Subscription: $12 – one year / four issues.
Editors: David and Robin LaBounty
Single issue: $3.00 stand price / $3.50 online
Started in 1999 and published quarterly by Blue Cubicle Press, The First Line is a theme-based literary magazine that publishes fiction and some nonfiction. All fiction must start with a first line that the magazine provides. All nonfiction discusses a favorite first line from a literary work.
“The purpose of The First Line is to jump start the imagination – to help writers break through the block that is the blank page. Each issue contains short stories that stem from a common first line; it also provides a forum for discussing favorite first lines in literature. The First Line is an exercise in creativity for writers and a chance for readers to see how many different directions we can take when we start from the same place.” – TheFirstLine.com
I had a nice experience with this magazine. When I submitted to the mag last year, and my submission was lost in the mail, the editor offered to read it anyway and give me feedback. Now that is impressive.
The stories themselves are very unique considering their mutual beginnings. Instead of feeling redundant, it’s actually a nice surprise reading each new piece. A single issue may carry literary fiction, mainstream, and genre fiction several times. All the stories are well written. One thing I did notice is that the first lines tended to dictate the stories, and felt more restrictive than inspirational. Some past lines even had bad grammar: “Just like his fifth grade teacher, Mr. Young, had always told him, Brian put on his thinking cap.” – From first issue, May/June 1999.
But others really sparked my imagination, such as this one from the Spring issue of 2004: “There were five of them, which was two more than I'd been expecting.” All in all I’d say this little magazine is worth your time, money, and appreciation.
Hey, David. Thanks for coming. To kick off the interview, why do you think your first lines have such a restrictive feel?
Well, I would hope that the restrictive sentences are still inspirational, but I know what you mean, and it’s actually a conscious decision that goes all the way back to when Jeff Adams (former co-editor) and I were doing this in the days of snail mail. I was always trying to get Jeff to write a story he normally wouldn’t write, so I created first lines so filled with specifics, he would be forced to write something outside his comfort zone. Of course, it never worked out that way; he was always able to interpret my first line in his own special way.
When we decided to start the magazine, I carried on the tradition, but the reason had changed. I didn’t want writers to be able to fit a story they had already written to one of our sentences. I wanted the first line to actually inspire a writer to begin at the beginning – to break through the blank page. We do sprinkle in less restrictive lines, and we do see a spike in submission with those sentences, but the restrictive lines spark some of our favorite stories.
Could you tell me something about The First Line that isn’t obvious from your website?
I often receive e-mails asking if we take submissions from foreign countries. The answer is yes. We’ve printed stories from writers in India, South Africa, Egypt, Denmark, and Australia, as well as Canada and the UK. In fact, we’d like to see more stories from international writers.
What was the inspiration and process behind this magazine? When did you really decide you were going to go ahead and start it?
I had been kicking around the idea for a literary journal for a few years (this was before the Internet explosion, and more and more print journals were closing shop or closing their doors to new and emerging writers). Robin and I thought about a children’s lit journal written by adults, but I knew the market for that was small. Then, one day, I remembered when Jeff and I would send each other first lines to help jump-start our writing, and I thought that it might be fun if we opened it up to everyone. The next day, I called Jeff, and we were up and running a few months later.
It’s always great to step into someone else’s shoes. Has your experience as an editor made you a better writer?
Not really. I was always just an “okay” writer. My prose is still neither deep nor poetic. (My strengths, however, are plot and dialog, which is why, years ago, I found my voice and passion in writing plays). I will say, as a caution to writers thinking about starting their own lit journals or e-zines, editing and writing are two different muscles. Unfortunately when you focus on one, the other has a tendency to atrophy.
In a similar vein, I also find it hard to read already published fiction for pleasure anymore. I’m either overly critical of the writing or plot (sometimes wondering why the writer chose to put a comma there and why the editor didn’t fix it), or I find myself jealous that it wasn’t something we published.
Aside from the obvious – good writing, original content – how does your magazine pick it’s stories?
We try to include as many different types of stories as possible. We often pass on outstanding stories because they may be too similar to submissions we’ve already decided to include. (We may get five superior science fiction submissions for one issue, but rarely do we pick more than one to print.) However, when that does happen, I am quick to point it out to the writers, and I am always encouraging them to resubmit to other mags, sometimes offering suggestions on where to start.
Do you have any advice for prospective contributors?
Write what you want to read. We are probably the only literary journal that discourages writers from buying a copy of the magazine just to see what we are interested in. If you write with honesty and passion, your story will stand out.
“David LaBounty’s plays have appeared in plays and on stages across the country. His fiction has been published in various magazines including The Friend Magazine, Zu Zu, Young Salvationist, Hopscotch and Kid's Highway. Currently, David lives with his wife and two children in Texas.” – BrookPub.com