Jul/Aug 2008

From the Editors

From Tom Dooley, Editor

Decay and renewal. These are two major themes of my existence (and everyone else's, of course), and the last few weeks have been rich in both. First, my trusty laptop, with which the last four years of Eclectica have been generated, finally decided to give up the ghost. It's presently in a sort of cryogenic sleep until I can find a techie wily enough to salvage all those emails, songs, and pictures that I wasn't able to fit onto the lifeboats before the darned thing capsized.

Then my even trustier automobile, with which I've traversed the last eight years worth of streets, roads, and highways, from Wisconsin to California to New Mexico, finally gave enough hints that, at 136,000 miles, it, too, was ready to go gently into that good trade-in.

As for Eclectica, which has been a part of my life for a dozen years now, it may be limping along on vintage HTML coding, but it otherwise shows no signs of imminent demise.

The spotlight turns to LeeAnn Pickrell, one of many fine poets in this issue. I asked our poetry editor, Jennifer Finstrom, why she nominated LeeAnn for the spotlight, and she said that LeeAnn "hadn't held back" in sharing with the reader details and crystal clear images that really "let the reader in." She felt that the last line of the poem "Between Market and Mission," where the narrator says, "I walk an edge between grief and possibility," summed up her own emotional response to these five poems as a whole.

For my part, I had an immediate recognition of the images in John Grochalski's "Cat Vomit." It's almost like he's been spying on the Dooley-King household!

We have a solid bunch of short stories, a few of them fitting right in with the theme of decay and renewal, most of them examples of extreme (in one way or another) first-person narration—from a girl whom Jesus raised from the dead to a hapless Wal-Mart cart wrangler who learns to pick his battles.

The former is "Talitha Cumi" by Grace Andreacchi, and like her "The First Stone" in the previous issue, it dramatizes a Biblical event in such a way that it becomes a "real" event happening to "real" people. What I like about these stories is that, while obviously religious in their subject matter and tone, they aren't a bit preachy, and yet they capture the very personal, life-altering relationship that I imagine all Christians wish they could have with their Savior. On a stylistic level, Andreachhi's stories are religious parable meets magical realism.

The cart wrangler, meanwhile, is brought to us in "Ten at a Time" by Joshua McComas, who draws upon his experiences as a former Wal-Mart employee. I confess that before I read this story, I didn't know what the title was referring to, but just the other day I was at Home Depot, waiting for a young man to bring in a load of carts, and sure enough, he was pushing exactly ten of them. I was of course unable to determine whether he was a natural rule-abider, or if like McComas' character, he had come to a zen-like acceptance of his own sphere of influence.

As always, I'd love to talk at length about the other eight stories I selected for this issue, but I'll just say that each of them moved, humored, informed, and/or challenged me in some way that led me to feel they deserved your attention.

There are fewer nonfiction, humor, and travel pieces than in issues past, but the ones we have are worth giving a look-see. In the travel section, I was moved somewhat unexpectedly by Micah Nathan's "The Not-So Lonesome Highway." I suppose it's because, while the loss of some place can be tragic, the loss of nowhere adds another layer of tragedy: it's ironically tragic, or tragically ironic.

Having taken a couple trips to Haiti this summer (more on that in a minute), I found Andie Miller's piece, "Border Crossings," where she talks about the idea of "confronting (one's) whiteness," a thoughtful and thought-provoking read.

In the wake of the recent scandal over the New Yorker's satirical Barack and Michelle Obama cover, we have our own potentially offensive piece of satire in this issue. Eric Thurschwell has Arabs pursuing Olympic gold in the perhaps not-so-new sport of waterboarding. You decide if Eclectica has gone too far, or if Thurschwell's piece would be a great subject for one of those famously irreverent New Yorker cartoons.

There's plenty of book reviews and interviews, providing insight from and about a lot of interesting writers and works. Gilbert Purdy has a very nice trio of reviews in this issue, one of them on a poet our regular readers know well, Grzegorz Wroblewski, whose book Our Flying Objects really is a well-crafted little volume that I proudly display on my desk at my "day job." Speaking of incestuousness in the reviews and interviews section, Tania Hershman has an interview with UK writer Vanessa Gebbie, who has represented Alex Keegan's Bootcamp writers in Eclectica on several occasions. It's good to see Vanessa doing so well.

Colleen Mondor does a great job as always of providing a wide-ranging peek into the world of children's literature. Recent developments in my life have caused me to appreciate what Colleen does in this regard on a personal level.

I urge you not to overlook Thomas J. Hubschman's essay in the Salon. Hubschman also has a short story in this issue, by the way—a vivid portrayal of old school misogyny. It's his first piece of fiction in Eclectica since 2004.

Hubschman's Salon piece talks abut the concept of evil. I discovered by doing a quick Google search that I've written a great many of my own Salon essays over the years about evil, almost as if I were obsessed with the subject. Possessed, even. Anyway, my favorite on the topic, for some odd reason, doesn't come up on Google at all. It's called "Villains!" and in it, I compare George W. Bush to an old guy who plowed his Buick through a Los Angeles street fair a few years ago, killing and maiming literally dozens of people. Hmmm. Should my conspiracy theorist side be concerned that this is the only essay of mine that doesn't show up on Google? I provide the link here, in an effort to counteract this Googlian sabotage.

Some quick news about past contributors...

Liliana Blum's new story "Stalin's Wife" is up on Words Without Borders. Nicholas Hogg's "Close Encounter" was recently featured in Bookslut. The aforementioned Grace Andreacchi has started a blog about all things literary—each week riffing on a different theme. Igoni Barrett just published an extract from his novel-in-progress in Guernica. Last but certainly not least, Caroline Kepnes is writing for the show The Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family. An episode she wrote airs in September.

Recently I broke down and joined the Facebook revolution. What drove me to it was the idea that we—the people who edit, read, and contribute to Eclectica—could use Facebook as a convenient medium for exchanging information, comments, and whatever else. For example, I've started a discussion thread on our best poems of all time (my nomination to kick things off is Frank Van Zant's "Pete Reiser & The Ebbet’s Outfield Wall" from the winter 2000 issue). If you're interested, I hope you'll check it out. For those who aren't technologically savvy or are leery of things like MySpace, I assure you that it's easy and innocuous. You can join and find Eclectica's group on your own, but if anyone needs an invite to make the process simpler, just drop me an email and I'll be happy to send you one.

Finally, for those who've expressed an interest in the adoption I mentioned last issue, I thank you for your kind words and best wishes. At this time, we're in step two of eight as we navigate the Haitian side of the process. Each step can take a wildly varying amount of time, which means we could be bringing the children home in a matter of months, or it could be another year or more. I said children because there's been an addition to the family. We are now the proud, prospective parents of eight-year-old Lise, whom we committed to on our first trip in March, and five-year old Evans, whom we committed to on our second trip in May. We're going back again in August, but this time we're just visiting—we won't be committing to a third child, I swear (although I'd gladly adopt a hundred of these children if I could).

I hope you enjoy the issue, give joining Eclectica's Facebook group some thought, and have a wonderful summer.


Port-au-Prince, May '08