July 17th, 2011 / 6:20 pm

Seven Things For Sunday

You must read the first ten pages of Kyle Minor’s The Sexual Lives of Missionaries, which is up at Guernica.

Michelle Dean wrote a great essay, What Harry Potter Knows, for The Millions.

Wendy Wimmer does some analysis of Best American Short Stories and where those stories come from. Others have done similar breakdowns but it is worth reading. Over half of the stories over the timeframe she studied come from the same twelve journals. I’m not surprised.

There is a drawing for every page of Moby Dick.

Patsola Press is doing a Kickstarter.

Do we focus too much on plot?

Harper’s has six questions for Colson Whitehead. I only have one. You might also enjoy this interview with John Freeman.

Tags: , ,


  1. bobby

      Wimmer was like a fun math church. 

      “Also, it’s not like what I’m revealing is KFC’s eleven secret herbs and spices or anything.” haha

  2. Marian May Kaufman

      Loved the Wimmer article as well. I’m reading the BASS 2010 right now so this was very interesting. 

  3. MFBomb

      “Did you notice that over half of the BASS stories come from just 12 journals? Yup, 356 stories from the same twelve publications. Apparently those BASS editors love them some New Yorker, Tin
      House, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, One Story, The Paris Review, Glimmer
      Train, Virginia Quarterly Review, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s,
      McSweeney’s and Conjunctions. And who can blame them, but wow… half? HALF?”


      I said the same a while ago, on this site, in a comment thread. It’s amazing that more people don’t question BASS’s practices.  How many new or emerging writers w/out a nice book deal on the horizon have a realistic shot of cracking most of these markets?

  4. MFBomb

      They should rename it, “BASSFTS: Best American Short Stories From The Slicks.”

      Do we really need to read another Alice Munro New Yorker story?

  5. deadgod

      You know, there are a lot of fantastic publications out there.  HTML Giant.  […]  Aren’t they publishing even one piece of BASS-worthy fiction?


  6. Don

      At the same time, I try to read a lot of smaller scale lit journals and stuff, but the writing in the big ones is almost always better.  Of that list, I subscribe to Harper’s, Paris Review, New Yorker, and McSweeney’s, and they’re just better than everyone else (with exceptions, like the Three Penny Review, which is so so so good all the time but rarely mentioned anywhere or the Review of Contemporary Fiction, which in terms of quality writing is the best of all, despite the lack of hip exterior).

      Cake Train, Pank, online lit mags, Crazy-ass Zine Nobody’s Heard of Yet, etcetera are great, but… I dunno, inconsistent?  Or maybe publishing stuff that’s weird and cool but not really The Best.  Maybe that’s what’s cool about them?

  7. MFBomb

      You left out a lot in the middle and quite a jump down in tiers (no offense at all to the journals in your second paragraph, esp. Pank–haven’t read Cake Train).

      Something’s wrong when stories from places like AQR, Nimrod, and American Fiction rarely make BASS, compared to The Big Twelve.

  8. MFBomb

      Something else worth mentioning: The Big 12 tends to be represented by journals that go to press more often than journals with smaller budgets.  Seems sort of unfair–the journals with the most money and resources dominate the anthology year in and year out. These journals–with their resources–are also able to solicit big name writers on a regular basis.

  9. Tummler

      Are those two question marks by any chance directed toward me, the guy whose short fiction WAS REJECTED BY HTMLG SEVERAL MONTHS AGO??????????????????

  10. Tummler

      Are those two question marks by any chance directed toward me, the guy whose short fiction WAS REJECTED BY HTMLG SEVERAL MONTHS AGO??????????????????

  11. Mittens

      RE the Best American Short Stories – I know it’s called “Best American Short Stories” so maybe there’s a promise there, that what is held within its covers really are the BEST short stories in America, but I don’t think anybody really believes this, right? I often like the Best American series, but I never think, whoa, what I am holding in my hands are, objectively, the best stories in America.

      Also,  RE this: “Do we really need to read another Alice Munro New Yorker story?”

      The answer is obviously no, nobody needs to read another Alice Munro story, but I don’t think I really need to read another story by anybody, nor do I feel compelled to read an Alice Monro story when it appears in the New Yorker — meaning, the presence of a story in the New Yorker does not make me feel the need to read it (although, Alice Munro has written some great stories.) I think it would be equally valid to say “Do we really need another issue of Caketrain (or New England Review, or whatever journal” and the answer would still be “no”.

