It’s a question I’ve been asked often: “Why Pif?” In the
beginning, I always assumed I was being asked about the name itself.
It’s an odd name, assuredly. One that just popped into being one
fateful day as I was reading through a handful of email submissions
for the as-yet-to-be-named journal I had decided to launch. A
nonsense, made-up word that could be an acronym for what has, over the
years, become our core content: Poetry, Interviews, Fiction. As time
passed, however, I came to realize that the vast majority of inquiries
were really “Why did you start Pif Magazine?” The answer to that
question is a little more difficult to answer.
I first went “online” sometime in the summer of 1993. Most of my time
then was spent downloading games, screensavers, and various whatnot
from local bulletin boards, or occasionally venturing out onto obscure
threads of the World-Wide Web with a wonderfully difficult-to-navigate
utility known as WORM. Those of you who remember the glory days of
Pine, Gopher and Finger with fondness, this flashback will undoubtedly
bring a tear of nostalgia to your eye. For those of you who
don’t, suffice it to say that the Net at that time was a tangled
mess of text threads that led anywhere and everywhere — and
seldom in a logical way. At the time I remember thinking that the
idea of the Internet was striking — the world virtually at
your fingertips — though the implementation was not very practical.
All that was to change one day when my wife downloaded a copy of
Mosaic from the NCSA site.
Suddenly there were pictures. And formatting.
I had been writing sporadically over the years, sending out
submissions whenever the muse struck, combing through the pages of The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses for
new markets, receiving a smattering of interest and enough rejection
notes to fill a footlocker. It seemed that wherever I turned,
whichever literary journal I graced with my submission, I ran into the
writing profession’s formidable Catch-22. Traditional print
journals published work by published writers. How to break-in? How to
become published? Print journals were (and still are, in many
respects) porthole windows into the grand and forbidding castle of
academia. Journals published writing students, alumni, professors
— people who had taken up residence within the walls. The ivory
towers gleamed brightly, invitingly, but also as a warning beacon.
Literary journals seemed to be an exclusive club. Outsiders need not
Towards the end of summer, 1995, I happened upon Recursive Angel, perhaps one of
oldest literary zines still online. Several conversations with editor
David Hunter Sutherland later, an idea had formed. No, strike that. It
was more of an ideal. Screw the University presses, I would
start my own journal. One tailored specifically towards new writers.
The first eight issues were a hodge-podge of poetry and fiction. The
artwork was amateurish, at best. The presentation was simple. The code
was filled with errors, pages would crash unexpectedly, nothing was
consistent. But the writing was incredible. Visceral, honest and
blunt. In the beginning I had hoped to overthrow the academic empire;
by the time the eighth issue was published, I had forgotten they even
I wish we still had the first eight issues. They were lost to a server
hiccup in July, 1999, when we moved from our hosting provider to or
own server. By no means our best issues — I think we’ve
matured significantly since bringing on the senior editorial staff — I
believe our first eight issues were the most important, if for no
other reason than they illustrated just how powerful the Net was to
become in giving voice to those who had, up until this point, been
I was once asked in an interview where I thought Pif, and subsequently
the online publishing industry as a whole, was headed in comparison
with where I thought the traditional print industry was headed. I
don’t think there is a single print publisher today who knows
how to effectively compete for readership on as level a playing field
as the Net has provided. The blunt truth about the Net is that you
can’t buy readership with advertising dollars the way you can in
the print world. You can buy brand awareness, sure, even click-thrus.
In order to survive as a Net publication, though, you have to keep
your readers coming back day after day. And the only way to earn that
readership is by providing the community and the content the readers
So, where is Pif headed? Where we’ve always been headed, I
suppose. Pif is an ideal. A vision. Pif is also a business. We have to
earn money in order to continue paying our writers the great rates we
currently pay them. Admittedly, our business model has changed several
times over the past few years as we position and reposition ourselves
to take best advantage of the opportunities that are available to us.
But the core mission of Pif has never changed. And I think our latest
venture — becoming a non-profit organization — will help us
to flesh out this mission to its fullest.
My vision for Pif is that it be a place for writers to gather, swap
stories, give and receive advice about this wonderful craft. I see it
as a place for seasoned writers to seek and take on apprentices. I see
us becoming the watering hole where tired writers seek sustenance,
where voice is always more important than the name associated with
All artists seek to discover beauty through their work. My work with
Pif has been to develop an environment where that beauty can be
expressed to the world.