Friday, February 16, 2018

Short Fiction Recs: December 2017 and January 2018

This winter has brought such a treasure of great stories that’s it’s been more of a struggle than usual to keep up. Here are just some that I read and loved in December and January.


“Out From Behind a Rock” by K.C. Mead-Brewer at Cotton Xenomorph

This was the debut story in Cotton Xenomorph, a new literary journal of poetry and flash fiction. It exemplifies much of the other fiction I’ve seen in Cotton Xenomorph since: not outright speculative fiction or fantasy, yet seeming to tilt in that direction. Reality that feels askew, or that’s related from an unusual vantage point. Mead-Brewer’s piece is particularly strange (while also being set in a plausibly real setting); it’s violent, disturbing, breath-taking. Its central image is also dazzling, and the last line is haunting. Mead-Brewer is a writer to watch, and Cotton Xenomorph (which has also published stories far gentler than this one) is a magazine to follow.

“Mother’s Rules for a Burned Girl” by Rebecca Mix in Flash Fiction Online

I love how an entire story can be contained within 1000 words. Rebecca Mix achieves that in this searing tale of dragons, abuse, rules, and breaking free.  

“Milk Teeth and Heartwood” by Kathryn McMachon in Syntax and Salt

A creepy, creepy tale of a haunted wood, and of that which takes root and grows within.

“Landmark” by Cassandra Khaw at Clarkesworld

An aching tale of love over long (very long!) distances. Khaw is the one of the best prose stylists I know, and I love the way she writes of bodies here, of how physical touch becomes poetry. Every line here is a poem.

Short Stories

“The Feast,” by K.C. Mead-Brewer at Carve Magazine.

 Another story by K.C. Mead-Brewer, in a literary journal which is new to me. Mead-Brewer enters the world of the overtly fantastical for a lovely, haunting, infuriating, and piercing tale of giving and giving and hunger which can never be satisfied.

“In the Beginning, All Our Hands are Cold,” by Ephiny Gale at Syntax and Salt

Everyone in the village is born without hands; the children get along just fine with elbows and teeth and toes.

The story of a village where children are born without hands. . . but when they are old enough, they walk to a forest to pick out the hands that fit just right. This is such a strange and wonderful story. It’s a tale about friendship, the paths you choose, the paths you didn’t foresee, and the twists that life takes. It’s a gentle story filled with warmth, light, and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with life. Poignant and filled with love.

A disquieting fever-dream of a story, told in the format of a three-act play. A young woman comes to paint a crumbling old tower on the Straits of Malacca. What unfolds is a mash-up of English Gothic horror with a Malaysian monster story, a riff on “Bluebeard” set in the tropics and with more than one twist. The near-overwrought language expertly evokes the mood of Gothic tales. An eerie, atmospheric piece.

 And oh, this is a change of pace! A group of cyborgs steals a restaurant-ship to escape the luxury resort where they’ve been forced to wait upon humans… And hijinks ensue. Horrifying, grotesque, hilarious hijinks. I laughed aloud several times while reading this. You’ll never encounter a restaurant like this anywhere else, and the menu served is fascinatingly, mesmerizingly disgusting. This is a cautionary tale against chasing those stars on Yelp reviews. . . and in chasing external validation in general. There’s some poignancy in that lesson learned (or rather, not learned). But oh my, this is fun as well.

Boneset by Lucia Iglesias at Shimmer

The story of a bonesetter and the price he will pay to write his magnum opus. A strange story of gorgeous prose with unusual and hypnotic rhythms. It’s both gruesome and whimsical, richly inventive and utterly entrancing.

The Poet and the Spider by Cynthia So at Anathema

You saw the Empress once, when you were still a pillow-cheeked and blossom-mouthed child. She was tall and severe, and the train of her yellow dress flowed behind her for miles and miles, a river of pure gold. You stood behind your mother and wanted to bathe yourself in that river, and the Empress turned, her crown twinkling like a cosmos of cold stars, and she looked at you. 

