Get to Know the Editors! - Ethan Brightbill (Fiction)
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Hello and happy 2019, you hollow-boned angels! You look nice today. If you haven't heard already, we're open for submissions, so head on over to our submissions guidelines and send your best our way! You've already gotten to know our Poetry and Nonfiction editors, so now we'd like you to get to know Ethan Brightbill, our fiction editor and resident Le Guin scholar. Check out what Ethan is looking for below!
What’s your experience in the literary world?
I’ve been working for one lit journal or another for about a decade now. I first read fiction and nonfiction for Lake Effect, an MFA-style journal run by my undergrad program, Penn State Behrend. I then became fiction editor my senior year. After I left, I read for Literary Orphans and a couple other journals to keep myself in the writing community. When I got to Northern Michigan for grad school, I of course joined Passages North, where I eventually served as managing editor.
In short, I’ve been at this for a while, and I’ve wanted to work with friends to create a new journal ever since I walked into Lake Effect. I promised myself I’d take the jump after I earned my MFA, so when Ashely Adams mentioned she also wanted to start a journal, I was ecstatic.
What are some works/authors that inspire you?
Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite author, and I find myself always coming back to her fiction and essays. I have a soft spot for literary speculative/fantastic/fabulist/whatever-we’re-calling-it-now fiction in general, with specific works including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, Charles Yu’s Sorry Please Thank You, and Maggie Clark’s “Aquatica.” Of course, I’m also captivated by many works of realism: Kazuo Ishiguro’s “A Village After Dark,” Danielle Evans’s Before You Choke Your Own Fool Self, Chang Rae Lee’s Native Speaker, Dan Chaon's short stories, and so on. But if there’s a common thread to what I like in realistic fiction, it’s a sense of the uncanny, the sort of wonder or dread that, for better or worse, makes the world seem far larger than anyone would otherwise suspect.
What kind of writing would you like to see more of in the world?
There’s an entire subset of literary fiction that focuses on existential angst and dysfunctional relationships. I’m not opposed to such stories if they’re well-written and avoid over-indulging in ennui, but what really excites me are stories that play with the bones of power. I’m interested in how authority or privilege changes people, and what people without those things must do to navigate the world. How do we survive when personal agency is limited? What risks do we face when we don’t examine our own lives? And what does it take to resist (or fail to resist) the primal instinct to preserve ourselves over everyone else? Humanity’s been grappling with these questions for a long time. They’re at the heart of everything from myths and fables to super hero movies and the nightly news—not to mention every moment of human experience. Writers from Le Guin to Orwell to Jamaica Kincaid have grappled with those questions, but there will never be a time when the world won’t need more stories that try to answer them.
What are your writing pet peeves?
It’s not really a peeve, but I see too many midlife crisis stories to be easily interested in them. Ditto for stream-of-consciousness writing about overconfident young men. Needless swearing is a turn-off, and of course needless violence or sex. Writing that exoticizes. I don’t think that people should never write outside of their own lives, but please, if you’re going to do that, treat the work with respect, humility, and the understanding that the final product might be better off filed away as a learning experience rather than sent out into the world. It happens, and knowing when to make that call is a sign of personal quality, not something to be ashamed of.
If you want a pet peeve in the sense of something small that I have an unreasonable hatred for, however, it’s the word sneer. I’m sure it’s appeared in a good story at some point in human history, but I can only speculate, because I’ve never seen it happen. Perhaps that’s because it’s so often used as lazy shorthand for contempt.
Funnily enough, I’m a bit squeamish, so I don’t think about bones much. But if I had to pick one, I’d say the pelvis for how important it’s been to our species. If I remember correctly, our skull and brain size went through the roof around the time we shifted to bipedalism, yet the change also made childbirth far more dangerous due to offspring having to be pushed out between the legs. As a result, children had to be born much earlier in their development, which is why a baby human is altogether less competent than a baby gazelle.
Incidentally, I think there’s a poem in there somewhere. If you happen to write it, please send it to us first.