Salvatore Pane

Month: April, 2010

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup IV: Archie Meets the Punisher

I’ve decided to change this feature around a bit, as I’ve realized I don’t have the vocabulary necessary to talk about visual art in new and compelling ways every two weeks.  But I can talk about words, and I can talk about writers, so instead of “Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup”, I now christen this segment “Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup”. Let us begin!

1. Umbrella Academy vol. 1 Apocalypse Suite written by Gerard Way with art from Gabriel Ba

I talked about this while discussing reading material on the way to AWP, but it’s so outstanding that it has to be mentioned again. A month or so back I did a top ten list of comics best suited for the literary inclined. This should be on there. Dense, madcap, and framed in the straight-on wide angle style of Wes Anderson, Way and Ba give us a twisted mashup of The Royal Tenenbaums and the X-Men. The best recommendation I can give for this book is that one of my friends–a woman who is certainly not a regular comic reader by any means–devoured this collection in its entirety on the plane.  An absolute must buy.

2. Punisher #16 written by Rick Remender with art from Tony Moore

The Punisher hasn’t been a character I’ve cared about since I was a kid. Sure, a younger, more vulnerable Sal enjoyed Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe and Archie Meets the Punisher, but I’ve found that I just don’t connect with his grim and gritty tales in the way I did when I listened to Slipknot and Korn. This changed with Remender and Moore’s latest arc on the title, “Frankencastle”, in which the Punisher is brutally murdered and resurrected as a Frankenstein-esque monster that has to defend an underground city of sentient beasts. Ok. Go back and reread that last sentence. How are you not reading this?

3. X-Force #26 written by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost with art from Mike Choi

Like the Punisher, I haven’t really enjoyed X-Men since Chris Claremont and Jim Lee relaunched the title. I was about 8 years old. But the latest X-Crossover, “Second Coming”, has returned the title back to form. The macro-story involves the return of a mutant savior from the future with Rob Liefeld creation Cable. But on the micro-level, “Second Coming” is a popcorn action story about faith, humanity, and whether or not the ends justify the means. If you’re curious about the current state of the X-Men, start with the “Second Coming” one-shot. If not, try Joss Whedon’s Astonishing.

4. Artist Shintaro Kago

Scott McCloud (have you guys read Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics? If not, run out to the local comic shop and purchase them both immediately) recently blogged about an awesome manga artist who hasn’t been published much in America. His name is Shintaro Kago, and while some of his art is NSFW, it’s very clear that the way he totally breaks the conventions of the comic page makes him an absolute master. I haven’t seen much from this guy, but this page alone makes me want to track down those anthologies McCloud mentioned.

Literary Journal Death Match

HTML Giant contributor and Gigantic Editor Lincoln Michel recently put together a tiered list of literary journals.  As it goes along with my series of posts about lit mags (the first three are here, here and here), I figured I’d repost the list along with some of my own thoughts while we wait for Dave Keaton to conclude the submissions panel. I’m not the only one who has commented on Michel’s list, however. Check out PANK‘s amusing take before seeing the list yourself.

(UPDATE: Lincoln Michel recently contacted me and asked if I’d take down the quoted list. He’s writing a new post about why he wanted the list taken down, so I’ll link to that as soon as it’s published.)

I’ve got some nit picking complaints about this list (I’d put Playboy higher, same with AGNI, American Short Fiction and n+1. Also, there’s a lot in the third, fourth, and fifth tiers that are pretty interchangeable. And I think some recent upstarts have been put too high (not Electric Literature; its spot is well-deserved)), but overall, I think this is a pretty good place to start if you’ve just begun submitting. Also worth a bookmark are the Pushcart Rankings done by Cliff Garstang.

The main thing I’d like to see from future lists is a break down between longer short stories and flash. Putting elimae, Quick Fiction, and PANK on the list is very nice, but it’s not fair to compare them against something like The New Yorker. Their typical word counts are so different as to be irrevocable.

But what do you guys all think? Is this list useful? Are rankings of lit journals too arbitrary? Do you have any major issues with where certain mags fell? Comment below.

The Changing Definition of Overflow in the Age of Broadband Internet: How Lost Changed the Way We Look at Media and Cultural Convergence

LOST is coming to an end in less than a month. And despite the fact that this final season has left much to be desired (oh, wow, Alternative Dimension Sayid’s a killer?! Holy shit! Because I didn’t figure that out in the first five seasons. And wow, you’re telling me Jack has to fix problems? CRAZY!), I thought I would still honor the end of the show with a repost of a paper I wrote on LOST a few years back. This might be of interest to one or two of you. And please forgive the academic language. I too find it oppressive and narrowing but was forced into writing this way. It’s certainly not my natural method of writing.

The Changing Definition of Overflow in the Age of Broadband Internet: How Lost Changed the Way We Look at Media and Cultural Convergence

Will Brooker’s essay “Living on Dawson’s Creek: Teen Viewers, Cultural Convergence, and Television Overflow” takes a critical look at the concepts of overflow, media convergence, and cultural convergence in television studies. Primarily concerned with the way viewers interact with “texts across various media platforms” (Brooker 570) and how certain programs have “deliberately ‘overflowed’ the bounds of television” (Brooker 569), Brooker conducts a study chronicling the youth market’s usage of Dawson’s Creek fanzines and producer sanctioned online content geared towards fans of the late 90s teen soap. Unfortunately, these results are incredibly misleading as only “5 out of 40” (Brooker 573) users in group one of Brooker’s study interacted with these websites while a mere “one-third of these respondents” (Brooker 574) from group two responded positively to interfacing with the official Dawson’s Creek website. These results may lead one to believe that overflow is simply a fringe novelty. However, I will argue that the reason for the reported low turnout of the Dawson’s Creek website is actually due to the fact that teen soaps do not directly lend themselves to the concept of overflow when compared with programs that match Matt Hills’ definition of cult television in his essay “Defining Cult TV: Texts, Inter-Texts and Fan Audiences.” More importantly, I will show how the very definition of overflow needs to be upgraded thanks to the rise of broadband internet technologies and the increasing willingness of producer/creators to embrace these technologies for creating primary texts. To prove this I will be using ABC’s Lost, a cult television program about a passenger jet that crashes on a mysterious island, as a test case.

