Mad Hatters' Review is among the most content-rich literary web sites on the Internet. Its depth and scope are almost scary. Equally captivating are the graphics and ease of maneuvering from one location to another. I have come to realize that literary magazines, whether print or electronic, are the children of their founders. It is not surprising that Mad Hatters' Review is the brain child of Carol Novack. As Novack's bio tells us, she "is a re-emerging, angst-ridden writer of sociopolitical neurotic rants and raves, comic emails, and image drenched, lyrical whatnots." Carol's frequently enigmatic and totally misunderstood writings have appeared in numerous anthologies. One of her prose poem narratives, "Destination," was selected as a best of Web Del Sol fiction. She's attempting a blog: http://carolnovack.blogspot.com. I asked Carol to provide a few samples of her work so readers could better know her mind, but first I wanted to know how Carol Novack could manage and sustain a site of this scale.
CR: I don't think I have ever seen an electronic zine with as many editors, covering as many topic areas as Mad Hatters' Review. Amazing. You must be a very persuasive, charismatic person to get all these good folks to help you out?
CN: Hell if I know! Maybe I've always wanted to live on a Kibbutz. Maybe because I have no siblings. Maybe it's my cyberitic pheromones.
CR: How do you handle the triaging of submissions out and back from your editors?
CN: I don't. Editors are not "readers," as in most other magazines. Decision-making is a group process. We congregate virtually in a secret place (or sometimes, secretly in a virtual place) during every reading period over a few flagons of Aussie shiraz-grenache and discuss submissions as they arrive. If we all go "wow" over a sub, it's accepted. If one or two of us wonder what the author was thinking when s/he submitted the whatever/s to MHR, and it's obvious that the sub's not for us, it's rejected. If some of us are hot and others cold or tepid, the sub is usually (ultimately) rejected with an invitation to please submit again. Occasionally, I or I and my associate editor, Alla Michelle Watson, overrule the majority or make the ultimate decision when a consensus can't be reached and one or both of us feel strongly one way or the other. Individual editors often work with authors, suggesting revisions. Some highly original writers make grammatical mistakes that make us stand on our ears. While such mistakes are irksome, they're curable. The authors are usually happy to work with us.
CR: When was MHR born and what was your core goal in creating it?
CN: At first, I envisioned becoming a multimillionaire and star. When people laughed at me, I altered my vision.
As I've said in my "Editor's Rave," "[w]ay back in summer, 2004, I decided that the Internets [sic] didn't have enough exciting multimedia "literary" magazines, not to mention edgy ones. I envisioned something real flashy and eccentric, experimental, collaborative, multicultural, playful and even meaningful, in the social change/progressive sense." I wanted to create a unique online publication and I knew that I'd enjoy the process. The magazine emerged in an early version of its current form in March, 2005.
CR: I mean, there are SO MANY e-zines popping up; why bother? Can one e-zine really rise to the top?
CN: Good question. I must be mad. Well, of course I am!
Seriously, it's not a matter of one e-zine rising to the top like la crème de la crème (a tired phrase I find absurd). There's no big Olympics for artsy e-zines, thank the cybergods. There are quite a few excellent online magazines, and hundreds or maybe thousands of mediocre ones, and worse, and far worse. Hatters and friends find most magazines publishing the same types of write-by-the-MFA-rules stories and poems, the kind that make us yawn, if not scream—you know, those gritty realistic stories about bad marriages, divorces, dying relatives, kids discovering morality and sex, and the same puerile "comic" tales of college students on sexual rampages, "shocking" tales about brilliant writer dope addicts nearly killing themselves, heartbreaking tales about unloved children, etc. Might as well watch made for tv movies. Very few quality magazines publish writings by relatively unknown authors who are writing original, out-of-stream pieces, literature that sounds like literature, demonstrating lyricism, playfulness, love of language. Very few magazines are visually and aurally exciting, as well as truly entertaining. "Entertaining" is a consistent adjective that readers use when they talk about MHR. Yet, MHR is "literary" in its focus on language, originality, imagination and substance over schlock and shock. Quality literature can be entertaining!
Moreover, we offer a variety of media: mini-movies, cartoons and parodies, art galleries, columns (soon expanding to include those by "guests"), contests, reviews and interviews, plus art and music custom-made to enhance the writings we publish. Special thanks to our incredible Art Editor Tantra Bensko.
A review of MHR Issue 3 in Eclectica cited the artwork as "bordering on the astounding." Authors whose works we accept are given the option to either recite their works or request musical accompaniment; we have some excellent composers on staff. Next issue, we'll present a "mental" multimedia theater and visual poems created by our new Director of Digital Multimedia Fusions. It's all so much fun and I know I sound like an overly proud mother.
CR: Okay, I have to know. "Paper or Electronic"—which form do you think has most credibility? What form thrusts a writer's work into the great "out there" and gets it read by the right people, like agents and publishers?
