Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Magazines! An interview with Emily Keeler, Jeremy Hanson-Finger and Tyler Willis (Part 2)

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This is the second part in an interview with Emily Keeler, Jeremy Hanson-Finger and Tyler Willis. You can find the first part here.

AF: Last week I did an interview with three chapbook publishers and I was struck by the shared sense of practice—that while they each did their own thing they also seemed to participate in the same community. With you guys? Not so much. Little Brother and Dragnet are bookends on the spectrum of small magazine publishing, and even the ways in which you talk about what you’re up to—from eagerness about typeface to Tyler calling out more established publications—is drastically different. Is there any sort of magazine culture or larger communal project outside of what each journal does on its own? Who else out there are you paying attention to?

EMK: No, I think we’re all a part of the same community, if that’s the word that appeals to you. Dragnet and Little Brother have featured new work by some of the same writers, and Tyler’s Co-Editor at The Puritan, Spencer Gordon, wrote a story for LB’s first special project (a supplementary mini issue devoted to fiction inspired by Rob Ford). The communal project here is writing, literature, and we share it not just among these three journals but along an even broader continuum of interested publishing parties, both in print and on the web. We’re all doing the same thing, creating publics through publications, getting words out there because we want writing in the world. Our approaches, our distribution models, our aesthetics, and so on, might be different, but at core a small (and even a not-small) literary magazine is about creating spaces for and ways of getting literature into the world.

I like Brick, The Coming Envelope, and Joyland in particular (though I’m biased on that last one, being a section editor at the beloved online “hub for short fiction”). In the states, I’m taken with The Paris Review (both in print and online), The Believer, One Story, and the neat book distribution/publishing experiments The Dorothy Project and Emily Books. I also adore The New Inquiry’s monthly .pdf magazine.

JHF: I agree with Emily. Although Little Brother and Dragnet have taken two very different directions, I think we both really respect what the other is doing, and the main reason our publications are not more similar is that we have different skills and a different idea of how we could best fit into the market. I watched a BBC documentary about krautrock last night and was struck by the fact that members of the group Kraftwerk described themselves not as musicians but as musikarbeiter (music workers). Indeed, we’d love to do a print magazine as beautiful as Little Brother, but I think where our skills as a team lie are more in producing a platform to showcase others’ talent than in producing issues that are works of art in themselves—we’re closer to musikarbeiter (literarischmagazinarbeiter?), whereas Little Brother’s Charles Yao is an inspired artist in his own right, the same way that I would consider the people involved in producing McSweeney’s books to be. All that said, I do feel like we are very much part of the same movement, one that is trying to explore the possibilities of the literary magazine in a way that many more-established magazines don’t seem to be doing anymore. We are also definitely part of the literary dance party resurgence, which includes the publishers Coach House and Anansi as well.

In terms of Canadian (or Canadian bureau–including) online magazines, lately I’ve been reading Joyland, The Steel Chisel, and Little Fiction. I guess Little Fiction is more of a short free e-book publisher, but the boundaries are so blurred these days. I think “What’s new in Little Fiction?” so that’s magazine-y enough for me. I was excited to see where the online flipbook magazine Burner was going, because they came out of nowhere and developed a massive following very quickly in the art and music worlds as well as the literary world (after their first online issue came out, one of the editors told me they were in talks with the Drake Hotel to print an anthology that they’d provide in all the hotel rooms) but they seem to be on indefinite hiatus. Soliloquies, out of Concordia University, has been producing some beautiful print issues lately (the latest one uses onionskin paper for dividers!).

In the States, online magazines I often check in with are McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Untoward, HTMLGIANT, Bartleby Snopes, and Fwriction. I can’t say I’ve bought a whole lot of U.S. print literary magazines in recent memory.

TW : I also agree, and I think Emily captured perfectly the collective aim of Canadian small-/micro-press publishing: it's about how we get literature out there. The great thing about a city like Toronto is the opportunity for collaboration. Whether we're celebrating the debut launch of an author we've all published, or whether we're co-hosting an event, we're never far apart.

That said, it is important that each project retain its autonomy and go out of its way to be different. When every Canadian magazine begins to look (and worse: read) the same, things start to look grim. What's invigorating is that interviews like this are celebrating the variety of literary platforms available to readers in this country.

It's also promising to see older, more entrenched enterprises like M&S embracing alternative media. That both The Puritan and Joyland had a story nominated for the Journey Prize last year suggests that projects like ours are getting some attention.

The Canadian publications that continue to tickle me are Joyland, Rusty Toque, and for the sports enthusiast in me, The Barnstormer. In the U.S., nothing tops McSweeney's.

AF: On the note of creating publics, how much of what you do comes from a desire to interact with what’s happening in the public sphere, or is a reaction to what’s occurring out there? I know Little Brother’s produced the Rob Ford issue shockingly swiftly, which seems impressive given that most magazines can’t get to these things before they’re stale (on the literary front, for example, it feels like many Canadian journals only publish reviews years after the book came out), but it must have required a sweat-inducing amount of labour. And on Jeremy’s point “trying to explore the possibilities of the literary magazine in a way that many more-established magazines don’t seem to be doing anymore,” is there any attempt to respond to what other publications are doing, whether it’s being pushed by their innovation or covering territory they can’t or won’t get to?

