"I Love Publishing in New Magazines"
Michael Martone is a professor at the creative writing program at the University of Alabama. He has published eight works of fiction, including The Blue Guide to Indiana and Double Wide: Collected Fiction of Michael Martone, as well as several works of nonfiction. He has also edited numerous anthologies. His most recent work, titled Michael Martone and originally written as a series of contributor's notes for various publications, is an investigation of form and autobiography.
Interview by Becky Tuch
Do you remember the first story you had accepted in a literary magazine? Which literary magazine was it?
Yes. It was a story titled “Story Problems,” and it was published in a magazine, now long gone, called Mississippi Valley Review at Western Illinois State.
What was the feeling of your first story acceptance like?
That was a long time ago, 1979, but I imagine it is like the feeling I have when I get a story accepted now. I am most happy to make contact with an editor, a reader who wants to talk about what he or she has read.
Did any editors help shape your stories before publication? How did you learn from the process?
Not much. The conversations always have been more on the project level as opposed to the individual stories. When I was doing my contributor’s notes pieces I would have to work with the editors to have them see a way to publish the pieces in the contributors’ notes section of the mag. And many finally agreed.
I do want to mention some fine editors I’ve worked with such as David Hamilton at Iowa Review and Michael Koch at Epoch, and Rob Wilson at North American Review. As well as the folks at Colorado Review and Mid-American Reviw. But those are long term editors so I had long relationships with them.
I also value very much the relationships that I had with the many grad student run mags who have yearly staff changes. Indiana Review, Sycamore Review, Columbia Review, Sonora Review, etc. But really there are so many different magazines and different kinds of interactions with them.
Do you have any stories that were rejected many times, to go on to be accepted somewhere?
O my yes. Many. And strangely the ones I like the most are routinely the ones that take the longest.
Were you an avid lit-mag submitter, or have you been primarily focused on novel writing?
I have never written a nnnnnnovel. I love magazines publishing. I publish as much as I can and everywhere I can. I don’t have too much of a hierarchy of magazines or for my publishing in them. To me they are all different and interesting in different and interesting ways.
What do you think is a major reason people don't read literary magazines?
I think people do. I don’t think it is many. So I guess your question is why do more people submit to magazines than read them? Maybe? Not sure why many writers don’t read the magazine they want to be published in. But I suspect that a lot of writers are not so much interested in even what they write. That is, what really is going on here is the construction of this thing called an author.
The stories, the words, are at the service to the signature, the brand. That is to say many people may buy The Corrections or Freedom but fewer will read it. The purchase is enough to increase the Franzen Brand as is one or two designated readers writing reviews. We do read the reviews and feel we know the book, that we have read the book, having read the reviews. From Franzen’s point of view (though I don’t mean to make him a special case just the most recent) the real work, the important work is getting his picture on Time’s cover.
Am I a name writer? Interesting question. The reader knows the face, knows the name. That is the real work going on here. One must write the books, the words, but very few really have to read them and one can still be a name author, a famous author. And it is the famous part that is important to a lot of people.
Is there one lit mag that you would still really like to be published in? (Or does that need go away, once you publish novels and longer works?)
I don’t have a fetish object magazine. And I don’t really see publishing in mags as a competition. I am not playing a game to “crack” a magazine’s code to be published. I see it as community building, building collectives of people. I guess I love publishing in new magazines. So those are ones I want to be published in, the ones not even in existence yet. I don’t aspire so much after magazines after they have made a name for themselves. Instead I want, through my contribution, to help make a name for the magazine.
Are there any lit mags out there that you really admire?
Again, not into hierarchies here. This one not better than that one. I admire the passion, dedication, innovation, desire, savvy, innocence, pluck, fun, etc present in all such endeavors in varying degrees. Again, the way I look at it isn’t so much a transaction—I am not selling something to a magazine that wants to buy. Both the magazine and I are working together, collaboratively to create a cultural object. I am not, and my stories are not raw material that a magazine finishes. I am a contributor to a larger thing and the magazines contribute too.
Becky Tuch is the founding editor of The Review Review.