Salvatore Pane

Month: July, 2010

Come See My Panel At AWP 2011

Just got the good news yesterday. The panel I proposed for AWP 2011 has been accepted. Check out all the panels here. Hope to see you in DC.

The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In

Salvatore Pane, Roxane Gay, Irina Reyn, Emily Testa, Lena Valencia

The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In. The rise of the book blogger has forever altered the traditional book review. But what is the state of the book review moving forward in a digital culture, and how do interested parties actually go about becoming reviewers? Panelists including the editor of PANK, the book review editors of BOMB and Hot Metal Bridge, and published writers currently working in the field will answer these questions and more.

Kanye West is the Public Avatar of 21st Century Digital Narcissism

Full disclosure time: I have two short stories forthcoming about Kanye West and a third I’m trying to place. Two are excerpted from my novel which has a section where Kanye West leaves Earth to find eternal life only to end up on Mars a hundred years in the future where he destroys the remnants of our current generation who have all been quarantined there on an Infinite Porch by the New Youth. Oh, and Yeezy’s riding a stainless steel horse and talks in a Shakespearen dialect. Full disclosure two: I love Kanye’s music and once actually went out of the house looking how I do below, and it was maybe only 30% ironic.

Yeah. That's me in Vegas. You wanna ball with the kid, watch your step you might fall trying to do what I did. Mama ugh, Mama ugh.

This is all to say that you should take what I’m about to argue with a grain of salt. But when people used to ask me, “Hey, Sal. Why does Kanye West show up in your novel (The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist currently seeking representation hint hint!) about non-famous white kids?” I used to give some lame answer about how West’s journey mimics the protagonist’s, which in all honesty, it actually does. But today, I think I finally hit on the reason why West keeps inserting himself into my work again and again. It’s because Kanye West is the public avatar of 21st century digital narcissism.

This all started, like so much in this dramatic post-Obama life, over at HTMLGIANT. Blake Butler put up a post that ended with a pretty funny non-sequitor: “Kanye West still sucks.” In the comments section, I tried to convince Blake to come over to the dark side of Yeezy supporters and Stephen Dierks of Pop Serial linked to this awesome article on The New York Times about Kanye’s new video.

In a coming video for his single ‘Power’ that was created by the artist Marco Brambilla, Mr. West is seen standing imposingly with a heavy chain around his neck. As Mr. West raps, the camera slowly zooms out in one continuous, unedited take to reveal him in a classical structure, surrounded by female attendants who are partly or entirely nude; some kneel before him on all fours, others wear devil horns and still others are suspended upside down from the ceiling. The sword of Damocles hangs precariously over Mr. West’s head, and behind him an unseen executioner is preparing to strike him with a blade.

Ah, a nice allusion to the apocalypse. That’s usually all it takes to win me over. But then Stephen linked to Kanye’s twitter which he just started today. Let me share some of the radical highlights.

kanyewest: I hate stickers on laptops

kanyewest: I need this horse… Kings need horses http://twitpic.com/29suqi

kanyewest: I’m just saying… what’s your credenza game…#DON‘TTALKTOME!!! http://twitpic.com/29sqph

kanyewest: I’m not getting paid to say any of this…………. yet…….. hahahhaha

kanyewest: Sipping Molnar Family Poseidin’s Vineyard Chardonnay in the middle of the day sidebar out of gold cups for whatever that’s worth

kanyewest: my thoughts on Twitter so far… at the end of the day, God damnit I’m killing this shit!!!

AND MY FAVORITE:

kanyewest: I specifically ordered persian rugs with cherub imagery!!! What do I have to do to get a simple persian rug with cherub imagery uuuuugh

Photo courtesy of Anirudh Koul

He has a quarter million followers yet he follows no one. What I realized today is that Kanye West is the summation of every thing I think and fear about this generation distilled into one horrific/totally awesome human being. Facebook, Twitter, and other online outlets have given every one of us (and especially those of this generation) a voice and the illusion that we all have something very powerful to say, when in fact, most of us probably do not. Kanye West is walking insecurity. Despite growing up in the same kind of baby boomer controlled children media era that told kids they were all special and amazing and even their shit smelled like the gentle rains of the Amazon, Kanye is saddled with a crushing inferiority complex. He overcompensates with golden stages to perform on and is constantly barraging us with his opinion. I mean, have you guys read his blog? It’s insanity. And now he has twitter! And what does Kanye do when he doesn’t like something? He stands up and grabs the microphone off some lame teenage girl and tells the world to go fuck itself. His Taylor Swift stunt is the equivalent of writing DISLIKE under somebody’s status update.

