Monday, January 24, 2011

Photography and Time

Almost a year ago, I took a class from Brenda Miller, my current boss and the Editor-in-Chief of our esteemed journal, on Autobiography and Photography. It was a class on memoir, more than anything, and on nonfiction generally, but photography took up a not-insignificant portion of class time. Each of us had to do a presentation on a photographer—I chose Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work has resonated with me for years, for its queerness, certainly, and for the still quality so many of his images have, but also for the way his photos are composed and for more esoteric reasons—and as a result I was introduced to many photographers whose work I had never heard of.

The exposure to new artists was nice, but what I really got out of the class was a renewed interest in photography as an art that *I* could practice. I bought a film camera (cheap, used, on eBay), I bought some film, and I started taking pictures. To be sure, when I started I was terrible. I hadn't taken film pictures in over a decade and I marvelled at the cost of printing these photos only to discover that most of them weren't fit even for display on my (then bare) walls.

I mention this because only twenty years ago there was very little going on with digital photography. People used film, had to deal with film, and accepted as part and parcel of remembering family times and special places the cost of printing pictures out. I bring this up because of a post on bark I read the other day. For those who don't want to click through, the post discusses the discontinuation of Kodachrome film by Kodak and the closing of the last Kodachrome processing lab, which means this form of art (slide photography) is one step closer to extinction. This saddens me a little, but it does raise some questions for me as well, particularly about whether I should even be sad at all.

Digital photography—especially for those things everyday, but also for professional/artistic work—is frankly speaking a better way of doing things than its film counterpart. There's instant access to the art you've created. If you need a better shot, you know right away that you need a better shot; you know if the shot came out blurry; you know if the lighting was bad for the shot. And of course there are people who still process their own film who can still make the art that way if they're driven to do so.

This seems to me to be an analogous situation to what is currently happening in publishing. The AWP conference is in a couple of weeks and the Bellingham Review will be in attendance. We'll hand out fliers telling people about general and contest submissions, and this year we'll have copies of BR to sell and bookmarks to give out as well. It's going to be a good time. But I expect to see a lot more online journals there than in years past. We'll be directing people to the blog this year, and to our online short forms submissions period. Are we looking toward a day when journals will move more and more online? Printing costs can be crushing for a small journal, as well as shipping. With an online journal, web-hosting is the main fiscal concern, and since almost all journals have a web presence, they could easily move to online only. And this idea makes me sad, too, because I so much love looking at my name in print, at seeing my name in journals and in other peoples' hands. But am I being anachronistic? Am I about to become the literary equivalent of a vinyl/8-track enthusiast?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Moral Ambiguity

Sometimes I'm unsure of what exactly being a writer really means. I mean, who am I to think that other people would want to read my scribblings? A hearty dose of the usual medicine quells such concerns and allows my mind enough space to write. I mention this because these are the kinds of thoughts that often keep me up at night. One of the many thoughts that doesn't keep me up at night has to do with how my personal conduct will reflect on my (potential) future publisher. This does, however, appear to keep them up at night, at least in the case of HarperCollins.

I direct your attention here.

Now, on the one hand, I can sort of see Harper's point. The anecdote about Eliot Spitzer really shows how a morals clause might protect Harper from that kind of behavior. They could feasibly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on such a contract, just as an advance, before the book is even written. I would say it's possible the outlay would be millions of dollars for certain books (particularly celebrity memoirs and such). However, they're going to be giving Mr. Spitzer a much, much larger advance than me, and I very much doubt that his contract would be boilerplate.

I write queer things for people interested in reading queer things. I write, on occasion, blog entries about publishing. I am in the middle of a novel which I hope will be picked up by a publisher someday, which I hope will make me a little money, but we're talking, at best, about Stuart Dybek money, and probably more along the lines of now-I-can-afford-the-extra-toppings-on-my-pizza money, not Eliot Spitzer/Sarah Palin money. Harper's need to protect themselves from indiscretions I might (and most of their authors might) commit is minimal at best. This sort of a clause belongs in a contract with Eliot Spitzer. It does not belong in a contract with me or with you. Infamy can only serve to help my sales, since it cures me of that worse sin: anonymity.

So mostly I am confused by this move. Mostly I wonder if it's not something the lawyers insisted in as a precaution, not as something they intend often to enforce. But, as such, I rankle at this kind of stricture—I think contracts should be as clear as possible and contain nothing extraneous. This is of course at odds with what Harper's lawyers probably feel, since the primary purpose of a lawyer in such a position is to make sure that Harper's liability is as limited as possible, both legally and fiscally. Still, I'd urge them to reconsider. Clauses like this one scare me as a writer to no real benefit for the publisher, since they could potentially be abused beyond their intended purpose.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Short Forms Submissions Period

The Bellingham Review is proud to announce our first venture into electronic submissions. We welcome electronic submissions of flash fiction, prose poetry, and brief essays via Submishmash for online publication.

Submissions Guidelines:

This is an open (free) submission period and runs from January 1st, 2011 through April 15th, 2011. Pieces can be up to 1000 words in length and can be on any subject. Submissions must be submitted via Submishmash at

Please, no more than three pieces per submission, only one submission per author during this period. Please include a cover letter with your contact information, submission genre(s), and publication history (if applicable) on the first page of your submission. Please submit all pieces in a single file, preferably a Microsoft Word Document. Simultaneous submissions are accepted and encouraged so long as you are prompt in informing us of any acceptances by other publications. All work must be previously unpublished. We look forward to reading your work. Payment is dependent on availability of funds. Any questions can be sent to

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome to 2011 and Contests Reminder

Hey Everyone,

I hope you're all having a good start to 2011, getting lots of writing done and that your merriment in celebration of the new year was satisfactory.

I wanted to remind everyone that submissions are open for our 2011 contests, guidelines for each of which can be found here. We have three contests in the Spring each year, one for each genre. The details are as follows:

49th Parallel Award for Poetry
1st Prize: $1,000
Final Judge: Lia Purpura
The 49th Parallel is the nickname for the US/Canada border that stretches from Washington State to Minnesota. Bellingham, Washington, the home of Western Washington University and the Bellingham Review lies just shy of the border.

The Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction
1st Prize: $1,000
Final Judge: Ira Sukrungruang
Born April 30, 1945, Annie Dillard is best known for her nature-themed writing. She has explored her past and present dealings with nature through poetry, essays and novels. Often compared to Thoreau and other transcendentalist writers, Dillard is unique in her defiance of any strict categorization. As she examines the natural world, her subjects move between wildlife, God and the human condition. Among the nine book-length publications Dillard has published over the past twenty years, her use of multiple genres allows her to seamlessly move from Virginia creeks, to the Puget Sound, to the Galapagos Islands.

The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction
1st Prize: $1,000
Final Judge: Adrianne Harun
Born in 1945 in Alabama, Wolff has been regarded as the master of memoir and short stories. His best known work, This Boy's Life, recounts the story of his early childhood years in the Northwest and was the basis for a 1993 motion picture starring Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio. A three-time winner of the O. Henry Award, Tobias Wolff is celebrated for his collections of short stories, novels, and memoirs. Wolff's second collection of short stories, Back in the World (1985), was hailed as a sensitive work of fiction focusing primarily on the experiences of returning Vietnam veterans. In literary circles, Wolff is revered as much as a teacher as he is as a writer. After completing a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, Wolff served as the Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at that institution (1975-1978). He later spent 17 years leading the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University (1980-97). In 1997, he returned to Stanford where he currently resides and teaches.