Torrid Literature Journal

The latest of my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

Torrid Literature Journal is an independent literary journal published in Florida. Although Duotrope claims the journal is no longer active, the May 2021 issue is currently available for purchase.

What They Say About Themselves: “We have a true love for the written word. At TL Publishing Group LLC our dedication to the culture of literature runs deep. We want writers to embrace their unique voice and we want to encourage them to continually perfect their craft. We offer education and access to resources that will further the goals of emerging and established writers.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume XX (November 2017). Yeah it’s an old issue, but it was free and I’m cheap.

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Resurrection of Jane Evans,” by Simon Lee-Price. An email announcing the death of Jane Evans, a co-worker whom the narrator barely remembers, leaves the narrator “feeling alarmed at the terrible fragility of all our lives.” Yet a surprise encounter six months later forces the narrator to reconsider his feelings. This is exactly the type of story about office work I’ve been trying to write the past several years, and I hope to write something so well-crafted in the future.

Exploding Helicopters: Two Explosions. Not a great deal of action in the stories, but plenty of dramatic tension.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. One of the rare times I wasn’t pleased at not seeing single a single f-bomb in the entire issue, as I felt the subject matter of many stories called for some form of rough language.

Walking Memory

PHOTO PROMPT © Alicia Jamtaas

“You sure you remember?”

“Don’t worry, Marcy,” Harlan called ahead to his granddaughter as he slalomed the uneven terrain of the forested ravine. “Can’t tell you exactly where it is, but I’ve walked this path enough times that my legs know the way.”

Marcy stopped, turned to him. “So we keep walking until your legs figure out where to go?”

Harlan pointed ahead. “There.”

She looked where he pointed. The moss-covered roof of a small cabin was barely visible. “OK,” she replied. “But that doesn’t mean what you’re looking for is there.”

The old man smiled. “Oh it’ll be there.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash-fiction contest. One picture, 100 words.

Day 456

Took yet another step further away from the pandemic cavern this weekend. For the first time in 459 days, my writing group met in person.

We had been meeting for years in conference rooms of our county library system, but the cancellation of any non-essential meeting forced us to go virtual. I didn’t know anything about Zoom at the time, but my wife had an account which she had to use immediately for her work. Hers was a Pro account, allowing her to host more logins for longer meeting times, and she didn’t need it during my group’s Saturday morning meetings. With nobody else in the group stepping up, it was either learn how to host a Zoom meeting or let the group disband until the pandemic was over.

Any student who’s taken one of my college composition courses can tell you I can be visibly uncomfortable as the center of attention. Phone calls also don’t sit well with me. Yet hosting a Zoom meeting was an entirely different experience. Maybe it was seeing everyone’s face, yet not feeling anyone’s active gaze on me except when I was speaking, that made it work for me. I could go on mute and not worry about sneezing or coughing; I could step away without anyone noticing, or even turn my camera off a moment. And I still had opportunities to say what was on my mind. I could be personable, but on my own terms. It was liberating.

Around the second or third meeting I came up with an effective hosting strategy. On a screen separate from the meeting I created a list of commenters for each story reviewed in the meeting, and posted that list in the chat. When the first commenter was finished, I invited the next commenter on the list to begin. Commenters appreciated knowing when their turn to speak was coming. If a commenter went on a little too long, I could send them a private message urging them to finish. When all commenters were finished, I created a new list for the next story to be reviewed, posted the list in the chat, and the process resumed.

Our group was very active during the pandemic, with enough submissions to warrant a second meeting most months. I don’t often pat myself on the back in this blog, but I’m pretty sure the ease with which we transitioned to virtual meetings had a lot to do with our success during this difficult time.

I was ambivalent about meeting in person again, for no other reason than to avoid the 45-minute car trip, but I wasn’t going to miss this one. We met outdoors, at a covered pavilion in a private park. All six of us were fully vaccinated; we didn’t wear masks or keep our distance, a clause I’m hoping won’t haunt me in the future. The feeling was far different from our Zoom meetings. Getting online doesn’t take much effort, but meeting in-person requires attention to several small details. I felt more committed to the group than I had in the past year and a half, and I think we made the right decision for this month’s meeting.

