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Editor Update: James R. Gapinski interviewed at SmokeLong Quarterly

James R. Gapinski’s “Determining the Gull Bone Index” was recently published by SmokeLong Quarterly as a weekly feature. This flash fiction was just released as part of their quarterly edition (issue number 51). The issue also contains an interview, where guest editor Chase Burke asks James some questions about his piece. Check out the full interview here.

The full issue is available here, featuring flash fictions and supplemental interviews with twenty-one different authors!

James R. Gapinski’s favorite books of 2015

To wrap-up the year, our managing editor, James R. Gapinski, chimes in with his top five books of 2015. A few days ago, Melissa Reddish also shared her list.

Binary Star, by Sarah Gerard

If you want predictable syntax crammed into neat boxes, look elsewhere. Binary Star takes risks. Come for the inventive structure, stay for the characters who seem to be in a constant state or implosion and/or explosion.

Scrapper, by Matt Bell

Scrapper tells a riveting story set in a near-future version of Detroit, ravaged by climate change. Its unassuming blue collar protagonist has waaaaaaay more shit going on than first meets the eye. This book is its own masterclass in character development.

The Seven Good Years, by Etgar Keret (Translated by Sondra Silverston, Miriam Shlesinger, Jessica Cohen, and Anthony Berris)

Etgar Keret’s memoir explores the seven years between the birth of his son and the death of his father. Yes, the book builds toward a death, but it’s more about celebrating life. And it’s filled with the sense wonder and whimsy that have become a staple of Keret’s work.

Gutshot, by Amelia Gray

The stories in Gutshot have a visceral intensity to them. They rip open your perceptions of what a story is and can be. They scream at you and dare you to flinch. Yeah, you might bleed out by the end, but you’ll feel alive the whole goddamn time.

 Citizen, by Claudia Rankine

I’m not surprised that Citizen is also on Melissa’s top-five list as Book I Would Slip into Everyone’s Bag When They Weren’t Looking. I gave this book to my partner over the holidays—then she received a second copy from her sister. When you read this book, you want to share it. And you want to share it quickly. These pages have urgency. You’ll finish it in one sitting, and if you’re not already a proponent of #BlackLivesMatter, you will be. Read it. Now.

“Why VIDA Matters to Me: Part I, Men Only Tell Half the Story,” by James R. Gapinski

Preamble

A few months ago, I was talking about the VIDA “count” with a friend-and-fellow-writer.  The count has been at the forefront of our editorial discussions this year—The Conium Review journal has a large gender gap, but we’re trying to change that this year and beyond.

In the middle of the conversation, my friend-and-fellow-writer said something like “I feel like, as a woman author, I should care about VIDA, but I don’t.  It doesn’t matter to me.”

“Doesn’t matter?”  I couldn’t believe it.  But over the past few months, I’ve dug deeper.  I’ve explored some critiques of VIDA, and I’ve discovered how some writers, editors, and readers consciously or unconsciously determine that underrepresentation and misrepresentation isn’t a ‘big deal.’

I can’t speak for my friend-and-fellow-writer, but I can speak for myself and why VIDA matters to me (and by extension, why the VIDA count is on The Conium Review’s radar).

Part I, Men Only Tell Half the Story

I’m getting tired of hearing the same half of the story on a continuous loop.  Certainly, there are good male authors (I hope I’m one of them), but the literary world is publishing way too many of them while simultaneously ignoring way too many women.  Sure, men are capable of writing new, innovative fiction.  However, that fiction is invariably filtered through the same gendered lens.  We can pretend that gender doesn’t matter, but we secretly know that it does.  Right?  A man, for example, could not write Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls.  A woman, for example, could not write Junot Díaz’s Drown.

It’s tough to consider “a man could not write” or “a woman could not write” arguments in isolation, because gender is just one part of who a person is.  You can easily imagine all sorts of differences between authors.  And you can imagine how every iota of difference creates a different experience and a different story and a different lens.  But on a fundamental, broad-stroke level, gender matters.  The underrepresentation of women matters.  VIDA matters.  Because if the publishing industry continues to discriminate against women, we’re ignoring half of the conversation.  We’re missing out on a huge chunk of the human experience.  We’re hearing the same monotone voice over and over, ignoring the women who have entirely unique stories to tell.  Stories that we need to hear.

The male narrative has been shoved down our throats so often that it’s all many readers know.  This brings us back to The Conium Review.  We’re guilty of having a shitty count (VIDA doesn’t officially count us, but we’ve ran our own numbers). However, we’re hitting the reset button, learning from our first four issues, and making changes at the journal.  We’re not going to get truly innovative fiction while only publishing a single worldview.

In a 2011 interview (reprinted in the anthology Paper Dreams), Cate Marvin of VIDA recalls her reaction to the first “count” in 2010; she mentions reading male-dominated literary journals, noting “The fact is, I often felt bored when reading these publications.  (And I felt guilty for being bored!)  Now I know why (whereas before, I felt I ought to be interested).”  Frankly, male authors are starting to bore me too.  It’s not that these authors don’t resonate with my experience.  Some of my favorite authors are men: Etgar Keret and George Saunders, specifically.  But other men on my list o’ faves have been replaced by Aimee Bender, Amelia Gray (super excited that she agreed to judge our Innovative Short Fiction Contest), Lucy Corin, Karen Russell, Karin Tidbeck, and other women.  They tell the other half of the story.  Women turn the literary monologue into a dialogue, and that’s pretty damn exciting.

Even if somebody overlooks the obvious social justice issues, the low publication rates of women matters because it negatively impacts the literary narrative.  We keep getting that tired monologue.  Personally, I want to read a variety of voices.  I don’t want the same ol’ same ol’.  I want to be challenged by what I read (and what I write), and that doesn’t happen when the literary community recycles the same half of the conversation in slightly different packages.  That’s why VIDA matters.  It impacts anybody who loves reading and writing—female and male alike.

About the Author:

James R. Gapinski is The Conium Review‘s Managing Editor. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. His work has appeared in theNewerYork, Line Zero, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. James lives in the Boston area with his partner, two cats, and a collection of 8-bit video games.