An Introduction in 750 Words
knew I was in for trouble when I asked for "daring" and "silly"
short shorts that, as I foolishly put it, "stretched the confines
of the well-crafted story."
Here's a taste of what I
got: Elvis onboard alien spaceships, one-line jokes, Pinocchio jokes,
two-line jokes, knock-knock jokes, three-line jokes. People waking up
as VW bugs, people waking up as dogs, people waking up dead. Pervert
ex-presidents, King Kong playing baseball, hippos playing "rock,
paper, scissors," women turning into flies, frog princes, bug detectives,
streakers hanging from bridges, sex involving heavy Russian novels,
immortal junkies, zombies in a convertible, the elephant man's love
child, Jesus in a convertible, and more Elvis stories. One joker thought
he could get past the 750 word limit by running all the words of his
novel together. Submission by submission, my inbox turned into a madhouse.
I want to salute everybody
who submitted for the sheer guts it took to write something as bizarre
and then send it out for possible publication and public humiliation.
Silly, I've come to understand, does not mean frivolous or gratuitous,
and it doesn't necessarily mean funny. It means having the courage to
look like a fool. What I was really looking for was the courage to take
risks, and the writers who submitted all took astounding risks.
One thing I knew for sure:
I didn't want to publish what I call "dead baby stories."
If you ask me, not every piece of fiction has to be a heartbreaking
work of staggering genius. Other arts are quite happy to surprise you,
amuse you, or make you throw a hissy fit. Being earnest really isn't
all that important, and breaking hearts is overrated.
Leafing through literary
mags or digging around bookstore tables, all I seem to see is terribly
earnest fiction, as if literature, "serious" literature, was
now a genre among many. Just as sci-fi is characterized by robots and
space aliens and crime by hot babes and guns, I sometimes wonder if
literary fiction now means fiction about cancer, dying babies, or failed
family relationships -- but characterized primarily by an absence of
robots, guns, and babes. As if literary fiction wasn't free to transcend
genre, to do as it pleases.
You won't find Abraham Lincoln
in a speedboat or Pinocchio on crack in this issue, but the stories
I picked from my freakshow inbox do cover the entire spectrum from rampant
all-out nuttiness to more or less straight glimpses of larger stories
seen through the fleeting window of a few paragraphs. Certain entries,
like John Minichillo's "Here" or A. Papatya Bucak's "Rabbi
in a Tea Cup," I only wish were silly. Their absurdity is the absurdity
of real life, here, now. From the reasonably sane shorts by Ginger Strand,
Camille Renshaw and Beck Finley, it's a twisted path to the bizarre
Jules-Verne-meets-Tetsuo erudition of Norman Lock, the doomed pleasures
of Matt Briggs, the cruel yet poetic fantasy world of Eric Bosse, and
the weightless hope of Steven Salardino. As ridiculous as they are familiar,
we all can instantly recognize the giddiness of Katherine Eittreim's
"Hotel Love" and the sweet honesty of Michael Dermansky's
"Intraocular Pressure." As in the shorts by Sasha Pepper,
Ron Morelli, and Keith Regan, their silliness is entirely in the props
and circumstances - but not at all in the emotions on display.
And that's how these stories
succeed: they begin with whimsy and arrive at places that matter. Emotional
weight is more readily on display at funeral homes and hospitals, but
the writers in this issue perform the magic of finding it at the circus,
the funhouse, or the local pub long after closing time. Regardless of
what they find, they don't feel compelled to parade their seriousness
around as if it were a badge of literary merit. All of them would make
great, great animated movies.
Finally, a thank you to
everybody who sent their best wishes when I was robbed. Among the stolen
items was the computer that held hundreds of submissions for this issue.
The experience was disturbing and painful. Somehow, though, I draw an
odd kind of calm from the idea that somewhere in their den of thieves,
the robbers are sitting surrounded by their loot, reading short shorts,
puzzled, intrigued, and amazed. Maybe, as we speak, a secret underground
network is evolving where stolen stories are exchanged for goods: one
space Elvis worth a fifth of Scotch, flying hippos for a hot dog, a
sexually deviant president for a warm place to sleep.
The title of Jürgen
Fauth's dissertation is Crude Nonsense. He lives in New York