Different Visions of the Same Sight

I occasionally give credit to other Friday Fictioneers contributors. Here’s a few noteworthy responses to the most recent prompt (you can view mine here):

  1. Just Joyfulness delves into some magic realism.
  2. Some great imagery from Swallows and Lillies.
  3. Tina Stewart Brakebill writes from the perspective of one of the figures in the flames.
  4. The contribution by elmowrites is, in her own words, “something of a rabbit warren of tangents.”
  5. I’m a sucker for sci-fi parody, and This Jolly Beggar delivers.

And in keeping with the contest’s spirit, I am stopping at exactly 100 words.

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

Bourbon Penn

I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine every week this year. But today’s post gets me one step closer. Bourbon Penn is an online journal established in 2010 with an apparently irregular publishing schedule. What they say about themselves: “We are looking for highly imaginative stories with a healthy dose of the odd.  Odd characters, odd experiences, odd realities. We’re looking for genre / speculative stories and are quite partial to slipstream, cross-genre, magic realism, absurdist, and the surreal. We want character.  For us, stories live and die by their characters.  We’re looking for fully drawn characters who surprise us with their honesty, complexity, and contradictions. We want mysterious.  We’re looking for stories that grab the reader, make them ask, “what the hell is going on?” and then deliver on the tease. We want ideas and we want action.  We love exploring big, philosophical ideas, but we revel in suspenseful plotting.  If you’re adept at blending these elements, we can’t wait to read your work. We want fresh voices and exciting prose.  We want to be surprised.  We want to be inspired.  We want to find stories that we can’t wait to publish, promote, and evangelize.” Issue reviewed: Issue 21 Genre: Speculative fiction One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Disappearer,” by Jason Baltazar. Maddox, a half-Salvadoran 19-year-old, has the ability to make objects disappear. Because he can’t control this power, he becomes a criminal suspect. A story that was both imaginative and very much set in the real world. Clapperboard Rating: Four Klacks. The stories are consistently engaging. Profanometer: Sonovabitch. Some stories never used the f-word, some used it once or twice, some a lot.

A Reluctant Investigator Makes a Discovery

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

Five minutes, Janine thought. Then I’m outta here.

She’d only accepted Clarice’s invitation for support and possibly protection. Troubled over her parents’ death, Clarice had begun investigating mysticism. Janine was skeptical but tolerant until Clarice announced she’d attend a fire-cult service. A few hours research by their friend Brian uncovered disturbing facts about the cult, but Clarice was unconcerned. “I’ll make my own judgment.”

Feigning curiosity, Janine accepted Clarice’s invitation. After nearly thirty minutes, she determined the cult was silly but harmless.

But immediately after she set her five-minute alert for leaving, shapes began forming in the blaze.

My story for this week’s Friday Fictioneers took a little over 40 minutes of my time,10 of which almost entirely devoted to trimming words to get under the limit for the challenge, and another 5 creating the title.

Day 163

For a little over a month this summer, my wife and I enjoyed a full house.

Our younger son drove in from college for a short break from college. His older brother had come home for spring break in March and remained when his school went entirely online to finish the semester. Setting a place at all four sides of the dinner table was a reminder of what life was like before the pandemic.

Yet we were also reminded of who we couldn’t be with. My wife’s parents remain in Maui, where the coronavirus has been better contained than it has here. Next month will mark a full year they’ve been there. This is also the time we often travel to Maine, the state where I was raised and where my siblings still live. My in-laws are in their upper seventies; my brother and sister both have health conditions, so my family travelling to see them would increase our exposure to the virus, which would in turn increase the risk to my siblings. Everyone is healthy in body, mind, and wealth. Compared to many Americans, we have been highly fortunate, and if staying apart helps keep the virus away from my extended family, it’s a separation that will have to endure.

Both boys left a couple weeks ago, the younger for his senior year, the older for an internship that will complete his degree requirements. They both plan to return here for Thanksgiving, at which point our older son will be officially done with college. What he’ll do at that time is highly uncertain, although staying home with his parents, perhaps working remotely, is likely. Our younger son will stay for a week, perhaps returning in December for another week or two.

