This online issue of the Blip Magazine Archiveis the first
installment of an "all fiction joint issue," the second installment
of which is a print issue, slated for publication in the fall of
2007. The print issue will include these stories and additional work
by John Barth, Rick Moody, Mary Grimm, John Holman, Victoria
Lancelotta, James Whorton, Jr., Tao Lin, Hannah Pittard, Will Boast,
and others. It also includes a long interview with T.C. Boyle.
You can pre-order your copy of the print issue by clicking
here and becoming a subscriber.
There is a moment in Ann Beattie’s "My Life at the Very Top"
where I begin to get vertigo from the switchback twists and turns,
and then I tell myself, "trust her," and give myself over completely
to the ride, like a kid back at Coney Island, and it’s surefire—she
brings me down to those last two sentences, which are pitch perfect
and filled with exquisite longing for lost time, and I am in love
all over again with Ann Beattie, whom I first came to trust over
thirty years ago in her debut novel Chilly Scenes of Winter,
racing ahead in those last pages to find Laura at last in Charles’
arms, which is to say, in my arms, safe at last. (Years later I felt
cheated when I saw the movie version and Charles doesn’t get
Laura—were they kidding?—but the dreary mess was redeemed for
me by the sight of Ann Beattie in a bit part, playing an astonished
I love the image of Beattie in her little apartment at the
Altamont, writing late into the evening, then signaling goodnight to
one of her best friends across the way, whose light was also
glowing. It reminds me of something Elizabeth Bishop once said, that
poets wrote letters to keep each other warm through the long, lonely
winter nights. Writing is a solitary profession, seldom understood
by people met on planes who ask, "What do you do?" Says Beattie,
"I’ve learned never to say I’m a writer. I don’t even need to tell
you, parenthetically, what heartbreak such a statement engenders.
(Oh, okay, I can’t resist: they, too, are writers, though they
haven’t yet written.")
Beattie’s story helps frame this online issue of the
Blip Magazine Archive, which (as a non-Catholic) is what I imagine
as transubstantiation—the host being fiction, in different
manifestations, a real presence in, under, before, behind and around
us, creating in us a kind of magic as we open our hands and hearts
to receive. I picture Ann Beattie still up there at the Altamont,
signaling to the rest of us, "Hey, it’s yours now, do good work, I’m
going to bed." It’s comforting to know that Ann is still with us,
and that she’ll be up working in the morning, but we know also that
the future of fiction (and of our own lives) is not a straight line.
Reading through the stories in this issue, it’s comforting to know
that gifted young writers are signaling back.
University writing programs help. In fact, two of the young
writers featured in this issue are former students of Ann Beattie at
the University of Virginia (Hannah Pittard and Will Boast, in the
print issue). Pittard’s online story "Some Nights" is a lovely
coming of age story; I like its honesty and its firm sense of
responsibility to its two young female characters. Two more are
former students of T.C. Boyle at USC (J.A. Chisum and Bonnie Nadzam);
and K. Kvashay-Boyle ("Not Me Shot Dead"), a lovely and amazing
writer in her own right, whom the future promises to be good to,
turned me on to two of her friends from the Iowa Writers Workshop
(Mark Lafferty and Vinnie Wilhelm), where Tom Boyle himself once
studied with John Cheever and Ray Carver. More switchbacks, more
blinking green signal lights. In this way we move forward in the new
world of fiction, against the current, borne back ceaselessly into
the past (yes, Scott).
New forms of writer’s communities have emerged as well, not
attached to universities. I was bombarded with submissions from
"virtual" workshops, where writers from around the world "woodshed"
their stories together. One such community introduced me to the work
of Kim Chinquee, Jeff Landon, and Mary Miller, whose stories all
contain what Ray Carver called "a fine sense of menace." Chinquee’s
"Shot Girls" is both sexy and disturbing, and puts me in mind of
Stacey Richter’s new story collection Twin Studies, which
occupies its own shelf in the literary territory marked new, capital
N, as in "make it New." It does. Landon’s "Lifelike Baby Girls" had
me laughing out loud, then catching myself a moment later; pure
feeling. Miller had me from the first sentence—OK, she had me from
the title. The truth is, I felt bad having to pass on any of
the stories that were submitted from this community of talented
writers keeping each other warm in cyberspace.
