Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Removal

I always find it funny when an author asks me to remove something they've had published in Thieves Jargon. It's usually because A) they're looking for a job and don't want future employers to see what they think is funny, B) their work has been accepted in a print publication that doesn't want to print previously published work and they don't know about this one yet, or C) I said something that pissed the author off and they're going to show me who's really boss. In case A, I can usually convince the author to go with a pseudonym, which will preserve their honor but keep TJ without having to show a gaper in the archive.

Just now is the first time something like this has happened:

Xxxx Xxxx, a poet, who's work was previously published on your site has passed away and in keeping with the wishes of his family, it would be greatly appreciate it if you would remove any biographical information or archived works by him from your site.

Well, that's fucked up.

The author in question sent in this one piece in 2005, and as far as I can remember, I never heard from the guy again.

In keeping with the family's wishes (although I certainly hope it's just an author looking for a job and using a creative excuse), I'll pull down the piece tomorrow. However, I can't just pull the piece down with no notice; it feels wrong to remove a writer's words forever without one last chance for people to catch a look.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Enter your new co-editors

If you check out our Manifesto page, you'll see we have two new co-editors, replacing Kenneth Mulvey and Justin Hyde, who moved on over the summer. I chose Dan Scannell and Steve Young because they've both been published in Thieves Jargon, and they both were active on the previous message board. By active I mean neither one was afraid of being critical of work published in Thieves Jargon.

Scannell's comics have been featured aplenty in Zygote in My Coffee, and I just stumbled across a terrific Steve Young story today that was published in a 2007 issue of the Evergreen Review.

Speaking of the Evergreen Review, has anybody heard of them? They were mentioned in the New York Times over the weekend, I guess the publisher made a name for himself publshing Henry Miller and Burroughs and Bukowski and all those counterculture guys in the 60s and 70s, but he also made some good money off of French spanking videos. He lost all his money, and now all that's left is the online version of Evergreen Review and this documentary about the guy that's just opening in NYC.

Just thought I'd throw it out there.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Letter to --Ed.

This one from a reader named Mike:

Last year you said you were planning new Thieves Jargon Press books. What ever happened to that? Is a Belgian ex-hooker and a rock & roll porno junkie story a hard act to follow? Or is it that people just don't read anymore. I have the sense it's the latter. A comment a fellow writer/publisher made to me - "People don't give a second thought to buying new CD's or DVD's, but a book?"

My sense says the small press, even though it's gravitated to the internet with tons more readers than the paper zine days, is still the small press, always on the verge of imploding. Too many writers and not enough readers.

Well, this could lead in a number of directions, so I'll see what I can cover.

As for TJ Press books, there are two big differences between where I'm at right now and when Dollhouse came out. The first is that my job is completely different. A year ago I was answering phones in a call center, and the phones never rang, which gave me about six hours a day of unfettered internet/computer time. Now that I'm getting my cubicle on, there's much less time to devote to the proper promotion of a book. I can still do the editing and the layout and the printing, that can all be done on the down-time. But when I published Kittens in the Boiler in 2005, I assumed that by virtue of publishing Thieves Jargon on a faster and more reliable pace than any other literary journal, I'd have this built-in audience of book buyers who would be interested in reading books written by more notable TJ writers. Three books deep, I now know that for whatever reason (and we can theorize on that later) it's not enough. Which leaves the getting out there and finding as many strangers as you can and talking to them about books and trying to convince them they should buy the books you're publishing... and that right there needs to be done on a full-time basis. This has all been cemented to me as necessary by various classes I've taken on book marketing and publicity.

Which leads to the second big difference: I've been back in school since last fall, which creates an obvious problem in that it chews up most of my free time (class two nights a week until ten pm, at least two nights of homework, on top of the day job and maintaining Thieves Jargon as a daily publishing entity?).

Also, since I'm in a publishing program, I kind of want to hang back, learn as much as I can from professional book publishers, see how it's done, and absorb as much as I can before I publish another book.

All of which is frustrating, because I know of at least three good manuscripts that deserve to be published, and I could probably coax out and develop one or two more if I could have a reasonable opportunity to publish them. Which is why I need to meet more literary agents.

As for the small press and internet scene, I'd definitely say it's mostly writers that are reading Thieves Jargon, but I'd say the same thing about any other literary journal, online or in print. I ride the subway to and from work each morning, and am very interested in what other people are reading. I've never once seen somebody reading a literary journal on the train. I think mostly it's that the popularity of the short story (and poetry) is at an all-time low. You can say a journal like Ploughshares sells a huge amount of copies, but those are all going to MFA programs, not casual readers. Who is open to reading a short story collection by an author they haven't heard of? Who runs short fiction and poetry that gets read by casual readers opposed to non-writers? New Yorker. Playboy. Harper's. The Best American yearly anthologies. McSweeney's has some brand recognition because of Dave Eggers and their Believer magazine. That's all I can think of. In five years of publishing Thieves Jargon, I can count on one hand the amount of email I've received from people who said they enjoy the journal but weren't writers themselves, just looking for something punchy and interesting to read.

