Monday, August 18, 2014

What Does It Mean When They Say "Read the Magazine?"

If you submit work to literary magazines, you will note that the guidelines almost always say something like, "To get an idea for what we like, read the magazine." And you read a few pieces and you think, "I can write as well as that," and you think that's the end of it. But, in fact, the editors are asking you to do some research. It's hard to know what questions they want you to explore, but here are some possible items to consider when you are trying to figure out what they like.

Genre. First make sure you know what your piece is. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Westerns, and Folk Tales are probably going to be accepted by different magazines than creative nonfiction or literary fiction. Poetry often has its own constraints.

Length. Is most of the work short or long? Does the magazine take work over or under a certain length?

Format. Do they handle unusual spacing or shaping of poetry? This is really hard in html, and your poem will not look good across all platforms, particularly mobile, if it has tabs. Print magazines may be able to accommodate format issues.

Subject. Have they taken work with a similar subject to what you are considering submitting? If so, they may not want a similar piece unless you have handled it from a different angle. Do they like subjects on the edge? From the heart? Conceptual? Ironic? Do you see violence? Judgment? Grief? Everyday problems such as divorce and death? Interior dilemmas such as guilt or shame? Moral choices? See this post for subjects to avoid, or at least to be careful of.

Tone. Does the work you see come from anger, love, curiosity, bewilderment? Is it written in a clinical manner or informally? Does it sound like it is trying to teach or show or preach? Authoritative or exploratory?

Language. Do they pay attention to the sound of words? Does every word seem to mean something? Do they like heaped-on images? Surreal and stream-of-consciousness? Matter-of-fact descriptions? Big words? Natural-sounding words? Creative metaphors? Simple similes? Clichés disguised as poetry (as in "the grass was a green carpet")?

Humor. I think the kind of humor appreciated by the magazine is the ultimate key. Is there any apparent or obvious humor? Some magazines are very serious. Some want broad comedy. Is the humor silly or clever, witty, sly, self-deprecating, or mean? The kind of humor is a clue. Does your humor match? Do you laugh at the work that is meant to seem funny? Your work might match, too. If you cringe, don't bother, this magazine is not for you.

Even after you go through this list, it may be hard to tell. But it is worth reading a large sample so you get some kind of intuitive feeling. You might even find some other writers you like. See how a magazine describes itself. Pankfor example, likes the gritty, experimental, sometimes shocking, Word Riot wants "forceful " "edgy" and "challenging." Generations is interested in "encouraging conversations across the generational gaps." Blackberry wants to "expose readers to the diversity of the black woman's experience and strengthen the black female voice." You've got to know what the magazine is about before you submit, or you are wasting your time and the editor's time. You can find a listing of magazines and their calls for submissions here.

Lastly, be aware that most magazines accept only 2-10% of the work they receive! It may be that you did your homework (You did! You did!), but your piece just doesn't fall into that acceptance category.

No matter what, good luck and keep writing!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Void: Book without the Letter E

After I wrote (in an earlier post) about OuLiPo and constraint-based writing, I decided to read A Void, a translation by Gilbert Adair of the French novel La Disparition by Georges Perec (1936-1982), which avoids all words with the letter E: a lipogram. I expected the language to be stilted, that perhaps this book was a novelty at best. Surprise! It is funny and witty, and the plot kept me keep reading. Not only was Perec a masterful writer, but so was Adair (1944-2011).

The summary on the back is also E-less, but I have neither the patience nor the skill to write this post as a lipogram. So, there shall be Es.

Opening the book, I was wary: would I be able to read it? Would it make sense? I was worried about archaic language used as work-arounds, and I was completely conscious of searching every word for Es. It began violently funny and funny how violent: a description of starvation that could be humorous? "You'd kill your own kith and kin for a chunk of salami, your cousin for a crust, your crony for a crouton and just about anybody at all for a crumb" (viii). Welcome to this world. Could Perec/Adair refrain from using the pronoun "he" for the first protagonist Anton Vowl? He does. The only noticeable word replacement is "whilst" for "while." We see the sly writers' workings with, "'And now for a public announc—'…Damn that static!" (4). And we're off!

