Necessary Fiction is a literary magazine that provides readers with a new story every Wednesday. The featured story for the week of July 18, 2012, is "Cloud" by Andrew Sullivan. It begins with a beauty of an opening line. Wait for it. Okay. "Everything is covered in shit." Sullivan uses a pretty brush to paint some gross things. He writes of the starlings that have completely taken over a town. “They looked like oil slicks spreading from roof to roof.” And later, “Our cars are covered in white bird shit; it eats straight through the paint. Half the kids in town have something wrong with their lungs. We are choking on air filled with feathers and feces.” The birds are written as menacing beasts, but Sullivan makes it seem majestic and important. “They steal tinfoil and barrettes and old batteries from our garages. They eat our garbage and they do not look away. Sometimes they rise and fall like a tide through the air, blocking out the sun and swallowing the rain.” The story has little bits that made me laugh, as well. Like “I thought high school was going to be full of girls in skirts and spaghetti straps, but the birds kind of ruined all of that. Everyone is bundled up.”
It's one of those stories that gets even better with the second read. It is unique and well-written. That's something I will say about all of the stories I read at Necessary Fiction. Although very different, all of the stories have something a little special to make them stand out. And oftentimes, the stories are experimental. (The good kind and not weird for weird's sake.)
There's a lot to read at Necessary Fiction. Each month, they highlight a new Writer In Residence. Matthew Salesses is featured for July. He's been writing a series of posts on revision. He's the author of several books and a ton of published stories. We can trust him. And past Writers In Residence include some women I've come to recognize and enjoy quite a bit, like Ethel Rohan and Kathy Fish.
In addition to essays written by the Writers In Residence and the archived stories dating back to February, 2009, there are plenty of book reviews to check out and also, a blog. Necessary Fiction seems to do an awesome job of keeping up with their past contributors by promoting their new works and books on the blog. I appreciate that and always look for it when I find a new literary magazine. It is so helpful to see updates when you stumble upon an author you fall in love with!
The editor, Steve Himmer, does an excellent job of not allowing Necessary Fiction to fall into a rut. For the most part, the stories are surprising reads and you never know what to expect next. "Night" by Lindsey Gates-Markel revisits God and the creation story. "And Watch The Stars Go Out" by Kirsty Logan is a story about two young girls "trying to be women."There are plenty of archived stories from the well-established, well-known and well-loved in the indie lit crowd; indie darlings like Roxane Gay, Blake Butler, Elizabeth Ellen and xTx. Quite a few of the previous contributors have more than two stories published here, spanning a couple of years of excellent writing.
The contributors appear to have the normal amount of MFAs you would expect from a literary magazine: Lots! They are a ton of professors, most of them have books and some of them have more than one. Most of the writers have the usual suspects of literary magazines in their publishing credits. There's mad respect for places like PANK, Hobart, Wigleaf and Smokelong Quarterly in the midst.
Necessary Fiction doesn't seem to be the place for a wide-eyed writer new to submitting. Although I admittedly didn't read every single author bio on the site, I didn't see anyone who hadn't been published before. All the bios I read had at least two or three publishing credits listed. So while this may not be the place for a writer's first published story, once accepted, the author would be in a great company of time-tested, weathered writers who surely know their stuff.
My only complaint about the look of the website is that in the archives, it's hard to distinguish the stories from the posts/essays by the writers in residence. I wish they were marked or sectioned off in some way so that I could more easily see at a glance what was fiction and what was a nonfiction piece. Besides that, it is very simple and easy to read. Necessary Fiction is a pleasing stop when you're checking out what's up online and the stories don't let you go until they're finished squeezing you a little bit first. It's an evolving magazine that feels kinda different every week, but it doesn't lose its charm. Anybody can dig that.