There’s a Difference between Quirky and QUIRKY, and We Get a Lot of the Latter, Especially: An Interview with Aaron Burch

Aaron Burch teaches writing at the University of Michigan, edits Hobart, and has had stories appear in New York Tyrant, PANK, Barrelhouse, Another Chicago Magazine, and Unsaid. He is the author of How to Take Yourself Apart, How to Make Yourself Anew (PANK, 2010) and How to Predict the Weather (Keyhole Press, 2010).

HFR: What is “indie lit,” and who are some of your favorite writers writing today?

AB: I’m not sure. I’d basically just define it as indie publishing, but then that’s your next question, and the combo of it being the next question, and it being shortened here to “indie,” and that you put it in quotes, makes me think of “alt lit,” which kinda’ just makes me groan.

And, this is going to be a super cop-out answer, but I feel like my favorite writers are pretty much everyone we’ve published in Hobart. Some have “indie press” books out, some have “big press” books, and some don’t have books out at all, but I feel like they’re all part of the fam’. Sorry. Catch me after a couple drinks and I’ll be more name-drop-y.

HFR: What is independent publishing? What purpose do you think it serves?

AB: Independent publishing just means you’re, well, just that. “Independent.” Not a big press—there’s what, now? 5? 6?—and not a university press and/or journal. There are bigger “independent” presses, but what jumps to mind is people doing it out of their homes and/or apartments, et cetera, probably paying for it all on credit cards and/or whatever money they can scratch together, learning and making it up as they go, little to no “technical” experience. I think the purpose they serve is the same cable channels serve with regard to the networks: to give more variety, to maybe be a little more risky, to by nature of the best need less readers and sales to get by, which allows you to publish books that aren’t striving for mass appeal as their goal.

HFR: In what direction, if any, do you see independent publishing moving?

AB: Hm. I wanna say it is going to get more and more niche-driven, but maybe it’s even already as far that way as it can go? I just watched a couple Adult Swim shorts on my computer, and sometimes indie publishing, with regard to “big” publishers, feels kind of like Adult Swim compared to the networks. Speaking of watching those shorts on my computer: I think indie publishing will—and should—keep exploring things like e-books and apps. Maybe e-singles of individual stories? Stuff like that? I actually really like that you guys are doing a kind of e-book lit journal, though I am still curious how many people read “indie lit” on Kindles and the like, versus just the huge bestsellers that people read on them while traveling.

HFR: Has online publishing changed anything?

AB: It feels like it democratized things? Anyone could start a website. Because so many people started websites, it became easier to publish, due to sheer numbers. Because it didn’t cost anything—or, at least not much—people could be a little more experimental with what they published. It also, because of the ease of online communication, felt like it really grew more of a writing community, or a bunch a smaller communities.

HFR: What is the most common struggle you think writers face today?

AB: Oh, I don’t know. Just writing. Writing itself is pretty hard. It’s struggle enough, no?

HFR: I’ve heard it said to me a few times that there are too many people writing now—too many programs, too many magazines—that competition is fierce, the bar raised higher than ever. Thoughts?

AB: That kinda’ sounds like the kind of complaining we do in bars, after a good number of beers, but is ultimately kinda’ nonsense? The first half sounds like a complaint—too many! wah!—but fierce competition and a high bar is good, right? Should the bar be lower? Are there really “too many magazines” and yet the bar is higher?

HFR: With writing, what separates the good from the great?

AB: Fireworks. Inclusion of video games is good, too.

HFR: How does community affect the writer?

AB: It’s good for having people to bitch to about rejections. And about what books and writers are getting a bunch of acclaim but that you think are kinda’ bullshit. Without that outlet, you kinda’ go insane, or you’re bitching aloud to yourself in a bar or walking down the street, in which case you at least look insane to others.

HFR: In terms of aesthetics, what frequents your submissions manager?

AB: Hm. Probably the “kooky” and/or “quirky.” Which is good, in that we tend to revel in the world of quirky over, say, straight emotional realism, but—you know. There’s a difference between quirky and QUIRKY, and we get a lot of the latter, especially.

HFR: What does Hobart do for the writers that it publishes?

AB: This is basically stolen from Barrelhouse, but we’ll buy you a drink or five if and/or when we see you. (Barrelhouse says they’ll buy you beer; we up the ante to include bourbon!) We try to think of every contributor as belonging to the larger Hobart family, which kinda’ comes back to our earlier idea of community—we try to help promote you as a writer, when you have stories appear elsewhere, or a book is released; we get excited for you when you get good news, all of that. Plus other stuff, but we’re not allowed to advertise that in interviews.

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