Green Hills Literary Lantern

Delivering Content

  

This is the way everyone will read stories eventually, off of glowing screens in the dark, bits of binary code massaging eyeballs and brains. I suppose the screen offers its charm for some readers in a way similar to how the cover of a new paperback or a near-mint hardback from a secondhand store sometimes does for me. And despite my ambivalence about publishing on the internet, a phone call from a certain editor on a Tuesday afternoon can shift my perspective. There’s no epiphany in this tale, no coming-of-age moment, no psychodrama. She simply says, “Though your story is too long for the journal, we’d like to publish it as a stand-alone piece, an e-text.”

My struggles to place stories—not just in the journals and magazines, like this one, listed in the back of Best American and O. Henry, but anywhere—have been such a part of my life for so long that there’s something scary about a phone call from an editor at one of these respected journals. Although I imagined that whatever home my story found, I would be able to hold it in my hand, to touch it where it finally landed, there are not a lot of answers I can give to an admired editor from an admired journal (though I’ve only ever really known this publication in hard copy, its name instantly recognizable to me as it would be to most writers who care about stories). “Thank you, I’d be honored, yes,” I say to her. It would be less than honest to imply that I was anything but thrilled to be published by the journal, hard copy or not. I have loved it since my first AWP (beautiful hipster poets and writers floating like butterflies around its book fair table to browse and flirt and become couples for four days), loved it since I read my first taste of the moving and bitingly funny words of a future grad school mentor in its pages.

All right, maybe all this enthusiasm is overdone, a bit unconvincing to my reader—the reader now, reading this story. It would be more honest to admit that I was even more excited when the same editor wrote me six months later to say that she was republishing my story—along with others from the stand-alone e-series—in paperback. What is it about paper, is it a fetish? Ludditism? Sentimentality? Dunno. Age has something to do with it (my father even going so far as to print up my e-stories in order to read them in hard copy). But writers want to be read even more than they want to be paid (though they wouldn’t mind that too) and if paper outlets dwindle (even as more MFA programs, along with more credentialed writers, appear each year), and if readers really are reading stories on little screens, then I have to try to get my stories on those screens too.

I discovered the internet by accident. Well, I knew it existed, or “existed,” but I didn’t know it had anything to do with my writing, except maybe as a wiki-font of information and a time-waster. I am flipping through the back pages of a Pushcart anthology looking for places to send my work (this is a couple years before the editor at the respected journal calls me at home). It’s summertime and all, or nearly all, of my favorite journals have gone into hibernation or gone to the beach or anyway they’re not accepting fiction, at least not from me. In the back of that paperback book, I discover the listing for an L.A. litzine and then “visit” its electronic home, background of red and green, font in stark black Arial, and figure, Why not? My story is short enough to squeeze under their word requirement (I’ve been writing briefer and briefer stories, knowing—from my own tenure as a slush pile reader at a paper journal—that the “real estate” of each issue is in high demand, that each issue has to have a certain number of “names,” and possibly people who have published the editor in their journals although it’s impolite and impolitic to make such statements even in murmurs). In an amazingly brief period of time, the editor is back with me (via email, of course; I will spend less and less on postage in the coming years) with a Yes, we’d like to publish it, it will come out in a month or two. When it comes out, there are no surprises, no sudden dip in production quality or weird misprints, and anyone can read my story for free. The one time an e-editor makes an error on one of my stories, I send a quick email and the apology and correction is made within a couple hours. The one time a journal misspells my name it is in paper. That misspelling may last longer than I do.

Someone, I forget who, turns me on to Duotrope. Man, if only the writers who lament the future of the story and mourn the passing of this or that grand dame literary review in their introductions to anthologies or literary section op-eds spent some time browsing the forty-six hundred-plus publications listed on Duotrope, they might feel a little less depressed. The bookish youths of today (and some oldsters too) have discovered other, cheaper—sometimes more beautiful—ways of “delivering content” to the reading public, in fact, perhaps they’re even helping to create a reading public.

None of us have much say in what “literature” will look like in ten years. But in the present tense my wife says, “I like that new story,” scrolling, caressing the screen of her tablet, the cat sitting next to her on the couch where she’s perched in a shaft of sunlight. I smile, sitting next to her—the opposite side from the cat—and she presses a button and my story briefly disappears.

 

 

 

John Duncan Talbird’s fiction has recently appeared online in such venues as Ploughshares’ Solos, Rusty Toque, and Digital Americana among others. In paper, his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in South Carolina Review, New Walk, Amoskeag and elsewhere. An English professor at Queensborough Community College, he has held writing residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He is on the editorial board of GHLL and a frequent contributor to Quarterly Review of Film and Video. He lives in Brooklyn.