Thursday, June 30, 2011
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
When I sent you my essay for the special issue on “play,” I entered into a good faith relationship with Fugue and its editors: I sent the previously unpublished piece to you on time, without errors, ready to receive any editorial comments offered, and I assumed that your editorial process would proceed as expected. In other words, in any editorial relationship I’ve known, an editor, at the most basic level, solicits and accepts work, organizes it, and attends to proofs and correspondence. What I received from Fugue, instead, was unprecedented tampering in the form of added “footnotes” representing another author’s work embedded in mine. It’s clear, from speaking with other authors whose work was similarly treated, that none of us were consulted.
You sent no proofs, did not let me know about the plan for Michael Martone’s essay (to publish it in fragments, as footnotes inserted into others’ work) and thus I had no chance to express whether I was comfortable with this arrangement. Had I known about it, I absolutely would have declined. “Seeding” another’s work in mine without prior approval is an absolute breach of the assumed writer-editor relationship; embedding another’s work in mine is a form of colonization: using a thing for your own purposes. Most egregious is this: you’ve made the experience of reading my essay into the form of reading I fight against (in the classroom and as a writer and thinker) and hate most: the distracted skimming that constitutes so much of our daily reading life. The footnotes distract, pitch a reader out of the moment as I’ve constructed it, mimic the internet’s incessant pop ups or CNN’s running news tape, refer to another writer’s work (or to his project which then intercepts mine – much like someone taking a cell phone call in the middle of a live conversation), and thoroughly messes with both the boundaries of my piece and the reader’s experience of my piece.I could say a lot about her overwrought use of the extremely loaded term "colonization," which strikes me as a massive overreaction, but I would probably say something impolite. We'll stick to the point: not only does this author feel entitled to protection from the words of others, she clearly needs to be protected from the world as a whole. It's not enough that they publish her work, Fugue has to avoid even symbolic acknowledgment of all the forces that will inevitably interfere with it on some level: she's already upset that you might accidentally hear someone else say something or see an image while you're supposed to be devoting yourself to her words, and this is just making that insecurity that much worse.
This letter was especially interesting to me because we are finally going to have the money to start printing Uncanny Valley, and I am thinking about how to design it, and every now and then I have a pretty radical idea about how to present a given contributor's text, and I wonder if they would be okay with that. But, to be honest, I don't plan to ask their permission, exactly: I plan to send them galleys, and to give them a chance to object, but I sure hope they won't be as childish about it as is Purpura about it. As an editor, I expect a lot of deference when it comes to deciding how to package and present my authors' work.
For instance, if I think a certain font is best for a story, and I make the story that font, I will think it is pretty stupid for the author to say, "Dude, I am pissed about that font. Put it back in Times New Roman." If I want a certain piece to have different margins than the others, I want to be able to do that. And if I want an illustration in there and I go to the trouble of finding or buying or making the illustration and putting it in, I hope the author will be wise enough to shut up and accept the illustration, even if he or she doesn't like it that much.
It is widely accepted that editors can and will change our writing in a number of rather important ways. We don't usually put two different writers' words on the same page, and we definitely don't link them with the visual device of a footnote very often, but we do arrange them in a sequence, and surely this sequence changes the words, and yet if say Tim Dicks tells me that he doesn't want his story after Brian Oliu's but he is still okay with it coming before Roxane Gay's, I will drive to his home and throttle him. These sorts of changes are so common as to be essentially invisible, so common that we would likely perceive any author's objections as illegitimate. So it can't be that editors are not allowed to change the text: they already do.
I have a rule when I decide to work with a magazine: any changes they suggest, I will do my absolute best to accomodate. If I can take their edit exactly as they provide it, I will do so. If I can't stand the edit, I will do my best to provide an alternative designed to accomplish the same goal. I do this because I believe that trusting editors improves writing. I do it because if I trust them enough to design the container for my text, I should trust them with the text itself. I do it because I wouldn't publish with someone if I didn't want them to change my writing, to make it better. If it were already perfect in its little Word document, I would leave it there. I publish a piece because it is not perfect, because it needs to be improved, because I think the process of publication will improve it.
This suggests a very active role for the publisher, a role I think few publishers take as seriously as they should. Generally speaking, editors do approach the process much as Purpura would have them: they interfere with the text as little as possible, essentially paste in the Word doc, maybe correct the spelling, and call it a day. This is not a very interesting or rewarding interaction.
Again, Purpura's argument should probably be stronger. This is more interference than you could call strictly normal, and the fact that she was never shown galleys or otherwise consulted makes Fugue's decisions more questionable. I can't see the essay to know for sure, but my sense is that the footnotes are probably clearly not hers (after all, they appear throughout the magazine, that seems like a strong clue). But I can absolutely understand that she might not see it that way, and I want to empathize. But it's just so hard to agree with someone who writes paragraphs like these:
I would ask that your reprint this letter, which is even more important to me than having my essay reprinted with corrections, though that, too, would be an appropriate response.
Most importantly, I request that you review your editorial ethics and consider ways of asserting substance over surface, depths over gimmicks, and that you let your readers know, in an open letter, that you understand the problem you created and that you pledge to behave more responsibly in the future.The tone here rather grates, doesn't it.
I don't know. Ultimately whether Fugue was right or wrong isn't that important to me. The principle here is this: If you don't want your work changed, why do you publish with other people? If you need total control, why not self-publish?
I publish to have my work changed, improved, handled by others. I want their stink on it. I want their buy-in. I want whatever they can bring. I'm sort of mystified by people who don't feel the same, I'll admit.
