In my introduction the other day to this year's Million Writers Award, I mentioned how the award brings attention to worthy stories and new writers. With so many online magazines and journals out there, this goal--trying to cut through the clutter, so to speak--is vitally important for readers and writers.
So imagine my excitement when I discovered a new website attempting to do the same thing: FictionDaily. Selecting and aggregating content from the "independent" publishing world, FictionDaily presents three new stories each day--a short, a long, and a genre story. Excerpt of stories in each of these categories are presented without reference to the author's name, the title, or the story's publication. If you're interested, you click over to the original publisher to read the story.
I think this is an exciting way for readers to keep on top of online fiction, and I hope FictionDaily succeeds.
To get a sense of the site's goals, I asked FictionDaily's editor David Backer a few questions.
Why did you start FictionDaily?
I started FictionDaily after I read an article in Mother Jones by Ted Genoways, the editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review, called "The Death of Fiction." The entire thing--article and comments--reads like an informal, emergent dissertation on the state of contemporary fiction. In my mind, its grand thesis is that fiction isn't necessarily dead. It's just changing, existing in a myriad electronic formats as opposed to the old university journals.
Genoways's article appeared at a serendipitous moment for me. I've been trying to find a mainstream publisher for my first novel, and I actually found an agent that liked it and an editor at a major house that liked it, but both of them said that they couldn't sell it. They thought it was good literature, but that it wasn't marketable. This seemed incredible to me: that the market would dictate what gets read and what doesn't. Why should the market, that gasping monster, decide what's good literature? So I thought "screw them" and started looking at the world of publishing that exists now outside of Border's Books and the major houses. This is where I found contemporary literature, iterating itself in spite of the market, just as the MJ article had confirmed. But even as an avid reader and writer, I didn't know where to look for literature on the Internet. There's just so much of it--I had no way of knowing where to click or why.
Arts and Letters Daily provides a service for finding good essays and reviews on the Internet. Their set up is wonderful--simple, attractive, organized. I look at it every day and read essays I would've never found otherwise. So, given this content-abundance problem in literature, I thought to make FictionDaily, which is the same kind of resource--but for fiction.
In the end, I made the site to get a better idea of where literature is now, but also to help our culture have the kind of conversation with itself that literature affords. We need to read stories that our contemporaries write. It's a healthy thing, an ancient human thing. It's part of our progress as individuals. But we need to adapt to our own technological advancements if we're going to continue this healthy habit. FictionDaily is trying to make that whole process easier.
On your website, you mention that literature’s pulse is changing, and that the old places which once supported this pulse can no longer keep up. How do you see Fiction Daily's role in creating a new place for literature to thrive?
FictionDaily "aggregates" online fiction. This is a word that my great friend Chadwick Matlin at TheBigMoney.com taught me, as it relates to websites: "aggregate" means to collect together into one place. (And it's a groovy word too: the root 'grex' is Latin for "flock," like in "congregate" or "gregarious.") There are a lot of aggregation websites for news, science, business, etc. But there isn't a good, elegant one for fiction. That's where FD comes in.
The wonderful thing about the Internet is its plurality: it's like a huge room with thousands of voices, all talking at the same time. But this plurality presents us with a problem, at least in fiction: If all these voices are talking at once, who do I listen to? When? Why? How do I find someone whose voice I like a lot? And, at the group level, how do we give these voices an opportunity to communicate to people who want to listen? FD tries to provide this kind of service for stories.
I like that you provide daily links to compelling examples of short, long, and genre fiction. How do you select the stories you link to?
I surf. I read and let my eyes roam the first sentences of stories. If I like a voice, if I like the images, then I keep reading. The stories that I want to finish I select and put up. It's actually a lot like channel-surfing in that way, only with words. (A weird thing I'm finding: I get turned off by rhetorical questions in stories. Like: "He went to the bathtub. Was it a turtle? Why was he feeling so anxious?" I don't like that for some reason. But that's just me.)
What made you decide to highlight excerpts from the stories themselves instead of the author's name, the story title, or the original publication?
That, I'm both proud and embarrassed to say, is ALDaily's idea. I like this approach for two reasons, the first is pretentious and the second isn't. First, pretentiously, I like it because the link is about the words. That's what fiction is supposed to be about, at least primarily. It's about the feeling I get from the words I'm reading. It's not about who is writing it or where it's published. That's secondary. I feel like we get so lost in the ego of our writing: who wrote it, where it's published, etc. I think ego gets in the way of stuff (this comes from some Hindu sympathies I have, philosophically). Ego is a lot of noise. I just want to read something good. Second, and less pretentiously, this approach creates a certain mystery. When I go to ALDaily and I look at a link, I ask "I wonder where that's published? I wonder who wrote it?" By withholding the name of the author and the magazine, it creates more reader-momentum towards the magazines and the writers.
Do you accept recommendations from readers and writers?
Absolutely. Editors also. Send me links! I'm trying to compile a more thorough resource of magazines, blogs, journals, etc. firstname.lastname@example.org. (The only rub is this: I'm more interested in finding stories myself in the magazines. So I might have a bias against writers who email me saying, "Hey, look at my story. It's real good." Let your writing speak for itself from the magazine where it's been published, or from your blog. If you don't think I'll find you in my surfing, then email me. I really enjoy email correspondence.) I'm also starting to do interviews with editors and writers whose stuff I like. Look for Amber Sparks's new interview underneath the masthead where it says, "Interviews." I'm going to try and update this weekly.