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Author Interview: Seth Fischer In Writer Heaven

Michael Juliani |
August 3, 2011 | 3:07 p.m. PDT


Seth Fischer is a writer, editor, and online magazine founder who recently moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco to housesit and write a novel.  

He’s the Sunday editor for The Rumpus and the creator/founding editor of The Splinter Generation, a publication for people born between 1973 and 1993, and webscribbler.net, where you can write on top of the Internet.  

His essay on where he writes, published as #13 in The Rumpus series, called “To Walk Among Coyotes,” details his new days in L.A. 

Seth has had things published at places like Swink, Pank, and Guernica.  He tweets at @sethfischer.

Do you feel different writing in L.A. versus San Francisco?

The other day, I walked around a riot to get to a date, in Hollywood, stars with the names of actors I'd never heard of below me, a giant sign above me for a religion that was started by a science fiction writer.  I don't mean that disrespectfully, I just mean ... even Angelinos have to understand that it's surreal, at least to someone from outside. San Francisco is ridiculous, too, but because it's overly self-aware, and in some ways, self-loathing. It's a super rich and decadent and fun city that hates itself for being rich and decadent and fun. Los Angeles is ridiculous because it just doesn't give a shit that it is ridiculous, and I have to say that this is awesome. I'm a writer living in what could easily be, if it were fiction, an over-the-top situationist-inspired anti-utopia. What could be better? 

As for actually, physically writing here, this city suits me well. The groceries are cheaper than San Francisco, the gas is cheaper, the rent is cheaper ... but the restaurants and the bars are more expensive. It's a giant pain in the ass to get anywhere. It's a city that wants you to stay home, especially if you're poor, but it's also a city that wants you to go outside into your yard and relax because the weather is so god damned perfect all the time. 

Which is all just to say I am really happy writing in L.A. I can relax, not think so damn much and I don't have to feel bad about not going anywhere. I can sit in the sun all day lost in my imagination.

How did you first get involved with online literature?

I started The Splinter Generation back in 2008 when I started at Antioch University.  Splinter is a generational literary site for whatever you want to call the generation that comes after Gen X.  The idea started when I was working with Iraq War veterans with traumatic brain injury at the VA in Palo Alto in 2004. It struck me then that aside from these people I was working with, I didn't know a single person fighting in these wars that were and are defining my future. Neither did most of my friends. Yet there were one or two hundred thousand members of my generation over there. How was that possible?  So some fellow students (including Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, who's now taken it over and is also active in Beyond Baroque) and I decided to start this site as a venue for people to use literature and interviews and art and music to bring the people of our generation together to have a conversation, especially people who wouldn't ordinarily talk to one another. As an "introduction" to the site, I have this interview with one of the vets, Lance Corporal Jason Poole. 

When I first started Splinter, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, or what online literature already existed. At the time, I had a job working this temp job at a real estate company, where the head boss would just stare at me creepily all day, and all  I had to do was open mail, do a little filing and flirt with him when needed. So I spent all day, mainly, researching what was out there and emailing writers and teachers all over the world. Most people didn't respond, but the ones that did were awesome. We ended up getting a ton of submissions.

Soon after we released our compilation (originally, it was to be a one-time compilation, but eventually turned into an online magazine), I wrote about my experiences at the VA for Guernica. Then I started volunteering for The Rumpus, and I've been an online lit junkie ever since. 

What's the process for building an online magazine like The Splinter Generation?

It helps to have a temp job where you don't have to do much, but really, the process is simple: have an idea that people are excited about, and when people tell you they are excited, get them to help, get them to invest in it, and get them to want it to succeed, too. What's great about online is that you are really building communities, building movements. Print magazines are doing something different; they are creating a product, which is then consumed by readers. Print magazines aren't doing so hot right now because I don't think there are many readers left. Almost everyone involved in literature now seems to me to be a reader-writer hybrid. Even my 16-year-old sister, who has told me she doesn't like books, is excited by the idea of stories that involve the reader more, of being a part of a story. She's also, of course, a big reader online, and a big writer online. And that's what these online communities allow: they allow people to feel like they are a part of literature, rather than merely a consumer of it.

What's the attraction/benefit of having your own publication?

Ha! I think that really it's not my own publication. I don't even do much at Splinter anymore — others have taken over much of the work, as I am working on some other projects now. I have, with the help of many others, created something that has taken on a life of it's own. That is a wonderful feeling. That's the attraction. Also, it's nice to be able to get some publicity for projects I love.  

Describe the life of an online literary editor. 

Well, I am chronically poor. I can't figure out how to get paid for doing what I love, but things seem to usually work out, anyway. I spend way more time than I want to in front of a computer, and I have to force myself to go offline for a week sometimes to get my head straight. When I have an essay or story go up, it is an amazing feeling, because sometimes I can track exactly how many people are reading it, how much time they are spending on it and how many people are commenting on it. I can actually see, in a way, the effect the work is having, which is a beautiful and really dangerous thing for any writer. Sometimes I'll lose a whole day in some sort of narcissistic obsession about how the world is reacting to my writing, or to the writing of something I edited. I try not to do that, because it can drive you crazy, and because that's no way to live. But that doesn't mean I am always successful at avoiding these things.

What things in Los Angeles do you like looking at from your balcony?

I like to watch the police helicopters and make up stories about who they're going after. Then I feel guilty about that, because I'm housesitting in this really nice house and imagining the lives of poverty-stricken people who are persecuted by one of the most brutal police forces in the nation. Then I tell myself to shut up and take the things I've been given. I am, unfortunately, a little neurotic. 

How did you become an editor for The Rumpus?

I emailed Stephen Elliott, the founder of The Rumpus, because I really loved the idea behind it. It's all about culture as opposed to pop culture, and I was (and am) kind of sick of pop culture. Amazing people are doing amazing art and activism everywhere I look and Bitch Magazine can barely keep its doors open while People Magazine is doing just fine.  Steve had me meet him at this cafe on Valencia Street in San Francisco. When I emailed him, Splinter was just starting, and he had people like Rick Moody on board, so I figured I'd be answering emails or packing boxes. Steve asked me to write up a blog post on the spot. I of course had forgotten my computer charger, so he loaned me his. I went down the street, to a coffee shop with outlets, and wrote up a few posts. Soon, he asked me to be Sunday editor, meaning I blog there on Sundays. That was two years ago now, and I'm still there. 

What are the best things about punk rock?  Who are your favorite punk rock musicians/icons?

Okay, this is where I admit to being a poseur. Growing up, I really liked The Dead Kennedys and the Subhumans and all that radical pop punk like Propagandhi. I grew up in suburban Denver, on the south side of town, where the culture was not exactly open or progressive or accepting of people who might be leftist and bisexual and kinky. I was very close to Columbine, and hearing about that place, I'd have to say that the culture at my school was similar. And all the assholes and jocks listened to "classic rock." The people who loved Pink Floyd were the ones who said faggot every third word and terrorized people. These were the teachers and students who inspired me to stay closeted about my politics and sexuality and to scare people, too, so I could make my way up that terrible, terrible food chain. Sigh. So I learned to hate the music of the 60's and 70's because it had been coopted by evil, and instead, I turned to punk rock. 

So there, I said it: I'm 31 and still not over how terrible high school was. And that's why I love punk rock. 

Reach Michael Juliani by email here. Follow him on Twitter here.  



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