Inconvenient Beauty

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

“Why don’t you go home early,” Conrad’s boss had said. She knew Conrad was upset at not getting the promotion he’d been seeking.

Daylight still lurked over the late afternoon horizon as he drove into his subdivision. Passing the community park, absent in the sub-freezing air, he felt a sudden urge to stop. He looked at the neatly plowed sidewalk surrounding the playground, at how last night’s snowfall covered the grass like icing on a cake.

Conrad hated the inconvenience of winter, but staring at the postcard beauty of this moment gave him peace for the first time that day.

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


The Pinch

Another in my series of reviews of literary journals. More information about these reviews can be found here.

Founded in 1980 as the Memphis State Review and also known as River City during its history, The Pinch is now published twice a year by students in the MFA program at the University of Memphis. From the editor’s page of the print edition: “In the early days of Memphis, the Pinch District was the residential area for Irish immigrants and Jewish merchants. The district was referred to as ‘Pinchgut,’ after the malnourished appearance of the Irish railroad workers… The journal’s name, The Pinch, references our city’s very first community and reflects the heart of our city’s history and the soul of our creative approach.”

What they say about themselves: “Our editors generally favor strong voices, well-written prose and poetry, and engaging art. We are especially fond of beautiful, muscular work with strong emotional threads and want to read essays, stories, and poems that move, provoke, or engage editors and readers.”

Issue reviewed: Fall 2019 (Volume 39, issue 2)

Genre: Literary realism. A pair of stories were set in alternate realities, but in each case the device was used to satirize the world we’re familiar with rather than spark the reader’s imagination.

One Story I’ll Remember to not Forget: “Tell the Truth,” by E.L. Diamond. Brody, the first-person narrator of this “alternate reality” story, is a messenger, which in this world means he is paid to recite in-person messages to people his clients don’t want to face. A simple story that questions the influence of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook… or WordPress.

Clapperboard Rating [In order to avoid seeming like I’m having fun with the tragic death of a beloved American professional athlete, I’m temporarily renaming this category]: Two KLAKs. Not much happened in the stories, but the characters struggled with difficult situations involving both interior and exterior conflict. I also appreciated how the editors took a chance with those two alternate-reality stories.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. The language is rough, but appropriate for the subject matter.

Popshot Quarterly

Another in my series of reviews of literary journals. More information about these reviews can be found here.

Popshot Quarterly is an illustrated magazine of poetry and fiction, published since 2009 in Britain. (The subscription page lists its rates in pounds, not dollars, and British spellings are used even in the stories about America. I found all that kinda refreshing.) The publication does not appear to have any association with an educational institution.

What they say about themselves:In June 2008, the idea for a poetry and illustration magazine materialised as a result of picking through the literary shelves of the now deceased Borders. There was a feeling that the world of poetry was driving itself into an elitist and fusty no-through road, and we wanted to do something about it... With the launch of Issue 7, we started talking about the introduction of short stories and flash fiction into the magazine, as well as poetry. In October 2012, with the arrival of our eighth issue, Popshot relaunched as ‘The Illustrated Magazine of New Writing’ firmly positioning itself as a literary magazine that champions new writing across the globe.”

Issue reviewed: Autumn 2019 (The Fantasy Issue)

Genre: Since the issue I read was dedicated to fantasy, my perception of this journal’s genre might be a little skewed. But as most of the stories were short, fast-paced, and had clear resolutions, Popshot does appear to have a solid pop sensibility while still maintaining its literary credibility. The illustrations accompanying each story or poem definitely made this one of the most fun journals I’ve read so far.

One Story I Really Liked: A tough choice, since just about every story was memorable (in case you can’t tell, I really like Popshot). But in keeping with my approach to these reviews, I’ll give a shout out to “For the Splendour with Which She Shines” by Jen Lua Allan, which provides an interesting perspective on prophets and the art of prophecy.

Helicopter Rating: Three Explosions. There wasn’t much action or conflict in the stories, but the settings in each were highly imaginative and engaging.  

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. I noticed the stories about America or Americans featured more profanity than other stories. Says something about my country, or at least how my country is perceived in Britain.

Innocent Bystander

PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehuda

Not asking much, really. Just need one of you clowns to put me back in the freezer.

Yeah, Brandon took me out, but Lynne started the argument that had Brandon tossing me on the counter like garbage. Ten minutes later she’s slamming the bedroom door shut while Brandon sulks in his recliner. And I’m still on the counter, feeling the frost melt on my cover.

This is perfectly good creamy confection here, folks. And you’re gonna let me melt just to show how mad you are at each other? Do you get some perverse joy out of harming innocent bystanders?

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest based on a photo prompt. Give it a shot!


Red Lightning

Sometimes it pays to not give up on a book.

I won Laura Pritchett’s 2015 novel at a holiday book exchange, and began reading it towards the end of my recent vacation. Yet at nearly a quarter of the way through, I nearly decided to leave it behind for the next condo guest to enjoy. The story centers on a first-person narrator who returns to her sister’s home and the daughter she abandoned after a long absence. The narrator goes to great lengths explaining how difficult her life has been, how much she regrets the decisions she’s made, and how tragically unfair this world of ours is. Unfortunately, I found the narrator’s insights more annoying than engaging, and was never convinced she had the requisite insight for her metaphysical observations. I also didn’t appreciate the author’s numerous attempts to showcase her education and linguistic abilities. Sure, it’s kinda neat to create compound words like motherlove, but how muchcreativity does that really demonstrate? And when the author insists on using this technique oneveryfreakingpage, it soon becomes tiresome.

