Artwork and photo by Baird Stiefel
From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
It is with sadness and appreciation that I announce Gilbert Purdy has decided to reclaim some of his time. This will be his last issue as Eclectica's Review Editor, a post he has filled since October of 2013. Gil has been making his eminently thoughtful contributions as a reviewer since 2003, though, and he is as much a part of the fabric of this publication as anyone, including myself. I hope we'll continue to hear from him, and I wish him the best in his endeavors.
Speaking of appreciation for editorial toiling, I want to give a shout out to David Ewald and Evan Richards, whose workload and output (both quantity and quality) this issue has been and is immense. Strong work, gentlemen!
Big thanks, also, to Baird Stiefel, whose sketches and watercolors adorn parts of this issue. Baird is not a professional artist—he's a retired chief master sergeant—but I think his dabbling is not only pretty great, I also love the layering of perception happening when we look at a photo of an image in his sketchbook with what he's tried to capture in the background. Add in the image accompanying a piece of writing, and that's a lot of levels playing off of each other.
I usually keep my own written efforts for the magazine confined to this editor note. However, this issue, I have a piece in the Review and Interview section. Longtime contributor Stanley Jenkins has a third book out, and he and I collaborated on a conversation to go with it. I absolutely love talking to Stan, who possesses a remarkable thoughtfulness and breadth of interests. If you derive any enjoyment from "eavesdropping" on our exchange, there are links at the end of it to two more interviews we did in conjunction with his previous books.
Congrats to Kassidy McIntosh, who was the winner of this issue's Spotlight Author honors. Not only is her "Letter to a Friend" is strong writing for any time or place, it couldn't be more relevant to this time and place.
A hearty congratulations also to Peter and Mary Jane Bridges, who last month celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They've lived in Crested Butte, Colorado, since 1988. A former US Ambassador and Eclectica Spotlight Author (admittedly, one of those things is a slightly bigger deal), Peter is a triple threat—we've published his poetry, nonfiction, and fiction—and we're super lucky to have had him and Mary Jane (she makes frequent appearances in Peter's writing) as part of the Eclectica family since 2012.
My nomination for this issue's Spotlight is Kevin Finnerty for his oddly affecting story, "On Tour." If you were to tell me before I read it that this tale—about a couple whose entire life is structured around the albums and tours of the musical artist Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, AKA Sting—would not only move me, but move me to nominate it for the Spotlight... well, I would have believed you, I guess, but I would have considered the whole thing highly unlikely. I'm not a big fan of the Sting myself, but something about the depth and scope of "Tour" really captures a little piece of the human experience, one I'm not sure I've ever seen captured before, or at least in quite this way.
Finnerty is just one of a dozen fiction authors in this issue. Many are familar names—the aforementioned Peter Bridges; Thomas J. Hubschman (an Eclectica institution at this point); former Spotlight Runner-Up and now six-time contributor Gary Moshimer; the brilliant world traveller William Han; Eric Maroney, whose "Incorrupt Body of Carlo Busso" danged near won the 2011 storySouth Million Writers Award; and David Rich and Steven Brooks, both back for their second appearances. This means, besides Finnerty, we have four fiction authors new to our pages: Shreyonti Chakroborty, Susan Tepper, Mar Bradley, and Brianca Hadnot. It's great to have them joining our little community, and I hope to see them again in future issues.
Speaking of the Eclectica community, I want to give a shout out to Mark Crimmins, whose first book, Sydneyside Reflections, came out this summer from Everytime Press in Australia. I've also heard tell that Peter Cherches released a book this summer from Pelekinesis titled Whistler's Mother's Son. Also out this summer, R.L. Maizes debut novel, Other People's Pets, from Macmillan's Celadon Press. Rachel is getting reviews in places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly with words in them like "beguiling" and "uncanny," so big congrats to her! And speaking of debut publications, William Fergason's Love Song to the Demon-Possessed Pigs of Gadara also came out this summer from the University of Iowa Press. I'm sure those aren't the only good news stories when it comes to Eclectica alums, but they're the only ones I got emails about. If you have something you'd like me to highlight, please don't hesitate to let me know.
Usually I try to say something in each of these editor notes about what's happening in the world to give the issue context for posterity. This being the year 2020, things haven't been great so far, pretty much across the board. Globally, nationally, locally, personally, there have been debacles and tragedies and traumas to spare. Overall, given the amount of trouble going around, my family and I have been blessed with relatively good, even great, fortune, but we haven't escaped the first half of 2020 unscathed. With that in mind, I'd like to dedicate this issue to anyone who is dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one, whether it be a parent who succumbed to COVID, a child lost to gun violence, or as in our case, a beloved pet taken too soon in a senseless accident.
There's a line in the Trevor Noah documentary/comedy special You Laugh But It's True where a pre-fame Noah tells some Los Angeles high schoolers, "In life you always choose to see things in a good or bad way. It's your outlook. It's how you choose to perceive it. So you can choose to perceive things in a positive way, even if they're negative." His mother had just been shot twice in the head, and he was about to do a one-man show back in South Africa that very easily might have tanked his career if he hadn't pulled it off, and generally speaking, his words carried the weight of experience and the preternatural insight that propelled him to fame as much or more than his likability, wit, and skill with impressions.
