attendees of a recent duck & herring tractor pull in atlanta
What follows is all about a gorgeously tiny new publication you might want to read or submit to or make a part of your life.

Q: Why so small?

A: The clever answer is, “Because it's a pocket field guide.” But then I'm guessing you'll want to know why it's a pocket field guide. That goes into the branding of The Duck & Herring Co. For quite a long time I wanted to name a literary something that, and anytime I'd asked people what they thought of it they would say that it sounds like an outdoor company or a hunting and fishing magazine or something. Their response was angled toward the idea, “You can't name it that because it sounds like something else . . . ” Then it dawned on me that that's the point -- you can name it that, and you'll put out pocket field guides, like any good outdoor-whatever company, but they'll be filled with short stories and nonfiction and funny pieces and recipes with stories attached and on and on, and they'll be seasonal so that each one will help the reader through a particular set of three months, and not only that but the PFGs will help readers celebrate that time of year. So, a pocket field guide must be small so that a person can hold it in their pocket or in their purse or backpack. The other thing is, there's the idea that we live in an “on-the-go” world and I thought it would be cool to package a literary journal to address that, so that people on the go could take their guides with them out into the world and read sections of it when they have some spare time at a cafe or something. And finally, small is completely underrated, I think. Maybe it's just me, but every time I've seen a small publication on a shelf, it looks so different than all the other things out there that I’m drawn to pick it up. I've seen that with this summer PFG, too -- people want to hold it and open it up and look at it and wonder why it's small. I was visiting a friend at a bar here in Atlanta, and I had the PFG on the bar and a drunk guy next to me immediately focused in on it and asked me how much it would cost him to buy it. I told him $8. He didn't want to pay that much, but he did want to buy me an $8 shot in trade. I passed, but maybe if the design can distract a drunk guy at a bar, that's a good thing? Also, our PFG is very simple. There's no artwork -- it's utilitarian. I think anytime someone says they are starting a publication these days, they are immediately compared to McSweeney's whether they want to be or not, because McSweeney's sets the bar for new pubs. I was in Criminal Records the other day and on the shelf where you pay they had our PFG in all it's simple glory, and then they had McSweeney's right next to it. I think the latest is brilliant. I know they have a very small staff, but the product they put out looks like something that might come out of a VW factory, like a bunch of people wearing white lab coats are standing around trying to figure out how to make it perfect. It's astoundingly cool. There's no way that kind of thing is going to come out of my brain, so I'm keeping it simple and small with D&H's PFGs. I would like the next issue to be about twice as thick, though.

Q: Would thickness affect the quantity of content? Or would the paper just be twice as thick?

A. I would like to change the paper to perhaps a thicker quality, but the thickness would also be affected by the content because I want more of it. As it stands, we have contributions from 10 writers, including a brilliant story by the Eyeshot editor, and I’d like to get more. But by thickness, I also mean simply the way it feels. It looks thin right now in relation to its size, and I'd like it to be thicker. You know how your mother always wants you to eat? I want the PFG to fatten up in the same way. 

Q: My mother doesn’t want to fatten me up. She’s scared I’ll get diabetes and go blind. But what about the price? Why does the PFG cost $25? And why compare the PFG to McSweeney’s? Ain't it jive to compare any webzines or journals to them, as though there’d never been webzines or journals before them, no matter if McSweeney’s has done good, primarily by sexifying the literary journal, by making each issue a beautiful object that will span time as opposed to another issue of the University Review? Is that why the PFG costs $25, because you think the PFG should be expensive and thereby seen like an immediate collector’s edition to people intent on literary collection of "rare firsts"?

A: Actually, here I respectfully disagree with the interviewer. I think there are a couple of good reasons to compare any webzine or journal to McSweeney’s. One: It’s reality. It’s extra work to ignore the success of the McSweeney’s operation, both in the influence they’ve had on the literary world and in the way they’ve turned their business into something I’m guessing is somewhat profitable (and thereby helping other writers (great ones and unknown ones and great ones that might should rather be unknown)) get their work seen and get paid for it and lead them to other things. In many ways, including the sexifying campiness of it, they are the most successful journal to come out of “our generation” and they have influenced countless writers and pissed off countless more, thereby influencing them still. For that reason, when a new literary entity comes out, the new publisher can either go, “Hey, fuck McSweeney’s, this is nothing like McSweeney’s.” (Or, the softer version, “I really like McSweeney’s, but this is nothing like that.”) Or they can go, “I am currently copying McSweeney’s and I hope to steal their customers.” In any iteration, the reality of the influence is there. (Sure, there might be some people in a perfect bubble, who neither think about McSweeney’s nor not think about them. But that’s rare.)

But I see your point. Really, why does a D&H PFG (actually, it’s $8, and thanks for the chance to point that out) have to compare itself to a $25 well-designed thing? For me, personally, comparing and contrasting to others helps with the vision of the company, which helps us further create what we’re doing. I’ve also compared us to other literary journals, including some in Atlanta and the South. And because I did that I know that we are not like them because we don’t have southern literature fetishes. Nothing wrong with southern literature; I actually quite like it. We actually feature a great and perfectly short southern story in our Summer issue (from, um, the guy who won the McSweeney’s 20-minute story contest, David Kennerly). But I just don’t get the idea about how if you have a publication in the South you have to publish all southern stuff and even make it your subhead for the publication (“The Home of Good Southern Writing”). It’s pretty well-covered territory as it is. We at The Duck & Herring Co. live in a world that is not the stereotyped South: It’s people who don’t really speak with much of an accent and are pretty civilized and media savvy (Who isn’t these days? Media is everywhere), who are pretty well-educated and living in a big, polluted city of 4.5 million (many of whom are blue politically, and are astounded -- ASTOUNDED -- how red the state is), who are at once listening to and influencing Dirty South music, who actually like northern things including Yankees (as long as they are not on the baseball diamond or burning down our porches where we drink out juleps (kidding)). I know you’re a northerner, Eyeshot, and you have all kinds of negative thoughts about the South, most based on banjo music and pigs and squealing. Or maybe you don’t, but others do, and if you have ever lived in the South and watched how a Southern character is portrayed in any form of media, you know. The Duck & Herring Co., in its own small way, wants to help change that – not by converting it to a mission, but by simply publishing writers from everywhere, stories based everywhere, just like they do in that fancy-pants New York Town and in other big and small cities that are above the Mason-Dixon Line. Our current issue has stories from a writer in Montreal (Risa Dickens), from London (Kay Sexton), and some other places not in the South. 

