If you’re a writer, like me, or just an avid reader (perhaps both,) depending on the stage in your development, you may or may not have had much exposure to authors outside of the classic cannon: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, George Elliott, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Louise Erdrich, etc. (Yes, lots of other people too—those are just the ones that immediately came to my mind.) My point is, if you have taken English Literature classes through at least 12th grade, you’ve read those authors or your friends or parents have their books around. Here’s the thing though, if you want to be a serious writer, or even just a savvy reader, it’s important to read classic pieces as a foundation, but you need to read the people who are on the leading edge too–the writers who are out there making their careers today.photo credit: barnimages.com Bookstore via photopin (license)
How do you find out about people before they’re famous? The simple answer with writers is to read widely, make a note of what you like, and follow that writer. (By follow I mean look for their work on Goodreads or Amazon, subscribe to their blog, follow them on Twitter, etc. Please don’t stalk. Yes, it actually happens a lot and it’s creepy. Please don’t. We really don’t find it attractive.)
The way I started finding authors I liked was by reading Best American Short Stories each year. I started with 2007, and since then, I’ve checked out older volumes at the library, and I usually buy the new one each year. Sometimes, I love everything. Sometimes, it’s hit and miss, and other times, I just want to kill it with fire. Reading new writers can be a slog. Trends and tastes vary year-to-year depending on the Messiah of MFA programs who currently reigns supreme. Prose in the second person that belongs in the first season of You (hahahah, that was actually kind of funny) or in a silly listicle can actually make it into otherwise legitimate publications because we randomly forget how to write expository prose as a nation from time to time. These are real issues. It’s like the shag carpet of the writing world. Still, the year passes, and in the next edition, we’re okay again.
Even a crappy year of Best American Short Stories is worth reading because it can give you a good idea of which journals agents and editors seem to be loving right now, and it can vary a lot from year-to-year. This is true of general literary stories, but it’s also true of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. A particularly clueless writer friend of mine was convinced for a while that the only place worth getting published was Analog or maybe Asimov’s Fiction & Fact. Both are terrific markets for sci fi/fantasy writers, but they are not the only ones, and for 2018, neither magazine had a story selected for the Best American anthology, but many other magazines did.
Pay attention to which publications the stories are pulled from. You will probably notice some patterns. Also, like wine tasting, pay attention to what you like. What do you want your writing to look like as you develop? Whose career do you want to follow?
Three authors I distinctly remember falling in love with early on are Margaret Atwood for Wilderness Tips (the short story, but it’s also the title of a collection,) Stuart Dybek for Paper Lantern, and Tobias Wolff for Powder which he read at a reading at UCSB when I was a student there.
You probably noticed that The New Yorker looms large with these stories. The New Yorker publishes a lot of short stories, but it’s not a starter market for authors, at least, it isn’t now. I’ve actually seen them publish stories by dead people before they’ll publish stories by anyone else. Maybe it’s a budget thing. I don’t know.
Based on my reading this year, I’m watching Zoetrope, LitMag, and The Georgia Review. The Threepenny Review also publishes some solid fiction, but they don’t seem to have rated in this recently, but I enjoy their stories. Admittedly, I’m not subscribing to Zoetrope because they are not open to submissions from new authors and while editors seem to be impressed by their selections, I was less so; it’s also really expensive and that’s kind of bizarre considering that the Coppolas probably have more money than God by literary standards.
Let me know what gems you find in your search for new authors.
Happy reading 🙂
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