Recently I sat down at my computer and had some exchanges with Ravi Mangla. Ravi lives Fairport, New York (near Rochester). His work has or will appear in Gargoyle, Annalemma, Sleepingfish and others. He created a site called Recommended Reading last May. Close to fifty writers have weighed in with lists and entertaining answers to Ravi’s questions. His stories run the gamut from the serious to the absurd. For instance, in ‘Low Brow,’ a Hindu family moves into the space between the narrator’s eyebrows.
At the time he just finished helping Scott Garson assemble the Wigleaf long list of the best flash fictions throughout the year. We talked about this, literary journals and a mysterious man in his life. Then Ravi asked me about Corium Magazine, Barry Manilow and the nightlife.
GERKE VS. MANGLA
What have you taken away from compiling the Wigleaf long list? Do you see trends? Do you see things changing?
Above all, I’ve gained a better sense of what makes a great flash. Sometimes I’ll read a terrific sub-1000 word story but will question whether it could have existed only in its present form. What would happen if it was fleshed out and turned into a short story or reconfigured into a poem? Would anything be lost or gained? The identity of very short fiction is tied up with word count, but I think it’s got its own thing going on – an independent form with a different set of rules, its own methods and styles and nuances.
I’m not sure I’ve been around long enough to follow trends. Scott would have a better insight into that. However, the number of new journals that came out, just between January and December, was amazing. For every one web journal that folded, two more came in to replace it. I think growth like that is an exciting thing. This year’s long list will have more diversity than past years.
What are your favorite old journals and why? What are your favorite new journals and why?
Most of the journals I buy or subscribe to are new or relatively new journals, like Hobart, Ninth Letter, Quick Fiction, One Story, Noon. I think Juked has been around for ten years, which makes it about seventy in web years, give or take. Journals like Juked and elimae and Pindeldyboz have set the bar for web-based fiction by maintaining such a high level of quality for so many years. Those are my “old” journals. Although, I was at this antique bookstore last week and found all these thirty and forty-year old copies of Antaeus and Grand Street and TriQuarterly, which were fun to look through. As far as new journals, Annalemma and Necessary Fiction are rolling out excellent short fiction every week. The Collagist and Everyday Genius are two of the most exciting new journals; they seem to be in the vanguard of something big.
What is most influencing your writing these days, both positively and negatively?
Positively: compiling the long list (all the analytical reading, which I’m not used to), the books I got for Christmas (Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way, Howard’s On the Winding Stair), new computer (dual core!), new music, all the great classic films I’ve been watching this month.
Negatively: cold weather, low light, cabin fever, distractions (daily calls from American Express regarding the credit status of Steven Pottsely, this one hair on my arm that is three or four times as long as the rest of the hairs on my arm).
Once and for all, tell us the complete Pottsely story. Is he related to the character on Happy Days?
The first Pottsely call happened a couple years ago. They stopped for a while, maybe a year, but then started back up again recently. Every single morning. Somewhere out in the world is an automatic dialing machine bent on systematically dismantling my psyche. Somewhere out in the world Steven Pottsely is running up an extraordinary amount of credit debt; his rating must be hovering dangerously close to absolute zero. It’s similar to the Egger’s story about how he came up with the name McSweeney’s. (Pottsely’s Quarterly Concern? 2011?)
Related to a character on Happy Days? Wasn’t that “Potsie”? Still, I wouldn’t rule it out.
How do you think the classic movies are influencing you? Narrative wise? Dialogue? Mood, tone?
I’m not sure how much is carrying over. Art doesn’t always intersect for me. Like I spend a lot of time in galleries, but am lucky to find any inspiration there. I must be absorbing something. Tone is interesting. Since I started watching classic and alternative films, I’ve realized how bland the tones are in most contemporary commercial films. I’d like to do more with tone in my stories.
What is your editing process like?
Ongoing. I usually sit on stories for a while, and even after the acceptance I’ll send the editor additional edits, which I know is bad etiquette, but I can’t break the habit. Lately, I’ve been printing out and editing by hand. Sometimes it helps to work on real paper.
Lydia Davis or Lorrie Moore?
Tie. Is that a cop out? … Fine. Davis.
MANGLA VS. GERKE
What has your experience been like working with Corium Magazine? What are the biggest challenges facing new web-based journals?
Well, it’s very, very new. We’ve only been open for submissions for about ten days, but we’ve had a hundred or so. The journal is Lauren Becker’s vision. I feel she did all the hard work and I just stepped aboard into a brand new ship. Lauren is very exacting about what she wants and I like that. Heather Fowler is the poetry editor and I think we are going have a beautiful thing.
The biggest challenge seems to be whether the editors have the wherewithal to keep the journal going. To keep it updated and enticing. There’s nothing like checking out a journal’s current issue and seeing that is was posted in spring of 2006. One has to find a way to stick out and to me that means great stories. But the whole venture is very new to me, I’m looking forward to some surprises.
How has your background in film informed your writing? Do you think film can be a dangerous influence on fiction writers?
I think the writing of and studying screenplays and plays is the big influence. I wrote those first and that probably accounts for the love of dialogue and maybe my over-reliance on it. I think there are some similarities between screenplays and stories, as in during a scene you boil down what the character says to a few sentences. Because there will only be those few lines, they echo like ripples of water as in ‘Why Don’t You Dance’ by Carver where the young woman says to the man who is selling all his possessions on the front lawn, “You must be desperate or something.”
I don’t see the danger in film. I think it can help someone to understand narrative and fashion their own.
Much of the fiction you write tends to fall between 1000 and 2000 words, something of a no man’s land. Why do you think that territory remains largely unexplored?
I don’t know, but I think it’s getting explored more and more. Hemingway’s most vaunted stories ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ and ‘Sea Change’ are in that range and dear Chekhov. And then there is Lydia Davis and Gary Lutz with my favorites ‘SMTWTFS’ and ‘Slops’ (a must for anyone with a mild colitis fascination). I never plan to write something that long or short, but it seems like a ‘friendly’ word count. The question becomes, “To develop or not to develop?” There is something more mysterious about less information for me. But even better to write something that is short but feels long. When Chekhov describes the father in ‘At Sea-A Sailor’s Story’ as “a humpbacked old sailor with a face like a baked apple,” BOOM, that’s it. Most everyone can picture a baked apple and the associations – a brownish, shriveled face for me. That’s the father in one line, with a few lines of supplemental dialogue.
Barry Hannah or Barry Manilow?
This should be easy but it’s not. For instance you couldn’t say, “Does Barry Hannah know that you’ve raided his wardrobe?” Not many people know how Barry Hannah dresses. Yes, there are the spectacles but then you are in a gray area.
What do you miss most about Upstate New York? Is it the night life?