Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day December 14, 2018 - 6:58pm

Just got an email re: a submission of mine explaining that Tin House is closing down in 2019. Glimmer Train is closing as well. Black Clock closed a while back. Anyone else think these closures may share a common cause? Maybe it's becoming impossible for journals to turn a profit, or even break even?

helpfulsnowman's picture
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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman December 15, 2018 - 10:10am

Definitely. I think it'd be really difficult to make any money with a journal, especially a bigger one. I feel like there are quite a few micro journals and presses, and they probably operate at low profit or have such a small staff that it's easier to get by on next to nothing.  

From the bookseller side, I like Glimmer Train, but man is it hard to get people to pick up issues of a lit mag. It feels like rolling the dice. Who's in here? Is it any good? Not a lot of readers are up for spending the bucks to take a chance on something they don't know about. 

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day December 18, 2018 - 11:40am

Wow, that is sad to see such two huge mags going under. As a short story writer who is always submitting, I do wonder how they sustain themselves, I tend to think it's razor thin margins or donations. These mags are such a hard sells now, but they are also a big platform for emerging writers to try to break through. Really makes you wonder what the landscape will look like over the next decade? Will it just become more digital? Or will some mags stay and some fade away. 

Vonnegut Check's picture
Vonnegut Check from Baltimore December 18, 2018 - 5:30pm

I don’t know anyone, outside of aspiring writers, who read literary journals. Even the literary journals I’ve read I have to force myself to finish them. Tends to be filled with writers trying to sound like writers.

Plus, in our hurried times, it’s tough to expect someone to dedicate 30 minutes to a single short story when they can get nearly five times the amount of entertainment from television. And what’s Netflix or Hulu? $10 a month with endless shows versus the same price for a dozen stories in print from The Elitist Quarterly.

Prediction: in another decade writers will be out of work entirely. AI will surpass our story telling capabilities. The only people that will feign interest in reading stories written by humans will be the same people that insist on owning vinyl.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Chelsea Cain! January 14, 2019 - 3:12am

^ well ain't that a cheery future :)

Vonnegut Check's picture
Vonnegut Check from Baltimore January 14, 2019 - 5:27pm

It can be cheery, depending on your frame of mind. Just imagine how all your favorite authors will be able to continue to write posthumously. Upload books to an app from your favorite writer and AI distills the common themes and style and tone, etc., and bingo bango: a new novel/story/poem/play for you to read, written so impeccably it could pass for the long lost work of Shakespeare or Hemingway or Dickenson, et al.

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman January 14, 2019 - 9:36pm

This is probably a bit off the rails, but eh, who cares?

I don't know if I totally buy the AI-written novel thing in the near future. It's a little like when they made the CG Peter Cushing in Rogue One. I knew he was fake, and he didn't look quite right, and frankly I'd rather they just replaced him with someone else instead of essentially re-animating his corpse. Because I know the dude is dead and didn't actually put in that performance, I'm uninterested in it and find it a little bit tasteless. 

I DO think an AI-written novel will eventually become popular, but the only way to find out it was successful would be to see the novel released without any public or publisher knowledge it was AI-created until afterward. At that point we could separate the novelty or "pretty good for a machine" from the true reaction.

The AI novel seems like a good thing, potentially, for readers, but it seems like a bad thing for writers. And isn't the whole point of machines doing work that we have more time to pursue things that we find interesting, like writing books, painting paintings, and so on? Less spreadsheets, more arts?

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Chelsea Cain! January 15, 2019 - 2:48am

God that sounds awful. Just... awful :(

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann January 19, 2019 - 7:41pm

AI novels could very well replace generic cookie-cutter factory line garbage fiction. That writing is an algorithm; a formula. A hollow shape. It's highly unrealistic that AI would or could replace meaningful, artistic writing. You can look at it from a grammatical perspective. There's a writing exercise called the imitatio that involves substituting each word in a given sentence while retaining the grammatical form. It was widely used as a learning tool. You find a sentence that does something special for you, and you learn what goes into writing in this style by substituting each word with a different but grammatically identical word.

e.g.

“Loisel came home at night, his face lined and pale; he had discovered nothing.”
1. Winter went ahead in November, its bite fatal but indifferent; it would kill everything.
2. She kept away after that, her fears proven and paralyzing; she would trust no one.
3. Prison became home after years, its walls solid and familiar; I had given up.

Repetition of this exercise improves writing skill, dramatically. It demystifies the voices of authors you consider light-years ahead of yourself for their prose. You absorb the formula of prose with the repeated exercise of the imitatio.

For this reason, I have a tendency to write an "i" alongside passages in books that strike me. Then I can revisit and study them.

But what you learn from this exercise is what cannot be imitated through form: the introspective magic behind the writing. The wisdom of human experience, artfully conveyed, that rings your soul like a huge fucking churchbell. An AI robot can imitate Thomas Mann's style. He writes expansively, with generous digressions in non-restrictive modifiers. He describes scenes in a clockwise, left-right, top-down, near-far order. You will see the pores in his characters' noses and the veins in their eyes because he uses the extreme close-up when he paints pictures. All style is formulaic. But it's never going to be able to reproduce the authentic kernel of human experience that makes his writing what it is.

Two days of travel separate this young man (and young he is, with few firm roots in life) from his everyday world, especially from what he called his duties, interests, worries, and prospects--separate him far more than he had dreamed possible as he rode to the station in a hansom cab. Space, as it rolls and tumbles away between him and his native soil, proves to have powers normally ascribed only to time; from hour to hour, space brings about changes very like those time produces, yet surpassing them in certain ways. Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, but does so by removing an individual from all relationships and placing him in a free and pristine state--indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond. Time, they say, is water from the river Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink; and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly.

And what is the cause of the enervation and apathy that arise when the rules of life are not abrogated from time to time? It is not so much the physical and mental exhaustion and abrasion that come with the challenges of life (for these, in fact, simple rest would be the best medicine); the cause is, rather, something psychological, our very sense of time itself--which, if it flows with uninterrupted regularity, threatens to elude us and which is so closely related to and bound up with our sense of life that the one sense cannot be weakened without the second's experiencing pain and injury. A great many false ideas have been spread about the nature of boredom. It is generally believed that by filling time with things new and interesting, we can make it "pass," by which we mean "shorten" it; monotony and emptiness, however, are said to weigh down and hinder its passage. This is not true under all conditions. Emptiness and monotony may stretch a moment or even an hour and make it "boring," but they can likewise abbreviate and dissolve large, indeed the largest units of time, until they seem nothing at all. Conversely, rich and interesting events are capable of filling time, until hours, even days, are shortened and speed past on wings; whereas on a larger scale, interest lends the passage of time breadth, solidity, and weight, so that years rich in events pass much more slowly than do paltry, bare, featherweight years that are blown before the wind and are gone. What people call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time caused by monotony--uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death. When one day is like every other, then all days are like one, and perfect homogeneity would make the longest life seem very short, as if it had flown by in a twinkling. Habit arises when our sense of time falls asleep, or at least, grows dull; and if the years of youth are experienced slowly, while the later years of life hurtle past at an ever-increasing speed, it must be habit that causes it.

You can't teach artificial intelligence to articulate insights about human experience, and that, when you get down to it, is what people largely look for in stories. It could generate a passage similar to this one, but it would either be nonsensical or regurgitated. AI can't breathe in the zeitgeist and make the novel moral observations that we look to artists and poets to make. For the same reasons, I doubt that AI could generate novel observational comedy that rings true to human experience. Not unless you can create AI that feels the qualia of consciousness and is capable of pain and introspection, and there is nothing to suggest that a mere series of mechanical processes has the capacity for generating consciousness. As it stands, the technology is incapable of producing vivid descriptions but capable of imitating their form, their grammar. It can borrow and repeat from the examples it's given, but that's about it. There are things about the qualia of consciousness, of experience, that cannot be communicated by words alone, that don't boil down, that don't reduce into words alone. They are understood solely because of a shared experience. e.g., You can't describe what it's like to see the color red in a way that actually enables a colorblind person to understand what it's like. The lack of foundational experience will always leave AI writing hollow. The imitation of form and grammar does not enable or facilitate the imitation of realism, insight, depth, profundity. You can sound like David Foster Wallace, but that won't make your writing as good as David Foster Wallace's.

Unless someone invents an insight machine (and how could you get mad about technology like that?), at worst, I think the people who put out stories that a robot could generate will be out of a job. If your writing could be done by a robot, you might be rightly fearful, but my sympathy there is limited.

To summarize: the writing would lack human warmth.