June/July 1998

Illness, Delays, Changes and the Disappearing Month of May: A Self Interview

by Chris Lott

In the spirit of James Dickey (let me just interject here that I would really appreciate it if all of the students out there scouring the net desperately for information about James Dickey would stop writing to me and asking me in veiled-- and not so veiled-- ways to do their homework for them. He really was a marvelous writer... so read his work for yourself!) I decided to interview myself about the long delay in coming out with this issue of Eclectica and the circumstances surrounding it.

Chris, you are one handsome devil. Anyway, let's get one thing straight first: you are not dead or dying. . .

No, but I must be crazy to be sitting here working on a mock editorial when the Chicago Bulls are in the middle of a playoff semi-final Game 7...

Seriously though, this illness thing has troubled many readers of Eclectica. I'm sure you've received mail asking you what's going on!

Well, let's just say that I have had a chastening opportunity kind of thrust upon me... an opportunity to re-evaluate myself and what I am doing with my life. I considered dropping the whole enterprise of Eclectica entirely. But after a little bit of soul-searching (and some discussions with my co-editor who clearly has some say) I decided that while I did need to re-prioritize, Eclectica should-- needed to-- go on.

I'm starting to get the idea that you don't want to go into specifics about the health problems.

How perceptive.

So what about the rumors regarding future changes in Eclectica?

Beginning with the next issue there will be visible changes in the site. You can already see that our new forums are in action. Next issue we will be moving to a new site with (if all goes as planned) our own domain name: www.eclectica.org . The next issue will also mark the debut of a new Reader's Choice voting feature with real-time display of results. In either that issue or the next we will also be adding a a "scrawl wall" where people can enter comments about a piece right from the piece itself and they will go into a kind of guestbook page with automatic links from the comments to the pieces themselves.

A lot more interactivity!

Exactly. We know people are reading the magazine because of the number of hits we are getting and the number of people who have signed up for notification, etc. But now we want to know more exactly what people think. Hopefully we will get more participation from the readers and the authors, one of the things that makes this medium so exciting.

And questionable. There has been a lot of talk lately in various forums, lists and print publications about the state and future of web publishing. Has this had an effect on you?

I would be lying if I said these conversations don't influence me. It is difficult to put the amount of time, effort and money into this endeavor that Tom and I do and then hear the constant complaining and whining by some readers (though, of course, it is unlikely those complaining have seen most of the good publications out there to begin with)--

Did you say "whining"? Don't you think that might alienate some readers?

Well, I don't know what else to call it. Look, I haven't been told that Eclectica stinks or anything-- I've never even accidentally overheard that kind of negativity about our zine. But I do hear these radical generalizations about publishing on the net that are often misguided and sometimes plain wrong. When Bill Henderson (Editor of the Pushcart Prize anthology. ed.) doesn't just question electronic publishing (which is semi-valid), but rants about the term "word processors" and some inane idea about the "implications" of that term-- in the context of a book completely produced and published on a computer filled with pieces that were almost all composed and/or revised on a computer... well, it is clear that there is a combination of insecurity and ignorance at work there.

Recently a writer that I really respect said in an open forum that he had given up on reading e-zines because it was just too difficult to find the good writing and that most web publications either stunk or carried work that was not even up to the run-of-the-mill work in print publications. His job as a reader, he said, did not entail having to expend so much effort to find the gems.

Now, excuse me for saying this, but that is bullshit. It is pure laziness. First, if we simply stick to what we know is good then it is easy to dismiss everything else. It is easy to continue reading our three or ten favorite print publications and ignore not just the web world, but the 25000 other print pubs that are out there! Second, web publishing is in its infancy. Is it a crime not to burst forth onto the literary scene wholly formed and critically acclaimed? Most of the venerable magazines out there have been publishing for a long time. And for each one of the new ones that are attracting the household names backed by philanthropists who like pissing their money away on the same old writing found in every other magazine, there are print startups and small presses paying little or nothing and flying by the seat of their pants who are publishing arguably better writing. Electronic publishing has not had the time yet to establish itself in such a way that appearing on the web for free or almost free has the same prestige attached to it that it does to appear in many of the great literary magazines. But it will--

Your rants are so incisive, yet intelligent-- eloquent, yet--

Yeah, yeah. The point is, my dissatisfaction with Eclectica was coming not from where we are right now but from feeling like we were growing stagnant. The bottom line is this: I am proud of what we are doing and think that we have one of the best literary web publications out there. I agree that we can-- and will-- get better, but the distance we still have to go comes naturally from starting an enterprise from scratch in an entirely new medium, not from laziness or lack of dedication or inability to stick to the principles of our vision.

You sound pretty intense about all of this!

I am. But not for myself as much as for the writers appearing in Eclectica and because of my belief in the qualities of web publishing in general. I think the things that are around the corner technologically and socially will blow peoples' minds and make electronic publishing a truly feasible enterprise for the general populace. I like being in on the ground floor of that.

Ultimately, though, my long term plans for Eclectica are to expand into some other areas as well. I would like to do some independent print publishing of chapbooks and broadsides and the like-- I have a real love for fine printing and design. I definitely see us establishing a print or multimedia anthology of some kind and have been thinking about some kind of a literary awards for web publishing (E-Scene does a great job, but I think they could stand some healthy competition).

You know, according to NBA.COM, the Bulls are up by four with under 3:00 to play--

. . .

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