Welcome to the newly revived series, Editor’s Eye. This is a Fictionaut Blog series that aims to highlight noteworthy work that may have slipped through the cracks of Fictionaut’s automated list of recommendations.
We’re running it much as you knew it in 2012 when Meg Pokrass kicked it off. Every two weeks, a distinguished visiting editor (remaining anonymous until the post goes up) will scour the site for lost treasures and will select a handful of outstanding stories that passed by readers too quickly.
To launch the new Editor’s Eye series, I’ve spent recent weeks digging into Fictionaut’s pages to find gems beneath the surface – stories and poems worth a second or third or fourth look. What a pleasure – and what a task – to select a handful of things from all the excellent reading I’ve done at Fictionaut this month.
It’s always a great experience reading at Fictionaut, usually late at night for me. I am very glad to take the time here to mention things that grab my attention when I come to these pages. Particularly noteworthy (all selected from July 2013) are strong opening lines (Jake Barnes’s Wasps’ Nest), a driving voice (Gary V. Powell’s Dirty Girls), the strange and weird (Steve Gowin’s Cutter) and the weird and strange (Willie Smith’s Oz on the Moon). I love powerful imagery (Beate Sigriddaughter’s Vincent van Gogh) and strong statements (P.R. Mercado’s The President is Giving the State of the Nation Address Today). I love stories that reveal the rhythm of lives (Pia Ehrhardt’s Watering). I love stories that bring me to my knees (Ann Bogle’s Story for Ned’s Edit). I like tiny things, wee vignettes that whisper or shout, depending on how you read them (James Claffey’s geisha). I like tension, and tension does not have to be readily or easily resolved – but it has to feel real (Foster Trecost’s Street Trash). I like poems that are about small things and large concepts all at once (Charlotte Hamrick’s Milk for Free). I like a simple ode (Ginnah Howard’s Flesh) and a thing that is neat in concept as well as on the page (Gary Hardaway’s Vanishing Point). I like a well-wrought memory (Amanda Deo’s Gene Wilder). I don’t much care whether a story follows the oft-touted framework of beginning-middle-end; I like writers who know how to play. It may be serious play or lighthearted play but stories and poems shine when the writer has had fun with them (Chris Okum’s Plum & Razor and Stephen Hastings-King’s Mobile).
I came to this task with an open mind, ready for anything. I found stories and poems that delighted and startled, that caught me off-guard or soothed. I found work with an edge or a vulnerability, I found work exuding confidence and grace. I found polished work and raw work. I found a little of all that, plus more.
I should point out that in my selections below I veered away from any writers whose work repeatedly dances on the Recommended page and writers with whom I’m already well acquainted.
Each editor in the series will follow the same basic guidelines – to select stories or poems that pass by the listings all too quickly to earn a place on the recommended pages – and each one will offer commentary about the selections.
So stay tuned for the next installment of Editor’s Eye mid-August, and enjoy the series as we move forward. Below are six selections worth checking out again.
And thank you, readers, for tuning into Editor’s Eye.
31 July 2013
Amanda Harris, Born to Lose
This story strikes deep and hard. It is barebones in its tone and telling, but it lingers long after you’ve left it. I came back to this story again and again because of its trimmed-down truth and its combination of rage and acceptance, the delicate balance between knowing something is wrong with this picture and knowing this is the way it is, plain and simple. Stylistically, it’s a compact piece of flash, with a sharp shift in the middle, right between the fantasy of getting the teacher into bed and the reality of the brutish man this character needs. This story delivers a punch, all the way to the killer last line. And it includes a link to Social Distortion, too, which connects us a little more to character, or author, or both.
What’s not to like about this story? It catches you from the get-go (what a title! what a concept!), it buzzes with humor and honesty – two things I love in a well-crafted story – and it has a sense of play that makes the story and voice shine. I love the opening phrase ‘whether it’s on sale or not’, implying a kind of carefree attitude in what is really a very serious ode to love, in all its possibilities. The alternate world of hippie sauce, the fleeting moment in which two paths cross – in one universe or another – and phrasings that are original and delightful (“That you are downright joyful to have found your pungent dream manifest in a repurposed jelly jar”) make me smile. The pacing is perfect, and the whole thing comes down to the final sentence (taking up a substantial nearly one-third of the story), bringing us back to the present in a most satisfying manner. It’s a wholly unexpected blue-eyed-green-eyed love story, served with aplomb. Magic!