First we must examine what exactly is meant by the terms overflow and media and cultural convergence. According to Will Brooker, overflow occurs when “the text of the TV show is no longer limited to the television medium” (Brooker 569). Basically, this accounts for any number of interactions with television programs, including everything from fanzines to visiting official websites where viewers are allowed to participate in their favorite programs. For example, in 2005 dedicated followers of the cult TV/medical dramadey program Nip/Tuck were able to track down the series’ longtime villain, the mysterious murderer known only as the Carver, through the fictional character’s producer sponsored MySpace profile, viewable at http://www.myspace.com/thecarver. According to Anthony Crupi of MediaWeek, “The Carver’s friends list has ballooned to 60,496 MySpace members, all registered users who have seen the site and elected to link to it on their own home pages” (Crupi). The users were then allowed to comment on the Carver’s profile page and receive messages from the character himself. In this way these viewers, which now total 69,445 unique users, were able to experience the program Nip/Tuck without ever using their televisions. This is overflow. Will Brooker further defines overflow by breaking the concept down into two groups: cultural convergence and media convergence. Cultural convergence involves “a participatory community” (Brooker 570) which can be exemplified best through fanzines or fanfiction rings, such as http://fluky.gossamer.org/ which specializes in fan generated X-Files fanfiction. Media convergence on the other hand is defined by Brooker as “structured interactivity” (Brooker 570). This means that media convergence is when the consumption of a television program does not directly involve a television but is still controlled by the show’s producers or some other corporate entity. The Nip/Tuck MySpace profile is an example of media convergence.

The reach of overflow has been dramatically impacted by the proliferation of the internet, especially broadband technology which allows website programmers to outfit their sites with features that users could only dream about as little as a few short years ago. In 1999 the largest share of internet users were signing on through 56k, a speed incapable of handling advanced multimedia exchanges (Connection Speed Survey). By 2005, the 19% of internet users that chose broadband over 56k to access the internet in ’99 had ballooned to an overwhelming 68%, and producer sponsored websites promoting television programs reacted accordingly by giving their fans a broader sense of interactivity (Internet World Stats). For example, take a look at the official Buffy the Vampire Slayer website for season one, which launched in 1997 during the zenith of 56k usage, and the website for the final season which launched in 2004, just a few short years before the widespread shift to broadband. The season one website is crude at best with limited interactivity or media overflow. Users could interact with one another on a message board and chat room, but beyond that there was little reason to navigate the 1997 version of the website except to peruse a small photo gallery or send electronic post cards featuring the show’s various stars (Internet Archive: Buffy Slayer). However, by the time the final season website was functioning in 2004, users could not only use all of the features established in 1997 website but also compete against one another in Buffy trivia contests, download “exclusive wallpapers,” vote on whether the final episode was a satisfying conclusion to the Buffy saga, play Buffy flash games, read bios and back stories on the various characters, or even access “making of” video files (Internet Archive: Buffy). Since Will Brooker’s examination of internet overflow was conducted before the explosion of broadband internet users it inherently arrives at faulty conclusions that do not reflect the internet tendencies of television fans today.

As mentioned earlier, Will Brooker’s essay “Living on Dawson’s Creek,” arrives at the conclusion that “fans, we have to remember, are an active minority. The response of keen but uncommitted viewers is less dramatic than we might have expected or hoped” (Brooker 579). Although it is surely true that hardcore fans that write fanfiction and attend conventions are surely not representative of any program’s viewer ship as a whole, it seems apparent that a teen soap does not lend itself to the type of fan culture that would generate very much cultural or media convergence. As a genre, the appeal of a teen soap is usually limited to the length of time it runs on television and then is promptly forgotten about by an overwhelming number of viewers. For example, look at programs such as 90210 or The Facts of Life. Despite being rating draws during their respective runs, neither show has managed to produce a long term cultural community in its fans. On the other hand, a dedicated fan base is one of the very defining characteristics of a cult television program such as The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, or most famously, the various incarnations of the Star Trek franchise. An examination of cultural convergence and overflow produced by fans of a cult television show such as Star Trek would obviously make for a better critical study simply due to the fact that so much content has been generated by fans. Compare that content with viewer created content from a program such as The Facts of Life and surely the discrepancy between volume of content will be massive and relatively problematic when conducting a study that is more than simply hearsay.

In arguing that a cult television program would make for a better test case in a study of television overflow, I must first prove that the aforementioned test case, in this instance ABC’s Lost, is in fact an undeniable example of cult television programming. In Matt Hills’ essay, “Defining Cult TV: Texts, Inter-Texts and Fan Audiences,” Hills provides readers with three definitions of what makes a cult program. Despite admitting that television shows only need to meet one of the definitions to qualify as a cult program, for clarity’s sake I will prove that Lost does in fact fit all three of Hills’ definitions. The first definition relies on the text as the defining characteristic of whether or not a television program qualifies as a cult program. Hills writes that “this argument implies that cult TV is best thought of as a group of… genres [such as] science fiction, fantasy, and horror” (Hills 509). He expands on this definition by listing three major criteria that goes beyond simple genre labeling. Hills writes “cult TV is identifiable as a set of texts which share qualities of fantastic hyperdiegesis, representations of close but non-sexualised character relationships and communities, and a form of endlessly deferred narrative based on narrative enigmas” (Hills 513). Lost employs fantastic hyperdiegesis “by virtue of defining and developing fantastic beings and worlds over a lengthy period of time and in great amounts of detail” (Hills 511). For example, in the very first episode of Lost we are introduced to “the monster,” a being which has the capacity to kill and even destroy the landscape of the island in one fell swoop. However, we don’t actually see the monster until the final episode of season one, 1.22 Exodus, in which the monster materializes as a black smoke cloud that travels beneath the island through an intricate series of underground tunnels. During seasons two and three, the monster is briefly shown in only three episodes, 2.10 The 23rd Psalm, 3.05 The Cost of Living, and 3.15 Left Behind, despite being one of the central mysteries of the show. However, each time the monster is shown it displays new powers which further develops its fantastic nature. For example, in 2.10 The 23rd Psalm” we as viewers realize that the monster has the ability to download island inhabitants’ memories and in 3.15 Left Behind we are shown that the monster cannot pass through an electro magnetic security fence. However, like Hills says, answers concerning the monster are “endlessly deferred” (Hills 513). The “non-sexualized character relationships” (Hills 513) come in the form of the interactions between Lost main characters Jack and Kate. Their relationship is very reminiscent of the one between Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, and like in that show, Jack and Kate repeatedly hint at their love for each other without acting on it in any meaningful way that would impact future episodes.

