Interview with MB – Branta

Interview with me from Branta, posted today. I’ll paste it below also. Mostly it’s about The Danforth Review.

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Why did you decide to suspend TDR?

It ran its course. Ten years is a long time to be devoted to a project. It’s the longest amount of time I’ve devoted to anything: a relationship, a job, an educational program, a book. My life changed a lot in those ten years, too. I needed time for other things. Also, I had ideas about how to make it better, but they all involved more people, more money, more time, and I didn’t have the energy or time to organize all that. My life was going in a different direction. When the inner voice tells you it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

What was the impetus in starting it a decade ago?

It started as an experiment. What would an online literary magazine look like? I wanted to focus on small press Canadian stuff. There was a magazine called PARAGRAPH in the 1990s that I wrote for. It focused a lot on small press stuff, but it folded. I sort of wanted to fill that void, but online.

Was there much resistance to the idea of “online” writing?

There was some resistance, but I wouldn’t say there was a lot of it. Some people I approached didn’t want to submit because it didn’t seem legitimate, but after running and funding the magazine myself for three years, the Canada Council came on board and provided minimal funding for the next seven years, so that said a lot about the format going mainstream (at least as far as lit mags go). At the same time, I should note that I tried a number of times to submit to the JOURNEY PRIZE anthology, and M&S wouldn’t let me. Only print magazines were allowed to submit stories to be considered. That’s a barrier that hasn’t fallen yet, as far as I’m aware.

How do you think the quality of work, and the perception of writing on the internet changed over the ten years of TDR?

Somewhat. The younger generation is of course very familiar with the online world and it’s obviously the future. In the past year or so, there has been rapid public awareness of digital books and that format seems closer to being a broad-based reality than ever. But I’m still skeptical myself. In the first issue of TDR in 1999, I linked to a story on the CBC website about the imminent arrival of digital books. Ten years later, it still an imminent phenomenon. We’ll see. I love books. I don’t think they’ll ever disappear.

So then what are your opinions surrounding the “death of print” i.e magazines losing circulation, books being sold virtually for kindle type readers.

I think there’s two things going on here. Newspapers and magazines are under tremendous financial pressure from lost advertising revenue, because readers are going online and advertising revenues have gone off a cliff. Of course, the massive consolidation of media companies has affected the marketplace, too, making it harder for smaller publications to stay afloat. At the same time, technology is making it easier for readers/consumers to turn away from print formats. As I said above, I don’t think the paper book is going away, but in some formats/genres it might. Textbooks, for example, or reference books. The phone book. Information that can be more easily delivered in digital format will be. But I don’t think people are going to want to read poetry on their cell phone … or give up nice thick novels. Personally, I have no interest in reading anything of length online. And I like looking up at my library and its wall of books. Changes are afoot, no doubt. The future is unclear to me, but I think books will survive.

What were the best and worst parts of TDR from a personal point of view.

The best parts were getting connected with different people and “meeting” folks from all over the world. I loved reading the fiction submissions, too. Just seeing the different creative approaches that people brought to their work. It was very motivating to read all the stories and know that people all over were writing fiction and trying to do it as well as they could. And just because they could, and liked doing it. It obviously wasn’t about the money or pushing “product” or being part of a publicity machine. It was all very encouraging and liberating. What I’d always thought literature should be.

The worst parts were the bickering from disgruntled writers, the nasty emails from people who wanted to start flame wars, the name-calling and outright craziness that just burns a hole in your heart and makes you wonder why you bother to put yourself out there in the first place. It’s just energy-sucking and debilitating.

Is there one shining moment you can look back on?

It was a great feeling when one of stories from TDR got selected to be in the BEST CANADIAN STORIES anthology.

Other interesting moments included getting a story submission from Faluja, Iraq. It was sent in by a U.S. soldier, a medic. We published it. I think there were three stories in total sent in from U.S. military or ex-military personnel. We published only one of them. We had some truly awful poetry submissions, and we were sent way more poetry books that we could ever find reviewers for. That’s one of the early learnings: how many poetry books are actually published in this country. Too many. As a short story writer, I’m somewhat resentful. I asked a publisher once how there could be so many poetry books, if the reason short story books didn’t get picked up was because they didn’t sell. I was told it was because poetry books were slimmer, contained fewer pages, and it was easier to use the publisher grants to cover the actual costs (i.e., the grant didn’t double if you were publishing a 150 short story book, so easier to break even on a 75 page poetry book).

But maybe I should talk more about shining moments:
– I was very pleased to be able to interview writers I greatly admire, like Mark Anthony Jarman, Douglas Glover, Greg Hollingshead and John Lavery, among others. TDR was part of my continuing education, in this way.
– I’m pleased also that we were able to draw attenting to many books and authors and leave behind an archive (on the Library and Archives Canada website) that will be a record of this period.
– We had some really fun features, like the YouTube Guide to Canadian Literature, by my partner in crime, features editor, Nathaniel G. Moore.

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