Last issue, I had a few things to get off my chest, and while I wasn't particularly proud of the way I initially expressed those things, I felt they needed to be said. I also felt that the subsequent flurry of comments on various literary discussion boards proved (and continue to prove, thank you) the points I was trying to make, and that they ultimately led to a reasonable (from my point of view) resolution. However, I took it to heart when one of my critics chastised me for focusing insufficient attention on the work of our contributors in the last issue. I will not repeat the same mistake here.
First, a word about our expanding editorial staff. For the first two years, Eclectica was the Tom and Chris show. Then it was the Tom show. Then Tom and Julie. Finally, we began to see the light; there was just no way we were going to be able to keep this up on our own, and having other people involved would provide an invaluable richness of perspective, not to mention free labor. We've set about indenturing as many hapless souls as we can find, strapping them to the oars, squeezing every last drop of energy out of them.
They've responded magnificently. Paul Sampson has already re-tooled the Miscellany and Nonfiction sections and given them an impressive collective heft. Michael Spice has put the Travel section on the map. Kevin McGowin continues to move mountains with the Review Section, and he's added a contributing Children's Book Review Editor in Colleen Mondor. And for the second issue running, John Reinhard has assisted Julie with Poetry. It's truly becoming a collective effort. And hey, there's still room under the salary cap for an Art Director, a Technical Director, and an Assistant Fiction Editor. All three positions come with corner offices and free parking.
Now comes the part where I do a quick imitation of a National Pubic Radio fundraiser drive. Want to help pay for those corner offices? Or, more realistically, fund future volumes of print anthologies for fiction, poetry, and nonfiction? If you think what we're doing here is worthwhile, all we ask is your donation of $20 or so, and instead of an NPR coffee cup, we'll send a copy of Eclectica Best Fiction Volume One. Operators are standing by. Just send us an email telling us you want one, or click HERE for more information.
Speaking of Eclectica Best Fiction, an argument could be made that stories in this issue comprise a volume unto themselves. Because I've spent more time with the fiction than with the rest of the material in this issue, I'll focus the bulk of my remaining comments on it. But before I get going on fiction, I'd like to say a few words about the poetry. A big welcome to Amari Hamadene, whose poems mark the first appearance of French verse in Eclectica. I'd like to point out that the Word Poems section in this issue represents one of the best turn-outs we've had yet. It's becoming a meeting place of sorts for former Spotlight authors, poetry editors from other publications, Eclectica staff, and anybody who enjoys a poetry challenge. This is not to say that "Word Poems" don't go through a selection and editing process. I challenge anyone to find fault with Taylor Graham's "Through Another Kitchen Window." And while I'm clearly biased in my opinions, I think Julie King does a hell of a job with her word poem each issue, achieving a far greater consistency than I do with my editorials! It is to say, however, that the point of the Word Poems is not just the poems themselves, but the exercise. It's fascinating to see what variety can be generated from the same four words. Sometimes reading these poems feels like watching a group of talented dancers free-styling to the same beat but coming up with entirely different interpretations.
On to the fiction. I've expressed to our writers that I'm almost embarrassed to have so many stories in one issue. That I feel like I'm either not being discriminating enough as an editor, or that I'm being piggish. To exorcize those feelings (for my own peace of mind if anything), I'd like to point out that it took a LOT of discriminating to winnow down this issue's fiction submissions to the ones we ultimately accepted. Thanks to our strong showing in storySouth's Million Writer's Award for Fiction and our fiction anthology's finalist status for an Independent Publisher Book Award, we received twice as many fiction submissions as we have in the recent past. Add to that influx the continuing development of authors we've worked with before, and we were awash in great stories. Ultimately, my deliberations as an editor came down to this: from the beginning, our philosophy has been that if there was only one story that we really loved, then there was only going to be one story in that issue. If there were no stories we really loved, there would be no stories in that issue. So, conversely, it's only fair that if there are a dozen or more stories that we're crazy about, then, by heck, they're all going in.
The stories in this issue range from the dignified character studies of Spotlight Author Joan Shaddox Isom to the heretical irreverence of Christopher Orlet. They transport the reader to Bangkok (D.A. Taylor), Istanbul (Sylvia Petter), provincial India (Padma Prasad), and back to the heart of good ol' USA. Carolyn Steele Agosta and Dennis Kaplan show us two very different facets of single motherhood in America, while Corey Mesler and David J. LeMaster provide equally divergent examples of sexually frustrated American males. What a picture these four stories paint of our country, where the women raise their children by themselves and the boys wind up equally alone, impotent in one sense or another. Adam Marcus goes back to the beginning of a previous generation and shows where the process may have started with the effects of divorce on a young boy. Even the narrator of Joel Best's story seems to be the product of a broken home. All of which, I suppose, emerges as a theme in American writing, becoming more obvious here when juxtaposed with fiction from other countries. If there's one thread that has "united" much of the United States in the last few decades, it's divorce and bad parenting. Why shouldn't they show up in most of our writing?
I certainly wasn't looking for unifying themes when I chose these stories, though. If anything, I was shooting for as much diversity as possible. One piece in particular illustrates the eclectic philosophy for which we strive. Charles Yu's story, like Anthony W. Brown's "AquaSerene (A Fish Story)" in our last issue or John Gray's "The Banana Breakfast" from the October/November 2003 issue, stretches the boundaries form-wise of what can be considered a short story, but at the end of it, I still felt the transformation, the turning of the corner that for me signifies a successful fictional journey.
Which brings me to Louis Malloy and Alexandra Fox, who, along with Sylvia Petter, Janet Kieffer, and the aforementioned Carolyn Steele Agosta, are all current or former members of Alex Keegan's Boot Camp appearing in this issue of Eclectica. If there is another writers' workshop having so great an impact on the world of literature, in terms of great new fiction being generated and polished, and in terms of great new writers being developed, then it has thus far escaped my attention. Kudos to Keegan for giving us Boot Camp, and kudos to the authors who people it for their hard work and dedication to their craft. And, of course, thanks to Alex and the rest for sending their work our way.
So, yeah, it's a bit more than can be read over one or two cups of coffee. I hope that as a reader you'll like what you see enough to keep coming back until you've had a chance to check it all out, and I hope you'll feel encouraged to drop the authors a line to let them know how much you enjoyed a piece—or me a line if you have any criticisms to make, good or bad.
July 1, 2004
Read Michael Spice's Travel Editor's Call for Submissions.