Out of Print: The Long Short Story

Keywords: short fiction, short story, Indian subcontinent, danger of extinction, Indian languages

(A conversation between Indira Chandrasekhar and Rizio Yohannann Raj)

RYR: As Out Of Print is a rather recent initiative, perhaps we could start this conversation with the story so far. Could you tell us about the setting up and functioning of your venture?

IC: Out Of Print, which is an online magazine for short fiction connected to the Indian subcontinent, grew out of a series of conversations. Initially they were with my editors, Sarn.hita Arni and Mira Brunner, who also happen to be my niece and my daughter respectively. Once I had their engagement, and the support of my sponsor, the discussions expanded and our designer and technical advisors helped us create the Out Of Print platform.

It was clarity on concept and scale, I believe, looking back, that has made Out Of Print a success. We’ve had suggestions about ways in which to exploit the medium of the web, ideas about being adventurous in terms of presentation and navigation. But our purpose is well defined – to provide an accessible platform for high quality short fiction and explore how the traditions of the subcontinent influence contemporary literature. Where we step outside safe limits is in the stories we choose to feature.

RYR: How would you look at your own movement from being a writer to being a publisher?

IC: In my case the idea of publishing a magazine was driven by being a writer looking for a place to publish. I started in fiction after a career in Science. It took me a while to feel confident enough to think my work was ready for the world – at that point I was riding on a wave of enthusiasm that fortunately allowed me to suspend my self-criticism to some extent – but when I started looking for places to publish, I found a great variety of literary magazines, both online and print in the US and UK compared to here in India. It seemed that with the growing number of people venturing boldly into telling their stories through the written word, a magazine that was based here would have a meaning.

RYR: As a publisher, you would naturally be concerned with editing. Do you find any difficulty in converging the roles of a writer and editor?

IC: That is a question I examine on a regular basis. Yes, editing does affect my writing. On one hand, there is no doubt that my craft improves. I am more conscious of structure and voice, and of the intent of my story. I invest more deeply in whether I am communicating my characters and their place in the thread of the narrative to the reader. On the other hand, my writing is slower, less unbound. It takes me longer to finish a piece, and I have to be conscious not to indulge a tendency to be over-critical. I find also, that putting so much of myself into a piece means I take longer to start a new one. My inability to start on a new story is particularly evident after protracted periods of editing, be it for Out Of Print, or for example, when I was working on the anthology Pangea (Thames River Press, 2012). I must end by saying, however that the positives outweigh the negatives and I am grateful that I am thrust into better craft by my editing commitments.

RYR: Why did you choose to go online? Do you think the future of publishing is digital and web-based?

IC: I would hate to be making a prediction about the future of publishing, although current trends do indicate that the e-book is here to stay, and perhaps even take over. But it wasn’t as much a need to keep abreast of the trends as the enormous reach of an online publication that is accessible regardless of urban/small town divides, can bridge national borders and span age barriers, which concerned us while making our choice.

RYR: How would you respond to the challenges involved in online publishing?

IC: The complexities of e-publishing are less overwhelming from the point of view of an e-magazine. Online literary journals have existed for a long time, many with equal footing with print magazines in terms of quality and reputation. Also, e-zines, as they are often referred to, are akin to little magazines in that they are rarely intended as profit-making enterprises. So market anxieties about pricing and sales of e-books that drive mega corporate action such as the Penguin Random House merger are irrelevant to our functioning.

There is one other aspect – I think the e-book world went through a phase when readership associated it with self-publishing or vanity publishing. And one of the issues there is the lack of editorial review – quality control, if you want to call it that. But with the increasing number of e-publishing enterprises, that aspect is changing. And e-books may be produced with the same attention to detail as the print book is. But again, with an edited literary journal such as Out Of Print, such concerns don’t arise.

RYR: I understand that your academic background is science. How do you interface between science and art in your work?

IC: There are many ways in which science enters my writing. One of my stories, one that we ran in Out Of Print in fact, is termed Lennard-Jones Potentials and references the strength of the soft interactions that characterise certain types of connections between atoms in a system.

Another thing is, the training I had writing scientific papers that are structured and precise serves me well when writing complex inter­woven fictional narratives.

RYR: While across the world, except in India and the US perhaps, short story as a genre is facing danger of extinction, how would you place yourself as a publisher focussing on short fiction?

IC: Is the danger of extinction really the case? It is the perception, and certainly one that publishing houses are often anxious about from a marketing point of view. But I do believe that the number of remarkable short story collections and anthologies and magazines that are available belie that view point. In either case, I am proud that we are able to provide a platform for the short story.

RYR: As Indian languages have a remarkable short fiction presence, how would you look at the question of translations from other Indian languages to English?

IC: Indeed we are conscious of the rich possibilities and feature
translated work when good English translations are available. Work in Urdu by Firdaus Haider translated by Nighat Gandhi, and two pieces in Kannada by U R Ananthamurthy, translated by Deepa Ganesh have appeared in Out Of Print.

RYR: How do you consider English as a medium of expression vis-a-vis Indian cultures and stories embedded in them?

IC: I hope the stories in the magazine that are indicative of the interesting contemporary writing coming out of the subcontinent will answer that question.

RYR: The name of your initiative is curious. Could you explain it in the context of your publishing choices and success?

IC: We are an online magazine. Out Of Print is a play on words. We leave the reader to interpret its multiple meanings.

RYR: Do you exclude the possibility of going into print altogether?

IC: We don’t exclude it entirely but have no intention of doing so at this point. We really don’t see the need.

RYR: What are your plans for Out Of Print? Do you have any business models that you follow?

IC: Recently I had some advice from well-wishers who were urging us to develop a business plan that would make money, or help us sustain ourselves without sponsorship. But in all honesty, that doesn’t really fit our somewhat purist concept. I think our plan is to continue to serve the literary world by providing a place where we publish well-edited, good quality short fiction with a connection to the Indian subcontinent.

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