Global Distribution, World-Class Authors, Amazing Reviews… How the HECK Did This All Happen?
How is it possible that I, a no-name nobody from Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, got great writers like Khaled Hosseini, Jeff Somers, Ann Sterzinger, Nick Mamatas, Mike Cipra, Lyn Lifshin, Richard Kostelanetz, the urban hermitt, Jennifer Callahan, Jim Munroe, Karl Koweski, Rydell Bixby, Emerson Dameron, Pat King, and many others to submit material to a virtually unknown, underground literary zine?
It began with a phone call. One day I called Clint Johns, the buyer at Tower Records, and managed to sell him on the idea that Tower distributing THE WHIRLIGIG worldwide was an awesome thing to do. How did I do that? I think the turning point in the conversation was when he asked me what my vision for the zine was. I told him I wanted it to be like Jeff Somers’s Inner Swine, but with mostly fiction and poetry, and maybe a few lit-world oriented essays.
To my eternal astonishment, Clint agreed. He happened to love Jeff’s zine, too, and I guess he figured that if I was going to model myself after Jeff, it wouldn’t be altogether horrible. So, armed with that selling point of “International Distribution and Exposure,” I was able to attract some amazing talent, which is all captured in the compilation e-book THE WHIRLIGIG ISSUES 3-9. What happened to Issues 1 and 2? Well, frankly, they weren’t up to the standard set by issues 3 through 9, so I left them out of the collection. (Maybe the hard copies will become collector’s items or something.)
THE WHIRLIGIG Literary Zine E-book, Issues 3-9 is available…
41 Short Stories, 30+ Poems, Over 128,000 words by over 40 kick-ass writers, including Khaled Hosseini (THE KITE RUNNER), Jeff Somers (THE AVERY CATES SERIES), Nick Mamatas, Jim Munroe, Ann Sterzinger, Mike Cipra, and Lyn Lifshin (“Queen of the Small Presses”)
“Marcopolos has discovered the next generation.”
(Michael Basinski, Curator, Rare Books Collection, University at Buffalo Libraries)
Here’s a video I made about THE WHIRLIGIG. (Frankly, I don’t love this video because I really hate talking directly to camera. It feels weird as hell. But anyway, here it is…)
These are stories of the 2 a.m. bar stool, of whiskey-scented cubicles, of mystical kangaroo caves, of prairie dog vacuums. They are stories of Socrates, of Asoka, of Pill Dombrowski, and of the amazing Martin Landawer. These are vital voices that echo within you long after out of earshot. Here is the authentic, the wild, the truth. Here is salvation scatter-shot through with shrapnel and firestorms and ferocity and lust and love. These are the best I found from 2001 through 2004. Read a sample here.
6/1/2011:”I’ve long talked about the need to create a new kind of fiction, beginning with the short story, in order to reinvigorate the art– in order to get the mass public reading literature again. The task has been for writers to create not stale bland “literary” stories which stir and entertain no one, but instead, to yawp out in a good old American writer way stories which rock.
Undergrounders, especially from the “zine” scene, have been doing exactly that for a number of years.
Many of the best of these writers can be found in a new compilation of writing from one of the best lit-zines of the past ten years, The Whirligig. Editor Frank Marcopolos is now selling this compilation as an e-book at his site. Please click on the link at the left of this blog page to read more about it– and to order your copy.
Do you want to read the new? Do you wish to discover a fresh alternative to the same-old same-old? Here is where you start.”
4/15/2011: “The Whirligig contains the kind of writing you will simply not be able to read from the tepid mainstream.”
5-Star Review, 4/1/2011: “Amazing collection of stories that just come at you from every angle!”
(Patti, on Goodreads.com)
5-Star Review, 3/28/2011: “I found this collection after reading work by its editor Frank Marcopolos. When I looked into what was inside, I was really impressed with the variety of stories and poetry. For someone always looking for new and interesting fiction, you know the kind that’s hard to find at B&N, I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed reading the early stories of some of the authors I already read – stuff not found elsewhere. So, if you like reading some avante-garde fiction, and lots of it, I recommend this collection!”
