As our submission period winds down, I’m very excited to share that we’ve already received more submissions than last year! Our editors are reading diligently, planning to make final decisions mid-May.
Once the editors have decided on the stories we’ll print, I’ll be reading all of them and choosing three stories for the Editor’s Choice Award. For The Midnight Diner 3, the editors were allowed to make suggestions and plead their cases for the stories they believed in. I took their advice to heart and made my decision.
I believe the three stories I chose displayed the eclectic nature of The Midnight Diner.
Diner Alumni Jeff Chapman highlighted two of those stories: A Thousand Flowers by Eric Ortlund and The Clockworks of Hell by Brian J. Hatcher. If you’d like to get into my head for a few minutes (warning: it’s dangerous!) my first suggestion would be for you to read these two posts. Jeff asks the authors very thoughtful questions and the authors answers are perfect.
When I read A Thousand Flowers, I didn’t know it would be an Editor’s Choice. It was submitted very early on, one of the very first stories I read as Editor-in-Chief. Months and months later when we were making final decisions, the imagery stuck with me. Like Ortlund, I’d experienced a field of sunflowers (in Indiana) and I was taken aback by the beauty. Combining that beauty with the horror of zombies? Brilliant. Especially to me. My life so often crosses at the intersection of Beautiful and Ugly and this very literary zombie story has stuck with me since the day I read it.
The Clockworks of Hell was, to me, a story about perspective and how we choose to view life. From a personal standpoint, at one time in my life, I was much like the pastor who had a nervous breakdown and more recently, I’m learning to be a more grace-filled, merciful, positive thinker (which is pretty hard on most days!) Again, Beautiful and Ugly collide. Also, there was a definite Tell-tale Heart feeling that brought me back to the days when I devoured Poe’s stories for their lyrical beauty and ugly innards.
The third story was The Blood Bay by Edward M. Erdelac. Growing up loving Black Beauty and all things horses and having married a cowboy–this story–as most good westerns, are my cup of tea. The (again) beauty of the horse in the story, for all it’s ugliness, captured me.
Below is the editorial statement I wrote for The Midnight Diner 3. If you’re listening well, you’ll catch on to the types of stories I’ll gravitate towards when choosing the Editor’s Choice winners.
From The Counter
Three years ago, I submitted to the first edition of The Midnight Diner while grieving deeply the loss of my Uncle Ed, who took his own life on a cold night in February. Two years ago, I was asked on as editor here and soon after, sang my grandma into eternity. Last year, Coach hung up his golden spatula and placed the keys to this joint in my nervous hands and exactly one month ago, my own mother breathed her last as I sang Amazing Grace over her.
And so life has taken on a new perspective.
As has death.
In life and also here in print for this third edition, my death cup runneth over. I need a change so I go back to Independence Days in grandma’s back yard, BBQ ribs on the grill, sprinklers, sparklers and fireflies in mason jars. I go back to Lilac bushes blooming, autumn leaves falling, and mom bundling me up for Chicago blizzards that dump more snow than imaginable and winds that carry it and drift it up over rooftops that I climbed and conquered. I go back to rides in Uncle Ed’s Spider convertible, Hotel California blaring, and Dairy Queen ice cream dripping down my fingers.
I go back there and get homesick.
I get homesick and remember the pain of those years, pain I won’t put to words, but the kind of pain that breaks a spirited girl’s soul.
Standing at this intersection of beautiful and ugly I make a quarter turn to face Beautiful Boulevard and make another quarter turn to stare down The Ugly Highway, then Beautiful then Ugly.
Turning circles shows me a glaring truth. Beautiful and Ugly coexist. They intersect. Overlap.
It becomes a matter of perspective.
The capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.
A few themes arose organically in this issue. Death. Family. Loss. Loneliness. Pain. Abuse. I can’t help but think of how God has commandeered my life during these times of overwhelming grief and pain that come with losing those that had some of the most influence on my character. And how He also took over this edition of The Midnight Diner. The Holy Ghost worked in the minds of the authors who penned these stories long before I knew my mother would fall ill. They were submitted and published at this moment in time.
Looking back to the days before we knew of mom’s brain tumor and cancer, a friend and I were at a writer’s conference. She attended a session by author Sara Miles and searched me out with a message.
“Prayer doesn’t cure disease; it heals it, and healing may not be what we think it should be.”
I couldn’t have known the stories in this issue would center around death and family and pain. I certainly didn’t expect my mother to die. But, come to think of it, I didn’t expect to be editor-in-chief of this place or president of ccPublishing. I grapple with what I know, what I do not know, what I can know, and what’s beyond my comprehension. If God had stood before me and told me, “Hey listen. I’ve got this plan for you. You’re going to become this important person in this rinky-dink-but-full-of-potential company and you’re going to have to do it all while your people drop like flies…” I would have run for the hills (that He owns.) A modern day Jonah, I suppose.
Therefore, what I don’t know is probably good for me. And Him, I imagine.
But that doesn’t mean the struggling stops. It also doesn’t stop the healing from occurring. What matters is the perspective with which things are viewed. Certainly, most of us don’t expect tragedy. We don’t anticipate our step-mother’s abuse when dad is out on the road as in Monster Made. We don’t set out to overwork ourselves, which in turn, sets a series of events into motion that we can’t undo like Jon in Flesh and Blood. As children, we don’t think we’re going to watch our mothers die. Ever. Whether peacefully as I did or tragically as Jonas from The Blood Bay witnessed.
Because we live, we struggle. Just as Jacob wrestled with God, we grapple with Him and His ways. Sometimes we walk away limping with dislocated hips, other times, like the bleeding woman of the New Testament, just touching the hem of His garment heals us.
This healing that does not always look like we think it should is never more obvious than the story of Christ and his encounter with the Beautiful Ugly—the Cross. Our healing comes through his pain, suffering, and from His Father’s abandonment, if for only that one moment in time. Imagine what it must have felt like to do everything asked of you—sinless and blameless—to have your Father turn His back on you while you’re being beaten and tortured and killed.
Through this horrible death came a healing, though, that could not be accomplished otherwise.
What is presented to you between the covers is what I believe represents a much different perspective of fiction written by Christians. It exemplifies those of us who Pursue Christ on the Fringe.