Transcription by P.H. Higgins
Former People Talk Episode 1: For Issues 1-3
C. Derick Varn
Okay, so, welcome to Former People’s YouTube pod-slash-vodcast. I’m Derick Varn the co-editor of Former People, and I suppose we should introduce ourselves. I’ll let me co-editor introduce himself first.
Steven A. Michalkow
Hello everyone. My name Steven Michalkow, the other coeditor for Former People. Basically, Derick and I started it, what, a few months ago? Met under previous political shared histories, and shared interests in aesthetics, and decided fairly shortly therearound to introduce this journal and topic that we’re particularly interested in. And then by day, I’m a management consultant, but it’s not particularly interesting.
I’m a teacher and poet who lives in Mexico and who’s lived in various places like South Korea, the Southern US, and I edit … a lot of things, actually. I’m the managing editor for the North Star which is a political magazine. I am the sort of co-head blogger of Disloyal Loyal Opposition to Modernity, which is a culture blog tied to this project. I have been the managing editor of the Milkwood Review. I’ve been an assistant editor at Arts & Letters: A Journal of Contemporary Culture. And I’ve published poetry and interviews all over the place, and places like Unlikely Stories 2.0, [02:20-02:24 unintelligible], and etcetera. So that’s who we are, as boring as that might sound. Reading CVs is always painful, ever noticed that?
Well, yeah, exactly; and to a certain extent, I have perhaps something of a cold attitude towards my own personality. My personal narrative and background is only interesting to the effect which I think it’s applicable to what we do, and by-and-large I think of most of my past isn’t necessarily applicable to this. So why bother?
Fair enough. So, to get to the more interesting part: what is Former People, what is the project, and why are we doing this?
So do you want to start with that? Or do you want me to take a first stab?
You can take a first stab. I mean, we’ve talked about it a lot and the thing that our listeners don’t know is that in the last month I’ve appeared on a podcast, we’ve both appeared on a podcast, kind of explaining this. So we’ve had to actually kind of hash this out already.
Exactly, yes. And you can really look at it from a variety of perspectives if you really wanted to. But I’d say, y’know, starting with this whole idea of the very basic level: where does this whole concept of “former people” come from? So, it certainly has a sort of political background to it, but also, at least from my own perspective, a metaphorical background. And the political, historical background, depending on how familiar you are with the period of the Russian Revolution, the Civil War, and its aftermath; the “former people” is the, for lack of a better term, codeword used to describe, not only the aristocracy, but the remaining aristocracy of the Russian Empire after World War One, after the Red Civil War, and their children. Basically, this whole idea that this component of the former Russian Empire now sort of lingering on inside and arguably outside the Soviet Union would no longer have a place in the dialogue. They would no longer really be a part of this new epoch, of the Soviet World, admittedly… This idea that the period of history has changed, and it’s changed away from what the aristocracy represented and was. And at least in my mind, and Derick we can go back to you to get back more into the specific details of the history; but in my mind, I think of it more along the lines of the metaphorical reference to what you and I sort of have as our attitude towards modernism. I think, at least for my perspective, for a very long time, particularly the advent of postmodernism and whatever you want to call the certain context we live in now, at least from aesthetically speaking… modernism sort of represented something like that. There were… [it] kind of represents an old epoch that had its time, anxieties came about, certain questions and concerns about that point of view were raised, and we sort of moved on away from them. And I think where we’re at now, maybe from your perspective or my perspective we can think about this in a little more detail, but it seems that in the criticisms or concerns I would have of our contemporary setting I think back to some of the things that would’ve been raised from the time of the modernists. And so, particularly their point of view in how they would approach questions of aesthetics. But at the same time, I can’t, as it were, resituate myself back in their time. So, if anything, we have, y’know, a phrase I think we have some anxiety for, but there’s no other ideal choice to have: a concept of “neomodernism.” Which in my mind is sort of being influenced by the modernists and yet at the same time recognizing our own place and time and how we can’t necessarily be them. We can perhaps at best echo some of their past thoughts. Maybe that’s a little bit of rambling, but Derick why don’t you chime in with what you think?