Told in the second person, the main character of this story dreams of becoming Court Poet after seeing the Poem of The Land written on the flowing train of the Empress’ dress. To achieve her dream, the main character dares seek the help of the Spider Sisters of the West “who, like the Empress, are lovers of rhythm and metre, and strict critics.” This is such a gorgeously, gorgeously written fairy tale, written with lovely imagery, humor, and heart. And wonderful characters, too, with wonderful names! (e.g. the Spider of Bruises and Plums, who becomes the main character’s poetry mentor). I smiled so many times while reading this.

“On the Highway” by Francesca Forrest (available as an Amazon single)

This was released just before the New Year, and it’s a chilling New Year’s Eve tale set on a cold, lonely highway. It’s a story of ghosts, love, marriage, and (possibly, or possibly not) second chances. The author packs a lot into this slim story, and it takes unexpected turns within a small space. A sharp tale that leaves an echo.

“The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” by in Senaa Ahmad in Strange Horizons

A moving, brutally gorgeous tale of girls who were made to be weapons.

Presque Vu by Nino Cipro in Liminal Stories

And oh, this story bent my mind and cratered my heart. A surreal tale of millennial angst in a town where people are haunted by housekeys that appear in throats, mysterious postcards, phone calls. . . and real wraiths that call for car rides. Clay is a driver for an Uber-like car service, picking up both wraiths and humans. Like everyone else in town, he’s haunted. And he’s hollow, detached, just trying to get by in life. “Presque vu” (I had to look this up) is a term for that tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, where you know the name of something but can’t quite recall it. And that title has a fitting resonance for this story, which somehow manages to obliquely convey a mood and theme which I know but can’t quite put into words. But I do know that it’s something to do with the sadness of this modern world, and with an underlying horror which we are all trying to ignore. But there’s also the warmth of community in this story: friends, lovers, and neighbors come together toward the end, and it’s enough, if only for a moment, to help keep the darkness at bay.  

“A Cookpot, a Knife, a Pile of Rags,” by Virginia Mohlere at Cicada Magazine

She can’t stand the taste of apples. It’s the flavor of waking up from a nightmare, the flavor she chokes on in the dark. Can’t stand the smell of them, not even the sight.

And oh, this story of my heart. This fierce, gorgeous, painful, and ultimately healing retelling of the tale of Snow White. A Snow White who, traumatized by her past, walks away from her prince and eventually finds new strength in herself, with the help of a new friend.  

She will walk until she reaches the top or until her body cannot walk anymore, she has decided. Her second great decision: the first was to walk away, and the second is to walk on.


Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste (Broken Eye Books)

A house of urban legends and nursery tales come to life, the five “Marys” of the title. There’s “Resurrection Mary” a ghost who hitchhikes along a lonely stretch of highway. “Bloody Mary,” who appears in your mirror if you chant her name three times. Twists on “Mistress Mary” who grows her garden quite contrary, “Mary Mack” dressed in black, and an incarnation of the Welsh legend of the Mari Llyd. The Marys have lived together like sisters for untold years, haunting separately and then coming back to their house to feast together on the fear they’ve gathered from their hauntings. But a change is coming. And “Rhee” (Resurrection Mary) must fight to save herself and the others, and to remember who she used to be. This novella is stylish and elegantly written, atmospheric and with an often sly wit. Compelling and highly recommended.

“The Frozen Sea Takes Everything I Love,” by Meryl Stenhouse at The Fantasist

People who lived on the land, who saw the changing of the seasons, who heard the rush of meltwater over the soil did not know, would never know, that ice had a voice. Sometimes it sang under the iron runners, a grating harmony that you heard through your ears and through your bones. If the sails were belling full its frozen voice would rise to a scream that travelled faster than your ship, faster than the wind.

This story will make you feel the cold. An intensely atmospheric, gritty, tense story of survival in an alternate-history where the seas of Europe are frozen and traders sail their ships over ice. There are similarities with another story of Meryl Stenhouse’s which I love, Gone to Wrack and Ruin. Both this story and her previous one are grounded with details that make their worlds feel real, lived-in as few fantasy worlds are. And as Stenhouse said in a recent interview, both these stories “are about older women struggling to protect their families when they have little to no personal power or agency.” I love that about these works. I love the fierceness of Marta, the matriarch of “The Frozen Sea Takes Everything I Love.” And I love the sense of realism, of unsparing narrative honesty, in a unique secondary world.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New story: "Wild Ones" at Bracken Magazine

I’m thrilled to announce that my latest story, “Wild Ones,” is now up at Bracken Magazine. I have loved this magazine since it’s first issue, and am so happy to be appearing there now, alongside absolutely lovely artwork, poems, and other stories.

