Unlikely Stories Mark V is an electronic magazine of literature, art, and culture that attempts a direct engagement with society and sociopolitical issues. We believe that art and philosophy are synonymous, and that they are the appropriate source of all social activism and political thought. By tracing our social work back to this source, we are able to explore sociopolitical concepts freely, and hope to do so in an engaging way. We strive to avoid both snobbery and populism and simply publish cool shit.
We are activist and transgressive (and describe our thoughts on both terms, below). We are not simply a collection of politically-themed art. We emphasize poetry, but have no patience for simple political opinions expressed with line breaks and rhyme. In fact, we are not interested in simple opinions, at all. Unlikely Stories Mark V is a magazine of artistic and social experimentalism. We do not simplify artistic expression for the purpose of literal political thought. Our goal is to elevate sociopolitical discourse to the beauty and madness of art.
Our vision of "transgressive" is proprietary, idiosyncratic, and possibly delusional, but we believe that when literature legitimately challenges the assumptions of the reader, it has the power to create pragmatic change. We believe that the creation and curation of art is as immediately and politically valid as street activism, and a great deal more valid than sending checks to whichever Political Action Committee promises to halt or restart public horsefucking this week. Standing outside the PAC's offices with masks and signs is hell of cool too, though.
We are trying to increase the level of journalistic and artistic integrity on web sites. Our methods for doing this are beyond the scope of this article, but there's one method you should be aware of: we do not unpublish works, even at the request of the author. This is a permanent archive of material, and only when an article is shown to be deceptive will we consider pulling it.
What the hell did any of that mean? The guidelines for the other activist literary sites are a lot clearer.
That's because they're new.1 We've been doing it since 1998. In practical terms, they are limited2 and we are insane.
OK, whatever, it's not like I'm really reading this. How do I submit fiction or creative non-fiction?
We assume a base level of writing skill. We do not assume you know how to spell, but we assume you know how to work a spellchecker. We assume a basic familiarity with the rules of English grammar, but are very open to grammatical experimentation.
We judge fiction and creative non-fiction by how much it makes us think. We particularly love fiction when it expresses the opinions of people who do not exist. Be your opinions fictional or otherwise, we do not expect to agree with them. We seek opinions that stimulate us.
If you use mathematical concepts in your story, we'll run it by a mathematician. If you use engineering jargon, we'll run it by an engineer. If you use the word "entropy" to scientifically prove that everything breaks down, even human relationships, please just stop: the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not work that way. And if you use drug references or any other kind of illegal references, rest assured that you'll be able to slip anything by us, because we have no idea what you're talking about, no experience, no friends with experience, and certainly no connections to any illegal activities whatsoever.
Please send no more than three stories, or no more than 8,000 words, at a time. If you would like to send a single story longer than 8,000 words, please query us first. All fiction and creative non-fiction submissions go to dan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
How about activist-themed non-fiction?
We are particularly interested in first-hand accounts of attempts to bring about sociopolitical change. We are not terribly concerned with whether or not we would agree with the change you are trying to bring about, given a basic assumption: we are interested in activism that promotes the rights of humans. Humans aren't states, they aren't borders, and they aren't corporations, and we would gleefully tear down a dozen nations to save one human soul. You can argue that with us, if you like, except we aren't listening and you should really just take every single flag and fuck away instead.
That established, there are a number of different ways to approach this, and we don't want to limit you. A story of why you felt motivated to take action? Good stuff. Facts and figures to support your case? Fantastic. Simply an account of your experience, striving to be a force for social change? Also good.
Please understand that you will be published for a worldwide English-speaking audience. Does your language assume a local audience? For example, if you live in the United States, are you using a two-letter postal abbreviation to refer to your state, an abbreviation that might be arcane outside of the US? It's easy enough for our staff to correct something like that, but what other assumptions are you making about your audience? Can you summarize the history of the political issue you're addressing? If not, can you link to a site that gives it a fair treatment?
We no longer publish these, simply because citizen-created sociopolitical essays of decent-to-high quality have become ubiquitous. True, they are rarely literary, but that seems 1) beyond our ability to address, and 2) of minimal relevance as long as Drumpf walks free.
How do I submit poetry?
Meaning is more important than Cadence is more important than Rhyme. This formula will not guarantee a good poem, but failure to adhere to it will guarantee a bad one. We appreciate cadence and rhyme but by no means require them.
We are interested in the socially relevant and the radically experimental. We are interested in those poetic works that comment on society in some way. However, we believe that art which pushes the boundaries of form or content inherently comments on society. We have read an enormous amount of poetry in a wide variety of genres. What do you have, either in form or content, that we've never seen? Send that.
We expect our poets to be more skilled with language than our storytellers. Because of our focus on sociopolitical content, we have published many English-language essays by authors who are not native English speakers. We respectfully remind people that very few poets achieve excellence writing in languages other than their native one. We are regretfully obliged to reject a large number of poems because the authors do not know English as well as they think they do. We have, on the other hand, published poems in Spanglish and Hawaiian Pidgin. What patois have you?
Please send up to six poems or ten pages at a time. If you have a single poem that is longer than ten pages, drop us a line first and let us know. Visual poetry is very welcome: see our instructions for visual art. All poetry submissions go to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
What about spoken word?
We are most interested in spoken word videos (please see our section on movies). We occasionally publish audio tracks as accompaniments to published poetry.
