Something Monster-less

by Posted on November 3rd, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Interview with Laura van den Berg, Part II

[Read the first part of this interview here.]

Cover of van den Berg's What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc, 2009)

Luna Park: StoryQuarterly was a great, great magazine for fiction—I remember the first time I read a piece by Steve Almond there and thought that nobody is writing fiction like that, like me and my friends talked, but better. Now the magazine is to be reborn and published at Rutgers. You mentioned you’ve been seeing a lot of exciting things in the lit mag world. Any particular examples?

Laura van den Berg: I love what A Public Space is doing. I’m a McSweeney’s fan as well; they’re quite inventive. I love American Short Fiction; their last few issues have been killer. I might be a little biased because I’m a One Story author, but I think they’re such an exciting publication and terrific advocates for the short story. Ploughshares has some exciting guest editors coming up—Elizabeth Strout, Jim Shepard—so I’m looking forward to seeing those issues.

LP: What magazines are your reading now—well maybe not now exactly, but currently? Are there some titles you always read? Maybe some new ones that have caught your attention? (I’ve personally been impressed by the newish letterpress poetry mag, Lumberyard—but then I have a soft spot for just about anything letterpress.)

Van den Berg: I read One Story, American Short Fiction, and Ploughshares regularly. Tin House, Zoetrope, Granta, NOON, Glimmer Train, and Fence sometimes as well; Failbetter, elimae, Juked, Freight Stories, Five Chapters, and Guernica online. For newer titles, I was recently hugely impressed with a recent issue of The Normal School and The Collagist is doing amazing things—major props to editor Matt Bell. I saw Lumberyard at AWP last year and it looked amazing; I love letterpress too.

LP: Are there any writers publishing in literary magazines you are always looking forward to reading? Any particular piece of writing that recently caught your eye?

Van den Berg: So many! There are a lot of emerging writers I’m really excited about. I love the work of Ethan Rutherford, for example, who has a fabulous story (originally published in American Short Fiction) in the latest edition of Best American Short Stories. James Scott had a wonderful story called “The Strings Attached” in One Story a while back. Matthew Salesses, particularly his Publishing Genius chapbook, We Will Take What We Can Get. Elliott Holt and Caitlin Horrocks. Ted Thompson and Nina McConigley. Just to name a few.

LP: As just about any haphazard Internet surfer knows, the publishing world is changing—with online publishing competing with the print medium, and ebook devices like the Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook gaining reader attention. What do you think this says for the literary magazine? (And here’s the leading part of the question.) Is it destined to be a free online publishing format with a few fine-art presses still doing print publications on the side? Something else?

Van den Berg: There’s no doubt that it’s increasingly important for magazines to have a web presence of some kind—and, ideally, to use that web presence to cultivate a dialogue with readers. In other words, having an internet presence seems less “optional” than it used to be.

How the landscape will look ten years from now, I have no idea. Maybe this is unrealistic, but I find it hard to imagine that the print product will disappear completely. I recognize that the current trends suggest such a shift is coming, but I just can’t conceive of it. I treasure my books as physical objects, and I can’t stand to read long things on a screen of any kind.

LP: If you had an unlimited budget to make your dream magazine with, what would it look like?

McSweeney's issue 32

Van den Berg: I would want to make it more like a book or a chapbook rather than a journal. I love the idea of issues that highlight a single work, too, a la One Story. Maybe a really fancy chapbook, some kind of One Story/McSweeney’s hybrid.

LP: Are you working on anything now you wouldn’t mind talking about? Are there monsters involved? (I hope so.)

Van den Berg: I’m working on a novel and there is monster, although it’s somewhat removed from the narrator, appearing as something she keeps seeing on TV. I was determined to do something monster-less after finishing What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, for fear of repeating myself too much, but I don’t seem to be able to help myself.

LP: Finally, it seems there are two sort of readers, those who enter a bookstore and go straight to the magazine stand and those that go for the bookshelves. Which one are you?

Van den Berg: I usually head straight to the literary magazines to see what’s new, then move on over to the fiction section.