Bracken Magazine’s tagline is “lyrical fiction and poetry, inspired by the wood and what lies in its shadows.” “Wild Ones” indeed takes it setting from the woods. It’s the story of a mother and her teenage daughter, and of the wildness within us all.

Some notes on inspiration:

--Years and years ago, I read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising and fell in love with its invocations of Celtic mythology and Old European legends. The scene where Herne the Hunter leads the Wild Hunt against the Dark has never left me.

--There is a patch of woods near my home, a tiny scrap of forest hemmed in by suburban development. I like to walk there, especially in the fall.

--The fall is my favorite time of year. And the sound of the autumn winds rushing through trees is like nothing else.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

2017 Writing Roundup

I am late with this, as with everything these days.

I had only one piece of fiction published this year: “Taiya,” which appeared in the fall in The Future Fire. But this one piece has received more attention than any other short story I’ve written. It’s received some wonderful reviews. Maria Haskins and A.C. Wise both featured it in their recommendations. It’s listed in the 2017 Nebula Suggested Reading List. And today I found out that it’s also featured on The Book Smugglers website in “12 Short Stories as New Year’s Resolutions.” 

(Click on those lists above, please. They feature amazing, amazing authors and works that I love, and I am still stunned to be listed alongside them.)

It means so much to me that “Taiya” has gotten this attention. It means so much to me that this story resonates with people. This was one of those stories from the heart; this was the first story which truly scared me to write. I described some of its inspirations and background, and some early reviews, in this post.

Since writing “Taiya,” I’ve finished other stories which scared me to write. I hope to keep doing so.

Other news and thoughts, since this is supposedly my 2017-in-review post:

If you missed it, the lovely Gwendolyn Kiste interviewed me about my writing on her blog here  (and you should definitely also check out her work!)

I’ve posted several of my older stories at Curious Fictions. This is a new website which reprints previously published fiction, and my author page is here. As Curious Fiction’s Twitter account states, it’s a site that allows you to “Read great stories on the go, tip authors for stories that you love.” There’s a lot of great stuff there now by many writers I follow and love. Also, I know that there will be some very cool changes and announcements from this site soon, so keep an eye on it!

Early in 2017, the lovely Meryl Stenhouse invited me to join an online critique group of talented writers. In terms of my writing development, this was the probably the most significant development of the year, and certainly one of my personal highlights. My friends in this group have seen the holes in my stories and pushed me (gently but firmly, with much cheerleading) through revisions which I hated but which absolutely needed to be done. They have pushed me in other ways to take risks in my work. They have made my stories better. I’ve come upon new opportunities through this group. And I have learned from critiquing and reading their wonderful stories, as well as having my own stories critiqued by them.

In 2017, I’ve also made friends with more writers online, as well as continuing old friendships. Their support means everything to me. Advice to new writers: find your writing support group. So many of us live with families and friends who are not writers (sometimes they’re not even readers), and who don’t understand. You need people who do.

2017 doesn’t look very productive on paper for me—not from a publication standpoint. But I did write some new stories I’m proud of, and I sold some stories, and as of today I have five new stories which should see publication in 2018. I’m also involved in some exciting group publication/community projects. I am looking forward to many things.

I am genuinely hopeful for some things in 2018, and trying to be hopeful for others.

Hug your loved ones, my friends. If it’s cold where you are (as it is now for me, here in the Midwest-transformed-to-Arctic-tundra), stay warm; wear layers; wrap yourself in a thick blanket and drink tea and eat hot soup. Here is a splash of color from warmer climes:

Artwork from the artist Likhain, sent through the post from Australia. The painting on the right was a Christmas present to myself, and is the original cover art for my novelette, The Lilies of Dawn. I wish I could truly show you the detail in the work, the glitter of gold and silver. Likhain so generously gifted me with the extra painting on the left, and the cards below also showcase her extraordinary talent.