A website where people can send unfinished stories and make them freely available for others to complete.
Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
This wasn’t always the case, but, I noticed that lately the names showing up as the “Sender” in my Spam folder have evolved away from the ridiculous and towards the pretty kick-ass if you’re writing a book, short story, or play and need character names. Here’s what I have in there right this second:
Elizabeth Haskins, Leroy Whittaker, Mavis Darling, Brian Bergman, Rosetta Moore, Rachelle Burkett
All prime candidates for characters, I think.
Last night I thought of a cool book form that would be perfect for a long manscript of poems that ranged from the very short to the very long (gee, think I’m reading a mansuscript like that right now?). The book would have a custom trim such that the cover and beginning pages were small, even tiny, and it would gradually flare out (a diagonal cut rather than a vertical cut) until reaching full-size.
Side view of a normal book looks like this: |_|
Side vie of this book would look like this: /_\
So, from a top view, instead of being a rectangulare cube, it would be closer to a flat topped pyramid.
Excepted from an email from 2006 inviting collaborative help from someone who was not interested.
Here’s what it is:
Mortimer J. Adler created this thing he calls the Synopticon, it’s basically the 102 “Great Ideas”. He contends that every idea there is can be situated cleanly within one of these 102, without there being a compelling need to add a 103rd.
Which is kind of neat, but the real meat (for this project) is this list of 102 ideas, because they’re all abstract nouns, or abstract concepts, anyway, which makes them ripe for interpretation, which to poets means making metaphors.
I’m hooked up with a great bunch of visual poets now (through a range of activitities) so I was thinking it would be a wicked cool, long term, project to put out a call for submissions, maybe monthly or bi-monthly, for work that fits the concept of idea N (where N is one of these 102 Great Ideas).
And work through them all.
So it’d end up with these galleries (102 total/only) of visual poets’ take on each of these concepts. Or visual artists. Or poets, too, it’d be an open type call, but the key determining factor in inclusion would be that the submission be a) good and b) that it fit the exact format restriction (I’m thinking along the lines of a 400×400 px .jpg or something like that–but, it could also be anything that can be dropped into Flash, I suppose–a movie even). I want them all to be exactly the same “frame” so that the design and upkeep can be simple, simple. I want to be able to review the submissions and just drop them in a directory and push a button or two and have them be up. Which is to say, I want to have one look, a shell of a design, that is the same for every idea/issue/call, so that there’s continuity throughout the time it takes to work through them all.
There will probably also be limited bio information too, as in: title, author, author email, author website URL, that kind of thing.
It’s really basically like making a themed monthly magazine that isn’t designed to run forever, it’s designed to run for exactly 102 issues. Period. Ever.
And submissions for any given issue will never really close (until some point a while beyond the last one) on any given issue–if a year from now someone wants to submit to the first issue, they could. And would even be encouraged to do so. It really circumvents a lot of traditional notions of publishing, which I like.
So what I’m looking for is a design that will scale to allow maybe as few as 2 and as many as, oh, gosh, maybe 50(??) pieces per issue, and have navigation that grows as the number of issues grows. I want to release the “great ideas” one at a time, over the course of 102 months or 102 bi-months, rather than list them all as forthcoming. So that aspect of the navigation will need to scale a bit too.
I think I want to call it “Respond” but I’m not sold on that 100%. I don’t want to call it Synopticon, I don’t think, but I may want to reference the history of it somewhere. Ideally, though, I’d want that information to be known as a kind of spoiler–if people want to know, I guess I have to say the ideas aren’t my own, but I don’t want people looking ahead to see what’s coming if I can avoid it. I want it to be a regular and ongoing process of prompt and response–because the whole Big Point is artists responding to these abstract
concepts–which is a) what artists are really good at and b) what other humans turn to artists FOR.
I’d need the design in advance of the first call for submissions, because I need to decide on what the exact file specifications are going to be, and I don’t want to compromise the design decisions by making up some random set of specs that have to be designed around. I have the ability (and I want to exercise this ability for ease of administration) to dictate file type and size in absolute uncompromising terms, but have no particular prior preference for any given size or aspect ratio or anything like that. I’m guessing a thumbnails and pop-up full-sized images is a workable concept, but if there’s some other schema that makes more sense I’m totally open to anything that looks good and is easy to admin once it’s built.
Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? What I’m proposing is that if you can design it and host it, I’ll do all the editorial and promotion work and the upkeep. Once the design and interface are in place, it should be a really low-impact project for us both, relatively speaking–a lot of bang for the effort-buck.
I genuinely believe this can be a hugely successful project. Like, cover story international coverage successful. It is calling vispo to do what it does best, and calling on all kinds of artists to give
people what people want from them–help in understanding these great abstract ideas. And the web is the perfect place for it. And the publishing innovation of every issue remaining open keeps it from
getting stale, and will allow momentum to grow in really exciting ways.
The following will describe a portion of the current state of matters related to “previously published” within the poetry community, point out a profound flaw that is a contributing factor to a host of other problems, put forth a theory of how it happened, and suggest a simple and effective fix that could change the face of poetry publishing.
Today, the overwhelming majority of poetry publishers will not even consider for publication work which has been previously published. Why is this? I have spoken personally with many publishers and have heard a wide range of reasons, but they all generally fit into several identifiable categories of answer.
The first, and most compelling if you follow news of copyright law and litigation, is that the small publisher is at real (and increasing) risk of being destroyed by copyright litigation. Poetry publishers, by and large, lack the money to even apply for bankruptcy, so the prospect of defending themselves against any claim (valid or not) from someone in Big Publishing is unthinkable. The only possible defense available to most small presses would be to shrivel up and blow away.
