Let’s start with the good stuff:
There’s never been a better time than right now to be someone who reads, and there’s never been a more exciting time to be someone who writes. You already know this, but I’ll say it anyway: things in the literary world are changing, and fast. Writing (of every kind) is more immediately available and accessible than it’s ever been, in the history of anything. Which means that the way people read is changing in a fundamental, completely new, totally confusing way. So: terrifying, a little, but mostly exciting.
It’s a particularly great time for short stories and poems. These are forms that were once considered difficult – to generate interest in, to market, to read. Now, though, you can read and understand an individual short piece of writing as you would a novel; it no longer needs to be surrounded, collected, anthologized or placed in any kind of context in order to make sense. It gets to live a life that only longer-form writing used to. You can read a story or a poem online, on your phone, at home or at work or on the bus; you can take as much or as little time as you want with it, and when you’re done there’s always more out there – an endless, inexhaustible supply of free art at your fingertips. See? Unprecedented. And awesome.
This is all a huge part of the reason The Incongruous Quarterly exists. We’re embarrassingly wide-eyed and enthusiastic about literature right now – possibility everywhere, doors opening – and we want to be a part of it, to make something that’s as exciting to other people as everything else is to us.
Now for the bad:
The editors are all (relatively) young writers who spend most of our time working and reading, and there’s something we’ve observed time and time again in the world of Canadian literary magazines that bothers us more each time we see it:
There are a million reasons why a poem or story might not make it into a publication, but almost none of them have to do with the piece’s actual quality. Or how appropriate it is for the magazine. Often, a writer’s publication history and personal relationships (or lack thereof) are enough to decide what’s going to happen to his piece.
And that really, really, really sucks.
There are a bunch of disclaimers here. We know that the editors of most Canadian magazines and journals face a number of concerns – about funding, finances, resources, space, etc. – that influence the way they select pieces. And we’ve been told that complaining about nepotism makes us seem inexperienced, naïve, idealistic in the worst way. That’s just how things work. It won’t ever change. And why should it?
We’ve thought about that question a lot, and the Quarterly is our answer.
When a literary magazine publishes a writer because that writer knows one of the magazine’s editors, or because they (the writer) have already been published somewhere else, or because they’ve won a million awards, they are screwing things up for everyone. Sound overdramatic? Okay, but consider: If you’re not printing a story because you think it’s fantastic – maybe you just think it’s good, but the writer’s a big name, maybe it’s worse than that – you’re printing something that lowers the quality of your magazine and erodes its credibility. If you print enough pieces like that, your magazine starts to suck, and if your magazine sucks, no one reads it. Fewer readers means less funding, which means there’s a good chance the quality of the publication drops even further, along with the amount of time you’re able to spend on it. And eventually writers – the good ones, who are smart enough to be discouraged by the fact that you’re publishing the same boring stories every issue – stop sending you unsolicited submissions. You’re left with no money, no readers, a boring magazine no one cares about or connects with, a bunch of frustrated, disillusioned writers who don’t see the point, and a terrible slushpile.
We (naively, sincerely, impractically, wholeheartedly) believe that the best way to encourage good writing is to have good magazines, and that the best magazines are the ones that have room for innovation, weirdness, collaboration, fucking around. That are fair to their writers and good to their readers. That are honest about their policies and practices, and that communicate with everyone who submits work to them instead of trying to shut those people out. The Quarterly was born out of our love for the current literary culture, and our fears and frustrations about the way it’s being managed – and the response to the magazine so far has been so overwhelming and positive that we’re starting to think we might not be alone in feeling those things.
The stories and poems in this issue have been put down, put away, rejected, killed, long- but not shortlisted, shortlisted but not first-placed. There are pieces by bestselling authors and previously unpublished ones. It’s a weird, eclectic mix of stuff, but we’re positive that every piece in here deserves to be read – and we’re so happy to be able to give them (and you) that chance.
Thank you so, so, so much for reading.