Catching up with two back issues of Glimmer Train—one of the premiere U.S. venues for short story writers—with thoughts about writers to watch, based on these pages. The winter 2015 issue (#92, 13 stories) and fall 2016 issue (#97, 14 stories) are culled from a vast sea of literary output—some 32,000 stories submitted to the GT editors each year.
Most GT writers appear (from their bios) both youngish and frightfully accomplished. Their work and how the editors’ tastes have reacted over the years suggest an evolution in concepts of narrative and characterization, plot and story. Some stories in these recent issue push the envelope of narrative, depending less on scene and dialog. Others deliver their message in short bursts, perhaps thematically linked but otherwise superficially disconnected from what comes before or after. Some require a bit of figuring out. I like the challenge!
Among the stories I enjoyed most from Issue 92 were:
“Language Lessons” by Barbara Ganley, each section of which is a mini-story in itself. Ganley is the founder of Community Expressions, LLC, whose purpose is “to help small communities bring storytelling to civic engagements and change efforts”—an enterprise at least as interesting as her fiction.
The multiple point-of-view story “Keller’s Ranch,” by award-winning essayist Ming Holden, which includes the memorable line, “I knew that hope can be as sharp as our teeth.” Not an abstract danger, an incarnate one.
Several stories in Issue 97 deal with death, an ambitious topic for a young author and yet dealt with effectively by A. Campbell (“On Fleck/ Fleck On”), a debut author, Matthew Iribarne (“We Are Heaven”), and Lauren Green (“When We Hear Yellow”): “. . . if the heart were a lighthouse, I wouldn’t be able to count on mine. Mine would send out distress signals only after the shipwreck had taken place.”
I also enjoyed:
“Pepper,” dog-park action by Weike Wang, author of the novel Chemistry, forthcoming in May, and
“Jumping Doctor He Come in Future” by Karen Malley, a story whose good humor starts with the title. Fires and storms and recalcitrant cats.
Tap a source of fine short stories—find them in the magazine section of your big box book store and on many websites—for “small plates” that satisfy.
Literary magazines that publish short stories are an easy way to get a taste of a new writer’s work without committing to an entire novel. As a person who still actually pays for books–authors need to eat, too!–I know reading is a commitment of both time and money.
I’ve subscribed to Glimmer Train since (I think) its first issue and, four times a year, it brings me first-rate fiction, mostly by authors previously unknown to me. Quite a few of the stories in the current issue were by authors from other cultures, emigres, exploring dislocation, distance, fitting in, or not. Nine of the 16 stories are written in the first person. This does not mean they are memoir. Their authors used the first-person device to get to the heart of the story, closer and quicker, not having a novel’s 85,000 additional words to do so.
Here are just three stories I particularly enjoyed in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue:
Eric Thompson’s “The King of India” is a man simultaneously obsessed with Elvis and the fate of his new son. (Do South Asians have a particular affinity for Elvis, I wonder, recalling the recurrent image in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things? Or is it that “The King” is universal?) Poignant and funny.
“Waterside” by Marni Berger, captivated me with its opening epigram from Anne of Green Gables. It’s about an adolescent friendship between a boy and girl, how the world is seen through the friend’s eyes, and the shell of not-caring adolescents affect. It’s about what matters. The narrator, who buries herself in books, says: “Stories are shelters to hide inside, and you can hide inside someone else’s story to escape your own.” Which of us hasn’t been there?
The story “The Tune” by Siamak Vossoughi humorously probes issues of connection through the tale of an American who calls her Iranian friend in San Francisco and hands the phone to the Iranian cab driver she’s just met in Chicago. Surely, they will have things to talk about, she believes. Life, for instance. What the two strangers don’t say to each other is as revealing as what they do. Vossoughi’s book Better Than War won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.
And, I learned a new word: scordatura. It means tuning a stringed instrument (a lute, a violin) a little differently, in order to produce a particular effect. Christa Romanosky used it in her story “Every Shape That the Moon Makes” in this nice sentence: “Moods come and go as quickly as rock falls, as a scordatura, moods your ring cannot discern.”
Explore the riches Glimmer Train and other literary publications offer. Find them in your big box book store’s magazine section, library, or online. Feel free to tell me and our readers what you discover!