Earthscape artwork by Andres Amador
From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
Judging from the sentiments on Facebook and television, most of us are happy to be leaving the year 2020 in our rear view. Most of us are also a little trepidatious about how things might go in 2021. As a wise man once said, "There's always worse." But whatever happens, there's reason to be hopeful about the fortunes of one intrepid online literary magazine. Eclectica is beginning our 25th year on the World Wide Web, a milestone I appreciate on several levels, one being I've now been editing this publication for as many years as I was alive when it started.
Speaking of appreciating things on many levels, the artwork accompanying this issue strikes me as perfect for kicking off the quadranscentennial (which, I gather, is sort of a word?) of a publication that really only exists in the form of electrons pinging around on the Internet, coalescing on the screens of a few thousand devices across the globe. There is both an intangibility and a permanence to virtual publishing at least a little bit similar to what Andres Amador does. I mean, what Andres does is a lot cooler—not to mention, transcendent— but once he and his crew have done their work, it's not going directly on anyone's wall. A picture of it might, but that picture is only a memory of what it was like to be there, to participate in the work, to sit or stand in the middle of the creation as the sun goes down and the waves start rolling in to do their impassive erasure. It's fitting those permanent but virtual depictions of an emphemoral but real artistic event should grace our "pages."
I want to mention something else about Andres and why featuring his work is meaningful to me. About the time Chris Lott was masterminding the birth of Eclectica, I was teaching at a small, rural school about an hour's drive south of Fairbanks, Alaska, not far from Denali National Park. One of my fellow teachers at that school was a woman whose presence was a gift—whether they knew it or not—to the kids (they certainly did) and the community. Donna was wise, learned, patient, and tough. I'm glad we've kept in touch over the years (thanks, Facebook!), so that when I saw the amazing things her son has been up to (he's actually been at it for well over a decade), I could ask him to be a part of our ever-growing community of writers, artists, and readers.
The fiction section turned out to be the usual collection of wildly different tales, authored by a nine writers with very different backgrounds, only one of them, Arthur Davis, having appered in our pages before. I love it when we have "repeat offenders" just as much as I love newcomers—who will become regular contributors themselves, I hope. Past and future acknowledged, it's the present stories worthy of our attention. As I said, they're wildly different, and yet, as often happens, they seem to play off each other in a subtle game of literary Marco Pollo. Jonathan Truong asks in the title of his story, "Where Are You Going? Where Am I Going?"—these are universal questions, and they might as well be asking, "Who are you? Who am I?" Whether the answers have to do with one's sense of self, how one connects to others, how one is perceived, or how one perceives others, the rest of the stories in this issue explore the same set of questions—as do all good stories, I suppose.
Speaking of Marco Pollo, sometimes there are strong callouts to other sections of the issue. David Raney's excellent essay "No Thyself" takes on the aforementioned identity questions directly, and David Comfort's piece, "LET THERE BE DARKNESS! The Genesis and Exodus of Death" in Humor & Satire, provides a more academic—albeit biting and funny—companion to Elisabeth Hewer's fiction piece "The Nameless Wives Aboard the Ark."
"Knocker" by Deya Bhattacharya was voted this issue's Spotlight winner. It's a contemporary and original gem, somehow still embodying a classical feel, as though the ghost of O. Henry collaborated with Ms. Bhattacharya but didn't strongarm her out of her own voice. Congrats to Deya, and also to Spotlight Runners-up Wade Bell ("Father and Son" in Nonfiction) and Cat Dixon ("Missed Connection" in Poetry).
I'm still filling in as interim Review and Interview Editor, where I benefitted from a solid batch of work by folks who've contributed to Eclectica for years, including the poets Carole Mertz and Christine Potter, all of whom I'm hoping have informally joined our permanent "review crew." I also put together the Humor & Satire section, where two former fiction contributors, David Flynn and Marlene Olin, join Omer Wissman and David B. Comfort not so much for their comedic stylings (although there are funny moments) as for the way all these pieces say something cutting and off-kilter about our off-kilter world.
