A confession: I didn't really start reading online publications until
Prior to 2005, I was aware that online magazines existed, and
occasionally, a friend of mine would publish a story in one, and I
would go to that magazine and read it, and maybe a few other stories as
well, but I didn't regularly look for stories or poems online.
In 2005, I finished grad school and began working in the fall as an
adjunct instructor at two small liberal arts schools. I was grateful
for the work, and happy to get to spend my days talking about stories
and writing with undergrads, but it exhausted me. After the first few
months, I realized I hadn't opened a book at home to read for pleasure
since school began.
But I was always checking my email, and sometimes, I'd hop around to a
few literary sites to remind me that there were, after all, people out
there reading and writing stories and poems and books. Somehow, in one
of those acts of serendipity that only the Internet can produce, I
ended up at the website of Pia Z. Ehrhardt. I read and loved Pia's
stories—especially her short-short stories—and via
her blog, eventually discovered several other writers—people
like Matt Bell, Kim Chinquee, Jeff Landon, Kathy Fish, and Claudia
Smith—and the magazines in which a lot of these writers
published their flash fictions and short-short stories.
Things changed for me. Rather than lament the fact that I'd been
missing out on reading all this great work online, I spent my spare
moments between classes or late at night catching up on things. I
printed out stories that I especially liked and shared them with my
classes. In one composition class, after we read the stories from our
required textbook by people like William Carlos Williams and James
Joyce, I made them packets of stories culled from elimae, Juked, and SmokeLong Quarterly.
And I began, too, not surprisingly, to write a little more in my spare
moments between classes. Since I didn't have a lot of
time—and probably because I'd been reading a lot of flash and
short-shorts—the stories I wrote were very short, the kind
that I'd come to realize were perfect for reading online. I even began
to compose the stories in blocks of text, and when one of those stories
went on to a second page, I imagined what it would look like when all
of its words were captured on a single webpage, one a reader would
barely have to scroll all the way through to read.
Not long before Scott contacted me, asking if I’d like to
select Wigleaf’s Top 50, I read online an interview with the
writer Mazie Louise Montgomery in which she talked about the energy the
online writing community had way back in 2002-2003. She
didn't necessarily say that online publications had begun to
decline, but she certainly seemed to miss something about the way
things used to be.
Reading this, I felt a small twinge of regret that I'd maybe
missed the golden years of online publishing, and my second thought
was, "It figures." I'm always coming to
things late. Just last year, for instance, I listened for the first
time to an album called Let
it Bleed by The Rolling Stones.
I feel like I had almost no role at all in selecting Wigleaf's Top 50.
I don't mean that in a bad way. All I mean to say is: Attached to that
email Scott sent me letting me know about Wigleaf's project, there was
a document that contained two hundred stories that had already been
culled from all over the Internet. The stories came from magazines like
Harp & Altar
and The Dream People.
They came from people whose work was alternately familiar and unknown
I began reading in January. I read three or four stories a day and took
notes on a hard copy of the list I'd been sent. My plan was to cross
out the stories that I didn't like, or that I didn't think stood a
chance of making the top fifty, but by the end of January, after I'd
read about eighty stories, I hadn't crossed out a single story. All of
them, I thought, were good enough to make my final list.
Eventually, regrettably, I started to reread and draw lines through
some of the stories. I had no real criteria other than my personal
preferences. The stories that remained were the ones that moved me, or
made me laugh, or showed me in just a few paragraphs another way of
looking at the world. They were the stories that stuck with
me—and continue to do so.
The only real role I played in this was bumping up the number of
selected stories. There were several writers with more than one story
on the list of two hundred, and my goal was to include fifty stories by
fifty different writers. In the end, I felt like a few of those writers
deserved to have more than one story in the top fifty, mostly because I
couldn't bring myself to choose only one from them. So, what follows is
not Wigleaf's Top 50, but Wigleaf's Top 55. As Scott said when I asked
him if this would be all right, if Houghton Mifflin were behind this,
then I might not have such leniency, but, well, they're not.
I'll never know whether or not I missed the golden years of online
publishing. Maybe I did, but I'm grateful that I eventually found a lot
of the good work that has been and continues to be published online.
And I'm grateful to the editors of Wigleaf
for bringing to my attention several writers and magazines that I had
not yet come across until I received that list of two hundred stories.
As for the extra five that accompany the Top 50, I hope you don't mind
having them around. I certainly don't think that you will.
Now that my work here is done, there's an album I just downloaded that
I've been meaning to listen to. It's by a band called Neutral Milk
Hotel. And there's a book around here called The Corrections
that I keep hearing good things about.
Chad Simpson lives in Galesburg, Illinois, where he teaches fiction
writing at Knox College. His stories have appeared in several
magazines, including McSweeney's Quarterly, Barrelhouse, The Rambler, and The Sun, and he has
received awards from the Illinois Arts Council, The Atlantic Monthly,
and the Sewanee and Bread Loaf Writers' Conferences. He
sometimes keeps up with a blog here.
To link to this directly: http://wigleaf.com/08top50intro.htm
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