This weekend, inspired by the overwhelming success of Boss Fight Books, I started an essay I’ve always wanted to write about the three kinds of adventures you can have: the real, the literary, and the digital. This 1,200-word essay (or thereabouts—I haven’t finished it yet) comprises everything from the first video game ever made to Roberta Williams’s King’s Quest to the MS-DOS game Donald Duck’s Alphabet Chase. I’m happy to report that the work fueled a bunch of nostalgia-based exchanges on Facebook.
Here are some pictures I dug up on my own quest to write about how video games made me who I am today:
Right now, I have a query out for my essay, which I’m calling “The Digital and Continuous Dream,” so we’ll see if I’m lucky enough to get a call back. I hope you’ll get a chance to read it in print at one of the venues where I’ve published before, and, if you do, I hope I’ll have you crying “Watch out for that poisonous snake!” and wishing it was 1989 again.
For those who have been saying, “Where is Ben?” or “I’d like to read something he wrote” or “I’m so relieved that Ben Pfeiffer hasn’t written anything and posted it lately,” I’m about to answer your question (turn to page 13), delight you with something new to read (turn to page 57), or disappoint you respectively (turn to page 348). Depending on which category you fall in, I’m sorry I was away, pleased to be back writing on the blog, or don’t care that I annoy you.
Recently, because I promised her I would, I drafted a post on Kara Bollinger’s blog, Watered Love, or, My Two Green Thumbs: Moscow edition. I try never to miss a deadline, especially an absolute deadline. Kara didn’t give me something absolute, so I took my time and tried to write something people would want to read. The word “deadline,” by the way, comes from a literal “dead-line” around prisons (circa 1868) where, if they crossed that line, prisoners would be shot at by the guards and killed. Later, printers adopted this term to mean “a guideline on the bed of a printing press beyond which text will not print” (circa 1917). But I still like the idea that a deadline for a writer means a time-based “dead-line,” where, if you cross it, your editor is allowed to shoot you in the back of the head. Although then, of course, she’ll never get her story, article, essay, exposé, opinion editorial, or whatever else. Take your pick.
My wife, Sarah, helped me write it, commenting on it and helping me select some of the anecdotes to string together. The post has a goofy or corny or sinister title, depending on what kind of mood you’re in. Turn to page 234 to read “We Keep Our Promises” now. It’s not the funniest title I’ve ever posted something under, though. Recently, after my editor titled my Paris Review Daily essay “Early Failures,” which is a really good title, but then every time I posted it, I saw: Early Failures, Ben Pfeiffer. So I gave “We Keep Our Promises” that title in an offhand kind of way, because the trip to Russia wasn’t undertaken lightly, and was (A) an opportunity to fulfill a lifetime-long dream of going to St. Petersburg and (B) a promise we made to Kara—not in earnest, exactly, but a promise we meant. That if she moved to Russia, we’d visit her, to keep her spirits up and to support her on this crazy adventure she’d undertaken. People who take chances and risks should be supported. And occasionally dissuaded. But not in this case, because Kara has had a long, interesting year, accumulating a lifetime of experiences by traveling around Russia and living abroad and trekking through Europe—to Paris, Greece, and elsewhere. I can only assume she’s gathering material to write about, because, in addition to being a great friend, she’s a terrific writer.Read More
Every year for three years I attended the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, and this year is no exception. The first two years, I came as a student, and I studied fiction with Stewart O’Nan (Novel Writing) and Tom Perrotta (Short Story Writing). The next year, though, they invited me to serve as the faculty assistant, which essentially means functioning as a driver and helper for the writers who teach at the conference. I even sat in on Michael Koryta’s Narrative Workshop and gave my opinion on the submissions. This year I’m not sitting in on the workshops, but I am back to assist, and in the hours when the authors are teaching, I’ll be writing on my novel. It’s a writing vacation, you might say. A chance to sit and think about my book. Usually when I write these days it’s very early in the morning or late at night.
The book isn’t finished. But for a story I conceived almost 3 years ago—and, no, I haven’t been writing it continuously for 3 years—it has come along remarkably well. All of the story is outlined. All of the characters are connected. Many of the words are written. They’re just not in the right order yet. I know the structure, the conceits. I know the emotion behind the book, the complex architecture, the small, strange moments. I know exactly how many words the book will be, approximately, how many parts it will contain and how many sections in each part. I have a title and an epigraph. I’ve written almost all of the key scenes. On the plane to Florida, I made a list of the scenes I have left to write. Then I need to continue polishing what I have. I need to make it into a manuscript. And then, while I wait for an agent to sign me, I need to start writing the next book. For the first time in ages, I feel proud of what I’m doing as a writer. I’m determined to see this through to the end.