Before I sign off, I'd like to point out some subtle changes to the site. Over the coming months, I'll be undertaking the not-insignificant task of extending those changes to all 5,000 pages in the archives. They involve a much-needed HTML and CSS tuneup, higher resolution icons, and in the review section, updated Amazon links. These latter links, with our readers' help, will provide a small source of revenue. Eclectica has always been a non-commercial labor of love, but sometime in this, our third decade online, I'm hoping to begin paying all our contributors. The referral fees we'll get every time a reader clicks on one of the new cover links and buys a book (any book during that visit—doesn't have to correspond to the linked one) will not immediately make this happen, but it will be a step in the right direction. Other steps are in the works. So if you want to be a part of taking this publication to another level, please consider doing so by treating yourself to a book on Amazon—all we need you to do is get there through one of our links.
Here's to making 2021 a better year than its predecessor, and here's to celebrating Eclectica's "Silver Anniversary"!
From Evan Martin Richards, Poetry Editor
Happy new year and welcome to the winter issue!
I hope this note finds you well, and I hope that you have been able to enjoy the holiday season with those close to you, quarantined or virtually. There is still much that needs fixing in the world, and while the changing of the calendar may only be symbolic, it's hard not to imagine better things on the horizon—here's hoping we can make a great new year together.
As I read through this issue's poetry, I see threads emerge, themes that resonate personally and that seem to inhabit the collective consciousness as of late: people, their presence and lack thereof, the other; reflection and worry; the passing of time and the convergence of past and present. In any event, it's an assortment of strong pieces from authors new and returning (including Spotlight Runner-Up Cat Dixon, whose work first appeared in Eclectica in the summer issue of 2009).
The close of 2020 brought a lot of word poem submissions—as always, I'm happy to see so many writers take part in our challenge! We're still constructing the Word Poem section at the time of this note, so keep an eye out for its imminent release! In the meantime, here are the words for next issue's challenge: last, held, find, and town.
From David Ewald, Nonfiction, Travel, and Miscellany Editor
I wasn't going to write anything this time around, but then January 6th happened, and now I feel compelled to express a few words here:
Why write? Why create? Why submit one's work for publication when the chances of rejection are so real and, for a great many, painful, if even just a little so? For a long time I used to submit my writing consistently. Over time I came to the decision that enough was enough, I had done enough. I used to often write to myself the words, "Never give up." Yet I felt little shame when I went cold turkey.
Despite my past, I look to the future as an editor, and I commend those who continue to submit. I know it's not easy. But I also know now why we write, why we create. The answer is to push back on and combat the alternative, the antithesis of creation: destruction, chaos, lies and distortions, and the cult of personality so many have embraced through fear stemming from a lack of critical thinking and an inability or unwillingness to create. It's easier to break a window than it is to write an essay. It's easier to taunt, to heckle, to throw insults and fists, than it is to use words in a way that will ensure those words last. It's easier to be the bully and the opportunist than it is to be doing the hard work of bringing truth, any kind of truth, to light.
In the last two months of 2020, I became a true News Junky. One of my few reprieves from the insanity and the inanity of it all were the submissions I read for Eclectica. Many pieces had something to offer, but the five that made the cut did what the best nonfiction does: take me out of the world I'm inhabiting and place me in the world of another for a time. I entered the world of Marianna Marlowe, who writes of her mother, a border crossing, being caught between two countries, and an apology of sorts in "The Raffle Prize Winner." Joe Bardin ("Netflix Jew") is back to draw us into his world of binge-watching, Judaism, Israel, and immortalism—and the connections therein. A special citation goes to Alison Iglehart, whose memoir of her time at Austen Riggs in late 1974 and early 1975, "The Experience of Absence," is the longest piece I've ever accepted. Iglehart's work is notable for its dialogue, much of which is unexpected, unusual, even haunting. In the end, the origins of Iglehart's problems may remain obscure, but perhaps that's the point. To me this piece, though set in the mid-1970s, speaks much to our time now. The struggle to connect, the rush to judgment, the mistrust of those who might be of assistance, the breakdown of verbal communication, the absence of an explanation for why one feels the way one feels and does what one does—it's possible "The Experience of Absence" serves as a kind of metaphor for early 2021 when, just as in 1974, there was a changeover in a presidential administration, and the country's psyche was fragile, volatile.
Finishing off the five, we have David Raney returning with another sharp essay, this one concerning identity ("No Thyself"), and my nominee for Spotlight Author, Wade Bell ("Father and Son"), a northerly neighbor who provides timely perspective (and introspection) on my country while bringing to mind my own father—and what possible words the two of us have left to exchange, beyond.
In this new year, this new decade, as an administration of hate gives way to an administration with at least the potential for healing, I urge you to keep writing. Keep sending out your work. Keep fighting. Don't give up. Never give up.