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Jürgen Fauth

An Introduction in 750 Words

I 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 City.

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