Our annual visit to see my in-laws around the holidays hasn’t been officially called off, but there would have to be significant improvement with the pandemic in the next few months for that to happen. We’ll be disappointed at missing the trip, but you won’t read my complaint on this blog. Flying to Hawaii is a privilege, not a right, and now isn’t the time to whine about missing any extravagance.

American Short Fiction

Still going strong with my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

Established in 1991, American Short Fiction publishes three issues a year from Austin TX.

What they say about themselves:American Short Fiction was founded in 1991 by Laura Furman at the University of Texas Press… Issued triannually, American Short Fiction publishes work by emerging and established voices: stories that dive into the wreck, that stretch the reader between recognition and surprise, that conjure a particular world with delicate expertise—stories that take a different way home… In the inaugural issue of the magazine, which included Joyce Carol Oates and a young Dagoberto Gilb, Furman wrote of the ‘shared love and respect for narrative itself’ that formed the foundation of American Short Fiction and continued: ‘We have great faith in our readers. We are sure that, just as we do, they have a love of reading and a desire for the involvement that good writing gives us all.’ Our goal here at American Short Fiction is to respect that involvement by offering consistently intelligent, engrossing, and beautiful reading, in print and on this website, and we appreciate your company.”

Issue reviewed: Volume 23, Issue 70 (Winter 2020)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Redwoods,” by Joyce Carol Oates. After suffering a fatal stroke, a man named Vanbrugh visits his wife and son, and remembers a moment from a hike in the redwoods several decades earlier. A ghost story in which the spirit is the one who’s haunted.

Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The prose is consistently excellent, with characters and settings firmly rooted in the real world. “The Redwoods” featured a ghost, but the focus of the story was on the main character’s life rather than his afterlife activities.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. Some, but not all, of the stories went a little overboard with the f-bombs.

Over the River

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

Turning onto Birch Street, Jack remembered how he’ d always enjoyed visiting his grandmother’s house. But she was dead, and the farmhouse that’d been too large for her now seemed more like a tomb.

“You alright?” Gail asked.

Jack grunted. “Ask when I see my brother.”

Their children were silent in the car seats behind them. Previously they began singing Over the river and through the woods when they reached Birch Street. But this was not a day for song.

Jack sighed on seeing the house, surrounded by a fence of leafless trees. This would be a difficult day.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash-fiction challenge.

Liquid Imagination

Just about every literary journal or genre magazine will advise writers to read their publication first before submitting a story for their review. One of my motivations for this project of writing a review of a journal or magazine every week is to be able to submit to a whole bunch of publications by year’s end. Liquid Imagination is an online magazine of speculative fiction that publishes four times a year. What they say about themselves: “Our mission is to publish a wide variety of art, creating visually stimulating publications of the highest quality that combine many artistic avenues, including graphic and digital art as well as traditional illustrations, photographs and paintings; speculative and literary fiction, micro-fiction, and poetry; music and audio works; digital poetry and digital flash fiction; and other artistic forms.” Issue reviewed: Issue 45 (May 2020) Genre: Speculative fiction, with a preference (at least in this issue) for suspense and horror One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Read This Again Please,” by Ron J. Cruz. A successful horror novelist lures a fan into his home, only to realize she is not just a fan and aspiring writer, but a character from one of his stories. A satisfying morality tale about writers, their readers, and the texts they share. Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. Plot and characterization are the principal drivers for the stories. Profanometer: Sonovabitch. I was going to award the Dammit designation, but then realized I had used this on the last seven journals I reviewed. (Yes, I keep track of these things, now anyway.) This tells me that I need to re-evaluate my criteria for this category. From now on, any time I see the f-word used in any story, that journal receives at least a Sonovabitch. After I complete my reviews this year, I’ll be interested to see how this category played out.

