Déraciné

In honor of Halloween, the subject of today’s weekly review of literary journals and genre magazines is a little on the dark side.

Déraciné began accepting submissions in July 2017, and since then has published two online issues each year.

What they say about themselves:Déraciné is a literary magazine featuring dark, psychological fiction, poetry, and art. We are a nonprofit publication established in 2017. Our goal is to share literature that raises awareness of and expresses psychological issues and feelings of displacement through the literary gothic, with creative elements of horror and fantasy.

dé·ra·ci·né
adjective
  1. uprooted or displaced from one’s geographical or social environment.
noun
  1. a person who has been or feels displaced.

Issue reviewed: Volume VI (Summer 2020)

Genre: Gothic, with greater emphasis on the psychological than supernatural

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Nice Guy,” by Elina Taillon. Craig lives in an apartment with his mother, works in a dead-end job at a burger joint, and has an imaginary friend named Claire. When Claire encourages him to go on a blind date, Craig must choose between someone he knows doesn’t exist and someone he’s not sure actually exists. A tender and genuine story about loneliness.

Clapperboard RatingTwo Klacks. With their emphasis on the minds and souls of the protagonists, the stories featured less action and suspense than you might expect from gothic fiction.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. Some stories featured more colorful language than I’d have preferred, while others featured nary an objectionable word.

The Absent

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

It’s the activity I miss most, the students’ energy between classes, shuttling books between their lockers and backpacks, the student voices a chorus of youthful grievances, earnest braggadocio, and conspiratorial whispers.

An energy not replicable over Zoom.

I return to the school building weekly, more out of longing than necessity. Walking through the long empty and now dusty corridors today, I remembered my dream from last weekend. Students at their lockers, gathering their books in the black-and-white of all my dreams.

“Where are you going?” my dream-self asked.

A nameless teen looked up at me. “We’re not here,” she said.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Blue Lake Review

Oh yeah, I like having my review of literary journals and genre magazines posted early in the week. Makes for a more restful Sunday.Since October 2010, Blue Lake Review has published new fiction and poetry to its web site each month.

What they say about themselves:Our goal is to bring compelling, meaningful, insightful fiction and poetry to you every month. Something you can ponder and gnaw on. Something to bring light, or at least, growth and understanding to our readers on a regular basis. No frivolous pieces here. Your time is too valuable. We’re serious about our words, and are selective in what we present to you, sifting through the mountains of words to pull out the diamonds.”

Issue reviewed: stories posted to site for October 2020

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Stay at Home,” by Andrea Chesman. Maddie’s mother suffers from dementia, and when the police bring her home once more after running away to the bus stop, Maddie’s husband comes up with a ruse to keep her close to home. A bittersweet story about a complicated relationship.

Clapperboard RatingThree Klacks. There wasn’t a lot of action in the stories, but the characters and dialogue were consistently compelling.

Profanometer: Dammit. I honestly think I saw the f-word only once in all of the five stories, leading me to wonder if the editors let one slip past them.

Day 217

COVID-19 has made a big impact on a writers group I’ve attended the last four and a half years.

But before describing the changes we’ve experienced since March, I should explain why I’ve been with this particular group so long. We use a format that’s not I haven’t found in similar groups I’ve attended. The customary format is to come to the meeting with about five pages of your work — be sure to bring enough copies for everyone! — and when your turn comes, distribute your copies among the group, read what you’ve submitted aloud, then solicit responses from the group. During someone else’s turn, read along with your copy and make notes on it while the author reads aloud. There’s a lot I don’t like about this format:

  • All those copies make for a lot of wasted paper
  • Each author typically gets 5 – 10 minutes of reading time. That’s not enough for a complete story, unless flash fiction is your genre.
  • As a reader, I have no time to reflect on a piece before making comments

I much rather prefer the approach taken by the writing group I’ve attended since 2016. Each month, four or five writers submit up to 3500 words (around 10-12 double-spaced pages) a week before the scheduled meeting. This gives readers several days to make comments, which are then printed and shared with the writer during the meeting. While this approach requires even more paper, it does lead to more discerning critique, the type new writers like myself desperately need.

