Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How I came to know some writers.

Christopher Newgent of Vouched Books sells literary magazines by describing them as "samplers." He argues that they provide a good, economic way to encounter a wide variety of new writers working in many different styles, aesthetics and genres. I really like looking at magazines this way: I generally prefer the sort of deep engagement a larger text allows with a voice, but literary magazines provide exciting opportunities to encounter things you would never otherwise find. (This is why I tend to believe in editorial eclecticism, incidentally, apart from my promiscuous tastes.) Here are a few notes on the short fictions that introduced me to some writers who have truly changed my life.

I first came to know Gabriel Blackwell by reading his story "Play" in The Collagist. This is less a narrative than notes toward a potential narrative, or perhaps a series of rules by which a play might be improvised, or perhaps a series of rules by which a game might be played. This is a hallmark of Gabe's writing and one of my favorite things about it: he trusts the intelligence of his readers to the point where he will publish work that depends on their very real efforts to accomplish anything at all. I remember actually laughing out loud while I read this story -- and this would not be the last time that Gabe made me laugh. Here is an excerpt:
All of the participants wish for their own particular resolution to the situation, resolutions which cannot be reconciled with each other. One of the Jeans will seek to play on this by renouncing his own favored resolution and offering to side with one of the other participants in hopes that, having made a promise of assured collaboration, he might hope for some favor to be thrown his way, a favor out of the scope of the present disagreement but with the salutary effect of rendering its resolution immaterial, for that Jean. This will no doubt enrage his sisters, as it will be against their interests (marriage, and the siring of a legitimate child). Therefore, the favor must place him out of harm’s (in this case, his sisters’) way. This Jean must determine which of the Marks is most capable of sparing him his sisters’ wrath by spiriting him away, or, through financial or diplomatic means, engendering such an escape. 

I discovered Blake Butler's work through the Puerto del Sol slush: I was new to the magazine's staff and Evan asked me to have a look at something he was thinking of publishing. I think I was mildly drunk the first time I read it; by the time I'd finished, I felt dried out, almost painfully sober. (It's my experience you can write with liquor in you if you want but it will take a long time, and the same is true of reading.) This was "Choir(s)," which we would publish in issue 44.2. Blake's story served not only as an introduction to his weird, addictive voice, but as a portal to the worlds of "indie" and electronic publishing, spheres in which I had previously held little interest. Simply put, he showed me what I was missing.


I first read Rachel B. Glaser in No Colony 2 (not coincidentally, Blake Butler's and Ken Baumann's journal). I bought the issue at AWP 2010 when I was just beginning to feel some sense of community with these writers, like we shared something. I can't seem to find my copy now (it was near at hand for months, on the little TV tray thing I use as a desk, though I had already read it, as if I might need to consult it again, and sometimes I did, but this lead to its being crushed somewhat beneath some other books, its cover and some pages bent, so now I've put it away for its safety but I'm not sure where). I will admit that there's a lot about the No Colony aesthetic that distances me. Negotiating that distance can be very pleasurable, but it can also be irritating or at times unsatisfying, depending largely on my mood and other intangibles. Rachel B. Glaser's story "My Boyfriend, but Tragic" is a 9/11 story that brought back the feeling of that moment, that childish tragedy. I remember taking MySpace-style pictures of myself with a small green teddy bear named Clover to express my feelings soon thereafter; I was sixteen; teenagers are, I think, terrible people, but Glaser has a unique talent for tapping into what is beautiful and strange about them. I tell everyone who writes about young people to read her before they continue. I read it on a bed in Denver in a hotel room I shared with my wife (we were recently married) and two close friends, one of which I don't see anymore and one of which I won't see very soon. It made me want to cry.


I find a lot of writers through the slush, actually, which is part of why I don't understand the resentment most writer-editors express toward their submitters. Uncanny Valley exists, in large part, to provide me with the chance to read slush when I am done with Puerto del Sol, as I very nearly am -- it exists to provide me, and Tracy, with the chance to meet new writers, new ways of writing and thinking and loving. He's seemed omnipresent ever since, but I first read Matt Bell in the slush -- he submitted several cataclysm babies, I chose the one where a father builds a very tall tower, and climbs it. I read Tim Dicks in the slush first and I thought, "How is it possible I have not heard of this writer before?" We found Roxanne Carter in the slush. I had read Brian Oliu somewhere before, I think, but it was in the course of preparing to solicit him that I learned about his NES project, that I got a sense of the breadth and depth of his talent.

I will think of more later, I'm sure. Who are some writers you first came to know through their short fiction?

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