A while ago now, my personal essay "Got Me a Baby Bull" was published in ML Weber's Sugar Mule. My essay centers around a visit to Mother's old friend Estelle Richard, whom I ask for help in learning how to properly trill the "R" in Cajun French. Now the essay is a chapter in my forthcoming memoir People of the Good God.
Late last year, ML Weber got in touch with me again and extended an invitation to guest edit an issue, and, when asked what theme I wanted to use, my mind jumped immediately to family. But what could be said about family? Secrets: every family has them, and practically every family does not want their secrets divulged. This issue, therefore, will be revelatory.
Literature concerns the human condition, and family is usually our first introduction to this condition. For me, family is inexorably linked to writing. My novel Every Bitter Thing began as a memoir about my childhood relationship with my father as he attempted to make me into his idea of a man, rough and tumble, by having me study Tae Kwon Do. Family, furthermore, plays prominent roles in some of my favorite novels: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, and T. Coraghessan Boyle's World's End. I read World's End when I was a twenty-year old undergraduate who had the itch to write but was not sure I could, and that book pushed me over the edge to be a writer. Thank you, Mr. Boyle.
I often use family members as the basis for characters in my fiction, but I also write about family in memoir and personal essays, where I enjoy the challenge of providing factual accounts yet packing them with emotional resonance. Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, Geoffrey Wolff's The Duke of Deception, and Frank Conroy's Stop-Time influenced me greatly as I wrote Every Bitter Thing. With my love for fiction and nonfiction as well as the theme of family secrets, it was only fitting to have an all-prose issue.
Now that the theme and the genres were chosen, I had to think of a cover image that would embody family secrets. House and hearth are traditional symbols for family; and with this in mind my wife Natthinee Khot-asa Jones and I explored abandoned settlers' homes on the Oklahoma prairie outside of our town. When we saw the stone house missing doors, missing glass in its windows, and a lone tree standing guard over the edifice, this captured the spirit of family secrets.
I was curious to see how family secrets would be conceptualized and depicted by the potential contributors. This theme, at first glance, sets itself up for sentimentality and cliché; however, I was impressed with the wide array of submissions: an adult son cannot locate his mother's hometown on maps, an essay on why holidays are stressful, a niece learns that one of her aunts was adopted. Some works explore family on the spiritual and physical level, and there are pieces that analyze culture clashes when differing concepts of family are forced to comingle under the same roof. Mental illness was a secret that cropped up in some works: from a narrator worrying that she may have the same suicidal tendencies as her grandfather to an adult son witnessing his mother entering dementia. But not all the secrets were so weighty. There is a humorous look through the eyes of a fiancée who is about to become part of an aristocratic family whose male members are always depicted surrendering in portraits. Therefore, just as with any family, these submissions demonstrate the breadth of emotions engendered by relatives.
I hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as I did putting it together. Perhaps you will be reminded of a family secret. Perhaps you will be moved to write it down . . .