404: Not Found

Stephanie “Baker” Lenz & Theryn “Beaver” Fleming
The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors


One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present. —Golda Meir

Josie walks into a city library and asks to see an issue of a magazine from 2001. The librarian finds the magazine and places it on the counter. Josie flips to page 64 and says, “I wrote this story and I don’t like it anymore.” Then she rips the pages out of the magazine and creates an origami rendition of the Sydney Opera House before she announces, “Well, I’m off to the county library to make the Villa Savoye! Wish me luck!”

Last year, Phil published a heartfelt poem about the person he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with. That was before he got dumped in favor of his partner’s coworker, Bartholomew. Phil decides to burn every copy of the poem he can find. Not just his own copies but the printed ones that people bought and the extra copies of the anthology sitting in a warehouse in Hoboken. Phil is later arrested and wouldn’t you know that the only person he knows who can give him bail money is Bartholomew.

Lola knew she wanted to write nothing but horror stories for the rest of her life and did an interview saying so in 2004. Ten years later, she’d found a passion for writing Amish romance novels. On the sixth result page of an insomnia-fueled egosurfing session, she came across her horror-espousing interview. She just knew it would damage her reputation if anyone found it. She emailed the editor to take down the interview. At 2 a.m. At 5 a.m. At 7:43 a.m. Then every hour, in between drafting scenarios of Miriam having a meet-cute with Isaac but debating whether his brother Abe might be a more suitable match, brushing aside thoughts that Abe may just be a werewolf.

It happens.

Stephanie: Every now and then TC editors get a request from an author or interview subject asking us to remove something from our archived issues. Sometimes it’s for a reason like “that piece doesn’t reflect my current writing” or “I don’t agree with what I said then.” People change, if they’re doing this whole Life gig properly. Our literary magazine does not. The issue we published ten years ago was exactly as you will find it today.

Theryn: It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but from time to time we will get one of these requests. My answer is always the same: it’s been our policy since our inception not to remove published work from the archives. One recent request stands out, though. Usually writers request their own work be removed, but this writer wanted another writer’s work (that they were the subject of) removed. While we treated this request as we would any other, the more I think about it, the more inappropriate I find it. I should note that these pieces were originally requested by the writer and were positive about the author’s work, so it wasn’t a case of a writer being angry about a negative review or something like that.

S: There are occasions when we editors may be more flexible, like updating our information to reflect the author’s switch to his initials or when contact information must be deleted from a biography due to online harassment of the author. But those cases aren’t what’s illustrated here: changing the past as if it never happened.

T: Things we will do: correct typos, delete or change email addresses, and update author tags to reflect current bylines (here’s an example). The rest is a reflection of the time it was published and should remain intact.

S: There are a lot of reasons why we don’t like to alter our archived issues. The issue is already cached. The editorial work has value. The issue has a theme. No matter the reason, the answer has almost always been the same: we won’t change the issue but it was good to hear from you again.

T: One major reason is what’s articulated in this article: old writing on the internet has a tendency to disappear, leaving writers with no evidence they were ever published. From the beginning, we knew we didn’t want this to happen with TC. While we can’t afford to pay writers, we can give them something of value: a permanent link to their work. We’ve tried really hard when moving things around to make sure old links are forwarded to the current page so no one gets a 404 on their old work.

But it’s not just a matter of ensuring there’s a link to your page. It’s important that the entire issue/journal remain intact so anyone given a link to an older piece is able to judge where it was published accurately and doesn’t question its value because the rest of the site is full of holes and looks sketchy.

More importantly, it goes beyond live links being valuable to the writers we’ve published. It’s also about cultural value. So while an author might think, “If I take down my story no one will care,” they really don’t know. That might be someone’s favorite story; it might be the one someone teaches to their class every semester; it might have been referenced/linked to from elsewhere. There are Wikipedia articles that use TC stories and articles as sources, for example.

S: Would you remove the cheese from your toasted cheese sandwich? Of course not. The content makes it what it is. So why should editors remove the content of the literary journals?

T: Toasted Cheese isn’t your personal blog where you can do whatever you like; it’s a publication. Once work is published, it’s published.

pencilEmail: baker[at]toasted-cheese.com | beaver[at]toasted-cheese.com

Print Friendly, PDF & Email