Insomniac Vowl is searching his rug for a "missing strand" (6), and he hallucinates or dreams of a bookshelf with 26 numbered books, but number 5, of course is missing (E), and there is no gap for it. This is "a void," (13) or one of many. The number 5 becomes symbolic, the pivot for many of the following plot twists. Suspicious, I went back to the table of contents and mai oui! There is no chapter 5 here, either. Vowl keeps a diary, which lists many activities that seem strange to him, including, "a compositor at a printing plant wilfully [sic] vandalising his own typographic apparatus" (26). French and Italian phrases are employed to avoid the words "yes" and "me" (28). Vowl disappears. Aha! 
It is a mystery. The hunt for the missing person is on, and along the way we discover complications and new plots.

Vowl's diary is the source for numerous texts within the text, primarily rewrites of famous poems and stories sans E. Moby Dick is one of the first (short! 69-73), later we find "Living, or Not Living" by William Shakspar, "Vocalisation" by Arthur Rimbaud ("Vowels," with reference to the E omitted) and "Black Bird" by Arthur Gordon Pym (104-108). When you get to "Quoth that Black Bird, 'Not Again,'" you realize where you are. But how is Arthur Gordon Pym a stand-in for Edgar Allan Poe? I chased AGP down to a novel by Poe: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), which turns out also to have been an inspiration for Melville's Moby Dick  (1851). This is way too clever for me, and I know there are other literary allusions I am missing. Ah, so perhaps that is part of the conceptual point: finding the void in the reader's knowledge as well. Even if you don't get them all, the allusions are fun.

A "zahir" appears, definitely (more sleuthing here) in reference to a 1949 story El Zahir by Jorge Luis Borges: the translation of "zahir" is "the surface, or apparent meaning of things" or "something that creates an obsession," which is the subject of this entire book.

The book even refers to itself (or its author) as one character expounds to another, "It was born out of a mad and morbid whim: that of wholly satisfying a fascination with linguistic gratuity, with proscription and subtraction, that of avoiding any word striking its author as too obvious, too arrogant or too common…from constraint is born autonomy" (177-178). And later, even more clearly as a character strives to remember a book "that would contain a solution to his plight" was it, "La Disparition? Or Adair's translation of it?" (201).

Another notable play with words on page 212: "Alas and alack for Alaric and his lass!"

As I read further, I decided that the main word consciously avoided is "death" (décès in French). Amaury, one of the other characters, in a much longer monologue, says, "It is, I say to you, by our saying nothing, by our playing dumb, that this Law of 'an I for an I' that's pursuing us today is still so strong…Nobody's willing to talk about it, to put a word to it, so causing us all to fall victim to a form of damnation of which nothing is known." (197). An article about Perec suggests that La Disparition refers not only to disappearances, but to the Holocaust. His father was "killed in action…and his mother died in a concentration camp."  Perec was saved by relatives, who changed his name from Peretz to Perec, to avoid sounding Jewish, and this linguistic change saved him. 

The previous passage perhaps confirms the truth that death is unavoidable and also a mystery, but reading it within the context of Perec's life gives it an even darker meaning. It is possible he was treating heavy subject of Nazi occupation with many layers, including comedy and metaphor, to make it readable. My first impression was that while it may color the writing/reading, it was a bit of a stretch. But by page 244 and this line, "this man in whom such wrath was stoking up such fanaticism and who would go all out to find us," I wasn't so sure. Page 265 brought sharper focus: "…why not you? By rights, your surviving such a holocaust is illogical."

The wild ride eventually stopped, all mysteries were raveled or unraveled or left with just a void; they were quite complex and became stranger and stranger as the historical link seemed clearer, or at least more plausible, if not a bit depressing. In the postscript, Perec described the reason he undertook the task and the hope that he would be able to go deeply into his imagination in a way he couldn't without the constraint. He wrote, "Initially I found such a constraint faintly amusing…it took my imagination down so many intriguing linguistic highways and byways, I couldn't stop thinking about it…at last giving up all my ongoing work…" (282). Did it work? The turnings of the ending were almost too confusing, but overall, worth the read. The fact that it had a constraint did not hurt it in the end, it was actually important to the plot. I think this is an excellent example of a book where form and function are intertwined and necessary.

