American Short Fiction is a literary journal based out of Austin Texas, dedicated to presenting short stories and novellas from emerging and established writers. Relaunched in 2006, the magazine consistently impresses, publishing a variety of fiction from some of contemporary fiction’s most exciting voices. Work originally appearing in American Short Fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses.
Flyway blogger Lindsay Tigue was able to connect with ASF editor Jill Meyers to talk about the journal’s history, as well as its exciting place within the national literary arts community.
Lindsay Tigue: What is the story behind American Short Fiction? When and how did it come to be?
Jill Meyers: American Short Fiction was founded in Austin in the 1990s by the great Laura Furman. The University of Texas Press published it until 1998. In 2003, Melanie Moore founded the nonprofit Badgerdog in order to bring the magazine back (among other things). She bought the rights to the magazine and put together a crack team of editors (two of whom are still on board as contributing editors). They were really interested, then (as I still am now), in stories that surprise or disrupt, that do new things with language. Rebecca Bengal, the editor for the relaunch issue, researched the small journals of the 1920s and ’30s to help focus the magazine’s visual aesthetic and design. Badgerdog relaunched the magazine at AWP in 2006.
LT: In an interview with Book People, you used a David Foster Wallace quote (said in an interview with Dalkey Archive Press in 1993) to explain ASF‘s “aesthetic.” You said he’s paraphrasing Yeats to talk about how the experience of reading good literature is like “the click of a well-made box.” I really like this quote of a quote of a quote. Can you explain it a little? Do you ever work with writers if you a think a piece is close (a “near-click”)?
JM: I think I was reaching for some language to take the experience of reading very fine, heart-stopping stories out of language. . . which may be ridiculous, to try to do that. For me, yes, you register it physically, bodily, when you come across a story that’s brilliantly well made—you hear the click, or the top of your head is taken off, as Emily Dickinson says. And when I say well made, I mean elegant and surprising—that the story has found a new solution, be that a new rhythm of sentences or a new arrangement of narrative time. It found it, and it makes you think: oh, of course, that was there all along, that’s the most natural thing.
And yes, we do work with writers who come close. This is one of the things we’re most passionate about—working with writers to develop their ideas, push their work forward.
LT: I know ASF is published by the nonprofit Badgerdog. Can you explain that relationship and tell us a little about Badgerdog?
JM: Yes, Badgerdog is ASF‘s publisher—and many more things, too. Badgerdog is a literary arts nonprofit; it fosters individual discovery and the building of literary communities. Badgerdog sends professional writers into schools and community spaces to spark the imaginations and hone the abilities of emerging writers of all ages. We like to think that we are creating a radiating network of engaged readers and writers that begins in Central Texas and reaches out to the nation–and of course, American Short Fiction is a node on that network.
LT: At the 2010 AWP in Denver, I saw you host a panel called “Going Long: The Long Short Story.” It seems like there are lots more opportunities for short short fiction to be published (especially online). What about the other side of the coin—truly long stories? ASF makes a point of publishing a variety of lengths, but is it getting more difficult for longer stories to find a home?
JM: A lot of magazines do place a word limit on fiction—6,000 seems to be the standard cutoff. And I understand the reason behind that—particularly if it’s a journal that’s also publishing nonfiction and poetry. There’s only so many pages you can afford to print! So you come to a decision on how many pages each section, each genre, will get.
We do not impose a word limit at American Short Fiction, and I feel that opens us up to amazing possibilities. When you write beyond the traditional 6,000 words, things can crack and shift and become more interesting. Characters darken and deepen—or disappear. We’ve published very long stories and novellas.
There are some writers–Josh Weil or Joan Silber, for example–who work best in the long form. And luckily, there are still places that publish longer forms, as well as cool startup publishers such as Nouvella who publish novellas by emerging authors.
LT: American Short Fiction publishes a variety of established and emerging writers. What advice do you have for writers beginning to submit their work to literary magazines?
JM: Take heart. Literary magazines want to have a relationship with you. Occasionally we’ll pluck a story from a brand-new writer straight out of our unsolicited submissions and say yes, absolutely, this is the thing, can we publish this please? But more often, we’ll develop a conversation with a writer over time—he or she will try us, and we’ll send back our notes on why the story isn’t quite ready or isn’t quite right for us, and he or she will try us again and (perhaps) again. If we’re sending you detailed notes on your story, that means we believe in you and your work and we want to see more. Some of the stories that we are most excited about come from our unsolicited submissions.
Also: we admire tenacity.
LT: What is one of the most exciting moments in ASF‘s history?
JM: Can I say right now? We’re deeply invested in the local arts community and the national conversation. We’re focused on connecting writers and readers. And we’re curating something that serves both those aims. It’s called the Austin Lit Crawl, which is like a bar crawl with literature, and it’s coming up on October 22. This is our inaugural year. It’s a collaboration among us, the Texas Book Festival, and Austin’s East Side. I was inspired by San Francisco’s long-running Lit Crawl (we have that organization’s participation, too). We’ve got so many cool events and spaces lined up. There will be readings at a cemetery, at a boutique drive-in movie theater, at bars. And writers such as Susan Orlean, Chuck Klosterman, and Justin Torres.