>I’ve tried to do this for myself, creating a list of literary journals and then ranking them by various criteria–payment, circulation, reputation–and then putting them in rank order and drawing lines between distinct tiers. The process is tedious, and flawed, since assigning the values for reputation, especially, is necessarily subjective and if the process is tainted by that subjectivity, what’s the point of tiering in the first place? But there is a point in having a submission strategy. When I first started sending out stories, through Writer’s Relief, I used a vertical approach: stories went to a variety of publications, some small and no-pay, some big and good-pay, without regard for what I would do if a little magazine responded before, say, Paris Review (as if my chances there were as good as anywhere else!). But now I take a more rationale tiered approach. I may aim higher than is reasonable, and submit in the first instance only to the top magazines, but at least there are no quandries if something is accepted. Um, big if. But then you move down the list and submit to the second tier and so on. Again, though, building such a list is not easy.
Fortunately, someone (Mary Anne Mohanraj) did it for us: Literary Markets. The list isn’t complete, although I’ve noticed it growing, and there are some errors (I sent the creator a couple of corrections this morning and will continue to do that when I spot them), but it sure beats doing it myself.
>The current issue of Fugue contains an interesting interview with Margot Livesey.
ML: “I aspire to write every day. In my ideal life I write every day from about eight a.m. to two p.m., which, of course, doesn’t mean I really do that but that I’m present at my desk. I’m resisting the outside world, and if I read anythinge else, it will be something like the dictionary or a poem–not a novel or a story, not something that takes me that far away. In my actual life, my time is much more interrupted than that. So I have gotten more patient with trying to learn to write later in the day and in much less ideal conditions than I used to. When I was younger the only thing that supported me in my writing was my habits. No one cared if I wrote another story or whatever, so the routines were dreadfully important. Now that I have more support in my work, I think it’s easier for me to be more flexible.”
No one cared if I wrote another story, so the routines were dreadfully important.
>Arthur Miller was a giant. Sitting on my desk, under an enormous paper weight, is his story Beavers, torn from the current (February 2005) issue of Harper’s. It didn’t strike me as a timeless story when I read it, but I liked it because it is, nominally, about a man who feels guilty for having to kill the beavers who are threatening to devastate a wooded slope. It struck me because I have from time to time had the same problem, and felt bad about killing the beavers. But what are the options.
But of course that isn’t really what the story is about.
“Or was it all much simpler: did he simply wake one morning and with infinite pleasure start swimming through the clear water when, quite by chance, he heard the trickling of the overflow and, steering himself over to it, was filled with desire to capture the lovely wet sound, for he adored water above all things and wished somehow to become part of it, if only by capturing its tinkle? And the rest, as it turned out, was unforeseen death. He had not believed in his death. The shots fired into the water had not caused him to flee but merely to dive and surface again a couple of minutes later. He was young and immortal to himself.”
by Wang Wei
The pristine mountain has not seen man,
Has only heard the sound of his voice;
Return to nature and enter the deep forest,
The answer is reflected on the green moss.
translation by Clifford Garstang
>I hesitate to post, if only because I like the picture of Grace & Bob so much and don’t want to move it down the page. But time marches on.
My post awhile back about the Christian Taliban prompted an exchange that is ongoing, from an offended reader. It isn’t my intention to make this forum a permanent soapbox, though, so I won’t try to defend my earlier words–which I thought pretty much said everything I needed to say on the subject. But it turns out, and this is the real reason for today’s post, that I was not the first to use the term. Here is an interesting article on America’s Christian Taliban.
Grace Paley & Bob Nichols
–photograph by Marion Lewis, Tepoztlan, Mexico, January 2005
>Bob Nichols is the husband of Grace Paley. He is a wonderfully funny man who also is a writer. During my recent workshop with Grace, Bob attended several of the sessions. On one occasion, we were critiquing a fantastic story by one of the participants, in which a character’s life course is changed by an incident that struck me as being similar to something that happened to Bruce Wayne, who channeled his trauma into becoming Batman. Bob was fascinated by my comment and pulled me aside later wanting more details, wanted to know how I knew this information, and what, by the way, was Superman’s origin?