Once he finished La Disparition, Perec collected all the Es he had avoided, and in 1972 wrote a new book entertaining E as the only vowel called, Les Revenentes.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tools: Brushes and Pens for Lettering

When I plan an edition of a book I know I am limited to the styles of metal type stashed in drawers in my studio: Caslon Oldstyle and Univers, some Bodoni, Bembo, and limited quantities of some other pretty faces. When I'm making just one book, however, rather than a multiple, I have to choose what style, size, and color, and how I want to execute them. Each style has a certain character to it and can enhance or detract from the text. 

For lettering tools, I generally choose from: a crow quill pen; a pointed nib; a ruling pen; and a variety of sizes of round and flat brushes. For reference, I thought it might be interesting to test them here and look at quality and brand as well. Here are my explorations.

Left to right and top to bottom: 
#3 round; #4 round; #6 round; #6 bright; #8 flat shader; #0 round; #00 (2/0) round

All are short-handled watercolor brushes except 
the blue-handled bright, which is an acrylic/oil brush.

#3 round. A medium small brush: I was able to use it for lettering in a few books. 
This is a Loew-Cornell brand, known as "economy" or "student" grade for a reason.
They are crappy brushes. You can see where I had to trim errant bristles.
They don't hold their point well and tend to look like they have bedhead.
You can see what happens when the hairs are split in the top word.
Another brand of this size would be better for detailed work.

#4 is a little larger. 
Too large for lettering in small books, but fine for larger ones. 
Again, the crappy brand, but this one hasn't been used as much.

#6. Larger still. 
Fine for lettering on big sheets of painted paper.
Still the crappy brand. And I mean crappy: on one of these the ferrule 
(that's the metal part that holds the bristles) came off 
and I had to glue it back to the wood handle with Tacky Glue.

#6 bright. 
This is a Blick student grade brush, but still better than the others.
It's fine, but I don't adore using it. Since it has a flat edge I could count up four widths
to find the x-height for the letters.

This #8 flat shader is really too big for books (and for this tiny card! bleh!), 
but excellent for painted paper lettering if you want
boxy letters or more pronounced thick and thin strokes.

#0. round. 
I just bought this brush and am trying it out for the first time here.
It is tiny and pretty springy, holds the point and easy to use.
It's a Utrecht brand. Not bad. 
I'm definitely more comfortable with a smaller brush.

#00. round.
Even smaller than the one above and a Blick "Master Synthetic."
It handled well. This and the #0 may be my new favorite lettering brushes.

I tend to be partial to pens because I can control the ink and the lettering better.
These are the two I most often use: the crow quill and a regular pointed nib in a holder.

The crow quill will give you a line as fine as the #00 brush.
It can be scratchy for some people.
Do not press down hard when the ink runs out or the point will break.
You have to be sensitive to the amount of ink you have or need to add
with the dropper.

This nib is much more flexible than the crow quill and writes almost as small.
You can buy more nibs to fit the holder, and they are not very expensive.

This is an old ruling pen.

See how the bead of ink is suspended between the points by surface tension.
You can adjust the width, but it still leaves a thicker amount of ink on the paper.
It can be a little awkward to use, but it is fun to try. Also good for lettering on 
larger sheets of painted paper.

Size and shape matter. Quality of brush matters. These are only a few possibilities.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Thick Magazine to Browse —Lapham's Quarterly

Over a year ago, must have been two, I read an article about the marginalia in medieval manuscripts and found the source: Lapham's Quarterly. I ordered that Spring 2012 issue, "Means of Communication" and another one, Spring 2010, "Arts & Letters" to peruse at will. They are quite thick, about 220 pages each, and cost as much as a hardcover book, but the articles sounded interesting. The magazines remained by my bed until recently. Well, they are still there, but I have read or mostly read one of them (Arts & Letters), and thought I'd share some highlights.

