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August 21, 2008

Comments

Leonard T. Carruthers

Sad to see them go. Not unexpected but too bad all the same. Every outlet for new mystery fiction is welcome even if it's not one that I would necessarilly read. I wonder to waht extent the attitude of the founders of this publication doomed their enterprise from the beginning. I remember reading on this blog (a couple years back when I would occasionally lurk) the hubris with which they proclaimed their arrival, dismissing in vulgar terms the established publications in the genre and patting themselves on the back for being the only ones with the balls to publish their kind of fiction. They were so arrogant, so angry that they ended up alienating a lot of potential readers adn contributors. I'm sure that was just part of their marketing scheme and that they're really great fellows. But clearly their marketing was a little less than effective given the publication's demise. Sad for them and their readers. Hopefully others will be willing to take up the torch of publishing quality original fiction in the mystery genre but with the wisdom that comes from learning from the mistakes of others.

David Price

Well, these were the same guys who dismissed AHMM and EQMM as "two lame, staid, old fogey establishment publications." Statements like that made me question their professionalism from the very beginning.

Ray Banks

Statements like that were actually taken out of context (there's a comment from the man himself):

http://www.sarahweinman.com/confessions/2006/10/lullaby_of_murd.html

Doesn't matter that Langnas might've actually had a point about two magazines owned by the same company leading to a stagnant market. I mean, regardless of the quality of submissions to EQMM and AHMM, a genre thrives with variety, and Murdaland provided that variety for two solid issues.

So perhaps it wasn't Langnas' "vulgarity" or "unprofessionalism" that killed Murdaland - anyone who so much as peeked at the magazine would know that those particular charges are redundant. Perhaps the increasing demands of running what amounted to an independent press in an environment that's proven economically damaging to the largest publishing houses had something to do with the magazine's demise. Perhaps the magazine market itself isn't built to handle smaller publications.

I don't know, does that sound plausible? Whatever it was, I don't think hearsay had anything to do with it, and those who found that hearsay distasteful enough to avoid buying the magazine weren't disposed to reading anything outside of a strict comfort zone anyway.

Leonard T. Carruthers

You make some fine points Ray. The publishing biz is so hard, it's almost impossible for anyone to make money. I clicked through to the link you included. I was particularly struck by this statement from Laura Lippman: "As I said, I no longer have the letter that Cort was distributing, so I have to rely on my memory. But it was pretty aggressive in trashing AHMM and EQMM -- and, by implication, its writers and readers. In fact, after reading the letter, I decided not to submit. The letter left a really bad taste in my mouth, to continue with the food metaphors here. And I've never written for either magazine cited." There were other writers who said the same thing both publicly and privately. You can say I don't know much about marketing and I would agree with you. But starting out your business by alienating reasonable, respected people like Laura Lippman may not be the best strategy for success. You can disagree of course and I respect your position.

Taylor

Ray makes good points, but Langnas was/is extremely arrogant, and thought he knew better than anyone else what is quality.

And I'm not talking about the AH or EQ comments, he treated everyone who wasn't a personal friend like they were beneath him.

I'm glad when people like that fail. And no, I never submitted anything and got rejected. I'm not even an author, just an avid reader and conference attendee.

Anthony Neil Smith

I loved MURDALAND. I loved their attitude. Anyone offended by their attitude wasn't their audience. And anyone who is "glad they failed" is just as guilty of the arrogance they charge MURDALAND's editors had. These guys, along with OUT OF THE GUTTER, have really helped crash what could sometimes be a pretty smug party.

I salute you, MURDALAND, arrogance and all. It was a lot of goddamned fun.


David Price

Here's the first paragraph of Murdaland's "submission call":

Murdaland: Crime Fiction for the New Century will feature the best and most derelict, deranged, bareknuckled honest voices to bring about a renaissance of crime fiction. Currently, the predominant “mystery” magazines are two lame, staid, old fogey establishment publications: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Both are put out by the same publisher and stuck in a timewarp of 1950's schlock. They even have mystery crossword puzzles catering to nuns living sober lives in the cornbelt.

I think the arrogance and uncivil nature of this statement speaks for itself.

