Journal of Writing & Environment

Meet the New Staff: Lydia Melby, Fiction Editor

Our new Flyway fiction editor, Lydia Melby, is straight outta Texas (but don’t tell her I told you). Read below for more important information.

Lydia with Wolf Pup

What book can you not stop talking to people about?
The God of Small Things
. Ship Breaker. Mary Karr’s memoirs. Do I need to pick one? Sometimes I want to read a fast-paced YA novel about the futuristic Gulf communities complete with clipper ship chase scenes, and sometimes I want to read a lovely, lyrical novel dissecting how small choices and small betrayals can all pile together for a catastrophic end. Sometimes I want to read a fellow Texan’s sassy-assed recounting of her life and thoughts about religion, family, and writing. I’m reading The Night Circus right now, too, and it’s fantastic—it’s difficult to stay on track with my class readings when I have such a lively, brilliant story within reach. I’ve been putting it away in my room when I work.

What book compels your writing?
The English Patient
, ultimately (or really, anything by Ondaatje). I’ve never read a more perfectly realized, more devastating book (though The God of Small Things and The Cat’s Table come close). I read Stay Awake this summer and was floored. I’m reading it for the third time now—Chaon’s eerie lyricism is so subtle and so atmospheric that you get that ringing in your ears.

What (other than Flyway) literary magazines do you read?
I read The Fairy Tale Review, The Southern Review, American Short Fiction (please don’t shut down!), Ecotone, Idaho Review, Gulf Coast, Bellevue, Bat City, and Fiddleblack, cover to cover, and really love The Collagist, DrunkenBoat,  Fwriction, Pank, Lit, Granta, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, A Capella Zoo, Pleiades, Ninth Letter, Sonora Review and too many to really name.

What writers do you seek out in literary magazines?
Upper Middle Class White Male Authors. Especially if they’re long-established voices, have published several times, and are writing about hetero-normative relationships taking place in New York City/LA/The Midwest. I really like it when their narrator is speaking in first person present, is frustrated with how he’s not understood by family/society, and/or has an epiphany about how their wife/ girlfriend/ new baby makes them feel trapped.

Obviously (I hope), that’s sarcasm. I look for writers that can shock me, writers I don’t necessarily recognize, etc.

What advice do you have for potential-contributors of Flyway?
I feel like a lot of current short stories tend to ignore the necessity of a compelling plot to lean on other elements—like an idiosyncratic voice, or really detailed descriptions. I don’t mean that I’d rather mostly plot, but I’m looking for balanced stories—and yeah, that’s hard to do.

Personally, I really enjoy tension and a sense of mystery. Or, to quote Raymond Carver, I want to read stories with at least “a little menace…There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent, that certain things are in relentless motion, or else, most often, there simply won’t be a story.”

For Flyway in particular, there should be tension between the environment or setting of the story and the characters in it. A well-known place should appear new, even alien and strange through the eyes and actions of the characters. I want to see an active environment, too—a setting that influences actions, triggers it’s one events.

One of my professors has a Dianne Arbus photo on his wall—the one of the frustrated little boy holding a grenade in central park—and he pointed out part of what makes the photo so memorable (besides the little critter’s facial contortions) is that she had a special lens that made the background and environment tilted, a little bent-looking, while the foreground was in realistically sharp focus. He said that’s the kind of story he likes to read and write—one where the center is sharp and realistic, and the outer edges are starting to bend or collapse.