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progress this summer as I was planning, but I did bring together a new book-length manuscript consisting of my (as yet) unpublished novella Weeping with an Ancient God and a collection of (nearly all) published stories.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.”


Notes on Romeo and Juliet, print-on-demand, et al.

Posted in March 2010 by Ted Morrissey on March 14, 2010

I’ve been meaning to say a few words about the production of Romeo and Juliet that I saw March 5 at Sangamon Auditorium.  It was produced by The Acting Company/Guthrie Theater, and was very well done–a treat indeed in Springfield, Illinois.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a live production of Romeo and Juliet (discounting Prokofiev’s ballet version that I attended a couple of years ago, also at Sangamon Auditorium), and it has been many, many years since I’d read it.  According to the Norton Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were probably written at about the same time, with scholars not certain of which was quilled first.  As luck would have it, I saw A Midsummer last, well, summer at the Shakespeare Festival, which prompted me to watch the Michael Hoffman 1999 film version in the meantime.  There are numerous points of comparison between R&J and Midsummer, not the least of which being that the story of Pyramus and Thisbe that concludes Midsummer is a parody of Romeo and Juliet’s.  I of course am still on my trauma-theory hobbyhorse, so I watched the play from that perspective.  While a goodly number of scholars are at work on the early modern period, especially Shakespeare, as a site of trauma and how it was manifested in the literature of the time, I have not spent a lot of time (yet) with their findings.  Nonetheless, during the play I was struck by the dynamics of the Shakespearean-style stage (Sangamon Auditorium is a picture-frame stage, but The Acting Company director had set up the stage to work, as closely as possible, like a Globe-style construction).  To say there’s been a lot written about the Shakespearean-style stage would be a gross understatement, and I’ve read a fair amount.  I know, for example, that one line of thought is that the stage was constructed to resemble acting in a three-sided alley, which was where the early London (and other large city) troupes would have performed initially.  That theory, though, doesn’t contribute much to understanding the spareness of the sets, and the stream of continuous action (and even simultaneous action) that sets (ha) Elizabethan/Jacobean performances apart from more contemporary designs–designs which came to place great importance on realism in set and costume and special effects (the cinema of course contributed to this trend as it evolved from the late nineteenth into the twentieth century).  Watching R&J, it occurred to me that the Shakespearean-style design mimics the human mind–especially (here I go) a traumatized mind.  That is to say, the flow from scene to scene reflects the so-called stream-of-consciousness narrative style that modernists perfected (and that was then taken further, artistically speaking, by postmodernists); and, in a sense, one scene will usurp the audience’s attention, just as a traumatic memory imposes itself into the present moment; moreover, simultaneous scenes, being played out at various points on the stage, very much resemble the competing memories/images that trauma victims have to contend with.  Ghosts are regular features of Shakespeare’s plays, of course, and R&J is no exception–though Mercutio’s ghost seems to be more certainly a manifestation of Juliet’s traumatized mind than, say, the ghost of Hamlet’s father, or the ghosts who appear to Gloucester in Richard III, or Banquo’s ghost as he interrupts Macbeth’s coronation feast.

Perhaps this notion–that the Shakespearean-style stage is mimetic of the mind, especially the traumatized mind–has been explored previously.  I’ll eventually have to pursue some research on the matter.

On another front, my story “Unnatural Deeds” (a title taken, incidentally, from Macbeth) came out this past week in Leaf Garden.  Leaf Garden‘s editors, like many editors/publishers these days, are trying to bridge the gap between online journals and traditional print journals by doing both cost effectively via on-demand publishers (for example, Lulu).  The Oak Bend Review, which published my story “Missing the Earth” about a year ago, works in the same manner as Leaf Garden.  In fact, OBR uses Lulu as well.  Basically, the work appears online so that anybody in the world (who has an Internet connection) can read it, but it’s also available in a print journal format.  The potential of a global audience is attractive about online publishing, and the option of an in-hand version is appealing for a host of traditional reasons.  I wonder, though, who exactly is reading online journals (of which there have been an explosion in recent years)?  One drawback to the print-on-demand formats is that, from my experience, the contributing author must purchase copies if he or she wants them (traditional print journals have almost always paid in one or two free copies of the issue, often with a reduced rate for additional copies if an author wants them).  For example, I bought a copy of Leaf Garden No. 8, with my story in it, and it cost me over $30 with shipping, etc.  That’s a full-color version, granted, and less expensive black-and-white versions will eventually be available (apparently), and I’ll no doubt buy a few of those, too.  Also, the print-on-demand copies tend to be rather cheap looking, in terms of the quality of the paper, and the quality of print and/or art reproduction.  But–and this is an important “but”–these online journals with an option for print-on-demand are much, much more feasible, from a budget standpoint, than traditional print journals, especially ones that are trying to put out a high-quality product.  The high, high cost coupled with low, low readership (and getting lower all the time it would seem) make traditional print journals money-losing endeavors for virtually all publishers (many of whom, if not most of whom, are university sponsored–universities which are hypersensitive these days to drains on the budget).  It could very well be that traditional high-cost journals are an endangered species; and these hybrid journals like Leaf Garden and Oak Bend Review are on the leading edge of where “serious” writing is headed this century.

I sent my article on cultural trauma, postmodernism, and William H. Gass to a European editor last week; we’ll see if it gets accepted for publication (he had expressed an interest in the article based on the slimmed down conference paper version I’d sent him).  I’m beginning to research (or beginning more extensive research) on the phenomenon of the fallout shelter in American culture and how it may have affected the mass psyche (I have a journal in mind for that one, too, and the next submission deadline is mid-May–not sure if I’ll be able to make that).  I’m also working on “The Authoress,” and I’ve been sending my story “Walkin’ the Dog” around (it’s really the last publishable short story I have right now–it’s tempting to take a break from the novel to write a story or two, but I’m reluctant to do that, especially since the writing is going well for now).  I have several ideas for stories and novels, not to mention critical articles and books–enough to last me years just to work through the list as it stands right now.