- Chris Steib
- 26 years old
- Born in Hollywood, FL; grew-up in New Jersey; now lives in East Village.
- Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Void Magazine; novelist & freelance writer; Executive Communications Specialist, NBC Universal
You started Void Magazine a few months ago. Why?
The elevator pitch: between the literary and the commercial extremes of the publishing industry, there is a tremendous amount of space inhabited by writers who lack an outlet for their work. The Void aims to serve the needs of our ever-evolving literary community as a whole, especially those who have been left uninvited and ignored.
Will there ever be a paper publication, or are you content with being a web-only magazine?
At this formative stage, a few thousand people are not going to shell out 12 bucks for a fresh hardcopy of Void Magazine every month, so the web is a great place for us right now. That said, as our readership increases, a print version of The Void becomes more viable, but one that is a supplement to -- not a replacement for -- our current web issues.
In your bio on the website, it says that you "decided that someone needed to fill the gaping hole left by commercial publishing." Is the hole really that gaping?
It’s not just gaping – the enormity of it is baffling. And it’s not just the result of commercial publishing, but is representative of the gap (and those who dwell in said gap) between commercial and literary publishing. Writers with amazing talent and entire volumes of poetry or prose have come to us with a familiar plea: "Got turned down by publishers -- some say too literary, others too commercial. Please consider for your upcoming issue." To which we say, "Hell yeah."
From time to time, you’ll see work on our site that is decidedly commercial or literary because we think it fits what we’re trying to do, which is attract an audience and give people an eclectic selection of work. Our boundaries are flexible and far-reaching and they contain all that which is honest.
If you try to straddle the line between "commercial" and "literary," is it possible to describe that line?
Unfortunately, I can’t describe that line because of how much it really encompasses. But we are hoping to give some definition to it, or at least provide people with a really good example of how it’s possible and why it’s important to, um (tehehe), straddle it.
Isn't there already a lot of literary content out there that is anything but commercial? Other literary journals, even, of all shapes and sizes? How will Void Magazine stand out from all them?
There are a number of things that set Void Magazine apart in this flooded market. On the whole, we have a distinct willingness to admit that we love pop fiction as much as we love the academics. We’re devout readers and writers with a collective sense of humor that we don’t let cloud our integrity or intentions.
And – to get this off my chest – I don’t think of us as a “journal” in the conventional sense. Journals have a way of making you feel like you have to be invited to read them. Why should reading have to be a chore? Or, conversely, why should reading for fun have to be a “guilty pleasure”? There are plenty of writers who can amalgamate the two extremes to produce work both enjoyable and intelligent. And you’ll find them at The Void.
Who exactly is your readership? Isn’t the literary journal -- or magazine -- reading audience self-selective and if not, how will you attract new eyeballs?
My mom is a good example of our intended audience: she would have never thought to read a lit magazine before The Void, in spite of the fact that she reads voraciously, even if sometimes misguidedly. But can you blame her? Bookstore frontlist titles are often crap (and the list hardly ever changes), and the literary elite doesn’t expose itself to everyday readers for fear of losing credibility.
Serious lit journals do have their own loyal audience, and we aim to reach beyond those pre-subscribers by providing a more comfortable (but equally devout) literary experience. A quick look around the L train in the morning will give you a glimpse at the breadth of casual readers out there; but how many of those literate strap hangers would think to pick up the recent copy of The Paris Review or Zoetrope? Not many, I’d say.
If you're trying to fill a void left by the commercial publishers, how do you figure to make the un-commercial commercial?
The breath of styles we publish act as the cheese to our literary mousetrap, but the act of getting caught is a great deal less brutal and leaves you changed in a much more pleasant way.
In your July issue, you featured an editorial feature called "A Day at the Beach with Void Magazine." Why are all your beach suggestions books that were already big in their day? Has nothing come out in recent years to excite you enough to take with you to the beach?
The Beach Reads bit was just a fun way for us to show that we’re not your typical lit mag. We deliberately put a few recognizable titles up there, juxtaposed by a few of the dark, obscure books we love and loathe. I feel we’re still earning our readers’ trust, so we’re still trying to forge that strong foundation of loyalty. The Beach Reads editorial is something you’ll see again next summer with some more off beat choices.
I also realized the need to unpack my old mass-market paperbacks and get back into leisure reading. The sad truth: we came up with NON-beach list a lot easier. (The intro to said editorial explains this dilemma.)
You once mentioned an ambition to be an “unbiased resource.” Can such a thing exist even when inclusion in Void is still purely subjective at the whims of you and the other editors?
To be completely unbiased would be to open the gates and just become a blog, where everyone can write whatever the hell they want. As effective as that outlet can be for certain mediums, it’s like shouting at a Yankee game. (I don’t need to tell you, Jeter’s not swinging away on the 3-and-0 pitch just because you said so, and the guy 42,000 seats away from you has his own call to make.)
We try to be as objective as possible, judging work not on how much we like it, but on how serious the author comes across in his/her craft, how thorough the work is, how developed the voice is, and how well we think it will be received by our readers. It’s not fool proof, but everything gets read by several editors and is thoroughly deliberated over before publication.
Although there is an artistic and maybe even altruistic sense of wanting to help new writers get their work out there, you are trying to establish a business, no? How do you envision possibly making money down the line? And do you see a time when you might pay contributors for their work?
