Sunday, August 5, 2007

More on the Million Writers Award

I have been remiss. Were my life not insanely busy at the moment with numerous simultaneous projects - some of which have deadlines other than those I foolishly impose on myself - I would have put the following article up here much sooner.

This interview with Jason Sanford, the creator of storySouth and the Million Writers Award comes to me by way of Simon Owens, the founder of Bloggasm. This brief but inspiring article hits on many of the points which I consider to favor writers in the new century.

There is no question now, in terms of getting exposure, the Internet is the place to go to publish a short-story. Oh, sure, online publications are still struggling to gain "legitimacy" (whatever that actually means) for readers of the Paris Review and The New Yorker. But does anyone seriously believe that this will still be the case five years from now? Or ten?

At present, it is no doubt the case that getting a short story published in a top-tier is the biggest break for a writer (aside from publishing an actual book). But, unless one is getting a "professional rate" - can getting published in a small print mag be preferable to an online publication? The latter grants one much wider circulation, permanence, and a potentially more varied audience. There's also a much wider variety of markets for online fiction - innovative storytellers who would never make it into the stuffy world small-press print-lit are getting an audience.

This has all been said better elsewhere, of course. But I'd just like to make this additional observation - only internet publishing has the potential to revive the old tradition of the lunch-break read. Imagine that bygone era, 50 years ago, when short fiction was mainstream. All those magazines at the drugstore and the supermarket - marketed to actual adults, mind you, not libidinous celebrity cultists - contained fiction, some of it of a remarkably high caliber. So popular was the short story back then, people could actually make a living by writing them. Yes, for real. It actually happened.

That era is long gone, of course, and it ain't coming back. Writers are going to be poor hobbyists, despised by their neighbors and consigned to the curb to beg for scotch for the foreseeable future. But perhaps not forever. Because everyone eats their lunch at the office computer, and CNN news and funny animal videos get pretty effing boring after a few years of salary feudalism. There may come a day, just maybe, when the lunch-break becomes a time once again to read a story. Should that day come, I guarantee that this new breed of fiction aficionado will not be dribbling her ranch dressing onto the pages of the Paris Review. You know what I'm sayin'.

Recent developments

As a result of my political blogging, I am now a "featured writer" and a Contributing Editor at the lefty political website Cyrano's Journal Online. A word about Cyrano's, and about my politics in general. I do not agree with or endorse everything you see on this website. Nor do I not endorse it, necessarily. There are literally dozens of writers there, and dozens more at Thomas Paine's Corner, which is where my essays usually show up first. Some of them have written some wonky stuff, and some of it is excellent.

I am not a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, or an animal rights activist. I do not consider myself to be a radical. I am not anti-anything. I am not a post-modernist, or a member of an agit-prop group. And, to be perfectly honest, I hate going to anti-war protests. I've done it, to be sure, but I don't like it. If I were living in France, or Japan, or Sweden, my politics would probably be regarded as centrist or center-left (though I am a civil and social libertarian). But as an American citizen, the very same set of beliefs - I favor a secular, green Social Democracy run on Enlightenment principles rather than political theory, ideology, or religion - consign me to what is laughingly considered to be the American left-wing. I even used to refer to myself as "left-wing," until I realized that, in the U.S.A, this simply means that I favor social democracy, and consider both mainstream parties to be corrupt. (Many people in my situation have become "big L" Libertarians. I sympathize, but I can't go down that route. Just because our government has failed to represent the people who support it and pay for it doesn't mean we should reject government. Libertarians fail to realize how counter-productive their efforts are. As their ideas entered the political mainstream of the GOP starting with the Reagan era - such that now even Democrats must complete for the anti-government vote - the resultant selling of alienation has discouraged the mainstream from political engagement. To put it bluntly, all this anti-government talk encourages apathy, and causes people to stop paying attention, thus allowing the government to actually grow more secretive and intrusive. It's no coincidence that the average European social democrat does not have to live with these fears of a high-surveillance police state. In France, the government fears the people. In the U.S., the opposite is true, despite our precious 2nd Amendment).

Anyway, there I am with such famous luminaries as Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, and Uri Avnery, not to mention everything from the postmodern cultural essays of Slavoj Zizek to the hilarious and beautiful literary essays of Joe Bageant. Joe Bageant I like. Zizek I don't.

Frankly, I don't know how I ended up on the same page with these people. Noam Chomsky?? Mind you, I'm not dissing on the Chomskinator. I think he's great, and often unfairly maligned. But I am basically a fiction writer who does politics on the side - though the "side" has been getting larger recently as my country continues to go down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, etc., ad nauseaum. I will see where this leads. I am more of a debunker that a crusader, though, and most of my essays are motivated by the urge to expose lies and deception than they are to promote an agenda. If I have a "cause," it's personal freedom, social tolerance, and humility. All very radical stuff, no doubt.