(litlife, on Amazon.com)
5-Star Review, 3/23/2011: “Wow. This e-book is an awesome collection of wildly imaginative fiction and tight, emotional poetry. Editor Frank Marcopolos put it all together in his acclaimed literary ‘zine The Whirligig back in the day. Marcopolos was one of the first to recognize talents such as Khaled Hosseini, and this is a compilation of issues 3-9 of The Whirligig. A fun, surprising read.”
(Mike, on Goodreads.com)
“For all its modest, zeeny presentation, The Whirligig is one of the most important lit journals being produced in this country.”
“One of the best collections of fiction I’ve read in a long time. Seriously. I read a ton of zines, novels, short stories, whatever crosses my visual path, and this was an exceptional collection. I read more every chance I got.”
(Davida Gypsy Brier, Xerography Debt)
“The gang down here at the Jersey City Office of The Ministry Of Cool, Useful, and Interesting quite like The Whirligig, a great li’l ficzine out of Brooklyn. Perzines and scenezines died a long, slow, and mostly well-deserved death, but Frank Marcopolos took a different route. He publishes some of his own stuff, but always gives the other authors and stories the lion’s share of the zine and the hype (such as hype is in the zine world). He also does amazing things like offer useful editorial commentary, publish on time, and works to develop an interesting multigenre voice for the zine. And the strategy seems to be paying off. He’s published some of the cream of the underground crop including Jeff Somers, Jim Munroe, Ann Sterzinger, and Jennifer “Callie” Callahan of the very ironically titled Vanity Press.”
“Damn! Frank Marcopolos is Lord of Editors! This issue is a festival and Edgar Allan Poe would weep big tears of lusty fog just to hold for a second the power of The Whirligig.”
(Michael Basinski, Curator, Rare Books Collection, University at Buffalo Libraries)
“What The Whirligig is is a grand read-always was under Frank Marcopolos’s stewardship and I have no reason to doubt the new incarnation will live up to the legend.”
(Jeff Somers, Author of the Avery Cates Series – The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, The Eternal Prison, The Terminal State, and The Final Evolution) (Orbit, 2007-2011.)
“I realize that many readers steer clear of fiction zines, whether from being burned by drivel in the past, or maybe that’s just not why they turn to zines in the first place. But there is fiction being written on the outskirts that is just as interesting as the confessional voices that draw so many people toward the underground to begin with. In my experience, The Whirligig is a very reliable source for that fiction, and I encourage you all to take a chance on something a little different. I even read the poetry (which I usually skip over) and actually enjoyed some of it despite myself! I think my favorite story this time was Frank Tempone’s “Absolute Gentleman”, which created tension out of thin air and made me care about what was happening (even when nothing was happening). He breaks all the “rules” of storytelling, and he tells a really good story.”
“Well, this has to be some of the better fiction and poetry I’ve read in a good while and balanced with a sense of what is the best and most wild of American writing, that writing that lances the boil of mind. You know, good reader, that there are a lot of magazines with a lot of shit poems in them and the fiction is worse. But you get this true lion-roaring sense that Editor Frank Marcopolos knows what he likes, and how to read, and how to publish, and he has guts, and eats insects on Wheaties with bleach. He has made a fine thing here. I recall that Bukowski started writing slight, short stories and I think that maybe the folks in here, well – Marcopolos has discovered the next generation and is opening them up and allowing them to fly into our thick, chocolate, blood-hooded, and howling nights.”
(Michael Basinski, the-hold.com)
From Xerography Debt #16:
“I haven’t read the last couple of volumes, so it’s nice to see that THE WHIRLIGIG is chugging along as reliably as ever with its eighth issue. For years, Frank Marcopolos has overseen this anthology of poetry and fiction, and I’ve remained consistently pleased with what I read. This issue has stories from five authors (including editor Marcopolos) and nine works by three different poets. Admittedly, I tend to skim poetry; I rarely find myself in the mood for poetry, and having made it through grad school and out the other side again I feel that I have earned the right. The fiction, though, offers a variety of voices for your reading enjoyment. A favorite passage:
“Can you tell me what that man is doing driving a tractor around the runway?”
“That ain’t no tractor. That’s a big old vacuum machine.”
“A vacuum machine?”