Leonard T. Carruthers

These are interesting points being made. That statement does indicate a certain attitude that would not be appealing to a lot of writers and readers, especially when there is nothing to back it up. Apparently the editors misjudged the audience for their type of 'fiction with attitude.' Maybe if they'd been more foreward looking and market conscious they would have lasted longer than 2 issues. It's too bad. Having only two magazines is so limited. So it's sad to see them go. But if a new publication is going to assert its superiority over an old publication, it needs a war chest that allows it to last longer than just a couple of editions. Otherwise you end up looking like rank amateurs and I have no doubt that was not the case here. Maybe they can resurect their magazine on the internet. Their small audience would not be as much of a hindrance there.

Kevin Wignall

I've had a number of stories in EQMM (and once again for the record, my experience has always been of a remarkable magazine that is much more open, much more willing to experiment than people give it credit for).

But I wasn't offended by the comments made at the time of Murdaland's launch. Michael knew that I'd been published in EQMM and it didn't stop him contacting me or stop him being gracious at every turn (even though I never got around to writing for him). I never met the man personally, but his emails never struck me as those of an arrogant man, just one who was passionate (it's easy to mistake the two).

What remains are two fantastic editions of this magazine, which deserved more attention than it received. Did the combative PR backfire? Possibly. But as Michael (and Ray) suggest, the truth more likely lies in the reality of magazine publishing. Murdaland might have survived if it had been an annual anthology published in book form, but Michael and his team didn't know that and they were reaching for higher things. It's a shame they failed, but great that they tried.

Michael Langnas

Taylor,

Please give me an example of any time in my life that I was rude or contemptuous to somebody because they weren't a personal friend of mine. My whole life.

Anyone.

Thanks. That'd be very much appreciated.

For what it's worth -- oh, I'm pretty good about only picking on people, publications, corporations and institutions who are much, much bigger than myself.

As was publisher Cort who wrote the initial query quoted by Mr. Price above. Though granted, okay, the lad's a bit hard on the sober sisters of the Mother Church.

Leonard T. Carruthers

There's an old expression---its crude yes but can be true---that you shouldn't write checks your ass can't cash. Is it possible that's what happened here? Mr. Langas talks about picking on people but if that's what's on his mind at this point, maybe he missed out on learning from the lessons this experience might have taught him. The business world is a tough one---especially for people who are artists and idealists. So this is a valuable experience that others can learn from. As Mr. Wignall wrote, maybe there was a better format for a publication like this or a different strategy or a more positive attitude that would attract an audience. That's a good thought to take away from this. It's not about picking on people. That's schoolboy bullshit, not business. I hope that these passionate young men will not let this experience scare them off from trying big things in publishing. We need more daring, creative people who will take risks and try to make great art. We'll all benefit if they have the vision to learn from their mistakes and next time hit the ball out of the park.

Stephen Blackmoore

Arrogant or not they were trying to do something different that catered to a different audience. I don't read EQMM or AHMM very often. They just don't publish the sorts of stories I like to read. No judgment on their quality, they're just not for me. As Ray said a genre thrives with variety and I hope both of those publications last a good long while. It's sad that Murdaland wasn't able to last, but I think something will take its place. Where there's a niche something will fill it.

I would wonder if they even much cared about EQMM or AHMM. Sure, the marketing pointed out those magazines because they were defining themselves as an alternative. But the way they styled themselves meant that their audience probably wasn't reading those magazines, anyway. So alienating those readers probably wasn't that big a deal. That's like being a meat packer and worrying about alienating vegetarians.

I would think more likely is just the state of short fiction publications in general. Some pretty heavy hits have been seen to subscription numbers in sci-fi short fiction with Asimov's and F&SF on a steady downward spiral for the last several years. They're getting hammered. Plus with increases in postage their already razor thin margins are getting even smaller. Some of them are playing around with Kindle based subscriptions for 3 or 4 dollars a month, but I doubt that will do much to stem the tide. I would be surprised if EQMM and AHMM, or most publications for the matter, aren't seeing similar problems.

Charley Varrick

http://www.frank151.com/2008/03/28/murdaland/

Peter

I have learned from this discussion that Michael Langnas is either a jerk or is not.

