The Elixir Magazine

After a lengthy hiatus, I’m ready to resume my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

The Elixir Magazine is an online literary journal that posts new fiction, poetry, and essays on a regular basis.

What They Say About Themselves: “In the same way that the “Elixir of Life” is meant to increase your time on this planet “The Elixir Magazine” adds years to yours, not in number but in knowledge.

The Elixir Magazine is a new online magazine that launched on January 1st, 2019. We are based in Sana’a, Yemen, but have managed to create an international team of 10 members via twitter. We started in the form of a WordPress blog, but will soon create our own official website.

The Elixir team works to produce and collect material that we hope will live up to the international standards. Our target audience is young adults. Our aim is to become an international magazine available both on paper and the internet.”

Issue Reviewed: Stories available online in the last week

Genre: Literary realism with some speculative elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “I Don’t Expect You to Believe Me,” by Cheryl Caesar. A young environmental activist is visited in her hotel room by two other young women who become notorious for bearing ominous news. Entertaining satire of modern technology with some neat classical references.

Exploding Helicopters: One Explosion. The stories are very short, leaving little opportunity to build suspense.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Didn’t find a single profanity or obscenity in any of the stories I read.

Day 494

Took a step away from the blog the past several weeks to attend an online literary conference as well as other concerns. Now I’m back — and so too is COVID-19.

Despite an enormous vaccination campaign this spring, a significant portion of this nation’s populace has yet to receive a single shot. And in an incredibly petty and short-sighted attempt to make a political statement, many are refusing to be innoculated.

“The government can’t tell me what to do!” Well the government makes you wear a seatbelt when you drive a car, and I don’t see you walking.

The second wave has started, energized by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Over 90 percent of the new infections are among those who haven’t been vaccinated, a fact which would make me happy were I petty and short-sighted. There’s no longer any appetite for mask-wearing or bans on social gatherings, so this new strain is going to have opportunities for spreading its predecessor never had. Hospitals are already starting to run low on ICU and ventilator capacity.

There hasn’t been much discussion about booster shots yet. I’m hoping those will be available in the fall in order to get us through what’s likely to be another rough winter. I also hope the nitwits who ignore science don’t force restrictions on air travel, as my wife and I have booked a return to what had been our annual winter sojourn to our land of warm sand. I’ve written before that I don’t believe in vaccination passports, but if that’s what it takes for my wife and I to get on that plane, let the no-nothings suffer the consequence of their decisions.

A lot can happen these next five months before our vacation begins. Unfortunately, most of what will likely happen won’t be very pleasant.

Petrified Ambition

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

Thirty years ago the field had been a dense forest of poplar, birch, pine, and fir. A wealthy industrialist bought the land and had it clear-cut to build a summer home, yet as the last remaining trees were being uprooted he lost the property in a bitter divorce.

Two stumps were left among the acre of wildgrass. Their tops were smooth from the saw’s blade, the bark on their sides cracking and peeling off like scabs from a wound.

The tallest objects remaining in the abandoned field, the two lifeless remnants served as tombstones to a petrified ambition.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Honest Thief

Every once in a while, I’ll read a story or watch a movie and think “on my worst day, I can write something better than this.”

My wife and I decided to unwind this holiday weekend by watching an action movie. We both like Liam Neeson, so we expected his latest thriller would deliver what we were looking for.

We’re now wondering if Neeson was desperate for work last year, because this film was a complete disappointment.

The story begins with an amateurish plot hole — a notorious bank robber contacts the FBI to negotiate a deal for turning himself in, despite having no legal knowledge or representation — and compounds the error by introducing a love interest utterly devoid of agency. Kate Walsh’s character doesn’t get to do too much in the film, and when she does it’s always a poor decision.

The car chases through the streets of Boston were entertaining for the wrong reason. Neeson, under suspicion for murdering an FBI officer, escapes from his pursuers by stealing the delivery van of a bakery. Despite being adept at breaking into and hot-wiring cars, Neeson drives around for fifteen minutes before the cops finally figure out they should be looking for a guy in a bakery van. He eventually flees the vehicle and steals a white pickup which he drives for the last half hour of the film. My wife and I alternated between yelling at Neeson to steal another car and at the police for their inept search.

What bothers me most is that these problems in the script could have been easily fixed. Explain why the fugitive doesn’t like lawyers; give the love interest something to do; steal a few more cars. Give me fifteen minutes and I could make these problems go away.

But muddling through the occasional bad work of fiction is inspiring. Knowing I can do better, even on my worst day, makes me want to work even harder to get my own stories out there.

Wait a Little Longer

PHOTO PROMPT © Russell Gayer

The van was just outside the layer of crushed stone of the beach’s parking lot, far enough into the neighboring woods to have vines growing through its wheels. Just like Jeron said.

“Think anyone’d notice if we opened it now?” asked Walter.

Nevin shrugged. “No, but why risk anyone seeing what we take out? Do it tonight, like we discussed. Listen to the police radio, wait until they’re distracted on some incident.”

“But we’re so close. This is killing me.”

Nevin smiled, and pulled out a vine from the front wheel. “Might wanna think about your word choice, son.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge. I’m not sure why but I’m currently unable to add my links to the site, but I’ll keep on posting here.

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.