  12. Nathan Huffstutter

      When you say the “first ten pages” of Kyle Minor’s novel, does that mean the first ten pages made available for interested readers, or are these literally pages 1-10 of the book? I read the excerpt assuming the latter and was somewhat confounded, as the opening sentence places the character in a very specific time and place, laboring at a very specific action, but that time and place is abandoned midway through the second sentence and the subsequent narrative never syncs back to this opening action. I read the excerpt a second time, assuming it might be a taken from a mid-chapter in the novel, and came away with an entirely different read.

  13. Roxane

      I’m not sure. I was under the impression that they are both the first pages anyone has seen and also the first ten pages of the book. 

  14. Guest

      This always the problem with novel excerpts. You see it all the time in the new yorker. There isnt context so you aren’t sure how to read it. There seems to be a framing device in this one that we dont have enough pages to get back to.

  15. Zachgerman

      eat a dick.

  16. MFBomb

      No, I don’t think writers and devoted readers of literary fiction believe that BASS or any anthology is an “objective collection of the best stories in America,” or that it would even be possible to quantify “quality” in such a manner.

      However, the book is one of the few contemporary short story anthologies available in all bookstores. Like it or not, it’s the vanguard of the American Short Story and most often cited as a reference point for the medium’s contemporary state. It’s influence in shaping perceptions on the form is undeniable. Even many of the discussion we have here that are critical of certain aesthetics–here on this niche website–reflect back on the kind of work typically published in BASS (“psychological realism”). So, I think it’s somewhat insincere to pretend like BASS is just another anthology–it’s clearly not. Now, BASS can do whatever it wants, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to criticize BASS–the premier literary anthology in the US–for a perceived lack of diversity (not just in journals, but in gender, race, class, and aesthetics).

      Something else that’s odd about BASS: despite using different guest editors every year, half or more of the stories come from the same few journals, which begs the question–how many journals do the screeners actually read? Do stories from lower or mid-tiered journals even have a chance to get selected by Stephen King or Amy Hempel, or are they usually weeded out by the same group of people every year, despite the revolving guest editor policy?

      As for your last point, I think I’ve already answered that by expressing my desire for more diversity.  Obviously, no one “has to read anything,” but a) I don’t need to be reminded of what I don’t have to read and b) the “you-can-just-turn-the-channel” argument is sort of a strawman.

  17. MFBomb

      *Its influence in shaping perceptions on the form is undeniable. Even
      many of the discussions we have here that are critical of certain
      aesthetics–here on this niche website–reflect back on the kind of work
      typically published in BASS (“psychological realism”).

  18. MFBomb

      In other words, “do we need to read another Munro New Yorker Story?” was a rhetorical question.

  19. Anonymous

      well, we know all about consistency and hobgoblins. but yeah, maybe that is what makes them cool. perhaps what’s good about the best little mags is that they are closer to a process oriented mode, that, like writers themselves, they are discovering as they go along, walking out on various limbs, thus leading to inconsistency. but that’s a different kind of pleasure, seems, than the guaranteed product from the NYer.

  20. Morning Bites: DeLillo’s “Underworld,” 10 pages of Minor, Zola Jesus, and more | Vol. 1 Brooklyn

      […] The first ten pages of Kyle Minor’s forthcoming book, The Sexual Lives of Missionaries, are available at Guernica.  (Via HTML Giant) […]

  21. Lincoln Michel

      I don’t like what BASS publishes most of the time, and I agree that having half your stories come from 12 journals shows how narrow their tastes are. 
      But to your specific question… I think One Story, Glimmer Train, Tin House, Ploughshares, McSweeney’s and Conjunctions all publish a good amount of new writers without book deals. 

      ETA: That’s not to say the new emerging voices will be picked by BASS even if they ARE published in those journals though.

  22. Ted Genoways

      For what it’s worth… VQR publishes a lot of “emerging writers w/out a nice book deal.” Maggie Shipstead (whose story “The Cowboy Tango” was reprinted in BASS 2010) had published one previous story (in Mississippi Review). William Malatinsky (whose short story “Uzon” was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction) had published one previous story (in Stringtown). Leslie Parry (whose story “The Vanishing American” was reprinted in O.
      Henry Prize Stories 2011) was entirely unpublished before appearing in
      VQR. It’s definitely hard to crack a market like VQR, in terms of the sheer numbers. Personally, I take a lot more pleasure from finding a new writer and encouraging that career earlier than I do from publishing an established writer. I think most editors would agree. Your reputation as an editor is ultimately staked on who you discover and foster.

