Excerpt: 'This is Not an Isolated Incident'
Twenty months ago, I started a blog. At the beginning, it was my stab in the dark variation on a zillion other blogs: some fiction and poetry, snapshots, a little autobiography, a little porn, lots of links to recommended sites. After a few posts, strangers started adding their comments: They liked my books and thought it was cool I had this forum. It seemed natural to add postscripts to my entries with return comments: thanks, who are you, what do you do? Most of the time, I didn't need to ask. I clicked on their screen names and found their own blogs and sites, most of which were not unlike mine. I don't suppose I was too surprised that most of those commenting were writers of fiction. I was a little surprised and grateful that, almost without exception, they were very good, interesting writers. I didn't need to clutter my blog with polite thank you notes. Instead, my responses were as genuinely enthusiastic and querulous about their writing as theirs had been about mine.
Six months later, the blog had become something I hadn't anticipated. People who knew my books had gradually found the blog. Discovering that it was a place where I not only made myself accessible but seemed as curious about the people posting as they were about me, they'd joined the handful of early visitors to the site, propulsively sharing their own writing, art, music, and so on with me and their fellow regulars. The blog was now getting an average of forty to sixty comments a day from people in far-flung towns and cities across the U.S., Europe, the U.K., and Asia. The comments section had become something of a virtual workshop full of supportive yet sharp discussions about the writing by the people posting there. While I still used the blog as a creative outlet and playground for my own ideas, it seemed to me that my creations were less the point than the lure that brought newcomers into the growing artistic community that had formed in the backstage of the blog's main page. Quite excitingly, I was not really an artist using a blog to gather and entertain his fans but rather like a kind of magnet for artists who were, in many cases, as talented as I but with fewer opportunities to exhibit their creations to the world.
Early in 2006, I got the idea to contextualize this singular, thrilling, and hugely diverse community of writers in an anthology. It's not exactly a revelation to say that book publishing in the United States is in a gentrified, conservative, and economics-driven state. The contemporary fiction known to the majority of book buyers and reviews readers is a highly filtered thing composed for the most part of authors carefully selected from the graduating classes of the university writing programs that have formed a kind of official advisory board to the large American publishing houses. To read that allotted fiction and look no further, it would be easy to believe contemporary English-language fiction has become a far less adventurous medium than music or art or film or other forms that continue to welcome the young and unique and bold. Userlands offers one alternative to the status quo, one unobstructed view of contemporary fiction at its real, unbridled, vigorous, percolating best.
This is an anthology of nothing but fiction alive with passion and belief and possibility. Its authors range in age from mid-teens to middle age. There are writers here who have never published before. There are published writers whose books' lack of monetary success have cut off their access to the reading public. There are writers who have graduated from writing programs but whose fiction is nonetheless too abnormal to make the major publishers' cut. There are writers of great sophistication and nerve, writers who have personal truths they need to express in fiction as forcefully as possible, writers whose first language is not English but who see it as the right stage for their creations. Etc. This is an anthology that intends to energize existing fans of contemporary fiction and inspire newcomers. I hope readers who look to fiction for the fresh and original will find some new favorites among the multitude of voices gathered here. I hope writers who might doubt the possibility that their own unusual fiction could find a rightful audience will read Userlands and think again.
Not that long ago, I started a blog in a fumbling, self-conscious way, and today that one unremarkable blog gives you this big, wild collection of forty-one distinct and gifted writers whose efforts prove that fiction remains a youthful, boundary-breaking genre with an entirely unpredictable future. This is not an isolated incident.
From "This Is Not An Isolated Incident" by Dennis Cooper, the introduction to Userlands: New Fiction Writers from the Blogging Underground edited by Dennis Cooper. © 2007. Akashic Books. Excerpted by permission.
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