Earlier this week, the second issue of literary magazine Moss (tagline: "An online journal of the Northwest") was published at mosslit.com. You can read it for free on the site, or you can download a .PDF of the issue, also for free. (Issue number one is still available, too.) At just over 80 pages, Moss represents a substantial afternoon's worth of reading, and it offers a nice mixture of fiction and nonfiction. This issue features an interview with novelist Peter Mountford; an essay by Matt Briggs about what Twin Peaks means to him as a Northwesterner; new short stories from Eric Severn and Corinne Manning; essays about mundane pleasures by Charles Finn; an interview about forgotten Northwest author Robert Cantwell; and the republication of "Hills Around Centralia," a short story by Cantwell that was originally published in 1935. Moss is a quality publication, with a strong editorial hand and none of the obvious cliqueishness or amateur design flaws that bring down so many literary magazines before they even get started. But what does Moss stand for? I called Moss co-editors Alex Davis-Lawrence and Connor Guy to elaborate on the intent behind the magazine and their plans for the future.
Moss's mission statement focuses explicitly on the literature of the Northwest—in the bio at the end of both issues, Davis-Lawrence and Guy mention that they were born and raised in Seattle. It's a common sentiment these days; Seattle's literary community has spent a lot of time lately discussing what Northwest literature even means, with very little agreement. Davis-Lawrence admits "we've grappled with a way to try to define Northwest fiction," but the wide range of submissions has helped the editors discover a shared quality. They both agree that much of Northwest literature has a political bent. "One thing you can say about the region," Davis-Lawrence says, "is that there is a real history of political activism and political thought." Cantwell spent much of his career writing about unions, and both his story and Briggs's essay in Moss relate to the logging industry. Davis-Lawrence says some might see Finn's essays about washing dishes and doing laundry as "apolitical," but in a broader sense, he sees the pieces as focusing on "moments of meaning, which can be a political thing" because it confronts ideas of "top-down history."
Moss aims longer than many literary magazines, calling for pieces beginning at a minimum of 1,800 words. "We were getting really really good submissions that were very short," Guys says, "but we really wanted to give readers something they could dig into." Davis-Lawrence says they focused on that length as a starting point because they wanted Moss to "aesthetically have the reading experience feel a little more analog. We didn't want it to feel sort of bloglike." He designed the site "to feel like it has pages, where you can flip back and forward."
Seattle is right now experiencing a boom in quality online magazines, with Spartan publishing a second annual print edition and the James Franco Review just starting to roll out its debut issue. "I do think this is a really good time for publishing and new journals," Davis-Lawrence says, "because there's a good level of technology and interest in reading these sort of longer-form pieces." The editors say they're both big fans of Ross McMeekin, founder of Spartan, and Corinne Manning, the founder of the James Franco Review, is in the second issue of Moss. "It's great to feel like we're having a part in this moment," Guy says, "where the water level rises for everyone."
Davis-Lawrence and Guy are hard at work on the second issue, and they're staying the course. "The way Moss works in general, and the way that we try to structure each issue," Guy says, "is we want to pair emerging writers and writers who are less well-known with writers who are well-established." The well-established authors will usually appear in the form of interviews, as with Mountford in the second issue and Ryan Boudinot in the first. Davis-Lawrence says the submission process is incredibly open, and the editors also reached out to MFA programs and other writing groups. One of the differences between Moss and other literary magazines is that Moss pays $125 for each published piece, where many other new magazines simply trade in the ever-ephemeral "exposure." Davis-Lawrence admits that "we are self-funded right now. We just decided that paying writers is really important." He says that "from a budgetary perspective our overhead is very low" since he designed and created the site himself. "There's this perception that the visibility of being published is enough," Guy adds, "and that's bullshit. Writers deserve to be compensated for their work. We felt that if it was coming out of our own pocket, then that's worth it."