There are all kinds of literary journal formats: oversized, pocket-sized, letter-pressed, emailed, mimeographed and stapled, tablet-only, on postcards and so on. And then there is the Safety Pin Review.
Each issue of the Safety Pin Review is a very short story written on a piece of fabric in bold lettering. The fabric story is then pinned on someone's back and he or she walks around wearing it. Anyone standing behind them at the grocery store, or in line for a rock show, or walking across campus -- that's the readership. Oh, and those who can see a photo of the story online.
One person wearing the story -- the "operative" -- is A.K. Mayhew, an undergraduate writer studying at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. The story she's wearing is "After the Punch, Before the Swell" by Sonja Vitow, the 24th issue of the "magazine."
The founder and editor of the Safety Pin Review is Simon Jacobs, who describes himself as "a young writer of no particular renown." He is a 21-year-old mohawked linguistics student in Richmond, Ind., who was inspired to publish writing after discovering writers he loved on the Internet.
"I wrote this giant, blustery angst novel in high school and my first two years of college about an isolated, dying liberal arts school in the mountains, and was (and still am, to some degree) utterly convinced that it was a masterwork," he wrote in an email. "So I ventured online to find an agent/publisher/anyone, and promptly, happily drowned in what I found. Short, wrenching, rebellious fiction, unlike anything I'd ever read."
That's flash fiction, short, sharp and often written quickly without a redraft. He was particularly drawn to the author who goes by xTx, and asked her to write the first Safety Pin Review story. She said yes. It was printed/worn, by Jacobs himself, in September 2011. Since then, the stories have made their way farther into the world. Each "operative" promises to wear the story wherever they go for a week. Stories have appeared in Chicago, New York, Seattle, New Orleans, Cambridge, Mass., and Louisville, Ky.
Jacobs pays each author a dollar, but there is something more sincere than symbolic in the effort. The costs to produce each issue, which exist only in a single edition, are about $10, which includes mailing to the operative.
That's a tiny, independent operation, which is perhaps a fitting way to distribute flash fiction. The fabric and the personalization of wearing the story give weight to the short pieces that might be missed in the flood of words online.
Jacobs has no plans to take any writing classes. "I prefer to fumble around on my own, make lots of mistakes and everything up," he writes. "I learn better that way."
The Safety Pin Review welcomes submissions; find guidelines at safetypinreview.com. The major requirement: Tell a really good story in no more than 30 words.