Image courtesy of British Library Photostream
From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
Another year is in the books, or in the case of our 75th, 76th, 77th, and 78th issues, in the ether that George W. Bush called "the Internets," and now we're embarking on year number eighteen. 2013 was a great year for us, both for the work we were blessed to present and the positive developments we hope to build upon in 2014 and beyond.
The development I'm most excited about is that we've been able for two issues now to pay a small token of recognition, in the form of US currency, to our Spotlight Author and two runners-up. This issue, it's the poet Carolyn Stice who takes that well-deserved honor, with fiction author Michael Fertik and nonfiction author Joe Bardin in the runners-up slots. I continue to look forward to the day, perhaps not too distant, when we can pay all our contributors, but in the meantime, I'm celebrating this step we've taken in that direction.
I'm also celebrating the quality of the abovementioned authors and their many deserving companions in this issue. Whether it's former Spotlight Authors like Kathleen Kirk and William Reese Hamilton, or newcomers like David Comfort and Laurence Klavan, who are already knocking our socks off, or former contributors who have made a major name for themselves like Lou Gaglia (who we've recently learned was runner up in last year's Million Writers Award!) and Mihir Vatsa... I could go on and on, because this issue is just plain stacked!
As the fiction co-editor, I need to make particular mention of Will Lasky, whose two stories in this issue show some serious breadth and depth. It's not unusual for someone to send us a singular piece of fiction—like I said, we're blessed to be the recipients of all kinds of amazing writing—but seldom does someone send us two singular pieces of fiction in the same submission cycle. Kudos, and thanks, Will.
Speaking of fiction and the Million Writers Award, I'm grateful to the folks at storySouth for continuing to provide what is one of the few efforts to recognize the best of what the Internets have to offer in terms of short fiction. My hat is off to founder Jason Sanford and the folks he has conned into replacing him, because I know that what they're doing is extremely labor intensive, potentially contentious, and, while perhaps not entirely thankless (I'm thanking them now), certainly not a "get rich quick" scheme. Thanks to their efforts, though, I have another thing to celebrate as we close out the year, which is that not only is Eclectica the all-time leading publication for top-ten and notable stories in the Million Writers Award, but this year we led the field again with five notables—the only publication to score more than three. A big congrats to G. K. Wuori, Okechukwu Otukwu, Bruce Graham, Andrea Broxton, and Michael Barber for making the list.
On a sad note, 2013 saw the passing of a giant of the online literary community (both literally and figuratively), C.E. Chaffin. A frequent contributor to Eclectica, C.E. was the founder of The Melic Review, one of the first online publications to put the World Wide Web on the literary map. I had the pleasure of meeting C.E. once in Los Angeles with his wife Kathleen, and it was a memorable night of poetry, music, and a fair amount of alcohol consumption. The world is a less interesting place without C.E. prowling around in it.
Speaking of Kathleen Chaffin, it's with gratitude and pride that I'm announcing her addition to the Eclectica staff. A former contributor and a great poet, she also has a self-described talent for "nitpicking," and she has agreed to be our copy editor. Talk about your thankless jobs... but thank you, Kathleen, for tidying this place up a bit, and thank you in advance for what I hope will be a lasting tenure with us.
Sheesh... This editor note is turning into a novella, and what I really want is for you to hear what my co-editors have to say and then get on to the issue, which I promise will not disappoint. Happy reading!
From Gilbert S. Purdy, Review Editor
My thanks to Tom for the fine welcome, last issue. At present, Ann Skea and I would still seem to be the only regular reviewers, though I have two tentative commitments from reviewers/essayists whom I highly respect. I hope we will begin to present their work soon. I would like to invite anyone who might read this to send along reviews of books, art, music, cultural organizations, companies and events, local regional and national, and cultural crit pieces on the same. Feel free to do so as a one-off or more or less regularly as works for you. I look forward to expanding the review/interview section, during the months ahead, to include a wide range of lively, insightful (even quirky) cultural crit. I hope you will stop by to read and/or submit.
From Jennifer Finstrom, Poetry Editor
Welcome to the winter issue, everyone! As I write this from Chicago, temperatures are reaching record lows. While some of you are surely experiencing the same snow and wind, I hope that wherever you are, you're able to spend some time enjoying the new issue and giving some thought to the things that we write about and that inspire us in the new year. I'm certainly glad to be able to work from home today and reflect on not only what I find inspiring, but also what I see has inspired the poets in this issue.
To look first at Carolyn Stice, this issue's Spotlight Author confronts much in the small space of her three poems. She draws from both a past and present of mother-child relationships in "Mama at thirty," and I am particularly taken by the balancing act that happens both in that poem and in "Self Portrait 2." Not only do Stice's speakers balance the similarities and differences found in past and present, but other forces tug at them as well, including, in "Mama at Thirty," "the terrible and beautiful weight of the generations," and in "Self Portrait 2," "that old melancholy urge... the one who calls up old loves like fog / rolling over a grave." This makes me think of how much of a balancing act poetry often is. And not just the making time for writing it, where we balance jobs and school and families, but also in the act of creation itself, where we are sometimes forced to balance both what calls to us from the past and what keeps our attention riveted on the present.
