This issue of MR includes work by nine writers from three
continents. Some have published extensively, and some are publishing
here for the first time. Each piece in this issue is an absolute wonder,
according to me, and I hope you will think so as well.
For those who are interested, I want to talk some about how
I picked them. The story begins with me having a crisis of conscience.
I am reading submissions for the online version of Blip Magazine Archive, a
magazine which I have esteemed for many years, since well before my
association with it. As an example, let me cite MR 40/41, the Minimalist
Fiction issue from Winter 1985. (This was way prior to the online
Blip Magazine Archive, of course--it was the era of the ASCII Mona Lisa.)
MR 40/41 was guest-edited by Kim Herzinger (writer, critic,
biographer). The cover features the Mississippi State Flower as rendered
by Ed Lindlof. I want to praise Mr. Lindlof: if you grow up in
Mississippi, as I partly did, you get to where you want to vomit every time
you see a painting of a magnolia blossom. This is the only Mississippi
State Flower illustration I have ever seen that has made me happy, and I still
feel happy every time I see it. Lindlof's blossom is on the verge of
falling to pieces (like the ones I most remember), and it is accompanied by
talking insects and a very cross mockingbird. The mockingbird is the
State Bird of Mississippi, and Lindlof's version has a scary, Athena-like
aggrievedness in its eyes. It would make a great emblem for the
new State Flag.
I was not a subscriber to MR (or any magazine) in 1985.
The Minimalist Issue was given to me for my 19th birthday by my girlfriend at
the time, who inscribed it. I remember studying the cover and also the
small figures and drawings inside, and admiring them. The look and
design of this book was of great importance to me. (Art direction for MR
40/41 was by F. Jeanneret--a steady hand over the years.) Then I started
reading it, and I just got pulled in and in. First there was Herzinger's
opening essay, a model for clear, careful, descriptive criticism (as in, like,
Aristotle). Then there was a bundle of brief essays by students and
non-students of the new school of Minimalist writing; and then also, an
interview with Raymond Carver. It wasn't only the intelligence of these
people, but it was the particular quality of the intelligence: something I now
won't be able to adequately define, even though the difference was as vivid as
the difference between Crest and Close-Up.
I guess, really, what I'm talking about is something as
simple as finding the people who share some of your own unspoken assumptions
about the world. There are many things too private to speak about, and
many others too private to even be thought, someone said, and all these
private things are factors in the big equation of what appeals and what
doesn't. How do I make friends in a crowd? By noticing who cracks
up when I do, or who starts fidgeting at the same moment. I don't know
what makes me fidget--and I don't know what makes my eyes pop with
embarrassment, or what warms my heart, until it happens--and then I look
around and see if anybody else is looking the way I feel, and then if I see
somebody, and have that recognition, well then I know I'm not alone.
This, if you can decipher it, is how I describe the
experience of reading through the Minimalist Issue. It was like, OK, OK,
I get it, yes. It was good. I thought, There are a bunch of
writers and smart people in the world, and then there are the ones I can
understand, who are talking to me. This was an immensely valuable
experience, and the one I think I am still hoping for any time I open a new
But anyway--back to my crisis. I am now reading
submissions for the online Blip Magazine Archiveand I am sensible of a grave
burden. Many serious and accomplished writers are sending me their work, and it
is on me to sort through and pull out the ones that will be recognized as the
best. Now I forget everything else and try to think, what makes a story
good? Well, I don't know; so, what makes a story bad, then?
So I make a list of reasons to reject a story, which I will
not reproduce here because it was, finally, unhelpful. If you read or
talk much about "creative writing" then you can probably imagine the
kinds of things I came up with, like "Tries to gross me out in the first
paragraph," "Has sloppy writing," and that sort of thing.
It's true that I don't like stories (or people) who make a game out of trying
to gross me out; but saying that doesn't really bring me any closer to knowing
what I do want.
Then, the next thing that happened was, I despaired and
wanted to give up. It was too much work; too great a responsibility to
be the adjudicator. It was tiring. It bothered me when I didn't
know what to say in the rejection note: I submit work to magazines too, and
have for a long time, and so of course I wanted to be one of the good guys who
can state a reason for the rejection. But I found myself studying ways
to be vague. I'd send back a note saying "Sorry, this failed to
pull me in," or some such poppycock--trying to seem like I knew what I
was talking about.
Finally, I got tired enough that I just started saying No,
No, No. This was a failure, in my view, but it was also a relief.
Instead of trying to understand what my guidelines were, I was just looking at
stuff and rejecting it because I could tell, some way, that it wasn't what I
wanted. It was not a pure pleasure, of course, because I was aware that
on the other end of each submission was a person more or less like me, waiting
for affirmation. But, there was nothing I could do about it. I
couldn't accept everything--life's too short, and my brain is too small.
What happened, though--and I'm coming to the end of the
story, and the point--is that very rarely, I would come upon something,
bleary-eyed and feeble-minded from reading many screens, and I'd find myself
sitting up straighter and smiling and wanting to go on further into a piece.
First I'd think, I can't find a reason to reject this. Then, often
before I'd even finished reading the piece, I'd be thinking, This is an
exception and I want it to go in the magazine.
There--now I've said what I should have known all along,
and what everyone reading this probably already knows: that there are rules
for making art, but when the art gets really good, and really starts to speak
to somebody, the rules disappear. Everything disappears except for the
connection that's being made. This is an old-fashioned way of looking at
art but it's true and we had all better believe it! Art is expression,
in a medium. The medium isn't the point: it's the connection between
people that is the point. When it works it's always weird and anomalous
and spontaneous and irreproducible.
Well, let me close by first, assuring you that the owners
and administrators of Blip Magazine Archivedid not put me up to praising a past
issue so extravagantly. I do however expect at least a 20% increase in
my salary in return for this praise. Second, I want to thank the couple
of hundred writers who submitted work for this issue and did not have their
work accepted. If another person had been making the choices, this issue
would have looked very different. That, I think, is the whole point..