The end of Unlikely 2.0

Now, in November 2011, one year after the publication of our print anthology Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind, it is time to “close” Unlikely 2.0. I put close in quotes because the next incarnation of UnlikelyStories.org is already being sketched out, and will have much more in common with Unlikely 2.0 than Unlikely 2.0 had with Unlikely Stories. Still, we need a little time to work on it, and must thus announce a brief hiatus between the final issue of Unlikely 2.0 and the first issue of Unlikely Stories: Episode IV.

Yeah. We went there. Couldn’t help it. What’s more, we plan to ride that joke for years.

Unlikely Stories was founded, with myself as the sole editor, in mid-1998. I was twenty-three and incompetent. Fortunately, at the time, the Web was largely bereft of interesting literature, and Unlikely Stories was able to hold its own through simple tenacity. Anne McMillen, Kurtice Kucheman and I taught each other to write, and Michael Rothenberg taught me much about the “business” of editing, and in 2004, with the help of a handful of volunteers (especially Belinda Subraman), I opened Unlikely 2.0, which ran, in the form you now see almost constantly until 2009-10.

In 2007, a group of friends and I founded the production company Make It New Media, and we began work on using that company to produce Unlikely Books (among others). In 2010, Unlikely Books published the massive anthology Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind, along with two tomes with two books each: My Hands Were Clean by Tom Bradley paired with Dr. Gonzo by Deb Hoag, and Soy solo palabras but wish to be a city paired with Monolith by Anne McMillen. Here, we were successful: these books were brilliantly written, carefully edited, and beautifully constructed.

We also planned to keep Unlikely 2.0 running at a steady clip as these books were published. At this, we failed fabulously. 2010 was filled with unannounced hiatuses and generally diminished communication with Unlikely 2.0 contributors.

In 2011, Make It New Media failed as a business, and I relocated from El Paso, Texas to Lafayette, Louisiana. The move was necessary, but it worsened an already problematic financial situation. As a result of these conditions, distribution for Unlikely Books has not been what it should be. In fact, there are still some contributors’ to Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind who have not received a copy, a fact which is ultimately my fault and responsibility (but are now finally fully correcting). Fortunately, Unlikely 2.0 costs almost nothing to produce, and its publication was restored to a regular schedule, with the help of good folks like Gabriel Ricard, Jack Feldstein, Eric Smiarowski, and Dustin Luke Nelson.

So, with our errors of finance and scheduling mostly cleaned up, and the 11th Annual New Orleans Bookfair approaching (we sold our first copies of Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind at the 10th Nola Bookfair), it is now time to re-assess UnlikelyStories.org, and contemplate its improvement.

When Unlikely 2.0 was founded, the era of high-speed Internet was rocking along, but the time of the citizen blogger was just beginning. Amateur pundits flocked to the Internet, a situation we found enormously pleasing. They had few distribution channels. They also, in many cases, imagined their writings would soon make them rich, and thus eschewed non-paying magazines like ours. Now, the would-be profiteers are gone, and distribution channels abound (even if many of them have only slightly more respect for intellectual property than your local police department does for your personal safety). What’s more, between the time that we began planning for a hiatus and the time I wrote this, shit started to happen. Last night, a decorated US Marine was lying in critical condition after being savagely attacked by Oakland cops, who then used flash grenades to prevent citizens from coming to his aid. As Atlanta prevents protestors from peaceful assembly, New York City and Oakland have tried to do the same and failed. The revolution might not succeed, but if you’ll allow me to get all Steve Earle in here, let me say that the revolution is NOW.

The temptation, at this time, is to indulge in day-to-day journalism: turning UnlikelyStories.org into a news aggregator. This would be wrong. I, for one, wouldn’t be particularly good at it. As a literary artist, I hope to describe and inspire positive change. As a publisher and distributor of literature, I hope to inform of the paths to positive change. But I simply don’t have the right sort of mind to chronicle current events.

Furthermore, the nature of journalism has changed radically since Unlikely 2.0 was designed. When I first heard the term “Web 2.0,” I laughed at it, mistaking it for marketing gibberish. The nature of the Arab Spring has conclusively corrected me in this matter. I don’t particularly like YouTube or Facebook. I’m not happy that democratization has brought such a short attention span (and I will not stop using this wonderfully inexpensive Web space to publish longer works). But like it or not: social networking is now in a position to facilitate the overthrow of governments.

And while I was working on using Make It New Media to establish diverse channels for the distribution of printed pages, society was headed the other way. In 2010, e-books outsold books. I do not believe that trend will reverse itself. Ever. Education is now essentially computerized; we’re either headed for Star Trek or the Stone Age.

I know, that’s been essentially the case since 1945. But now we’re headed for one or the other really fast.

At this time, I feel that the philosophy of UnlikelyStories.org needs only slight tweaking (and if you’re an artist, wondering about publishing in Unlikely Stories: Episode IV, the submission guidelines from Unlikely 2.0 are still of interest), but the technical aspects of UnlikelyStories.org and Unlikely Books need a full overhaul. While we’re working on that, Gabriel Ricard and I will continue to write for the Unlikely Blog, and Unlikely Books will publish a chapbook of poetry, guttural silk make new gong by j/j hastain, and a double-chapbook of poetry, Trust Fund Babies and Phenomena of Interference by Steve Dalachinsky. Finishing touches, really—you’ll be able to purchase them soon. Perhaps, when the next Unlikely magazine is ready, we’ll be publishing in a different world.

Or from prison. Let’s keep our options open.

Thanks for reading,
Jonathan

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