I can’t think of much else to say. Even though it’s dark outside, I’m going to brew some coffee and stay up, writing, puzzling over this scene and that sentence. Tomorrow I get to wake up and drive to the airport to pick up some of the faculty. The drive will take us across the open waters of Tampa Bay. But that’s in the future. Right now, in the room where I’m writing, there’s nothing stopping me from finishing this book. I’d better post this, close my browser window, and get to work on it.Read More
In the first year of my MFA program, it became clear that the university had no intention of giving us real-world publishing experience. It’s not their fault; they were set up primarily to train graduate students how to teach, because every freshman had to take English 101 and 102, and they didn’t have the budget to pay full-time adjuncts. A lot of universities balance their budgets on the backs of graduate students, and I don’t resent them for it. However, it did mean that if we wanted experience in the publishing industry, we would have to find it ourselves.
The English Department already had at least three literary journals: the first, Kiosk, was an undergraduate journal, as was Comma, Splice, founded by Natalie McAllister and Nathan Barbarick (who would become our fiction editor); the third, Cottonwood, was run by professors who had no interest in letting anyone take over the editorial board. Our ideas must have sounded overly ambitious, even crazy. Not only would they not give us editorial control, they didn’t want a website, or a subscription service, or anything like that. So in the end, we decided, if we wanted to form a literary journal, and to make it count, we would need to do it ourselves. At this time, we didn’t have a name, although we did have a core group of students.
Ultimately, the final group of editors, led by Chloé Cooper Jones, decided we wanted to make (1) a physical object that would be beautiful in addition to containing high-quality poetry, fiction, and art, and (2) we wanted the journal to have a presence beyond the university, that is, beyond our small community, interaction with the world of writing in a way the other journals did not have. Our design editor, Dan Rolf, came up with a design that celebrated the physical aspect. He insisted on an open-stitched binding, high-quality paper, and a strict black-and-white, high-contrast color scheme. The result, as you can see above, was striking. Chloé called in a lot of favors to solicit the writing for the first issue of what became Beecher’s. She spent hours and hours editing the text, putting the stories in order, and making certain the work was as excellent as she could make it. The other editors were no less diligent. You can read some reviews of that first issue at HTMLGiant, where we were selected as part of Literary Magazine Club. You can also read a four-way interview with me, Dan Rolf, Iris Moulton, and Chloé Cooper Jones.
You can read a post our assistant managing editor, Caitlin Thornbrugh, wrote for Portal del Sol. It includes a short conversation with Dan Rolf, Design Editor, on creating Beecher’s One:
“The book has a naked spine and rigid, toothy, absorbent white paper that is meant to show evidence of the reader by literally absorbing and recording the reading experience: the hands holding the book, the fingers on the page, the bending of turned pages, the weakening of the unprotected spine. This recording of a reader’s interaction happens with every well-used book, but with Beecher’s One we wanted to lay bare this interaction, allow the recording of the interaction to become the adornment.”
The second year, although a lot of us graduated, we kept on; sales of Beecher’s One combined with three or four fundraisers to give us thousands of dollars when considering how to print and execute Beecher’s Two. Although Chloé was gone, Iris Moulton and I took over as co-editors, and several others stayed, too, including Caitlin Thornbrugh and Mark Petterson, who became our fiction editor. We also gained the talents of some fresh faces, including Kara Bollinger and Amy Ash.
Most importantly, I think, Dan Rolf agreed to design the second issue, even though he’d graduated. He chose a gold-and-gray color scheme, a wilder, more visceral look for the second issue, which set a precedent for future editorial boards: do whatever you like, you don’t need to mimic what’s gone before. I’m happy to say that the second issue turned out well, and that both the first and second issues continue to receive attention. You can keep up with their adventures on Beecher’s Facebook page and on their official website. Recently, Print Magazine selected Beecher’s One for inclusion in their Regional Print Annual. We sold out of the first issue, sending copies to New York, California, and Texas, and to most of the other 50 states besides, and to several international buyers in countries including France, Germany, Singapore, and Indonesia.
All of this brings me to my ultimate point, and my reason for writing this post. Beecher’s was built to pass on to a next generation of editors. It was built as a way to give the graduate students publishing experience. Right now, the new board, headed by Amy Ash and Stefanie Torres, is raising money to print their third issue. They’re using Indiegogo, and you can find their site here. Also, if you’re interested, you can submit your work here for the new issue. You can even submit to their excellent contests, which are judged by famous writers. In short, I’m very proud of them.