The second definition of cult television provided by Matt Hills is as follows: “Cult TV can be defined through an analysis of secondary texts” (Hills 509).  Hills goes onto say that television programs that generate a great deal of producer sanctioned overflow and fan created content should be labeled as cult television programs. As I explore Lost overflow at great length later in the paper, I will limit my examples here. On the producer side of things, Lost has generated a weekly podcast in which the executives producers take fan questions and hint at the plotlines of future episodes, two viral marketing campaigns which reward diligent players with exclusive clips promising to reveal the true nature of the show’s mysteries, a video game, Lost: Via Domus, which supposedly provides insight into the nature of the show’s usage of time travel, and its own monthly magazine appropriately titled “Lost Magazine.” On the fan end, viewers have spawned numerous online clubs, the most prominent being the fan sites promoting the skaters or the jaters. These groups have been formed in support of Kate, one of the show’s heroines, falling in love with either one of the two major male characters of the program, Sawyer and Jack. This love triangle has been one of the many dangling plot threads of the show, and people rooting for Sawyer and Kate to get together have dubbed themselves skaters while fans of Jack and Kate are the jaters (Buddy TV). These groups of fans have formed their own communities which constantly take swipes at each other. The sheer amount of secondary texts that are produced by the fans and producers of a program like Lost easily sync up with Hills’ second definition of cult television show.

Matt Hills’ third definition is that “Cult TV can be defined through an analysis of fan practices, and depends on fan activities” (Hills 510). This element of Lost fandom has been briefly touched on in the previous paragraph, however, I will discuss what Hills calls “fans… [producing] commentaries, fan fiction, episode guides and production histories that all work to sustain the distinctiveness of fandom as a community that reads the ‘intertextual network’ of cult TV” (Hills 519). Fan commentaries have become increasingly popular since Lost’s debut in the form of fan produced podcasts. Effectively labeled as downloadable internet radio broadcasts, podcasts allows any viewers with a broadband internet connection and microphone to host their own radio show at length. “The Transmission,” one of the most popular Lost podcasts, holds an hour long podcast after each new episode of Lost is aired. Recently, they even had a 25-hour marathon session in which they did nothing but discuss the mythology of Lost (The Transmission). Fan fiction has always been a marker of cult television status, specifically slash fan fiction in which fans compose stories of television characters partaking in homosexual pairings. Lost has a thriving slash fan community. On “The Lost Fan Fiction Archive,” the most prominent of the sites that attempt to catalog the wealth of Lost fan stories, the tally of slash Lost stories currently stands at 161 (The Lost Fan Fiction Archive). As for episode guides and production histories, one needs to look no further than “Lost-TV,” a website that has meticulously provided transcripts for all three seasons of Lost along with detailed examinations of the fundamental nuts and bolts necessary to producing the show week in and week out (Lost-TV).

If it is readily apparent that Lost does in fact serve as an example of a cult television program that gained in popularity following the widespread proliferation of broadband internet connections in America, then the next topic that must be explored in order to show that cult television programs work as better examples in a study of overflow is the media and cultural convergence produced by that show. First, I will examine the producer sponsored media convergence before discussing the fan generated cultural convergence. One of the most obvious examples of producer sponsored overflow occurred towards the end of Lost’s second season in May 2006. During the airing of the penultimate episode of season two, 2.22 Three Minutes, a commercial aired promoting a fictional company that exists within the Lost mythos: the Hanso Foundation. At the end of the commercial a phone number was given. Adamant viewers who called the number were eventually given access to a website, http://www.thehansofoundation.org/. Over the course of the ensuing summer hiatus, fans hunted down advertisements with clues to find the next website littered with background information pertaining to the show, culminating with a real world directive: to travel to the 2006 ComiCon, a massive convention promoting comic books and other cult interests, and attend the Lost panel conveniently moderated by the executive producers/writers of the show. When fans arrived they were treated to exclusive clips of the upcoming third season. However, what truly broke the fourth wall was that during a question and answer segment at the end of the panel, an actress who portrayed one of the characters in the viral marketing videos appeared in character and verbally accosted the producers for their supposed real life involvement with the fictional Hanso Foundation. Estimates put the number of players participating in the Lost viral marketing campaign at 50,000 people (Alternative Reality Game Stats).

