Putting together an issue is a bit like compiling a collection which is a bit like arranging an album (something I have not done); or perhaps more accurately, like making a mixtape (something I once did obsessively). For every analogy, a different approach. In a record, you don’t want songs to copy the same beats; but rather, for each single to enhance the listening experience as a unit, to add to one another, in echo or accrual, which was more or less what I was going for here. Like a hall of mirrors, the extent to which these stories do reflect one another varies greatly by style and tone, setting and slant. If you can stomach one more analogy, these flash pieces are in dialogue with one another, if only at cross purposes. The conversation evolved organically at first, and then with greater intention. Unlike an anthology, these stories are not speaking directly to a given theme, and yet, as we started selecting stories, themes emerged, sprung from our collectively uncertain, unsettling moment. They tell of displacement and longing, of trauma and inherited trauma; they buck social and familial expectation. These are stories of loss and abandonment and the omnipresence of grief, of cultural pressures and rebellion and fraught maternal lines. They traverse body and blood, landscape, time, and memory, cutting a fluid through-line through all that makes us. And yet, for their multiple aches, they are a celebration of selfhood, a manifesto of love and want, perseverance and freedom.
In the process one begins to understand the mystery of rejection. Stories get passed on not because of anything lacking but because they may hew too closely to an existing note, because we already have a piece that fills that part of the mosaic. Or there’s only so many second-person stories an issue can bear. These were not easy decisions, but I’m delighted to share the result. From “Dirt” by María Alejandra Barrios to “Vengeance” by K-Ming Chang, “Sleepers” by John Miguel Shakespear to “Quail with a Topknot” by Sudha Balagopal, Sara Hills’ “Lions in the Amazon” to Bryan Okwesili’s “The Other Half of a Yellow Sun,” the works in this issue are mesmerizing buoys in dark waters. Come to them individually; then, raft them together and float.
My enormous gratitude to the editorial team at Smokelong for their close readings and thoughtful discussions so many submissions inspired. To all the writers telling their stories and trusting us with their submissions, each one unique in its way. And to the anonymous Smokelong policy preserving the integrity of story: the reveal of authorship was like unwrapping a present, providing the added exhilaration of discovery: some new to me, some familiar, each one immensely talented. Say their names. Read their interviews. Stay for them all.