To the rest of the world, the job of a literary-maga zine editor might seem romantic. There you are, late at night, poring over someone's dog-eared manuscript, poised to discover the next Walt Whitman--or at least hand some deserving writer a brief moment of fame.
In reality, though, the work has rough spots. It's lonely. You're broke. And who even reads small magazines except the writers they publish, the writers' friends and in some cases their mothers?
"The submitting poet doesn't realize what goes into this kind of publication," said David Goldschlag, founder, editor and publisher of Red Dancefloor, a magazine based in Van Nuys. "They can't imagine the amount of time, money and perseverance it takes to keep going."
In fact, having invested four years and many thousands of his own dollars to do just that, Goldschlag has achieved a veteran's status in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of lit mags. In November, he and his small volunteer staff brought out the ninth issue of Red Dancefloor, their first in a year, to the delight of longtime supporters.
"It's a quality publication," observed Robert Wynne, a Glendale writer whose poems have appeared in many Valley-based reviews, including Caffeine, The Northridge Review and Red Dancefloor. The last, he added, "allows writers a place to get started in a magazine that's nicely printed and bound, with people working at roughly the same level they are."
Nicole Muraoka, another Glendale poet, praised Red Dancefloor for "giving new people a chance, and also giving readers the opportunity to discover new work--not just the same big names you already know."
One contributor to the latest issue, Colin Brown of Brentwood, who has only been writing seriously for a year, said simply, "It's good for my career to be published there. At this point, I hadn't expected it."
At times during the past few months, Goldschlag might not have expected it either. Last July, even though he'd published more than 300 writers--mixing such literary lights as Allen Ginsburg with lesser-known talents--he had fewer than 40 subscribers, which prompted him to mail out a fund-raising appeal. Subscriptions rose, and so did donations. One, from an L.A. poet who has requested anonymity, was large enough to start the presses rolling again.
But it was poetry, after all, and not money that got Goldschlag into this business. In 1988, he took a Pierce College writing class for which his final assignment was to create a literary review. "That project gave me an idea of what it took, both mentally and physically, to put a magazine together," he recalled.
Soliciting work from people he knew, he started in on "a very slow computer," doing his own typing and taking paste-up lessons from a professional printer. He recruited staff from his writing classes, but during the first year or two, helpers came and went as they realized the commitment required.
Now his staff of five includes four other Valley writers--Elizabeth Ziemba, Margie Davidson, Virginia Anderson and Rebecca Kroll--and a computer adviser, Steven Monczka. All decisions regarding material are made democratically, which accounts in part for the diversity of styles, voices and subjects.
In the current issue, for example, prose poems, shape poems, narrative and imagistic verse take on such subjects as love, war, addiction and grief.
The result, as eminent Los Angeles poet and UCLA Extension teacher Laurel Ann Bogen predicted recently, is a publication "that's going to emerge as one of the top magazines in L.A. They're publishing good work and doing a damn good job."
In the meantime, Goldschlag has already expanded his efforts into a small literary publishing company, Red Dancefloor Press, which has brought out a number of poetry chapbooks, several larger collections, poetry audiotapes and an International Poets Directory.
An insurance audit supervisor by day, Goldschlag puts in late hours reading the 50 to 200 poems he receives weekly from hopeful writers around the world, and he finds time to lecture fledgling scribes on the mechanics of getting published. He also cherishes his own hopes of one day presiding over a printing and publishing business that would produce "good poetry and good literary novels and pay for itself in the process."
Until then, he and his staff do their best on a humbler scale, one that suits their small but loyal audience just fine.
"I'm happy to be a part of this," said Wynne, whose poems "Yelling at Helicopters" and "I Have Stolen My Lawyer's Mercedes" appear in the new Red Dancefloor. "To get published," he concluded, "is to be affirmed. It's awfully nice to be affirmed."
Where and When What: Red Dancefloor. Address: P.O. Box 7392, Van Nuys, CA 91409. Price: $17 for a four-issue subscription, $30 for eight issues. Also: To submit work: Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope for guidelines.