Yeah, I sort of pick up “former people” as, more, y’know … also metaphorically, but more in the spirit of what they were. Which, mostly in the case of the Soviet Union they were the children of the aristocracy not the aristocracy themselves, and they tried to get by as normal people. As working-class people in the sense that they were rendered working-class. And that the system that was trying to eradicate them had claims to have answered questions that were not really answered. And I sort of feel that way about postmodernism and contemporary literary fiction, and I think they’re not the same, but I think their hybridity over time increases. I think postmodernism was a legitimate series of questions that came out of the concerns of high modernist aesthetics and the breaking down of certain ideas about distinction, and that these were legitimate questions. But over time those sorts of questions became very easily answered with flippant sort of answers that pretty much turn everything into pastiche and jokes and with a circular self-reference that doesn’t ever get outside of itself. I want to return to the older questions, y’know? In my reading of Russian history, the more interesting people, some of them are these former people, but some of them are also the losers in the great Bolshevik game, y’know, some of the Menshiviks, some of the more interesting Bolsheviks that are also liquidated. So, the metaphor isn’t really a perfect one, but it’s definitely about trying to deal with the questions that come up in a period of transition socially, and what that says aesthetically. And because we’re more concerned with questions than answers as far as what our aesthetic and philosophical criterion are, it sort of leads to having a very open-ended take on, y’know, what we’re calling neomodernism. Which is… neomodernism is a way of, y’know, it’s an awkward neologism in the way that postmodernism is, but it’s a way of saying “we’re returning to a set of questions, but we realize that we are not doing the same thing.” That doing the same thing would be essentially impossible now. There was no way that the aristocracy was coming back after, not even the Russian Revolution, but the first one. I mean the first Russian Revolution much less the second, the Red one. So, it’s the same sort of deal. And we’re also interested in the sort of liminal states or lines between different genres, different periods, different aesthetic choices. A lot of what we do will be based on just looking at things like: what is the relationship between, say, genre fiction and high avant-guarde fiction? What is the relationship between different kinds of modernism all over the world? Do they actually map out the same way? Can you actually compare the Chinese experience to, say, the Anglophone experience? And these aren’t concerns that are outside of postmodernism historically, but postmodernism just sort of collapses the distinctions down and posits those meta-narratives as arbitrary. And we’re sort of saying “no, they’re not arbitrary they’re just different,” and you kind of have to look at them in different ways. I mean, y’know, we can go into our influences in a second, but I think those are essentially interesting concerns. I think that may be a difference between you and I, Steven, is that we actually do have different answers to how we break down aesthetic differences and what’s going on in the world of literature right now. And I think… not to call you out or anything, but you are in a more pre-1980 world, so…
Well I’ve admitted that almost directly in certain discussions we’ve had. So, even though I wouldn’t necessarily say this is 100% the case, one example I have sometimes given is that I generally tend not to read authors who haven’t already been writing books or articles or what-have-you before 1980. And I think you’re right to point that out, but I don’t also necessarily think it’s the sum total of everything. But I think this is a good discussion, that you and I don’t necessarily have 100% agreement about what aesthetics means, but I think by and large you and I, at the end of the day, see a fair amount of things eye-to-eye and I think, perhaps, that’s another good reason as to why… I think if you were to ask us “well what are the aesthetic criterion of the journal?” or “do we have a specific theory?” I think you’ll find that we almost proactively don’t do that. And I think that even if we don’t do that, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what we put out, what we’re interested in, what we’ve produced, is incoherent.
