At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. To see all of our posts that are part of Project Short Story, please click the tab at the top of the page.
Since I work in publishing, most of my short story reading has been focused on authors with new story collections, or stories that appear in anthologies. So one of my goals for this year is to explore the world of literary magazines that publish short fiction. And what a world it is! I had no idea that there were so many publications out there. Most people think of The New Yorker when it comes to short fiction, and I’ve been a reader of Granta for awhile, but I’d never really explored beyond that.
One of the magazines that was recommended to me over and over is The Coffin Factory. Subtitled “The magazine for people who love books,” I couldn’t resist. I reached out, they sent me two sample copies, and generously agreed to be the first interview of Project Short Story. The Coffin Factory features short fiction, essays, photography and art in a full-size glossy magazine format. In addition, each issue features an interview with a publisher (instantly making The Coffin Factory a must-read, in my book).
I conducted this Q&A with editors Laura Isaacman and Randy Rosenthal by email.
BOTNS: Who are you, what is your position with The Coffin Factory, and how did you get roped into doing this interview?
CF: We are the publishers, editors, and designers of the magazine. We’re doing the interview in the hopes that more readers know about the magazine for people who love books.
BOTNS: How is The Coffin Factory different from other literary magazines?
CF: The Coffin Factory is different from every other literary magazine. First, it literally is a magazine, with high-quality, glossy, full color pages; in other words, it’s not a journal. The literature and art are carefully curated to produce a flowing, cohesive work of art that is meant to be read from beginning to end. Content wise, each issue has extensive interviews with members of the publishing industry, features work by several well-known authors, and stories that don’t take ten pages to get where they’re going—they grab you from the first line and don’t let up until the last.
BOTNS: What was the impetus for The Coffin Factory?
CF: We wanted to make the magazine we wanted to read. By creating a truly unique magazine (see above), we aimed to appeal to book lovers, not just those who read literary journals. We also wanted to make a statement on the proliferation of online “magazines” by committing ourselves to publishing literature in print, allowing a reader to slow down and focus their attention, to escape the horrors of the internet, with all its attention-diverting notifications and general clutter.
BOTNS: In this age of online everything, why print? Do you think print magazines are sustainable?
CF: Tangibility is important for us; we strive to encourage reading as a meditative experience. The only way to read properly is in print.
Print magazines are only sustainable if you have the income to sustain such high paper, printing, and shipping costs, as well as the professional writer’s fees. In other words, it’s a lot easier to not make a print magazine.
BOTNS: Which one story featured in The Coffin Factory stands out the most for you? I’m not necessarily looking for your favorite story, but rather, the one that has the most interesting back story, maybe won a major award, or perhaps hit you at just the right time to have an impact.
CF: Some of our best stories have been the Market Fresh Selections—Steve Danziger’s “Some Other Mountain,” Ian Sanquist’s “Melody of Bandaged Anemics,” and Nicole Treska’s “Chicken” are a few of our favorite stories, and they are all by writers who do not yet have an agent and have not been widely published. And then of course there’s Jacques Strauss’ “Tell Me Where it Hurts,” which is one of the most exceptional stories we’ve ever read, and which we’ve nominated for several awards.
BOTNS: A feature of The Coffin Factory that I love is the publisher interview. What do you hope to accomplish by putting a spotlight on book publishers?
CF: There wouldn’t be books without publishers. They put an incredible amount of energy and craft into the production of a book—there are so many levels involved, from finding a manuscript, editing it, designing the cover art, not to mention promotion and distribution, much of which is lost outside of the traditional publishing channels. We wanted to hear from publishers we admire, ask what makes each house different, and hear experienced opinions about the rapidly changing nature of the industry.
BOTNS: How would you describe the environment for short fiction in the U.S. at the moment? Do you think it is it different in other countries?
CF: We’re lucky to live in a country that still has several magazines publishing short fiction, for those of us who still know how to enjoy reading literature. It’s ironic that there are more people writing short fiction but less people reading it. Sadly, most people are not interested in reading short fiction; it’s a skill that has mostly been lost, as it’s easier to turn on the TV or surf the web. Short fiction has become a niche market, like poetry, whereas it used to be part of mainstream culture.
Other countries might have a greater respect for short fiction, though the loss of the art form seems to be happening worldwide.
BOTNS: If you had an unlimited budget to market, promote and advertise the concept of reading short stories to the general reader (i.e., a “Got Milk” campaign), what would you do?
CF: You’d see The Coffin Factory on every newsstand and in every bookstore. You’d see The Coffin Factory advertisements on buses and billboards and on TV. Everyone everywhere would be reminded that “it’s cool to be smart,” and that “it’s hip to read.”
BOTNS: What books are on your nightstand?
CF: We have piles of books on our kitchen table, coffee table, above our cabinets, on our desks, on our wall, on the floor, on the toilet, but interestingly there are no books on our nightstand.
BOTNS: We ask all of our interview subjects to recommend two books, new or old, in print our out of print. Please tell us two books you can’t wait for us to read.
CF: Republic, Lost; How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig (Twelve Books, 2011) will tell you everything you need to know about how our country works, and why democracy has failed.
The Kingdom of God Is within You by Leo Tolstoy will tell you everything you need to know about Christianity, and why it’s a failed religion.
BOTNS: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Best of luck with The Coffin Factory, and thank you for continuing to bring us great short fiction.
The Coffin Factory publishes three times per year, and is available at select independent bookstores and at Barnes & Noble locations throughout the US. They have a handy store locator; I love websites that make life easy for the reader. You can also subscribe or purchase individual issues. The current issue is #4. I’m going to subscribe, and then buy issues 1 and 2 so that I can have a complete collection.
If you publish a literary magazine that strongly features short fiction, and would like to be considered for a BOTNS Lit Mag Spotlight, please get in touch.