I see this in other poems here as well, that tension that is negotiated through writing, and it appears particularly clearly in David Mathews' "Where Did That Come From?" Indeed, it is the central focus of the poem. Mathews' speaker discusses his "own personal Grendel" who "struck usually after drinking / when everyone else was asleep," and at the poem's end asks "Was that the trigger? / Or has it just been slowly / fighting its way back / ...ever since I forgot?" While this tension is not present in all poems, of course, or as overtly stated, it is something that I find myself thinking about as I read the work in this issue and think about what places in my own life I reach out to when I'm writing.
In my notes, I always like to mention the Word Poem Challenge, and I'll say again that I'm continually amazed with what can be done with four pre-chosen words! As you check out the Word Poems in this issue, don't forget to take note of the four new words for next issue (ribbon, illuminate, visitor, and question). Jot them down, carry them with you, and see what you can do! I would love to read what you come up with.
And one final thing. In addition to congratulating Carolyn on being this issue's Spotlight Author, I'd also like to give a shout-out to the Spotlight Runner-ups, Joe Bardin for his nonfiction piece "Outlier Heart" and Michael Fertik for his story "The Whale." Read their work—you'll be glad you did!
From Anne Leigh Parrish, Fiction Editor
What is it about a new year that give us hope, resolve, and a little more energy? A calendar is an arbitrary construct, yet has a strong psychological impact. So do short stories, especially the 15 we have in our first issue of 2014. These are strong pieces that take us back in time, to surreal settings and situations or some unseen, desperate corner of the human heart. That such a wealth of fiction comes our way makes us a bit heady—just like any good New Year's celebration.
We begin with Will Lasky's "A Rogue Age" and a group of soldiers at the end of WWII, battle-weary and wrestling with what destruction leaves behind. "The Whale," by Michael Fertik, our Spotlight Runner-Up, introduces us to Captain Ahab before his first encounter with Moby Dick, complete with vintage language, metered dialogue, and magnificent nautical scenes. Randall Brown's flash fiction "Anything At All" drops us down into the mind of someone in throes of madness with all the understanding and awareness of a much longer piece. A woman's whole life, told in brief segments by Lynn Mundell, gives us exactly what the title promises: "Travels through Time and Space with Zora." Quirky characters, observed by a convenience store clerk, are vibrantly rendered in Lou Gaglia's "The Lady with the Red Van." Anyone who's been frustrated by a lackluster romantic relationship will feel right at home in "Like I Was Waiting" by Jenny Hayes. Next we find ourselves in an eerie political and emotional landscape in Laurence Klavan's "Consensus," a story that makes us ask, What if? A second piece by Will Lasky, "An Ugly Man's Guide to Self Improvement," gives us someone weighing the value of a physical beauty he doesn't possess, and discovers that he has far better qualities after all. Then, in very few words, Cheryl Diane Kidder's "How She Was Raised" presents another soul on the brink of discovery, this time about the value of longing and desire, and how those alone might shape the future. While the subject of infertility is well-worn, Stephanie Austin gives it a fresh, personal, and powerful treatment in "Flow." "The Event," by Ovo Adagha, lets us see the longing of the lonely and dispossessed when a woman, far from home, waits for the one who will move her life forward. Time jumps from past to present in "The Mandolin Player" by Cam Lay, a poignant non-linear narrative with uncanny yet plausible coincidences. Poignancy and resonance continue full force in J.R. Dawson's very sensitively rendered "Falling." Chikodili Emelumadu pushes rational boundaries into the realm of magic, set against a normal domestic backdrop, in "Jermyn." We conclude with William Reese Hamilton, whose "Hall of Mirrors" shows us the world of foreign intelligence during the Cold War and two men, on opposite sides, who are certain if unwilling countrymen.
And there you have it, a fabulous fiction selection to ring in 2014.
From David Ewald, Nonfiction and Miscellany Editor
"'I am of the 18th century,' said Renoir."
If Renoir was of the 18th century, then Buster Keaton was very much of the 20th, and Rachel Joseph's surprising one-act play, "The Screen Dreams of Buster Keaton," is a reflection on aspects of that century that reverberate today. I've never been one to explain away another writer's work; I don't pretend to know what "Screen Dreams" means—it could very well not "mean" anything. Best to read it for yourself and, above all, enjoy.
It's no surprise that Joseph's play shares space in the Miscellany section with "The Church (of Self Expression) and Other (Alternative) Truths," a brief piece by Eleanor Talbot that is every bit of the 21st century and serves as something of a book end to "Screen Dreams." Reading these two together is an enriching experience as the pieces speak to one another, as well as to the current milieu.
The nonfiction pieces that make their way into each issue continue to impress. Jascha Kessler returns once again, this time with a clever nod to Marcel Proust and Proust's madeleines in his own "A La Recherche des Parents Perdus." Howard Richard Debs gives us an affecting and deeply personal defense in "Vindicating Holocaust Poetry," and Michael DeVault, in "Finding Machu Picchu," reveals the life of someone we can find on the internet but whose story until this point has only partially been told.
This editor's note would be sorely amiss if I didn't give praise where praise is due to the runner-up in the nonfiction and miscellany sections, Joe Bardin, whose piece "Outlier Heart" magnifies a relationship the kind of which I have not often encountered in literature. Bardin writes from the heart, in a no-holds-barred way that speaks to his courage and honesty.
And finally, there is the humor section's "The Greatest Story Never Told," in which David Comfort takes what many would call the madness of the United States political climate these past six years and pushes beyond the outer limits to new realms of zaniness.
Happy New Year, Readers. I'm looking forward to seeing what words 2014 sends my way.