Damon Sauve asked me aboard the staff of Oyster Boy Review back in January when he realized the magazine had turned into a bigger game than he'd be able to hunt on his own. Together since then we've been fielding OBR's fiction submissions and Jeffery Beam, who wrote last issue's editor's note, has been handling the poetry. Anyone who follows the magazine will be aware of the recognition it has earned of late from Wired, eSCENE, and Net Magazine. Such exposure would send most editors turning in circles to pat themselves on the back, but everyone here is aware of the dubious literary merit of such praise coming as it does from a community more concerned with the medium than the message. We all believe that the work we publish here is good enough to fend for itself without all the techno-tinsel of the OBR website. We know our writers are trying to do things a lot older than laser printers and Pentium processors. They are trying to tell good stories and gloss the chaos of life into meaning, and it doesn't require a computer to do that . . . On-line publishing is the wave of the future and we're happy to be at the crest, but it takes a lot of waves to move a beach. The beach I have in mind is already crowded, of course; there are so many good goddamn writers out there already—more than anyone could read in a lifetime—so why spend your time trying to spit a few more up onto the sand?
I've only been doing this for a few months, but it's already crossed my mind a couple of times that the publishing business exists not for readers but for editors and writers. Publishing is because there are men and women so engaged and sustained by the song and story of language that to consider texts as dead artifacts, mere epitaphs of experience, is not nourishment enough for their souls. It is one thing to read by its light, but quite another to stand in the heat and violence of the flame of creation. That's why I accepted Damon's offer—so I could work with some real live writers instead of just reading their epitaphs. As a doctoral student of English, my semesters are filled with critical cant and ideological boilerplate. It's real easy to forget that the subjects of my study aren't mere texts; they are the products of someone's struggle to communicate—to say, fundamentally, my blood is the same color as yours and our hands fit together just so, so listen . . .
I'd be lying, though, if I said that my tenure here at Oyster Boy has been without disappointment. It takes light years to measure how close some of the submissions I've received come to that "flame of creation." Nor was I prepared to reject people with publication histories as long as my arm. But I have grown used to these things. It takes a lot of water to float a boat, apparently, and Damon, Jeffery, and I have to do plenty of bailing to keep ours sailing.
In a short time, Oyster Boy Review has grown into a highly selective, handsomely produced journal that publishers and publishees alike can be proud of. I appreciate the talents of this month's fiction contributors—Stephen Bloom, Kevin McGowin, Jenny Drummey, John Gardiner, and Lucy Harrison—enough to set their work apart from a lot of the soft-boiled tripe and over-written shit that makes it into print. And if I throw a few babies out with the bath water, oh well. They'll grow and they'll come back, or . . . they won't. Jeffery put it well enough in the last issue: "Oyster Boy Review is interested in the underrated, the ignored, the misunderstood, and the varietal. We'll make some mistakes."
About this time last year I remember sitting in the Mayfair—a bar, one of New Orleans' best kept secrets—and talking to the bartender, Miss Kate, about my upcoming move to North Carolina. I had Tom Jones playing on the jukebox—"She's a Lady," "Detroit City," and "Green, Green Grass of Home." The couple next to me was humming along. The man was playing and evidently winning at video poker because his female companion kept saying, to no one in particular, "Well look at you." I'd look every time. I was wondering if he was going to buy a round when he cashed out.
The way I have it written down in an old notebook, I told Miss Kate, about North Carolina, "I think it'll be pretty there."
"You might," she said, which doesn't really follow, except that Miss Kate is old and doesn't hear too well. Nonsense just made sense when you were talking to Miss Kate. "But it'll be boring," I said.
"What'd you say?"
"Not much nightlife." 25 years old, I was, with not a person in there less than twice my age, but I was calling it "nightlife" and somehow missing it before I'd even left it.
Anyway, a man walked in then who looked like my grandfather looked when he was alive still and Miss Kate walked over to him like she'd been expecting him, so I started watching TV just as some woman on there was asking another, "How's the pain? Stabbing and agonizing or more existential?"
Epiphanies off the telly are best taken with a grain of salt, and a shot of tequila—and I'm sure I had one or two—but that question is back in my head now as I am, in a roundabout way, trying to get at the difference between fine writing and folderol before I sign off.
All good writing must partake somehow of pain. But when writers agonize over the language, and even the plot of a tale, they too often numb themselves to the subtler sufferings of their characters. A writer caught up in the difficulties of his story and not in the difficulties of his characters is an unsympathetic writer. As an editor here, I've tried to bring you the other kind, simple as that. To me the writers in this issue have spoken in clear voices and the stories they tell try to first of all to be human, last of all to be literary. I like to read about the lives of people I recognize, lest I get disappointed in the artlessness of my own life. Feel free to write me, or Damon, or Jeffery, and let us know what you think of this issue's offerings. Write and tell us, How's the pain?