  23. MFBomb

      You’re right–I was thinking too narrowly there (New Yorker, Atlantic, Paris Review). Journals like Conjunctions, VQR, Glimmer Train, and McSweeney’s can be cracked by writers w/ out books or forthcoming book deals.

  24. Dawn.

      I wasn’t surprised by Wimmer’s findings either. I always got the impression that BASS wasn’t much interested in culling stories from small and/or more unknown publications, but it was still a very organized and appreciate analysis. It sucks, of course, but I’m not sure how this situation can be improved.

      The Sexual Lives of Missionaries excerpt was fucking fabulous. I loved In the Devil’s Territory so I am very excited about this book.

      Michelle Dean’s Harry Potter essay was a great read. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Enrico Palazzo

      I don’t know about that. I dropped my Harper’s subscription because I didn’t think the work in there was particularly good, even coming from established writers. And I recently read an issue of Glimmer Train that, in spite of their rep, didn’t impress me at all. To me, BASS is like the Academy Awards, 5 pics nominated that are supposedly the best, but only 1 or 2 endure, while over time pictures that were ignored that year show themselves to be more innovative and influential. For me, I prefer the Best American Nonrequired Reading.

  26. deadgod

      I see, on the “About” page, that one – anyone – can “Submit to HTMLGIANT”.  – but, reading almost every blogicle, I haven’t seen items that (I thought, anyway) were “short fiction” (except what’s been commented – usually by invitation for contests – in these threads).  Is there another “HTML Giant” that publishes stories, flash, etc. that Wimmer could have been referring to??

      These two question marks could be directed generally, or they could be taken as All About You question marks, as all question marks can be taken and many question marks are taken by me or ‘me’ or me.

  27. deadgod

      It’s a fair rhetorical question:  most people who’d take a chance on The New Yorker already know what to expect from it and probably from a Munro story, too, and the magazine privileges a kind of story (Munrovian) that’s only one kind of literature; ought a platform for ‘some of the “best” American stories’ to be so emphatically NewYorkercentric? 

      Mittens is just rhetorically answering your rhetorical question with what you’ve now said in reply to her/him:  “a) I don’t need to be reminded of what I don’t have to read”.  Perhaps, as with attacking a straw man, Mittens is just diverted/ing from the point you and others are raising:  are there – or not – other kinds of literary ambition and achievement than BASS (in this case) celebrates?

  28. wendywimmer

      No, it was just a mistake on my part. 

  29. Blake Butler


  30. deadgod

      I think that’s a great point:  the stories celebrated by prize-doling authorities seem to be product-oriented – well-wrought urns – , and provocations of the process itself of reading (and of institutions of legibility, literature, and so on) seem almost a priori to be excluded from even being evaluated as to their ‘quality’.

      It was asked during the “What is Experimental Writing?” series:  how does one evaluate the achievement – the success – of writing that doesn’t, what, respect or even recognize evaluative criteria like “polish” and “completeness”?

  31. John Minichillo

      Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick illustrations are the shit. A book of the whole series is going to be released by Tin House in October, their first art book, and it looks like it’s going to be pretty amazing.

      I contacted Matt, because of my own Moby-Dick inspired book, The Snow Whale, and he has been working on images for The Snow Whale when he can scrape up the time. So far he has sent me six illustrations based on passages from my book, and we’ve been shopping them around to journals for cross-promotion. There has been interest, so they should appear in a few magazines in time.

      Matt Kish is also working on an illustrated Heart of Darkness, with one illustration up at his FB artist page that looks pretty incredible.


      Having your written work paired with art is a fantastic experience and I’m lucky he liked my book.

      Check back to his Spudd 64 website and blog and he’ll probably post more soon.


      There’s also a great interview of him that ran at HuffingtonPost:


      (He said he was surprised they left in all the f-bombs and that he was misquoted: he doesn’t believe ALL artists are assholes, just a fair percentage of them).

  32. Darby Larson

      i always prefer listening to readers talk about BASS instead of writers

  33. Don

      Hey John, your novel is great!  We reviewed it this month.

  34. John Minichillo

      Thank you.

      Yes, I saw that. Was flattered I made your list. Hey, Small Press! is a champion.

      Yours was my first review, and phew, what a relief!

  35. Rjhutzler

      I just want to know what your one question for Colson Whitehead is….