We’ll likely continue meeting in person through the summer. By the time the weather turns cooler the county library may have reopened their conference rooms, and we’ll move our meetings inside. Looming over these plans is the threat of another wave of infection. We’re not entirely back to where we’d been before, but reliving our past experience this weekend was refreshing.

Faith Hope & Fiction

Every week, I write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine.

Faith Hope & Fiction is an online journal of fiction and poetry that is updated on a frequent if not regular basis.

What They Say About Themselves: “FaithHopeandFiction.com welcomes submissions of original short stories, essays, and poetry to “inspire and entertain,” which covers a lot of emotional territory. (No graphic sex or excessive four-letter language–think of this site as PG-13.) But if you write raw feelings, life unfiltered and uncompromised, and the search for some kind of meaning amid this chaos, we want to hear from you!”

Issue Reviewed: I reviewed the content available on the site in the week leading up to this review

Genre: Literary realism with spiritual themes

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Delwyn’s Feather,” by Patricia Crisafulli. Elderly widower Delwyn is assisted to his daughter’s home for Christmas dinner by his son. Moved by the arrival of his divorced son’s children, Delwyn tells a story of his twin brother, who died early from polio. A pleasant but unconventional story about how the holidays elicit strong emotional reactions.

Exploding Helicopters: One Explosion. It’s the ideas, not the plot, that drive the stories.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Consistently clean language.

The Next Order

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

“Surprised you’re still open,” the customer said after ordering the hamburger combo meal.

“For two months after the Orb appeared we weren’t,” replied the middle-aged woman as she wrote on an order pad. “But when it became evident there wasn’t any life there and was harmless, my husband sued to reopen. We gotta right to live, you know.”

The customer looked to his right. The Orb’s rubbery edge was visible beyond the diner’s wall. “And you’re not worried? Or curious how it got here?”

She ripped the order sheet from the pad. “All I care about is the next order.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest that most weeks is too much damn fun to pass up.

Day 451

Nearly 18 months between plane flights. Don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve been away from the skies for that long. Probably high school.

It was completely spontaneous. My younger son was having trouble moving into his new apartment, and since my wife and I didn’t have any firm plans for the weekend we decided to give him a hand. Got up at 3 on Saturday morning and drove to the airport, which was far busier than I expected. “This is like Christmas,” my wife observed. Twenty minutes to get through security — glad we arrived an hour early.

Masks were required at each airport, as well as on the flights; it’s probably a federal law, and given how much close and lengthy interactions occur with air travel I was glad for the restriction. Most people in the airport were masked, although I did see more than a few chin diapers. Mask enforcement was stricter once we got inside the aircraft. I don’t like wearing a mask for four hours straight, but I’ll pay that price in order to balance convenience with safety.

On checking in to our hotel, we were also asked to mask while in public areas of the building, although I didn’t see any violators reminded of this policy during our stay. Outside the hotel, it was like 2019 — none of the shops we visited to buy furniture and good for my son’s new apartment asked for masks, and most employees didn’t wear one.

Since my wife and I are both fully vaccinated we were OK with the sudden relaxation of COVID safety measures. And as we boarded the plane for our return home after getting our son moved, we both felt relieved for indulging in a spontaneous journey once more.

***

We haven’t bought plane tickets yet, but our plan is to return to Hawaii this December. So much can happen these next six months that could foil this plan, and if it does happen I hope we won’t have to be masked for the entire 12-hour flight. All I can do now is hope there’s not another wave of infections, and that an effective booster shot will be available in the fall.

The Society of Misfit Stories

Today is a landmark in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines — I’ve now reviewed every journal and magazine to which I’ve submittted at least one story. But I’m not stopping this series, as I’ve identified several more publications for future submissions…

The Society of Misfit Stories is a publication of Bards and Sages Publishing, and prints three online and print editions a year.

