I love noodle soup—or ramen—because all the goodness mixes in one bowl: the finely sliced carrots and mushrooms; the slippery and bloated Udon; the floating chunks of pork belly. All of it blends and compliments and adds up to a very tasty time.
Now to my role as an editor. In the four issues I have had the privilege and pleasure to edit so far, it feels as if I have been eating—slurping—the finest bowls of ramen over and over. Each one different—perhaps a little spicier here or a little brothier there, but generally the best ingredients joined to make a whole that is unforgettable.
In the January issue, I was lucky enough to invite five heavy-hitter flash writers from the U.K. and Ireland, writers I have followed for many years. This was a very British Isles Ramen: dry and sarcastic, with some tinned sardines and Cadbury's chocolate thrown in for good measure.
In the March issue, I delved deep into a bowl of surreal noodle broth, in the swirl of which nineteenth century composers came alive, anxious Dutch therapist-travelers made villagers no longer care, and people quite possibly ate people.
Iris N. Schwartz
In the May issue, I spooned into a very geographically diverse soup bowl, with Ayotlan, Yorkshire, Kiwi, Heartland, and Pacific flavors all competing for attention.
Sheldon Lee Compton
In the July issue, my latest, I found a dish full of surprises—ingredients and writers I stumbled upon in my submission queue; tastes and textures that demanded my full appetite.
For this reason, choosing highlights is a complicated thing. How to extract the pickle from the miso base? How to select that favorite hunk of fibrous pork? How to actually sieve the soup and pick through the pieces with a chopstick?
Well, I did, and it was hard—but also rewarding, like heating up your favorite leftovers for lunch the next day. In the mix, there's always going to be a little chunk that stops you chewing for a moment, stops you slurping, stops you with the noodles hanging from your mouth unattractively.
January Issue: David Swann's, "Call me, Ishmael”
This one still makes me laugh—that devilishly placed comma! As a teacher myself, I really connected with this story—the description of the exam hall and the sounds of feet squeaking along the gym floor and those unfortunate, yet serendipitous, typographical errors that make teaching a joy.
But more than this, I connected with the story’s preoccupation with understanding. It seemed the perfect place to set this kind of story: the silence of the hall; the thwack of the oversized clock marking time; the separation of the two characters (teacher and student, young and old, knowing and innocent).
“When I look back down the gym, he’s completing his inscription, filling in the white bits with his diligent pen, until every part of the error is perfect.”
March Issue: Claire Polders', "Speaking of Ovid"
This is one of the best stories I’ve read all year. Hands down. The start of the first line is deceptively clear, “The first time I became myself…” and the rest unfolds like the gradual ‘sinking’ of the narrator into the couch. As the man sleazily makes his advances, the narrator grapples with identity, taking cues from myth to come to an understanding of self and situation. The ending is sublime, and I won't give it away here.
“My true self was taking shape inside my skin. It was like in a dream when you’re first and third person at the same time, observing yourself. This may sound contradictory, being yourself outside yourself, but I tell you it’s possible. I watched as I became the woman I was supposed to be.”
May Issue: Nod Ghosh’s, “Wrangthorn Avenue”
Like David Swann’s “Call me, Ishmael,” this story was very familiar to me. I had spent a lot of my youth in Leeds, West Yorkshire, so this coming-of-age tale by Nod Ghosh really resonated in terms of place, dialect, and action. Not only that, Nod Ghosh’s writing has a certain spark to it. She draws her characters effortlessly and with empathy, unafraid to leave some loose ends and frilly bits.
“El wanted to tear the loneliness from her body and stub it out with her toe. She needed something to keep her from feeling insignificant. El hated her springy straw-coloured hair; her wide frame and the way she always managed to say the wrong thing. She couldn’t talk to anyone.”
July Issue: Ken O’Steen’s, “Dialogue in a Dead Zone”
This story starts with the discovery of a note in a book with the words: if you find this, call the number. A dialogue ensues between two characters quite different in age and circumstance, but both sharing a love for obscure Scandinavian literature. The maturity of the discussion makes this fiction so believable and hopeful, and O’Steen carefully parses out the peculiar despairs and desires of these two characters without missing a beat.
“What do you do there?”
“Customer Service Representative...they call or email, and we’re supposed to fix the problem.”
“Doesn’t sound terribly interesting.”
“It’s not. What do you do?”
“I dropped out of college. I think I’ll eventually go back. Maybe. Right now I’m working in a grocery store.”
“Doesn’t sound terribly interesting.”
I thank ALL the writers for their talent and time. From January to July, we published a total of thirty eight stories from twenty writers, based or born in the USA, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico, Holland, the U.K., and France. It's been a wild ride, and more’s to come with the September issue just around the corner and the November issue starting to take shape.
Late nights, emails, reading, reading, reading—it takes time and patience to edit and publish, not to mention a little bit of luck and Hail Mary.
I really, really, really like Ramen.