If you “write cute,” you might want to consider submitting to Sycamore Review, published by the English Department at Purdue University. Or at least that’s the impression I have after reading Issue 18.1 (Winter/Spring 2005), which is not the latest issue. (It is, however, one of the freebies from the IU Writers’ Conference.).
I can see why my work has not found favor there on the one or two occasions I’ve submitted. Consider “Rebound” by Mary Elizabeth Pope. It is written in the second person, which is almost always a gimmick that disguises a story that really should be first person: “A year after you cancel your wedding to the playwright who calls you provincial because you don’t like hanging out with his ex-girlfriends, you realize it is time to break up with your new companion, who will start to annoy you after months of littering your apartment floor with ice cream sandwich wrappers and looming over you in bed each morning until you jump out of sleep with a start.” Some people like this sort of thing.
Then there’s “On Writing the Hardboiled Mystery” by Douglas McKinstry, which has some gimmicks of its own, including the use of the first person plural, as if the author and the reader are jointly engaged in the enterprise of concocting a murder mystery: “So our detective drives to Eddie’s Tarantulas and Tattoos, remembers Eddie from a drunken visit he made years earlier right after his divorce, asks Eddie why put a tattoo on the dead husband’s chest.” Tediously cute.
Fortunately, it’s not all cute. There’s a nice (but short) interview with Charles Baxter, which you can read for yourself. Baxter’s always got useful things to say. There’s also a nice essay by Anna Mitcov, “Of Watches and Onions,” that isn’t cute either.
On the other hand, the editors juxtapose a review of Cormac McCarthyy’s No Country for Old Men and the latest Harry Potter book from J.K. Rowling. What were they thinking?
Having said all that, and not being terribly impressed by the issue, I do have to say that the Sycamore Review website is worth exploring—lots of online content, commentary and links. Do check it out.