Last year, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, I spoke on a panel of editors who all ran graduate student literary journals. One of the guys had founded a literary magazine at his alma matter 20 years before. Another participant was that same magazine’s current editor. The two had never met. I do hope, someday, that I can meet the 20th editor of Beecher’s; that I can admire what subsequent generations of aspiring writers have made out of the little magazine we started together when we were too young to know what a crazy, stupid thing we were doing, when we still had no idea what kinds of conflict, fun, and satisfaction were in store for us. So, to future editors, readers, and contributors, you heard it here first: Good luck.Read More
Anyone who knows me—anyone who has spent even 5 minutes with me—knows I care about writing. I care about many things, but writing is what I talk about the most. When I preach, it’s usually the Gospel of Language.
In this digital age, though, purposes get conflated easily. Take Facebook, which for me began as a way to keep up with old friends and acquaintances, and to meet new, potential friends, but which also functions as a kind of cut-rate publicist. Twitter, of course, is worse in this respect, magnifying the solipsistic tendencies of even the nicest people. Logging on to Twitter is like walking into a gymnasium filled with millions of people (it’s a big gym) and they’re all yelling at the top of their lungs. Nobody’s listening. Sometimes they listen just to re-shout what another person shouted a few minutes ago in a different corner of the gym.
I’m joking on the square, but I’m not giving up the digital life. I’ve had far too much success (and fun) online. I love Facebook, and, yes, Twitter. The night after we met, my future wife messaged me on Facebook. It was on a blog like this one that I first published interviews with some of my favorite authors. On Twitter, well, nothing has really happened on Twitter yet, but it might. You never know. I’ve made the acquaintance of writers whose books I’ve reviewed, writers I admire. I’ve even had some editors solicit work from me, and more than once. For connecting with the world, social media, if used properly, can provide a wonderful experience.
But I do feel a bit conceited about sharing my writing-related posts with my friends (just because they’re my friend or I met them once doesn’t mean I expect them to read everything I publish). And I feel doubly self-conscious about sharing my private life with wholly professional contacts. Does that famous writer I met one time—and who only dimly remembers me, if anything—really need to know how I feel about my grandmother? Does that person I met once at a party in college really want to read another book review I published in The Rumpus? Well, they might. Plenty of my professional contacts are also friends.
However, this post signals the end of my private and public internet presences getting mixed up. As much as I can, I’m going to untangle them. I know that the line of demarcation might be blurred, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. What it really means that if you want to know anything about my writing, you’ll need to “like” the page on Facebook where I’ll post writing-related things, including literacy initiatives, articles by friends or interesting essays, jokes about writing and books, and, yes, my own work, although I’ll try to keep that to a minimum. The big thing is, I don’t want to double post something. I hate when my newsfeed fills up with the same posts from people. So if you don’t like my page, you’re going to miss a lot of what I post about. For some of you, this will be very sad. For others, it’ll be a huge relief.
I know well enough that I don’t really deserve what used to be called a “fan page” on Facebook. I haven’t accomplished much in the world of writing. However, at the same time, I am publishing consistently. I have 3 outstanding assignments right now, plus an article I’m writing on spec. I’m also working on the novel. In fact, last night, I stayed up well into the morning with one of my closest friends, talking about the book, taking notes on how I can make it come to life. I have over 10,000 words in the First-Time-Out (1XO) Draft. I have countless notebooks filled with scribbles that I’ve yet to transcribe. In less than a week, I’m traveling to the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference, where I’ll be working as a faculty assistant. In April, I’m traveling to Moscow, and, with another of my good friends, I’ll give a reading in the Third Rome, the Whitestone, the… Well, those are actually the only nicknames I’ve heard for Moscow.
When you add someone on Facebook, I think, they feel vaguely obligated to add you back. Not so with signing up for a feed. This is the last good reason to make a Page and Twitter (along with this blog): Anyone who follows me wasn’t pressured to add me after I met them at a conference or a party. They have a choice. Anyone who sees another post about a book review or a forthcoming short story brought it on him or herself. If you “like” the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter, I know that you believe in me, you enjoy my posts, and you want to keep hearing about my upcoming (mis)adventures: My time in Florida, my attempt to turn a typewriter into an iPad dock, my quest to build my own Little Free Library.
Everyone is invited. I hope you’ll seriously consider opting in.Read More