No we’re not, we’re not saying that. I mean, the one thing we definitely aren’t interested is the pastiche of modernism. We’re not interested in recreating to it, we’re not even really interested in truly returning to it in the way of like … trying to bring about modernist literary movements. That would be foolish I think. Fundamentally foolish even. And so, what that leaves us with is trying to explore what we saw were the key distilled questions of the various authors that we’re interested in. Looking at how they play out in contemporary literature and what that says if there is a coherent set of movements there. Y’know, a lot of times there’s a sort of disjointed feel to what we do in the sense that… y’know, if you look at say the first two issues which have already been published, you will see for example a lot of found poetry, which is something that you and I are sort of both actually sort of ambivalent to, but the poems we got are interesting. A lot of sort of attempts at high modernism with slight political commentary. And then what a lot of people would read as experimental genre fiction such as Joe Pulver’s work which we published, as well as Douglas Lain’s work. Both of which flirt with various genres. Pulver with weird fiction and horror fiction and Lain with science fiction and sort of bizarro-fantasy, but neither entirely encapsulates that because they also use literary elements that would be considered explicitly modernist: references to music, stream-of-consciousness, breakdowns, metafictive techniques, etc., that you don’t normally associate with most genre fiction. Although, I’m increasingly finding if you read good genre fiction it’s there already, it’s just not often discussed outside of those circles. But we’re also interested in more straight-ahead traditional literary fiction that does not automatically jump to what we can see as the kind of aesthetic judgement that you see in the New Yorker. Which is sort of like wry, almost postmodern realism with the attitude of postmodernism but the style of Hemingway, or of Amy Hempel, or of Lorrie Moore. And, y’know, I love all three of those authors, but people who are highly derivitive of that, there’s just a certain blandness of tone that comes from the fact that the questions they answer… well they’re really not questions! They’re not positing questions, they’re more interested in constructing really clear sentences sometimes, and being sort of self-referential. Which is painful. I mean, it’s painful to read I think, and it reflects a certain cultural myopia. Which I would almost say is particular to the United States, but y’know…
It’s interesting, I’m actually very glad you brought up this whole question of our interests somehow being in these sort of borderland authors and texts. And, y’know, we enjoy objects that come from genre fiction as much as we might enjoy something which would’ve come from the realm of, I guess you might call pure, high literature, academic literature, whatever you want to ultimately label it. And I think what’s an interesting phenomenon which, at least from my perspective, seems to be happening now is that I think what you and I may be most concerned about, is… I think… I’ve heard it described, you know… what’s the difference between, if you limit yourself just to genre fiction, what’s the difference between genre fiction that I would argue as good, or perhaps less agressively say that you and I like, versus just your run-of-the-mill genre text? And I think, you know, there has to be something to do with how you fetishize the genre itself. Are you interested in mostly fulfilling what the genre sort of demands of it? So, if you write, let’s say, a hardboiled detective story and you’re just interested in paying off on what the genre demands, you know you’re going to do three or four types of things. You’re going to have a Phillip Marlowe style detective, you’re going to have a sort of femme fatale type woman… X, Y, and Z. And I think what’s interesting now is even the quote-unquote “literary fiction” is in its own way a type of genre fiction in which the literature itself seems more focused on hitting the four or five things you have to do to make yourself literary fiction. And none of which seems to be, to the point you raised, raising interesting questions. You don’t necessarily answer the questions, but at least positing that the questions are important as opposed to… I think you described it as doing little more that fulfilling whatever basic sort of types of sentence constructions you’re looking for. And if you want to get into a little bit of the influences, I think one of the influence that you and I share who I think really drives at this point is J.G. Ballard. Ballard’s history definitely starts I think probably in an easily identifiable way in genre fiction, but even from his earliest books he is doing a lot more than just satisfying the genre. So, forgive me if I miss the titles ever so slightly, y’know The Crystal World or The Drowned World, nominally he had a whole series of Earth being destroyed in whatever number of different types of ways you can conceive. But these texts aren’t particularly just interested in fulfilling the requirements of the genre. He’s always doing more, to the point where you get to books like The Atrocity Exhibition, or Crash, or even his autobiography; he’s no longer really encapsulated in one specific space. And to me, and I, Derick I’ll give you a chance to chime in on this, that I think maybe in a sort of… by example is sort of what you and I are most often looking for these days, and what we hope maybe Former People is somewhat trying to provide a space for.
