02 June 2005

Failbetter Five Years Later

The current issue of Failbetter.com is the seventeeth and celebrates the online magazine's fifth year of publication. There are stories by Steve Almond, Jim Shepard, Greg Ames, and Matthew Derby, poetry by Terrance Hayes, Jonah Winter, Amy Holman, Mary Donnelly, Lee Upton, John Rybicki, paintings by Doug Malone, an interview with Sam Lipsyte, and a retrospective editorial by Thom Didato, who co-founded the magazine with David McLendon. The magazine has come a long way since the first issue, but the quality has been high since the beginning.

I met Thom at a writer's conference during the summer of 2000, and at the time thought online fiction was junk (not that I'd read much), and assumed that such a magazine was destined to be the last refuge of the most desperate. Then I read an issue, and, though it didn't blow my head off or anything, the quality was higher than I would have expected. And any magazine that takes its name from a Beckett quote has a warm spot in my heart. So I submitted a story of my own, and it was rejected. I submitted another, with the same result -- and got one of my favorite rejections of all time: "Matt, it's not that your stories are bad. It's just that they're kind of like broccoli. I know they're good for me, but I don't enjoy them." A third try succeeded, and even though the story now seems to me to be little more than a pastiche of George Saunders, I'm fond of it, because it wasn't broccoli.

After I published with them, Failbetter got stronger and stronger. Thom took over as primary editor, scored one interview after another with writers who would within weeks or months suddenly become even more famous than they were when interviewed (he interviewed both Michael Chabon and Richard Russo right before each won their Pulitzer), and the fiction and poetry garnered attention from all over the place, and a readership larger than almost any treeware literary journal could claim. The good folks behind the scenes at Failbetter deserve many thanks and congratulations for five great years, and, I hope, at least five more to come.