An even more blatant attempt at cross media marketing occurred during episode 2.13 The Long Con. During the episode, Hurley, the program’s everyman character, finds a manuscript for a mystery novel, Bad Twin, in one of the wrecked plane’s unclaimed pieces of luggage. He begins reading it and claims how interesting it is before handing it off to the aforementioned Sawyer to read. In episode 2.20 Two For the Road, Sawyer is enraptured by the manuscript and can’t wait to find out the ending when Jack burns the manuscript, apparently erasing all hopes of Sawyer and the viewers learning the identity of the story within the story’s killer. However, on May 2, 2006, exactly one day before the airing of 2.20 Two For the Road, Hyperion Publishers released the novel, Bad Twin, as a fictional mystery written by Gary Troup, a man who apparently died on flight Oceanic 815, the same flight the Lost characters were on when they crashed onto their mysterious island. Despite being a fictional novel set outside of the Lost universe, Bad Twin included several direct references to various mysteries from the show including the previously referenced Hanso Foundation. In a bit of cross marketing with the Lost Experience viral marketing game, a fictional character introduced through the game took out a real life ad in various American newspapers on May 5th, 2006 claiming that the information in the book regarding the Hanso Foundation was fraudulent at best (Lostpedia).

During the nine month hiatus in 2007/2008 between the close of season three of Lost and the opening of season four, the executive producers and writers of the series teamed up to write a twelve part Lost miniseries, “Missing Pieces,” that would air only on Verizon cell phones enabled with broadband wireless support. Dubbed “mobisodes,” these two-minute episodes were not only written by the regular show writers and scored by the series composer, Michael Giacchio, but they also starred the show’s regular cast of actors. This is also one of the major examples of problems occurring with Will Brooker’s definition of overflow as being whenever “the text of the TV show is no longer limited to the television medium” (Brooker 569). Overflow is relegated to serving as a secondary text, however, shouldn’t the “Missing Pieces” miniseries actually serve as a primary text considering that it was created by all of the people responsible for the television show right down to the producers and actors? To answer that completely we must look at the next example and Lost’s producers’ reactions to it.

Another piece of producer sponsored overflow that questions the very definition of the term overflow can be seen in the 2008 video game, “Lost: Via Domus.” Players control a character that has never before been seen on the television program Lost, but according to the game, was on the flight that crashed onto the island. The viewer, while using this character as an avatar, interacts with the show’s characters and events from seasons one and two (Lostpedia). A small percentage of the game’s video segments and dialogue were written by the show’s executive producers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, and since this game is experienced through a television, some would say that it falls into the category of a primary text according to Brooker’s definition of overflow. However, I would call this a secondary text, thus making it overflow and not a part of the actual show, due to two reasons. First off, even though the producers control the environments and situations of the video game to a certain extent, viewer/player interaction is tenfold to that of watching the regular show. Secondly, there is the question of canonicity, meaning whether or not events that take place in products tangential from the show, i.e. the mobisodes, video game and viral marketing games, actually factor into the timeline of the Lost television show. In the March 10th, 2008 episode of “The Official Lost Podcast,” a weekly internet program in which Cuse and Lindelof take fan questions, Cuse announced that “It’s only canon if it’s in the show. We try hard to make the other things very much a real part of the world of the show and frankly it just depends on how much time and influence we have as to whether we can officially designate other things as canon… We wrote the mobisodes, our writers wrote them, we put a lot of time into them. We produced them. Our directors directed them. We feel that those are canon… The video game does not count.” Even if the video game is experienced through a television, which is one of Brooker’s primary definitions for a piece of producer sponsored programming becoming a primary text instead of a piece of overflow, because of the fact that the executive producers do not view the video game as canon makes “Via Domus” a secondary text and an example of overflow. On the flip side, the “Missing Pieces” mobisodes which are clearly consumed through cell phones and not televisions, do have canonicity, which transforms them from pieces of overflow into primary texts. This causes a huge, nearly irrevocable, problem for Brooker’s definition of overflow.

Considering the time that it was written and the fact that executive producers of television programs and their parent companies were still unsure of how to utilize the internet as an effective tool in promoting their shows, Will Brooker’s essay “Living on Dawson’s Creek: Teen Viewers, Cultural Convergence, and Television Overflow” predicts many developments correctly. As he predicted, viral marketing and cultural convergence did not sweep the globe or ever truly reach a mass audience, however, this calculation was founded on faulty logic that used a test case, Dawson’s Creek, which was predisposed to reveal this type of answer. A teen soap does not generate the amount of cultural convergence or media convergence that a cult television program such as Lost does, and if a similar study is conducted in the future, its writer should choose a post-broadband subject that is more appropriate such as Lost or Jericho or Heroes for examples. However, what Brooker gets completely wrong is his limiting definition of overflow which pigeonholes all overflow as secondary texts that do not operate within the realm of the television. As Lost’s “Missing Pieces” has shown, a primary text can exist outside the boundaries of television. On the other hand, the video game adaptation, “Lost: Via Domus,” has proved that a secondary text can exist within the boundaries of television. Due to the inconsistencies of Brooker’s definition of overflow and the ever evolving nature of technology and its effects on what producer/writers can employ in their creation of overflow, a new definition is needed which can define overflow by plainly saying what it is instead of relying on a definition that says what it isn’t, i.e. experiencing a television program outside of the sphere of television.

Works Cited:

1) Brooker, William. “Living on Dawson’s Creek: Teen Viewers, Cultural Convergence, and Television Overflow.” The Television Studies Reader. Eds. Robert Allen and Annette Hill. New York: Routledge. 2004. 569-580.

2) Crupi, Anthony. “Nip/Tuck Goes Viral on Myspace.com” Media Week. December 12 2005. <http://www.mediaweek.com/mw/news/recent_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001658741/&gt;

3) Cuse, Carlton. Lindeloff, Damon. “The Official Lost Podcast: March 10th, 2008.” The Official Lost Podcast.10 March 2008.

4) Dena, Christina. “Alternative Reality Game Stats.” November 17 2007. <http://www.christydena.com/online-essays/arg-stats&gt;

5) Hills, Matt. “Defining Cult TV: Texts, Inter-Texts and Fan Audiences.” The Television Studies Reader. Eds. Robert Allen and Annette Hill. New York: Routledge. 2004. 509-523.

