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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Behind the Masthead: Jeff Albers, Prose Editor

You may remember Jeff Albers as one of our Special Projects Editors from last year, but this year he has moved on up to being one of our Prose Editors! Jeff, aside from being outrageously handsome, has a lot to say about serial dramas, Steve Almond, and his own personal submission process. Lucky for you, Kacie Wheeler was there to record it all!

Kacie Wheeler: What are you currently reading (outside of HFR submissions)?

Jeff Albers: I just finished Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate and 8 and now I’m reading Joshua Cohen’s Four New Messages, which offers a pretty exceptional model for how to depict our internet age without coming off as either undramatic or shallow.

KW: What are you writing right now?

JA: A story inspired by Michael Moss’s recent book, Salt Sugar Fat, about a chemical engineer for Frito-Lay who gets involved with the health food industry to try and repay his “karmic debt.”

KW: What is one of your favorite genres?

JA: I always flip to the New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” before moving on to the fiction. Humor writing in the vain of Woody Allen, James Thurber, Jack Handey or Simon Rich—short, clever, premise-based writing—has always been a favorite of mine.

KW: What kinds of things do you like to see show up in the submission queue?

JA: Steve Almond gave this great talk at Tin House’s summer workshop a few years ago called “Funny is the New Deep,” and his thesis was that the best comic writing is comic because it’s attempting to grapple with the darkest parts of existence, and it’s the only way to really talk about it. So that’s probably what grabs me most immediately, when a piece has clear existential concerns but manages to present them in a way that doesn’t negate the comic impulse. Aside from that, really it’s just some combination of voice and musicality, a story whose form is clearly the product of its thematic content, and whose sentences aren’t merely functioning in terms of utility. It’s really not one specific or pindownable element, though—even for a theme issue—and I hope the variety in issue 53 of HFR (my first as prose co-editor) will attest to that.

KW: If you could turn any novel into a movie which novel would you choose? Why?

JA: I actually think about this a lot—too much, maybe? Don’t I have writing to do?—but in terms of serial dramas, given how many fiction writers have migrated to HBO or Showtime in recent years. Like a friend and I were talking about HBO’s Enlightened and how well done it is. As I watch, I marvel at some of the protagonist’s voiceovers, which are so single-entendre as to risk outright sentimentality. It feels odd and unlike what I’m accustomed to enjoying. Early in the first season, my friend pinpointed the problem when he said he couldn’t yet gauge the level of dramatic irony. Neither could I, although the more I watched, the more I suspected it was actually less than we’d be inclined to assume, and overall the show strikes me as belonging to the movement that gets called the New Sincerity—Louis C.K.’s show and, to a lesser extent, Girls have the same feel—a movement for which I have a great affinity. And so it was constantly reminding me of David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King, and its theme of bliss coming on the other side of boredom. I think The Pale King, even in its fragmented form, would make for a pretty terrific HBO series. Of course, I also recognize the absurdity of attempting to pitch that to a roomful of TV executives: “I want to do a show about boredom set in an IRS office in the Midwest.” Let’s just say I’m not expecting any showrunner duties to fall into my lap anytime soon.

KW: Have you had any of your own work published?

JA: I need to get better about my own submission process; I tend to be one of those writers who discovers a piece isn’t quite ready just as I’m about to hit submit. But I’ve had a couple of things in university journals, usually the result of friends urging me to submit, politely at first and then less so after I’ve promised and then proceeded to hesitate for as long as humanly possible. I’ve also had some pieces online at McSweeney’s, where my bordering-on-fanboy love for the site led me to just want to be a part of it even before I knew what I was doing. So while I want to continue learning about the inner workings of literary journals and publishing, I’m also trying hard to retain that passionate outsider’s perspective of “I love what you do and want to take part!”


Jeff Albers is a second-year fiction candidate in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Arizona State University. His work has been featured in/on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, LA Record, DASH Literary Journal and The Mayo Review

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