CN: I think that both forms have equal "credibility," though the "establishment" is still pushing the concept that print magazines are innately superior to webzines. This makes no sense for various reasons, one being that there are incredible writers published on the Web and e-zines can offer so much more than print magazines, in terms of innovative multimedia presentations, exciting collaborations, virtually unlimited space and expandability. (Ok, so you can't get into bed and cuddle up with a warm webzine.) Imagine MHR as a print mag—the cost of reproducing the glorious artworks would be prohibitive. And we'd have to include a CD of the music, but how would one manage easily to play simultaneously the recitation or music made for the text one were reading? And what of our animated art and movies? One can't reproduce them in print! The integrated visual and audio experiences presented online would be impossible to duplicate in a print mag.
Agents do read Internet magazines; I'd wager that some actually scout webzines for talent. I was contacted by an agent who'd read one of my quirky comic pieces in an online magazine. In fact, the agent encouraged me to write a novel based on the characters in that piece, but he also urged me to seek publication of my stories in well-known print magazines in order to impress putative publishers of the putative novel. So okay, the big publishers and agents want print credits from their authors. There's this snobbish perspective that print publications are superior to online publications, and there's this crazy "top tier" approach most writers buy into—e.g., better to publish in The New Yorker or Harper's than literary magazines such Mississippi Review; better Ploughshares than Conjunctions, Tin House than New England Review; better Wanky Dink (stapled print magazine published by the Ohoochitaha County Poetry Society) than Mad Hatters' Review. One sees the same "successful" authors over and over again in the "top" publications, rarely the innovative/risk-taking writers, but the tried and true, the ones who are selling. "We welcome innovative/experimental writers" is most frequently a sad joke.
Writers are tripping over themselves in order to get into top tier print magazines—if not the top tier well, and pay is supposedly an incentive. But how many writers of fiction and poetry than the next to top or the next to the next to the top and so on ad nauseum and absurdum—that's the reigning mentality in this brutally competitive field, and most of us succumb to this mode of conventional thinking. Most people want to write like well-published X and Y, with their perfectly crafted characters, arcs, plots, and resolutions, or maybe like B and C, those awfully witty, stylish boys and gals so popular at readings. Few print mags pay make decent incomes from publishing in magazines that pay? Hell, I'd love to pay my contributors more than the token the usual "paying" print (or occasional online) magazine offers to include itself as a member of the "paying" market. Instead, we give our contributors custom-made art and music, a nice fat bio with pics, and global exposure. Our artists and musicians also benefit, exposure-wise, from the collaborative package. One volunteer artist won an award for a painting she'd created for an author's poems.
Just think how much exposure a writer gets when s/he publishes online. People from all over the world can access her work. Compare the potential readership to that of even the most prestigious literary (print) magazine and the reasonably popular or well-known webzine obviously wins hands down.
Judging by the Best Seller lists and ads in Barnes and Nobles windows, the vast majority of publishers and agents are going for memoirs—memoirs are the latest craze. (Big yawn from some of us.) Those "right" people are following their green noses, looking for comic pop novels and heartbreak tales that will appeal to the literate masses. Hardly surprising for business people. They're certainly not going for innovative, surprising, and intellectually challenging fiction like Raymond Federman's (we're featuring him, and also presenting translations of avant-garde French poets). Federman is not a New Yorker writer! And lyrical/rhythm and image-driven prose? What's that? Thank goodness for Dalkey Archive, the FC2 Collective, and the other quality independent presses out there (e.g. Ravenna Press and Ugly Duckling Presse), that print books by unconventional writers as a labor of love. Actually, I'm hard pressed to figure out what print or online zines persistently demonstrate a love of narrative prose that focuses on lyricism and imagery rather than STORY. How many of those sought after print zines would publish an unknown Robbe-Grillet or Borges?
So what's the future? I believe that as long as the telephone monopolies in the USA aren't permitted to charge people for every click, USA-based Internet art and literary zine will thrive and become more and more accepted as credible publications that offer top quality creations. If monopolies win out over here, webzines in other countries will thrive without much of an American audience.
CR: Your site is very active, I love how you post bios and photos, you have so much going on, WOW you must be exhausted. Who is your web slave? You have to pay her more money!
CN: Yes, it's exhausting but so rewarding to create MHR with my staff, and the possibilities are seemingly endless—what can be done with the Internet as a communicative, expressive tool. Our web slave is Shirley Harshenin, maestress of nutheadproductions, a wonderful, creative web designer in BC, Canada. I don't believe in saints, but she is the most patient person I've ever known, putting up with all sorts of confusion and alterations and always willing to expend the considerable time and energy it takes us to create each issue. She definitely deserves a salary in the six figures. Fortunately, Shirley feels like one of the gaggle, which she certainly is (a true Mad Hatter) so she doesn't expect to be paid her worth, at this time. I feel really lucky to have found her. Shirley comes up with great ideas; the mag is a labor of love and passion for all of us.