All of these writers have been working their craft for several
years now, and have other publications to their credit, and that was
kind of the idea in this issue—to feature the work of emerging young
writers, combining them with established writers like John Holman
(whose stories continue to astonish me), Ted Ross and Jane
Armstrong, as well as Ann Beattie and the others mentioned in the
first paragraph, above. Holman (who directs the Creative Writing
program at Georgia State), Ross (who is an editor at Harpers)
and Armstrong (whose work I have long admired) are writers with a
keen sense of social conscience and precise detail. What we have
here is what Veronica Geng called "a relentless commitment to
whatever the story set in motion."
And then there is Tao Lin. I have quietly admired his writing
from a safe distance, but now that he is up on this screen there is
nothing that seems safe to me. He’s the real deal. You’ll be hearing
from him. At 23, he writes like a bunny Hemingway who wandered onto
the set of a Heidegger shoot, Zein und Zeit meets Rad
Girls on Fuse. Or something. I like what Miranda July has
written about him: "Tao Lin writes from moods that less radical
writers would let pass—from laziness, from vacancy, from boredom.
And it turns out that his report from these places is moving and
necessary, not to mention frequently hilarious." Well, OK, see what
When we put out the call for stories in this issue, we said:
"What are we looking for? Characters we can care about. Some
weather, maybe. Dialogue that’s spot on and never tiresome. Stories
that engage our senses and make us feel things, maybe break our
About 300 writers responded. We are grateful to each of them.
As always when we read, we seek the problematic, the troublesome,
the curious, the ill-fitting, the remarkable and the mundane, work
that stays with us after we read it, work that challenges our tastes
and imaginations, our spirits. We thank you for your help in sending
this work our way.
Finally, on a personal note….
Years ago I worked at the Antioch Review in Yellow
Springs, Ohio. I mention this because Antioch College had its death
announced early this summer, yet again—and this time it looks like
its for real, not greatly exaggerated. This is sad, for many reasons
which I won’t go into, but I just wanted to say that from what I
hear, the Antioch Review will go on publishing. This is a
small good thing in a world of bad news.
I mention Antioch because it was there that I received my
education in "aesthetic preference." You cannot be an editor without
acknowledging this thing called aesthetic preference, but no ones
seems able to slap a saddle on this rough beast. Maybe the best
description is the one Veronica Geng cites from George Orwell: "Gut
reaction rationalized afterward." Geng, writing in the
Blip Magazine Archive, Volume 23, says that you might say
"reasoned" or "tested" instead of "rationalized," "but clearly the
process seems to work in only one direction." As she memorably puts
it, "Reason first, gut reaction afterward is a recipe for a bar
fight." As the philosopher David Hume once said (the impish Scotsman
may have known a thing or two about bar fights), "the principles of
art are grounded in experience, not in reason."
It was at Antioch that I learned to trust my gut reaction to
stories that I read, and I read a lot of them. The best times were
when I would read and discuss them with Gabrielle. She was, like me,
an east coast Italian-American with attitude, a bit lost in Ohio but
writing her way through it. She was altogether lovely. I still
recall Gabrielle in her Antioch commencement costume: an elegant
black cocktail dress that showed off her hairy armpits to
perfection, and her string of pearls. One night she surprised me by
reading me pages from her journal, a journal she had showed no one
else in this world, the entry she had just written days before, the
week she came out and the day she interviewed Ani DeFranco and knew
she was in love.
I’d see Gabrielle once a week in the cramped office of the
Review, which was housed in a stale upper room in the library.
The magazine had a good reputation. Thousands of hopeful writers
sent their short stories to a post office box downtown. Gabrielle
logged them in. The managing editor scanned the pile for names she
recognized--writers we’d published previously, like T.C. Boyle,
James Purdy, Gordon Lish--and for "agented work." The rest was
slush. The slush was stood upright in two large boxes in the far
corner of the magazine’s one room office. There it would sit until
one of the "readers" took home a pile. Gabrielle and I were readers.
One day I read a story that knocked me out. The author had no
credits. Straight from the slush, wrapped in a plain brown envelope,
the story was about two lonely and alienated teens who are surprised
one morning to find each other. A story I’d heard a thousand times.
But it was the way the story was told—full of feeling, accurate,
without a trace of condescension, right as rain. It filled the
heart. I called Gabrielle.