Another is that the administrative cost (in time, effort, and actual monies) associated with securing reprint permissions is prohibitively high. Since most small presses are made up of, at most, a few people responsible for wearing a large number of hats (typically simultaneously) and may not keep regular business hours, this is certainly a valid concern.
There are also several variations on the theme of prestige/pride. If a publisher is going to invest the time and money to publish a poem, the publisher is justified in wanting to eat a fresh meal, and not get stuck with leftovers. Reprinting is seen as something somehow less than first printing. Despite the fact that being “widely anthologized” is seen as a good thing.
This all seems reasonable on the surface, and makes a certain kind of sense, in isolation. But by looking at what comes before (goals) and what comes after (unintended consequences) this middle point it becomes clear that “no previously published” is a less than ideal solution. It is, in fact, so badly suited to the realities of the situation that these suggested reasons begin to read like justifications after the fact of acceptance of the terminology. When people are hypnotized and told to do something silly, such as hop on one foot, and are then asked to explain why they did it they consistently fabricate similarly plausible reasons: “My foot itched” or “It just feels good” or “I do this all the time.”
The primary goal of a publisher of poetry does not need to be “avoid prosecution”, “spend your resources on reprint rights”, or “disqualify based on previous success.” The primary goal of a publisher of poetry needs be “to publish the best possible poetry.” The trouble here is how the problem has been defined. Small presses have mistakenly adopted terminology from, and subsequently the practices of, Big Publishing which simply do not apply.
There are exceptions, of course, but in broad general terms, Big Publishing buys–practically by default–”all rights”. Small Publishing, on the other hand, more often than not, buys “first time rights,” and after publication the remaining rights revert back to the author. This is the crucial distinction.
In a world where the rights holder for any given previously published piece is almost certainly Sony or AOL/Time-Warner or Microsoft Press (and aggressively enforced by their lawyers with the support of current copyright laws) a policy of “no previously published” makes total sense. It’s the prudent business decision to make in that world.
However, in a world where the rights holder for any given previously published piece is almost certainly the author themselves, “no previously published” ceases to make the same kind of sense. The ramifications of this ill-suited policy are subtle but far-reaching.
The flipside of the “no previously published” coin is “one shot, goodbye.” Poets recognize, when submitting, that this poem has only one shot at being published. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that if a poet only has one chance at having a poem published they’re going to tend towards submitting to the markets with the most perceived value. This is the upward/downward spiral of the blockbuster mentality which currently drives Hollywood and mainstream publishing, and runs counter to the notion of publishing the best possible poetry. As a trend, it tends towards publishing the most likely to succeed, which puts the emphasis on conservative sameness rather than on quality alone.
“No previously published” also results in an imbalance of submissions, such that publications like The New Yorker and Poetry are the only markets attractive to both new and established poets–because regardless of where you are on the ladder the motivational thrust of “one shot, goodbye” is away from reaching an ever wider range of markets, and towards consolidating into fewer and fewer markets. Instead of researching markets for a match of material to mission, poets will research as far as circulation numbers and stop there.
“No previously published” leads (logically) to “no simultaneous submissions” which ends up being untenable when you have writers submitting to publishers who are, after all, human and taking care in their reading of submissions, and thus have slow turnaround times. It is not uncommon, at all, to wait over a year for a reply from a publisher of poetry.
The sum total of these factors is an economy that is inherently conservative, rewards quantity more effectively than quality, and jerks good poems out of circulation faster than necessary.
A good poem should have the chance to be widely circulated–in fact, this can be one of several metrics for quality judgment. The more widely published a poem is, the more literary journals who’ve seen value in publishing it, the better it is.
Instead of asking “is it previously published?” we need to be asking “is it any good? what rights is the author able to offer?”
If the poem is good, AND the author owns the rights to have it printed again, all of the problems that have been argued as reasons for “no previously published” evaporate. There is no copyright being infringed, no additional resources need to be expended to secure rights, and the publisher has the pride of publishing the best possible poems, instead of settling for the best of whatever’s left after everyone else is done removing their slices from the pie.
not really spam i hope, just sending out compliments and friendly e-mails to friends. i find i get so much spam and rejection e-mails or sometimes cruel retorts from people that it would be great to receive regular positive e-mail. maybe it’s something one could sign up for. sorry i haven’t had any new ideas to share for ages. i’m surprised how fast time passes.
Watching the Olympics, thinking about that guy or that woman running dead last in whatever event and simultaneously wondering how the hell they can be so slacker as to be last and how awesome they must be to even make it to the Olympic finals. What does that feel like, to be so amazingly good and in last place. A book with interviews with last place finishers in world class competition could record those feelings.
i know these already exist, i’ve heard of them but have never been part of any group that has exchanged them. the idea is to make cards, much like baseball or hockey cards, except for poetry or other art forms and then trade them. i’d love to give out and receive them. any links to such would be very welcome or if you do them already.
When I was looking at colleges to attend I toured the Northwestern campus–it’s a HUGE university. The guy who was giving the tour used to work in Housing. He told us that the folks in Housing like to have their fun. He said that this year they put a Paul McCartney in the same room with a John Lennon, and, that the previous year they’d put four John Smiths in the same room.
I always thought that’d be a great one act play. Four guys named John Smith who live together in the same dorm room.
In the future, computers have adavnced to the point of realizing artificial intelligence. The only programming language they respond to is poetry.