*Disclaimer: I have been previously rejected by Narrative Magazine – twice in fact – once for poetry, and once for nonfiction. This post has nothing to do with those rejections.
I have a problem with Narrative Magazine and its editors. Now, Narrative has been around for a little while, and I believe that I first discovered it last October. It is an online-only publication, created by Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian, whose bios you can find here.
I guess my overall problem with Narrative is that they are very very inconsistent, but when you have 120, count ’em, 120 various editors, it isn’t a surprise that something as bad as Nicole Criona’s short short “Your First Date” appears as Story of the Week. For those of you who haven’t read Narrative before, their Stories of the Week are eligible for annual inclusion in Narrative’s Top 5 Stories of the Week. Some previous Stories of the Week have included Barry Gifford’s “Portrait of the Artist with Four Other Guys,” a wonderful short short story, as well as Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.”
I don’t believe Nicole Criona has any business being mentioned with those two names, let alone with many of the writers who have been featured in Story of the Week. Regardless of her use of the second person, which she does not manage to pull off, and the horrifically pedestrian ending, the story doesn’t do anything. It just sits there, expecting you to enjoy it, awkwardly trying to say, “this is what happens on first dates, and I’ll try to explain, but in the end you’ll have to do most of the work.”
What else has Criona written or published? Not much, judging from a quick Google search. Sure, she runs the LA Writers Group, and sure, she has produced 3 short films, one of which has screened at some random film festivals, but apart from that, what has she done? This just feels like Narrative’s plug for the struggling-screenwriter/producer-turned-writer-who-runs-a-writers-group. Sorry, not good enough. Not when you compare this story to Gifford’s. Also, Gifford has a long history of publishing major works, including “Wild at Heart,” which was later adapted by David Lynch into a screenplay for the film of the same name. Gifford also wrote the screenplay (with Lynch) for “Lost Highway.” I guess what I’m saying is this: people published by Narrative should have qualities such as some prior publications, and even if not that, at least some decent writing to ensure that they are worthy of inclusion in Narrative’s self-styled collection of “well-written stories from talented writers.”
I mean, come on, their statement on their selection process for Story of the Week is this:
“The focus of the Story of the Week feature is on new works; however, on some weeks we will select a classic story or a notable story from our Archive as the Story of the Week as a way of indicating a level of quality and interest that we seek in Stories of the Week and as a mark of continuity with long-standing literary values.” (emphasis mine)
Do you think Crione’s story indicates a level of quality and interest, or is a mark of continuity with long-standing literary values?
My second problem with Narrative, which is related to the first, is its editorial staff. I have a feeling that Jenks and Edgarian don’t personally read and approve everything that is posted on the site. I’m not sure they could, anyway, but could they at least hire some competent editors? And who in the world decided that Eliza Frye deserved her own series of bland graphic stories? Now, I have no problem with UCLA or CalArts, as I grew up down the street from CalArts, and suffice to say, UCLA is a decent school, but if you’re going to choose someone on the basis of their writing maudlin graphic novels, you better choose someone good. Also, your editorial staff, even if they are from Yale, should probably, if they’re getting paid for this, refrain from such sentimentalizing as Jake Keyes is prone to doing in his editorial comments about Frye’s piece:
“In Eliza Frye’s latest graphic story, we’re confronted by three bodies. Man, woman, and horse constitute the images of the story, with the curves of shoulder, haunch, and sloping nose appearing almost as if without frame or containing panel. The bodies provide the visual structure. The story is of lovers, and in the heroine’s averted face we see the first bite of lovesickness. In the curl of her body and in his languid arm across her, we feel the peacefulness of the lovers at rest. In the sinewed shadow of the horse, whose energy threatens to disrupt the structure, there’s the drive of passion.
Frye lets the images do most of the work. We don’t hear the courtship dialogue or grow used to the cowboyish stranger. Lightly touching our literary senses, Frye all the more arouses pleasure in all our other senses.”
I think what Keyes means by “lightly touching our literary senses” is that Frye’s “stories” are pretty much the most cliched thing I’ve ever read. Lines like “But I knew that this kind of heart-wrenching love was different from all the others. It was the kind that never lets go” kind of destroy any literary senses I may have had before reading her story, after which, I’m literally senseless.
And finally, I’m not one to beat a dead horse, but the “Dickman phenomenon,” very nicely summarized and repudiated by Michael Schiavo (no relation to Terri btw), should probably be stopped now.
Anyway, I’m done now, except to say that Narrative is grossly inconsistent and should consider hiring or publishing some of my former Berkeley classmates, whose work, achievements, and potential far outweigh what I’ve been seeing on their website lately.