In Search of Feels

{NOTE: You know how when you are doing something and you fail and the interior editor/critic/naysayer in your mind’s voice intervenes and it’s super harsh? That’s the all caps bits below, wherein Castmate Ben’s interior editor spills onto the page.

The Editors}

Here at the lit-mag (Season 1 Issue 1 as yet to be published, but bear with as we’re doing the fucking work) we’ve seen, when it comes to your submissions, a disturbing… trend, shall we say. Right now, we’re sitting, at the time of this typing, around 170 submissions across all genres and the most glaring fault we’ve seen is a distinct lack of what we have termed “gut feel”. This is a problem.           


Castmate Nick, in his latest newsie piece (which, if you missed that content, it’s totally your fault for not subscribing) pondered what it was that made literature Literature. I won’t step on Nick’s prodigious dick here.


Look, folks out there in literary land, the same peeps who have sent/are sending material for the lit-mag (we do appreciate your efforts), but a lot of you are, to put it as kindly as I can, missing the point. Literature, as I can best understand it, is a vehicle to transmit the unique yet transportable and wonderful experience that we collectively hold in human consciousness, from one wet computer to another, across the nigh insurmountable obstacles of our individuality and spacetime, using our fallible and ultimately insufficient tools of language and craft. Owing to the massive difficulties encountered on such a journey, authors naturally fail. Delivering successfully with Literature is akin to the ancient mariners of yore, setting out in rickety vessels for Terra Incognita, finding said Terra, encountering the locals, setting up trade (or, more likely engaging them in close combat or enslaving the natives or spreading communicable diseases or dogmas or breeding or some combination of all of the above), and then returning to their home countries with strange inventories which are immediately recognized by the non-travelers there as something to be desired (think spices or cuisines or customs or knowledge). It’s like that, but with words and ideas.

Chief among the things so transported in the realm of Literature is the capacity for emotion, and engendering said emotions in others. We’ve all seen how reading stories, fiction in particular, increases the reader’s empathy, not just for the characters, but for other, real-life, meat human bodies. For example, if you read Of Mice and Men and don’t feel an overweening urge to go out and advocate for people with disabilities you can reasonably surmise that you are a Philip K. Dick-ian replicant (Should that prove true, don’t worry, you’ll expire soon.). It’s Steinbeck’s ability to humanize the act of Lenny’s murder that is the truly gut wrenching kernel of the novel, the one that lingers, the one that makes you question whether or not you’d have the stones to be an agent of mercy through destruction as George was for Lenny.

What am I blathering about? Literature, the l-shaped, emotional ambush into which you stumble that has been sufficiently mined with claymores (Remember: FRONT TOWARDS ENEMY) and overlapping fields of fire in the killzone, achieves the highest number of casualties by making us feel. Sometimes that feeling is love, other times hate, sometimes it’s disgust, maybe desire, or envy, or joy, or mirth, or any of the other basic, root level lines of code that we as human beings all possess. When a piece of what is attempting to be Literature, be it poetry, or non-fiction, or fiction, loses its nerve and allows the reader to continue on its patrol through the pages without pulling the trigger, it cannot call itself Literature. Why? Because it committed the worst sin imaginable for the written word; it has left us feeling nothing and that, boys and girls, is unforgivable.

Let me lay this out for you more directly: MAKE US FEEL. Don’t send us a story riddled with cliches and a telegraphed ending that limply attempts to penetrate our limbic system. Don’t send a non-fic piece that is 90 percent exposition or shot through with details that don’t rip out hearts. Don’t, for the love of God, send us a fucking poem about the moon that’s just about the moon and has no emotional payoff. If we read through a piece and come to the conclusion of “Well, that was fifteen minutes,” you might get a personalized rejection (out of the goodness of our hearts), but that’s all you’re getting.

It should be noted that pieces that have engaged our emotional sensibilities but have otherwise been flawed on a craft/structure/word level have gone to the next level of the editing process. We have contacted these authors and begun the work, the elbows deep, bloody, goop-ridden work of making the piece something closer to the approximation of Literature that we’re all striving toward. We know that Literature is ever receding on the horizon and we’ll never catch it, but fuck, guys, we can get closer than we are now. The way we close that gap begins in the heart. Everything else is academic.  

Love and Handies,     

-Castmate Ben