12 Winters Blog

Turgenev’s ‘First Love’ plus nostalgia for the days of paper

Posted in August 2010 by Ted Morrissey on August 8, 2010

I have just finished reading — and I mean just — Ivan Turgenev’s long story “First Love” (1860; translated by David Magarshack), and I found it hauntingly beautiful, especially in terms of what is sometimes called atmospherics. Turgenev almost emphasizes development of setting more so than characterization — though of course they are so closely entwined it’s difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. For example, Turgenev writes, “Meanwhile it was getting near dinnertime. I went down into the valley; a narrow, sandy path wound its say through it towards the town. I walked along the path.” The “I” is the story’s sixteen-year-old first-person narrator, and through his infatuation with the beautiful, young (though older than him) princess Zinaida, Vladimir does journey into the valley of his soul, his pysche — and the path is indeed sandy (unsure underfoot) and winding (making it unclear what is around the next turn); and [SPOILER ALERT], as it turns out, he is headed toward town. That is, he literally returns to town (Petersburg) at the end of the story, which is set mainly in the country, near Neskoochny Park; figuratively, though, Vladimir goes from the wild and organic experiences of one’s first love to the more orderly and staid position of maturity at having survived the tempestuous emotions.

I’ve gotten hold of a collection of Turgenev’s stories (Norton, 1968) and am looking forward to diving into another, probably “Bezhin Meadow” (1851).

On the writing front, I’m still at work on my novel-in-progress, the Authoress. I haven’t made as much progress this summer as I was planning, but I did bring together a new book-length manuscript consisting of my (as yet) unpublished novella Weeping with an Ancient God and a collection of (nearly all) published stories. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, it took more time and creative energy to bring the manuscript together than I’d anticipated; however, I’m glad that it exists, and I’m in the very early stages of finding a publisher for it. Meanwhile, I’ve been shopping around the novella’s first chapter as a stand-alone piece, and I’ve been sending around the one story from the collection that hasn’t been published, a short short story (2,000 words) titled “The Composure of Death,” a phrase borrowed from Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

With the arrival of August, the proverbial floodgates have begun to open in terms of the number of journals and presses that are back to accepting submissions — the gates will open fully come September. I’ve commented before that the number of electronic journals is growing exponentially, but I wonder that there may be the beginnings of some backlash. That is, there seems to be some dissatisfaction on the part of editors and writers (most editors are also writers) with purely electronic literature; there seems to be some ache to have something made of paper to hold. There are a number of journals that are offering the best of both worlds by publishing material online (including as downloadable pdf formats) and via print-on-demand books (Oak Bend Review and Leaf Garden, to name two such journals who have used some of my work). Then there are web journals that do, say, an annual “best of” print collection (Spilling Ink Review, for instance). Book publishers, too, are straddling the fence, so to speak, releasing new titles in both electronic and traditional formats (Punkin House Press and Black Coffee Press).

There are journals and presses that are totally committed to epublishing. Here’s a link to the Directory of ePublishers — and this is understandable given the low cost of epublishing compared to traditional print publishing. Also, there’s no question that epublishing is gaining in popularity among readers. Recent announcements by book-selling giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble regarding their ebook sales compared to hardbacks were bouncing all over the Twitter- and blogospheres; see, for example, the Wall Street Journal‘s report on Amazon. Nevertheless, there seems to be something that isn’t totally satisfying about ebooks for bibliophiles (at least, bibliophiles of a certain age range). In fact, a new journal is launching in spring 2011 that is deliberately looking backward to an all-paper period. The Snail Mail Review, whose web presence seems to be mainly through Facebook, is accepting submissions exclusively the old-fashioned way (while more and more journals are going to email or online submission managers). According to Every Writers Resource, the Snail Mail Review editors want to recreate the feeling of submitting and being accepted via postal mail. They say, [sic]

We are a contemporary literary journal with “old-school” style. The editors at Snail Mail Review are committed to bringing only the best in poetry and short fiction by maintaining mail-only interaction with our writers. Given their past experience as being editors, they find much to be valued in sticking to traditional mail submissions. The editors believe that nothing can beat the joy of receiving submissions in the mail box and being able to hold those submissions physically in their hands as they consider the work. Consequently, we also know the joy of a writer when he receives an acceptance letter in the mail. This is the interaction that we wish to maintain with our writers, thus Snail Mail review was born.

I must admit that I find the approach engaging — and I know of which they speak — but I’m dubious of their success (though I’m not even sure what I mean by “success”). For the last issue that I was involved with as an editor for Quiddity, we had one poet that we published who was totally nontechnological. Her poems came to us via snail mail; we had to accept the ones we wanted via snail mail; her photo arrived via snail mail and had to be scanned; her poems had to be typed and the galleys sent to her by mail; her corrections came by mail; the corrected galleys were sent by mail. . . . In short, it really slowed the process down from a publishing and production standpoint — and that was for two or three short poems. I recall when I published/edited A Summer’s Reading (1997-2004), and for the first few issues everything regarding interaction with the writers was done the old-fashioned way, including my laboriously typing accepted prose pieces that were several thousand words long. On the one hand, I think something can be gained from the experience of typing another’s manuscript (I remember being told that Hemingway thought his experience as a typist for the literary journal the Transatlantic Review was invaluable to his development as a writer himself), but it’s difficult to imagine going back to that process. Though I believe one of the downsides to electronic exchanges between editors and writers, and thus copying and pasting being the main mode of production, is that there isn’t enough attention paid to the details (or even the correctness!) of language. I seem to be running across a lot of twentysomething editors who either don’t care much about correcting texts, or they frankly don’t know what’s correct and what isn’t when it comes to grammar, spelling, etc. — they no doubt reflect a readership that increasingly neither cares about nor likely knows such “rules.”


2 Responses

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  1. Nicole Watts said, on August 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I do love to read about your progress in your writing and reading, and it seems we only just had a conversation about editors not paying much attention to grammar. I hope that some day I can be one that you would be proud to say you once taught! I hope things are going well with you, and hopefully we can talk soon! It has been so busy here, but I hope soon to, at the very least, get some new poetry out, and get started on the changes to my already-started writing.
    I will talk to you soon,

  2. Ted said, on August 8, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Niki. I certainly understand about being busy. I know you’ll get back to the writing (and I’m already proud to have taught you). We’ll “talk” more soon. Take care.

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