Our group met the second Saturday of every month in a library conference room. When the COVID-19 lockdowns hit at the end of March, we faced a decision — meet somewhere else, go virtual, or suspend until the library reopened. The third option was never really considered; we had a good thing going, and didn’t want to stop. A few members wanted to continue meeting in person, an idea that generated several proposals: meeting at member homes; community parks; a particularly bizarre suggestion of gathering in a parking lot and addressing each other through open car windows (“I REALLY LIKED WHAT THIS CHARACTER DID.” “WHAT?” “WHAT THIS CHARACTER DID.” “WHAT ABOUT IT?”). Being part of the majority that wasn’t comfortable with any kind of in-person meeting, I offered to coordinate an online meeting, going virtual like every other group in the world. The response was skeptical, but with no other suggestion garnering any more enthusiasm, we held our first Zoom meeting in April.

That first call was filled with difficulties both technical (Nancy texted me and she can’t get on) and procedural (you’re on mute. You’re still on mute.). But we got through it, and the May meeting went much more smoothly. It was around then we noticed some advantages to meeting virtually — no travel time! Sending files instead of printing saved paper! You can run to the john or grab a drink when it’s not your turn and nobody will notice!

It was such a good experience that the group did something it hadn’t done before: a second meeting, two weeks later. And with more time at home, members were writing more, meaning we had more than enough material for two meetings each month.

Since then, July has been the only month without a second meeting. Saturday will be our second meeting for October, and with major holidays occurring at the end of the next two months we’ll go back to one meeting for the rest of the year.

I’m glad the group’s continued, and enjoyed the virtual format enough to accommodate the additional meeting. But what’s more gratifying is knowing everyone is writing more now. We all have to find a way to fight through this pandemic, and if my fellow writers want to keep churning out material, I’ll be more than happy to read their submissions.

Slip 78

PHOTO PROMPT © C.E.Ayr

This has setup written all over it.

The marina, slip 78, 4. Elliot’s entire text message. Would have asked for more information if previous experience hadn’t taught me there was no hope of response.

The bike was attached to the pole when I arrived at 3:45. The bike has a rear storage compartment. Already checked it; the goods aren’t there, so the cash stays in my pocket.

After 35 minutes, a boat with a familiar pink hull finally back into slip 78. Somebody other than Elliot is at the helm. He leaves, doesn’t take the bike.

Somebody’s coming for me. And it’s won’t be Elliot.

Serial Magazine

Fallen into a bad habit of doing my weekly review of literary journals and genre magazines on Sunday evenings. Feels good to get this task off my weekly agenda early. Serial Magazine is an online and print publication based in Milwaukee. After publishing once if not twice a month in 2019, the magazine’s production schedule has slowed significantly this year, most likely due to COVID-19. What they say about themselves: “SERIAL is a pulp fiction magazine specializing in genre fiction – action-adventure, fantasy, horror, mystery, thrillers, romance and science-fiction. Our inaugural issue was published on January 1st, 2019… Our goal is to publish brain candy – pure, unadulterated fun. We publish stories that take the reader on an adventure, regardless of the genre.“ Issue reviewed: Issue 15 (December 2019) Genre: In their own words, “Action Fantasy Horror Mystery Romance Thriller Sci-Fi” One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Shadow Rock,” by John Kojak. While visiting her aunt, high school student Vivian meets a friendly yet mysterious young man who offers to show her some unusual objects around their small town. The fun of this story was finding out exactly what nasty fate awaited poor Vivian. Clapperboard RatingFour Klacks. The magazine certainly delivers on its promise. Profanometer: Sonovabitch. Too many stories with a self-indulgent level of adult language.

Day 210

A couple months ago, I speculated on how my reaction would have been had COVID-19 struck five, ten, all the way back to 40 years ago. Perhaps because I’m tired of writing about the eternally banal yet ominous present, I want to look ahead and imagine how our world will be different when the pandemic is under control.

One year from now. A vaccine and/or treatments have been available for several months but due to logistical limitations are being distributed to those most in need. Infection rates have dropped, but mask wearing and social distancing are still encouraged. Spectator sports and live concerts have returned at about a quarter seating capacity. The economy is in tatters both here in the United States and abroad, complicating the recovery from the pandemic.