KANYE MOTHERFUCKING WEST IS FACEBOOK TURNED SENTIENT!!!!!111

The hunger has returned to Mr. West's brain, but it never really left.

The Case For Unlikable Characters in Literary Fiction: Thoughts on Scott Pilgrim 6

The final volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comic series dropped last week. Entitled Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, the last chapter of the six-year long saga concludes appropriately enough with Scott Pilgrim’s finest hour. For those unaware of the series, it’s about a Canadian slacker who falls for a mysterious American woman who has a legion of evil ex-boyfriends that have to be defeated in order to win her heart. Luckily, Scott’s “the best fighter in the territories” which leads to a bunch of insane Dragonball Z-esque battles. The books are composed of entirely realistic scenes of twenty-somethings (drawn in lovable anime style) getting drunk, having sex, and being generally aimless. Often these scenes are punctuated with a bizarre, otherworldly battle lifted directly from old Nintendo games. But don’t let this concept fool you. The Scott Pilgrim books are deep. The league of evil ex-boyfriends is an obvious metaphor for the baggage we carry with us after each new relationship, and Scott’s quest to rid himself of these former suitors is as much about him learning to become a better person as it is about the crazy fighting (Side note: I once loaned the SP books out to a girl I was dating and she claimed to love the first volume but not the second. When asked why, she said the second didn’t have as many engaging battles. To reiterate, anyone reading SP for the fights is totally missing the point. It’s like going into Inglorious Bastards only for over-the-top action set pieces).

But this post is not a forum for me to air out my grievances about readers who don’t “get” Scott Pilgrim. Instead, I want to talk about Scott’s journey and what it’s actually managed to teach me about literary fiction. The first thing you need to know is that Scott Pilgrim, until maybe the final 30 pages of the last volume, is an utter douchebag. Forget how Michael Cera plays him in the trailer. The Scott Pilgrim of the books is arrogant, narcissistic, selfish and utterly terrified of responsibility. When the series opens, he’s an unemployed 23-year-old dating a high school student. He sucks.

I watched a video review of the first volume of SP recently where the reviewer hated on the book precisely because Scott is so unlikable. Surely, we’ve all heard this before. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a workshop where somebody doesn’t bring up the fact that the characters aren’t likable. I don’t know about you, but this has never been a problem for me. When I think of my favorite characters in literature, I think of Frank and April Wheeler from Richard Yates’ masterful Revolutionary Road. They’re utterly flawed human beings who do terrible things, and they’re not particularly sympathetic. They’re the types of characters I relate to most. And maybe that says more about my own self-image than anything but when presented with a character who’s inherently decent or wonderful, I recoil. I can’t relate and often don’t care about their problems. Show me a character at their worst. That I understand.

There are inherent pleasures in reading about unlikable characters. Their stories usually go in two directions. They either A) redeem themselves in the style of Scott Pilgrim and become fuller, more complete humans or B) completely fail every one around them ala the Wheelers in Revolutionary Road. Option A is the type of story we as humans need to experience continually over our lives. Who doesn’t want to believe in self-improvement, that despite all of our very human failings, we can become new and better versions of ourselves? That’s what Bryan Lee O’Malley delivers in the Scott Pilgrim books. Scott’s slow and steady growth is a reminder that we too are capable of becoming better than what we presently are. Option B is the darker world view (I can’t imagine anyone who would argue that Yates has a brighter vision of humanity than O’Malley). Option B tells us that self-improvement is an illusion, that no one can ever change for the better, that we as a species are in a constant state of decay. This is also reassuring in a bizarre way, because if it’s true, then we have no real agency, and therefore, no true responsibility to become better people.

And what do we get with likable characters? Usually victim stories. Charles Baxter wrote an essay a few years back (I can’t find it, or I’d link to it) talking about how much he hates novels and stories where things just keep happening to the protagonist, where the protagonist continually reacts. These are the types of stories I hate, the ones where main characters refuse to get their hands dirty. I want books where people fail. I want stories where characters make bad decisions. For me, those are the works of fiction with the most complex emotional centers, the fullest landscapes of meaning. As strange as it might sound to some, Bryan Lee O’Malley accomplishes this over six volumes of graphic fiction. His work stands as a reminder of why we desperately need stories about flawed human beings, because in the end, they are the closest we have to mirror images of ourselves.