If I may direct attention from his personality to his magazine for a moment, he published stories by Scott Phillips and Vicki Hendricks that were noir without being gimmicky, that could make me laugh and make my blood run cold at the same time. The same issue contained a fine story by Henry Chang that was at best the third-best story in the issue. And the magazine looked good. (Who knows? High production costs may have contributed to its demise.)

To this reader, then, it matters that fine stories such as Phillips' and Hendricks' now have one less forum in which to appear. That matters more to me than the editor's personality. ===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Gonzalo B

I don't think vulgarity or the "uncivil nature" of Murdaland were the reasons for its demise. If writers were being turned off because of their attitude then I guess it didn't turn off enough of the good ones because the two issues they published were superb. Translating Rolo Diez or reprinting Don Carpenter are indeed proof enough that their attitude - as "uncivil" as the more prudish ones might consider it - was at least more open-minded and willing to take risks than what we are used to see in the provincial American crime fiction scene.

It's simply not easy to run a fiction magazine these days and especially one that doesn't appeal to mainstream sensibilities like AHMM and EQMM do (and btw, I have nothing against either publication). Most literary magazines are published by universities or heavily subsidized by grants and public funds. In Murdaland's case, I don't think enough people heard of the magazine and it's too bad because I don't see any reason why readers who enjoy Hard Case Crime books or a Charlie Huston novel wouldn't have liked something like it. I made a point of buying its two issues even if I didn't read them immediately, simply because I think we need to support these initiatives and help the crime fiction scene grow out of its complacence. We need more Murdalands, Hard Luck Stories, Demolitions and Plots With Guns and less writers who think being cutting edge is resorting to caricaturesque violence nor a scene where nobody knows what is being published outside of the U.S. and every book is considered a classic because it just so happens that everyone is friends with everyone.

John Dishon

So how come Murdaland didn't apply for government funding? How come they didn't just move to an online publication while they fine-tune things. Or how about POD? Then you just have to print a book when someone buys it. That will drive the price of the issue up, but no one here would begrudge them a few extra dollars, right? Out of the Gutter's first issue cost $14. That's pretty high for a literary journal. But they sold.

This isn't directed just at Murdaland, but I think there is an important issue here about why the genre journal market is so different from the literary journal market. There are literally hundreds of literary journals. Many are backed by universities or other public funding, but many are not.

In fact, one of the best journals out there (Glimmer Train) is run by two women, who read every submission. They pay $700 for every accepted submission, plus they host several contests each year, with a top prize of $2,000. The publish big name authors as well as new authors. And there is zero advertising. Glimmer Train is an exceptional case, but it does prove that a journal can survive without public funding.

Most literary journals have small circulations, but I think it's worth noting that literary writers don't mind if they don't get paid for their work. The idea is to get as many publishing credits as possible, to make it easier to get an agent. Yet I have read genre-related articles where people have asked whether it's worth it to publish in a journal that doesn't pay anything. The fact that such a question was even asked shows there is a different mindset at work here. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not saying genre writers only care about making money, but that might just have something to do with the fact that there are hundreds of literary journals and only a handful of crime fiction journals (I'm talking print journals here).

That Murdaland went under isn't surprising. Most journals don't make it, for whatever reasons. Most businesses of any kind don't make it.

But rather than just mourning the loss of a journal, why don't we do something to help sustain more publications. What about these writer's clubs, like Sisters in Crime and ITW and all the rest. Why doesn't one of these clubs publish a print journal? They collect dues from members, so there's some money. I realize they use that money for other things, but they can raise the dues a bit or even try to recruit members to work on the publication for free. There are options available.

It's not unprecedented. PEN America (the U.S. chapter of PEN, an international organization promoting writer's rights, among other things) publishes a quarterly journal just for its members. You don't even have to be a full member; associate members get the journal too. Granted, PEN is a large organization backed, in part, by government money, but if one of these crime writer groups wanted to do it, it could be done. If two women can publish their own journal and make it work just because they like stories, then one of these groups can. Or, several of these groups can go together and joint publish a journal.

The question is, if the passion for crime fiction is there, than why are there only a handful of publications? I know it isn't easy, but there are tons of literary journals. If they can make it work, so can the genre writers. I wonder, how many people have even talked to a university, or small college even, about funding a crime fiction journal? Or applied for grants. Has it even been attempted?

