The very first piece of fiction I remember reading online, while sitting at the desk where I worked as an administrative assistant in an anthropology department, was Glenn McDonald’s story “Digging For Polar Bears.” I found it because I was doing research about polar bears for my BA thesis, so that would have been 1998, I guess. Around the same time I started reading Doug Lawson’s Blue Penny Quarterly, later renamed Blue Moon Review, and I remember finding some website (escene, maybe?) where the best online fiction was regularly listed and linked, and I started following that. After college, I had another administrative job, at a nonprofit, and spent some of my time poking around at Zoetrope, writing a few critiques and submitting a story or two, though I never got too involved there.
So that was over a decade ago, but it wasn’t until much later, during the past couple of years, that I’ve felt involved in any sort of literary “community” online. Well, that’s not quite true, because in 2001 I became very involved in blogging, at a time when there were so few blogs it felt like a very intimate conversation and like everyone knew each other on the web, so I was writing and reading online quite a bit, if not fiction. And that led me to journals like Monkeybicycle, Pindeldyboz, Bullfight, and others both defunct and ongoing. And to writers like Kevin Fanning and Joshua Allen, Paul Ford, Claire Zulkey, Jami Attenberg… and to So New Publishing, actually, which is how I ended up working on Necessary Fiction later: James Stegall at So New was the very first editor to ever solicit a story from me, and he was already publishing some of my favorite writers working online. The first story I published online was at Yankee Pot Roast, in 2004, but really it was taking on an editorial role at Necessary Fiction in 2009 that made me feel more involved and gave me a broader sense of what’s going on around the web. And I’ve met so many people that way, through editing, far more than just by sending out my own stories.
I’d say that writing online, and learning to write while being online, are pretty essential to how and what I write. I’d be a very different writer without the web, and probably a very different person in many ways. I’m pretty optimistic about the web as a social and literary medium in general, but I do have concerns. I worry about the echo chamber of online literature, sometimes, because it offers such a constant, clammering feedback loop that it’s hard to put out of your head how much other people are publishing, and where, and what kinds of stories are getting liked the most on Facebook or getting retweeted and so on. I worry a little that it exacerbates the professional jealousy and competitive angst that are already part of being a writer, and might make folks less confident in their own voices; it’s not a new risk for writers, but I do think it’s more immediate online. There are certain styles and approaches (and values, in terms of what one should aspire to as a writer and what counts as success) the online literary world leans toward, so it’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking those are the only ones that matter, and to forget there are other readers elsewhere looking for other things. But mostly I’m excited about working online, and for the conversations it allows not just with other writers, but with readers, book bloggers both amateur and professional, editors, anyone. The web makes it easier to reach out to multiple audiences —far more than print journals do, I think — and that’s when writing and publishing, and the web, are most appealing to me.