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McHenry County online journal ‘Literary Orphans debuts to quick success

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When a word hangs over a line and creates too much white space in publishing, it’s called an “orphan.”

It dangles there, sometimes awkwardly, always alone.

That’s kind of how Mike Joyce and some of his peers felt after college. They’d studied creative writing and often gathered together to share stories and critique one another.

“After we graduated, we found ourselves kind of falling out of the craft, and we wanted to continue our writing,” said Joyce of Crystal Lake. “It was a general feeling of not really having anywhere to practice our craft.”

So those who could started meeting.

But other fellow writers throughout the country were interested in sharing their work, as well.

That’s how “Literary Orphans,” an online literary journal, was born.

As Joyce puts it in his online introduction, “We’re technophobic tech-addicts trying to make our own place in this information saturated world. Come stay with us.”

At www.literaryorphans.org, the journal recently published its third issue. To its creator’s surprise, it has become a popular outlet for writers as well as fans of short fiction.

The second edition received more than 112,000 hits, while the site averages about 50,000 views a month.

Readers and writers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, other European nations and even Japan and Hong Kong have sought out the journal.

To those involved, it’s become a sort of sanctuary, an escape from the every day.

“We all have banal day jobs,” said Scott Waldon of McHenry, the journal’s managing editor and Joyce’s longtime friend. “The one thing that helps provide meaning is something creative or some sort of inspirational endeavor like that. It helps, I guess, to keep you human.”

Judges read the submitted works blindly, with the authors’ names removed, so they can choose anonymously which pieces should be published.

Joyce felt this was necessary because at other literary journals, a name was enough to get you published.

Because of the immense number of works submitted, less than 2 percent of the submissions are published, Joyce said.

The most recent issue asked for works written in “true Edgar Allan Poe” style, while an upcoming issue will have a “superhero” theme.

As described online, “The writing in Literary Orphans is an exorcism of the mind of its contributors, and reading the work here is putting up your fists and getting confrontational with solitude – solitude in a world where neon signs are out and LCD billboards are in, a world where you can’t think for following because everyone is doing all the thinking for you.”

Along with short fiction, the journal publishes poetry as well as art.

The visuals, including photographs, keep visitors engaged, its creators say.

The journal also includes “flash fiction,” or short stories of fewer than 1,000 words – likely the average amount many people will read on a website before navigating away, Joyce said.

Ironically, the age of Facebook, Twitter and iPads likely has contributed to more reading, he said, although reading has strayed from books to online and other technological sources.

“That’s why I think short fiction is making a bit of a comeback,” Joyce said.

“It’s hard to run into someone who doesn’t like it,” he said. “It’s something you can read in a short time. We just fell in love with that kind of medium.”

He sought to submit his own work to other online literary journals after graduating from the University of Illinois in 2009.

“Looking at the scene, I felt I could do this better,” he said. “A lot of the websites are stuck in the 90s.”

The website is designed to be read easily from an iPad, Joyce said.

He hopes one day to publish print copies, including a “best of” edition. All the work is done voluntarily, once their day jobs are finished, said Joyce, who works in the testing center at Elgin Community College.

“We do it for the love,” he said. “We really do believe in writing. It’s something that all of us are drawn to.

“It’s the idea of promoting this craft of telling stories that other people want to hear and listen to. It’s just a matter of wanting to get people reading again rather than just watching stuff.”

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