6) Williams, Don. “Lost: Who Should Kate End Up With?” Buddy TV. January 12 2008. <http://www.buddytv.com/articles/lost/lost-who-should-kate-end-up-wi-15600.aspx&gt;

7) “Bad Twin.” Lostpedia.com. 2008. <http://www.lostpedia.com/wiki/Bad_Twin&gt;

8 ) “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1 Official Website.” The Way Back Machine. 1997. <http://web.archive.org/web/19980202153530/www.buffyslayer.com/main.html&gt;

9) “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 Official Website.” The Way Back Machine. 2004. <http://web.archive.org/web/20040806045901/www.upn.com/shows/buffy/&gt;

10) “The Carver.” Myspace.com. 2005. <http://www.myspace.com/thecarver&gt;

11) “Connection Speed.” Georgia Institute of Technology. October 1998. <http://www.cc.gatech.edu/user_surveys/survey-1998-10/graphs/technology/q01.htm&gt;

12) “Dawson’s Creek: The Official Website.” Dawsonscreek.com. 2008. <http://dawsonscreek.com/

13) “Lost-TV.” Lost-tv.com. 2008. <http://www.lost-tv.com/&gt;

14) “Lost: Missing Pieces.” Abc.com. 2007. <http://abc.go.com/primetime/lost/missingpieces/index&gt;

15) “Lost: The Video Game.” Lostpedia.com. 2008. <http://www.lostpedia.com/wiki/Lost:_The_Video_Game&gt;

16) “The Lost Experience.” Lostpedia.com. 2008. <http://www.lostpedia.com/wiki/The_Lost_Experience&gt;

17) “The Transmission.” Hawaiiup.com. 2008. < http://www.hawaiiup.com/lost/&gt;

18) “United States of America: Internet Usage and Broadband Usage Report.” Internet World Stats. 2007. <http://www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm&gt;

19) “The X-Files Fan Fiction Archive.” Fluky.gossamer.org. 2008. <http://fluky.gossamer.org/&gt;

An Online Panel on Literary Journals (Part 3 of 4): Those Writerly Calluses

Check out the first two installments of our discussion on lit mag publishing here and here. We continue today with thoughts from one Adam Reger. He earned an MFA in fiction from Pitt in 2008 and has published stories in the New Orleans Review, Pear Noir!, and Juked. He lives in Pittsburgh.

From Adam:

“I would second everything Robert mentioned. I also worked on Hot Metal Bridge, and found the experience instructive not just in the ‘I can’t believe someone sent this in’ sense Robert mentions, but as a chance to see how many good stories got rejected for nebulous reasons having everything to do with the readers’ tastes at that particular time—it was an opportunity, basically, to see how arbitrary the process can be. Applying that insight to my own submission process has helped me develop those writerly calluses one needs to be rejected over and over again. Every rejection slip says that it’s not personal, and that many good stories get rejected, but you never quite believe it until you see things from the other side.

And on Robert’s point about subscribing to lit mags, I’d also suggest buying sample copies (which are usually cheap, in the $5-$10 range). For both, the point is not so much supporting the magazine (though it helps that way) as getting to know what they publish. I’m just reiterating classic advice here, but it pays to know the market; many years ago I read in Writer’s Market a fiction listing wherein the editor said that most of the stories he rejected ‘were inapt, rather than inept,’ a line that’s stayed with me. To be honest, a couple of my publications have come about via shot-in-the-dark submissions to magazines I hadn’t read, but in all cases going about it that way took a needlessly long time and was pretty much a matter of getting lucky.

One thing I’d (sort of) disagree with Robert about is submitting to lesser-quality journals. I wouldn’t submit to the kind of places he mentions, either, but I want to warn against taking this mindset too far. My overall theory on this goes as follows: insofar as I’m going to keep writing short stories, and presumably they will be better than the ones I wrote last month, I’d do well to have some publication credits to list in my cover letter so that these (hypothetical) better stories get a more favorable reading when I send them to Tin House and Harper’s. (To refer to the Hot Metal Bridge experience again, editors are absolutely influenced by the previous publications listed in a writer’s cover letter (although, in support of Robert’s point, listing a long string of journals with ridiculous titles that no one’s ever heard of won’t necessarily help your cause).)

This is not to say that you shouldn’t send your best stories to the best literary magazines, and in general give every story a good chance to be published somewhere you’d be excited to see your work. But if your best stories keep getting form rejections, and you’ve already gone down the ladder quite a ways, in my opinion you should be open to submitting those pieces just about anywhere and moving on. (If this advice seems really abhorrent to you, though, consider acknowledging that these pieces are not quite working and going back to the drawing board. I’ve done this before and, while it can be pretty damn humbling, the redrafted pieces were far better than what I started with.) You want to avoid the kinds of questionable publications Robert talks about, but my own feeling is that when your book of stories comes out, the place where the fifth story in the collection was published will be of minor interest to anyone. The way to inch closer to publishing that book of stories, meanwhile, is getting those pieces published rather than their collecting dust on your hard drive.

Finally, this is a little beyond the scope of the question being considered here, but I would recommend reading and thinking about this post, by Blake Butler (as recommended by Cathy Day, a Pitt professor]. The internet has made it incredibly easy to reach out to writers whose work you like, and with sites like Facebook it’s not at all difficult to stay connected with those people in a kind of support network. Doing so can help in practical terms: a couple lit mags have friended me (after rejecting my stuff kindly) and having them on my news feed has alerted me to some interesting contests, calls for submission, etc. But in terms of karma or whatever, supporting others’ work is also a good thing to do.”

An Online Panel on Literary Journals (Part 2 of 4): In Thee Candled Operahouse with Blood for Flames (Penance ex genesis)

Last week, I began an online discussion about literary journals. We continue this week with commentary from Robert Yune, a writer living in Pittsburgh. Some of his past jobs include factory worker, construction worker, landscaper, online banking representative, behavioral health interviewer, and teaching assistant.

In 2008, he earned an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and received a full tuition minority scholarship to the advanced fiction workshop at the New York State Summer Writers Institute. In 2009, he received one of nine fiction writing fellowships through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and published a story in Green Mountains Review.

He is currently seeking representation for his first novel, Eighty Days of Sunlight.

From Robert:

“Recently, I’ve been using a combination of Newpages and Duotrope to find literary journals. I’m careful about who I send to. It’s surprising how many seem professional until you click on the ‘about us’ or ‘staff’ page. I take my writing seriously and don’t want my work published on a website whose ‘about us’ page contains the phrases ‘fun-kay scribblings,’ ‘bLeEding SOuL’ or ‘Send us your best cat haikus!!!!!!!!!’ I have nothing against journals whose staff pages pictures are all dancing monkeys, but they’re just not for me.

Beyond personal preference, some literary agents read literary journals and contact writers. This is another reason I submit to professional journals–I’m not sure how many agents read Cat Haiku Literary Journal. But now that I think about it, writing a cat haiku actually sounds like fun.

I work in bursts and tend to send out dozens of stories over the course of one or two days. For me, it takes a certain mindset to send work out: SASE, manila envelope, email or submission manager, put _____ in the subject line, do/do not put your name on all ms. pages, attach international reply coupons for foreign journals, etc. For me, it’s simply faster to get into a submission mindset, send out stories, and return to a writing state of mind.

I’ve noticed that many literary magazines have specific submission guidelines, for example, ‘Put your name and the word “Fic Submission” in the subject line of your email submission’ or ‘Please use claspless manila envelopes.’ While these guidelines surely have practical reasons (‘Fic Submission’ subject lines make it easier to identify submissions, clasped envelopes jam mail slots), they’re also the fastest way for editors to determine how competent a writer is. From an artist’s perspective, everything about the submission process should generate the reader’s goodwill, from the cover letter to the manuscript’s layout. Taking care to follow specific directions is probably one of the most overlooked parts of the process.

I imagine many of you are MFA candidates. My best advice is to volunteer to work for a literary journal. I worked as a reader for Hot Metal Bridge and the experience was invaluable. I quickly learned countless things not to do when submitting. As someone with a deep love and respect for the craft of fiction, imagine how I felt when I received a story with a title like ‘In Thee Candled Operahouse with Blood for Flames (Penance ex genesis)’ by vampyrepoet32@comcast net. Imagine how I felt when I received a story whose title was misspelled, and not on purpose. Also, it’s really useful (and healthy, somehow, for a writer) to understand the debates and timelines behind the editorial process.

I should also mention that we, as writers, need to support literary magazines. Even subscribing to just one literary magazine a year (which costs like $20) makes a difference. A lot of colleges are looking to make budget cuts, and many are scrutinizing their MFA program-sponsored litmags. It’s easier to justify cutting a litmag with 300 subscriptions than one with 5,000.

On a very primitive level, the primary reason to purchase subscriptions is simple self-interest. If a literary magazine (especially one you got published in) runs out of money and closes, the value of your publication dwindles into nothingness. The opposite is true: the more subscriptions (and money, and resources) a litmag has, the better your publication looks. I realize how obvious and ugly this argument is, and I apologize for making it. But in terms of simple numbers, a mid-sized litmag might have 15 staff members reading 20,000 submissions a year and only 2,000 subscriptions–this kind of budgetary imbalance is simply not sustainable.

I’ve worked as a volunteer reader for a litmag and spent months searching through literally thousands of submissions to find that that one astonishing, beautiful, or devastating story. And I did my best to argue for that story during editorial meetings, I did my best to promote that story by recommending it to friends, family, and students after we published it. Literary magazines do a lot of boring, grinding, behind-the-scenes work to support writers.

I’ve always believed that good writing will find a home. Sometimes, it just takes longer than expected. I hope this helps.”

Review of Nicolle Elizabeth’s Threadbare Von Barren

My review of Nicolle Elizabeth’s chapbook published by DOGZPLOT is now live on PANK. Check it out.

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup III: Galactus, Hamlet, Tony Stark

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup is a feature I’m using to promote some unsung talents in the comic world. Each installment will look at five different books with artists working at varying levels of the industry, be it the indies, unpublished work, or even superhero fare for the Big Two. And of course, there’s always my covert goal of hyping my own comic book projects. So with the introduction out of the way, let’s get started.

1. Unpublished Artist Jaime Castro

With the script for The Black List graphic novel completed, co-writer Mark Kleman and I had to find a new artist to collaborate with while Lamair Nash finished his pages. For those of you who don’t know, graphic novel publishing is much different than literary fiction and more in line with creative nonfiction. We pitched to Arcana with a 22 page sample. They accepted. Now they want 110 pages. That’s going to take Lamair a long time.

In the meantime, we discovered Jaime Castro on the Millarworld forums (seriously, that place is a treasure trove of talented artists looking for writers).  We checked out his DeviantArt profile, and this is the page that made me fall in love. Besides the fact that Jaime’s art involves a superhero team fighting Nazis (awesome, right?), he also draws a dinosaur capable of reading. Look at him! Isn’t that just the perfect dinosaur? And he gets so excited about what he’s reading that he has to show it to his friend. What’s going on in his dino-brain? I definitely want to know. And when Mark and I saw this we knew Jamie would be perfect for our upcoming short, Montgomery X. Chesterfield, Gentleman of the 22nd Century.

2. Kill Shakespeare #1 written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col with art from Andy Belanger

I don’t know Andy Belanger, but I’ll definitely remember the name after Kill Shakespeare #1. For those unaware of the concept, Kill Shakespeare is mash-up set halfway through the events of Hamlet when the titular character is returning home to confront his uncle. He meets the Three Witches from Macbeth and teams up with Richard III. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, check out the art by Belanger. It invokes the king and queen time period without devolving into Holy Grail camp, which is a serious concern in a property as insane as this one.  Like my list from a month or so back, this is a good one to get non-comic readers interested in the medium.

