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Editor's Introduction


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 book.

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..