“It sucks up prairie dogs out of their holes. See, if you don’t vacuum up your prairie dog, then he’ll
reproduce. He and his kin’ll tear up that runway in three months.”
That’s from Mike Cipra’s story, “The Great Prairie Dog Vacuum.” I was also rather taken with George Balgobin’s “A Natural Tendency,” which skillfully established a mood of nearly inscrutable oddness. Following a young doctor as he moves to a new town and insinuates himself into an elite society of medical men, the story is filled with strange details and baffling behavior that only begin to coalesce at the end. The payoff left me unsatisfied, though I was not expecting the end to spell everything out to me. I enjoyed the story for its eerie evasiveness and anticipated that the climax would be no different. But there were opportunities built into the scenes that remained unexplored; in the end, I suppose I was let down because I enjoyed the world that Balgobin had etched out for me, and I wanted to stay longer and learn more about it.
As always, THE WHIRLIGIG is a recommended read. This anthology has some frequent contributors, but every issue is different. I always have a good time with this zine (even when a story doesn’t give me exactly what I want!)”
“Pulp with a pulse, they say. I agree. The second issue of this lit-zine outta Brooklyn is packed with good yams. I enjoyed the editor’s column: Lawyers Hate Philosophers: A Proposal for a New System of Jury Duty, because lawyers always amuse me. The poetry in here isn’t sissy crap. Sissy crap poetry had its day and there’s enough good work in here to make you forget the buttercup days. Chris Griffin’s pieces are full of rich visualizations: “There are bad stones weeping in the crust on an angry bronze eye/ In a gallery of worthless war trophies”. In his next poem, Chris goes on to say: “Ice pick the culture/til its down/to scraps on the ground/the grass deepens a deeper brown”. Will Tupper’s Antilogue is an amusing short story about Lego.
Despite the rather traditional and sometimes starchy layout, The Whirligig is an energizing read, and a great lit-zine from Henry Miller’s hometown. (NGM)”
(Broken Pencil Mag – Broken Pencil #15)
“All in all, The Whirligig is a strong zine…. There are stories here that deserve to be heard.”
“Some good lazy-day reading from a host of talented little-known writers.”
(STUFF: Small Press Review)
“The Whirligig is a landmark…The Whirligig demonstrates the power of the literary underground; the full burst of energy that occurs when there’s a conjunction of zine talents. It’s almost like a Greatest Hits of zine writers.”
(Karl Wenclas, Director, ULA, Editor of Zeen Beat)
“I love to come across a zine that can find and recognize good fiction.Editor Frank J. Marcopolos clearly knows how to pick stories that can appeal to a range of tastes. This was a good read.”
(Xerography Debt #7)
“Loki and Odin wrestle the frost giants to get their hands on each new issue of The Whirligig.”
(Michael Basinski, SUNY Buffalo)
“This fiction-based zine offers stories by Jeff Somers, Ann Sterzinger, Jennifer Callahan, and Jim Monroe. Jeff’s story does a nice job capturing urban ennui and apathy. Loads of good storytellers in this one.”
“This is a literary zine which includes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. It’s a potluck-you get sex, violence, humor, truth, a little bit of diamonds, a little bit of dirt. My favorites were the story “Blocked” by Cullen Carter and “How to De-Brainwash Yerself in Food Service Hell” by the Urban Hermitt, which is so well-written that I forgave the weird spelling style and after awhile I got submerged and realized it was more like text illustration.”
(Maria Goodman, Xerography Debt #7)
“This is the “fiction-fat” issue, so without benefit of having read the previous two I’m going to presume that more space is usually devoted to poetry. But the Whirligig #3 is dominated by five very enjoyable short stories, and I love to come across a zine that can find – and recognize – good fiction. I’m not saying that each story is exactly my cup of tea, but they all have something to offer and the authors are not bullshitting. “In this Slowly Rising City, So Bereft of Company” takes an amusing but spooky conceit and uses it to examine the emotional effects of urban expansion. Author Jeffrey Somers draws a believably surreal world and sustains it even as it disintegrates around his characters. “Christmas Vacation” should appeal to anyone who fancies himself a writer. Ann Sterzinger’s story is the bleak tale of a nearly unsympathetic copy-editor who nearly goes over the edge when he is forced to proof a fifty-page short story by Jim McManus for the new fiction issue. Now maybe it’s because I fancy myself a writer, or maybe it’s because I’ve taken classes led by McManus and been in more than one heated argument with him, but I got a big kick out of this one.”