Yeah, I’m very interested in a lot of people actually of that generation of sci-fi writers who I think are very much in the aesthetic criterion that we’re looking at: Thomas Disch, who’s also a poet, who wrote many great sort of psychological stuff and novels in the 70s. Sam Delaney who’s a very good writer of color and of queerness in a way, but is also very disconcerting and sort of eschewing those simple identitarian concerns in hard sci-fi and being artistically motivated. I mean, when you read his work you realize, yeah, Alfred Bester and a lot of the old sci-fi guys are looming in the background, but also so is Nabokov and Gertrude Stein. There are… we live in an interesting time right now when there are some mainstream literary authors who would be very popular and critically successful who are interested in this. Y’know, the bigger ones would be like Paul Auster; Margaret Atwood, who I really respect; Michael Chabon. But, at least in the case of Chabon you still have a lot of that slight flippancy, or unwillingness to be entirely serious, and sometimes the celebration of genre there is almost as a way to sort of hollow-out the expectations. As opposed to, say, someone who’s writing weird fiction now like, say, Laird Barron or Nathan Balligrud, who in issue three I actually will be talking about in a long essay on three different collections of short stories, where they actually sort of use genre a just a way to explore themes of traditional tragedy, and of human helplessness, and of a world that seems very very inhuman. And… with a weight that you’re not really allowed in a lot of literary fiction to approach as anything other than satire. One of my favorite contemporary authors right now is George Saunders, who I think is brilliant, but I think his work is afflicted by the fact that to be sentimental, to be allowed to be sentimental, to be popular he must write really bitter satire. And he cannot let his tragedy linger he almost must play the laughing clown, because that is the role… I mean the laughing-crying clown… because that is the role that is acceptable in our current literary milieu that genre fiction writers actually don’t have to be as concerned about. Which, in a way, gives them some freedom that, when you’re ticking off the boxes on, you know, “what would be a good MFA acceptable short story?” and I say this as a person who has an MFA in poetry and really thinks I’ve benefited from it… you can’t do. Or you can’t do easily. And conversely, Former People exists because while there are certain established authors that get away with being so slipstream, you know, and while there are genres that sort of revel in it, there is actually no real place that seems to be willing to put all this together as a sort of collective project where we’re not trying to create another small micro-niche of literature. Like, I’m not trying to create the slipstream-weird-tale journal. I’m trying to put these things back into conversation with, say, avant-garde poetry. With scholars of modernism. With scholars of postmodernism. I mean, the one thing we haven’t talked about is, theoretically, we are open to scholarship at Former People. It’s part of our mission. We haven’t had a lot of submissions in there, but it’s part of the mission because our goal is to put all this back into conversation in a way that I think it really was in conversation in 1920 where you had the salons and you had these professors and writers and all that really in dialogue with each other. Because the University was not the kind of institution that could be so separate from the culture; ironically, given our opinion of early 20th century universities, is it actually was not the case. They were not funded the way they are now until after World War Two, and also there wasn’t the strong separation between popular and avant-garde artists. Again, we tend to think of that as not the case, but I think the separation that we see in that is almost the function of the way things are marketed, not a function of the way things are actually produced. So, y’know, the honest reader might like a really avant-garde writer like, say, David Markson or whoever, but would still enjoy, you know, a good short story even by someone as pedestrian as Stephen King. I am definitely that kind of person. Now, that’s not to say that I actually buy the whole collapse of high and low literature that one sees in postmodernism. Which, ironically, I don’t think the postmodernists really realized would sort of come out in this wash of midcult. To make a reference to that famous book, you know… “highcult, lowcult, midcult…”, I’m trying to remember the Marxist-turned-Liberal literary critic who wrote it. [Dwight Macdonald – ed.] It came out of a Partisan Review essay. It’s been republished by New Yorker Books I think. But anyway, you know what I’m talking about though?
So, I mean like, when you take someone who I think is more exemplary of the current literary zeitgeist like Dave Eggers; which is sort of like the everyman’s David Foster Wallace, which in being the everyman’s David Foster Wallace takes everything redeemable about David Foster Wallace out of it. And so you have the irony and the wry wit of postmodernism sort of hybridized with middle-brow literature, and it doesn’t… actually in this weird way the virtues of both are sort of lost. Like when I talk about the flippancy of postmodernism, I’m actually not referring to authors or poets like, say, the late Beats, the language poets, or even someone like William Gaddis. Or even David Foster Wallace, who we’ve talked a lot about on anther podcast so I’m not going to do that much more on our own. Whereas, if you look at someone like Eggers it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It’s too self-referential and too concerned with identity in this really sort of problematic way. I think you also see that in Jonathan Franzen and a lot of these authors that have pretenses to being like high literary authors. You know, they’ll get pissed off if you give them the Oprah Book Award for example, to bring that decades-old controversy up. But they’re not really writing anything that’s actually particularly all that innovative.
Interestingly enough, have you read Freedom?
Yes and I beat my head against the wall with it. What do you think of Freedom?