So, why would I keep doing this? Simple. I still stand behind the work we publish. There's no shortage of really good writing to choose from, and I take great pleasure from reading it and putting it up there for other people, even if it's only writers looking for a place to submit their own work. The shit's quality. Also, I have some hope for the future. I think America can't get much more stupid than it is right now, and I have hope that willful ignorance will at some point slingshot in the other direction. Maybe someday we'll get to see some sort of cultural renaissance and, among other things, general interest magazines will begin to run short fiction again. Someday a magazine editor is going to come calling, and he'll say hey, nobody's published more fiction than you have in the past x amount of years, any chance you know some talented and interesting writers who we can get published? and I'll ready to step up.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Market research

I picked up a quick freelance gig running market research for a new magazine that's getting started. I've run some focus groups for my job, rounding up reviewers and having them read chapters of upcoming textbooks, but I think I mostly got this gig because I'm tied in to an awesome network of responsive and thoughtful readers, some of whom might even fit into the target demographic. The magazine's mission statement is something to do with helping city-dwelling young professionals as they adjust to being out of college and poor. Right. I believe there's supposed to be some hipness, some edge involved.

Any thoughts on the following potential titles?

-- Swipe
-- Mooch
-- Thrive
-- Float
-- Cellar
-- Loot

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yacht jacket and wrestling shoes

Well, this could probably be appended as a comment to the earlier post about David Foster Wallace, but I have doubts that it would get read. Also, I'm tired and I've been drinking vodka and cayenne pepper all night, because a story in Thieves Jargon told me it was a dandy cold remedy. I don't have a cold tonight, but what the hell?

A reader named Gina passed this link along to me:

This is a David Foster Wallace story from a 1989 issue of Playboy. They say it's his first story published in a major magazine. It came out a year after his first novel was published. I'm curious if anybody has a thought.

There aren't any nudie pictures involved, so you could probably get away with reading this at work. Unless you work at the same place I do, which bans Zygote in My Coffee because of "nudity."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Growth of the Soil" by Knut Hamsun

Goes on the bookshelf between Dashiell Hammett and Joseph Heller.

Damn, it's nice to read something that has some scope to it.

Young man trundles into the countryside, builds a crappy hut, starts farming. Harelipped woman becomes his wife, sires two sons and a daughter, kills daughter because she too has harelip. Man's farm gets bigger. Other assholes move to countryside, begin settling. Everybody gets old. The characters you hate most (Oline, Brede Olsen) play off each other. Yeah.

Having read this, now I know what it's like to be a man, and to carry the weight of family.

Only from literature.

This book doesn't have many tough words in it. I'd recommend it to people who wanted to like "Love in the Time of Cholera" but couldn't get past the fancy writing (Bukowski fans?). While the subjects are very different, both books are fascinating in how they are able to cover a lifespan. Like, how is a younger writer with confidence able to write about the inner working's of a man's mind from youth to old age? How could an old man be able to remember all that detail? I'm humbled by books like this.

This guy Hamsun sounds like a real bastard. Nazi sympathizer maybe. I'd like to read his first book, "Hunger."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Agents take notice

Is that a command or a statement?


Just thought you might like to know that I received this out of the blue today from a very reputable agency, thanks to TJ. Thanks again for keeping it available. Hope all is well with you.
* * * * *

Mr. B_____:

Hello. My name is ------------- and I work for a literary agency in New York. We're expanding our agency and client list, looking for innovative literary fiction and creative non-fiction writers.

One of our agents here enjoyed your fiction for Thieves Jargon. We were wondering if you had any full-length work completed or in the process of being completed.

If you are already ably represented, forgive us and all the best with your writing career.

If not, we invite you to send a query to -------------------, ATTN: CLAIRE. (THIEVES JARGON WRITER).


We look forward to hearing from you.

Of course, when I queried the writer to find out who this agent or agency was so I could get in touch and point them toward a few specific hi-end writers who I know do have full-length work completed or near-completed, the guy never got back to me. So maybe he's all bullshit. Maybe he doesn't want anybody else joining the club. Could be it's the competition he fears.

One of those writers I have in mind is the author of Friday's story Fly Fishing and Shit Like That, Joel Van Noord, who is a likely victim of the limitations of internet. I thought his run as a Thieves Jargon weekly writer was criminally under-appreciated. Why was this? Probably because his stories were inter-related, and never the under-1000-word vareity enjoyed most by your average internet-reading knucklehead. But few people I've published write characters as complex and real, and his writing is a step above most, both technically and stylistically. If an agent couldn't push a collection of his stories to publishers, playing up the Southern California, extreme sports, sex-drenched, confused young adult, and travel adventure angles, well, I'm sure there's no shortage of Dan Brown knock-offs out there.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On quoting

One of my favorite parts of posting each new piece is picking the quote that shows on the front page. It's a good trick trying to find the sweet spot, being a well-written line that perfectly defines the piece. What I really like about Rachel Toliver's poem today is that pretty much each of the stanzas could have been the quoted line. It's rare that happens. In my opinion, one of the more solid poems we've run in a long time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Letter to --Ed.

