A New-ish Journal That Delights (With or Without Vampires)
When I first saw The Coffin Factory, my brain did a mental fist pump. Oh goody, goody, my inner ghoul cried happily. I was expecting something mysterious and thrilling, and The Coffin Factor delivered, although there was a serious lack of vampires.
The Coffin Factory is preoccupied with men’s genitalia. And sex in general. And cats swallowing condoms. One thing I dislike in writing is shock value. You don’t need to say the F word and talk about penises to get my attention. In fact, it’s normally a sure way to lose it. So, there were a few pieces here that I initially wanted to discard. In the end, though, I couldn’t. The stories were just that well-written, damn it. The sailor-mouths and sex-addicts too believable, too human, not vulgar enough to write off.
In particular, I wanted to hate “Tell Me Where It Hurts,” by Jacques Strauss. If I tell you that this is a story about two twelve year-old boys jerking each other off, I would be telling you the truth, and you would perhaps be severely disturbed. If they were eighteen or twenty or fifty I wouldn’t care, but twelve? That was a detail I didn’t want to let go of, but I did. This is a story about sexual awakening and experimentation, but it is also a story about South Africa, about race relations, about dysfunctional families, and about making sense of the world. It’s an example of what each story in the magazine accomplishes – sympathy and understanding of the very unique, yet very human, characters.
And then there’s Aimee Bender. Issue Two of a new mag, and they’re boasting Aimee Bender, one of the best living fiction writers (Issue One had Joyce Carol Oates!), and I’m impressed. Bender’s story, of course, is the best thing ever. It’s called “The Medieval Humors” and is about a group of middle-class tourists who are swindled. They sign up for (and pay for, and take a plane to) this amazing cruise that never happens. They’re left sitting on the curb at the airport waiting for a shuttle that never arrives.
Of course, just like real life, some people are angry and worried, while others are patient and re-assuring. It makes you laugh. You are one of these two types of people, and you know it. This is a good story, you think. I want to know more about what happens to these people. But Bender takes a turn. What about the clerk at the information counter? she asks. And so we meet the clerk, who seems tired and bored and unhelpful at first. He convinces them they should go to a hotel. We then learn that his wife has had an affair, and his life seems to be falling apart, which is illustrated by a very sad and tender bedroom scene. The next day, he visits the lost tourists at their hotel. He finds them at the pool and decides to spend the day with them. Some are nice and friendly, others mean and rude (Which type would you be in this scenario? asks Bender). What follows is a beautiful water scene that seems to put everything into perspective, until it ends. Bender writes:
It was not such a bad life. He felt a fondness for them all.
Then the water drained from his ears, and the world reached him again, or asked something more of him, and someone yelled at him to move, and some kid was nudging him to get at a beach ball near his arm, and the fondness drifted away, replaced by his usual feeling of giant inadequacy and apartness.
It’s heartbreaking how he feels this incredible lightness and freedom for a few hours but is suddenly sucked back to oppressive reality. But this is what Bender does to us. She not only presents an interesting story but tricks us, bringing us through a series of emotions until we’re not sure what we should feel.
The Coffin Factory emphasizes that it is The magazine for people who love books, which I think is illustrated best by its interviews. The Coffin Factory does interviews! I lurv interviews. I lurv interviews more than I lurv vampires. It’s a mark of a progressive and invested magazine. We care so much about the finished product – poems, stories, essays – but many of us rarely take the time to wonder about the behind the scenes of the writing and publishing industry, which can be truly fascinating, especially now with the existence of e-books.
It’s essential for writers to know what’s going on in the publishing world. If you want your work out there, you best start learning more about how the great publishing machine operates. The Coffin Factory helps you do this by interviewing publishers, like Peter Mayer of The Overlook Press. This was one of the most interesting interviews I have read. Overlook doesn’t specialize. They see something or wonder about something and say “Hmm…we need a book about that.” This mentality is so unique from other publishers, and yet, it makes absolute sense to me. Without The Coffin Factory, I wouldn’t know about Overlook, and I wouldn’t be desperate for more information about the publishing industry.
Besides fiction, which makes up the majority of the magazine, and a couple of interviews, this issue has one set of poems and one essay. If you’re into reading and writing poetry and essays, The Coffin Factory may not be for you, although the work presented here was good albeit scarce.
The Coffin Factory has that well-oiled, velvety feel of a magazine that has earned its spot in the stacks, while also pushing some buttons and attempting to bridge the gap between old and emerging technologies. Publishers and editors, I’d email The Coffin Factory if I were you and suggest an interview. If you’re a fiction writer with a fascination for private parts or just a famous fiction-writing superstar, this is the place for you. Poets and essayists tread lightly. Vampires need not apply.