Close Cover Before Striking

It’s all in the smile. If they smile back, you got them hooked. They smile back, they’re already wondering what your tits look like under that dress, or whether you do anal. You’re thinking “not all men.” But the “nots” don’t matter, you’re not there for the nots. You’re there for the ones who smile back…

Flaming fiddles, it looks like there’s a roadblock here! If you’d like to finish reading this piece, please buy a subscription—you’ll get access to the entire online archive of F(r)iction.

Editor’s Note

Dear lovely reader,

In my eight years at the helm of F(r)iction, I’ve seen some issues come together like magic. Perfect stories shining through the darkness of the slush pile, celebrity authors ringing up at just the right moment, each artist nailing the concept on the first round of sketches. It was enough to make even the most cynical editor believe in the legendary realm of the muses, to see something so difficult come together so easily…

This, dear reader, was not one of those issues.

At every turn, it fought us. Ongoing COVID lockdowns in Shanghai in 2022—where our printer is located—set our production schedule back nearly an entire year. When a piece was locked, it didn’t paginate cleanly. When we found an artist we loved, the timing didn’t work. Again and again, we would get close, and then stumble at the ten-yard line. So badly, in fact, that we had to change the order of the issues we were producing, because the issue due out four months after this one came together faster.

But you know what, dear reader? Doesn’t that just feel right for an issue about the unseen? That an issue about invisibility and marginalization and feeling small in the face of overwhelming odds… of course, it is this issue that would fight its way into the world.

And that is what every piece has in common: the fight. When the world tells you that you don’t matter, that you don’t have a voice, that no one wants to see you, we are all given an option: to stay in the dark or to come out swinging.

But to really explore the theme, we needed, more than ever, to ensure that we pulled stories from authors with a wide array of backgrounds, races, genders, and orientations, each tackling the topic from a wildly different angle.

Some of these works are grounded in reality, from “undesirable” people going missing to invisible diseases—both physical and societal—threating to devour us. And, as in every issue of F(r)iction, this theme is also explored through the glorious lens of the surreal. You’ll find a shirt that promises to finally make you seen and loved… if you never take it off, a young Black girl haunted by her ancestors and the pressure of her legacy among them, and the ghostly consequences of the Texan oilfields.

But it’s not just our written content that brings the unseen into the light. As part of our partnership with comic legend Kelly Sue DeConnick’s #VisibleWomen initiative, we solely hired visual artists from marginalized genders to illustrate this issue, ensuring that this hugely unrepresented group of comic creatives receives the elevation they deserve.

Lastly, a special comic debuts in this issue, one that is very dear to our mission—and to me personally.

For those of you familiar with our parent nonprofit, Brink, you’ll know that as well as publishing this lovely journal, we also teach literacy and storytelling courses in marginalized communities. Fundamentally, we believe that stories have the power to change lives. Engaging with stories allows us to not only develop essential literacy skills that unlock academic and professional pathways, but the act of telling our own story—critically evaluating who we are and why—can also radically shift how we think about our own self-worth and place in the world.

The comic memoir “Brilliance” by Juaquin Mobley was developed in one of our programs. Juaquin’s story was hard fought for and developed through an enormous amount of time, self-reflection, accountability, and courage.

Today, Juaquin is no longer a student but a co-teacher, working alongside us to help other formerly incarcerated people develop the skills and belief to stay out of prison.

If I’ve learned anything from both curating this issue and my years of teaching F(r)iction in communities like Juaquin’s, it is that in order to end the cycle of being “unseen,” you need the courage to step out of the shadows yourself, develop empathy for people different from you, and—just as Juaquin is doing with his work and Kelly Sue is doing with #VisibleWomen—become a force to help others do the same.

I hope, dear reader, that the stories here inspire you, surprise you, and even upset you—because casting a light on unseen people, cultures, and experiences requires us to rethink how the world works, be open to the discomfort of having our own conventions questioned, and be courageous for ourselves and others.

Thank you for being a part of that mission.


Dani Hedlund

As Above, So Below

They do put the hand back together. It takes all night. We start in the plastic waiting room chairs and as it grows later, we sprawl on the carpet, sneak sips of Spotted Cow, and try to stay awake. Mel offers the receptionist a beer, which sends her into a very vowel-forward “Oh no I…

Flaming fiddles, it looks like there’s a roadblock here! If you’d like to finish reading this piece, please buy a subscription—you’ll get access to the entire online archive of F(r)iction.