Fagit, what's up witha ll the political talk?

Well, I was hoping my solicitation for questions would draw out more than closet homophobia, but I'll gladly field this question. It's a multiple-part answer.

1. I wouldn't consider myself to be overly political, but I do work on political science textbooks, so I will cop to being aware of the world around me.

2. The night George Bush II won his second election, I was living in Phoenix, drunk off my ass on whiskey. I put up a post on the original Thieves Jargon message board, the title being "Four More Years..." When you clicked on it, the message said, "...of Thieves Jargon. Six month anniversary coming soon!" Click here to read the six month anniversary of Thieves Jargon. In two months, we'll be able to say we outlasted GWB.

C. George Bush is the biggest piece of shit I've had the mispleasure of being aware of. I hope he dies very soon, and then I hope they throw his nude corpse on top of a landfill where hoboes are able to piss and wine-shit all over it while their dogs nibble away at the sweet parts. Then, I pray to Lord Christ above that Dick Cheney's body is encapsulated in an enormous cesspool underneath Disneyland Anaheim where impressionable youth point and ask daddy and mommy about the encrusted mummy while smearing rainbow sprinkles and soft-serve yogurt all over their dimpled cheeks.

4. A vote for John McCain is a vote for ignorance, greed, and short-sightedness. Sorry, dickhead. After 8 years of George Bush, you're gonna have to pay some higher taxes. It's time to pay up.

5. No more talk about politics so long as somebody wants to talk about writing. I'll do a book review tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dead Author's Club

In my Book Marketing class last year, I made a statement saying that a really good way to increase your new book's sales would be to have your author get arrested right before the book came out. Nothing felony, just a barfight or drug possession or some drunken disorderly. The teacher returned the paper without a grade and called it a "joke of a homework assignment." To her credit, I gave her a list of three authors in the New York Times top-10 (Tucker Max, Slash, and some jerkoff from Motley Crue or Poison or whatever) whose book sales would receive a publicity bump if their authors got into some trouble, and I ended up with an A in the class.

Which has little to do with David Foster Wallace, who, if you haven't heard, hung himself late last week. What I'm getting at here is this: Wallace's opus "Infinite Jest" is sitting at #10 on Amazon.com's sales list right now. Not bad for a book that's more than ten years old. I'm sure the publisher will take this sudden windfall and establish a scholarship in the author's name, or donate the money to charity, and I doubt there are any John McCain supporters on the board over at Back Bay Books rubbing their hands together in a shady manner.

I haven't read a lot of Wallace. I tried out Infinite Jest in my early twenties, but I was reading it on the bus to and from work, and I couldn't get it done. My roommate has read it twice, and I've been meaning to give it another shot, but I make it a rule to avoid 1000-page books without covers. I have a collection of his short stories in my on-deck circle. I've read a few of his essays. I felt a lot safer knowing there was a writer out there who could write intelligently about infinity, sports, pornography, and seafood. In a stupid, stupid country, we'll be worse off without him.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bing-bong, learn Spanish

You're moving to the Mexican hinterlands, but you never bothered to learn how to speak Spanish. Take your first lessons here:

Click to see J.D. Nelson's poetry translated to the Spanish by Andy Riverbed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

George Sparling and Shane Allison

This past week at TJ, we had the pleasure of running work by both George Sparling and Shane Allison. Each of these guys have been published in Thieves Jargon since very early on, issues 10 and 14, respectively. As an editor, if you can get your favorite writers to come back to your journal more than once, you know that you're doing something right.

Sparling is interesting, in that you get the sense he's been staggering around since the 60s. He's one part revolutionary, one part Arthur Dimmesdale. His stories published in Thieves Jargon run the gamut from intellectual guilt to suburban sleaze to pill-popping city paranoia. I like an author with range. This story is his most out-there story we've run yet, featuring an omniscient counterculture movement.

Shane Allison I like because he's gay and black and plays around with poetic forms I've never understood. He also pisses off the same people who wouldn't vote for Barack Obama because they think he's a Muslim, and the more of those people who get pissed off, the quicker their ulcers set in. Fine by me. In these two poems, he's seeing Ghostbusters (my #1 favorite movie) as a lad, and fantasizing about a taken man in a diner. Hot.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Career Path

Fiction editor, Playboy,
via Best American Short Stories (8 yrs),
via McSweeney's (2 yrs (6 mo internship)).