Monday, June 27, 2011
After they found the metal boots but before the dirt clod, Joshua’s father bought graph paper at Wal-Mart. Unfurled and pinned up on the wall where his mother’s family pictures had once hung, it stood six feet tall by seven feet wide. The paper was hung in three rows, each printed with thousands of small gray squares. If Joshua crossed his eyes the squares seemed to rise from the page. “It’s time we started a map,” said his father. “Or we’ll never finish this game.”Having read the story, Dave Wells (friend of Tim Dicks, twitterpal of mine, artist) took an interest in the story. Some time later, he made some Legend of Silence art -- a total of four pieces. The first three were screenshots. You can go to Dave's DeviantArt account to see more of his art; recently he's been doing a 30 Days of Creativity project, which was part of the impetus for his Legend of Silence screenshots.
There's a lot of detail in these, and you can tell that Dave paid close attention to his sources -- both my story and the games on which he based his sprites. Here is the first he posted:
Dave's description: "The beginning of Legend of Silence, when you must relinquish your crown and begin your quest. Press B to drop your crown."
Which leads me to...
Friday, June 24, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
I've been meaning to write something here for a while, but the part of my brain that forms coherent through-lines is gone ahead of me, on the road to Minneapolis, while I am still here in Orlando, wading through an apartment of boxed books and bagged clothes and, this morning, cat vomit. Instead of putting up one coherent post, then, I offer you a five-pack of personal essays:
1) I have found the unemployed life strange. I expected that I would get up early, drink coffee, write, write, write, but really I've spent my time looking for work, packing up the apartment, listening to podcasts, and playing Intendo. Intendo was what my Sunday School teacher called video games, when I had a Sunday School teacher. This was a long time ago. He was a middle-aged farmer, and spoke with a proud drawl, and was plump and jolly and pleasant, and I thought his pronunciation was a playful take on the NES's actual brand name, but then one day he asked my class: What do you get if you take the last o off Intendo? He was very serious. He said, You get intend. I can't be sure about this, but I think he then blew his nose.
I later dreamt that the stovepipe running through my bedroom in my parents' house sprung a leak and his head appeared in the hole, and expanded, like a malevolent balloon.
2) The most frustrating thing I have packed here is books. I thought I had a small collection but there is a jagged mountain of beer boxes and furniture boxes and crates in my living room, many filled with books that I either have never read or will never read again. I can't bring myself to sell them to some discount shop, or to recycle them, for fear that I will want them someday. Yet they are so heavy, and eat so much space. How do people travel with these things? Do you have advice? Do you have horror stories?
3) I decided a while ago that it was banal to tweet or blog about the strange search strings that bring people to my blog, because a lot of people tweet and blog about the strange search strings that bring people to their blogs, but then I realized that so many people do this because the search strings are so very strange, so surreal.
I feel that my blog receives a lot of strange search strings, probably because of all the short fiction on it. Recently someone found my blog looking for "moonshot exercise," which is not weird, really, but which did make me wonder: Can such an exercise exist? It sounds like a painful thing, or difficult, as in, "That one's a moonshot. That one, you go for the deep bend and you maybe snap a tendon."
The most popular search string used to find my blog is "cockroach bite."
4) A few days ago I read Benjamin Percy's The Wilding. I solicited Percy for Flyway, Iowa State's small lit journal, when I was the fiction editor, and he started teaching at Iowa State just after I left, and I've been on the watch for his work since then. This novel is somehow his first fiction I've read. I found it tight and evocative, and surprising. Several times in the first forty pages I thought, This setup is kind of obvious, and then later realized that the obvious setup was a misdirection. The book surprised me through to the end. It is about male representatives of three generations of a family who embark on a camping trip to a favorite wilderness that will soon be smoothed into a golf course. Along the way they infuriate locals and each other and maybe a bear. There is another man who wears a suit made of animal skins, and a woman who is a devoted runner and a veteran of owl invasions. I put the book down a few times but then kept walking past the red cover and couldn't resist picking it up to find out what was going on inside.
5) Next I plan to read a Denis Johnson story. Have you seen the film adaptation of Johnson's short story collection? It is pretty good. It is mostly useless, I think, to compare adaptations to originals, but viewed alone the movie was entertaining, and sad in the way the book is sad. If it's missing anything, it's the central character's weirdness. He is more tragic in the movie, in a more relatable way. He is also pretty, of course, and the people in his life are pretty. He also drives around with Jack Black.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
|This is a pacazo, I guess.|
Around the fountain there is a ring of small plants covered with tiny gold flowers and Mariángel bends, pulls one out by the roots. She shows it to us and I nod. She bends again, pulls out another. I should tell her to stop. We sit and wait and stare. She pulls out a third. I will crush the joints of his fingers first.
Monday, June 13, 2011
As much as one might hate e-books (and trust me, I’ve in no way incorporated this part of the digital “revolution” into my reading habits), it’s become impossible to ignore. It may be overstating things a bit, but if your book isn’t available as an e-book, it basically doesn’t exist. This is sad; this is true. For many, publishing e-books is simply a foregone conclusion.
But what’s really at the top of the e-book best-seller lists? As of this very moment (10:10 pm on Wednesday, June 8th), here are the top five and their prices: A Little Death in Dixie by Lisa Turner, $0.99; My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler, $1.99; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, $5.00; Summer Secrets by Barbara Freethy, $4.99; and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, $9.99.
So aside from The Help, which is the 9th bestselling book in paperback, the top five are all $5 or less. And aside from The Help, none of these books are in the top 10 for Literary Fiction paperback sales. So what does this mean?