My short story Peer Review appears this month in issue #1 of the new literary journal Media Virus. (Issue #1 is really the second issue of the journal; my inner Java programmer likes that the numbering system indicates a zero-based index.)
Though blatantly inspired by Kafka–Joseph K. is a main character, and much of the “action” is set in The Castle–this is actually a true story.
A long time ago, I was one of the editors of my undergraduate literary magazine. We had a circulation of a couple hundred, maybe, and twice a year we slogged through a big pile of bad break-up poetry, pompous efforts in surrealism, and juvenilia of all sorts. It was a somewhat depressing chore. Every now and then, though, something really good showed up. One year, the really good thing was a poem, attached to a name we didn’t recognize but in a style we thought we could identify as belonging to a good friend of mine (who never owned up to it, but I’m still suspicious). Our hearts were gladdened, we rejoiced, and we three editors unanimously voted it in.
Unfortunately, the poem had some salty language and disturbing content. This was a small Catholic liberal arts college, and salty disturbances were not welcome. Our advisor didn’t stop us, but someone in the college copy center (the journal had zine-like production values) did. They refused to continue printing it unless we took the poem out.
Maybe we should have made a bigger stink about it, turned it into a local cause celebre and stood our ground: legally, the college was well within its rights to stop the publication (a private institution has a lot of leeway), but you only get to be young and idealistic once. We held up for a couple weeks, with a little faculty sympathy, but in the end we buckled under and pulled the poem. I’m still a little disappointed we didn’t try harder.
But during the brief controversy, the poem made the rounds through the faculty and administration, attached to various memos and letters. I heard that it even got discussed at the president’s Christmas party. Given the success of the journal itself, it was probably read by more people than would have seen it if it had just been tucked in amongst the better bad break-up poems and audacious second-person stories casting the reader into the consciousness of a plastic bottle.
All of this was in the Dark Ages, around 1989, before e-mail and the Internet changed a whole lot of things. The story would probably have played out very differently today, now that Joseph K. has traded in his bank of manual typewriters and stacks of carbon paper for a cheap Linux server on a wireless network.
Or perhaps not. The Internet has increased the noise, but not necessarily improved the signal; it’s easier to publish, but harder to build mindshare. It may still be a valid strategy to address your manila envelope to Mr. N., clerk of Section S, and hope for the best.