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I, Keymaster

May 17, 2011

Earlier this year, I was named fiction editor of Montpelier, Vermont-based Hunger Mountain – A Journal of the Arts. Great publication.  A wonderful honor. Coming to grips with this new gig, the rejecting and accepting–mostly rejecting, I scribbled the bit below. Part I.

How do I explain this fiction editor thing?

Think of me as Rick Moranis.

In the 1984 movie, Ghostbusters—Moranis plays Louis Tully, the luckless, schlemiel accountant, (“who does your taxes?) cruelly possessed by the Terror Dog Vinz Clortho, thereby designating Louis as  the Keymaster, unwitting partner to the Gatekeeper, the lovely Sigourney Weaver, also known as Dana, or, more interestingly, Zuul, but that’s another story.

I, Keymaster.

Your humble servant

 Together, the Gatekeeper—that would be, collectively, Hunger Mountain’s glamorous yet mysterious Editors Miciah, Claire et al—and the Keymaster—me, the schlemiel—decide whether or not Gozer—that would be you and your beautifully and painstakingly written stories of a fictional nature—are granted access and subsequently published in our Otherworldly Dimension—that would be Hunger Mountain.  And then, I, the Keymaster, in heroic and courageous acts, in thrall to the lords of fiction hurl thunderbolts of rejection…

This doesn’t work.

I’ll try again.

Somebody said, “What a great opportunity to express your own aesthetic! Your story selections will reflect your aesthetic.”

And I said, “Yes!”

Turning to the OED, I find that aesthetic (n) has to do with a system for appreciation of the beautiful, a philosophy of art, sensuous perception.  From the ancient Greek aisthetikos, meaning things perceptible to the senses.  Which sparks a connection in my brain to Vladimir Nabokov, one of my literary heroes.

Nabokov, in one of his hugely valuable Lectures on Literature delivered to fabulously lucky Cornell University students in the 1950s, said, “a wise reader reads…not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine.  It is there that occurs the telltale tingle…then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass.”   And, “a great writer is always a great enchanter.”


That’s it. That’s what drives my aesthetic.

It’s finding that magic story that unexpectedly zeroes in on my spine and…

—Well, well, well, so it’s all about you, eh?  Some strange, unknowable set of personal criteria that…

—C’mon, you know what I mean. We can’t possible love every book on the shelf, every story that comes in. It’s a matter of taste…

—But here’s a terribly well written story that somebody has agonized over, just like you and that goofy novel of yours…

—I know.  But maybe my reptilian brain stem isn’t twitchin’.  There’ ain’t no magic there for me there…


—Magic. Just like the opening chords to Jumpin’ Jack Flash or that cymbal splash in Miles Davis’ So What or Arcade Fire’s City With No Children. Makes me wanna jump and shout. I can’t explain…



—There you go again blathering about all that music stuff…

—That’s it!  The music of the prose, the story, or setting, dialogue…

—Just your opinion.  And somewhere out there, some reader, some editor is digging through the slush pile, looking at your stuff, doing the same to you…

—Right.  I know.  It’s a mystery…

—So how does anything ever happen?  Writing is such a shot in the dark!

—It is—but we have to do it.  We’re all looking for that magic…


—I can’t explain.

—There you go again.

Loren Stein, Editor of The Paris Review maintains that it is the editor’s job to “find and publish, not things considered competent, or merely worthy, but things [we] actually love.”


And, as Keymaster, I bear a heavy burden.

I’m just looking for that spine tingling magic.  Please forgive me.


From → Scribblings

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