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Lance Olsen

Lance Olsen is the author of twelve novels, one hypertext, five nonfiction works, five short-story collections, a poetry chapbook, and two anti-textbooks about innovative writing. He currently teaches experimental narrative theory and practice at the University of Utah and serves as Chair of the Board of Directors at Fiction Collective Two.

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"Lance Olsen's Theories of Forgetting is a remarkably fugue-like ode to the intricacies of memory. Offering two intersecting stories about illness, loss and forgetting, with annotations, this is an extremely smart and moving book about how our lives wind snail-like around one another as they risk flindering away into absence or death."

– Brian Evenson, author of Immobility and Dark Property

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Theories of Forgetting

Urgent Possibility: Talking With Lance Olsen on FC2’s 40th Birthday

06/12/14

Rachel Levy: What has surprised you about working with FC2?

Lance Olsen: One of FC2’s purposes has been and is to rethink the dominant publishing ecology, to try on alternative models. Perhaps one of the things that stays the same about our project with respect to this is that nothing stays the same. FC2 is always adapting to current conditions, transforming, attempting to out-think the present commercial literary engine.

With this in mind, possibly the greatest surprise for me has been the daily discovery of good-spirited collectivity among our Board members, our authors, our interns, our readers, our tribe. I’m speaking here about the idea of literary activism—the realization that writing is only one creative act among many that constitutes a writer’s textual life in the twenty-first century. While many authors, many presses, have gotten this by now in one form or another, it fills me with pleasure and pride knowing FC2 was one of the first in the U.S. to drive down that non-normative road.

In many ways, FC2 is responsible for the alternative-publishing paradigm that most small, independent, not-for-profit presses currently deploy in one iteration or another.

RL: FC2 is committed to keeping all of its books in print, and so, in a way, FC2 is committed to publishing today’s innovative fiction, while also curating (and even maybe canonizing?) a catalogue of texts that may no longer be able to bear that term. Can you speak about this?

LO: I love your idea that FC2 serves as a kind of curator for the innovative, although I would probably change out your choice of noun for another. Perhaps closer to the point for me is that FC2 serves, as I say, as a space of exploration about such perplexing and bracketed concepts as “the innovative.”

That is, FC2—perhaps by some wonderful accident—has kept in play for four decades a polyphonic discourse about that which must be considered the innovative, and can’t be, and can’t can’t be.

RL: How does FC2 operate?

We’re committed to finding new innovative work and expanding our membership even while keeping all the books we’ve published in print.

We look for new work in three ways. First, any FC2 author may submit a manuscript by her or him at any time. Second, an author already published by FC2 may sponsor a manuscript by an author unpublished by FC2. Third, an author unpublished by FC2 may submit to one of our two contests—The Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest and The FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. The winner of the former, aimed at emerging writers, receives publication and $1500, while the winner of the latter, aimed at writers who have already published at least three books, receives publication and $15,000.

In the case of numbers one and two, manuscripts are sent for evaluation to authors previously published by FC2. A manuscript receiving two yes votes before receiving two no votes moves to the Board of Directors—currently comprised of Kate Bernheimer, Jeffrey DeShell, Michael Mejia, Matthew Roberson, Elisabeth Sheffield, Susan Steinberg, Dan Waterman (a non-voting representative from University of Alabama Press, of which FC2 is an imprint), and me (chair of the Board)—for a final editorial decision.

Each year one of the members of the Board of Directors serves as judge for the Sukenick contest. For the Doctorow, a non-FC2 writer of innovative fiction serves as judge; in the past, those have included such authors as Ben Marcus, Rikki Ducornet, and Sam Lipsyte.

For more about the contests and how the press works, those interested can go to our website.

RL: What is FC2’s relationship to digital writing? Does FC2 think about showcasing more digital and new media works? What are some of the challenges FC2 might face in committing to such an endeavor?

LO: I’m delighted FC2 has had the opportunity to bring out Steve Tomasula’s stunning hypermedial investigation into the nature of temporality, TOC. It was our first complexly digital work, and we all assumed many more would quickly follow. Interestingly, that hasn’t been the case. We haven’t yet found ones that capture our imaginations as fully as Tomasula’s did. But we keep looking, keep hoping that changes soon.

The biggest challenge with respect to bringing out new media work has to do with distribution, with disseminating the word, since the channels of dissemination don’t work the way those for print books do. But, as we saw with TOC, those challenges are not by any means insurmountable, given enough time and the deep understanding that such works are—unlike the codex—profoundly and profitably (in aesthetic—not economic—terms) ephemeral.

RL: FC2 author and former publisher, R.M. Berry, said in an interview: “When you get into work that’s really groundbreaking the norms aren’t established by which you can know is this good? Is it incompetent? It’s often the case with really radically challenging writing that the editorial process of making a decision to invest in this kind of work is really, really difficult.”  Do you also find this to be case? Given the radical nature of the manuscripts that come FC2’s way, how does the board negotiate the difficulty of establishing criteria for what’s “good,” or even for what’s a “good fit” for FC2 when deciding on whether to publish or to pass on a potential manuscript?

LO: I sometimes make the editorial process sound cognitively heavy, and sometimes it’s that—a long hard intellectual discussion that attempts to discover a way to talk about a crazily, excitingly heretical manuscript. Often, however, the conversation among the Board members begins much more intuitively. Something catches a Board member’s interest or passion, and the conversation tries to find a means to capture that intuition in language and logic. It’s seldom the case that the result is a unified position among Board members. Rather, as chair I’m looking for consensus while understanding the capriciousness inherent in the idea of fiction misbehaving.

RL: On fc2.org, you have an essay titled “Narratological Amphibiousness” in which you talk about innovative writing practices. That piece strikes me as both a personal manifesto and an exploration of FC2’s project. If you were to write a micro-version of it today, what would you say?

LO: Narrativity that refuses impermeable boundaries constitutes an urgent possibility space that should encourage us all to ask: How does one write the contemporary? Each of us, needless to say, will answer the question differently.

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