Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Spencer Litman

One of the most important realizations of my life was that people are not one way, that they often do and say conflicting things not out of malice or to deceit, but because it a necessary part of the ever-changing human condition. There is a sort of dialectic behavioral therapy that must take place within all of our minds when we consider that good people can do very bad things and bad people can do very good things. This is the dynamic nature of humanity. It is unavoidable. It might be the only unchanging and shared characteristic of humanity.

And it is for this reason that I am drawn to literary fiction. There often isn’t a clear line between good and bad. The characters in literary fiction make terrible choices and deal with the repercussions. As a reader and editor, I want to read stories that sink deep into these chasms between right and wrong, stories that teach us something about what it means to be fallible and imperfect. I want to read stories that challenge me, that make me so angry I hold my breath until the final sentence, so sad that I think of the characters long after I finish the stories. I want to see myself and my flaws laid out before me. I want to read narratives that do not pass judgement but present a situation and ask me to consider a point of view I may never have arrived at myself.

Literary fiction is a conversation between all of the writers in the world, constantly arriving at theses only to have them blown up and reordered by the next. Show me a side of humanity only you can construct, the things that make your perception unique.

But above everything, I want to feel something. I want to finish a story, let take root in my brain and change my long-held beliefs. Whether it is characters, setting, plot, language, form, it doesn’t matter. The stories that stick with me are the ones that make me think about life in a way I couldn’t or wouldn’t. This is the goal of fiction, and this is the fiction I want to see adding to the literary conversation.  

Spencer Litman is the fiction editor for Issue 23. He is a fiction writer and essayist living in Phoenix with his wife, Kristine, and his two children, Jayden and Aubrey. He is finishing his undergraduate degree in English with a creative writing concentration and hopes to attend an MFA program somewhere cold, with pine needles and snow.

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6 thoughts on “Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Spencer Litman

  • October 13, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Spencer, I absolutely agree. I’m so grateful you stated so eloquently what I feel many want to say about the need for literary fiction, beyond how delightful it is to read. Thank you for sharing your insights!

  • February 16, 2020 at 7:51 pm

    This is such a great description of the beauty of literature. The best pieces to read are the pieces that take root in your consciousness and refuse to leave. If your literature is not eliciting an emotional response (depending on the genre, of course), I think it’s important to step back and figure out what is missing. Beautiful explanation!

  • February 16, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    While watching television or reading books, I notice that I can connect to characters and root for them, even if they are doing wrong or evil things. For example: the TV show “You” follows a stalker, and even though he is doing horrible things, I sympathize with him. Literature that explores the idea of good people doing bad things is great food for thought, and often presents realistic characters with real feelings and motives.

  • September 28, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    I realize that as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to agree with Litman’s viewpoint of literary fiction. Age and time has taught me that life is complicated and messy, rarely anything is black-and-white like I wish it was. Literary fiction is one way for us to see examples of characters that we can truly relate to and learn from. For example, Litman recognizes that “the characters in literary fiction make terrible choices and deal with the repercussions.”

  • February 9, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    It’s so interesting to see so many people agree with this mindset! The good guy vs. bad guy story where the good guy wins is made for fairy tales, and fairy tales have their place, but I want stories that, like Litman said, can change long-held beliefs. It’s just a direct, human connection through words at that point.

    • February 11, 2021 at 1:44 pm

      Spencer explains it so well. We are past the point of basic good and bad characters. Dynamic characters are much more realistic and really allow for works to effect us more deeply.

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