 

Review of Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s Moving Pictures

Hey all. Check out my review of the fantastic WWII graphic novel by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen. It’s on The Rumpus which is a web publication near and dear to my heart. I’m so excited to be a part of their community, and I love the idea of bringing Moving Pictures to an audience that might not have found it otherwise.

The Paris Review Ignites the Greatest Controversy in the History of Literature

Last week, Tin House ignited the greatest controversy in the history of literature. This week, The Paris Review did them one better. I’m not sure who exactly broke the story, but I first became aware of The Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2010 through Mike Young on HTMLGIANT who linked to a story by Daniel Nester on the always fantastic We Who Are About to Die. Nester writes:

Picture this: you have your poems accepted by The Paris Review.  Such an acceptance can mark the start of a great career, lead to a book deal or to be anthologized, or perhaps solidify a reputation in the small world this correspondent and others call Poetryland…

You have this acceptance.  Months, even years pass after this acceptance.  You wait for the issue with your poems to appear.

Then you get an email from Lorin Stein, the new editor of The Paris Review.  With perhaps the memory that there had been an announcement, written about in New York Observer, about a change at the Poetry Editor desk.

‘Dear XXXX,

Recently I replaced Philip Gourevitch as editor of The Paris Review and appointed a new poetry editor, Robyn Creswell. Over the last month, Robyn and I have been carefully reading the backlog of poetry that we inherited from the previous editors. This amounts to a year’s worth of poems. In order to give Robyn the scope to define his own section, I regret to say, we will not be able to publish everything accepted by Philip, Meghan, and Dan. We have not found a place for your [poem/s], though we see much to admire in them and gave them the most serious consideration. I am sorry to give you this bad news, and I’m grateful for your patience during the Review’s transition.

Best regards,
Lorin Stein’

Yikes. More news broke out throughout the day, some of it humorous (check out Blake Butler’s reaction) some of it not. The Rumpus spent a lot of time discussing the fallout. The comments section from their first post recently exploded, and a lot of well-known writers and editors are sounding off. Lincoln Michel of the recent literary journal rankings and Gigantic:

It is fair to note, I think, that according to Stein over a year’s worth of poetry was backlogged. So these new editors wouldn’t be able to put any poetry they wanted, not even 10%, for the next four issues.

I think this is a complicated issue. On one hand, as a writer I totally sympathize with people feeling awful about this and I know that I’d probably die if I’d gotten into TPR and then gotten my piece pulled. Of course, I’m a struggling starting writer, not an established writer like I assume most of the poets being unaccepted. On the flip side, as an editor I can’t imagine getting an editing job and not being able to do my job for several issues. If I didn’t like the work, I wouldn’t want my name attached to it.

And I must say I do think it is odd that, as others noted above, non-fiction routinely gets killed and it isn’t unheard of for stories to be unaccepted. What about poetry makes it unacceptable to be pulled if it is acceptable to pull other pieces?

Also, I disagree that there are no external pressures here, as Amy suggests. Lorin Stein was hired with plenty of buzz and noise and a mission to redo the journal, to make it more relevant and exciting again. He and his staff are, I assume, under plenty of pressure to make their mark and enact their vision. You can’t really hire someone to relaunch your journal and then tell them they can’t do much for the next few issues and by the time they can, most people will have forgotten.

I DO think they could have found a solution, such as a special web section, that would have worked for everyone. But I can understand why editors would want to edit.

Then this journal propped up promising to produce an e-book of all the unaccepted material. And of course, incoming PR Editor Lorin Stein’s response to the culling was dug up by The NY Observer:

Over the last month, Robyn and I have been carefully reading the backlog of poetry that we inherited from the previous editors. This amounts to a year’s worth of poems. In order to give Robyn the scope to define his own section, I regret to say, we will not be able to publish everything accepted. … We have not found a place for your three poems, though we see much to admire in them and gave them the most serious consideration… It’s never fun cutting things. But an editor’s job is to put out a magazine by his or her best lights, and that means you have to have discretion over what you publish.

So to sum up: a lot of anger, a lot of frustration. I’m not going to weigh in on this just yet, because like the Tin House thing, I’m more interested in what you all have to say. Is it cool that The Paris Review did this? Did they have any other choice after inheriting an entire year’s worth of poems? Isn’t this par for the course in the publishing world? Or is the literary journal playing field smaller, and thus, deserving of more courtesy? Let me know in the comments section.

