From Tom Dooley, Fiction and Managing Editor
Most of the time, the material appearing in Eclectica comes to us from people I've never met. In fact, the majority of "us," meaning those who've worked on the magazine over the past decade, are also people I haven't met. Not that I wouldn't like to meet them, but this situation is in keeping with two of the original tenets of our little virtual rag. One is that it doesn't exist for the purpose of promoting the editors' work or that of the editors' friends, and two is that it does exist to bring together disparate points of view from all corners of the globe.
That said, the artwork in this issue was produced by a guy I regularly play basketball with here in Albuquerque, pictured above. His real name is Kelly, but as an artist he goes by the moniker KOB ONE, and as a music producer he's known as Scorpioflo. I became aware of Kelly's extra-basketball abilities only after he drew some pretty funny caricatures on the sign-up board of some of the other players. Turns out, we have a regular "street" renaissance man in our midst. In the last three issues, we've been fortunate to have featured paintings by African artist Victor Ehikhamenor, photographs of China by Jim Gourley, and sketchbook "remnants" from New Yorker Ira Joel Haber. It seems to me that spray-painted murals by a North Carolina graffiti artist living in Albuquerque are an eminently appropriate continuation of that very eclectic pattern, even if he does happen to be a friend of mine.
As always, though, I must caution the reader not to try too hard to find a connection between the art and the writing it accompanies. "Accompanies" is the key word, not "illustrates."
This issue's Spotlight Author is poet Ray Templeton. Ray has become a regular in the "Word Poem" section, which for the uninitiated is a recurring Eclectica feature where readers, contributors, and even editors (our sole exception on the creative writing side of the house to the anti-nepotism tenet mentioned above) are invited to craft a poem incorporating four predetermined words (hence, "word poems"). The Word Poem exercise is a typical writing workshop activity, but don't be fooled by the word "typical." It's like saying the lay-up drill is a typical part of basketball practice, or that playing the 12-bar blues is a typical thing to do during a guitar lesson. Each of these examples holds the potential for tremendous creativity and artistry, and in the hands of a great poet, athlete, or musician, they become not just the basis for higher achievement, but an achievement in and of themselves.
What is a poem, after all, but an amalgam of words? That human beings continue to produce such amalgams with such startling and transcendent results should come as no surprise; even when a group of poets must include within their poems four of the same words, the results are still remarkably diverse and unexpected.
But I digress—a little. The point is that Ray has been whupping butt on the Word Poems for about a year now, and he joins a talented group of Word Poem regulars (including Arlene Ang, Deborah P. Kolodji, and Bob Bradshaw, to name a few, all represented in this issue) who have also successfully submitted poems that weren't part of the Word Poem challenge. In fact, we're featuring four of Ray's poems in this issue, plus one more that is a Word Poem. And we've got a kaleidescope of verse from 17 other poets, many of them new to the magazine, a few of them old friends. One such old friend being Don Mager, who was actually our Spotlight Author way back in November of 1996—our second issue!—and who has been a regular contributor of classical music reviews for many years.
Speaking of reviews, we have another fine section of reviews and interviews, including several movie reviews from Cosmoetica's (previously no relation to Eclectica, by the way, despite our similar mastheads) Dan Schneider. Interview Editor Elizabeth Glixman presents three new interviewers and interviewees, although it seems that one of those interviewers/interviewees is punking us—in a good way.
We're between Travel Editors right now, which is why that section is a bit light. In fact, we wouldn't have had any travel at all except that I really liked "Flechado" by William Reese Hamilton, and I'm hoping he'll continue to send us work.
I am the Fiction Editor, and as such, I tend to be pretty enthusiastic about the fiction in each issue. This one is no exception. The 2006 storySouth Million Writers contest is going on right now (more about that in a minute), but these stories are making me look forward to the 2007 contest. Before I talk about the ones that made it into this issue, though, I'd like to say a few words regarding the ones that didn't. We received about the same number of submissions as we always do, but for whatever reason, I think there were probably more stories that were really, really good. As in, good enough to be published in Eclectica or any other small press, print or online. My "short list" ended up being 25 titles long. I have never had to be so brutal in my selections to get down to the eight stories included here. I took no pleasure in rejecting the other 17, but I can tell you that every one I let go has had the effect of making these eight that much more special to me. They may or may not be the ones you would've picked from that bunch, and they may or may not be the ones any other editor would've picked, but as a group, I'd have to say they're as close as I've been able to get in any issue thus far to capturing what little bit of an aesthetic I might have as an editor.
