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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories


From the desk of Sean Craven, Assistant Editor:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Swill is late again. Or you haven’t heard back on your submission. You may be wondering what the editor’s problem is. Well, mea fuckin culpa. The editor’s problem is me.

Rob is the steady hardworking one, the one who treats submitters with respect and kindness. The magazine is his baby and he’s the one responsible for its tone and literary style. Rob receives submissions over the course of the year and as he goes through them he pulls out likely submissions and emails them to me. He does this because he’s a writer and he knows that the sooner the author of a story gets a response, any response, the better it is for them. And what happens when he sends them to me?

I ignore them.

That makes it sound simple. It isn’t. I don’t just ignore them. I look at them and think about how I ought to read them. I wake up at three in the morning and think about how I ought to read them. I pause in conversation, eyes glazed and distant, and think about how I ought to read them.

The guilt forms the hook-jawed head of a slick black worm that burrows through my abdomen and dry-humps my small intestine. It helps me drink and curse and fail to love the dogs. It becomes part of the emotional arsenal I use to make every minute of my life on Earth a hell of misery and resentment.

This goes on for months and months until Rob gently clears his throat via email and I charge into the pile. My initial editorial notes tend to be equally insulting to both the writers and to Rob. To keep things in perspective, remember that Rob has read many, many stories for each one that he passes on to me and most of these stories are perfectly awful. You cannot imagine. Searching a slushpile is a matter of heading down to the sewer to pan for gold; Rob tosses all the turds and passes the nuggets on to me.

I am, of course, totally unappreciative of this and turn around and make fun of the writers for producing the work and Rob for thinking it was any good. Since I receive these manuscripts without any direct contact with the author I read them purely as fiction and react without any sense of responsibility to the author as a person and a creator.

Which is why I tend to characterize said author with phrases such as “semi-literate retard,” and question the authenticity of their tough-guy stance and sort them into horrible little categories. (Why, look! It’s another sexually isolated borderline alchoholic with serious literary pretensions and a style combining convoluted structure, polysyllabics, and a weak grasp of basic grammar and punctuation. Can he drop some names? Yes he can. Is one of them Bukowski? You bet!) Which is why I make the kind of rewriting suggestions that basically come down to, “Do it again only right this time.” And why I stagger downstairs to the missus, a bundle of manuscripts clutched in one hand and my scalp in the other, screaming, “These fucking halfwits are sucking the prose right out of my head!”

Then I give Rob my opinions and he makes the choices and sends me the stories we’re going to use in the magazine.

Then I ignore them for months and months…

When Rob pulls my head out of my ass (he uses a gaff and washes his hands, kids, hygiene is important) I get to work on the line edits. I edit with a heavy hand and the knowledge that the author is in no way obligated to pay any attention to my sorry ass. Then I email the manuscripts back to Rob.

I’m not sure what happens at this point. I suspect it involves Rob pulling terms like “semi-literate” and “retard” out of my line edits before passing them on to the writers. After some back-and-forth with contributors, Rob puts together a collection of edited manuscripts and passes it on to me.

Guess what happens then.

Finally it is made clear to me that as the illustrator and designer of Swill I have to do some illustrating and designing. Realizing that the amount of time I’ve got eliminates the possibility of my doing any of my regular artwork I have to come up with some weird technique for creating pictures Very Very Fast. This year it involved a combination of scanned images of bones and inkblots and photographs of plants and bones.

During the next few weeks I send Rob various versions of the interior, we debate, we continue to edit, and in between I work on the illustrations.

And then it’s fucking-A done and I’m holding a copy in my hand. “This don’t look half bad,” I think to myself. Then I say it out loud a few times. It sounds good. I sniff the interior. Two words – volatile chemicals. Dude! And then the old post-partum hits and I get a sinking feeling in my gut as I realize that it’s going to be months before I have any stories to ignore…


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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories