Next month, keep an eye out for 2010 The Atlantic Summer Fiction issue, which should be out at the end of July. The Atlantic fiction has always been my favorite, and the man behind that is C. Michael Curtis, who I had a chance to meet during my year at FSU. Funny story.
He came for a spring writer’s festival, and, afterwards, attended a party at Janet Burroway’s house. I was sitting on the living room couch, talking to Beth, one of my fellow grad students who was going to introduce Curtis the following day. There were others in the room, sitting near us, but I didn’t know them. I asked Beth if I’d told her my C. Michael Curtis story. She looked at me uneasily and said no. So I proceeded to tell her about how I’d sent a story to Curtis, and how he’d written me back saying that I was an “awfully good writer” and though the story didn’t work for The Atlantic, “it was awfully good.” As I told her this, she began to blush and avert her eyes. “So I guess ‘awfully’” I said, “is the operative word for my writing.” Then she said under her breath, “He’s sitting right there.” And he was, right across the coffee table.
He’d heard the whole “rejection” story, something I’m sure he hears at every college he goes to. He was kind, saying he must have been in a hurry to have used the word twice as he did. Later in the evening, he asked if I wanted to join him and some of the other grad students for a pick-up game of basketball. Fool that I was told him I couldn’t. Sometimes I could kick myself.
Anyway, here’s what Curtis, the master fiction editor, says about how he choose short stories for last year’s fiction issue:
“I looked for stories with narrative ambition, complex characters, and imaginative use of language, the familiar staples of good storytelling,” Curtis says. “I prefer, on the whole, stories that present readers with situations requiring resolution, inviting moral choice, finding ambiguity in life experiences we are tempted to simplify. I resist looking for ‘an Atlantic story,’ fearing formulas that might turn us away from eye-opening experimentation or stylistic breakthroughs.” The stories collected in the 2009 Fiction issue, Curtis says, “explore classic themes embedded in unexpected or topical contexts. They involve characters who must choose between integrity of the heart and integrity of conscience. The stakes for the protagonist in each story are substantial, and the most honorable outcomes aren’t always the most welcome.”