From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
It's July of 2009. The headlines, which should be dominated by the struggle for democracy in Iran, have instead been overtaken by news of passing celebrities. Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and today Karl Malden joined the ranks of the famous, recently deceased. No one's life and death, however, be he Iranian protestor, French airline traveler, or former Screen Actor's Guild president, has captured as much media interest as Michael Jackson's. And as much as I might instinctively want to shy away from the Michael mania sweeping the planet, I'm almost reluctant to admit that even this issue of Eclectica has an—albeit tenuous—connection: a piece in our Fiction section is all about pedarasty and intellectual property law.
The story in question, Otto Lambert's "Tangle of Thorns," is one of the most perplexingly brilliant pieces of work I have encountered in thirteen years of online publishing. It not only embodies but self-consciously defines creativity on the Internet. However, the narrative thread that makes "Tangle" a story and not merely a clever and exhaustive treatise on copyright law is also the element of the story that will render it—to many readers—offensive to the point of being unreadable. The narrator is unapologetically attracted to pubescent girls, and while one could not ask for a better narrative device for illustrating the story's central theme, I would not wish to explain to someone whose child was the victim of a sexual predator that I published this story because it was so edgy and smart.
In fact, the decision to accept this story was not easy—not out of worry it would be off-putting or controversial, since as an editor I look for works that are just that, and not because there is any question in my mind about the quality of the writing—but because the sexual abuse and predation of children is one of those topics that, for me, is difficult to reconcile with entertainment. But then, there is Nabokov's Lolita, and there is the Tom Perrotta novel and Todd Field film Little Children, and there is Roman Polanski, largely forgiven for his hot tub adventure with a thirteen-year-old girl back in the seventies, and there is Michael Jackson, who in spite of widespread assumption of his guilt, particularly by the tabloid mass media, nonetheless has sparked a worldwide avalanche of mourning. More compelling, though, is the argument that if books and novels can explore other topics like betrayal and abuse and rape and murder and genocide with varying degrees of sensationalism and sensitivity, then "Tangle's" narrator can certainly have his voice heard in an online litmag.
Lest I protest too much, I'll leave it to the reader to decide if she will read the story, and having done so, what to think of it.
In addition to "Tangle," I'm extremely proud of this issue's fiction lineup. I say that every issue, but this one really is a doozy. Beginning with Spotlight Author Richard Larson's uniquely executed story, evoking, of all things, Bristol Palin (will mom Sarah be calling a press conference?), we have a total of eleven stories by ten authors, ranging in length from flash to novella. Larson got the Spotlight because, in a field of excellent writers, his "Last Call" managed to stand out, particularly in its use of—again, of all things—paragraph breaks: a technique that maybe has been done before, but I've never seen anything like it, and it really works. I kept re-reading the story, trying to figure out how he pulled it off.
Although all are worthy of mention, I'll limit myself to just a couple other stories...
The more mature, conservative reader may wonder at the inclusion of Allan Richard Shapiro's "being chased by the CIA on a warm summer night." I'm not all that mature nor conservative, and even I was not immediately inclined to embrace a story that starts out so committed to penile erections and masturbation, but I challenge the reader who sticks with it not to be won over and even moved by these oddly compelling characters, their oddly compelling romance, even the oddly compelling narrative voice.
There's nothing odd about how compelling Thomas Lee's "Reminders of Absalom" is. It's been a finalist for Glimmer Train and the Tom Howard Short Story, Essay and Prose Contest, and for good reason. The story is straightforward and moving, not to mention topical, touching as it does on the baggage that immigrants—in this case Korean immigrants—bring with them to the United States, and their sense of loss when their children assimilate and leave their culture (and by extension, their parents and families) behind.
As an aside, a strange coincidence transpired when I first read "Absalom." I did so just before getting on a plane in Los Angeles. Once on board, I noticed that the stewardess was a young Asian woman. I vaguely wondered if she was Korean, and then one of my fellow passengers came right out and asked her about her ethnicity. Slightly annoyed, she said she was Korean and then asked why he wanted to know. He said that he had thought she might be Polynesian, and suddenly the young woman's face lit up. For whatever reason, she was pleased that he had thought her something other than what she was. Having just read the story not five minutes before, I couldn't help but see the stewardess as some kind of incarnation of Mary, the daughter in "Absalom" who refuses to feel guilt for the actions of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who refuses to be defined nor limited by her race.
As usual, I've gone on about the fiction—I am, after all, the Fiction Editor—but that doesn't mean this issue isn't chock full of other stuff. The poetry, nonfiction, travel, miscellany, reviews, and interviews all do their part to make this a truly eclectic, globe-spanning mix. And then there's Stanley Jenkins' Salon entry, which is a whole strange universe unto itself.
I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome back our many "repeat offenders," some, like Gez Devlin, who are making their second appearance, and some, like Bojan Pavlovic and Antonia Clark, who have really demonstrated loyalty over the years. I'd also like to welcome the newcomers, who with their appearance in this issue have joined the Eclectica "family," including Lisa Mullenneaux, Roland Goity, and many others.
Speaking of the "family," I've received a number of updates that I'd like to pass on to our readers. A couple months ago, Jumoke Verissimo and A. Igoni Barrett participated in a four-city book tour across Nigeria with seven other Nigerian authors. Jimmy Gleacher's recently released novel, Silly Little Rich Girl, has been pimped by James Frey as "a quirky, heartfelt story, an adventurous newfangled tour of America's pop culture, microcelebrity and mental illness." Robert Hoover made his art exhibit debut at the On the Town Dress Boutique in Binghamton, NY. J. A. Tyler's litmag mud luscious just released issue number eight. Nicholas Hogg announced that The National Film and Television School in conjunction with The Script Factory accepted a draft of his screenplay, The Hummingbird and The Bear—adapted from his novel—for development into a complete film script. And Erin Elizabeth Smith is calling for submissions for the fourth volume of the Sundress Best of the Net Anthology. Congrats to those folks and all other Eclectica contributors who continue to do good work in print and online.
I suppose it wouldn't be a complete editor note without a quick update on our adoption process. We last saw the children in April, and we've commited to not visiting them again until it's time to bring them home. Unfortunately, there's no clear indication of when that might be. We're close to the end of the process, but our paperwork has now moved to an office where there are only two employees working two days per week to handle all of the international adoptions for the whole country. To make things worse, the director of this office has seen fit to add additional requirements, resulting in even more of an already huge backlog. These things have a way of working themselves out, but there's no guarantee that it won't add months or even another year onto our wait. I've included below a picture taken when we were there in April by one of our fellow adopting parents. It came in the mail the other day, and even though it was taken months ago, it's new to us.
Best wishes and happy reading,