Editor’s Notebook: On Miracles
We publish small miracles, here at Waterwheel Review. Manifestations of what we crave, help create, and need to share. Three each month of every nine-month season.
Our mission is human connection through art. Art produced and published, we are keenly aware, by plain hard work. That’s why the waterwheel—an engine of labor—is our guiding image, the unbroken circle of the ever-turning wheel moving through water. Lifting and then dropping, and then lifting again, the water always flowing and recombining, both gathering and spreading. Life-giving water.
I said small miracles. How small? How do we even begin to measure their power?
Every piece we present to readers is a blessing of crafted phrases or sentences. But there’s so much more to celebrate than the words; more that is forever unwritten yet contained within a publication’s influence. Each holds the magic that went into the making of it, and then, once it lives, accumulates the resonance of its ripple effects.
Let me be specific. A few examples of the alchemy of human connection in written art:
For a couple of months I struggled to find the right ending to a short story. No more of this absurd flailing, I told myself one night before bed. I read the story straight through, then turned out the light. When I wake up, I’ll know how the story ends. And that is exactly what happened. As I fast-typed the words pouring out of me the next morning, I recognized an image from a conversation with a friend a couple of days before; another from a television show my husband made me watch a few weeks before that; and another from an evening with my sister in my early 20s. Something about my almost-dream-state made me notice some of the life experiences that went into the crafting of that three hundred or so words. Many thanks to my friend, my husband, and my sister.
A woman I know wrote an essay about a dining experience she’d had with a memorable group of people many years ago in a well known NYC restaurant. A friend who read her draft mentioned that she knew someone who had waited tables in that restaurant. A few days later, what do you know—the friend reached out to the former waiter, and just a couple of sentences into the story of the essay, he stopped her. “I remember that group! I WAITED ON THAT TABLE!” What are the odds?? I’m almost salivating as I think of the perspective and detail the former waiter will be able to provide to the author of that essay, adding to its texture and breadth.
Last Thursday afternoon I solved a personal mystery I’ve been wondering about since I was 18 years old. I solved it first through writing about it, second by reading what I wrote to a friend, third by adding more to the text in response to my friend’s feedback. At no point in this process was I actually attempting to solve the mystery, I was just telling a story—a story I have shared with at least a dozen people through the many years since it happened, a story my sister and I have told each other in a hundred different ways, a story that just happens to contain that mystery I couldn’t solve. Until now, by accident, as the solution presented itself while I worked in a couple of additional sentences in response to a question from my friend that, as it happens, had no bearing on it. Surprise!
A few years ago I taught a workshop on very short fiction in a town a couple of hours away. A woman who had lost the love of her life to cancer just a few months before, took the class. The workshop includes time for writing in response to prompts, then sharing the drafts. This woman wrote a perfectly crafted micro so beautiful it brought me to tears. It captured a moment of her partner’s death, so I wasn’t the only one crying. Later she told me this was the first thing she had written about her loss. The piece was published only weeks later without the need to change a single word.
To finish, a Waterwheel Review example: Because our submission process is blind, the cover letter that comes with a submission doesn’t become visible to us until we make a decision to accept or reject. One stunning piece we enthusiastically accepted came with this happy message: The author landed on our website, really liked our vibe, and sat down to write something for us, the very something we were already metaphorically holding to our chest, in a rapture over its beauty. That one miracle alone is enough to reward every drop of energy and work I have put into this magazine.
Last month in this space I was going to share anecdotes about what I and my co-editors did with our summer. Notes about what we wrote in those few months, or stories about writing-related events. As Suzanne reported, we were all hit by urgent, last-minute concerns, so there was only time to wave hello as the season started up, and reaffirm our love for this place. Had I written the planned Editor’s Notebook, I would have confessed that I spent the entire hiatus utterly consumed—to a fault, if I’m honest—by my current nonfiction project. I probably would NOT have said how hard it has been to pull away from that work, just the inch or two required, so I can return to editorial duties. I’m admitting it here to emphasize how much I and my co-editors care about honoring the art and craft of connection through the written word.
It’s not enough to produce my own. To hear, occasionally, about my friends’ writing miracles. I have to foster a community hungry for them. Create more room for them. So when it’s time to report for duty, I put my own work aside and come back to the waterwheel. I’m always glad I did.
In the end that’s what I’m here for—the miracles.