3. SHIELD #1 written by Jonathan Hickman with art from Dustin Weaver

Click on the above image to view it in full resolution; it’s the only way to do it justice. Again, I’ve never heard of Dustin Weaver, but where has he been all my life? Jonathan Hickman is one of my favorite Marvel writers. He takes this universe seriously, and that’s painfully obvious from this debut issue in which Leonardo da Vinci stands revealed as a member of SHIELD, the peace keeping force in the Marvel U.  Weaver is asked to draw a ridiculous amount of meta-insanity, and he does so with considerable skill. Just look at the above example of Galileo battling Galactus the World Eater in 1582 Rome! How can you not buy this book!?

4. The Black List written by Salvatore Pane and Mark Kleman with art from Lamair Nash

This is the super top-secret, NEVER BEFORE REVEALED, unfinished first page of The Black List graphic novel! It’s not a deleted pitch page or cover, like the other stuff I’ve uploaded. This is the real deal, just waiting to be inked, lettered and collected into the final volume. We just received this from Lamair Nash a few days ago, and it’s really hard to describe the amazing experience of dreaming up a scene in your head and then having a talented artist render it on the page. Also, holy crap, has Nash improved or what? I always thought the man had chops, but this is outstanding. I cannot wait to see the finished project.

5. Iron Man: Noir #1 written by Scott Snyder with art from Manuel Garcia

Longtime readers know that I am a Scott Snyder disciple. I blogged about American Vampire before it was the indie darling it’s become, and I am a big fan of his excellent prose short story collection, Voodoo Heart.  That being said, I love his take on Iron Man in a noir setting. Marvel’s Noir line reimagines their major characters as gritty 1930’s analogues more at home in The Maltese Falcon than Batman and Robin. Most of these titles have been hit or miss, but Snyder’s take has earned rave reviews so far. And Manuel Garcia is turning in career defining work here, people. I couldn’t find a decent picture of his noir-inspired take on Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor, but it really has to be seen to be believed. If you’re excited about the upcoming film, pick this up as an alternative universe primer on the one-and-only Tony Stark.

Review of Teddy Wayne’s Kapitoil

Hey all, here’s a link to my latest book review: Teddy Wayne’s Kapitoil. I absolutely loved it and highly recommend you reading the review then picking it up. Maybe we can get a conversation started right here.

An Online Panel on Literary Journals (Part 1 of 3): Huh? What? Stop.

I just returned home from Denver and AWP late last night. I’m still collecting my thoughts and trying to wrap my mind around the event, and I’m not sure if I’ll make a proper post. In case I do, I don’t want to spoil the good material now. In case I don’t, highlights include: drinking with Kirk Nessett and his dog, meeting Justin Taylor and Roxane Gay, meeting two separate people who actually referenced entries on this blog, an awesome poetry reading in honor of Black Warrior Review, and great readings and panels all around.

Aside from that, this post will have nothing to do with AWP. Instead, I’m going to do my own online panel. So if you missed the shenanigans in Denver, dear readers, worry not. For awhile now, I’ve wanted to say something about literary journals. Not THE STATE OF THE LITERARY JOURNAL (I’ve already done that), but how one goes about submitting, choosing where to submit, publishing, and all the other difficulties that come with lit mags. Obviously, with only three journal pubs under my belt, I am no expert. So I’ve enlisted the help of two University of Pittsburgh MFA alumnus, Robert Yune and Adam Reger. Between the three of us, we’ve  published in different enough places (and have different enough methods) to be of use to the general reader/aspiring writer. Robert will be guest blogging the next entry later in the week, and Adam will follow after that. But for now, you’re stuck with this guy (I promise, this won’t take long).

I used to be the Fiction Editor of Hot Metal Bridge, and it was always very apparent to me when a submitter had never read our journal in their life. Our publishing tastes were quite eclectic at HMB, and we had no problem running flash fiction from an emerging writer about an obscure Tick henchman alongside a novel excerpt from the wonderful Dan Chaon. That being said, we still wanted fiction. Sometimes I received poetry. Sometimes I received scripts. The point is to read the journal you’re submitting to. And that doesn’t just mean figuring out what genres are allowed. HMB always published a wide variety of genres but not all journals are like that. You wouldn’t send the same piece to Ploughshares that you’d send to Electric Literature. One specializes in realistic fiction, and one clearly does not. Get a taste for what the journal you’re submitting to publishes. Do that and you’re already a leg up.

Ok. Ok. I hear you. Everybody knows that. Fine, assholes. What about Duotrope? I’ve been using Duotrope for about four years (I began submitting to the Colorado Review when I should have been submitting to Nowhere), and it’s a fantastic resource for any writer serious about submitting. It tracks all your submissions so you never get confused about when or where you’ve sent stuff out. That’s the part most people know. But what it’s even better for is finding journals. It has entries for every journal you can think of along with acceptance/rejection rates from the Duotrope community. Also, there’s fantastic statistics for ever journal. For example, under Weave, it says that people who submitted there also sent to Caketrain and PANK among others. It also says that people who successfully published in Weave, also published in Night Train and The Collagist. This is invaluable for many reasons.

First off, this gives you a good idea of what other journals to look at. Let’s say you love Flatmancrooked but don’t know where else to submit. Cruise on over to their Duotrope listing and see where else people who’ve submitted there have sent to. Then pick up some of those magazines. Similarly, these listings give you an idea about your current foothold in the literary world. If you can’t get into One Story no matter how many times you’ve tried, why not pick a journal a successful writer published in before they landed One Story? This, my friends, is called coming down the totem pole.

Speaking of totem poles, I know Robert and Adam are going to discuss their methods, so let me get mine out of the way. When I complete a story, I sit on it for awhile, maybe a month, then submit to 8-10 journals. These are usually reaches, but I’ll send some to places I think I have a solid chance with (but to be brutally honest, in the world of lit journals, they’re all reaches).  If the story is rejected 10 times, I give it 10 more chances. After 20 rejections, it’s retired. I’m going to go full disclosure with my stats now, so brace yourself. Right this second, I have 30 submissions floating out there somewhere in the ether. The earliest was sent July 16, 2009; I sent the latest yesterday morning. You have to be a machine when it comes to submitting. You have to be relentless. And you cannot take rejection personally. Alongside those 30 “pending responses” are 3 acceptances and a staggering 147 rejections. That means my acceptance ratio is 2.5%.

2.5%!!!!

Is there anything more depressing than 2.5%? Yes. Yes there is. Every time I sign onto Duotrope I’m greeted with this message: “Congratulations! Your overall acceptance ratio is higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets.”

HOLY SHIT! That means I’m winning. That means getting rejected 97.5% of the time is seen as some type of victory to Duotrope. These are the odds we’re up against, and it’s crucial you’re absolutely honest with yourself before you begin this process. Is your work ready for publication? Does it meet the quality of your desired publications? But most importantly, can you handle the rejection? Because like death and taxes, that’s one thing certain for every writer: rejection, a shit ton of it, 97.5% to be exact.

Media Survival Guide: Flying to AWP

I am not a good flier. I don’t get extremely nervous (except that one time from Denver to Oklahoma City when I could see lightning bolts outside my window), but I do get anxious being in such a cramped area for prolonged periods of time. My body is lanky and unruly. I do not fit comfortably practically anywhere. My knees bang up against the seat in front of me. I never knew all this until recently, because I never flew much before moving to Pittsburgh. Before last spring, the only place I’d flown to was Disney World for my twelfth birthday (I prayed before and after each flight because the trip messed up my confirmation schedule and I was positive God would blow up the plane in retribution).  Since then I’ve flown a lot. Atlanta. Chicago. Vegas. Baltimore. And what I realized flying from Atlanta to Vegas while reading Jane Smiley’s Moo is that one book will never be enough for restless flier Sal Pane. Especially when the in-flight movie is Confessions of a Shopaholic and the woman besides me keeps telling me about Twilight.

I’m leaving for AWP early on Wednesday. It’s a long flight with a long layover. I’m going to need a serious amount of entertainment (and booze) to do this comfortably. Below you will find my list of all the crap I’m taking with me just for the flight. If you have any suggestions please let me know.

Prose

1. Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs

I’m reviewing this collection of short stories for BOMB and need to get the review done in the next few weeks. I’m hoping to make some headway during the flights, but I’ve already read three stories and they’re not really my aesthetic cup of tea. But as a reviewer, I have to be objective about my personal feelings on sub-genres and take the book on its own merits. In that regard, it kind of reminds me of a mix of Sherman Alexie, Russel Banks and Jean Thompson.

2. Last Mountain Dancer by Chuck Kinder

This meta-memoir by Pitt fictioneer head honcho Chuck Kinder is a rollicking good time spent in the honky tonky bars of West Virginia. I started it a month or two back but keep taking breaks. I think it’s better that way, otherwise you become overwhelmed by the power of Chuck’s voice. I prefer it in doses.

3. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

I tried to read Roth in college and failed miserably. I read American Pastoral and enjoyed it but didn’t think it was for me. Since then, I’ve realized the error of my ways. I went back to Goodbye, Columbus and was absolutely floored. This one was recommended to me by Irina Reyn after she read the latest draft of my novel, so I’ll be looking at this one extremely closely.

4. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

This is another Irina recommendation, and yes, I know it’s astonishing I haven’t read this considering I’ve attended Chabon’s alma mater these last three years. I read Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Final Solution but never his early work. Hopefully I can rectify that over the next week.

5. Three Delays by Charlie Smith

I don’t know much about Charlie Smith, but I received this book in the mail from the same editor who hooked me up with a copy of Justin Taylor’s Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. This is the first novel I haven’t had to request to review. I got this one with no strings attached and I’d like to review it if I can.

Audiobooks

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized Biography by John Ortved

I’ve never been a fan of audiobooks, but I recently listened to Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation during a nine-hour drive and really enjoyed the experience. This is one I’ve been looking forward to for awhile, and if you’ve met me in real life, you already know my penchant for quoting Milhouse at (seemingly) random moments.

Graphic Novels

1. Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli

I just finished Miller and Claremont’s Wolverine a few weeks back and desperately wanted another Miller take on a classic Marvel character. Really looking forward to tearing into this. I splurged and got the copy with the original scripts. Hoping they’ll help inform the way I think about comic scripting.

2. The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

When this was originally coming out in monthly format I refused to jump on because the writer is also the lead singer of My Chemical Romance. In the few years since he launched Umbrella Academy, he’s transformed from a crappy emo singer to one of the most revered writers in comics. People love this book. People who would never even dream of listening to MCR. Plus, Gabriel Ba is a god. Ok. Fine. I’ll give it a shot.

3. Justice League of America: New World Order by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter

I love Grant Morrison. I don’t know a ton about the JLA, but if I’m going to read a book about them, I want the Big 7, not the crap DC’s currently peddling. And the inclusion of Kyle Rayner as the group’s token Green Lantern instead of Hal Jordan? That’s a major plus in my book.

TV Shows on my iBook

Episodes 8-20 of Battlestar Galactica Season 2

I know this is starting to get insane, but man, I’m really loving BSG so far and completely regretting my decision to avoid it in favor of LOST.

Video Games

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimore of the Rift

A week ago I posted about video games and mentioned how I was once very addicted to Japanese role-playing games but broke the habit about four years back. On Friday I drove to my local gamestop and purchased a Japanese role-playing game for my Nintendo DS. There’s lots of math and swords and mages. I planned on starting it on the plane and have already logged six hours. I am frightened that I will read nothing and return from Denver with level 99 summoners casting Ultima like it’s their job. I really hope that isn’t the case.