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How Experimental Is Experimental? 

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Nowadays, writers can share a piece of flash fiction on their blog, publish a short story with Amazon’s Kindle Singles, broadcast their novella as a podcast, or sell their novel as an audio book.

On top of all this, the experimental literary publishing platform, theNewerYork, has recently introduced a program where stories will be ‘converted’ into videos. You can watch an example of such a conversion here:

Today, we have the founder of theNewerYork, Josh Raab, over at Mash Blog to discuss how experimental things will get in the world of literature.

S.E. Sever: What do you think about different aspects of media mixing together in such a way? What are your expectations from the new era for the publishing market?

Josh Raab

Josh Raab
Founder of theNewerYork

Josh Raab: My expectations are very low and cynical; my hopes are very high. I think that movies and music and visual art have all done amazing jobs at opening their doors to experimentation, both in their forms but also in utilizing technology to advance not only the reach of the artwork, but the artwork itself.

Book people are still complaining about paper vs Kindle and it’s getting a bit old. I think media mixing together is fantastic and must be encouraged if literary publishing and books and writing are going to mature and evolve. We’re so stuck in the old rules that hold us back. Like my last sentence where I write “and” a bunch of times. Big no-no to some people; not to meI’m confident you got my point, and that’s the point of writing.

I’m excited about how storytelling is about to change! And is already changing.

S.E.: What drove you to start a platform like theNewerYork? Where and when did the idea first form?

Josh: Mainly discontent with what I saw in the publishing world. Both in publishing houses and then also in English writing education. At the time I was going to New York University for English and Philosophy, and I was sitting in a class on William Wordsworth and was absolutely bored to tears. Not so much for his poetry, which is great for what it is, but the ocean of difference (experientially, philosophically, and aesthetically) between walking in a forest and writing poems about leaves and water and then sitting in the pallid classroom, was horrifying.

So I set out to make theNewerYork to counter everything I saw. From the cult of personality in publishing houses, to the nostalgia for the printed word (and the stagnation that comes with this romanticization!), to the boring and myopic ways in which writing is taught. No wonder English degrees get the rap they do. Literature is exciting. We need to make it exciting again, less about reinforcing stupid traditions and dilemmas. “Oh no! Comma splices!” “Oxford comma or no Oxford comma?” Kill me slowly. The subject is only and has only ever been: Can we tell a story, convey human emotion, and comment on the human condition, past and present? Can we communicate beautifully? Whether it’s MLA or not is trash.

At theNewerYork, we stand against tradition, cult of personality, nostalgia in book publishing, elitism, and boredom.

S.E.: What does the future look like for theNewerYork?

Josh: Hopefully like a movie/art/literature/design house that is all based around the stories our writers submit.

S.E.: What is ‘experimental literature’ for you? What makes a piece fall into this category? Who would you say is a good example of an experimental writer, and why?

Josh: Experimental literature is a story that tries something new with form and narrative. So for instance if you try to tell a love story through a credit card statement, that would be experimentation.

Also, it is defined as having a strong possibility of failure. All stories have this, but I feel like a poem about a leaf can be successful most of the time because its goal is not lofty. On the other hand, a love story in a credit card statement can really not work correctly. Maybe I’m just talking out of my @$$ but editorially, we look for experimental stories that take a risk and succeed.

S.E.: What do you think of MFA programs in general – especially the ones which have integrated experimental literature into their teaching? For instance, Brown University and California Institute of Arts, now, have experimental literature programs.

Josh: I think it’s great and it should become the norm! Writing programs should be think tanks and incubators for new and exciting styles of storytelling, not churches to reinforce the rules of old. Nuff said.

Issue1PRS.E.: You ran a few crowdfunding programs on Kickstarter—actually you have an active one running right now. What’s been your experience with crowdfunding tools? What are the pros and cons?

Josh: Pros are costs covered beforehand, grow your followers, requires you to be organized.

Cons: Stress, stress, stress.

You can check out our previous Kickstarter campaigns here.

S.E.: Would you recommend crowdfunding for individual writers? Why/why not?

Josh: If you have a good idea, or one you are confident about? Definitely.

The advent of crowdfunding makes all of your excuses shrivel up and the only thing left is your wherewithal to get the thing done.

S.E.: How important is it for a writer to gain journalistic and editorial skills in today’s ever-changing publishing market? If you think they are valuable skills, how would you suggest they sharpen these areas?

Josh: I say not important at all. I know writers often feel they should get into publishing so they can understand behind the scenes.

My first mentor, Peter Mayer (once 30-year CEO of Penguin) told me that if I ever wanted to be a writer I should get out of publishing.

I took that with a grain of salt but I do think there is truth to it. After all, there is no trend (at all!) that successful literary writers have worked in publishing, I’d probably guess that most writers have never worked in publishing.

It can help and hurt. It can help because then you will understand what editors are looking for and what the systems are like behind the scenes. It can hurt you because you turn your work into a product for selling and packaging before you have even started. And this may pay off, but at a loss of heart and earnesty. It’s how we come to these pre-packaged hits tailored perfectly to be spoon fed to crowds and sold worldwide, the equivalent of Hollywood’s blockbuster, action movie, pieces of trash. I’m speaking here, of course, of Jonathan Franzen.

S.E.: In the future, what sort of interdisciplinary opportunities will emerge for writers, do you think? Do you have any visions that resemble a sci-fi set-up?

Josh: Yes, we are working on a couple of sci-fi books. I’m not sure what you mean by “a sci-fi set-up” though. We are working with the University of Southern California and the people at 5DGlobal on creating an interactive narrative experience put together by hundreds of writers and scientists and artists from around the world. So everything from product design, to copywriting, advertising, art exhibitions, collaborative storytelling, movie making, theatre and so on. All of these can be infused with a strong literary essence.

S.E.: Thank you for joining us at Mash Stories, Josh. And to our readers, don’t forget to check out theNewerYork website!

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S.E. is the Founder of Mash Stories. She has had short stories published in fiction magazines across the US and the UK. One of her stories was included in The Subtopian: Selected Stories. Her poetry book, Before Me, is published by Thought Catalog Books, New York. She is currently working on a science fiction novel called Split Watch. You can read some of her short stories and poems at http://sesever.com.

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