Free and Clear

This past February I submitted two short-short stories to Another Chicago Magazine. Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, and Emily Raboteau have all had stories published in its pages, and although I’ve never been a subscriber, I’ve thought that the issues I’ve looked at before seemed interesting, well curated, and smartly put together. Then in March, while in Austin for the AWP conference, I was introduced to one of ACM‘s assistant fiction editors by one of the editors of Quick Fiction. He’d read my story “Lost Childhood” in QF #8, he said, and liked it; would I submit to ACM? I already had work in their slush pile, I said, but I gave him a copy of my little pink book as well, in case he was curious to read more of my writing. (I should probably note that I’m not going to use names here, because my intention is not reprisal, but rather, ideally, a small furthering of the larger goal of a generous and mutually supportive transparency in the literary world.)

In late March, this assistant fiction editor wrote to say that although he thought the two short-shorts I’d submitted were good, he was more interested in the title story of my manuscript; had I placed it anywhere yet? I had not, I wrote back, although I was a little uncertain of how well that story’s ending worked. Three e-mails over three weeks went unanswered; finally he wrote back in late April to say that he agreed that the story might benefit from some fine-tuning. I e-mailed two new versions of the story the first week of May, to which I heard no reply. An e-mail at the end of May was also met with silence, as was yet another follow-up in July. Then I wrote to the magazine’s general mailbox to see what was going on; a week later (now August), I sent an e-mail to that same address withdrawing the story from consideration, which bounced back with the error message “mailbox quota exceeded.” I then forwarded my withdrawal to the magazine’s chief fiction editor’s e-mail address at her university job, and I printed out the e-mail and mailed it to ACM‘s USPS address. Naturally I wondered what was going on; perhaps the magazine was dead? Their Web site hadn’t been updated in what seemed like years, but when I recently went to check it again, the site was gone completely, with a Network Solutions message saying that the URL had expired on September 7, 2006 and was “pending renewal or deletion.” So I did a Technorati search, hoping to learn something more from the blogosphere; I didn’t find an answer to the question of ACM‘s moribundity, but I did discover a post by Jason Sanford at the storySouth blog, “The fast and slow on submission responses,” which mentioned a new Web site that I’d never heard of before (and which is, I suppose, the real subject I’m long-windedly circumambulating), Duotrope’s Digest. (See also Sanford’s first post about the site, here.) An online voluntary consolidation of the poetry- and fiction-submission scratch sheets of all interested poets and fiction writers, and a standardized presentation of the compiling of those data? Brilliant! A site that might prove even more useful, ultimately, than the New Pages listings! And ACM, I discovered, is listed on Duotrope’s Digest as “temporarily closed to submissions”—which is, perhaps, the lit mag equivalent of the distant sound of death throes.

(Still with me? Glad to hear it! Unless there’s some larger story I’m not seeing, I suspect this is all too mundane to be worth writing an article about—but it seems nevertheless worth mentioning in a public forum.)

A lingering question, though: to paraphrase to words of William Goldman, who are these Duotrope guys? Perhaps I’m just not seeing it, but I can find nothing on the about, contact, or legal pages of the site that identifies who the “we” that pervades the site’s copy might be. Adding to the mystery, the registrant and administrative contact in the WHOIS database is listed simply as “Duotrope,” 911 Michigan Avenue, Socorro, New Mexico—an address that, according to Google Maps, does not exist. The town is real, and looks about halfway between Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences, which would seem to be an unlikely home for anything having to do with the rather New York-centric literary world—but perhaps this is just my East Coast bias talking.

Which brings me to another question: If a Web site is ostensibly about openness and information sharing, shouldn’t its owners and operators tell you who they are?

This seems obvious to me—but then, I pay Network Solutions the extra few bucks a year for private registration, so who am I to talk?