The Other Journal

The latest in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

The Other Journal, founded in 2003, is published by The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

What They Say About Themselves: “The Other Journal is a twice-yearly print and digital journal that aims to create space for Christian interdisciplinary reflection, exploration, and expression at the intersection of theology and culture. Attempting to remain a step or two more popular than the typical scholarly journal and a step or two more scholarly than the typical popular magazine, our goal is to provide our readers with provocative, challenging and insightful Christian commentary on current social issues, political events, cultural trends, and pop phenomena.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue 32 (date unknown, although it appears recent)

Genre: Literary realism with Christian themes

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Fortunate Fall,” by Dennis Vannatta. Paul travels with his wife Lauren from their suburban Chicago home to the small town in Arkansas where he grew up. A story about running away from people without being able to run away from yourself.

Exploding Helicopters: One Explosion. The narratives are thoughtful and eloquent without much action.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. The language is as clean as a Sunday school lesson.

Day 470

I write occasionally about the job I began at a grocery store when the pandemic lockdowns began. I don’t write much about my other part-time gigs.

The community college where I work as a writing tutor has begun restoring on-campus activities, and it’s generally expected that a full slate of in-person classes will be offered in the fall. The Writing Center is open for the summer semester, still as an email or Zoom service. Like many of my peer tutors, I’m spending more time with each student with emailed comments than I did during my in-person consultations. If the Writing Center reopens as a walk-in service I’ll likely drive up to campus for my shift. Not spending any time shootin’ the breeze with my colleagues has me longing for that interaction again.

I worked from home as a technical writer before COVID, so that work experience has not changed appreciably. Our office did have in-person staff meetings before the lockdowns, so those went to Zoom — at a couple hours once a quarter, the loss hasn’t been significant. Site visits to observe client operations were definitely challenging in the days when masking and social distancing were practically compulsory. My clients weren’t as cautious as me; I never felt unsafe, but did feel a lot less anxious when I returned to my car at the end of the visits.

One of COVID’s legacies will be telecommuting. A lot more people are going to be working from home than in 2019. The technology has succeeded remarkably, and workers have demonstrated the required discipline. In-person meetings still have value, but the days of showing up five days a week for an eight-hour shift are gone — one or two days in the office will become the new standard. Reducing commuter traffic by 60% will greatly reduce worker stress and may even have a measureable environmental benefit. As the COVID restrictions continue to be lifted, the world we come back to isn’t going to be the same as the one we remembered.

Halfway Down the Stairs

Today marks a first in my series of literary journal and genre magazine reviews — I actually know someone who was published in the latest edition of this journal.

Founded in 2005, Halfway Down the Stairs is an independent literary ezine which publishes four issues a year.

What They Say About Themselves:Halfway Down the Stairs publishes poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and book reviews.  New issues are published quarterly (March, June, September, and December), and each issue is themed.  We publish primarily literary and mainstream work, but accept work in most genres, with children’s literature and erotica as the exceptions.”

Issue Reviewed: June 2021

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Whydunit,” by Susan Hatters Friedman. (Hi Susan!) After watching her husband fall in a hiking accident, an anonymous first-person narrator rushes to call for help. As she works back through the history of their troubled relationship, it becomes clear that he might have had some “help” with his accident. A unique approach to a murder mystery.

Exploding Helicopters: One Explosion. The characters struggle more with themselves than they do with outside forces.

Profanometer: Dammit. Two f-bombs in one story, but the other eight featured just the occasional scatological reference.

No Business

PHOTO PROMPT © Brenda Cox

“Those tables look fine,” Sheila said. The outdoor furniture she pointed to did indeed look undisturbed.

“We don’t know how much damage the storm caused,” Roland explained. “Power returned an hour ago but might not stay on. We can’t risk being open.”

“You don’t understand.” Sheila balled fists into her hips. “The client asked to meet here, right here, at 10. You’re interfering with my business!”

Roland couldn’t contain his frustration, waving towards the uprooted trees. “Call your damn client, change your plans. I have bigger concerns than your damn meeting!”

Shelia turned away. “This is your problem, not mine!”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Day 465

To celebrate our family becoming fully vaccinated last month, we looked into having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. It’s a steakhouse where we ordered carryout from during the pandemic, but found the experience very unsatisfactory; cooked beef apparently doesn’t travel well. We wanted to dine there during a weeknight, but when we called to make reservations, we found the restaurant was only open on the weekend. Apparently they don’t have enough staff now to be open every evening.

It’s a story we’re hearing a lot as we race out of our COVID doldrums — employers don’t have enough workers to meet renewed demand, and nobody’s filling out applications for all the vacant jobs. Initial wages and salaries are increasing; at the grocery store where I’ve worked for over a year, new hires are being offered $11 an hour. That’s what I make now, a fact which would bother me if I was doing this for a living.

But when I do just a little math, I realize working for a living at $11 an hour is impossible.

The poverty level for a single person in my state is at little over $25,000. If I worked at my hourly wage a full 40 hours all 52 weeks of the year (no vacation, unpaid absences etc.), I’d earn a little less than $23,000.

I work at the grocery store one day a week because I enjoy the work. If I needed the income, there’s no way I’d continue working there and earning what are literally poverty wages.

The extension of unemployment benefits is certainly having an effect on the labor market. But I don’t see laziness being the major problem. The wages being offered just aren’t enticing enough. Staying on unemployment rather than working for poverty wages isn’t a sign of apathy, but rather intelligence.

It’s easy to identify a problem, but much harder to fashion a solution. A country-wide minimum wage of $15 an hour doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, as it doesn’t take into account regional differences and lead to skyrocketing price increases. COVID has been a disruptive force, and its impact on labor has created a problem that could take years to solve.

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.