Upon first glance, it appears that Narrative Magazine is more interested in running a lucrative business than anything else. Everything about it feels corporate. Money-making contests abound. The editors, Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian, look like celebs with their air-brushed faces poking out in sharp digi-color from the slickly designed web pages. Is this "vision" of corporate cut and egoistic self-promotion the future of literary journals on the Internet? ... Well, argh. Let's hope not. Perhaps good news for some, but a lot is potentially bad news.
Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian recently judged their latest contest, the 2008 First-Person Story Contest. I find it highly irregular that the editors, rather than choose an independent judge or a panel of judges, picked themselves to judge. Egoistic? Foolish? All the above? Regardless, it definitely opens them up to charges of favoritism, and more importantly, fraud, especially if the winner of their expensive, big pay-off contest turns out to be someone they know, e.g., an associate or friend in the literary world.
Writer blogs across the Internet helped Jenks and Edgarian publicize their contest. Narrative Magazine tapped everyone on their huge mail list (mail fraud?) and generally let out all the stops to push this competition.
Years ago, a poet board run by Alan Cordle, Foetry.Com, made it a holy mission to expose fraud in poetry contests. It made everyone realize (despite the overzealousness of some Foetry followers) that favoritism was rampant in the literary world and that closer scrutiny was needed to asssure contest-paying customers got a fair shake.
Now, back to Narrative Magazine's contest. Here is the announcement of the winners broadcast all over the Internet.
THE 2008 FIRST-PERSON STORY CONTEST
First Place ($3,000) Gina Ochsner On Principle
Second Place ($1,750) Heather Brittain Bergstrom Celilo Falls
Third Place ($1,000) Holly Wilson Night Glow
Now, here is where it gets ugly. A simple google search with Edgarian's name and Gina Oschner, the big $3000.00 winner, reveals what appears to be a strong relationship between the two writers before the judging of the contest in question.
Gina Ochsner writes with the delight and knowing of a born conjurer. Her world is that liminal space, that disconnect, between nature and our lives-heaven's winking outside the office window, grass pushing up around the casket, umbrellas opening like the great beating of wings. — Carol Edgarian
Okay, so after reading this gushy blurb we are able to place Oshsner and Edgarian close enough in relationship that the Narrative editor agrees to blurb her book.
Next we have this little eye opener right from the pages of Narrative:
Ochsner's story collection The Necessary Grace to Fall won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction from the University of Georgia Press. Afterward, Ochsner wrote to Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian to say, "Many thanks for your superb editing of 'Signs: Markings.' It found a happy home with Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion. Thanks to you, Carol, for your encouragement and excellent teaching.
"Thanks to you, Carol, for your encouragement and excellent teaching."
I believe this proves without doubt that Ochsner had pursued a relationship with the editors of Narrative Magazine and had established that relationship effectively. She personally thanks Carol for "encouragement and excellent teaching."
One can't but wonder if Edgarian also helped edit the winning piece that Ochsner submitted to the contest.
Narrative ... I'll be watching you closely, as I hope will thousands of others.