What makes a good piece of writing? A good story, well-told, is what I always say, what everyone always says, and of course it’s true: we want to be drawn in, transported; we want to forget the dumpster fire of the real world and live in the world of the story. Give us something solid, we say. Something we can really hold tight to. Close the book and say “nicely done.”
A good story, well-told. When you put it that way, it sounds kind of … well, boring. When we first start to read as kids, we look for magic. We want to fall in love with the characters, we want to laugh, cry, be surprised, be entertained, see the world in a different way. We want vividly painted worlds, fresh language, heart explosions and head explosions, and sure, actual literal explosions never hurt, either. And give us pyrotechnics, yes, but don’t give us cheap side-show gimmicks—that authorial equivalent of look ma, no hands—’cause we’re going to see right through that. Don’t tell us you’re going to bring down the moon and then hand us a rock—just give us the damn moon. Give us everything, actually. Kill us, and then bring us back to life. We can take it.
To be honest, the older I get and the more I read, I don’t mind things that are a little bit messier—in fact, I prefer it. And what I really crave from a piece of writing is a moment that stays with me. An image that haunts me in my sleep, a line that makes me laugh out loud in the shower, a piece of dialogue that reduces me to tears in the subway days later (it has happened). Something surprising, like Kirsti Salmi’s Eve spitting into the man’s hand in “Coat the Blade.” Or something quietly devastating, like Mara in Eréndira Ramírez-Ortega’s “Fledgling” shopping at Whole Foods in her Minions t-shirt for a husband she knows has been unfaithful to her. It can be something that dawns with a sick, uncomfortable (and too-familiar) dread, like Betty in Michael Melgaard’s “Low Risk” slowing realizing that Norma’s boss will not take her candy machines. Or it can be something that slices your heart right open, like the narrator’s “fucking brother” in Derrick Martin-Campbell’s “Lights of Townless Homes” breaking down in a McDonald’s.
These four stories, lucky for me, are full of these moments, and all four will stay with me for weeks and months to come (so if you see me bawling on the subway, you will know why). Thanks to everyone at The Puritan for giving me the great honour of guest editing this issue. And thanks to all the writers for bringing the magic.
Amy Jones is the author of We're All In This Together, winner of the Northern Lit Award in 2016 and finalist for the Leacock Medal of Humour, and What Boys Like: And Other Stories, winner of the 2008 Metcalf-Rooke Award and a finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award. She won the 2006 CBC Literary Prize for Short Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2005 Bronwen Wallace Award. She is a graduate of the Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at UBC, and her fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories. Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, she now lives in Toronto, Ontario.