Leading the way is D.E. Fredd's "Steiner Requests His Hole Be Dug in Poland," which has got to be one of the weirdest damned stories I have ever read, and I mean that in the best possible way. Weird is good in my book, and each of the other seven stories is, I think, weird in some way, some more overtly than others.
In the case of Benjamin Chambers' "In Grief Prostrate; Clobbered by Joy," which is really a novella, the weirdness comes in the form of a tone, reflected in the title, of melodrama and slapstick somehow blended together. I'm thrilled, by the way, to be able to include a novella. The submission guidelines state we're open to longer pieces, but the reality is that we seldom receive submissions of this length that maintain the level of interest needed to plow through so many pages sitting in front of a computer. It's a testament to Mr. Chamber's skills that "Clobbered" kept me proverbially glued to the screen all the way through.
In the case of Tim Horvath's "Rhino of the Real," it's what happens in the story that is weird, audaciously so, and what's even stranger is how affecting these preposterous events add up to be. Jumoke Verissimo takes us to the slums of Lagos, Nigeria, a setting outside of what I expect most readers have experienced. And it isn't often that a piece of goofball comedy makes it into Eclectica, but that's what Mark Baumer's "Take Your Mustache and Leave" is, and it deserves to have made it in, if for no other reason than to add the term "Boris" to our collective vocabulary.
It's also unusual for me to accept a novel excerpt. Again, I like the idea in theory, but in practice the ones I get tend not to work as stand-alone pieces. Christine Allen-Yazzie has given us an excerpt from her novel The Arc and the Sediment, however, that works very well on its own, and it makes me want to read the book. As an added bonus, Christine is a former contributor returning to Eclectica after a ten-year hiatus! She last appeared in the July 1997 issue, back when we were a monthly rather than a quarterly publication.
Speaking of former contributors, I can only hope that Bojan Pavlovic and Andrew Coburn intend to continue their budding rivalry. Both appeared in our last issue (Jan/Feb 2007), and both are back for a second round, each, it turns out, with a different take on the dating scene.
On to the storySouth Million Writers contest. This is the real thing, or as close to the real thing as any "Best of" effort can be. Which is why I'd like to encourage anyone reading this to get invested in it. Recognizing excellence is important, both because excellence deserves to be recognized, and because recognition incentivizes more excellence, and because—if you buy into the idea that online literature deserves to and will inevitably be seen as a vital component of Literature as a whole—recognition of this sort will draw more people to investigate online literature and increase the chances that what they read will actually be good stuff.
As always, I'm enthusiastic about the stories we published here in Eclectica last year. It would be a bit much even for me to make a case for all 32 of our eligible stories as to why they deserve to be named to the "Notable" list, but I will mention seven here that I hope readers (and the Million Writers judges) will give a closer look. They are A. Ray Norsworthy's "All the Way to Grangeville," Anna Sidak's The Myths of Minnesota," Louis Malloy's "The Easter Men," Stephanie Storey's "Sex in the Jungle Room," Tabitha D. Bast's "C Sharp," Terrence S. Hawkins' "The Thing That Mattered," and Wendy Nardi's "Benedetti."
This is not to say that there aren't other equally deserving stories among the ones we have eligible. If it was up to me, of course, they'd all make "Notable" status. But these seven could each be overlooked for reasons that have nothing to do with the outstanding qualities they posess. "C Sharp," for example, is a longer piece with multiple points of view about a crucial time in the women's suffragist movement. Not exactly MTV material, but the story delivers on the investment required to digest it. Similarly, "Benedetti" vividly immerses the reader in the world of a Florentine sculptor. You also have to put some effort into "The Thing That Mattered," but once you understand the remarkably clever way the story integrates the real-life character of Hemingway with the fictional characters of Casablanca and Hemingway's style of prose with Casablanca's noirish atmosphere, the story becomes much more than just a murder mystery. "Grangeville" and its protagonist may come across as hard-boiled, but there's a surprising amount of heart under all the bluster and three-day's growth of stubble. "Jungle Room" sounds, well, sexy, but those who would dismiss it because of the word "sex" in the title will be missing the point, while those who would read it solely in pursuit of that word will be disappointed. "Myths" is a subtle study in character and setting that deserves—and might require—more than one read to truly appreciate its aclimactic ending. And "Easter Men" is just plain astonishing. It's one of those stories that I suspect might be easy for a reader to dismiss as too preposterous. Read on its own terms, though, and it's Office Space meets Passion of the Christ in a truly brutally black comedy.
That's my pitch. I invite you to enjoy the rest of this issue, get involved with the Million Writers hoopla, and have a great summer.