When I started into the submissions process for City of Weird, I have to admit, I was pretty worried. I was kind of hoping for masterpieces right out of the gate, but what I was getting at first were stories that didn't delight me, that didn't contain the otherworldly elements I was seeking, that didn't have anything to do with Portland. I also wasn't getting the numbers of stories I had hoped. And I knew that this submissions process would be a slow burn. I knew that the writers interested in submitting couldn't just open their computers, pull out a favorite unpublished piece and send it my way - they were most often writing a story for the collection, which meant fewer submissions right off the bat. I mean, it takes real guts to write directly for an anthology that might not take your piece. I knew all this. But it still scared me to be counting down the days and not logging happy lists of possibilities.
Then I got a submission entitled "Notes from the Underground City" and I knew I'd be alright.
Stevan Allred is the co-facilitator, along with Joanna Rose, of the well-known Pinewood Table critique group in Portland, Oregon, and author of the short story collection A Simplified Map of the Real World. In an interview for the Los Angeles Review, Liz Prato asked Stevan to talk about what his book of linked stories, all taking place in a fictional town called Renata, Oregon, was really about:
Loss – because I believe that that is really the only story we have to tell, and how we survive it, or fail to survive it – so that’s almost a given. In fact, my challenge to writers out there is go, try to write a story without loss on it. Love was a big thing. There’s romantic love in a number of the stories. Familial love, fathers, sons, daughters. The seamier side of love with one story that has a sex worker in it. And because you want conflict in your stories, there turns out to be a lot of divorce. I was married at the time, and thought I would always be married to my wife, and after I finished writing this body of stories, my marriage fell apart. Now, when I look back on it [writing about divorce], it feels like I was dress rehearsing for something I didn’t know was going to happen.
The full interview is here.
When I first read A Simplified Map, it struck me as an epic. It's a collection of stories of real life in small town America, no wars or gods or successions of kings, but there's an epic-ness to it nevertheless. When I first read Stevan's story "Notes from the Underground City," I thought the same thing: epic. Just in short story form. It's written in three parts, from three different points of view. Matthew Korfhage of Willamette Week called it, ...a literal miniature ripped straight from Borges, in which an old man named Melquiades creates his own tiny version of Portland in the Shanghai tunnels for his own amusement—snatching Portlanders from the Salt & Straw lines to live in his little city, where the little citizens beg for craft beer and Stumptown coffee, and for Cheryl Strayed to join them.
Here's a taste, from the opening of the story: part one, the Melquiades Document.
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Melquiades, and I am, in that misleadingly innocuous phrase from your police procedures, the “person of interest” wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of some twenty thousand of your city’s residents. Before we take up the matter of those missing citizens, nearly all of whom are quite safe, I assure you, you must first understand with whom you are dealing.
I was born in 1429, and I am now in my 587th year. My father was Melchior, a clockmaker, in Padua, and I learned his trade from the time I was a child. My mother was Osania, a healer, and an adept in certain arcane arts. My early years were divided between my father’s workshop and the kitchen table where my mother prepared her unguents and poultices. I was very small, but my fingers were nimble, my mind quick, and my mother foresaw that I was capable of greatness. Her knowledge was ancient, and included secret incantations that have been passed down through her family for a thousand years or more.
By the time you read this I will be gone from this world, though still very much alive. You will not be able to follow me, for my mode of travel takes me through folds in the fabric of the cosmos beyond your reach, but the truth of what I am about to tell you is irrefutable. You will be able to see it, and touch it. You will have the chance to speak to the missing citizens, as I am leaving them in your care. And you, of this execrable age of skepticism, intent on denying the existence of magic or anything like it, will understand that I command powers far greater than any you possess.
Stevan's work has appeared in (big breath) Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, Clackamas Literary Review, Bewildering Stories, Real, Windfall, Second Writes, Soundings, Perceptions, The Text, Inkwell, Mississippi Review, Ilya’s Honey, The Iconoclast, Rosebud, I Wanna Be Sedated: Thirty Writers on Parenting Teenagers, Pindledyboz, Beloit Fiction Journal, The Organ, The Cereal Box Review, whatevermom, The Gobshite Quarterly, The Paumanok Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Contemporary Haibun Online, Lite: Baltimore’s Literary Newspaper, The Portland Mercury, Syzygy, Writers Northwest, Northwest Writers Handbook 1995, Stepfamily Advocate, Fireweed, and Portland Review.
Also in my own collection, I have this zine that Stevan edited:
All about pencils! And including such writers as Joanna Rose, Yuvi Zalkow, Christi Krug, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Harold Johnson, Steve Denniston, and more - also Stevan, himself. It's a sweet, sweet little book and contains all sorts of art as well as writing.
Stevan will be reading at Broadway Books for the City of Weird event today, Tuesday, October 25.