What They Say About Themselves: “The Society of Misfit Stories is a home for those wonderful stories that are too long for most magazines but too short for stand-alone print books. Whether you call them short stories, novelettes, or novellas, these stories are all of a length that often struggles to find publication traditionally. Each issue offers a substantial volume of amazing speculative fiction for readers who enjoy spending time with a good tale.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume III, Issue II (June 2021)

Genre: Speculative fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Black Leather Gloves,” by Alex Woolf. Travis Enderby owns a second-hand bookstore outside of London which specializes in science fiction and horror. When an enigmatic woman arrives in his shop, Travis becomes obsessed with her and the black leather gloves she wears at all times. A gripping tale of obsession and repressed guilt that also contains insightful observations on both literary fiction and speculative fiction.

Exploding Helicopters: Four Explosions. I like stories that combine page-turning action — in other words, narratives in which something actually happens — that also contain some insight — in other words, tales which make me think. The stories in this collection combined those characteristics well. The stories are indeed long, but weren’t tiresome.

Profanometer: Sonuvabitch. Two of the six stories contained a gratuitous amount of profanity, while the others (including the one I commented on for this review) contained none at all. I like that balance.

Rescheduling

PHOTO PROMPT © Liz Young

Holly looked back, noticing Jan had suddenly stopped jogging. “Something wrong?”

Jan stood and pointed ahead, to the right. Holly looked where she pointed, then gasped.

They passed the clinic’s parking lot on their weekly runs without noticing it. But there was no ignoring the car that had smashed through the low brick wall, the vehicle’s front tires suspended over the debris scattered on the ground.

Holly saw the vehicle was unoccupied. A man stood to its side and wrote in a notebook. “What happened?” she whispered.

“Dunno,” Jan replied. “Somebody late for an appointment?”

“They’re gonna have to reschedule.”

There was no way I was going to not respond to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt!

Day 445

Went back to the fencing club tonight. First time I’d picked up a blade since the fall.

Thursday is our “open floor” night — no lesson, no drilling, just throw on your gear and mix it up. Only six people, on the light side for a Thursday. Many of the people I’ve competed with don’t know if they’re coming back. I wish them well, but also hope they change their minds. Their wit is one thing I hope won’t be permanently lost due to the pandemic.

Our coach set a club policy on masking — if one person needs to wear a mask, everyone must. One of the teens tonight hasn’t been vaccinated yet, so I wore a mask designed for working out under my fencing mask. This mask provided better air intake and therefore worked better than the masks I’d attempted to wear when fencing last summer (a decision that now seems foolish). When the unvaccinated teen left, the three of us still at the club took off our masks — the relief was immediate. I can wear this new mask as I make my way back into the sport, but I’m really looking forward to discarding it.

As I completely expect, the effect of spending so much time away from fencing was evident. I attempted a simple lunge soon into my first bout, but with no flexibility in my legs I kinda stumbled forward. I felt like a hippo trying to tap dance, and was thankful that I didn’t fall on my face.

But when I switched from foil after a few bouts and put on my saber gear, I finally felt the exhilaration that came to me so often on Thursday nights before COVID. The action in saber is so swift that you can only rely on instinct and reflexes; there’s no time for planning a strategy and worrying about its success. You just go, focusing all your energy into single bursts of action. Every cell in my body feels alive when I’m fencing saber, and it’s a thrill I’ve missed sorely this past year and hope to never have to abandon again.

Beloved

I read a wide range of fiction, and occasionally like to challenge myself with a work that’s well outside my usual fare. Many times I rise to the challenge, and those experiences can be rewarding. Yet there are times when I find a work a little overwhelming; those experiences can be frustrating.

Unfortunately for me, Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction that year, falls into the latter category.

The elements of a great story are all there — a band of unforgettable characters, a tense setting with a tragic history, and a supernatural being sowing chaos. When I step back from the prose and consider the individual elements of the novel, I’m very impressed with its scope.

The prose, however, is very dense, and the timeline is anything but linear. The text moves effortlessly between past and present, but the shifts happen with a frequency that is dizzying.

This isn’t a novel to be read; it’s a novel to be studied.

However, I feel the fault in this case is more on me than the work itself. I may not be able to appreciate its artistry, but I can at least acknowledge it. Some works are to weighty for me to enjoy, and “Beloved” is one of those works that is just too big for me.