Yet somewhere around the one-third mark, the narrator finally revealed more information about why she’d returned to her family, I began to gain interest, and found the resolution quite satisfying.

For all its imperfections, I did find “Red Lightning” both enjoyable and insightful. I’m glad I didn’t abandon it to whoever is now staying where I had been, and just might make it my gift at the next holiday book exchange.

Fourteen Months

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

“Given how far you exceeded your Carbon Ration, the judge could give you up to five years,” Potter’s attorney had told him before the sentencing. “But it’s your first offense, and you’ve made your Offset Payments on time. I’m thinking six months.”

Potter shook his head. “Half a year in the Dome? Living off nuts, berries, and root vegetables? Just shoot me already.” The attorney scowled, then hustled Potter into the courtroom.

When the sentence of a year and two months was announced, Potter groaned, wondering if in that time he would forget the sweet odor of urban exhaust.

I wasn’t going to do Friday Fictioneers this week, but then I did.

Sockless No More

After 24 glorious days of bare feet and sandals, I’m ready to return to the Frozen North, the land of my birth and where I will always feel most comfortable.

I’m glad to have gotten back into the blogging groove over the past week. Eight days in a row… been a while since I’ve maintained such a routine, and it feels good to regain that discipline.

But for now, it’s time to head to the airport and settle in for a long flight back.

PRISM International

Another in my series of reviews of literary journals. More information about these reviews can be found here.

PRISM International, founded in 1959, is published quarterly by the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing department in Vancouver.

What they say about themselves: Our mandate is to publish the best in contemporary writing and translation from Canada and around the world... PRISM strives to uplift and shine a light on emerging and established voices across Canada and internationally, and are especially committed to providing a platform for folks who have been systematically marginalized in the literary community, including but not limited to BIPOC groups, cis women, trans women and men, nonbinary people, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ2S community.

Issue reviewed: Summer 2019

Genre: Literary Realism. Every story in this issue was firmly rooted in reality.

One Story I Really Liked: “August on the Lake” by Emily Pegg. After a couple finds a pair of dead bodies in their summer lake, the husband announces he is inviting his mistress to stay with them for the weekend.

Helicopter Rating: Two Explosions. While the stories don’t feature much action, there is plenty of conflict between characters.  

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. Most stories contained a moderate amount of choice words, while some chose to use those words quite liberally.

Ten Terrific Takes

Here’s some other stories based on last week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt (my own is here), selected at random but listed her presented in alphabetical order of author name:

  1. Appearances are truly deceptive in Anita Sabat‘s world
  1. Cathryn likes psychological thrillers, and her take on the prompt shows this interest
  1. Dale explores the social tensions lying under the surface of the image
  1. The protagonist in Iain Kelly‘s tale reads the headlines and makes a decision
  1. An eclectic eatery is the scene for the story by James McEwan
  1. The photo inspired msjadeli to write about a real place that is meaningful to her
  1. Neil MacDonald ends his sci-fi take with a comic twist
  1. Russell Gayer‘s narrator has an unusual approach to vacationing
  1. The end of a long journey is the start of Russell Mercer‘s tale
  1. trishsplace offers a word of hope on the Australian brush fires

It Can’t Happen Here

I’m fascinated by 1930s America, and have a lot of interest in alternative histories that imagine the United States being conquered by the Axis powers or electing an overt ally of fascists governments. Yet it’s one thing to ask what woulda happened decades after the fact; it’s quite another to imagine what could happen in the near future.

Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel regained its popularity in 2016, with many critics comparing its central character, Buzz Windrip (modeled closely after Huey Long), to Donald Trump. To me, those analyses — here’s one, and here’s another — seem almost self-evident. Windrip becomes president by promising voters economic prosperity with the aw shucks persona of a political outsider, which is all you need to know about what happened on the first Tuesday in November 2016. Like Windrip, The Fraud has no problem telling his followers want they to believe, regardless of its truth.

Despite the novel’s relevance to today’s politics, I’m more interested in the world created by its author. In that regard, I don’t find the first part of Lewis’ novel particularly convincing; Windrip’s victorious campaign in the 1936 Presidential election seems improbable, and even less so are parts of his subsequent dismantling of American government, such as eliminating state boundaries and replacing them with administrative districts. What seems far more believable is the resistance movement started by rural newspaper publisher Doremus Jessup. Much as “The Plot Against America” focuses on one family’s struggle to survive Charles Lindbergh’s authoritarian reign, “It Can’t Happen Here” is at its best when it shows small-town Americans fighting to retain their freedom and dignity after their world falls into political chaos.

Grover Gardner’s audiobook performance is steady but unspectacular. His voice for Windrip is appealingly folksy, but none of the other characters stand out, even Jessup. Perhaps because of my interest in the era, I’m discovering that I’m far more interested in reading and analyzing these works about 1930s America than I am in listening to someone recite them to me as I drive. But listening is still preferable to not being exposed to it at all, so I would still recommend the audiobook to anyone interested in the novel.