For Those Who Chose

PHOTO PROMPT -Copyright-Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Not feeling creative today, so instead of contributing to Friday Fictioneers I’ll show some appreciation for some who’ve chosen not to take a blow-off day:

  1. Anita creates a hook to a bigger story in Cupid is Mine!
  2. Everyone’s lost during this pandemic, and Reena Saxena’s He used to be… provides a fresh perspective on this feeling.
  3. In another COVID-19 tale, lullaby by msjadeli focuses on a fate worse than death
  4. A seemingly harmless situation turns ominous in Plaridel’s Close, but No Cigar.

In keeping with the contest’s 100-word limit, I’ll stop here. A convenient excuse to conclude this post.

Day 150

Last week, at about the same time the governor of my state experienced a temporary COVID-19 scare, I had a minor scare of my own.

Hours before a scheduled meeting with The Fraud, my governor tested positive for the coronavirus. After a subsequent test that same day came back negative, he was allowed to resume his regular activities. Pandemic deniers see evidence for their beliefs (tests are unreliable, masks don’t work, the doctors are lying) in these events, although nobody has yet recommended he take hydroxychloroquine. Never mind that the two tests looked for different evidence; if you want to believe these last six months have been an elaborate hoax, or simply that the governor wanted a quick excuse to avoid meeting The Fraud, this story fits your needs perfectly.

***

My story doesn’t involve testing, but lasted around the same amount of time.

I now work only one day a week at my local grocery store, where social distancing and masking protocols aren’t always followed by employees and are routinely ignored by customers. Working there does increase my risk of exposure, but if I can help reduce the number of in-store trips made while also giving myself a good reason to escape the overly-familiar walls of my house, I’m willing to take that risk.

Yet there was something about that Friday three weeks ago. Nothing outrageous, like someone sneezing on me or touching my face. Maybe it was nothing more than recognizing I’d been working in a narrow room for close to six months, and at some point someone would come in with a communicable infection. Without knowing how this feeling arrived, I wondered if I had contracted something that day.

COVID-19 symptoms can take up to 14 days to manifest after initial infection. I’ve been taking my temperature twice a day since March, and in the ensuing two weeks I remained consistently under 98 degrees Fahrenheit. After 14 days of neither fever nor any other symptom, I went to bed believing that uneasy feeling had no merit.

And then I woke up the next morning with a sore throat.

Took my temperature again — 98.2. A few tenths above normal for me, but not a reading that would have concerned me at any other time. Went through the online checklists for COVD-19 symptoms, and saw nothing other than the sore throat. As I had an online meeting that morning I had barely eaten, so when my meeting ended I had a sizable late breakfast. And yes, the sore throat pretty much went away after that.

I wasn’t sick. I was hungry. Sometime the only thing you really need is to take care of your basic needs.

***

My family and I have somehow managed to avoid the coronavirus. Based on the stories I’m reading about long-term complications even among patients with mild cases, I’m hoping we keep this disease at arm’s length.

But there will be scares, much more significant than the one I experienced last week. We are months, perhaps years away from being able to let our guard down.

Fireside Magazine

Another week, another in my series of reviewws of literary journals and genre magazines.

Fireside Magazine is published online every month by Fireside Fiction, which also publishes the print journal Fireside Quarterly.

What they say about themselves: “Fireside Fiction Company started in 2012 as a Kickstarter-funded short-story magazine. We began with the goals of finding and publishing great stories regardless of genre, and paying our writers well. Since Nov. 8, 2016, we have a third goal: resisting the global rise of fascism and far-right populism, starting with the current occupant of the White House.”

Issue reviewed: Issue 82 (August 2020)

Genre: Speculative literary fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Redemption,” by Mary Soon Lee. An anonymous prisoner serving an eight-century sentence receives a surprising gift at the end of another routine day. A reminder that solitude is the ultimate punishment.

Clapperboard Rating: Two Klacks. The stories have fantasy or futuristic settings, but the language aspires more to literature than genre fiction.

Profanometer: Dammit. Maybe I’ve become numb to profanity, but it seems like the journals I’ve been reading lately have been fairly, if not entirely, clean.