual shadow, one in which serenity and goodness are distant dreams, if that. While the darkness of the uninnocent isn’t always calculating—thepeople in these stories are not all born wicked—through the agency of some flaw or naïveté they simply break bad. Even before they’re guilty of anything, many of them never seem to be fated for an innocent life. The narrator of the opening story, “The Hoarder,” openly admits of his childhood self, “I was a weird little bastard.” He wasn’t yet a perpetrator of any misdeed, but innocence didn’t seem even to him to be a defining part of his character. One could fairly ask why coin the word “uninnocent” when the language is so replete with terms for the reprehensible, the blameworthy, the delinquent, the wicked. But while many of the people in my stories behave in ways that society appropriately considers wrong, or even depraved, my approach to writing about these individuals was from the inside out. It was important to me to locate a deeper grace or humanity within them and use that as an empathic starting place—a tentative innocence they themselves often do not recognize—and weave their failings around that fragile locus. Another aspect of uninnocence in the book is that so many are never caught or convicted of anything, and when they are restrained by authorities, they’re often convinced the system is working against them, don’t understand why the system has targeted them. John, the narrator of “All the Things That are Wrong with Me,” feels perfectly justified in doing the disastrous things he’s done and can’t understand why he’s been separated from normal society, forced to reside in a kind of Cuckoo’s Nest asylum with others who, unlike himself, are truly mad. And I more or less see where he’s coming from, though I disapprove of his basic vigilantism when he exacts eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth punishment on a kid who’s behaved sadistically toward his dog.Continue reading “Interview with Bradford Morrow”
Thoughts on the question: Does a writer owe anything to their readers?
1. A blind item: A writer I think is really talented and original capable of making amazing things severely disappoints me with his current work. I want him to go back to the stuff he wrote near(ish) the beginning of his career. I usually read any of the new work, hoping for the old work to have come back, somehow.
1 a. This new writer-I-don’t-like-so-much came along and ate the writer-I-liked-a-lot. He swallowed him whole. It’s over. Sometimes I tell myself, “go read something else or write something better.”
1 c. I think about a good friend’s adorably woeful expression after she completed Lorrie Moore’s A Gate At The Stairs. “Don’t even think about reading it. Don’t put yourself through what I did,” she said. This friend loved every other word Lorrie Moore had ever written. A “bad” novel feels, somehow, like a personal insult.
2. Some writers say that the minute you think of your audience you’ve stopped writing.
3. A few readers acted as if Ben Marcus had personally come to their home and punched them in the face when he published a story in The New Yorker that didn’t look much like their favorite Ben Marcus stories.
4 a. Other writers think you must consider the reader, that you owe those eyes something.
4 b. So there is a distinction between the “reader” and the “audience,” and the message would be, don’t consider the audience, but do consider the reader? Are we asking writers, then, to be in a more personal relationship with a faceless reader rather than be aware of what an audience, on average, might be expecting?
4 c. How does one make a bridge to those eyes moving across the page, the unspeaking mouth, the concentrated mind?
4 d. And can one consider the reader too much?
5 a. I once was at an author’s reading and there were questions at the end and a woman who had been sitting in the front row and staring hard at the author (I assumed it was some encouraging friend) asked a question that turned into a profuse and unyielding compliment that then turned to a love song that turned into an extended awkward moment while the woman asked the author, “How do you cope with it– telling stories so personal and touching people so directly?” Someone said she had a prozac quiver in her voice and I thought she was going to explode with tears.
5 b. The author just said he doesn’t, that it wasn’t his problem. He puts it out there and you turn it into whatever you want.
+ Wednesday night I found myself standing in a ballroom on Wall Street in line for coat check beside a librarian who was wearing a button that said “Tax The Rich.” Ignoring her button, you’d think we were the rich (and, in a way, just being invited to pretend to be rich for a night is a kind of wealth) but this was after-party for the National Book Awards and the opulent and gigantic room was filled with writers, publishing folk, and journalists. Many people in the room were a part of the Occupy Writers movement, had participated in the protests or had at least covered them.
+ As I walked up to the massive, castle-fortress at 55 Wall Street, I could not unlatch it from the image of the smug, clueless champagne sippers. I know that that those people did not have fangs and yellow eyes but in my memory they have fangs and yellow eyes. Now I was standing here, dressed up in a way I am not often dressed and standing among rented tuxes. I felt out of place, but all the friends I saw at the after-party felt similarly out-of-place, so our cumulative out-of-placeness, in a way, placed us.