We know that "slams" are an event, not a genre, and that the statement "I like poetry but not slam poetry" doesn't make sense, because the phrase "slam poetry" doesn't make sense. We condemn the ethnocentric publishers and academics who have declared war on slams, as well as shitty slam judges who promote cute poets with shitty poems. We note that performance poems don't always work in the context of a web site, but we're happy to receive them as submissions and judge for ourselves. We believe that it is possible for individual poems to work both as spoken-word presentations and page poems, and are very interested in such (admittedly rare) pieces. Spoken word goes to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org—check out our instructions on sending .mp3s or .mp4s.
Beatles or Elvis?
How do I submit my visual art?
We are interested in displaying visual art that pushes convention and alters how we perceive any given form. We are interested in new techniques and new messages of any stripe. We will consider art that makes us feel good, but we will not consider art that makes us feel comfortable. We want our perceptions, priorities, and aesthetics questioned.
This doesn't mean we are fascinated by the lurid. We've seen lots of lurid. Drawings of Japanese vampires do not alter our perceptions a whit. We are fascinated, not by art that proposes to give answers, but by art that insists on asking questions. We believe that good art has inherent social relevance, and that in the best art, the social relevance is immediately identifiable. That said, we are not automatically interested in pictures of roughed-up hookers or starving children in Africa. A photo that merely conveys the shittiness of existence is not making social commentary. We know life is shitty. Is there some aspect of life's shittiness that you've thought of that we haven't? Probably not, but is there at least some way to convey life's shittiness that no one else has attempted before? Show us that.
We rarely present single works of visual art. Rather, we present virtual galleries of work by an artist or artistic team. To facilitate that, please send six to nine .jpg files to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org. (Remember that this is for screen viewing, rather than print, so medium-resolution should be fine; screens are typically 72 dots per inch.) If you have visual art that cannot be expressed by a .jpg file, please write to us and let us know because we are hell of curious now.
How do I get my music or aural art promoted on Unlikely?
We are interested in showcasing and promoting the works of musicians who are working to change the definition of musical genres. All artists crave recognition, but if you're hoping to become a Top 40 band, you're not our thing. If you think you're a rebel because you're churning out music that strictly conforms to a rebellious genre, you're even less our thing. We're looking for people who genuinely push the boundaries. We're looking for people who use counterpoint in industrial music and wah-wah pedals in their interpretations of Peter & the Wolf. We're looking for people who either subvert our expectations from a specific type of music, or better yet, subvert our expectations about what music is entirely. Genres are the artificial constructs of critics desperate to leave their mark on the uncontrollable force of music. That said, your copy of FruityLoops does not make you a composer.
Should your music have lyrics, we'll be taking them seriously. You might want to read our comments on poetry, although we're less dogmatic about lyrics. We particularly like to see the blending of the political and the personal. We find that song lyrics aren't generally the best place to introduce truly new concepts, though we'd be delighted if you'd prove us wrong. Music itself is the perfect place, and truly new concepts are what we're looking for.
When we feature a musician, we expect to be able to present free music, either embedded or as a download.
Please don't send music directly through e-mail. If your music is currently on the web, that would be great, as would a sample copy of your CD. You can also use a service like YouSendIt.com to send mp3s. All music submissions go to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
How do I get my movie presented on Unlikely?
Our comments on visual art and storytelling should give you a pretty good idea of what we look for in a scripted movie, and we're also very interested in music and spoken word videos that are consistent with the Unlikely aesthetic.
We love humor. We find Andy Kaufman to be the funniest and most relevant comic for our era. We find experiments funny, the funny experimental, and find both to inherently include social commentary. We'd love to hear from those who agree.
We prefer Vimeo to YouTube, but if you're only on YouTube, we'll get over it. We're also happy to embed .mp4s directly, but please don't go e-mailing us with those things; give us a link where we can download and check 'em out. Please send the relevant link to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
Do you sometimes publish full-length manuscripts or chapbooks?
I have foolishly had a book or project published by someone other than Unlikely Books. Might you be willing to review it, or interview me about it?
Quite possibly! We specialize in in-depth reviews, and the receipt of material does not guarantee that we'll be able to review your work. Query jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
I've written some criticism of someone's art/ someone's written some criticism of my art. Can it be published on Unlikely?
We love reviews of small press books, as well as reviews and criticism of more mainstream works.
We believe that it is high time that art critics took the path of Gonzo journalism. We aren't horribly interested in whether or not you like a particular piece of art, or whether or not you think we'd like it, although you should feel free to share this information. We are more interested in how a given piece of art has impacted (or will impact, or could impact) culture, pop culture, or you personally. Tell us what it meant when Lauren Bacall came out of hiding to do The Mirror Has Two Faces. Tell us why Digimon: The Movie scared you and Invasion of the Body Snatchers made you horny. If we wanted facts on the artwork or artist, there are many sites where we can find them: send us opinions and navel-gazing, not plot summaries. Please send all reviews to dan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
Is this a paying market?
Honey, we can't even find the market.
Who built this site?
Jonathan Penton using Drupal, with a banner by K.R. Copeland. The banner art is based on the façade of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Any general guidelines that I should keep in mind?
We attempt to answer all mail within one to two months. After two months, feel free to query. Should your work be accepted, it will usually go up within a week or two.
We accept e-mail attachments. We also accept submissions by regular mail, but since we do not all live in the same area, please send an e-mail first to verify you are sending the right materials to the right address.
Rather than beginning correspondence with "To the editor:", please address us by name. We like it! Turns out almost everyone does, actually.
Please feel free to send a bio of less than 100 words, and/or a picture of yourself, which may be resized upon publication.
If this is your first time submitting to a literary journal, you might want to invest in a (not necessarily current) copy of Writer's Market from Writers' Digest—not for the magazine listings, but for the articles on professional letterwriting. They're a lot more formal than we are, but they will teach you the social norms of the weird little world of literature.