(Matt Fagan, Xerography Debt #7)
“I like to read fiction, and for that I find myself limited when it comes to zines. However, The Whirligig is like a goldmine of good fiction. Frank Marcopolos does an excellent job selecting short stories. The stories include a showdown between trickster Zeus and boy-loving Socrates; getting to know your robber; a young Japanese-American woman returning home for her father’s funeral; Jeff Somers’s tale of a roommate that is never met; a tale of art and artists gone bad by Cullen Carter; and a tryst gone wrong. I was entertained from cover to cover.”
(Davida Gypsy Breier, Xerography Debt #8)
“This twice-yearly magazine of fiction and poetry is subtitled ‘pulp with a pulse’ – although the stories here aren’t what I generally think of when the word ‘pulp’ comes up. For instance, Mandy Marie’s “A Bed by the Window” – albeit competently written – could have appeared in Reader’s Digest. Not pulp, but a good place to find new voices.”
(Gavin J. Grant, Xerography Debt #13)
“Reading The Whirligig is the next best thing to going on summer vacation. It belches pleasurable sentiments. It’s a nice read packed with lean short fiction and non-flowery poetry. The Whirligig seems to be a favorite in the zine world with so many advertisements from other reads such as “The Urban Bizarre” in place. My face contorted with smiles at the hidden landmines and pointed political stances that were all packed neatly in fine fictional form. The stories weren’t built on topics I’d seek out knowingly, but I found myself decadently engaged in The Whirligig‘s pages. I can only strain to imagine what these writers’ lives are like and what their day jobs are. Fascinating! If only I could be a fly on the wall or a catch in The Whirligig‘s web.”
(Stephanie Holmes, Xerography Debt #14)
“Oh, fiction zines, you get a bad rap. The sad truth though is that you sorta deserve it, for, along with poetry, you are where self-publishing most often goes awry. I’ll always remember the first line of a classmate’s short story that really drove home the dangers of amateur fiction. It was “I am running with a human liver in my hat.”
The Whirligig is better. Not perfect, but more good than bad, with some genuinely strong work. Mike Cipra’s “The Great Prairie Dog Vacuum” is a standout. It contains several of my least favorite themes of short fiction – failed relationships, drinking, dead animals and inscrutable women with artsy names. Yet he whips up a fresh, funny, fast-paced whole that I read more than once. Lyn Lifshin’s accessible poetry is a neat balance of specificity and message- “She curled near me/ in the kitchen, my/ cat, not yet the age/she’d grow to.”
There were also quite a few stories I couldn’t get through at all, but, like I said, that liver story did something to me.”
(Miriam DesHarnais, Xerography Debt #14)
“It’s good to see a lit zine out there where the writing is decent, original and not too full of itself. I enjoyed almost everything in this issue, but I especially liked Douglas Lain’s story, “The Dead Celebrity,” about a guy who stays famous as long as he doesn’t leave the mall and Mike Cipra’s piece, “Evidence of Cannibalism in the Culture,” a biting satire about prejudice and government bureaucracy. Definitely worth checking out.”
(Fran McMillian, Xerography Debt #15)
“The Whirligig is a literary zine published twice a year. You can send submissions for the zine via email or mail, and if you’re good, they’ll print you. This issue-full of short stories, poetry, works in progress-is really solid. It takes a lot to keep me interested with fiction, and I really liked the bulk of entries in #9. My favorites were “The Dead Celebrity,” a story by Douglas Lain about a mall worker, transformed and trapped, after the death of a well-known cartoon artist, and some kick-ass word plays called “Overlapped Minimal Fictions” by Richard Kostelanetz.
I know, I know. You don’t like fiction zines. I don’t either. But I think you’ll really enjoy this issue of The Whirligig. Try it. You will like it.”
(Julie Dorn, Xerography Debt #16)