My first appearance in the Reader—following a few decades as a devoted reader—was in a fiction issue, and it always struck me as a fantastic way to round out a year of alternative newsweeklies. Of course to do it right we would have had to have planned it several months in advance, but Karen Hawkins—our digital managing editor—and I had both just started by the time it became clear, in early November, that no fiction issue had been scheduled for 2018. (To be fair, there were some real questions about the Reader’s future in general.)
What to do? We wanted to read fiction, and we know you people love to write it. Was there a way, in far too short of a time span, to get in a whole mess of good writing, read through it all, and select the best entries for publication before the end of the year?
Within 24 hours a call for submissions to an exciting new endeavor—a flash fiction issue!—went out. Entries of 500 words or fewer. It was our only rule! (Besides that submissions be original and previously unpublished, although that’s a little more legal butt-covering than a “rule.”) Within about 25 hours, a steady stream of extremely short stories started rolling in. We accepted submissions for only a week—so we could select the best of them, copy edit, and get them illustrated before the end of the year—and received over 230 entries total (a full 10 percent of them in the actual final hour).
There was fun stuff in there. Our first read-through gave us a pool of nearly 90 pieces from which we would select a final batch for print publication. Flash fiction is tricky: it’s such a short form, writers hold back when they shouldn’t, or focus exclusively on narrative. A good balance of story, descriptive detail, and thoughtful consideration of form is difficult in stories of any length. But jamming all that into 500 words or less takes real talent.
Finding that talent takes effort. We had staff read each of those 90-ish pieces and vote, so that each piece was read, and voted on, three times. We then selected a final 30 stories based on those with the most votes for print publication, and another five for digital publication, just to be extra. Then we sent all that work off to copy editing, illustration, and layout.
The final days of sending a publication to press are traditionally a grind, and trying to get an issue out before the winter holidays is spectacularly stressful. The proofing process is not the funnest part of print publishing: tiny text you’ve read far too many times and can no longer see mistakes in, digital jags that throw off entire pages in the final hour. Suddenly words stop making sense, or you can’t remember why you thought a story was ever a good idea in the first place.
But proofreading this issue was a total joy. A ton of great, very short fiction, written by you, people who live in or love this city from afar. Each story retains its own distinct style and voice—we allowed some formatting inconsistencies between stories to preserve this uniqueness. Most of us were caught while proofing by how moving some of the stories are, or how funny, after the strain of judging them had passed. Chicago itself becomes a frequent character, and the city’s impact on its writers is clear. This city nourishes you.
We’re delighted to bring the work of these writers to our pages in this double issue. (Remember! No new Reader next Thursday!) Luckily you’ll have all the concert, theater, and film reviews you need to get by during the week we take off.
Unfortunately, our last issue dropped a few lines from a theater review of Witch by Justin Hayford; it is available online in its entirety. An image in City Life was also printed sideways, although that was a test to see if you were paying attention. (You were!) And we neglected to mention one of the coproducers of HeLa, by Sideshow Theater Company and Greenhouse Productions.
With that, we’ll leave you to the flash fiction issue, and the 30 tiny worlds each story contains. You will recognize some of these worlds, find others infuriating, and learn to love more than one of them. Then when you see us again, it will be a new year. And you won’t believe what we have in store for you for 2019. v