Editor-in-chief of Brooklyn-born lit magazine Electric Literature, co-founder of Gigantic Magazine, and a Twitter user truly gifted at combining memes with archival sci-fi imagery, Lincoln Michel is a master of where literary culture and the internet meet. His recent collection of funny, dark short stories, Upright Beasts, similarly blends worlds and bends rules.
You are both a fiction writer and an editor. How do you balance those two kinds of work? How to they complement or contradict each other?
For me, it’s a question of time. I need lots of time to write, and working 40 hours I have to steal every snippet of time I can. I’m not very good at it. Luckily, Upright Beasts was written before I switched to full time. That said, since apparently no one is waiting around to give me bags of cash to just tweet dumb jokes and write weird stories about monsters, I’d much rather be paying my bills by covering great books than anything else. I know people say that working in a creative field can drain you for your own creative work, but I feel very inspired dealing with talented writers and covering fantastic books every day. Great art inspires more art.
More generally, I think editing others is the best way to learn how to edit your own work. It forces you to learn what your eye is drawn to, what excites or bores you, and then you can apply that to your own work. That’s also the most useful part of a workshop. Most of the advice you get on your own work is just contradictory or useless, but learning what you hate or love in your peers’ work teaches you to be a better critic of your own writing.
Tell me about the founding of Gigantic. What about the magazine are you most proud of?
Gigantic was started by me, James Yeh, Ann DeWitt, and Rozalia Jovanovic when we were studying fiction at Columbia. We all had an interest in very short fiction—”flash fiction” I suppose, although I dislike that term—and mysterious, shocking, and elliptical prose. We founded Gigantic to provide a home for that kind of work, and to create a beautiful yet affordable physical object. I’m very proud of the issues we put out, which had very different designs and themes but, I hope, a consistently high quality of published work. I think Gigantic might have also helped, in a small way, to make weird short fiction more acceptable in the literary world. When we founded the magazine in 2008, it was actually kind of hard to find a home for short fiction. Nowadays, everyone publishes it and writers like Lydia Davis and Diane Williams are read and reviewed everywhere—as they should be. Gigantic only played a very minor role there, if any, but I feel like we were part of a literary zeitgeist.
I’m also very proud of Gigantic Worlds, an anthology of science flash fiction edited by Nadxieli Nieto and myself, that applied our sense of aesthetics to science fiction and packaged it a really beautiful hardcover book.
You joined Electric Literature full time in 2014 and are now its editor-in-chief. What does that work look like? What about it is most exciting for you?
I’ve been the editor-in-chief of electricliterature.com for a little over a year now, and it’s very satisfying to work for an organization that simply promotes and covers great literature. We have a lot of readers and a lot of reach, but we make it a part of our mission to cover work that isn’t being covered everywhere. We review lots of books by independent presses, interview authors in translation, republish fiction from small presses and magazines in Recommended Reading, have a series on the lives of authors in other countries called “The Writing Life Around the World” and more. We’re a nonprofit, so we can focus our time on covering the work we really care about instead of sweating over clicks and shares. I mean, there really isn’t a better job than that for a book lover.
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