CR: Alla Michelle—How did you find Carol Novack and her Mad Hatters?
AMW: I didn't! Carol found me. She read my bio, my flash fiction on Zoetrope (excellent resource for writers, btw), my pieces published in various e-zines and then…she still offered me a role of Assistant Editor! Carol is amazing. She has gathered the most talented editors, artists and musicians, and anchored us solidly in cyberspace as one of the most innovative, far-reaching e-zines out there. What I admire most about her is that she didn't wait until all the pieces fell perfectly into their spot from the get-go; the mag evolved over the past year, and continues to push the boundaries of creative imagination, now offering a truly prodigious variety of media. I guess Turgenev was right when he said: If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin!
CR: Give us some of your favorite Carol Novack first lines and paragraphs. Maybe this will give potential submitters a clue as to where your Top Hatter head is at (or isn't).
CN: First lines:
- "In Siberia, the trains are exhausted from the smells of potatoes, onions and sots; and they are never fast enough." (from "A Tourist in Siberia," published in Milk Magazine)
- "In Utah she will meet a man of god in a brown suit white socks and tassel loafers, a little bit old not at all like the usual cleft-chinned ones in deep blue or sometimes oil green Joe's Garage t-shirts and running shoes, disappointed Norman Mailer men with dangerous low flying pheromones and large plastic dice and Barbie dolls dangling from their dashboards; no she will not meet the man everyone says she will meet again and again particularly in Utah she imagines so many versions but he is always burned with youth bursting with seeds like a fat cactus, always obsessed." (from "A Tourist in Utah")
- "Foolhardy with the three of them you said but hardly a fool seeing full well how well I played with Jimmy Timmy and Bop in all our backyards when the mothers were out they had me I had them down on the perfect lawns they would plant their seeds and they were all three big like columns, Corinthian, Ionic and Dorian, my favorite one Bop the laconic Ionic one ramming like a spring lamb." (from "Power Trilogy")
CN: A few favorite paragraphs:
- "Now it's your time to listen, so listen. I have this to say. Picture a donkey with a cargo of bananas and hens. She is stumbling on stones through the night, smells a bewildering frenzy of unidentified flowers, somewhere under the shared sky of dim, far flung stars. She hears the voices of creatures she can neither smell nor see and trembles, feeling vulnerable to their genetic destinies. Inevitably, the donkey, exhausted, sits down by the roadside if she is allowed. Her nose longs for only one scent, her eyes for only one vision, and her ears for only one sound." (from "Interview with Self")
- "Comes a dry, quiet Sunday right for reading Leibniz and counting Monads at the edge of the field when I see the bride rising out of the flat planet, nearing fast with veil and train, and she puts her finger to her lips, maybe thinks I'm going to tell my dead daddy he should rise from the mud to get a shotgun. She's running so like desperation that her left off-white shoe takes off from her right foot, landing on a goat's ear. I hear the constipated yearning strains of Wagner and surmise that the cops are almost on her heels 'cause she's a bit dark complicated and in these parts the cops are always chasing whoever doesn't look like the underside of a hamburger roll. So I roll on my back, making like a tailless dog with my paws in the air to show her I'm not in attack mode and she smiles suddenly and totally which tells me everything I've ever wanted to know about my unexpected glorious future. And she sees right then and there how smart I am despite my issues with set tables; she grasps my hands to lift me up, floats a dewy caterpillar kiss on my little boy lips, attaching me like magic to something surprisingly elegant beyond myself. Says Spinoza: "All happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love." (from "My Life with the Runaway Bride, Part I")
- "In the beginnings endings of galaxies exploding imploding, birthing stars together falling apart together twinkling and belching the indigestible jet sum phoenixes and flotsam; before and after, is all the zero times zero, meaning one in its parts fractions of no things parting departing breathing always in and out breaking up into fractious star bits ego bits id bits alpha bit soup, genetic stew, caves, pyramids, igloos, coffins, mud huts, holes and monkfish revolving madly breaking into molecules into galaxies exploding imploding, birthing stars falling twinkling and belching the indigestible jet sum corsets and flotsam, casino chips, pterodactyls, blue hats, canaries, pompoms and pantaloons, the hollow cries of wolves." (from "In the beginning is")
I found the quality of writing on Mad Hatter Review to be consistently high. I remain amazed at its scale and complexity. But what I loved most about it is how it reflects the curious mind of Carol Novack. It is both her electronic magazine, and her work of art.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His works have appeared in over one hundred print and electronic publications. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing and recently read his poetry on National Public Radio's Theme and Variations. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry, the most recent entitled The Last Time. He was recently appointed to the Poet Laureate Commission for the State of Wisconsin and he is the poetry editor for Word Riot. He is also on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee. You may find additional work by going to http://www.literarti.net/Ries/.