Editorial: Winter Fiction, Overland

This editorial comes from the emerging fiction issue I edited for Overland online. It was first published July 12, 2013.

To read the issue, click here.

With each passing second it seems, the web swells with advice for emerging writers on how to hone their craft, but what about for editors such as myself, those coming off their L Plates? Amid the din of social media and blogs, where are all the ‘show, don’t tell’ dictums and ‘how-to’ columns for my chosen discipline?

Experience has taught me how tempting – and wrong – it is for editors to invert the above writing mantra and simply tell authors how they should show their ideas. Like dispensing life advice to a friend, it’s far easier to give than receive. And those closest to me know just how much I love giving advice.

I also love editing. Inquisitive at heart, I’m always fascinated by other people’s stories so helping authors fully mould their creations is the ideal job for me. At the very least, it’s a healthy outlet for my not-so-healthy obsessive tendencies, channelled here into deep analysis and attention to detail.

The central challenge for me as an editor is how best to inhabit someone else’s story, to enact minor and major changes while keeping my voice from creeping through, ensuring my handiwork remains hidden. I’ve learnt that the process requires constant dialogue between editor and author for it to work.

Writing is a solitary and sometimes lonely practice. Editing, on the other hand, opens up a conversation – albeit, usually from the distance of a computer screen. From an editor’s vantage point, the back and forth allows insight into an author’s creative process and chosen subject matter. Pedants to the core, editors narrow in on a particular line or image and ask, ‘What are you trying to say?’ Authors respond and small intimacies are glimpsed through a Gmail window.

I cut my teeth at Voiceworks magazine, editing young writers’ short fiction and nonfiction. The best part about my time there was meeting regularly with the rest of the committee to assess submissions, with discussion often running late into the night and sometimes to the nearest bar. Through championing my selections and listening to other members defend pieces I’d overlooked, I learnt a lot.

Editing this issue, I worked alone. It was a slightly daunting but incredibly rewarding experience. Unforeseen challenges emerged and I was careful to ensure my writers and I weren’t reading different versions of the same story or misinterpreting my feedback. Overseeing this issue helped me to interrogate and then trust my own judgment.

Rather appropriately – and coincidentally – all four stories in this issue examine the hazards of miscommunication between people. In their strange and familiar ways, I hope these stories strike a relatable chord with readers.

In ‘If friends were lovers too’, Kelli Lonergan plumbs the highly charged depths of female friendship. Through her hard-eyed but vulnerable characters, she shows how some relationships swing uncontrollably between insecurity and infatuation.

Samuel Rutter pulls at a similar thread in ‘The sort of things he might say about me’, in which a shy young woman retreats into herself in the face of a meddling sister and claustrophobic share home. His austere delivery lays bare the complex ways people relate when forced into close contact.

Taking a more abstract approach, Kristin Hannaford’s lyrical prose beautifully captures an elusive connection between two strangers in ‘The direction of sunlight’. In her unusual story, a retired librarian reads Thoreau and searches for her own Eden among the bustle of New York City.

Finally, an unlikely friendship forms amidst the hormone-fuelled antics of the schoolyard in Melissa Howard’s blackly humorous ‘Other people’s daughters’. Her cheeky narration throws into sharp contrast the uncomfortable themes of her story, namely the folly of children having children.