Dispatches From a Creative Writing Camp and the Strange Allure of the Nintendo Novel

This is my second week teaching at the Young Writers Institute, a University of Pittsburgh summer writing camp for middle schoolers and high school kids. I’m teaching 7th and 8th graders, and although I’ll undoubtedly write something longer about the experience later, there are a few things I want to discuss now. First off, it’s amazing to me the type of writers these kids respond to. Last week, we took them to the Carnegie Library and I managed to get a bunch of them interested in Flannery O’ Connor, Tom Perrotta, Stewart O’ Nan and Belle Boggs. One even picked up Kevin Wilson all on her own. Today we went through a bunch of the superb exercises in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I expected Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, and while the kids do all seem to like these books (can you believe current 7th graders were born after the release of the first HP book?!), they also seem to be drawn to “serious” “literary” fiction which is a promising sign.

But that’s not what this post is going to be about. One of my students reminds me a lot of a younger me. He’s unreasonably tall and built like a matchstick. He spends much of his day talking about Nintendo and always arrives earlier than anyone else. Usually, he has a new chapter from the novel he’s writing for me. What’s it about? It’s a sequel to a video game I never heard of, a Japanese Role-Playing Game that involves a bunch of Nintendo characters, including everybody’s favorite Italian stereotype, Super Mario.

For those unware, Japanese RPGs are extremely text heavy video games. They usually take 30-60 hours to complete, and much of that time is spent watching cut scenes or reading dialogue, the exact opposite of Tom Bissell’s beloved luddonarratives. Typically, these games are standard fantasy fare, i.e. knights and wizards. But in the nineties, things began shifting towards steampunk. When I was kid, RPGs were my favorite type of video games. And although I haven’t played one in a few years, I can relate to my student’s desire to ape this narrative style. A group of warriors and wizards are thrown together due to an extreme crisis. They band together and travel a fantastic world learning new abilities. They save the planet. I can relate to wanting to write in this style, but I don’t understand it.

As a child, I wrote many Nintendo novels, hundreds of pages of material following the typical RPG path. What I don’t understand is why this was the major type of story I, and apparently many others, tried to emulate. I was exposed to countless comic books and read a ton of young adult sci-fi and fantasy. Yet I never tried to recreate or sequelize those worlds. Why is that? Is it because they were more fully fleshed out? Because the worlds and characters of RPGs are only ever suggested and never fully realized? Is it because the stories of RPGs were inherently simpler than kid novels from writers like Bruce Coville, and thus, more easily copied? I’m not really sure. But I’m wondering if others out there tried to write Nintendo novels as kids. I’m wondering if anybody has any thoughts on why.

Writing Comics and Other Alternative Careers for Literary Writers

Most people know I’m a fan of Scott Snyder. I’ve blogged about two of his comic book series, the oft-praised American Vampire co-written by Stephen King and the less appreciated Iron Man: Noir for Marvel. But I’ve also written about his short story collection, the excellent Voodoo Heart published by the good folks at Dial Press. The reason I became aware of Scott and his work is Cathy Day. During one of her classes maybe a year ago, we got to talking about career aspirations, and somehow we got on the subject of how one day I’d like to support myself financially (and also, artistically) through mainstream superhero work while also focusing on my literary fiction endeavors, namely short stories and novels. She put me in touch with Scott via Facebook and after a brief conversation, I sought out his story collection. A few months later, American Vampire came out which I liked almost as much as Voodoo Heart.

The reason I bring this up is because we’re close to San Diego Comic-Con which means a lot of the big comic-related news is going to come out now as to not be overshadowed by all the movie buzz. One of the biggest stories to break today? Scott Snyder signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and will write a year-long run on Detective Comics (one of the oldest and most prestigious Batman books on the racks).  What does this mean? Scott gets a salary and is no longer a freelance writer for DC. Scott can’t write for Marvel. Scott gets health benefits (I think).

What else does this mean? It means Scott might not have to teach college. I don’t know any more than what’s in the above interview, but from what I’ve researched independently over the years, it would seem that contracted comic book writers easily make more than adjunct teachers. So many writers are pushed into teaching writing workshops after getting the MFA, and for many (potentially myself), it’s really what they love. But what few people within MFA programs talk about are the alternative careers. And by alternative, I don’t just mean desk jobs. I mean jobs that fulfill creatively in the same way teaching writing does (I’m not saying desk jobs are inherently uncreative). Obviously, Scott Snyder believes that writing comics is one of these alternatives, a job that allows writers to be compensated for doing what they love. Obviously^2, I agree with him. But what I’m curious about are other responses. Do alternatives to teaching exist for working writers in the 21st century? And if so, what are they? If not, why the hell not?

Flashback Monday II: The Single Worst Personal Statement in the History of MFA Applications

It’s an absolute miracle I got in anywhere. Abandon all hope.

Sal Pane

Personal Statement Final Draft

10/26/06

I’ve spent the last four years studying at the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University with practicing fiction writers Tom Bailey and Gary Fincke. This has not only given me the chance to take over ten workshop classes steeped in constructive criticism but also an opportunity to learn craft, be a part of a writing community, and, most importantly, discover my process. I write every day, no excuses, for a minimum of two hours or more.

I’ve become completely obsessed with writing and reading, both of which happily possess hours of my time each and every day. Any good writer must be an insatiable reader. So I try and read broadly and delve into fiction camps that aren’t necessarily my own, spending as much time poring over my Richard Yates and Raymond Carver as I do brushing up on writers like Anton Chekhov or Franz Kafka. I also think that the act of writing fiction is a way of life and an end unto itself. I don’t need to be rewarded professionally because the writing itself is the reward. My career goals are ambitious in that I want to take two more years to hone my craft and better my writing. I’m very eager at taking every opportunity to learn and become a better writer.

Aside from the actual process of writing, I’d contribute to the program at the University of Pittsburgh because I’m such a veteran of workshops. I’ll be able to jump right in and give constructive criticism aiming at helping fellow students, not hindering them. And I’ll certainly be able to take any negative comments that will inevitably crop up during my stay. I’ve found that criticism is much more helpful for my own writing than simple praise. Beyond that, I’ve also served as an editor for multiple on campus literary journals, including working as the editor-in-chief of Susquehanna University’s creative nonfiction magazine, Essay. If I was accepted into your program I’d very much like to continue working on literary journals or creative outlets in any capacity possible. That’s one of the most alluring features of the program for me, the community of writers I’d be entering into with not only the faculty, but with other students as dedicated to writing and literature as I am.

Much of my work centers on my hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s an urban area with a rich history of decades of debt and failure after a promising start as a mining city. It’s even the first American town to have a functioning electrical trolley system, hence it’s nickname, The Electric City. I’d like an opportunity to devote even more time to exploring this subject of decaying cityscapes and the hard working people they produce. Right now I’m working on a novel set in Scranton, and a short story collection centered on various characters living in the town. In grad school, I hope to continue these projects and expand my horizons, thus giving me even more obsessions to write about. My tentative goal is to have a novel at least halfway finished by the time I complete the program, along with a finalized short story collection

I want to thank you for looking over my application. More than anything I want a chance to continue focusing on writing under the aide of a mentor and literary community, spending the next few years working dutifully on short stories and novels each and everyday. The ability to weave a continuous dream through fiction, a tangible world pregnant with feeling, is the greatest artistic accomplishment I could ever possibly achieve. Entering the community of writers at the MFA level is the next step in my evolution as a writer.

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Personal Statement Final Draft

I’ve spent the last four years studying at the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University with practicing fiction writers Tom Bailey and Gary Fincke. This has not only given me the chance to take over ten workshop classes steeped in constructive criticism but also an opportunity to learn craft, be a part of a writing community, and, most importantly, discover my process. I write every day, no excuses, for a minimum of two hours or more.

I’ve become completely obsessed with writing and reading, both of which happily possess hours of my time each and every day. Any good writer must be an insatiable reader. So I try and read broadly and delve into fiction camps that aren’t necessarily my own, spending as much time poring over my Richard Yates and Raymond Carver as I do brushing up on writers like Anton Chekhov or Franz Kafka. I also think that the act of writing fiction is a way of life and an end unto itself. I don’t need to be rewarded professionally because the writing itself is the reward. My career goals are ambitious in that I want to take two more years to hone my craft and better my writing. I’m very eager at taking every opportunity to learn and become a better writer.

Aside from the actual process of writing, I’d contribute to the program at the University of Pittsburgh because I’m such a veteran of workshops. I’ll be able to jump right in and give constructive criticism aiming at helping fellow students, not hindering them. And I’ll certainly be able to take any negative comments that will inevitably crop up during my stay. I’ve found that criticism is much more helpful for my own writing than simple praise. Beyond that, I’ve also served as an editor for multiple on campus literary journals, including working as the editor-in-chief of Susquehanna University’s creative nonfiction magazine, Essay. If I was accepted into your program I’d very much like to continue working on literary journals or creative outlets in any capacity possible. That’s one of the most alluring features of the program for me, the community of writers I’d be entering into with not only the faculty, but with other students as dedicated to writing and literature as I am.

Much of my work centers on my hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s an urban area with a rich history of decades of debt and failure after a promising start as a mining city. It’s even the first American town to have a functioning electrical trolley system, hence it’s nickname, The Electric City. I’d like an opportunity to devote even more time to exploring this subject of decaying cityscapes and the hard working people they produce. Right now I’m working on a novel set in Scranton, and a short story collection centered on various characters living in the town. In grad school, I hope to continue these projects and expand my horizons, thus giving me even more obsessions to write about. My tentative goal is to have a novel at least halfway finished by the time I complete the program, along with a finalized short story collection

I want to thank you for looking over my application. More than anything I want a chance to continue focusing on writing under the aide of a mentor and literary community, spending the next few years working dutifully on short stories and novels each and everyday. The ability to weave a continuous dream through fiction, a tangible world pregnant with feeling, is the greatest artistic accomplishment I could ever possibly achieve. Entering the community of writers at the MFA level is the next step in my evolution as a writer.

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup IX: Art Curators During the French Occupation and Donkey Kong Versus Batman

1. Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen

I don’t want to say too much about Moving Pictures because I’m going to be reviewing it later this month for The Rumpus. But if you’re one of those high-fa-looting members of the new intelligentsia that believe comics are still all about superheroes, I dare you to read the latest graphic novel from the husband and wife team of Stuart and Kathryn Immonen. I’ve seen much of Stuart’s work penciling Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers and I’m vaguely aware of Kathryn’s Pasty Walker: Hellcat miniseries, but nothing prepared me for Moving Pictures, a story of a dangerous love affair between a Canadian art curator and a Nazi during the French occupation. This book is serious, literary and moving. You need to buy this.  

2. Avengers: Children’s  Crusade #1 written by Allan Heinberg with art from Jim Cheung

Allan Heinberg is best known as executive producer of such shows as Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C and Party of Five, but nerds know him for his thirteen issue run on Young Avengers. If you’ve never read the original series, go pick it up immediately. Heinberg is a master of the teen voice and the high school drama that goes with it. Young Avengers deals with race, legacy, and easily the most interesting, not to mention serious, gay superhero couple in comics. Children’s Crusade is his return to the book and he’s brought with him original collaborator Jim Cheung whose art is spectacular. Marvel’s publishing a glut of Avengers books at the moment, but for my money, this is the one you absolutely must read.

3. Scarlet #1 written by Brian Michael Bendis with art from Alex Maleev

I intentionally know very little about Scarlet. The book came out yesterday, but I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet and I’ve really tried to avoid all spoilers. But here’s why it makes the list anyway: the creative team. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. BMB is the man who got me back into comics. I stopped reading comics for a decade after the dreadful nineties and it was BMB’s run on Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers that brought me back in. His take on Daredevil with the spectacular Alex Maleev (look at that drawing above) is another must read. And a re-pairing of that  team is more than enough to get me interested in a book about a kickass female assassin. Trust these guys. Trust me.

#4. Action Comics #890 written by Paul Cornell with art from Pete Woods

Paul Cornell is a writer I admire. He’s most famous for scripting episodes of Dr. Who, but I know him best for his run on Captain Britain and the MI-13, you know, the series where Dracula hung out on the moon with Dr. Doom. He’s brilliantly funny and quite dark, which is why I was so happy when DC announced he would be writing a multi-issue arc in Action Comics about Lex Luthor. The first issue does not disappoint. Lex is on the hunt for a Black Lantern Ring. His sidekick? A Lois Lane robot that turns into a gun. Sign me up.

#5. Image/BOOM! Studios Artist Dean Kotz

Look at this. LOOK AT THIS! I hadn’t heard of Dean Kotz before this image (sadly not of a real book) leaked onto the web, but I’ll be following him now. Check out his printed work in Poe and Outlaw Territory.

Tin House Ignites the Greatest Controversy in the History of Literature

This is going to be old news for some, but I was out of town and mostly away from the computer the last few days, and I feel the need to touch on this briefly. I don’t know if you know this, but days before the 4th of July Holiday Weekend, Tin House ignited the greatest controversy in the history of literature!

On July 2nd, Tin House altered its submission policy:

Tin House launches Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore Between September 1 and December 30, 2010, Tin House magazine will require writers submitting unsolicited manuscripts to the magazine to include a receipt for a book purchased from a bookstore. Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer. Tin House will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore or why he or she prefers digital reads. Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our web site.