The loss of Murdaland obviously matters to many people. The lack of print markets for short fiction obviously matters. But how much does it matter? Maybe the journal won't turn a profit, but as long as you can get by...

Anyway, I think these issues are worth considering if the demise of another print publication is a big deal to you. It would be good if Out of the Gutter shared how it's stayed alive.

Charles Ardai

A few thoughts:

1) I like Michael and I liked MURDALAND. I think most people who met the one or read the other liked them. The 'bad attitude' reflected in early marketing materials did not do them in. However, for people who only knew them through exposure to these marketing materials (whether first- or second-hand), the bad attitude is now acting as a spur to schadenfreude, the taking of delight in another's suffering. This should not surprise Michael. You approach others with modesty and respect, they'll be there for you when troubles come. You leap onto the scene cockily proclaiming your own greatness (and others' crappiness) and people will be itching to see you fail. We've seen it before in this genre and sadly we'll see it again.

2) To a first approximation, people don't read short stories anymore. This is why magazines of short stories are universally seeing their circulation figures dwindle. I started my career at EQMM and AHMM and care enormously about and for them -- they're an important part of our history and it would be a tragedy if they went away. But I'm afraid they will, just because the generation of people who read short stories for pleasure is going away. Yes, there's a new generation that reads stories online and that might grow as technology improves (reading fiction on a screen is still a strain for me). But print magazines of short stories are facing a horrible uphill battle and the hill is getting steeper by the year. This is why I have never launched a Hard Case Crime magazine, despite being encouraged to do so at least 4 or 5 times a year. There's no market for it. Yes, if you have deep pockets and don't mind them getting shallower, you can keep a magazine afloat for a while, but there is no chance it could be made self-sustaining. The beautiful recent revival of ARGOSY died after a few issues; MURDALAND is not alone. Yes, there are literary journals that survive at very small circulations; yes, some anthologies sell well (though most don't). But a thriving fiction magazine that sells well month in and month out? No one's seen one of those for decades.

3) People who think of EQMM as only publishing stories of interest to cat ladies and nuns should read an issue of EQMM. Not every story is great, but they're doing a hell of a lot more in those pages than you think they are. (Including, incidentally, translating into English the work of non-English-speaking crime writers in pretty much every issue. Also, reviving the 'Black Mask' section to publish new hardboiled stories. Also, publishing some pretty edgy work by people like Joyce Carol Oates, even if doing so brings in letters of complaint from readers about the sexual content or language.) You might not see much splattery gore or sadistic torture in their pages, but these are not a bunch of prissy bluenoses either, only printing stories about senior citizens and begonias.

--Charles

David J. Montgomery

Charles beat me to it, but let me just echo his thought here: the reason publications like this typically fail, and the reason there aren't more of them in the first place, is that there is very little demand for short fiction.

Novel-length fiction -- other than the mass market kind -- is a tough enough sale these days. The short variety is almost impossible. People just aren't that interested in it, and thus are unwilling to part with their money for it.

There has been some limited success recently with anthologies -- the Akashic noir series perhaps most notably -- but how many people are actually buying those books? I don't think I've ever seen one of them in a bookstore. (And they're good books; I reviewed a couple of them.) ITW has had some success with anthologies of short fiction by big-name authors, but that's hardly the type of thing one could replicate on a regular basis.

I think we'll continue to see short crime fiction published online, especially with outlets like Plots with Guns and Demolition Magazine doing such fine work (yes, they've both published my stuff -- but I'd say they were good anyway). And I think that's where the future of the medium lies. Of course, that's a labor of love, both for the publishers and the writers.

The audience for this type of fiction is small -- but it does exist. It just doesn't exist in the numbers necessary to support a print publication. It is possible, however, to publish it successfully on the web, and perhaps eventually to monetize that publication as well.

Gonzalo B

I agree with John's comments although Glimmer Train's is anything but a business model to look up to and duplicate. To pay $700 for a short story making a profit or even breaking even must be the farthest thing from your mind. I guess those two editors juts love what they do and are willing to spend their money doing it.

I don't know why Murdaland didn't apply for funding. Maybe they just weren't interested in being dependent on limited-time funding and all the juggling for money that's involved in competing for grants and public dollars year in and year out. I suspect, however, that it must be tough for a genre magazine to apply for funds considering how most of the judges and patrons are probably more interested in promoting mainstream fiction. Then again, I've never done it nor know anyone who has.

