As many of you will know, I recently took over as Fiction Editor at The View From Here literary magazine. The first issue featuring the stories I selected has just been published. I promise you that it is entirely coincidental that this is also the last printed edition of TVFH. From now on it’s all digital.
I don’t know if that is a sad thing or not, the evolution to digital. I do know that many literary magazines are making the same decision. Run by people who do it for love rather than money, even so the costs of small print runs can make the price of the magazines prohibitively expensive. Not all though – the excellent Words with Jam just launched its first printed edition! Meanwhile the online literary scene is vibrant and booming. There’s a good article here by Kirsty Logan on finding the balance between online and print.
So you can now read the first four stories that I chose (see below for details on how to get your mitts on them) and I wanted to explain why these stories made it in when many many more did not. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to make personalised responses to writers whose work I turn down. But perhaps knowing what made me choose these stories could be interesting?
When I started to read submissions, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. Just that I thought I would know it when I saw it. Something that was a delight to read, something fresh, exciting…that elicited an emotional response. It had to fit in with the ‘style’ of TVFH and if all that wasn’t enough, I also knew I wanted the stories I chose to be complementary – to fit together in the issue they would share.
I read around 100 submissions, which included a very high standard of writing. So why did I choose these particular stories?
The writing stood out from the crowd. It’s very hard to describe how that works, except to say that upon opening the stories, by one paragraph in I was no longer ‘filtering submissions’ but reading a story that had pulled me right in. The writing that attracted my attention tended to be bold, tight, and unrestrained by ‘The Rules’. Also it had to be well edited, because aside from a few editorial suggestions, I’m afraid I don’t have the time to go through a piece correcting typos etc.
I was very fortunate in that the stories that stood out for me last month had a common thread that pulls them together: I ended up with four male protagonists, all searching for something inside themselves. The themes are rather dark, although admittedly this was a general trend across all 100 submissions. I also felt the stories both complemented each other and contrasted, because they were crafted in very different ways:
Bone Fire by A.J. Ashworth
Written in second-person, present tense, a tough feat to pull off, but delivered seamlessly. Here, the characterisation is deftly and tightly woven into a relatively short story. It instilled a kind of panic in me as I read it.
Yellow Fingers by Michael Saul
I found the voice of Joe Jack in this both authentic and unusual. Reading the unforgiving descriptions accompanied by the rough dialect felt a lot like rubbernecking. The imagery is ugly but it held a strange fascination for me.
Man Answers Ad by Anthony Spaeth
Reading this story for the first time was like being seated front row at some kind of absurdist theatre. ‘Waiting for Godot’, perhaps. But unlike some writing which seems to be trying hard to be ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ this seemed entirely natural. The bizarre narrative held up throughout the whole story and I wondered where it was going. I loved how, in the ending, the reader is nudged gently towards a conclusion.
I’m already gone by James Lloyd Davis
A piece of flash fiction that could easily be part of a bigger story. This hints at such a complicated backstory, and then invites the reader to fill in the character, his past, his future, his wife’s future…stretching out your imagination like ripples on a pond.
If you’re a TVFH subscriber, I would be really interested to hear what you think about this issue and the stories I chose. If you are not, well The View From Here can be ordered here, either in printed format or, for your e-reader or computer in digital format for only $1 or £0.69
UPDATE: SUMMER 2014 – I handed over the editor’s baton last year to Kate Brown, after my writing commitments left me with little time to read submissions. Kate has picked some cracking stories over the last few months, you should go and read them.