EMK: The zine, Everything is Fine, was our first special project. It was fun to put it together, and I continue to be amazed at the high calibre of work that these talented writers were able to produce, given the five day timeframe they had. It was a fun experiment in pushing the boundaries of what Little Brother can do, and we’re planning to pursue other special projects down the road.

JHF: Our first special project is Dragnet Anthology 1, which will be a 128-page trade paperback featuring about 30 works from the first eight issue and will be the first of hopefully many biennial anthologies. It will come out some time in September—we’ll have it printed for September 1 with the launch soon after. Although we had been talking about the possibility of an anthology before, I think seeing The Puritan’s anthology and how well people responded to it really pushed us to do ours. We managed to raise the funds to print the anthology through an Indiegogo campaign involving presales and other incentives, so it’s going to come into being solely because of viewers like you—thanks, everyone who donated!

TW: I mentioned this to Emily at the Everything is Fine launch, and I think it's very true: someone was going to do a Rob Ford collection sooner or later, and credit is due for her hustle in putting that project together so quickly. Magazine publishing is very much a sink-or-swim situation; and the ones that survive are the ones that don't slow down. Dragnet's upcoming print anthology is also exciting, and is another example of the collaborative nature of magazine publishing. They helped us co-host the launch of our anthology last Fall, and we hope to return the favour.

I think, Andrew, that your point about reviews is right on. There is a severe shortage of timely, high-quality, probing and provocative reviews out there. It makes me wonder at the anxieties prevalent in the very nature of small press and seems to prove my suspicion that we're ultimately afraid to criticize and/or be criticized. Reviews are such a necessary element of literature, and it is unfortunate that we don't see enough. The Puritan pays top-dollar for them, and yet lengthy, intelligent reviews are still a rarity.

I also hope to see more creative projects that push conceptual boundaries. Personally, I think these kinds of projects can actually move away from the printed word and into the dizzying and dazzling realm of publishing/performance crossovers. Broken Pencil's annual Deathmatch poetry contest is one such hybrid. Of course, one day in the distant future, The Puritan hopes to produce the sequel to its legendary, wrestling-themed, career-ending poetry square-off, The Throwdown, which saw two poets fight to the death in defense of their work.

As literary sponsors, editors have the opportunity to identify and direct the conventions of appreciation. In the end, I am excited about venues and ventures that not only explore the boundaries of the literary magazine, but of literary magazine culture.

AF: I’d like to end on what we in the industry call “hard-hitting journalism” and “asking the tough questions.” What do you have coming up in the near future? Care to share any excerpts from a recent or forthcoming issue?

JHF: Besides Dragnet Anthology 1, Issue 8 is coming out on Tuesday, July 9, and we’re having a launch party at the Ossington with readings by contributors Brooke Lockyer, Mike Sauve, Seyward Goodhand, Ellie Anglin . . . and some unknown guy we’re taking a chance on named Andrew Faulkner (do you know anything about him? [ed. note: that guy’s awesome]). As is our style, the launch party will also feature dancing with DJs Devan Boomen and Messy Elliot after the readings. Here’s the Facebook event:

And here’s the first paragraph of one of my favourite pieces from the issue, “Felix Baumgartner’s Guardian Angel” by Seyward Goodhand:

I hate your ambition, Felix. I hate that on the blank line next to “career,” you write “daredevil.” I hate that your father is a carpenter, which has led you to make personal comparisons between yourself and Christ. I hate that in an interview, you advocated “a moderate dictatorship led by experienced personalities coming from the private economy.” I wish I weren’t your guardian angel. But up we go, eh, Felix? Up to space we go, pulled by a balloon.

EMK: We’re hard at work on LB No. 3, but in the meantime, here are two of Chris Randle’s jokes from the current issue, told in the style of the world’s most celebrated Slovene Lacanian, or as Chris once put it, “Human Meme,” Slavoj Žižek:

“First as Tragedy, Then as Pop Punk”

The two main alternative readings of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket can thus be interpreted as akin to the dream-logic in which you can "have your cake and eat it too," like in the "Sex or masturbation? Yes, please!" joke: you first dream about fingering it, then about having/fucking it, since dreams do not know contradiction.

We, Badiou and I, embrace each other, but in reality we hate each other. Our usual joke is: if I take power, he goes to the Warped Tour.

TW: At the moment, we’re focusing on our annual contest, The Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence, which is open until September 30th. This year, we have increased the prize value to $1500 in cash and over $1200 in books from a slew of Canada's top presses. For 2014, we have some surprises up our sleeve, so keep an eye out for some possible celebrity judges.

We’re also about to publish our 21st issue, which will feature some work we're really excited about. I'll end with some impressionistic splashes from poet Camille Martin:

The Milky Way is teeming with billions

of manatee idols.


Norwegian folk song


Close your eyes and click

your heels to a time when no one

will get the reference.


last word,

poised on one leg of a


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Andrew Faulkner

Andrew Faulkner co-curates The Emergency Response Unit, a chapbook press. His first book, Need Machine, was published by Coach House Books in April 2013. He lives in Toronto.

Go to Andrew Faulkner’s Author Page