Posts By: Joe Hiland

Back Issues in Boston

It’s late February, which means that those of you not entirely preoccupied with polishing your poesy for our Poetry Prize (poets like alliteration, right?) are probably thinking more and more about heading to Boston for AWP, which is coming up in…holy crap, it’s next week! And I haven’t even picked out my tuxedo yet.

Besides the boozing and schmoozing (do poets still like rhyme?), one of the best parts about AWP is the Bookfair. I like having the opportunity to meet those of you who read IR and submit your work to us, and I also like meeting the editors of others journals I’m fond of. But I especially like that the journals at the Bookfair sell their back issues for low, low prices that help to somewhat offset the cost of my tuxedo rental.

IR will of course be offering our own array of back issues at the Bookfair, and I thought I’d take a few minutes to give you one good reason to buy each of the back issues we’ll have at our table. So here’s a quick look at some of my favorite stories that have appeared in the pages of IR over the last few years: Read more…

When is a Short Story Too Long?

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I’ve always been fond of Edgar Allen Poe’s description of the short story as a work of fiction that can be read in a single sitting. I like that Poe defines the short story form largely by focusing on the reader’s interaction with the text, and I like that he places a time limit on this interaction—a single sitting.

I think most readers would agree that they begin a short story with the understanding that, barring any outside interruptions, they won’t need a bookmark to get to the end. For editors, however, the idea that a short story should be read in a single sitting raises an important question: How long are readers willing to sit with a story? Half an hour? An hour? Three hours? Read more…

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I don’t think I’ve ever read a literary journal from cover to cover, in the exact order in which the stories, poems, and essays are presented by the editors.  And I know I’m not alone in this regard.  I suspect that most readers share my habit of jumping from story to poem to essay in a haphazard manner that is determined sometimes by recognizing the names of certain authors and sometimes by opening to pages at random.  Most often, though, the order in which I read the works in a journal is determined by the relative strengths of the titles of the works themselves.  In fact, my favorite thing to do when I get a new issue of a journal is to open to the table of contents, scan the titles, and allow one to grab my attention, to tell me that this is the story/poem/essay (okay, usually story) where I should begin my reading. Read more…

On Context: Literary Journals and Story Collections

Last week I had the opportunity to read the most recent winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, Marie-Helene Bertino’s debut short story collection, Safe as Houses, which I’ll be reviewing for the upcoming winter issue of IR (spoiler alert:  I like it).  One of the stories in the collection, “Sometimes You Break Their Hearts, Sometimes They Break Yours,” was originally published a few years ago in IR 31.2, and reading the story again raised some interesting questions for me about the effect context has on your reading of a story.  The stories in a single-author collection often fit together with the neatness and stability of a Lego tower, whereas a literary journal is more akin to a motley stack of blocks of all shapes and sizes, balanced perhaps precariously, but assembled with care.

“Sometimes You Break Their Hearts, Sometimes They Break Yours” is an unusual story in terms of its subject matter, narrative voice, and structure.   The narrator claims to be an alien who works a lowly office job on earth while faxing observations on the human species back to her home planet (yes, the aliens use fax machines), and the story consists mainly of these observations and a few short scenes, from which a clear narrative arc emerges only near the end of the story.  Within the context of Bertino’s collection, “Sometimes” reads like a variation on a motif, as its themes and tone are complimentary to many of the other stories in the collection.  This isn’t surprising, of course, since a good short story collection is often the record of a writer working through the particular themes, subjects, ideas, etc. that he or she finds compelling.

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“The Zanesville Incident” or Writing the News

You’ve probably heard this story already.  On October 19th, 2011, the owner of a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio opened the cages of more than fifty exotic animals in his care, before fatally shooting himself.  The freed lions, tigers, and other animals caused a panic in the Zanesville area, and many were killed by authorities during the ensuing attempts to capture them.

It’s been a little over a year since this story made national news, and in that time IR has received at least half a dozen fictionalized accounts of these strange and sad events.  Although we haven’t yet published any of these short stories, I completely understand the impulse to use this news item as material for fiction.  It’s a bizarre and compelling story that raises intriguing questions about human psychology, our relationships with other animals, the media’s response to such a tragedy, and so on.  I would love for IR to someday publish a short story about “The Zanesville Incident” (nobody steal that title), and I encourage any of you with such a story to submit it.  However, in this blog post I want to discuss three of the unique issues that a writer has to consider when taking on a well-known news story as the subject matter for his/her fiction. Read more…