Seems innocent enough, right? They’re not asking writers to buy copies of Tin House at indie stories, just any book in general. Matthew Simmons, who I interviewed on PANK, posted a relatively innocuous entry on the policy over at HTMLGIANT. Here’s the post in its entirety:

If you want to submit to Tin House, you’ll need to send a receipt proving that you bought a book in a bookstore. What do you think?

Moments later, all hell broke loose as the comments section ballooned to well over two-hundred posts including thoughts, and occasionally tirades, including everyone from Steve Gillis, publisher of DZANC Books, to Andy Hunter, co-editor of Electric Literature. I’m going to include a few of the arguments, but not necessarily in the order they were posted. If that somewhat distorts the nature of the discussion, I apologize. It’s not my intention to sway your opinion on the matter, but merely to report on both sides of the argument.

Authors Laura van den Berg and Lily Hoang both made brief comments in favor of the submissions policy. Laura wrote, “I’m for it. Especially after having worked for a lit mag. And if you only submit to Tin House, say, twice a year, then that’s only 2 books,” while Lily said:

If I start a journal/press, I’ll require people link/photocopy a book review with their submission. That would promote books and ensure that people actually read and think about the book critically, rather than just blindly consume. No? I’m unlikely to start a press/journal any time soon. Besides, with that kind of submission policy, no one would submit.

Jackie Corley, from Word Riot, made a similar argument, saying, “Why would anybody want to be in a magazine they don’t care enough about to buy a copy and read?” Blake Butler, at first, wrote the whole discussion off.  “Is it that hard to get your hands on a receipt for a book purchase? i mean, it’s not exactly plutonium. if you aren’t buying books you shouldn’t be wanting to publish one yourself.” A commentator brought up the library argument, the idea that some writers only read books they can get from libraries, which set Blake off:

i mean, why publish it if you believe in the library system over the bookstore? photocopy a zine and give it to some dudes and stick it in with the other books in the spots where people gather. that also said: not all books worth reading appear in libraries. if your reading history can be all found within the walls of a library, or all of them, you aren’t reading very hard.

Two major points came from Justin Taylor and Andy Hunter. Hunter first:

My first reaction to the Tin House policy was, “Ha Ha. Good for them.”

The economic arguments against it are a joke, as are the ‘local bookstore’ arguments. Most people can afford to buy a couple books a year. Most people live near bookstores. And if you don’t? Write a note explaining that. Not much to get outraged about.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly commenters get outraged around here, but then I realize: being outraged is fun.

Anyway, the condescension complaint is valid, although I think TH meant it in good humor – which apparently didn’t come off.

The thing that I think many here are missing is the incredible volume of submissions Tin House must get. EL is not half as well known, but we get thousands of submissions every issue, and even with 35 readers, it’s very hard to keep up. Especially because everything is read twice. Sometimes we regret our open policy, but it was the policy we wanted to see when we were on the other side, as writers. Now that we’re on the publisher side, it gets a little rough. There are many, many writers who are scanning duotrope and submitting to magazines they’d never fit in. The majority of these writers don’t seem to read enough, to be honest. They really ought to buy and read more books. Collectively, EL spends thousands of hours reading submissions, which is exponentially more time than we spend on anything else. The temptation to put up a small hurdle for submitters is understandable. Especially one that is directed at helping your industry, and supporting what you love.

For about 4 months, EL offered $6 off subscriptions to writers who submitted work to us, via a coupon code. It brought the cost of a digital subscription down to $3 an issue. Out of over 3,000 submitters during that time, less than a dozen used that code. I’m sure Tin House has similar stories.

There has been a lot of wondering, here and elsewhere, if emerging writers do enough to support the institutions which they wish to support them (i.e. ever buy a literary magazine). Tin House decided to playfully push the issue, and lighten the slush pile for themselves at the same time. It’s not so horrible.

Now Taylor:

Did anyone read the actual press release at the TH site? it’s headlined “BUY A BOOK, SAVE A BOOKSTORE.” Hardly an ignoble position or goal. It’s here- http://www.tinhouse.com/all_news.htm Also, if you read the whole post at the TH site, you’ll see that this is part of a larger project designed to instill a sense of happy pride in patronizing brick-and-mortar bookstores. Ever heard of Record Store Day? Comic Book Day? This isn’t just one day, but it’s sort of like that. From their release: “Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site.”

