“Literature can train, and exercise, our ability to weep for those who are not us or ours.” — Susan Sontag
Eight years ago, I was super excited about Obama’s election. I was a twenty-something copyeditor then, working for an American newspaper. Over the years, however, it has been difficult not to be cynical about politics and world affairs; it’s been hard to sustain faith and hope between countries, cities and jobs. While I have been fortunate enough to be among the first generation of new media professionals in South Asia, it has come at a great personal cost — I have always been the nerd, always out of place in the world out there. While on an ongoing sabbatical from active career, I ended up starting Mithila Review, which I think is more American in spirit than anything I have ever done before.
We don’t have ads or paywall on our website. Our submission guidelines are there for all to see, and we respond to most submissions within two days on average, often with a personal critique. This isn’t a professional skillset or attitude that I learnt from South Asian editors and publishers. It’s unfortunate that most established magazines and literary presses seem closed behind a paywall or appear inaccessible if you aren’t part of their private circles. Whatever little space there is for speculative literature in most (South) Asian magazines is clearly not enough for the creation of works that inspire readers to support arts and artists. As it is for many of you around the world, America, then, is a beautiful idea for me — the land of immigrants, physical and virtual, where anything is possible. It’s easy to buy into the American brand promise because Asia is as much a manmade and imaginary construct for me. Both Asia and America are an ongoing process of mythmaking and wishful thinking; a life-long project called “belonging” even if you don’t want to belong here in the real world, and are more at home in the “Conversation” — Lavie Tidhar’s futuristic mélange of the cyberspace and meatspace in his decade-spanning work, Central Station. Sadly, I can’t tell one from the other anymore — both Asia and America seem equally and increasingly dystopian and dangerous to young minds and creative entrepreneurs. When I realize that Mithila Review is among the very few American English-language literary publications devoted to science fiction and fantasy on the Other Side of the World, I feel extreme alarm rather than a cause of celebration.
Like most commercial and cultural ventures on the Internet today, Mithila Review is a global initiative — our contributors don’t come from Mars or Venus, yet; they all inhabit one fragile ecosystem. All our themes and concerns are human; we don’t judge a work of art, fiction or poetry based on the origin, race or gender of its author. If anything, I find nation-states to be a problem — they keep smart ideas, innovations and people apart. The failure of the greatest nations on Earth to resolve conflicts peacefully; the failure of the world’s largest democracies to protect fundamental human rights of all their citizens, irrespective of their class, color or caste; the failure of the world governments to ensure free movements of people across gender, faiths and territories on the planet — these are some of the hard problems that I thought our species would be able to solve as one people, one planet by the time I grew up. If we want planet-level thinking to be a default mindset, we need to embrace and celebrate speculative arts and culture to train ourselves to “weep for those who are not us or ours.”
In many countries, speculative arts and culture exist simultaneously with American speculative fiction and films. That is why it’s essential to not just diversify the most influential American speculative magazines but also speculative publishing around the world. Those in the industry say art is a luxury in the developing world; people don’t fund artists and literary projects here (or anywhere else). If that’s really the case, how are we going to raise funds to attract, encourage and support young and emerging writers? How can an Earthasian make a living through a literary press when award-winning writers and editors in the fabled Westeros cannot? “Sooner than later, they will burn out and fold.” Yes, I can hear the planet talking. “They have neither resources nor infrastructure to continue to produce excellent work.”
Well, the good news is that Mithila Review is not only going to be around for a while, it is actually expanding. My co-editor Ajapa and I are screening new candidates for our editorial team. If you are ready to set aside 3-4 hours a week for the project, you can send your applications with a brief note about yourself and your favorite stories from our past issues. Preferences would be given to those candidates with publication credits in professional literary publications — those who have demonstrated their passion for speculative arts and culture actively, consistently over the years.
Speculative arts and culture encompass literary and artistic works in the broad genre with supernatural, fantastical or futuristic elements i.e. science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, horror, alternative history, magic realism, uncanny and weird. Depending on the number and quality of unsolicited submissions, we’re also considering adopting a bi-monthly or quarterly publication schedule for original fiction and poetry, and a more regular schedule for non-fiction: news and updates, essays, reviews and interviews. We will launch a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter (or its alternative) later next year after completing the first year of publication successfully. Meanwhile, we need the time to formalize our publication and structure our team and plan the next year well in advance.
If you think it’s easy or economical to run a competitive literary magazine, consider this: we have published over 70,000 words of fiction from award-winning and emerging authors. Out of 17 stories we’ve published so far, six were original to Mithila Review. Reprint rates are much lower. If we had published all of the stories first, the minimum cost of fiction that appeared in our magazine is $4,200 based on SFWA rates of 6 cents per word. We’ve also published about thirty poets and non-fiction authors. At $25 for each poetry and non-fiction contribution, the cost is $750. That’s roughly $5000, and we haven’t even included the cost of cover illustrations or the hours that our editorial team and interviewees have put into making this project relevant and critical to the field. I am deeply grateful for the work and support that we have received from each one of you, and remain committed to find meaningful ways to give back to this wonderful community.
If you endorse the presence of Mithila Review in the literary landscape, and believe that decentering SF publishing on Earth is the next logical step in making the field inherently open and diverse, send us your best work, help us spread the word around through WOM, reviews and social network, and if you can, please support us on Patreon. It would be unfortunate for our community if we didn’t at least make an effort to provide ways for our readers and supporters to reward our contributors — existing and upcoming — financially for their time and work. We cannot hope to create a healthy literary culture that supports the creation, discussion or celebration of speculative arts without your support.
There is a lot of work to be done to turn Mithila Review into a professional market and an idea lab to attract new artists, writers and readers to the field through original and translated fiction and poetry, audiobooks, comics and films. We need to get the publication registered in the US and India — our two primary markets — , find and negotiate with printers and publishers, set up payment and subscription processes both on and outside the website, develop a business plan that would enable us to offer professional pay rates to our contributors for future originals and anthologies.
Most new literary publications fold within six months to a year, they say, as they are terrible at working out a successful business model; the incomes and struggles of glorious editors in the field serve more as warning than inspiration for the younger lot in and outside the block. Literary publishing seems incompatible with the modern world and consumers. We would like to dedicate our time and limited skills to find creative ways to address this challenge with our readers’ support, together with more skilled and business-savvy editors, writers and publishers.
Lastly, this special issue of Mithila Review is an illuminating example of a truly global community-driven literary project. If you like our editorial vision and our contributors’ work, please spread the word around. Become our patron!
— Salik Shah
Editor, Creative Director
(For information, feedback, queries, etc. Not for submissions.)
(Read Submission Guidelines first.)