From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
In the early days when the magazine was first starting out, I remember wanting to get some business cards made. Fourteen years later, I still haven't gotten around to that particular task, but back when I was seriously looking into it, I brainstormed a bunch of tag lines. The one I still remember is "Elite reading, available to all."
Leaving aside whether or not I've got a future on Madison Avenue, I was thinking about this tag line recently in the context of what I originally hoped to accomplish with Eclectica and what I still hope to accomplish. Back then, the word "elite" hadn't been sullied by the advent of Bush America and the 2008 Presidential primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and at least in some circles, elite-ness was seen as a good thing. These days, there's the academic or intellectual elite, the corporate elite, the media elite... none of those terms carry much of a positive connotation. But what I liked, and like, about my tag line—and again, let me stress that I don't think it's good in the advertising sense—is that it captures one of the key qualities I want Eclectica to have.
The most important quality is captured in the name, because above all I want the freedom to include anything in a given issue that strikes my fancy. But close behind that, I want what appears in Eclectica to be really, really good, and as part of that eclectic goodness, I want to present pieces that many editors and readers would shy away from because they're too esoteric, too intellectual, too controversial, too "thick." The kind of pieces that aren't trying to exclude an audience, but that only an exclusive audience is likely to want to read. They're available to all, but they're not the kind of work you're likely to find elsewhere, even less likely to find all together elsewhere.
I bring all this up because I can't remember an issue that evoked my erstwhile tag line better than this one. From our first Spotlight piece by Jascha Kessler (more on him and his co-Spotlighter, Julia Braun Kessler, in a minute), to the short story "In Vivo" by Lior Klirs, to the genre-busting Travel piece "Crossing the Canal St. Martin" by Emily Grosholz, with many stops in between, there is definitely a demandingly erudite feel to this issue. I'm proud of that range, depth, and density, and while it might not be for everyone, it's certainly there for anyone who is up for the challenge.
Speaking of Jascha and Julia, I'm very proud to present our first ever Spotlight husband and wife. Julia has been contributing her memoirs to Eclectica for a long time now, and her inclusion in the spotlight is as much a reflection of the piece featured in this issue as it is a recognition of her previous work (which, if you haven't read it, I recommend going back and doing so). Jascha first appeared in Eclectica this summer in the previous issue, and I had no idea the two were connected until after I had accepted his near epic essay titled "Reasoning Unreason." His entry this time around is like the movie National Treasure on intellectual steroids. Above and beyond the merits of their individual works, though, I think presenting them together is an interesting portrait of two seemingly very different lives/intellects/careers/personalities nonetheless intertwined.
On another note, something happened during the past week of trying to get this issue finally online after nearly a month of delays (I somehow keep finding myself with less and less time after work, children, etc., which I knew would happen and thank our readers, contributors, and editors for patiently tolerating) that put things in perspective for me. An author had sent in a revised version of his story, and somehow I had mistakenly grabbed the older version to mark up in HTML and edit. In fact, I took an hour of annual leave at work to edit this story, not realizing that I was working on a 5,000-word version that had already been edited down to 3,000 words by the author. Three weeks late and under the proverbial gun, imagine my disappointment when the author looked at the proof copy and reminded me of the newer, shorter version. I wrote him back, grousing about the time I'd spent, and he very patiently explained that, while he regretted my trouble, he was afraid he might be killed if the passages he had removed were to be published. In fact, what remained in the story, given the social and political context in the particular part of the world where this author lives, might still endanger his life.
Not only did I feel like a big baby for worrying about my misspent hour of annual leave, but it also drove home to me that while I may edit this magazine for free in my spare time, and while it may present, on occasion, a huge pain in my daily behind, there is a larger reason for its existence. The act of writing, whether it be poetry, fiction, nonfiction, what have you, is often a risky endeavor, carried out for deeply held reasons, and while its effects may sometimes be hard to quantify, I suspect that they are often profound. The previous sentence with all its various parts holds true for individuals and entire societies, and the risks and benefits, while they may not always be so obvious as suicide bombers and civil rights movements, are just as important to each of us in our separate, various spheres of influence and existence.
Farah Mehreen Ahmad, in her essay "Baronneses of the Fourth Exile" in this issue's Nonfiction section, presents a number of female authors who have exemplified the risk-taking and value-adding I describe above. However, another author in this issue took risks of a more personal nature to present information that she worries may someday cause her trouble in her profession. This author isn't risking death, torture, or banishment, but her willingness to knowingly put herself in some kind of harm's way so that we, as readers, might benefit from the insights I feel her work offers... is something I both appreciate and admire.
I guess what I'm saying is that, for a moment I was both humbled and encouraged, because I realized my own sacrifices, however banal they may be, are both pleasantly trifling compared to what other people are dealing with—and made more worthwhile precisely because of what other people are dealing with.
All that said, I'd like to shut up and let you who wish to read this issue get started. Before I sign off, though, I'd like to mention just two news items regarding former contributors. Indira Chandrasekhar has founded an online magazine, Out of Print, for writing from the Indian subcontinent, and Micah Nathan was kind enough to send me a copy of his second novel, Losing Graceland, which will be coming out this coming January.
Best wishes and happy reading,