Two years. The coronavirus and its strains are still among us, but treatments are widespread and affordable enough to relax the pandemic restrictions. The summer of 2022 is a three-month celebration tempered by the memory of how many lives were lost. Some businesses, such as movie theaters (replaced by streaming services), haven’t survived. Massive government loans have enabled politically connected industries such as the airlines to hang on. The devastation of small businesses over the past two years discourages entrepreneurship in America.

Five years. “There’s a new flu virus,” disease experts warn. “Wear masks and avoid crowds,” government officials encourage. Yet short memories and distrust of experts combine to create a pandemic far worse than COVID-19.

Ten years. Over libertarian objections, the United States federal government creates a public health agency with the power to swiftly implement controls whenever a virus outbreak occurs. The use of this agency becomes an ongoing political argument. Small business activity sees its first increase of the decade.

Fifteen years. The Pandemic Decade has become its own scholarly subject, and large office buildings with cubicle farms are a quaint memory. The American public health agency had prevented any serious outbreak for almost ten years, but a vocal minority in the country insists the cure is far worse than the disease.

Twenty years. Grandparents tell disbelieving grade schoolers about those eighteen months everybody had to stay home. The youngsters don’t understand the term “working from home,” because that’s what everyone’s always done.

So much will change between now and 2040, so I won’t hazard a guess as to what happens after that. Besides, I’m probably wrong enough about what will happen up to then.

Booth

The latest in my year-long weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. Booth is a literary journal founded in 2009 by the MFA program of Butler University. In addition to two print issues each year, the journal posts new literary content on their web site each week. What they say about themselves: Booth publishes four titles of original literature on the first Friday of every month. In addition, we publish two print issues yearly, usually in summer and winter. Booth debuted in 2009. Our staff is comprised of students, faculty, and alumni from the Butler University MFA program. Butler MFA students and alumni execute approximately 98% of Booth. Copy editing, web design, print issues, t-shirts and merch, and so on. We have incredible talent in our program and put it to work at Booth. We typically see around 500-600 submissions per month, or close to 20 per day. Of these we accept around 50 titles per year, or approximately 1%. At least 95% of the material we publish comes from blind submissions. We do not refer to submissions as ‘slush.’ We target a submission turnaround time of sixty days, though we do not always deliver on this. All acceptances appear on our website. We curate from these works to create print issues and do not promise print issue publication.”

Issue reviewed: I read all stories posted to their Fiction Archive in 2020.

Genre: Magical realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Bone Obelisk, Reviewed,” by Adam Byko. A mysterious object suddenly appears in the Dakotas and becomes a popular attraction when it is rumored to have healing powers. The story is told in a series of online travel reviews; a gimmicky format, but it works. 

Clapperboard RatingThree Klacks. The stories were consistently imaginative.

Profanometer: Dammit. Several stories featured no harsh language at all, and those that did kept it to a few choice words.

The Plague

Five years ago I read and reviewed Albert Camus’ 1947 novel about an outbreak of bubonic plague in the Algerian city of Oran. When a local literary society announced a reading workshop on pandemic fiction that included this and another novel I’ve enjoyed, I decided the novel was worth revisiting.

Comparing Camus’ fictional plague to COVID-19 is unavoidable; the Oran government’s manipulation of disease information seemed prescient. But the passage that stood out on my second reading came in the discussion of the city’s food supply crisis:

Profiteers were taking a hand and purveying at enormous prices essential foodstuffs not available in the shops. The result was that poor families were in great straits, while the rich went short of practically nothing. Thus, whereas plague by its impartial ministrations should have promoted equality among our townsfolk, it now had the opposite effect and, thanks to the habitual conflict of cupidities, exacerbated the sense of injustice rankling in men’s hearts.

That last phrase made me think of a concurrent phenomenon that has no easy answer.

A few months after the start of COVID lockdowns, protests erupted across America over racial injustice. Why these uprisings occurred is no mystery, but it’s the when that has many confused. If Black Americans have been killed by police for decades, and Trump has been in office three years. why didn’t these protests happen earlier? Why finally take to the streets in the middle of a pandemic?

Perhaps the passage quoted above contains part of the answer. Just as the citizens of Oran were more outspoken to injustice due to the plague, maybe the restrictions caused by COVID enraged Americans enough to make a stand against systemic racism. If true, it’s shamefully tragic that it took a deadly physical disease to get us working on a deadly social disease. But the fight has begun, and Camus’ novel may help us understand its timing.