Yes, it’s a business -- Void Magazine falls under the itty-bitty cocktail umbrella of Void Media, LLC (a real life corporation) -- but there’s obviously not the financial pressure felt by early '90s web startups like Amazon. Yes, I would love to double or triple our unique hits to increase the value of our advertising. And, yes, it gives me chills to even think of someday generating enough revenue to handsomely pay my staff and contributors (and to buy myself a pimped-out, stretch Escalade with platinum Spreewells). But our real aim right now -- and not to sound too altruistic or artistic here -- is getting into our groove with the editorial process, streamlining the site, and making sure that we are giving our readers and advertisers what they deserve: a quality publication and a viable business.
Will contributors all be emerging talents or will we ever see people whose names we recognize on the site?
Hey, if Jonathan Franzen wants to be considered for our September issue, the deadline is August 21.
Sure, I would love to see more recognizable names on the site to supplement (or be supplemented by) first-time authors. As The Void grows, so will the scope of contributors and interviewees. But we’re not the kind to forget our roots: although we won’t always focus primarily on the independent community, it will always be an integral part of our contingent and our mission.
Can you describe the process of putting together an issue?
Yeah, it’s a lot like making a mix tape. It takes some ingenuity and creativity -- and a lot of patience -- but you can really only work with what’s in front of you. We write the editorials and some of the book reviews (these would be like the hand-drawn liner notes, to extend the metaphor), but the real creative genius -- the poetry and fiction -- just has to be weeded through, edited, and put in the right order.
Are you happy with the number of submissions you've been receiving?
Yes and no. Sometimes I’m amazed that we get anything at all -- I have bouts of self-doubt, thinking, “Who the hell am I to be doing this?” But then I step back and realize the scope of what we’ve accomplished so far. On the whole, I’m honored that people trust me with their work.
I would love to triple our submissions; we’re sort of living check-to-check, with a very tight turning radius. Although I enjoy the rush, I’d like to plan a few issues ahead, just in case I get the sudden urge to sleep or eat between the 21st and 30th of any month in the future.
Why did you leave publishing? Since you're a writer and editor, why leave books for the just as soulless world of corporate communications?
I wasn’t so much in publishing as I was simply in the business of selling books: I managed events and community relations for Barnes & Noble. It proved to be a valuable experience: I gained (disturbing) insight into publishing and commercial bookselling, and I met all kinds of (scary) authors and (pushy) publishers. But in the end, the pay was crap and I felt it was time to flee my windowless office in Bridgewater, NJ.
So now I have a slightly bigger (albeit windowless) office at Rockefeller Center. I’d like to think this means I’m moving up in the world.
You've been working on your own first novel since 2003 and now claim to be 80% done. When do you think you'll actually be finished?
I better finish it soon. My characters are starting to come to me in my sleep, acting out chapters from the book that I still need to write. I’ve been living with them for nearly three years, and I’m really ready to get my own place.
You were originally an Education major at Villanova, and you spent a couple years as a high school English teacher in an underprivileged school in Los Angeles. What made you leave teaching?
My desire to teach is equal parts love for the profession and passion for books. My kids weren’t up to the national standard (they mostly read four to six grade levels below their own), so I couldn’t teach the books I knew best. Their progress was glacial at best, and it felt more like damage control than education.
Also, I had taken only two, worthless Education courses at Nova – so when I started teaching, I was a tragically under-qualified, under-prepared, 21-year-old kid. The LA Unified School District was fucking insane to put me in charge of a classroom.
What made you come to corporate America? Do you ever have the urge to go back to teaching?
Most of what I want out of a profession is to do something with books and/or writing. The decision to join corporate America wasn’t a surrender or a compromise. It was a realization that, with my particular set of skills and desires, there are but a few professions for which I am well suited, and I feel extremely fortunate to have found one early in my career.
I do think about teaching again, eventually, but only if in a college setting. I want to profess knowledge, not fill out detention slips. Teaching high school-age (or younger) students requires a highly refined and admirable set of skills I simply do not possess.
Things to know about Chris:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
I ate half of a Blue 9 Burger out of the trash the other day, and it was still ten times more delicious than any other cheeseburger I’ve ever had.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
Aside from the Realtor? Probably The Strand at Union Square. I spend a retarded amount of money of those half-priced review copies in the basement.
Personality problem solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
I came here indirectly from Los Angeles, so I think I’m still adjusting. Unlike long-time New Yorkers, I’m still conscious of life’s heightened pace and New York’s overwhelming effect on my more manic tendencies. I sleep a great deal less than I used to (it’s 3:24am right now), and reading for leisure has become increasingly foreign to me.
NYC confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
I sometimes go to Tompkins Square Park and wander pet-less through the dogrun, pretending to watch some frisky animal from afar, as I bask in the metaphysical warmth of other people’s puppies – sort of like those old people in Cocoon with Steve Guttenberg.
What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
Start a literary magazine. New York has a literary culture unrivaled by any other city I’ve seen -- couple that with the “gotta-do-more” way of life prevalent in this city and WHAM ... Void Magazine was born.
Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
I am fortunate to live not far from my brother, without whom I had a very difficult time enduring Los Angeles. The fact that he’s here makes the low-low moments in this city -- although no less frequent -- a lot more tolerable.
Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
They’ve just started construction on a new Starbucks in my breakfast nook (they outbid Tasty D-Lite on the real estate). That’ll be pretty cool, I guess.
311: Help or hoopla? Have you ever put it to use?
I called once to report a traffic light outage on my block. I gave up after ten minutes of button-pressing and hold music.
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
Hell, I’m still putting the finishing touches on my great LA story. Get back to me in two years or so. I’ll hopefully have something in hardcover by then.
Check out The Void at www.VoidMagazine.com. If you'd like your work to be considered for a future issue of Void, submission information can be found on the website by clicking on "submit" under the "Main" tab. Chris wants you to know that, regardless of your participation in The Void, he thinks very highly of you.
-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei