The Sun Magazine

After a couple journeys into the dark side of fiction, I’m returning to more “literary” work in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines

Published in North Carolina, The Sun Magazine is an independent monthly journal of art and opinion.

What They Say About Themselves:The Sun is an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human. Each monthly issue celebrates life, but not in a way that ignores its complexity. The personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs that appear in The Sun’s pages explore the challenges we face and the moments when we rise to meet them.

From its idealistic, unlikely inception in 1974 to its current incarnation as a nonprofit magazine with more than 70,000 subscribers, The Sun has attempted to marry the personal and political; to challenge the status quo and reveal injustice; to honor courageous and honest writing; and to touch the mystery of our humanity. In a world where advertising pursues us almost everywhere, The Sun remains a rare ad-free sanctuary.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue 553 (January 2022)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The River Corrib,” by Mohan Fitzgerald. A Canadian musician emigrates to Ireland and begins an affair with a woman whose father was a famous painter before dying two years earlier. When the woman’s mother loses possession of the painter’s portfolio, the musician agrees to help move the paintings. The balance between dialogue and narrative description was well done in this story. Honorable Mention: “Disclosure and Consent,” by Hanna Bartels, written as a patient disclosure form.

Exploding Helicopters: One Explosion. Not much dramatic tension in the stories.

Profanometer: Dammit. The f-bombs in this story were limited to the dialogue of a character for whom swearing seemed as easy as breathing.

Unurgent

PHOTO PROMPT © Brenda Cox

“Because it’s ugly,” Fiona said. “Why renovate the front door without improving the entrance?”

The argument tired Karl. “We never use that entrance, except to feed the dog. Makes sense to only improve what’s seen from inside. That succulent you put there — nice touch.”

“Can’t we at least remove that gate?”

“It’s functional. Keeps the dog in. There’s better uses of our resources than addressing an area that’s unurgent.”

“Unurgent? That isn’t a word.”

“And that entrance isn’t a priority.”

Grunting, Fiona stormed from the room. She had a quarterly bonus coming, and would wield it to change Karl’s priorities.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Day 730

Didn’t occur to me until I did the quick division of the above number that this is the end of the second year of this informal COVID-19 journal. If I write a post a year from now titled Day 1095, that probably means any hope of going back to our pre-pandemic existence is destroyed.

***

Yet another color-coded map of the virus’ spread was issued a few weeks ago, but this time the colors for our corner of Ohio look promising. We’re yellow trending to green, not orange or red! The Center for Disease Control now states our county’s in good enough condition for maskless indoor gatherings.

The mandates are being lifted all around. Last week I went maskless at work for the first time since summer. (Can‘t swear without being detected anymore… dang, gotta watch myself now.) Today I went to the gym and while I chose to wear a mask I didn’t see any other covered faces. The library now “strongly recommends” masks; I’m not tempted to test the policy by going in bare-faced. The community college where I work is currently on spring break and has issued an updated masking policy which… isn’t quite clear. When I go back to work at the Writing Center next week, I expect to remain masked through the end of the semester in early May.

Will I return to the fencing club in April? All depends on the masking policy. Wearing an N95 under a metal fencing mask isn’t something I can do comfortably.

***

Ohio has a fairly consistent meteorological tradition of a major snowstorm in mid-April; we call it the Tax Day Blizzard. It’s usually heavy and deep, but is usually followed by a warm front that melts all the snow in a day or two.

I’m wondering if we’ll have a similar disruption with the pandemic, a spike in new cases and hospitalizations caused by a new variant. I hope this suspicion turns out to be incorrect, but the past two years have taught us that bad news is far more likely than good.

Fever Dream

Remaining in the dark for my next review of literary journals and genre magazines

An online journal,  Fever Dream posts new content several times each month.

What They Say About Themselves:Fever Dream is a new online literary journal of maniac mutterings, half-remembered hallucinations, and all manner of stories that burrow their way into your brain when the clock strikes midnight. This doesn’t mean that we are strictly a horror journal (though horror submissions are enthusiastically welcomed), more that we look for work with a particular sense of odd and alluring darkness (especially those that explore mental illness/neurodivergence through a fantastical lens).”

Issue Reviewed: Since the journal doesn’t publish updates as issues, I reviewed content posted in the last three months.

Genre: Horror

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Lunatical,” by Ceda Parkinson. As a very big object from space descends on the Earth, Satomi hears music from an unknown source as her family and the world around her deteriorates. A lyrical apocalyptic tale.

Exploding Helicopters: Two Explosions. There’s more internal than external conflict and threat in the stories.

Profanometer: Dammit. For the most part, the language was pretty tame.

There’s Nothing There

PHOTO PROMPT © Lisa Fox

Joni and Tina were lost, and their cell phones were useless in this hilly remote area with poor wireless service.

“Pull over,” Tina commanded as they approached a rustic building with aggregate stone exterior walls. A grass path led from the street to the building’s wide wooden door.

Joni slowed the car. “Looks like a barn. Let’s keep going.”

“It’s the only thing we’ve passed in a half hour that hasn’t looked dilapidated. Pull over.”

“Tina, there’s nothing there.”

Pull. Over.

Muttering, Joni stopped the car in front of the path. “I’ll be right back,” Tina said, opening her door.

I get up at 5 AM most Fridays to write my 100-word story from a Friday Fictioneers photo prompt.

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

This is the second collection of Raymond Carver’s short stories I’ve read. Many of the impressions from my analysis of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” apply to this collection as well, so I won’t repeat them here. What I’ll do instead is take up an opportunity that’s available whenever reading Carver – asking a question that remains unanswered in each story from this collection:

“Fat” – Why does the fat man refer to himself in the plural, “we”?

“Neighbors” – What happens to the cat, Kitty?

“The Idea” – Why does the neighbor particularly like to peep on his wife when it’s raining?

“They’re Not Your Husband” – What is the man reading the newspaper thinking?

“Are You a Doctor?” – How in God’s name does Clara’s sitter get Arnold’s number? [A momentary aside from my questions – this story is the best example of a Carver story showing far more emotional logic than narrative logic. In other words, the characters’ actions make no sense yet still seem appropriate]

“The Father” – Why is the grandmother the only one who doesn’t  look at the father?

“Nobody Said Anything” – What are the parents arguing about?

“Sixty Acres” – Why does Joseph Eagle watch over Lee Waite’s land?

“What’s in Alaska?” – What does Carl see in the dark?

“Night School” – Why do the girls want to see Patterson?

“Collectors” – Why does the vacuum salesman take the letter?

“What Do You Do in San Francisco?” – Who’s Jerry?

“The Student’s Wife” – What’s gotten into Nan?

“Put Yourself in My Shoes” – What happened to Morgan’s records?

“Jerry and Molly and Sam” – Why name the story after these three minor characters?

“Why, Honey?” – Whose blood is on that shirt in the trunk of the son’s car?

“The Ducks” – Why does the man wake up his wife?

“How About This?” – Does Emily want to stay in the abandoned house?

“Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarets” – What happened to Gilbert’s bike?

“What Is It?” – What is Leo going to tell the man on Monday?

“Signals” – Is Wayne or Caroline right about Aldo?

“Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” – Why does Marian ask Ralph if he remembers the party?

The Metamorphosis

People much smarter than me have analyzed Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella, and I don’t have many meaningful insights to contribute to that discussion. I do, however, have some thoughts on literary classification after
In my brief career as a short story writer, I’ve learned that fiction is routinely divided into two broad categories. Literary fiction is the realm of the classics — think Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Wright, Raymond Carver, the writers you were told were masters of the form in your high school and undergraduate literature classes. The word literary is one of our culture’s most revered classifications and is explicitly denied to the other broad category of imaginative prose, genre fiction. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, detective, historical fiction… there’s a dizzying number of genres, all of which share one characteristic — they’re not considered literary.

In which category does “The Metamorphosis” fall? Literary fiction doesn’t tolerate much speculative imagination; read the current issue of any contemporary literary journal and you’ll see an almost religious devotion to realism. Ghosts appear fairly often, but only if they’re highly metaphorical; you’ll also read the occasional time-travel or quest narrative, yet usually with an ironic appreciation or outright mocking of overdone tropes from those genres. Kafka’s story is about a man who turns into a giant cockroach, yet classifying it as genre fiction doesn’t seem right; beyond the fact of its routine appearance in university literature course, there’s something about it that makes it seem too damn literary to be a genre work.

There’s another mode of imaginative writing that’s generally accepted as literary fiction, and that’s surrealism. The literary writer can create impossible worlds so long as they don’t contain supernatural creatures, alien encounters, or speculative technology. You find surreal stories in contemporary literary journals — not much, but they’re there. What makes “The Metamorphosis” so effective is that it accepts Gregor’s surreal transformation as fact, without attempting to explain how it happened. The bulk of the novella after its unmatchable opening line is about Gregor’s attempts to live now that he’s been inexplicably changed; his altered relationships with his employer and his family are his other primary concerns. After starting with an impossible premise, Kafka’s tale deals with the real-world consequences of Gregor’s transformation.

You can make it weird, so long as you also keep it real. That’s the accomplishment which allows “The Metamorphosis” to retain its literary reputation over a century later.

Coffin Bell

I’ve been reviewing a lot of literary journals in my ongoing series of reviews, so today I’m going to the other extreme

Coffin Bell is a quarterly online magazine of dark fiction, first published in 2017. The journal has also published two print anthologies.

What They Say About Themselves: “Dark times call for dark literature.

Coffin Bell is a new quarterly online journal of dark literature seeking poetry, flash fiction, short stories, and creative nonfiction exploring dark themes. When we say “dark themes,” we don’t necessarily mean traditional horror. Send us your waking nightmares, dark CNF, dystopian flash, cursed verse. Surprise us. Make us think in a new way. Give us a new fear. Make our skin crawl.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 5, Issue 1

Genre: Horror, Gothic

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Sadie,” by Alex Davidson. The title character is a young woman who attends a funeral then rushes back to her apartment for a blind date. The fun starts when he comments on her dog cage and she responds that she doesn’t have a dog. This one definitely had me guessing, right up to its chilling end.

Exploding Helicopters: Four Explosions. Most of the stories featured very compelling action and intrigue.

Profanometer: Sonofabitch. The language was a little excessive at times, but that’s the nature of this genre.

Not Quiet Strait

HOTO PROMPT © Anne Higa

Although it appears to be an optical delusion at first, it is no over-exaggeration to claim that the Leaning Tower of Pizza is as famous in Italy as the Statute of Liberty is in America.

Where does the fault lie — was it designed by an architect from the University of DNA (Doesn’t Know Anything) or constructed with the care of a bull in a Chinese restaurant? Illregardless, its percurious state wrecks havoc on our understanding.

While engineers are still incouraged to study the tower’s structural untegrity, solving its mystery is neverless a hard hoe to row.

If this post deservedly gets me banned from Friday Fictioneers for life, let me depart by saying I had a lot of fun, especially today.