Introduction to J. M. Scoville’s “The Mountain’s Laughter is a Landslide in the Seed Moon’s Light”

by Jason Sanford

Finding the perfect story by an unknown writer is, in many ways, every editor’s dream. After all, it’s not like editing brings many tangible rewards. There is no money to be made without the selling of your soul. Any fame and recognition that comes is given to the authors whose stories you select for publication.

But discovering a new writer, being the first to read a story that deserves to be read and reread by millions of people . . . aaah. That is what editors dream of. This dream came true a few years ago for Elisabeth Schmitz, the editor at Grove Atlantic who discovered the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The book went on to become a National Book Award-winning bestseller and Schmitz has since been the anointed as the best editor of her generation.

That is the editor’s dream. And to this dream I say: who gives a shit?

Don’t get me wrong–J. M Scoville and his story “The Mountain’s Laughter is a Landslide in the Seed Moon’s Light” fit the editor’s dream. His name is not known at all. To my knowledge–which is limited to a brief phone conversation with him, his bio at the end of his story, and of course the amazing story itself–he has few if any publications to his credit.

But who cares if Scoville and his story are an editor’s dream? What people should care about is the story itself, which is one of the most well written and thought provoking short stories I have read in years. These simple facts matter more than any supposed ‘discovery’ of an unknown writer.

Scoville’s story is a stream-of-consciousness tale of life, love, mythology, and magic in Louisiana. In many ways it resembles Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America (which makes a guest appearance in the story as an aging hippie commune) and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. However, the big difference is that Burroughs and Brautigans’ books care more about the cuteness of their writing styles–“Oh my, look at how hip we’re being!”–while Scoville uses his narrative flow to actually tell an amazing story that leaves the reader in a daze long after the story is finished. If Brautigan and Borroughs are acid trips, then Scoville is what happens after the acid trip is over and you try to reconstruct the strange, unknown worlds into which you’ve wandered.

Scoville’s story is not for everyone. The pacing is slower than the one-two-three punch of today’s trendy fiction (but Scoville’s style is also, I would argue, firmly rooted in the slower southern tradition of storytelling). But once a reader devotes themself to the story, they will be weaved and flowed through far too many supernatural happenings and events for me to relate here. In one sentence, readers might find themselves confused as to what is happening. In the next paragraph, they will be amazed with extreme clarity. By the end of the story I suspect many readers will debate whether this was simply a literal scary tale, a metaphor for the mysteries that exist all around, or something more? I also suspect that when people finish the story, many will do as I did and turn back to the beginning for another read.

Despite the mystical lore of the publishing industry, editors don’t discover writers. Writers are there all along, creating their stories and sending them out into the world. The most we editors can do is encourage others to notice what has suddenly appeared in our midst.

So here’s my shout to the world: “People–take a look at J. M. Scoville and his story! You won’t regret it!”

Jason Sanford is the fiction editor of storySouth.