Smoking With Our Guest Editor
a talk with Joseph Young
by Randall Brown
Joe lives in Baltimore where he works as a freelance editor. His writing can be found in journals online and print, including SLQ, Blue Moon Review, storySouth, Mississippi Review, Exquisite Corpse, Opium and elsewhere. He has a web site at www.josephyoung.net.
What was the most challenging aspect of guest editing this issue of SLQ?
Well, with the policy of a week or so turnaround that you guys have for submissions, I found it a bit difficult to have a feel for the overall issue. I kept trying to see how individual pieces might fit into the whole and sometimes deciding whether to take a piece or not was complicated by this.
I’ve always thought it a great accomplishment to write a story that Joseph Young likes—not that you are overly critical. But I so admire your own writing. How does your own writing influence your reading preferences? What kind of stories are you drawn to as a writer?—as a reader?
Well, that can vary according to the story, but probably the first thing that can strike me about a flash is it vividness—in language, in tone, in character, emotion. I like a bit of angularity to flash fiction, a skewness. I like stuff that can take me off balance, disorient me, in a meaningful way. That said, some of the pieces in this issue are kind of subtle and some deal with story in more of a short story, traditional kind of way. I like those a lot too.
You brought some really amazing talent to our attention in this issue. Talk about some of these writers and their work. It’s been truly a pleasure and a privilege reading their stories.
Some of these people are writers I know from around here, in Baltimore, Otis and Laura, for example. With so much of what happens with SLQ and with most of the magazines I've been in or read being handled long distance and through the Internet, it was great to add in some people I know in flesh and blood, give some local color, so to speak. Otis' stuff really gets me going, the rawness of it, and the humor too, and I love the rhythm of his dialogue, turning and turning around certain points of conflict. Laura writes really homey, people-next-door people, but she throws in these wonderfully original images and is always surprising you with these bright shards of light that glance off her characters at odd moments. Then there's Robert Bradley's tiny powerhouse, and Tom Saunders' mysterious glowing, and the strange presence of Kuzhali Manickavel, and on and on.
A lot of submissions this issue. A lot of reading. Any flashes of insights as you read through the work of some very very talented and dedicated writers?
Lots of good writers out there. People taking flash in all sorts of cool directions. Talent abounds, for sure. Also, though, I would say that there were a good number of stories submitted that didn't seem quite ready, that could have benefited by some time. You always hear this, Wait until it's ready, but after reading through some of these stories, Yeah, I guess it’s true. Hard though, to have discipline; I know, and lack it, myself.
In my imagination, Joseph Young arises as the epitome of cool. Am I right?
Some imagination you got there. Can you imagine me scuttling around at the edges of any party or gathering of strangers, peeling the label from my beer bottle, cursing that I ever left the house?
I can’t help but notice that following your stint as SLQ Guest Editor, you’ve turned your attention away from writing toward drawing. A coincidence that the two events coincided, yes? What led to this change in direction?
I don't know, I just needed something new to do for awhile. What I really like about drawing and about most visual art is that it just sits there—it doesn't have to move through time, it doesn't have to change, there's no arc. I see the world this way so often, as stationary scenes, gatherings of objects and perceptions. Even if there are people moving through a park, say, it still often presents itself to me as an unmoving point in time, a stillness—it does in my most happy, contented moods anyway. This is why I tend toward flash, of course, because it gathers in only a few odd moments of someone's life. Still though, it moves, it has to to be a story, even if just a little. How great though to be rid of the burden of time for a little bit, of pushing people through change?
I’ve always respected and enjoyed your experimentation with pushing the boundaries of the flash form and reinventing what’s meant by flash fiction. How do you view flash these days? What excites you about the form?—what disappoints you?
RE the above answer, I honestly haven't been thinking about it at all. Really, not at all. I haven't even been reading much. I get a homework feeling in my stomach just thinking about the question. Do I have to answer it? (I'll give you money...)
What’s next for you, Mr. Young?
You got me. As long as it's not heart disease or scrotal cancer, I'm good with whatever. Once my drawing gets better, I guess I'll try painting. And I'm sure the writing itch will be back at some point.