Week 3, he wakes up kicking
One year ago, 😱, I launched a project called Penumbra’s New Fiction. It was to be a kind of zine. I began with a very specific vision and, through great effort, achieved that vision almost exactly. Which was a huge mistake.
The vision was two-fold.
First, material: a multi-page publication printed on tabloid-size newsprint. I wanted a big field of view and an artifact that was light and disposable. The snap of a big sheet of paper—I was fixated on it. I attempted to source the same salmon-pink newsprint that is the signature of the Financial Times. A representative of a Swedish paper conglomerate returned my call and, after determining the scale of my project, informed me gently that the product is sold only in five-ton rolls.
Second, conceptual: I imagined something like a distributed print command.
Back in the 2000s, I wrote a few blogs, and to this day, nothing has clicked quite like a blogging engine’s PUBLISH button. It really did feel like a tiny, instantaneous printing press. Honestly, it wasn’t unreasonable that an early engine, the one I used first, called itself “Moveable Type.”
But the blogosphere is gone, and besides: in my own reading and thinking, I have discovered, or remembered, that print artifacts—in their solidity, their obstinance—make it through the choppy sea of distractions that is my brain more reliably than anything on the internet. I don’t mean to overplay this point; I do love the internet. Here we are, after all. It’s just that, the things in print, I actually read, rather than skim. Or set aside and subsequently ignore. Print gets more of my attention, and attention of a better kind. It’s that simple. It’s a super power.
So, I imagined Penumbra’s New Fiction as a kind of printed blog or, more fancifully, an alternative to ⌘-P that would send its output not to the laserjet in the corner but the mailboxes of a thousand readers.
What I didn’t realize was that the two parts of this vision were at odds. The concept was good—I still think so—but the material defeated me. Planning my great distributed ⌘-P, I’d imagined I could spend one full day printing and mailing an issue. In fact, it took a solid week to get that first issue out the door, most of which was spent wrestling with newsprint. There were wrinkles and jams. There were lost afternoons.
Takeaway: if you want to work with newsprint, you really do need to buy those five-ton rolls, and the machines to match. Print shops don’t charge you much these days to run them. Even now, I could hire a print shop to do all of this for me… but then, I wouldn’t get to do it!
That first, hard-won issue of Penumbra’s New Fiction was wonderful: a two-color print on perfectly crinkly newsprint that delivered a pathbreaking story by Kiyash Monsef illustrated by the great Helen Shewolfe Tseng.
But I didn’t have a week to spend on each issue. I got frustrated. Time passed.
I did admit, finally, that maybe I could just print this stuff on thicker paper, but it took longer than you would believe. It’s funny the things we get stuck on! Sometimes, of course, our most persnickety demands are precisely the ones we need to defend; they make a piece of work personal and unique. Other times, though, you need to take a cue from Paul Thomas Anderson:
Today, I’m relaunching and retitling this project. Penumbra’s New Fiction is now Year of the Meteor. It will run through 2019.
It begins with a new print offering!
The story is called The Sleep Consultant. It’s science fiction, and a bit different from the other short stuff I’ve posted online. Darker. Colder, maybe. But, that’s already too many words written about it! This is just an offering. Even though I’ve modified the materials, my aim is still, above all, lightness.
You can order a copy for 89¢ ($1.59 outside the U.S.) at the website. I’ll send the stories out in one big shipment on January 21.
New offerings will follow monthly.
It took a lot of trial-and-error to get here, but I’ve engineered my ⌘-P, with a workflow that runs from InDesign to my Risograph duplicator to a folding machine purchased on eBay to a homebrew stamp-purchasing script that hooks into EasyPost’s API. Now, an issue really does go out the door in a day. It’s a PUBLISH button both newfangled and old-fashioned.
In addition to the print offerings, Year of the Meteor is also an email newsletter, inaugurated with this message.
I’ll ship The Sleep Consultant next Monday. I would love for this new ⌘-P to reach your mailbox. You can order a copy here.
January 2019, Oakland