First of all, the majority of content in this magazine is excerpts and reprinted material from books, letters, documents, articles, etc.. Take a look at some featured contributors.

Vincent Van Gogh | Elizabeth Barret Browning | Richard Wagner | Kurt Vonnegut | Suetonius | Andy Warhol | Louis Armstrong | Henry James | Juvenal | Horace | Roberto Bolaño | Knut Hamsun | Aleksandr Pushkin | Salman Rushdie | Wendy Steiner

The table of contents is a bit daunting. No titles are given, just the year, the city, the page number, and the author. Such as, "1957: New York City 79. James Baldwin."

First I flipped through. Then I hunkered down and started at the beginning with a piece from The Writing Life  1989: San Juan Islands, WA 21. Annie Dillard. She says, "You adapt yourself, said Paul Klee, to the contents of the paint box." It seemed an appropriate place to begin. Don't try to force something to be what it isn't. Work with what you have. But first, learn about it.

I wouldn't try to make this magazine be a whole book, and I told myself I didn't have to read every article. I enjoyed the journey. Some other samples that appealed to me and seemed useful to artists and writers:

c. 1900: Vienna 64. Stefan Zweig
An amusing bit of memoir about being in school but learning outside of it. It is entertaining and interesting, and I was glad to hear the writer's voice in it. Zweig was an inspiration for the current Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The excerpt is from The World of Yesterday.

2005: New York City 73. Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut, in his slightly impatient, slightly mocking tone, diagrams the arcs of some typical stories and writes about them while he does it. "Man in Hole," "Boy Meets Girl" "Cinderella" "Kafka" and "Hamlet" are featured. "Man in Hole" starts off with a character who is fortunate, he loses his fortune, but he regains it, a little higher than where he started. Kafka's stories, predictably, start low and end lower. It may all seem simplistic and a little cruel, but hey, it's Vonnegut, what do you expect? The piece is an article called, "Here Is A Lesson in Creative Writing" from A Man Without a Country.

1946: London 91. George Orwell
He begins noting that "an effect can become a cause." Bad writing can become worse if we keep imitating bad writing. He looks at "Dying metaphors" which are metaphors that were once evocative but are now just ordinary words, and "Meaningless words" as another example, such as, " The word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something undesirable.'" He's pretty hard-hitting on the bad use of language, but makes some good points. From "Politics and the English Language" which may be found in Politics and the English Language and Other Essays.

1976: New York City 147. Lee Quiñones
This is a piece about creating graffiti with the Fabulous Five, or painting, otherwise known as writing on a long string of train cars in New York City. It's a fascinating look at the culture. From an interview. He was also featured in a film Wild Style.

So, those are a few of the many varied articles in Lapham's Quarterly, Volume III, Number 2. More likely upcoming when I read the other issue.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Words for One Threaded Accordion

Obsessed, I painted and assembled four threaded accordions without being completely sure what they were about. They sat in the studio for a few weeks before the words began to call. Here is the content for the book shown in the tutorial; it is a single poem. Those Pipes evolved from a conversation about motorcycles.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Instructions: Threaded Accordion Book for the Wall

Someone has probably named this accordion, but I have not heard its name. It appears to be a simplified version of some of the structures in Claire Van Vliet and Elizabeth Steiner's Woven and Interlocking Book StructuresIt is obviously an accordion, but has elements of slitting, weaving, and gluing as well. It opens like a single flag book, but the weaving adds texture and color to the pages. Its most distinguishing feature, I think, is that it can hang vertically on a wall; you can hide the text and leave the wall hanging as a painting, or incorporate the words as design elements. Perhaps this one is Accordion Book for the Wall. Vertical Hanging Accordion is a bit clunky. Layered Wall Accordion might be another option. And it's not really woven, but more precisely threaded through. Perhaps it should be called Threaded Accordion.

You can use other papers and decorative covering materials and end sheets. In this example I am using one half-sheet of painted Velin Arches and cutting it down. 

