A writer/editor provides an anthology of stories about misdeeds
Think of the editor of the short story anthology, which, depending on the genre or circumstance, is a cartoon Crypt Keeper presenting the fantastic, or David Eggers making modern short fiction relevant again with his McSweeney’s Magazines. As a writer (and teacher) of fiction, Luanne Smith leans toward the Eggers model. “I think the real key to being a good editor is to be an avid reader,” she says. “But as a writer, I know the rhythm of a short story… the action and heart of character-driven storytelling.”
With Texas-based Madville Publishing, she has created a trilogy of thematic compilations. In 2020 there appeared Walk away, co-edited with Lee Zacharias and Michael Gills, including fictional pieces that explore the idea of running away, metaphorically or literally. For 2021 Smith completed Taboos and Violations† A third, muddy roadsis expected in 2022.
Both fresh and well-known authors, most notably Joyce Carol Oates, are represented in Taboos and Violations† “I wanted stories that offered variety yet were artistic and… had three things: rise and fall, strong characterization and a rhythm,” explains Smith. “I don’t know if I would have paid attention to those elements of storytelling if I hadn’t been so attuned to them because of my own writing.”
Kirkus Reviews calls the result “a beautiful and diverse collection that gives an eloquent voice to the ineffable.”
Smith describes her upbringing as “blue collar” in Paducah, Kentucky. “I went to community college for two years because that was the only way I could afford to go to college…I was lucky…to get a transfer scholarship to the University of Kentucky …to cover my tuition for my last two years of school. Plus, go to [UK] meant going to the Rupp Arena to watch basketball in person—a Kentucky girl’s dream.”
A turning point in her growth, Smith says, was enrolling at Kentucky’s Murray State University for a master’s degree (a precursor to her MFA from Penn State) and attending Ken Smith’s fiction workshop. “It has changed my life. Within a year of attending Ken’s workshop, I started publishing and also had a teaching assistantship. No more fast food jobs.”
Her experience eventually led to a 30-year tenure as a lecturer in literature at West Chester University outside of Philadelphia, where she created the Luanne and Roger Smith Endowment (named in honor of her late brother) for live readings.
The New Stories from the South collections in particular were a source of inspiration for her. “I can empathize with the stories and the writers. Other than that, the series is a good mix of southern voices. Taboos and Violations has a theme, but it also required variation in content. The New stories from the south series also had a focus…by focusing on a region. I learned from the way the editors still produced a diverse and interesting book every year.”
She started her relationship with Madville by contributing to their first poetry showcase, By the light of a neon moon (2019). “The anthology focuses on poems about ‘honky-tonking’, which is exactly what I want!”
Smith suggested what would eventually become Walk away† Taboos and Violationsand muddy roads† “I had ideas for anthologies, and I needed a publisher who was open to a down-to-earth side of life… I like the old adage ‘Write what you want to read’ and I like stories from characters who are ‘ do not necessarily behave themselves or go their own way, whether the results are good or bad.”
She and her co-editors completed the themes, soliciting material from specific authors, and sometimes holding open calls for submissions “to try to create a mix of new work by well-known writers and work by emerging writers. would draw to the stories of the emerging writers.”
Taboos and Violations24 pieces include the aforementioned Joyce Carol Oates, whose story “Gargoyle” is a bitter but non-standard take on infidelity; Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “The Alcoholic Alphabet”, an abecedarium of drinking lore; and Walter Evans’ sad childhood memory “What Looks Fun or Nice,” about brutal community punishment for a man the naive narrator only knew as a kind, humane uncle. “We’re not supposed to feel sorry for someone like him. I loved that aspect of that story,” Smith says.
Compared with Walk awaySmith’s trustee of Taboos and Violations had its own challenges and joys. “It was harder because we had a lot more submissions to read and choose from, so narrowing down our choices wasn’t as easy as it was with Walk away† [Yet] it was easier because I knew better how to make a book.”
And Walk away kept some melancholy. “By the time we made our final decisions, my mother died unexpectedly; 19 days later my brother had a heart attack and died too. My co-editors Michael Gills and Lee Zacharias had to pick up the rest while I was in shock and trying to deal with these losses. To be fair, the process of putting Walk away together it’s all a bit blurry now. So taboos was easier for me because I could fully focus on it.”
Of muddy roads Smith, published in 2022, has now retired from teaching, has moved to Florida with her husband and expects to work on long-delayed projects, including an anthology about “bad-ass women,” as well as her own compilations of short stories and a novel novel. “I’ll be attending two writers’ conferences in the coming months and will finally focus more on my own writing. It’s time.”
Charles Cassidy Jr. is an Ohio writer and critic who always tries to behave.