I guess the only way a magazine like Murdaland can survive is with patrons like those from Glimmer Train. I'd be willing to be one of them if more people were interested and there were publications as good as Murdaland around. I'm sure there must be more people interested in something like it.

(BTW, The last issue of EQMM I bought had a translated story by Borges but I didn't know they were publishing foreign writers on a regular basis. I bought it because it had Tom Piccirilli in it, not exactly a "cozy" author).

David Thayer

A couple of things strike me about the demise of Murdaland, not so much from the business point of view but from the writer's. Michael Langnas made the observation in his announcement about how inspiring it is that writers tackle the short story form ( paraphrasing)and that amazes me as well given the conditions he cited, low pay, no pay, little distribution. You might as well write a novel for low pay and little distribution. The short story is a difficult form to master and once mastered offers little tangible reward other than whatever personal satisfaction is derived. It takes a special person to write them and apparently a special audience to read them.

tod goldberg

A lot of excellent crime-oriented short fiction is already appearing in what might normally be considered literary journals. Think about folks like Richard Lange or Scott Wolven of David Means, for instance. While it's certainly true that quite a bit of the short fiction published in literary journals is more about life than death (or at least murder), I'd say my anecdotal experience has been that most issues of literary journals I read have one or two pieced that hinge on a crime. Does that make it a genre piece? I guess it boils down to the personal opinion of the author.

I seriously doubt either EQ or AH would have published Susan Straight's Edgar winning short story this year because it would have probably been dubbed too light in terms of genre, but that didn't stop it from being not just the best crime story I read all year, but one of the best stories I read all year, period, which makes me wonder if there needs to be this genre specific line in the magazines and journals regardless. Isn't good writing just good writing?

Lucas Crown

I did not know Michael Langnas when I emailed him at Murdaland several years ago asking if he might be interested in publishing an excerpt from a book I was acting as literary executor for that was being published nearly five years after the author’s death. Mr. Langnas wasn’t able to run the excerpt but he was extremely encouraging. His response and assistance helped the book. I found Mr. Langnas to be passionate and generous. He helped me in my endeavor for no other reason than he believed an overlooked author deserved renewed attention. This is a quality far too rare in the world of publishing.

Daniel Hatadi

I was very much looking forward to Murdaland precisely because of their marketing strategy. A tongue-in-cheek big middle finger held up to the crime short story world. For me, I took this to mean that the stories would be about the kind of characters that would do the same thing. It had nothing to do with the MM mags, it was all about the attitude. And that appealed greatly.

I submitted a short story to Murdaland that was rejected, but the email that came with it was one of the most encouraging rejections I've ever received. That story has gone on to be placed in an anthology, partly because of that encouragement. It made me lift my game as a writer.

And when I had trouble ordering the issues to be shipped to Australia, the guys at Murdaland were kind enough to ship both issues to me for free.

Murdaland was a bunch of rough necks that ate marshmallows. Maybe being too nice was what done them in. Either way, I'm sad to see them go and I will treasure those two issues forever.

Many thanks to Michael and Dennis and everyone else involved.

Scott Phillips

Michael Langnas once said an unsatisfactory story of mine made him want to punch me in the mouth, which is the kind of editing you won't get at Hitchcock or Queen. He's a good friend of mine and an excellent editor, and my appearance in Murdaland's second issue was one of the high points of my career.

ed

Rumor has it that Michael Langnas's name can be found on an illicit database used by law enforcement officials. I'd write a 900 word epic comment documenting why I find this to be one of the worst possible developments within the human race since Truman decided to drop the A-bomb. But I am too horrified to go beyond a paragraph. I will spend the rest of the night sobbing myself to sleep and leave the moral outrage to those who are manly enough to handle such delicate matters.

Mystery Maven

Care to elaborate on this "illicit database", Edward Champion?

Leonard T. Carruthers

My wife always tells me that I have a lousy sense of humor. And she's a very bright and perceptive woman so maybe she's got a point. Because I can't figure out what the hell that joke is supposed to mean. Is it funny? Are we on the outside peering in as the cool crowd cracks wise? Can anyone provide enlightenment for those of us who are hopelessly out of step?

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