2010 saw a shift from the doomsday death-of-print outlook of recent years to a reinvigorated optimism about the enduring power of storytelling. With the rise of cutting-edge online journals, standout success among smaller press houses, and a recent Google initiative that will help boost indie publishers’ sales, we’re entering a new era of literary promise that has converted doomsday negativity into fuel for imagination and creativity. To get a better peek into this new literary world order, we chatted with Rae Bryant, a boundary-pushing writer as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Moon Milk Review (MMR), a fresh online magazine at the vanguard of all this activity and innovation. So read on to learn more about the future of literature — medium, media, and method be damned.
Flavorpill: The breakdown of traditional mediums has led to new narrative genres. How has the decline of the older model created more opportunities and possibilities for literature, both in print and online?
Rae Bryant: Traditional mediums are lovely and necessary and relevant. With that said, the rise of nontraditional mediums, such as cross-media works and microfiction scratch the same itch in less time and in intriguing combinations. MMR runs a prosetry contest each issue, for example. Readers respond to a visual prompt and write a piece of microfiction (500 words or less). The written response can be either prose, poetry or a mixture of the two. This breaking down of literary boundaries seems to be feeding a hunger in the greater community, and we at MMR are very excited about that.
FP: MMR and other online publications have embraced the possibilities of the online medium by offering multimedia features that a traditional print publication could not have experimented with. Can you give some examples of work that captures this new free range of muiltimedia creativity?
RB: The multi-sensory experience isn’t something new. Gargoyle Magazine has offered soundtracks with their journals for years. The Norton Anthologies have done this, too. MMR has simply followed an innovation already in the market, but perhaps not as prevalent as it could be.
One of our first contributors, Rich Kostelanetz had sent me a collection of visual poetry titled Openings. I nearly flipped when I saw it. We ran the work promptly in Issue Two. Openings embodies some of the potentials of cross-media and its expression of multi-dimensional movements and abstractions which really require the reader/viewer to engage with the material to form meaning. It’s like taking the magic of poetry and adding it to visual formation. Imagine if in studying Pollock’s paintings, you found that the chemical compounds within the paints and hues added further to the meaning of the art form. It’s not so unlike reading poetry through words and meter and rhyme. Our intent is to encourage writers and artists to take the precedents of poetry and prose and visual arts and expand them, melt the boundaries and let the forms cross over in new and interesting ways. Our only request is that the story be present in whatever way is authentic to the work and that is the difficulty. Finding artistic form and meaning in each of the interwoven media.
FP: Are there other horizons in the digital space you think will be explored, or that you hope to explore?
RB: If I could wave a magic wand, I’d put a virtual reading system in every family room and offer interactive literature, art, music, along with the ability for the reader to put his or her body within the virtual landscape of the work. The reader would have the ability to pause the story and interact with the characters along the way or listen to an era-appropriate song, view related artwork and allusions to other works within the story, take pause so to familiarize him or herself with a new word or phrase, perhaps even meet a virtual representation of the author or poet. Imagine that you could listen to a reading of Alice in Wonderland while sitting at the virtual Tea Party. Sit in the boat with Santiago as he catches the big fish. Experience Woolf’s Orlando as the main character. Take the words from masters’ tongues as they speak them and swirl them on a blank canvas. How quickly would our children devour classic stories if they could literally be part of the story? Perhaps the Wii people can start working on this.
FP: Do you think the growing acceptance of the internet among the literary community has made an impact on classic print publications too?
RB: I’ve seen some of the bigger magazines — The New Yorker, for instance — put more emphasis in online content. Of course, this is nothing new. Frederick Barthelme saw the potential of online content when he started Mississippi Review Online (now BLIP Magazine). The New Yorker is now offering open access to online content with a paid print subscription. This may seem redundant to some, but if you think about it, the tactic is smart in the long run. Give the reader multiple access points to the magazine, and you’ll have a happier and more loyal reader. Add promotions and marketing and cartoon contests, and the reader is not only reading but submitting to contests, and checking back to see who won, and so on. The publications that innovate and embrace online interactions with their readers will be fine in the long haul. I truly believe this.
FP: Are there any literary community or social network aspects that you think should or could be developed? Anything you’d like to see more of, or that you’d like to see someone improve upon/invent?
RB: We have so many online communities now that I dare say anything a writer/reader could want is already active. Fictionaut, Redroom, Goodreads, some journals have started their own community groups. I guess the one thing I’d like to see more of would be local connections. The online community can connect a writer in Florida to an editor in Oregon or New York or London or Bangkok, which is fabulous, but this national and global connection can add to the writer’s/reader’s isolation in some ways. Local writing communities are necessary to building grass roots literary awareness whether it’s through organized readings or authors in schools or simple get-together salon experiences.
I’d really like to see a site that focuses purely on supporting and encouraging local literary communities. I’ll also point out here that I’ve seen all too often when a community arts organization that pulls from state and national arts funding focuses almost entirely on poetry, visual arts, and performing arts, leaving fiction writers without much support at the state and local levels. Likewise, some organizations pull state and national funding but have yet to service the full demographic of their writing community. Grass roots community support of fiction writers is lacking. Writers need the support of their local arts foundations to compete for grants and awards, and to make an impression locally so that their art can eventually compete nationally and globally. It is a fallacy that fiction writing is a lucrative art form. Very few fiction writers are able to support their art by way of art alone.
FP: With all the momentum of the last year, what can we look forward to in the year(s) ahead from both MMR and this new literary era in general?
RB: MMR is changing its publication schedule from monthly to quarterly. It will look and feel and taste the same in outline, but with more content, less issues. We are also publishing our first print anthology this year. It is a combination of online works from 2010 and a few new pieces that readers have not yet seen. Release date in early February.
In general, I keep seeing new technologies that allow readers quicker and more convenient access to their favorite stories. iPhone users can read classic works in the palm of their hand or listen to classic works anywhere they like. I also envision more of this pay-as-you-go system where readers pay only for the stories they want for a set period of time, or pay more for a permanent digital copy. As a hardcopy geek, I abhor the thought that print will ever die — say it isn’t so! — but I do believe in the power of digital information. Say a grad student is completing a Masters thesis on 19th-century literature and must access Mark Twain’s works. The student doesn’t want to buy them all, and going to the library might take more time than the student wants to spend, so he or she pays $5 for a month’s use of the work and accesses the work immediately, whereas a library’s copy could be out on loan indefinitely. It’s all being done now. I see it becoming more rampant and cheaper so that it doesn’t make sense to buy hardcopy. It’s all very sad, but such is the way of it. Still, nothing beats the feel of a warm cup of coffee in your hand and a hardcopy in your lap.