I've always found formal constraints really exciting. Example: an art exhibition where everything is red. How is that different to an art exhibition where everything is blue? I don't know, but I'm so excited to find out.
There is a tradition of this. It gets pushed aside by the divine inspiration of the literary author, but it's there. e.g.:
- OULIPO ("the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy");
- Fluxus scores;
- even folk practices like NaNoWriMo (imagine a collection of novels written by famous novelists in a single month, suddenly it becomes far more ‘respectable’).
- And then there's our own sort: Jamie J. Mortara's Voicemail Poems;
- and Crispin Best's for every year.
There are new forms everywhere. The text message is one of the greatest modern forms of writing; the digital scroll is vying for dominance with the digital codex. These are huge events in the history of written language! I wanted ƒault to engage with these larger and smaller things.
Why did you make the decision to do the design and coding yourself and leave the editorial/curatorial work to others?
I find judging very difficult. The idea of rejecting submissions makes me almost unbearably uncomfortable.
I had to do it once, in another project. A young man from northern Europe sent in one of the most energetic and exciting pieces of writing I’ve ever read. One sentence a couple were embracing, and then two sentences later they were both dead and the detective was in the lobby. And it kept up that pace for a few paragraphs. But I couldn’t include it, because it didn’t fit the project. I hate doing that, especially to young people.
So partly it was selfish — but also I think one way of getting around that problem is to change the editor. Then it’s less about an overall ‘editorial policy’, and more about one person’s opinion — and next month there will be another opinion, who might have accepted your work. I went even further with this in another publication, which I’ll talk about later.
Keep drinking coffee until something sounds like a good idea and hope it stays that way. I know that sounds romantic but it’s true and it’s also not that romantic. I just went to Starbucks and kept writing stuff down until something sounded good. I usually ran two themes by each editor and they picked which one they liked best.
For editors, they had to 'get it' and be interesting, but they also had to have some 'standing' in the writing-on-the-internet community. One of the essential functions of the editors that I couldn't fulfil was social: they needed to have enough clout/klout to get it out there, get submissions, and thereby get readership for the people who have taken the time to write for the publication.
To have people send you great work and get to fit it together into one publication is a real privilege. I often avoided reading the submissions until they were on the website, so I could experience it as a reader might. I often make stuff because I think ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was a poetry collection that was text messages sent to your phone?’ — and then a month later I get to read it!
It's especially good when people like how their own work is presented — then you know you're bringing something to the table as a publisher.
I always thought your monthly publication schedule seemed quite demanding, especially with the nature of the journal, was that part of what led to ƒault coming to an end? What other factors in the decision?
Looking back, anxiety was probably the cause. I didn't have as many tools for dealing with it back then, just the one we're all born with: avoidance. Eventually the anxiety about continuing overcame the anxiety about failing to continue. I was anxious about talking to the editors (who usually I didn't know that well), anxious about getting enough subs (so I wasn't failing the editors), enough readership (so I wasn't failing the writers). I know better now, but at the time I didn't have the self-awareness to have even told you any of that — let alone resolved it.
So the schedule was fast-paced, but I think If it were on a 3-monthly schedule there would probably have been the same number of issues — just more spaced out.
I’m really glad that the site is still online. Do you plan to keep it up indefinitely? Do you think you would ever revive the project?
I do. I think you have a responsibility to the work when you're a publisher — you have to keep it there until you feel like its time has passed (and you can be reasonably sure the writers would agree).
I've started reviving ƒault a number of times and I always get stuck on this: how can each necessarily very different issue be united into a coherent whole? It's an artist's problem — maybe I should hire an MBA to tell me what to do.
I know you’ve been involved in some other web-based publications since the end of ƒault, can you talk about them briefly?
I sort of already did! There are two main ones:
Free Wifi, which was a collaboratively written serialized drama delivered to your phone four times a week. It was attempting to be a sort of literary soap opera, and is the only project I've ever done where I tried to control the quality of the writing in literary terms. We wrote a lot in pairs and reviewed writing as a group (like TV writers would).
But the readership declined over six months to nothing at all. You can't keep asking people to write for you at that point, so we brought it to a close.
is everything ok, which I mentioned earlier. In some ways it's the opposite of both ƒault and Free Wifi in that it accepts everything and has no publication schedule. There's actually one submission sitting in my inbox now waiting for the next issue — so if you want to give it some company, hit ctrl+v (or whatever) into an email and send it to me.