And to all the people waging the classism argument, I would like to suggest, with all due respect–which is to say, not much–that you are full of shit and that, what’s more, you damn well know it.
Let’s say I want to submit a book manuscript to Tin House. I enclose a copy of the receipt for the last book I bought new in a bookstore, in this case ON BEING BLUE by William Gass from McNally Jackson books on Prince Street, NYC. This paperback book has a sticker price of $11.95, and I got it at 10% off because it was a staff pick.

That makes OBB about the same price as a movie ticket, or a full-album download on iTunes, or two drinks at a reasonable bar. Granted, those are New York prices, but any urban center is going to be within about spitting range of those numbers (iTunes of course costs the same all over), and if you happen to live in the sticks, where you’re used to dollar drafts all the time and $4 steak dinners–hey, good for you, bud. Spend that extra scratch on a second book.

I think it’s incredibly noble of Tin House to forgo any kind of “reading fee” that they would keep for themselves, and instead encourage you to simply present evidence of an active engagement with literary and bookstore culture today. Presumably, because you are an aspiring writer and an avid reader, you are not being “forced” to go out and buy a book just to submit your work–you probably buy books on a semi-regular basis, and so it is really no problem for you to simply dig out the last receipt you generated and send it along.

I think the people who are asking about the library card option are missing the point. This isn’t an elitist disenfranchisement scheme–it’s not a matter of proving your literacy to them. The fact that the majority of respondents here presume it is their “literary-ness” which is under question says worlds more about y’all than about TH, which I assume takes it for granted that people who write, read, and vice versa. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that they don’t really give a shit if you even read the book you’ve got a receipt for having bought. They are looking for displays of enthusiasm for the process of publishing on the consumer-side, from those who would inflict themselves on the world of publishing on the supplier-side.

If patronizing a physical bookstore in order to purchase a new book at its full retail value strikes you as morally derelict in some way, then you have no business asking Tin House Books–or anybody–to publish your work. It’s emphatically not a question about book-reading, but about book-buying. They are book-makers, and book-sellers, and they are looking for people who are interested in what they do: make books, and make books available to be bought. If you hate those things, and hate them for doing those things, why would you want to court their attention in the first place, or pursue this course for your own work?

All that being said, many, MANY detractors showed up over the course of the thread. Some of the most insightful commentary came from Roxane Gay:

As a sort of publisher, I can absolutely say the money goes further when people buy our books or magazines directly from us. The distributor takes 50 percent. We’ve been working with a distributor for a year now and haven’t seen a penny.

Some of us live in towns where there are no actual bookstores but I buy books almost every day online, from big outlets and small. This requirement largely excludes people who live in rural areas. The ability to buy a book in a store is not that easy for everyone.

The rural argument was one that few of the pro-submissions camp could effectively deal with. Mike Meginnis, Co-Editor of Uncanny Valley, and Steve Gillis both had funny replies about the absurdity of the situation. Meginnis wrote, “Anyone submitting to Uncanny Valley a manuscript accompanied by a receipt showing five hundred dollars spent on pornography will be automatically accepted.” Steve had this to say:

Having had a night to sleep on the Tin House policy, I have had a change of heart. What a brilliant concept. We at Dzanc Books will now require a resume and college and grad school transcript – there must of course be grad school – with all unsolicited manuscripts. The submitter will be required to provide a reading list of all the books they’ve read in the last five years. We at Dzanc will also provide a reading list and the submitter will need to have read each book on our list and provide a review. Failure to meet these standards, the submitter will have to bake us a cake. And not just a cake but a poetic cake, and a film of them baking the cake. As we receive thousands of submissions a year at Dzanc, we have every right and reason to limit the folly of would be submitters thinking they can just submit us their work. This is brilliant. Thank you Tin House for blazing this trail.

About a day after the original post, Jimmy Chen uploaded this to HTMLGIANT and tried to recruit as many people as possible into submitting with this receipt.

But one of the funniest posts came from Matthew Simmons, the original poster, who seemed a little horrified by the amount of venom spawned by his two-sentence post. Halfway through the thread, he wrote this: “Okay. Let’s just forget I mentioned this. How about that World Cup?”

I’ve very intentionally tried to leave out my biases and position on this argument (I definitely have one), and what I’m interested in is what you think. Is Tin House‘s submissions policy the end of modern literature? Are they blazing a path that other journals will soon follow? Is their initiative simply misunderstood and similar to Free Comic Book Day like Justin Taylor suggests? Or is this whole argument ridiculous and another example of writers getting pissed off over absolutely nothing? Sound off in the comments.