At one of our readings, Bob read from his quirky story “The Secret Radio Station,” the lead story in In the Air.
“In our town there is a secret radio station.
“Why secret? Everyone knows about it. It’s evangelical.”
Its secret is that it is beamed only toward our town. (The station can’t be located.) But it isn’t heard anywhere else.
The secret is in its place, not in its message. Still, the message is given in an unknown language. Words, a vocabulary that we don’t share. Therefore one can say what is broadcase is secret.
At the same time everyone knows what the message of the radio station is: simply a picture of the way the town was in the past and the way it can be.
Still, the language itself, the medium in which the message is sent out, is not understood. It’s difficult to say how everyone knows the message. And there are some that deny this really is the message. It could be a commercial message of some kind, one just designed to sell products. There are intervals, definite breaks in the continuous flow of the unknown language–this could be commercials. Though of course we can’t be sure of it.”
>I travel overseas often, mostly to Asia but in 2004 also to Central America and Europe. Not since the 70’s, when I first went abroad and America was still struggling to recover its Vietnam-tarnished reputation, have I actually been embarrassed to be an American. The illegal, immoral, arrogant war in Iraq is bad enough, but the election–I’ve been overseas three time since early November–is even harder to explain. How is it possible that we have a lying President, a corrupt Vice President, a war-mongering Secretary of State and a torture-endorsing Attorney General, not to mention various other environment-destroying, impoverished-trodding and corporate-asskissing high officials? How did this happen?
>I’ve been working on yet another revision to my novel. When it was my MFA thesis, it was described as “complex” and “ambitious,” and I failed to recognize the veiled criticism in these adjectives. I’m not ashamed to admit now that I wasn’t up to the challenge I’d set for myself, which is more or less the story of my life. But at the Sewanee Writers Conference in 2004 I got some sound advice from Richard Bausch: Divide and Conquer. My complex, ambitious novel had two separate timelines with overlapping characters, interwoven through 400 pages. No wonder the deluge of queries didn’t stir up any interest among agents. Too complex, too ambitious. (Which is not to say there weren’t other problems, but that’s a different story.)
Following Dick’s advice, the book is now two books. I have just finished unraveling the first strand, which was originally backstory for the second strand. But it didn’t quite stand on its own, I realized. What to do? At the gym this evening, on the treadmill, I realized that there are three new scenes I have to write to make this work. I know where they go, I know what’s going to happen, I know how to punch up the ending. I needed to write it down, so as not to forget it, as I did recently with a story I wrote in my sleep, but I had no pen. And as I stood at my locker, forcing myself to memorize what I’d come up, I looked down. There was a brown pen, dropped by a UPS guy. I picked it up. I’m ready to go.
[Book two, I think, will be easier, becuase it shouldn’t require much new material. I hope.]
>Except that (i) we have a President who is a fascist liar (for which reason I won’t be watching his speech this evening–what would be the point?); (ii) our environment is under attack by corporate raiders and global-warming disbelievers; (iii) the Christian Taliban/relgious right is growing in arrogance and strengh, insisting that alternatives don’t exist, and that there is only one way; (iv) human and civil rights are also under attack by the belligerant militarists, arm and arm with the evangelicals; (v) consumer protection laws are being dismantled by the corporate-controlled Republican regime; (vi) the so-called “tax reform,” which is nothing more than a scheme to shift the burden of financing government from the owners of capital to the consumers in the economy, i.e., the poor, is looking unstoppable, given the President’s unwillingness to listen to reason; (vii) despite the election in Iraq, which by no means means that democracy has taken root there, Americans continue to die there for this illegal and immoral war; and (viii) those who dissent are still spat upon as traitors who should “leave if they don’t like it,”–the country’s in pretty good shape.