I. Chainsaw Reference
Here’s something that happened recently at the bookstore where I work. A guy came in looking rushed and irritated. He approached me at the info desk and asked if we had any books about chainsaws. He was wearing a hearing aid and talking loudly. His skin was sun blotched, his gray hair unevenly cut, and his teeth and gums tobacco-stained. He didn’t specify if he wanted books on how to repair chainsaws, if he wanted books with pictures of chainsaws, or maybe a book of fiction with chainsaws in it. I directed him to the Crafts section, where we have a subsection on tools. He swaggered off, his mouth still moving with words. I helped other customers for about twenty minutes before he came back, empty-handed. “You got nothing,” he scowled at me. I offered to help him further but he ignored me and rushed out the door.
I’m telling you this as a precursor to saying, “You can’t please everyone.” I don’t believe there are any stories about chainsaws in here. Unless one slipped by when I wasn’t looking. If you’re looking for the newest in chainsaw fiction, I got nothing.
II. Editing Boot Camp
I wasn’t a very good editor for a long time. I’m even embarrassed by a lot of my own writing. Especially the stuff from the early 90s. But because I was publishing books by other writers (on my small press, Future Tense Books), I had to learn to be a better editor.
In 2003, I started to compile an anthology of stories that would eventually become The Insomniac Reader (Manic D Press). Putting together that book was the best thing I could have done to become a better, more complete editor. It was like Editing Boot Camp. I had to deal with editing, cutting, and reshaping stories by new writers and well-known authors alike. I had to reject stories by people I really like. And when I realized I had too many stories for the book, I had to be a total dick and tell some of the people I accepted that I wasn’t using their stories after all.
When I was done with those tasks, all I had left to do was write an intro. I’m not sure why, but I labored over that son of a bitch for a long time. I was working with an agent at the time and she was never satisfied with it. I began to lose confidence and began approaching the intro with all sorts of insecurities. Even after the book came out (in spring of 2005), I wasn’t wholly satisfied with those first few pages.
Around this same time, Drew Burk asked me about guest-editing an issue of Spork. As much as I dreaded doing another big production with thirty or forty other people involved, I decided to look at the pros, not the cons. I should say con (singular) because the only real reason not to do an anthology or guest-edit a magazine is this: It takes a shitload of time, energy, and vision—and that is reason enough. I probably won’t do it again—or at least for a very long time. The pros though, are plenty: I’m getting a chance to turn a bunch of stellar work by great people into a beautiful artifact; I get to work with a bunch of new writers for the first time; I can work further with writers I’ve enjoyed working with in the past; I can try to put out a better collection than my last; I get another editing workout; and I get to stretch this analogy and philosophy: Imagine the literary journal as a literary mix tape.
So, here it is. You’ll find all my favorite kinds of writing here—funny fictions (David Elsey, Matt Briggs), coming-of-age stories (Ariel Gore, Laurence Dumortier), dirty poems (Shane Allison), mysterious poems (Brandon Freels, Shanna Compton), two stories in a row with donuts in them (I asked Frayn Masters to change her spelling to doughnut though—am I not an editing genius?), crazy guy narratives (Jeff Johnson), southern-style drinking stories (Karl Koweski), short pieces that mention me in them (Mike Daily), and stories by writers that I only met through this project and plan to keep track of for a long time (Myriam Gurba, J. Peter North, Adrian Shirk). Not to mention some really cool artwork by artists on both sides of the country—and one in the middle of it.
III. More About Do(ugh)nuts
I only know a couple of people who don’t like doughnuts. I mean, how can you not like them. I get suspicious when people don’t like them. There are some stellar doughnut places in Portland. One crazy place called Voodoo Doughnut serves their confections shaped like voodoo dolls, blunts, giant cocks, and so on. There’s one place called Delicious Donuts and every time I go in there they give me more than I order. Like they feel sorry for me or something. And of course there is Krispy Kreme. I know some people like to act all cool and say they don’t like these hot, gooey treats, but I am not one of those people. I could probably stuff about ten of these babies down my throat in one sitting. In the same way sushi makes fish fans go looney, the KKs give us sugar fans fits. This issue of Spork is dedicated to all you people out there making doughnuts for the editors of America.
IV. A Retraction
Okay, wait. I’m not really going to dedicate this to doughnut makers. But shit, now I’m going to feel all weird and take-backy about it. Can I just add a few other people? How about this: This issue of Spork is dedicated to doughnut makers, school teachers, people who visit other people in hospitals, talking animals, crossing guards, and drummers.
V. How To Be an Editor in Five Easy Steps
- Put a sign somewhere near your desk that says, THE EDITOR IS ALWAYS RIGHT.
- Wear a nice jacket. I finally started wearing one recently and let me tell you, it really has made a difference. Instant respect.
- Make sure and point out any typos you see in the normal course of your day; on menus, on marquee signs, in your weekly newspaper, in your friend’s email, and in a band’s name.
- Carry in your pockets: highlighter pens, paper clips, Post-it Notes, pastries, reading glasses, a box cutter, and one of those little Bop-it games.
- Listen carefully to the writer as they try to explain that their story is really not that hard to understand. But remember, The editor is always right.
VI. Full Disclosure
Whenever someone guest-edits magazine or puts together an anthology, you wonder how many of the writers involved are just friends of the writer, or had some sort of “in.”
Here is a breakdown (out of 36 people):
Close friends: About seven people.
People I’ve published before: Ten people.
People I will probably publish books by: Maybe five.
Writers I didn’t know before starting this: Thirteen.
People I’ve had sex with: One.
Writers I harassed to send me something: About twenty.
People I work with (or worked with) at Powell’s: Three.
People I solicited and then rejected: About thirty
Total number of writers I rejected for this issue: Just over a hundred.
VII. Portland Versus Tucson
So why am I, a writer in Portland, Oregon who has never been published in Spork before, editing an issue of Spork Magazine out of Tucson, Arizona? Good question. One of my jobs at Powell’s is stocking literary journals. When Spork started up I was quite impressed and it sold well. Spork editor Drew Burk came across my book A Common Pornography in 2003 and liked it quite a bit—enough to offer the opportunity of publishing a special hardcover edition (who knows if that will ever happen). He also seems to like some of the writers I publish and I assume he thinks I have good taste. So, there you have it. Is he a sucker for letting me do this? I don’t know. Maybe I’m the sucker.
It may be worth noting a couple of other connections I have to the Cactus State (I’m not really sure if it’s called The Cactus State—I’m just guessing):
- The first Krispy Kreme I ever went to was in Phoenix, around Thanksgiving of 2001.
- My favorite football team is the Arizona Cardinals. Don’t ask me why. I know they have always sucked but I’ve liked them since about ’78. Maybe I see my loyalty to them as punishment for my sins.
- Mark Jude Poirier, a writer I adore, is a friend of mine who lived a good chunk of life in Tucson. For that reason, I have decided he should start this whole thing off.
Okay then. That’s enough out of me. Please enjoy these writings, talk about them in bed with your lovers, and think about them when you’re in line at the grocery store.