Miranda Merklein, One Thing and One Thing Only
This poem is carefully constructed as beautiful imagery and a strong story unfold from top to bottom. The opening lines shimmer large and mythical –
You emerge as words black in milk,
a veil lifted by my self-same hand,
uncorrupted by time or transportation,
Adam of alabaster, carrying two clay
urns of water above
all ground and sea, floating toward me…
And the poem dances from there, space and time collapsing or melting away, while also pulling everything together. There is something inevitable in this story, even as there are phrasings placed to shift mood and maintain distance (“Nevermind…” and “it does not matter”). There are other phrases that catch the reader’s attention for their rhythms and play: “my self-same hand” in the beginning and “your made-self hands” near the end, for example. The poem navigates between specific details (the unlikely mention of salmon, garlic, a treehouse) and images that suggest vastness (“desert fossils from Pangea or Syracuse”). There’s mystery here (and in the author note). It’s a song full of longing and desire and hope, with elegant turns of phrase and a strong, soft closing that I will remember.
Curtis Smith, The Lake
I like a good then-and-now story. This one offers a glimpse at new love and rough beauty against a modern industrial backdrop and breaks your heart in all the right ways. I think I knew my heart was going to break when I started reading this, but I couldn’t help myself – I had to keep reading. That’s the beauty of this narrative. There’s nothing surprising, really: no shock-value, no ugly language, no vulgarity. It’s straightforward storytelling at its best. The reader is pulled along, one moment after another, one image after another. The writing is restrained and steady, with images and metaphors working in tandem to paint a complete life. And the specific images are placed in all the right places: the sun “warped and bloody from the city’s pollution”, the coming storm, the coffee and whisky breath. The story could almost end with the first section, with this beautifully descriptive sentence: “With the air full of rain and electricity, it felt like creation itself.” But then we’d miss the whole second half, with the change in season and tone, and yet another perfect last line.
Kait Mauro, Adam
This poem is subtle and moving, and it contains an understated calm that belies the tension and sorrow. It starts out with an opening that will draw the curious reader in but moves quickly into the realm of the personal, the private. It contains both story and anti-story. There are layers here, beneath the words on the page. And there are moments captured that remain with the reader long after the lines have been read. This poem employs language that brings the reader right into the delicate moment, and it pays close attention to how words sound and feel on the tongue lips:
We slept like peony petals,
pressed together like ear bones -
pale, thin and curved.
I feel as if I am trespassing on something private and delicate and perhaps sacred. A moment that should not be lost. A poem worth reading several times at least.
Neil McCarthy, Eva at a safe distance
This poem should be noted first and foremost for its curious and subtly suggestive title. I love a perfect title. The implications of ‘safe distance’ tickled me and made me wonder why – because it’s necessary? because it’s as close as the narrator can get? because of fear or desire or both? It sets up with precision something crucial about the relationship between Eva and the narrator. It’s an observational poem, simple and straightforward in its portrayal. Go on and read it, readers: the descriptions create mood and distance and sustain a kind of intrigue and quiet (and possibly sad)) charm throughout. The characterizations here are sparse but strong – “like a schoolgirl whose mind is elsewhere”, “she speaks without breath”. I like the way the focus shifts from Eva to the narrator in the last stanza, and how we finally get a small glimpse of her past –
To her I must seem vacant, like one those stern Soviet
border guards she flirted with in her youth
I’m not sure I understand Eva or the poem entirely. In fact I know I don’t. So I like it even more.
Michelle Elvy edits at Blue Five Notebook and Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. You can also find her delving into creative conversations at Awkword Paper Cut. Co-ordinator for New Zealand’s National Flash Fiction Day, she launched FLASH MOB 2013 in June this year (with Christopher Allen and Linda Simoni-Wastila). She has published poetry, short stories, historical essays and creative non-fiction about travel, faraway shores, food, motorcycling, the kindness of strangers and raising children in unusual places for various literary journals and travel magazines. Her latest work is on exhibit this month in a gallery in Whangarei, New Zealand, as part of a collaboration between seventeen poets and visual artists.
Michelle’s latitude and longitude change regularly as she floats around the South Pacific on her 43’ sailboat Momo, collecting stories along the way. She edits manuscripts for a living and is grateful that the Internet makes her life choices possible. She considers it a privilege to link to clients across oceans and to cavort with Fictionaut writers and readers at all hours of the day and night.