This is starting to sound like a rant, but also I’ve compared D&H to something called The Paris Review, and to other media forms like The Prairie Home Companion Radio Edition. If we could create something that crosses the intentions of The Paris Review with the Prairie Home Companion with the Farmer’s Almanac, I’d be pretty happy. I know this because I have looked at other publications, aligned it with my own intentions, and compared and contrasted. The Farmer’s Almanac, by the way, is chock full of information and it only costs like $2. Their printing costs must be pretty low. 

Q: Whatever you say, dude. London’s not in the south! London’s like the most southern place in the world. Where you think southerners got slavery from, if not from London? Montreal is not southern at all, however. Except that Faulkner claimed he was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. If I started a “media” I probably wouldn’t ever mention McSweeney’s, if only because they don’t never accept my shit. Nice of you to plug them, though, so to speak. Speaking of plugs, what’s with the hole punched in the upper left corner? Is that meant for the purchaser to creatively plug it? It’s too small for the tip of my tongue, sadly. 

A: The hole in the upper left-hand corner is stolen directly from the Farmer's Almanac. No shame in admitting that. Our hole looks a little different, but I can't figure out how. The important thing is that the hole presents an opportunity for readers to place it on a nail in their kitchen or favorite other room, when they are not referencing the product ... or, if they are the sort, to hang it from their backpack. We've designed a couple of other features like that – for instance, on the first page there is a place for the purchaser to write their name (as book readers often do) along with the date of purchase and any notes they might want to take on the season. Also, there were plans to put a calendar at the back of the thing highlighting the exact days that make up summer. That fell through the cracks, but the next one will highlight fall's days and dates. And finally, on the copyright and credits page of the Summer 2005 issue, we thank the designer that came up with our back cover design. The design she came up with was great; unfortunately, due to certain confusions, her design was never implemented on the back cover, which is blank, but she receives full credit for the blank page, leaving many observant readers no doubt wondering if she is an extreme-minimalist artist. This was a mistake, and we hope to correct it somehow. 

Q: Here are the “notes on season” I added to my complimentary contributor’s copy: “I spend a lot of time alone sweating and playing video baseball. It is the summer between my two years of writing school. Both Tino Martinez and Jason Giambi hit two home runs each tonight. Mariano got the save. Baseball will save us all. God, if he exists, surely loves someone’s curveball. Fernanda’s new last name is Birdheart. She captured one today but I think I released it alive before she could eat its heart.” The second after I wrote these notes on the 2005 summer season, I realized how they’d forever after enable an associative entry into this summer, into one evening when two aging baseball stars hit home runs and Mariano Rivera -- who’s balding pretty badly these days and probably only has a few more years of dominance in him -- got another save, and one of the household's two cats brought a bird inside that hid behind the washing machine and presumably escaped alive (I left the screen door open for it and secured the cats upstairs for many hours.) Important shit! And if someone were to buy one of these PFGs, I think the important shit of that purchase would be that they could write similarly notes from the ephemeral world and read the contents and then proceed to intentionally lose the smallish printed object for three-to-five years, whereupon its discovery will alight with associative splendor, and in twenty years, fifty years, when the grandkids find it and you tell them about the 2005 summer that was -- it’s a souvenir of the summer really -- isn’t it? -- one that’s good-natured and in good taste -- the above is not a question, but I’ll end this question with a question mark and thereby make it one? 

A: I have a vision of a bunch of used PFG copies piled in a shoebox, the covers bent and stained, and each one holding some personal information like that. I hope my kids and grandkids come across that shoebox one day and think, “Holy shit, I can’t believe he put this together. And look, he wrote something about us inside.” I’m glad you utilized your notes section. Some people won’t write stuff in there, but I hope they will. You bring up baseball, and it reminds me of something – I think another reason for creating these seasonal applications is because I’ve felt disconnected from the passing of seasons recently. I haven’t watched a lick of baseball this year. Life moves pretty fast, man, and you’ve gotta really appreciate the weather of the moment. Today in Atlanta, it is 127 degrees. I’m trying to appreciate how hot this is, because it will be cool again very soon. I think creating these things is sort of forcing me to look at a season as it approaches and basically get ready for it by helping others get ready for it. May I ask you a question or two? Would you buy an Eddie Bauer-esque baseball cap that said “The Duck & Herring Co.” on it? How about an old-fashioned bacon press or ice cream scoop with the D&H logo (still being designed) on it? I’m fooling with ideas like this, expanding the brand, as they say, to a seasonal lifestyle-type thing, a business that will hopefully help us actually pay writers for their brilliant work. I talk a lot about the branding idea because I’m obsessive in nature, but ultimately this is created for writers to tell their good stories. Maybe I should just concentrate on selling this first small run of copies before I think I’m Martha Stewart. 

Q: I would not buy anything. I don’t like the word “branding.” Though I appreciate the dream.

A. Submit. Buy. Listen for the upcoming podcast. Thank you.

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