So I actually… the thing I found most annoying with it, and the piece of the text that I found the most difficult reading and thus almost forced me to give up on the whole book, was that big section where Jonathan Franzen is trying to write as basically a middle-class white suburban woman; who, through her psychoanalytical process, is trying to write a sort of autobiographical narrative. And this woman, according to Franzen, is supposed to be not very intellectual, more of a sporty-type woman in writing, and I don’t ever get the sense that that is the type of person I’m reading. All I ever get the sense is that Jonathan Franzen is writing as if he might be a woman, but it’s Jonathan Franzen. And again, this is something that I think you and I have touched on before, definitely in David Foster Wallace but a lot more sympathetically. There is this strange tendency, again, not to just get tied up in identity politics, but to get tied up in the self in such a way that you’re never going to escape it; and, like, Franzen never gets out of himself, and frankly his self is not that interesting.
Right, I think you see it in The Corrections too. And, I think genre fiction, we seem to be harping on that and maybe that’s good because our third issue was sort of actually an homage to a particular genre, does give you a way to distance yourself. And we’ve talked about this in other forms too, that one of the things we respect in the early modernists, particularly Pound, Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and even William Carlos Williams in a weird way, is how much of their personality is actually bracketed out of their work. Like, systematically. There’s still a lingering trace of course, but it’s systematically bracketed out. You can’t assume that any of the narrators in an Eliot poem, or even in a William Carlos Williams poem, actually represent themselves exactly. And that’s almost the opposite of the trend in literature right now. And what’s funny is you’re not even really allowed a clean, uncomplicated identity politics either. Like, because that would be too serious in a way.
You know, it’s interesting. In the famous essay, I’m fairly convinced it was probably a lecture at one point, that Nabokov gives on good readers and good writers he gives his students an exercise like: what does it take for a book to be good, or for you to be a good reader, or what have you. And invariably one of the things the students really came to was this idea of like, “I need a character I can identify with.” And in a way… It’s funny, Nabokov clearly mocks that in a variety of ways, not the very least of which is in his own fiction. But this whole notion of “I need a good… someone to root for,” as it were… in a way we can laugh it off as something… you laugh off and you see in sort of frippery or penny dreadfuls or what have you. But the thing is, that whole idea is just repackaged in a lot of the contemporary fiction. Again, it’s like, Franzen or whoever else you want to put in, it’s almost as if like, “I’m so obsessed with myself, please like me?” And it’s … it’s just not interesting.
I’ll be honest with you, even if… even as the kind of person who comes from that demographic, I just don’t care. And I don’t want to promote literature like that either. Which is not to say I don’t like literature of the self, I do. I just don’t like literature of the self that is unquestioning of the self, because it seems to get caught up in its own, you know, its own issues. And I think of Former People, that’s really we’re really trying to push past. Now, we have our limitations to it. I mean, like, we’re more trying to find things that ask particular questions. And we’re also asking particular questions of authors, which is why we do interviews and whatnot as well. And you can see that in the first few pieces that we’ve done, but I think in the next couple of issues since we now have more, you know… people know who we are, we’ve gotten two issues under our belt, so they know that their stuff is actually going to get published if it’s accepted, for example. We will be able to go into more thematic questions and really ask things. So, you know, to go into our own policy: we always have a general slush-pile and we’ll always consider the general slush-pile for issues. It’s never going to be like, “this is the poetry issue! With Indian-American poets born from 1980 to 1995!” We’re never going to do that. A lot of journals do that, I find that tedious. But what we are going to do is try to have a half to a fourth of an issue dedicated to some central questions at least every other issue. So, this month we have the weird as the new modern, the weird-tale as the new modern. I see us also doing something eventually on 70s science fiction as a successor to modernism. So those issues are going to be very, very real. And we’re going to really try to push that out as an answer to a lot of these things that we see as bothering trends in literary publication. And we’re also doing that, the other reason why we do that with the general slush-pile is that we’re also trying to put, like I said earlier, we’re trying to put these things in dialogue with one another. So, like, if I am publishing only weird fiction and I don’t publish and of my modernism from around the world interviews, or anything that you want to about book reviews or whatever, even if they’re not exactly thematically related… then we’re not really putting anything in dialogue with one another. We’re just, like, serving up a niche every issue. And I don’t really have…. You know, while that may be a smart publishing strategy for a little while, I don’t know if it would be for a long while because it would be hard to keep that up, but don’t you think that, you know, that’s sort of one of the things we hope to make us distinctive, don’t you think?
Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think, again, to really go back to this idea of running up against the edges, or finding things that are not 100% easily categorized, you’re right. It would be something like an empty marketing ploy if all we did was like: this month will be weird fiction; next month will be, like you said, Indian poets; the month after that it’s like “modernism in the age of the iphone” or some stupid nonsense like that. It gets boring after a while, and it misses our fundamental point again, which is, there is going to be, in a sense, an attempt to situate these things in a broader context. So, even in our section on weird as the new modern, even in my interview we’re going to have with S.T. Joshi, I think a lot of the questions, although focusing on weird fiction, is really attempting to approach it from the perspective of: okay, where does weird fiction fit within this broader setting of modernism? Where are… what are the anxieties that sort of spawned weird fiction? And what do those anxieties relate to modernism? But also, even in contemporary weird fiction! Again, we’re going to ask the same questions: what are the anxieties of contemporary weird fiction? What does that mean for anxieties we would generally have expressed for, let’s say, postmodernism? Which we have been talking about in this podcast. And, again, it just seems to me, and I think Derick you would agree, if we just are going to fetishize genre we’re just falling back into the subject of our own critique.
Yes. I think that’s very much the point. So, let’s move on to talk about a few other things that we’re doing. You know, right now we’re going to have an ongoing interview series on world modernism. I don’t know how long, how many issues we’re going to do, but we started it off with an interview on Chilean and Latin American modernist poetry. And in the coming month we’re going to have an interview with Lucas Klein who’s a scholar on Chinese literature, on modernism and modern China. And then we’ll have probably in issue 4 an interview on contemporary Indian, like, sub-continental Indian literature. And we’ll see where it goes from there. I personally am very interested in rethinking and recategorizing the way we think of World Literature. Not, you know, not in terms of… there’s a lot of debate about unitarian modernism versus many modernisms and all that. I’m not as interested in those questions; I tend to view things as parallel but not exactly the same. I sort of wonder, like, if the questions of say neomodernism are even applicable to a literary place like China. I suspect they are. We’ll have to look into that more and that’s part of what our mission is to do. Like I said, we don’t have a theoretically hard program; we don’t have a rigid definition of aesthetics; we don’t even have a rigid definition of neomodernism. A couple of things that could be clarified, I guess: Former People is tied to another project of mine that’s actually much older called The Disloyal Opposition to Modernity, which was originally called the Loyal Opposition to Modernity and slightly slipped over time as I became less of a programmatic Marxist, which explores the tensions of trying to deal with life after philosophical and historical modernity. Which is actually, because of the way that the modern has been appropriated, not contiguous with literary modernity. In fact, I would argue that philosophical modernity is way over before literary modernity even exists; but you’re still dealing with a world produced out of that. And so, I am very interested in the tensions of modern life and I don’t have hard answers for any of those questions. I don’t have it philosophically and culturally, which is what [the] Disloyal blog is about, our sister site; and I don’t have it aesthetically or scholarly, which is what our magazine project is about. But it is all tied together, and it will be interesting to see what sorts of writers come to us in the future. We’ve already mentioned a few who we know are going to be there, but we still haven’t finished compiling issue 3 which, unlike our first two issues, will not be rolling; it will come out all at once. So, at the end of October instead of, you know, getting one poem or an essay every three days to a week-and-a-half, we’re just going to release like ten to fifteen things all at once, just like a proper magazine.
Exactly, exactly; and I think that also is just going to help us, again, it will help us with a number of things sort of logistically. But I think, more importantly, the whole idea of what you and I have been thinking about recently which is trying to, to the extent we think it’s appropriate and possible, have these ideas of sort of thematic questions that will hit more than just one particular piece in the issue. And I think, you know, thus will just help us better be able to drive that down. And obviously as you gathered, this coming issue will be on weird as the new modern. But it’s not going to… as we said before it won’t exclusively be the case, and obviously to the extent to which people are still interested in submitting material to us, please do so. We will encounter it as we encounter all new material and give it the best of our attention.
