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How My Life Partner and I Began a Literary Magazine

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It wasn’t the first thing on our minds to start a literary magazine last summer.

Civilization—again—being assailed from within and without; the world—again!—on the precipice of chaos; the human race this close to utter annihilation like a sneeze in the universe—what could be more frivolous than to launch another round of feckless chatter into this fraught atmosphere? Besides, with the baby struggles of my small press, Cantarabooks, my partner—novelist Michael Matheny—and I had our hands full enough with authors ranging from cantankerous to charmingly temperamental.

The single paying gig I had going at this time was a senior editorship with a literary journal, which just managed to cover the rent, beer, and occasional haircut. But in the middle of June 2006, in fact the day after what Michael (also a senior editor for this literary journal, though on a voluntary basis) and I thought was a brilliant showing at the CLMP’s annual Magathon and LitMag Fair, we were fired.

Not only fired, but summarily dismissed in the middle of the editorial selection process.

This left us with a problem. We’d already championed about a dozen short stories and were now no longer in a position to guarantee that these stories would find inclusion in the next issue. As the previous issue of this particular journal had run into editorial, organizational (manuscripts being unacknowledged, misplaced or simply lost), promotional, and production problems that held up its publication by four months—the chief reasons we were brought on board in the first place—we weren’t in a position to guarantee that its next issue would even come out at all. The thought that these stories might be suspended in a kind of limbo was distressing. But, as I said, we were no longer in a position to offer any kind of assurances to anyone.

Unless … well, unless we started a literary magazine of our own. If you’ve read my article, “Writing in the New Publishing Paradigm,” you’ve gotten a pretty good idea of the tremendous stock I put in modern electronic and printing technology to further the human dialogue.

The world we’re living in these days isn’t big enough to encompass the current explosion in human activity. We need to enlarge the world, not narrow it. We need more ideas, not fewer. In response to an intellectually refined, Russian-born acquaintance of mine who recently remarked with disdain, “Now anybody can write a book,” I say, “Yes! Isn’t that fantastic?”

Because we need more books, not fewer. And we need them now. I would add right here that this applies not just to books, but to stories, essays, poems—to whatever might encompass the idea as written.

So in that spirit we started Cantaraville, the shape of which is a crisp, handsome, readable, and printable PDF download. And beyond Cantaraville’s ostensible pricing and availability for purchase online, the comp/review list for all issues benefits from our extensive number of contacts. Our primary goal for Cantaraville is to expand the readership of all the authors we publish.

As a New York-based publisher, we’ve had the opportunity to work and socialize with the writers and staff of excellent print and online publications like Pindeldyboz, n+1, Open City, Bellevue Literary Review, as well as many, many others; it’s our good fortune to benefit from their models of editorship while refining ours. At Cantaraville, a writer can expect to encounter editors who edit, not simply accumulate or facilitate—editors who, taking great delight in the power of the English language, will do their best to ensure that a writer accomplishes his or her intent in any chosen piece, whether story, essay, or poem.

And what can readers expect? Diversion, discovery, journey, destination, a heightening of thought, and senses.

In the words of Vladimir Nabokov: “This capacity to wonder at trifles—no matter the imminent peril—these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest form of consciousness.”


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