The Face Behind Little Fiction
A Conversation with Troy Palmer
Since its birth a little less than two years ago, Little Fiction has become one of the hottest online literary magazines in Canada. Its success is due in large part to the relentless hard work and creative vision of its founder and editor, Troy Palmer.
Troy has quickly developed a reputation in the literary community for his generosity, creativity, and wicked good humour. Recently I published a few stories with LF (In Memoriam and a shorter piece in the annual Listerature anthology) and working with Troy was a highlight.
In addition to his work with Little Fiction, Troy is also a writer and freelance designer. He took some time out of his busy schedule to speak to me more about his work.
Tell me more about Little Fiction. Where did the idea come from and how did you begin to execute the vision?
The idea came from a desire to do something in publishing and wanting to work with emerging writers — I was working in advertising (I still do, but now on a freelance basis) and just felt like I needed to do something with more value, both on a personal and social level. I (rather naively) attempted to start a small press when I was in my twenties and always wanted to get back to it. An idea like Little Fiction (short story singles) just seemed to make sense in this digital age of ours. In terms of executing the vision, it was lot of research — to see what I could offer differently, or how I could offer it — and a lot of trial and error.
Little Fiction has really taken on a life of its own. It’s well respected by the writing community and has lots of supporters. How do you feel about its success? Has it been a surprise?
It’s been a huge surprise. And I’m absolutely humbled by its success so far. In terms of being respected and embraced by the writing community, that astonishes me daily. Because I basically just showed up and started doing it. I don’t have an MFA or even come from a publishing background. And I thought for sure someone would call me out for being a fraud at some point but it never happened. The literary community has been unbelievably welcoming and encouraging.
What are your plans for Little Fiction in the coming year or two?
There’s a very big announcement being planned for later in the year, but I’m going to keep that under wraps for now. And I’m working on a massive site re-design to coincide with it — I want things to be even more visual. There are parts of the site that feel a little text-heavy to me right now and I’d love to strip it all back and give more attention to our visual aesthetic.
Aside from that, who knows… I like the pace LF has been growing at, and I haven’t been trying to force its growth. To paraphrase those Facebook kids in The Social Network, I feel in some ways that we don’t know what this is yet.
I’d love to do some printed anthologies eventually, but those cost money. One of the reasons I’m able to do Little Fiction is that there’s very little overhead for me. The goal is to get things to a point where I can pay writers and make this my full-time gig — but I see that as a totally different business model.
Besides being creative director of LF, you’re a writer yourself, and as I understand it, a father and partner as well. How do you juggle it all?
I’m not sure to be honest. I’ve definitely sacrificed time with my wife, but she’s been amazingly supportive. I at least try to work near her so we can talk while I work, but I know it’s not the same as actually spending time together. Writing has also taken a back seat, but I’m okay with that for now.
Tell us about a day in the life of Troy Palmer.
I work freelance, so if I’m on contract I’ll go do that gig for eight or so hours and then it’s home for a bit of family time. When my daughter goes to bed, I work on LF, or my writing, or whatever other projects (like designing the Bare it for Books calendar) that I have going on.
If I’m not on contract, I try to devote the full day to LF, usually trying to catch up on submissions. Either way, there’s little sleep involved, but lots of espresso.
What kind of writing projects are you working on currently?
I have a few short stories that I need to finish. Most of them have to do with funerals in one way or another (as do a couple that I have out in the world: Claire — at LF, and Funeral Crowd — over at Whiskey Paper). My goal is to eventually get enough together for a “funeral stories” type collection. I have a novel that I’ve been chipping away at for a few years. I’d love to get it finished soon, but I’m still living with the characters and they haven’t figured out parts of their lives yet. I try not to rush that kind of stuff. But I probably should.
What writers inspire or influence you the most?
Dave Eggers is a huge influence. Not just for his writing, but for everything that he does — McSweeney’s, 826 National, the Believer, etc. — I think I’m more inspired by his work ethic than anything. Hubert Selby Jr. is a big source of inspiration. George Saunders. Don Bajema. Louis CK. Charlie Kaufman. Tina Fey. The Coen Brothers. I don’t have a ton of literary influences, or at least I try to draw inspiration from as many places as possible. Songwriters are a big influence as well. The last Father John Misty record (written by J. Tillman) was unbelievably sharp and compelling from a writing standpoint. Each song was like its own short story.
You’re well known among writers for your unstinting support, hard work, and great feedback. How does it feel to be regarded as a mentor and cheerleader for short fiction?
It’s amazing, if that’s the case. I certainly feel like I’m doing something right, but I don’t think of myself as a mentor by any means. Though I do like the idea of being a cheerleader. Maybe we’ll make Little Fiction pom-poms. Umm… it’s awesome though. Because Little Fiction doesn’t pay (yet) I feel like it’s on me to make up for that with hustle, and promoting the work — and not just the work that appears on LF. And in some ways, I think not paying actually works out better. It keeps me honest and working. If I just cut someone a check for fifty bucks, it would be much easier for me to consider the job done. The sense of owing somebody is great motivator for me. And of course, the writing deserves it. Many times over.
How would you describe the current state of short fiction in Canada?
It’s fucking exciting. It really is. At least with the work that comes our way — the stories coming from what I consider to be Canada’s next generation of great writers. It reminds me of what’s been happening with indie music over the last decade or so, really since the emergence of Broken Social Scene, and with the ongoing success of bands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade (sadly missed), Purity Ring and so many more. And it’s that music from Canada isn’t being labeled as Canadian. There’s a huge difference in those two things for me. I totally get the sense of pride that comes with being Canadian, but I sort of wish writers would stop using the term CanLit. Mostly because I just hate labels — they have a way of defining your work before someone even chooses to read it. And because we’re a young country, I feel like we’re still defining ourselves as people and as artists, and it’s exciting to see this change in what it means to be Canadian. Artists like Marcel Dzama are big part of that as well. And maybe it’s just me, but it feels like we’re on the cusp on turning out a generation of daring and inspiring writers who are charting an entirely new course for literature in this country.
Beyond Canada, it’s an exciting time for short fiction and indie publishing everywhere. To look at music again, so many indie bands have reached wider audiences without much radio play and I think it’s just a matter of time before publishing experiences that kind of breakthrough. There’s a bit of already with the recent success of George Saunders, but I feel like we still need our Pitchfork — someone to steal a bit of lunch from the New York Times bestseller list in the same way the Pitchfork reduced the importance of Billboard.
If you could spend a day with any writer, living or dead, who would that be, and how would you spend the day?
Hubert Selby Jr. And I would just sit and listen to him talk. And I’d probably cry and never want the day to end. There’s a fantastic documentary on him called It/ll Be Better Tomorrow that I’ve watched a number of times. And it’s so heartbreaking and so inspiring. The day I found out he died — which was actually months after he had passed — I was just floored. In part because he was gone, but mostly because he went so quietly in the world. And little of how I feel about him has to do with his writing — which is all brilliant and dark and fucked up — but because he just endured so much (tuberculosis, addiction, and just the unrelenting crush of life) and he never lost his faith in love or mankind or anything. He once said that “kindness is the greatest strength” and I’ve really made those words to live by. Hopefully it shows in Little Fiction.