It's not always easy to live by Noah's words, any more than it's easy for a person of faith to accept God's will when tragedy strikes close to home. All of us, whether we ascribe to religion, spirituality, agnosticism, atheism, or homespun wisdom as a means of weathering life's roughest storms, are sometimes nonetheless shaken, humbled, frightened, overcome by sheer sadness... if you're reading this and you've experienced something along these lines, I wish you a degree of comfort. And much love.
Rest in peace, Bonita.
From David Ewald, Nonfiction and Travel Editor
This summer marks my eighth year with Eclectica Magazine. In all those years I never received so many submissions in the nonfiction category as I did in these past four months. Understandably, with a global pandemic in full swing, a reckoning on race in the US that's long overdue, and a presidential election that could very well—and it does not seem hyperbolic writing this—determine the fate of a nation, if not the world, a lot of people have a lot on their minds. Understandably, a lot of people have a lot to say.
I was grateful to read so many strong submissions. Several of the pieces that ultimately didn't make the cut were close contenders. Some pieces I returned to more than once, and, as is the case with many editors, the feel and fit of a piece were the ultimate factors in my decision.
Feel and fit. While COVID-19 is in the news every day, nearly all the pieces that dealt directly with the virus didn't feel right; they didn't fit. The one exception—the only essay I selected that mentions the pandemic—comes courtesy of former Spotlight Author Peter Bridges. What sets "A Memoir of Picking and Planting" apart from the other coronavirus-related essays I read is that in it the virus serves as the catalyst for a host of the author's memories from childhood through late adulthood. The coronavirus is only tangential to Mr. Bridges's essay, and he continues to hold our attention with his nimble style and intimate voice. His writing serves as a valuable historical document in the making.
Scudder Parker, who until now has published only poetry in the pages of Eclectica, returns this time with reminiscences of a pair of cousins and their connections when he was a minister in Vermont ("The Abbots Lawrence"). It's nonfiction focused very much on the subjects rather than the author himself, and for that generosity and vision Mr. Parker is to be commended.
I'd be remiss if I were not to give a nod each to Andrew Bertaina (Unrequited Love: How Before Sunrise Shaped My Love Life") and Alexander Blum ("All the Most Beautiful Girls are in Sikkim"), two authors whose work spoke to me on a personal level. Mr. Blum's piece, to be found in the travel section, concludes with some of the most prescient, haunting words I've read in a good while. To overlook their truth is to shy away from a dangerous symptom that is becoming more common among men.
The above are all great reads, but taken as a whole, this issue emphasizes the women authors of Eclectica. I have made it a point over the years to remain as apolitical as possible; I could no longer maintain that stance for this latest issue, however, given the pair of exceptional pieces submitted by two young women in their early 20s. Reading for the first time "Letter to a Friend" by my nominee for Spotlight Author, Kassidy McIntosh, I was struck by the passion, the intensity, and the urgency of this young woman's writing. Reminiscent of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, "Letter to a Friend" is literature that demands to be read now. It's a piece whose author does the absolute best thing a writer can do: just write one's heart out.
So too does Hannah-Marie Nelson ("In Defense of Democrats and Middle School Girls") take on the current socio-political climate—in this case addressing our present commander in chief and the enduring trauma inflicted on those assaulted by letting "boys be boys." Ms. Nelson is equally honest with herself in these matters. I sincerely hope to read more work by young writers like Ms. McIntosh and Ms. Nelson in the future.
Rounding out this issue we have former Spotlight Author Alice Lowe ("My Hair, Myself") and Mary Zelinka ("In My Skin"), both of whom narrate fragmented personal histories through descriptions focusing on certain areas of their bodies. We have Susan St. Aubin ("To Tell or Not to Tell") dealing with the truth of her memories of her family versus the embellishments of her aspiring author mother—and in the process raises a crucial question for all writers: how much should an author give away about her or his own family to the public for the sake of art, keeping in mind that those revelations will likely outlive the author and be left for the surviving family members to pick up like shattered bits of glass long after the author who made such a fateful decision has passed?
We have a brief but revealing memoir of an ex-partner from Carroll Susco ("My First Fiance"), and, finally, we have a gonzo piece by Juliana Staveley-O'Carroll ("Yelps from the Brink"). Eclectica wouldn't be Eclectica if writers like Ms. Staveley-O'Carroll didn't take risks with their work and produce the eclectic, the zany, the good.
Aside from these 11 pieces of nonfiction, I leave you with this, for now: Wherever you are, however you feel, I hope you are still reading, I hope your mind is still sharp and your mood still up and your body still strong. And if some—or all—of these things are no longer possible or true, at least know that you meant something to me, for the little time in this life you gave me, the words, the feelings, the memories.
From Evan Martin Richards, Poetry Editor
From Gilbert Wesley Purdy, Review Editor
Thanks to Tom Dooley for the support for the Review Section over these years. And to Ann Skea for numerous reviews each issue. It has been a pleasure to serve the readers of Eclectica Magazine. For my last review as Section Editor, I review W. S. Merwin's The Second Four Books of Poems. I may stop back in from time to time to offer a review or a work in another genre in these pages.