That summer, some of the selections in Exacting Clam 10—the story “Ouroboros,” the essay “A Brief Note on the Use of Aronian Liberalism,” the radio play “Dirk Scabbard—Home Front Hero” among them—formed a writing group that met once a week on page 98 to share original poems, stories and essays. At first they focused solely on elements of craft, but after a few meetings they started talking about trying to get their work published. When literary journals opened for submissions that fall, in fact, each selection in the writing group resolved to send something out.
By and large, though, the writing was disappointed with the responses. “Chamomile” received a nice email from the journal The Wallet, and Error requested more work from “La Jétee: The Novelization,” but everyone else received form rejections—which they collectively bemoaned at their next workshop meeting.
“It’s demoralizing,” said “What We’ve Destroyed For Love,” after reading a form rejection from Caldera Quarterly out loud to the group. “You pour your soul into a poem, and what do you get for it? A three-line email?”
“I mean who knows if they even read it,” said “Visible Life.”
“I’m sorry, but have you read some of the stuff in Cascades?” huffed “Dirk Scabbard.” “No way those poems are better than mine!”
“Wait a second,” said “Destroyed.” “I just had a terrific idea.”
“Maybe we jumped the gun on this publication stuff,” said ”Afore the Thunderclap.” “Suppose we put all that aside for the moment and just focus on—”
“What if we started one ourselves?” said “Destroyed.”
All of the writing turned to look at “Destroyed.” “If we what?” said “Dissociated Matter.”
“We start our own journal,” Destroyed said.
“Wait—we can do that?” said “A Brief Note on the Use of Aronian Liberalism.” “Just…start a magazine?”
“Why couldn’t we?” “Destroyed”’s face was alight.
“That’s not a bad idea, actually,” said “Chamomile.”
“We all know other writing that’s writing good stuff,” “Destroyed” said. “And we can publish it right here, on this page.”
“‘She Drank Perfume on the Plane’’s a writer,” said “Thunderclap.”
“’I, Too’ too,” said “Oh, Poetry, Save Us All.”
“Do y’all realize how much work this would involve?” said “La Jétee: The Novelization.”
“I think it sounds like fun,” said “Dissociated Matter.”
“’Dissociated’’s in,” said “Destroyed.” “Who else?”
“Sure,” said “A Brief Note.”
“Show of hands?” said “Ouroboros.”
Almost all the writing raised their hands, and the rest of that meeting was devoted to brainstorming and discussing next steps; “Oh, Poetry” had experience in layout, as it turned out, and “Chamomile” in copyediting. Soon, work began on the inaugural issue of The Page 98 Review. When word of the journal spread through Clam 10, the staff was flooded with submissions; they even had to reject a few—“The Redheaded Juror”’s poems, for example, and “I, Too”’s weird experimental fictions. Within a few weeks the editors had made their final selections, divided the page into smaller pages—beginning with page 98i and running through 98LVI—and begun typesetting, proofreading and printing.
When the issue was complete, the editors held a launch party and most of the writing in Exacting Clam 10 attended. “Visible Life” kicked off the event with a dramatic reading of its story about a wayward desk—“The rolltop was smoking a cigarette by the pinball machine,” the story began, “when the door kicked open and bright light flooded the room.”—and then “A Brief Note” read its poem “Carnival:”
by “A Brief Note on the Use of Aronian Liberalism”
Life is a Carnival
Take me with you, Carnival.
“A Brief Note on the Use of Aronian Liberalism” is an essay in Exacting Clam 10. This is their first publication.
After the readings, the writing from Clam 10 toured the rest of the issue—some stopping to read “Destroyed”’s introduction, others “Ouroboros”’ essay on the notion of concentration in the 21st century or “Afore the Thunderclap”’s haikus. The only hiccup of the night came when “I, Too,” still sore from his rejection, drank too much complimentary wine and started stumbling across the page and shouting about the issue’s “overly-broad aesthetic.” “You reject me and publish this?” the essay shouted to no one in particular, before his friend “She Drank Perfume on the Plane” led him off the page.
High on their successes, the editors of Page 98 immediately began discussing the second issue. Before they could even start selecting work for it, though, they heard a rumor about the founding of a new new journal in Exacting Clam 10—a magazine called 99, edited by “I, Too” and “She Drank Perfume on the Plane.” In the weeks that followed, 99 recruited three more editors from The Page 98 Review. And as if that wasn’t destabilizing enough, word soon got out that the poem “Carnival” had started recruiting work from The Page 98 Review to start yet another new publication—an annual called No.
All of this was overshadowed by the publication of Exacting Clam 11 in late fall. Suddenly there was a lot more new writing—future writing, which currently doesn’t yet exist—on the scene. By then the staff of The Page 98 Review had mostly dispersed; only two editors, “Ouroboros” and “What We’ve Destroyed For Love,” remained. Determined to forge ahead, they met on the page one cold November morning to discuss strategies for regaining momentum. Their ideas for how to do so differed, though, and the conversation quickly escalated into an argument; “Destroyed” called “Ouroboros” obtuse, and “Ouroboros” shot back that “Destroyed” “couldn’t publish a good magazine if his life depended on it.” The poem and story stormed off the page in separate directions—essentially unpublishing themselves and leaving the page blank—and the two didn’t speak for years.
Christopher Boucher is the author of the novels How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (Melville House, 2011), Golden Delicious (MH, 2016), and Big Giant Floating Head (MH, 2019). He teaches writing and literature at Boston College and is Managing Editor of Post Road Magazine.