Yes, to our potential writers: our submissions slush pile never shuts off. Which is maybe unfortunate for us in our lives. What happens with us is if you want to be in a specific issue, particularly if it’s a themed issue; and we will try in the future like we did this month to post outside of the publishing schedule on our e-mag when and what a themed issue is going to be once we’ve made a decision and give everyone about a month, to a month and a half in the future to get anything up; we will be reading, however, from the general slush pile constantly. It may take, depending on the time of year, it may take us longer to get back to an author. Right now, we get back pretty fast, almost ridiculously fast. You know, if we get really bogged down it could be up to two or three months. Which is actually standard for the literary publishing world. I sort of find that obnoxious in the age of the Internet; but y’know, when you have a lot of submissions, which we’re slowly beginning to, although it is slow, sometimes it really does take a lot to treat everything fairly. But we will read it, and we will accept it all times of the year. If it comes on a holiday or something just don’t accept our notes, acceptances, or rejections particularly quickly.
Right, exactly, and I think the other thing to keep in mind is, again, with the degree to which we’re quick to respond: I think the fact that you and I are both fully employed full-time outside of this project, I think we do well for ourselves on that front. But again… yeah…
Yeah, by fully employed we mean like have full-time jobs, and other projects; and, and, and… I mean, you and I both work more than forty hours a week, and I edit stuff in addition to that. So sometimes I am, not to toot my own horn, but amazed that we get this done as fast as we do! But we will be doing that. How many issues are we aiming for a year, Steven?
I think at this current rate of production… I think at least for the first year we’re going to try for eleven or twelve. Just based on how our first two issues went. I think a two-month period got collapsed into one, but I think… we’re thinking about starting with a rate of approximately one a month, we’ll see how that goes. Maybe…
I would say one a month with exceptions for maybe holiday seasons.
Yeah, that’s a good point.
So, for example, we might do a bigger issue for the summer, but not do two releases. So, you know… And we will accept probably, I mean, the one thing good about being an e-magazine is we can pretty much accept as much as we want. So, the criterion is aesthetic, not page limit. But we will probably accept between, say, 12 and 30 pieces for an issue if we have good enough submissions. If we don’t it then it might be 5 pieces! I mean, we’re not a print magazine; we do what we need to do. We can discuss a few plans for our future. In the long run (knock on wood) Former People will become a small print-on-demand press as well, doing a yearly anthology of all the original work unique to Former People. We’ll pick the best of it and do a brief print-on-demand/eBook anthology. And maybe even a chapbook press for short stories, novellas, and poetry. But that’s, you know, we’re looking at years in the future for that. I’m only stating this in public now so that we can actually start slowly holding ourselves accountable for it.
Exactly, we are finding mechanisms which we can use to keep ourselves honest.
Yeah, and the other thing is, if we’re going to do that, I’ll be honest with you – we’re not poor people, but we’re artists that are part-time. So, you know, presses like this would have to be operated on a “we have the money/it is affordable for us to do” basis.
Although, I have to admit, new technologies, while it may make it harder to get new work out, does make it cheaper to get work out. So… this is a real possibility. Twenty years ago, you and I would have to have a real studio to be doing this right now, a real press to be doing our magazine, and unbelievable amounts of overhead to even talk about anthologies of a magazine. So, you know, it’s one of the good things about the otherwise problematic publishing technologies of our time.
Admittedly, I would say we could go into this in a later issue since it can be a long conversation: everything is a sort of double-edged sword in a way. It’s like with the ease of publication comes … you know, the greater the volume, the greater the things one has to wade through. We’ll obviously most likely talk about that at some point in the near future.
Well yeah. I mean we talk a lot about shop anyway, but that is a real concern for any print. I think that is why one sees more literary journals existing now; because there’s almost no overhead to do it other than your own time, which can be extensive I will say that. But why you see them fold so much too is it’s very hard to exist except in a niche form. So, I guess the last thing we would like to talk about to readers is the risk that we’re taking. Which, luckily for us, is not financial.
But the risk is that, you know, that we’re developing something that may not have a huge amount of readers. Now, it doesn’t need a huge amount of readers. You and I aren’t doing this to be, like, famous independent publishers. If we were, we are going about this the exact wrong way. But we will need the support, and we’re not even talking fiscal support, we’re not talking about money. We’ll need people to really push our mission and what we do to get it out to the right readers and writers. You know, we exist for the readers and writers and for the ideas. We do not exist, you know, for any other reason. But we need those readers and writers to help push these ideas out there, otherwise, you know… We have readers, more than a fair amount actually; more than, say, the average Zine does back in the nineties when this is how you would have started such a project. But we’ll need a lot more help to get a lot more out there, because it’s not… You know, a lot of what we’re doing doesn’t fit into an easy genre. It’s not easy to market.
Right. I think one way I would phrase it, and I think you’ve already alluded to it, again, is this idea that: to the extent that we’re not focused on money and fame, what are we focused on? Well, and you rightly say it’s the ideas, but at a certain level Derick and I can just as easily talk to each other about this on our own. We can find, you know, examples of certain kinds of fiction that we would enjoy on that level and discuss it. But I think the point that we are engaging with, the reason we do Former People, is that there is something to this which is above and beyond ourselves. We think that there is definitely… call it an interest, could be more of extreme, call it an anxiety; this subject, and these concerns that we have, can be very… are sort of bubbling up in the Zeitgeist, for lack of a better term. To use very bad language. And I think that, the extent to which this can yield something fruitful in the, for lack of a better term, culture at large; it is going to need increased participation. And to the degree which you as a reader enjoy this and are comfortable with this and really want to share it with people – there’s no reason you shouldn’t do that. So, if you … and this could take so many forms. It could be as simple as just telling friends “hey, there’s an interesting thing up here, let’s talk about it!” It could be something a little bit more extensive, and let’s see you post it on a wall, or you talk about it in something of a more formal setting. Or it could even be to the extreme of actually participating in the project by submitting work or, you know, so on and so forth…
We still have open comments for now!
Which we’re one of the few literary magazines that do. And I’m not going to promise it’s going to stay that way, we’ll see, because I will say that sometimes reading the comments on anything makes me sort of really doubt the foreseeability of human intelligence. But, you know, some comments sections are brilliant, and you can participate that way as well. What we want is just, if you’re interested in this, if you like what we publish, if you like who we publish: share it! You know, at this point in the game we need that more than we need money. So, we invite you all to participate in sharing and contributing as much as you want. We’re here, we’re not doing this… I mean, we’re not doing this not for ourselves. I’m not going to put this in [as] “it’s all for you!” But we’re not doing this primarily for ourselves, because it would be just as easy to just talk about it ourselves and not worry about keeping up a WordPress, and a podcast, and going on other podcasts, and trying to find authors, and doing interviews, and… lot’s of time-consuming things.
Exactly, and I think that, again, it’s to the degree to which… You know, it reminds me again of the notion of the art that we like. We’re not, or at least we try not to be solipsists. Or solipsistic. Ultimately, the goal of this project is not the reaffirmation of the self, but the exploration of something that is perhaps beyond the self. And I think this call to sharing the project up and beyond the two of us, and to really foster this community involvement, is in many ways a manifestation of a lot of our aesthetics. So, you can confirm your dedication to such things by acting on the aesthetics that you presumably also share with us.
Right, and with that note we’d like to conclude with what this podcast is for. So this month was sort of an introduction to us and our project; a little bit of sniping at some very popular authors, but in general more focusing on what this magazine is going to do. In future months we’re going to be commenting on essays and pieces within the magazine itself; as well as trying to put them in dialogue with things outside of the magazine, whatever the current literary trends are as best we know them. Now, you know, if you don’t know me, I’m already on a podcast about politics, and I’m also very busy. I teach, I write for several blogs, I edit for several blogs… I actually don’t know when I sleep! But we think that this will be important, and that it’ll be something to do. I sort of got this idea, actually, from The Poetry Magazine Podcast that does the same thing, where the editors discuss what they put in, and you really get insight into what the editors are trying to do. And we hope that too will help our readers, and we hope they enjoy in it and learn from it. And that we can learn from you and your interaction with us here. And I think we’d like to end on that note.
So, with that in mind everyone, thank you very much for listening to this first vidcast, or audiocast, or, YouTubecast, or whatever we ultimately decide on naming this particular object on our magazine. And thank you very much for your attention, and [we] hope to see you in our pages, and around our pages!