Example: 3 1/8"h x 4 1/4"w
Tools: pencil; bone folder; ruler (centering ruler is great for this); X-Acto knife; cutting mat; PVA; small piece of board or small brush for gluing; magazines for waste paper; awl; (optional: needle for threading the hanging loop)
Materials (all paper and boards grained short): Seven 4" x 6" pages; One 2" x 9" strip for accordion; Two 4" x 5" decorative papers to cover boards; Two 4" x 3" decorative end sheets; Two 3 1/8" x 4 1/4" 4-ply museum boards; one piece of ribbon or waxed linen thread, approximately 6-8" long
For optional slipcase: Two pieces of decorative paper, 10" x 5"; one piece of Stonehenge or other printmaking paper, 9 1/2" x 4 1/2"

Using acrylic inks (and gesso), paint a textweight paper such as Velin Arches, Rives Lightweight, Ingres Antique, or Strathmore Drawing. Cut paper to the sizes in the materials list.

1. Fold each 4 x 6 page in half.
2. Measure 1/2" from the open edges and cut a slit that is centered, 2" wide in each of the seven folded pages. You will be cutting through both layers.

3. Fold the long 9" strip into a 16-panel accordion by first folding all the valley folds on the wrong side, then folding back from each end until finished.

Seven slit and folded pages, one 16-panel accordion.

4. Thread the accordion through the slit in the first page.

5. Thread the accordion through the slit in the second page. This is what the opening looks like.
6. Continue threading the accordion through the pages until all seven are connected.

7. Use a small piece of scrap board or a brush and apply glue to the back of the second panel of the accordion.
8. Press the panel in place onto the page.
9. Continue applying glue and pressing down, leaving one panel unglued between each of the pages.

10. Apply a little glue to the inside open edge of each of the pages and press together.
11. Repeat the gluing for the remaining six pages.

12. Wrap the boards. (See page 209, with tip on corners on 207 in Making Handmade Books.)
13. Make sure there is space between the book block and the board for the book to open and close easily, and then glue down the end panel of the accordion to one of the boards.

14. Apply glue to the back of the end sheet and press in place.

15. Glue the other end of the accordion to the second board.
Make sure there is space between the book block and the board for the book to open and close easily.
16. Apply glue to the back of the second end sheet and press into place.

17. Use the awl to poke a hole, centered, about 1/4-1/2" from the edge of the front board.

18. Thread a piece of waxed linen or ribbon through the hole and tie in an overhand knot.

The book, opened completely, ready to hang.

1s. For an optional matching slipcase, apply glue to the back of one of the larger decorative sheets and smooth onto the piece of Stonehenge (or thick printmaking paper).
2s. Apply glue to the back of the other sheet and press in place on the other side,making a sandwich. 
3s. Let dry under a weight for about an hour.
4s. Trim to 9" x 4 3/8".

5s. Measure for a slipcase: the width of the book, doubled, plus the thickness. The thickness of my book is about 1/2". Head to tail: 1/2" + slightly more than the height of the book + 1/2" (Instructions for "Paper Slipcase" in Making Handmade Books on pages 193-194.)
6s. Measure and cut finger notches, centered, on left and right sides.

7s. This one was a tight fit, so I rubbed beeswax on the head and tail of the covers.

Here's another version. You can see how it is cut from the parent sheet. The white gessoed images were stenciled from a hand cut paper stencil (see "Handmade Stencils" in Painted Paper, pages 73-76). This one has a variation of sewing machine sewn page edges instead of glued edges.

Unfortunately, this painted paper cracked when I folded it. A few possible reasons are: the paper grain was going in the opposite direction; the glue was completely dry before I scored and attempted to fold it. Next time, I would fold up the slipcase before it dried completely, which I believe is what I had done with the others.

Here is a third example, in which the painted paper was painted, coated completely with gesso, and then scratched into. (See "Gesso and Sgraffito" in Painted Paper, pages 67-69.)

So many possibilities for this structure: many surfaces, many parts could be changed or varied. Every time you have a new part you have the possibility for more interaction, more color and texture choices.