The office was closed. We met at the park. I read the story out
loud. Toward the end, the boy and girl meet at the high school, at
first light. There is the sound of a lawn mower in the middle
distance, and the smell of fresh cut grass. They are seated in
silence on the steps of the school. The girl raises her shirt.
I finished reading. There was silence for the space of a minute.
Then Gabrielle kissed me and told me she wanted to take off her
shirt. Then she did. We laughed. "Shirt raising fiction," she said.
That was a gut reaction.
Around the same time I was getting to know Nolan Miller. Nolan
lived in the village and was a longtime editor of the Antioch
Review. He was the author of four novels (Sarah Belle Luella
Mae; A Moth of Time; The Merry Innocents; Why I Am So Beat) and
in 1957 edited the widely circulated New Campus Writing which
contained the best of creative writing from America’s campuses. His
1959 short story "A New Life" was included in the O. Henry Prize
Awards. He came to Antioch College in 1946 from a career as novelist
and high school teacher to become a professor of literature in the
English department. He taught many wonderful students in his years
at Antioch, including the poet Mark Strand (who insists to this day
that Nolan Miller was the best teacher that he ever had), and TV
pioneer Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame. Once hailed as
"the next Hemingway," by the time I knew him he was long retired. He
lived quietly with his brother Richard, a wonderful painter and
sculptor, in a house the brothers had designed for—well, two
artists. Each brother had his own identical space: bedroom, office,
workshop, library, bath, with a common living room and kitchen. The
house was set back from the road, and backed up against Glen Helen.
It blended perfectly with its surroundings, a wooded retreat from
Richard was deaf. He lost his hearing as a result of a childhood
illness. Nolan was legally blind. So here they were in the woods of
Yellow Springs: two bachelor brothers in their late eighties, taking
care of each other and still practicing their craft. Visits to the
Miller home were inspiring.
Nolan taught me to read. Specifically, he showed me how to read
fiction, an ongoing tutorial, one story at a time. We used the
Antioch Review submissions as raw material. In his home
laboratory, seated in his living room, he sat close by, nearly on
top of me, as I read stories I thought were possibilities for
publication. He would listen quietly—no longer sighted, his ear was
keenly attuned to the musicality of stories, the right words in the
right order. Every now and then he would stop me. I then became a
one-person recipient of the Nolan School of criticism. He disliked "talky"stories,
which he called "reportage" rather than stories. "Show don’t tell,"
he advised the invisible authors, at home somewhere in the world,
awaiting our literary evaluation of the merits of these manuscripts
they had posted in all those manila envelopes, long weeks ago. It
felt like an awesome responsibility, to read these stories to Nolan,
and he gave each one the weight they deserved. There was no hurry.
What did he want in a story? He wanted something made up. He
wanted to be surprised, and infused with a sense of wonder. He
wanted dramatic pace, for we as readers to be involuntarily asking
"And then? And then?" He admired stories that were told confidently,
with authorial precision and lack of pretense. He disliked "show
offs." (He bolted John Updike to the wall with this category.) He
once wrote, "The writer must work with a mind ever open, ever free,
ever alert." His favorite authors were Wordsworth, Proust, Joyce and
D.H. Lawrence. Chekov and Carver, sure. I introduced him to Mary
Grimm at the Winds Café in Yellow Springs, and he fell in love (with
her work, too). Experimental writing? Nonsense, he said, every story
is an experiment. Most of all, he liked a story that engaged his
imagination, treated its characters fairly, no matter how unlikable,
and required that a story be honest. No tricks, please. He preached
the truth in fiction.
Soon enough he was listening to my stories. He helped me
immeasurably. When he was disappointed, my heart sank. When he was
delighted, I felt as if I’d lifted off the earth.
Nolan died last year, a few months short of his one hundredth
birthday. His obituary included these words: "Miller was an engaging
and provocative conversationalist who could turn heads in a
restaurant with a comment and who challenged students to shape their
own education for their own ends, to write for their own pleasure
and the discerning few rather than for commercial gain and to expand
their taste for music, art and fine literature."
Richard still lives in the house by the glen in Yellow Springs.
When Nolan died, Richard wrote the following:
"None among my brother’s many students during his years of
teaching could have been more enriched by his knowledge and
understanding than I was throughout our lives together. His patience
and care in helping me to understand the world around me followed
and reinforced the moral and intellectual learning I owe to my
mother and father. He has bequeathed me a gift of beautiful
memories. I will miss him."