Full disclosure: I’ve long wanted a small-press publisher here in the city of Orlando. We’re an international destination city, a major hub for tourists and convention attendees and even for travelers throughout the state. We’ve got a world-class airport, world-class restaurants, world-class theme parks, world-class hotels, a world-class university, but here’s the problem: it’s all world-class, all intended to appeal to the mass market (and in many, cases, to be exported…Darden Restaurants, after all, is headquartered here). For many, Orlando is an artificial city crafted by corporate interests, not a distinctive cultural center. So, as a proud resident with a bit of knowledge about the history of the city and the distinctive culture that pulses in small pockets here and there throughout the metropolitan area, I take every opportunity to not only enjoy the culture that I find (from local restaurants to local bands), but also to support and share that culture with as many locals and out-of-towners as I can. I mean, seriously…do we want Orlando to be known for Red Lobster and Oliver Garden, or for Beefy King and Dexter’s?And do we want our own residents to think that this is all that we offer, and all that we’re capable of?
Fragmentation and Other Stories is the first release from Orlando-based small-press publisher Burrow Press, which now joins The Florida Review, The Cypress Dome, and Specs, as local literary journals/ presses. Yes, I know, this is nothing compared to Boston or Portland or Chicago or New York, where there are not only dozens of colleges and art institutes and museums but also dozens of literary magazines and small-press publishers and indie bookshops and record shops and…but you know what? I’m not writing this post to complain, but instead to praise editors/publishers Jana Waring and Ryan Rivas for having the courage and initiative to actually get this thing started. I was recently able to attend their release party for this first book, and was pretty impressed with the turn-out at the new downtown Urban Re-Think (does this indicate that there are more lovers of literature in the area than the average outsider might think?).
As for the book itself: it’s a nice volume, well-constructed and attractive, and like the best new independent literary journals that I see (Artifice, Pank, etc.), it’s highly creative in layout and isn’t content to just try to do what other journals are doing. The interior pairs photographs with stories (it’s all fiction, no poetry or drama), but the photographs were all taken with the stories themselves in mind. Flip through the book, and there are a lot of images and interesting uses of space (heavy black, or appropriate blankness) to give the overall text a more dramatic feeling. Simply put, the editors are trying to make this into something more than just another lit mag.
Overall, I think the collection offers some good short fiction, too. I was expecting more of an Orlando/Florida focus to the writing, but that’s just my own selfish desire (the book itself doesn’t advertise itself as a collection about Orlando). There were three real stand-out stories, I think, from writers I’m definitely going to keep an eye on. The first is from Ryan Rivas (the editor of the collection, and the publisher), who writes about the loss of idealism in public schools, utilizing a second-person point-of-view that cleverly collapses for a very resonant conclusion; with his own small-press, I assume we’ll see more from Rivas soon, and I (personally) think he’d be smart to continue exploring the teaching profession…there are some great observations in this piece, but it hints at a world on which we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. The other great stories come from Gene Albamonte and Ed Bull. Albamonte writes in a patient prose that allows us to really watch his characters from a distance and fall into their emotional struggles without becoming lost in their grief. Ed Bull’s story, though, was probably the most affecting of Fragmentation, following a young man who is forced to confront his own emotional attachment to his girlfriend…while both are about to become the victims of a New Smyrna shark attack. Again, it’s extremely patient prose, forgoing the melodrama of teenage relationships and the action-movie temptation of shark attack scenes. Bull is able to craft two sympathetic characters with very different perspectives, put them into a dire situation, and watch how they will interact. It’s an honest story, genuine, and a great note on which to close the collection. (It’s also the best example of a “Florida Story” that the collection offers, too, and it’s not a hokey Florida story about gators or drug-running)
I’m looking forward to seeing what else Burrow Press produces, but this is a nice start for a small-press publisher. I doubt that Orlando will ever be known as a major cultural hub (the Disney-stacked odds are against that one), but there are a lot of talented people in this town, many of whom do not even know that the others exist. And there’s also a strong reaction to the mass-produced plastic culture that the theme parks and chain restaurants create. Who knows? That reaction could produce some fantastic music and some fantastic literature. Burrow Press has got the ball rolling. The real test will be in their consistency/frequency of publication (they obviously can’t call it quits now!), and in the relationships they form with area writers and musicians and artists (which, judging by the many different types of talents on display here, are starting strong).
You can check out their web site here. I suggest that, if you’re an Orlando local, you support Burrow Press (and Beefy King, too, our best local restaurant).