After a few weeks off and a good deal of contemplation, I’ve decided to resume my reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. Many of the periodicals where I intend to submit my fiction still haven’t been reviewed, and while I’m no longer committing to a review every week, I hope to say a few words about most of my identified targets by year’s end. My first review this year takes me to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
London-based Litro publishes both print and online editions of its magazine each month. Each print edition has a dedicated theme.
What they say about themselves: “Since 2005, Litro has published works by first time authors through to Noble laureates. Litro is self-selecting for people with an interest in literature, culture and innovation, providing readers with an escapism a perfect read for those with busy lives and encouraging cross cultural conversations through the annual Litro World Series editions… Fiction should be enduring, not disposable, and as such Litro in print, is specially designed to fit in your pocket or bag we think of it as a small book of escapism.”
Issue reviewed: I read stories posted to the online edition that were previously published in Issue 175 of the print edition, which had the theme of Desire.
Genre: Literary Realism with speculative elements
One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Into the Pleroma,” by Ingrid Norton. An anonymous narrator in a post-apocalyptic world communicates with her dead lover in her dreams. The story says little about what caused the calamity, focusing instead on this one survivor’s attempt to continue living, which makes for a more effective tale. A clever take on Issue 175’s theme of desire.
Exploding Helicopters: Three Explosions. While there weren’t many action scenes within the stories, the situations and characters were compelling throughout.
Profanometer:Dammit. It’s nice to read writing which gets its grit from context rather than diction.
Almost a year ago, when the days were quieter and travel less restricted, I announced my intention to write a series of reviews for literary journals and genre magazines. While I didn’t commit to a weekly schedule in that post, it’s what I had in mind. It wasn’t always easy, but I maintained that schedule over the past year. This week, I’m allowing myself some time off to reflect on what I’ve done so far, as well as look ahead to continuing those reviews in 2021.
This project was inspired by the advice every literary journal or genre magazine gives to prospective writers: before sending us your story, read one of our issues to find out if your story’s a good fit for us. Over the years I’ve read hundreds of journals, but always as a connoisseur (a term we literary types prefer over fan when describing ourselves) rather than potential contributor.
As I began submitting my own short fiction, I knew I had to bolster my knowledge of the field. Reading individual issues on occasion wasn’t enough; I had to study each journal, develop a critical sense of the type of work they published. Writing these reviews has forced me to engage with the literary world to a degree I’ve never experienced. All that reading was a lot of hard work, but all that effort has been necessary for me to realize my ambitions.
The reviews have been intentionally more descriptive than evaluative. While some journals were clearly better than others — a few seemed too poor for me to ever consider submitting my work, others too erudite for the type of fiction I write — there’s little value in my alienating anyone. Here’s what I read, and this is what they publish… that’s all I wanted to accomplish.
A few words on how I found and selected these journals and magazines.
Many of my discoveries came from my involvement in a local literary society. Attending workshops and seminars, hanging out at social events, finding out which journals are being read by fellow writers I respect.
If you want to be instantly overwhelmed by the number of journals where you could submit your work, just do a simple Google search. You can save yourself some time by clicking this link, or maybe this one. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could possibly read all of the journals that are out there. I’ve found scrolling through these lists quickly and stopping after finding two or three interesting targets to be a productive approach. Reading everything isn’t the goal; feeling overwhelmed is a sign that it’s time to stop searching and examine what you’ve found so far.
Several directories of journals and magazines are available online, and you can use these to search for publications in a particular genre or interest. The directory at Poets & Writers is free, but the resource I prefer, and the one I used extensively for each of my reviews, is a subscription service called Duotrope. This has become my first resource for finding out a publication’s preferred genres, word count guidelines, reading periods, acceptance rates, or any other information relevant to writers. At five bucks a month, it’s been the sounded investment I’ve made so far in my new profession.
Fifty-one reviews, one for each full week of 2020. There’s plenty more journals out there, enough to do several more years of weekly reviews. But in 2021, I’m taking a different approach.
There are at least four journals where I’ve made submissions that I haven’t reviewed yet. I’ll do those reviews early in 2021, and when I find other publications that seem like good fits for my work, I”ll review them as well.
These reviews, though, won’t come every week. I no longer feel the urgency which inspired this project at the beginning of this year; fatigue has certainly taken a toll, but I also sense more time is needed for other work.
More reviews are coming. I just don’t know when they’re coming, or how often they’ll appear. The work continues, but the schedule ends today.
This journey has been rewarding, difficult, enjoyable, and burdensome. It took a lot of effort, and it feels appropriate to mark its completion.
This is the fifty-first in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. It’s also the last review I’ll be posting in 2020. Next week I’ll look back on this project and look ahead to the following year, where I’ll do more of these reviews but not on a weekly basis.
Founded in 2002, One Story publishes eighteen issues a year. As the title suggests, each issue contains one story.
What they say about themselves: “One Story is an award-winning, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit literary publisher committed to supporting the art form of the short story and the authors who write them—through One Story, One Teen Story, education, community, and mentorship… In 2012, One Story launched One Teen Story, a sister publication for readers of young adult literature. One Teen Story engages the next generation by publishing the work of today’s best teen writers… One Story offers educational programming for writers at every level. Our teachers have experience as editors as well as authors, and provide a unique perspective on how fiction works on the page. We offer year-round in-person and online writing classes taught by editorial staff. Every summer, we host a Summer Writers’ Workshopin New York, where students can take creative writing workshops, listen to craft lectures, and attend panels about the literary world… One Story is devoted to the development and support of emerging writers. One Story has published over 250 authors in One Story and One Teen Story, many at the beginning of their careers. We mentor these writers, helping them navigate the publishing world, and promoting their books through email blasts, on our web site and social networks, in a quarterly printed insert in the magazine, and at our annual Literary Debutante Ball… One Story is based at The Old American Can Factory, an historic, industrial & cultural complex in Gowanus that houses a curated community of more than 300 artisans, visual/performing artists, poets/writers, filmmakers, architects/designers, publishers, non-profit organizations and others working in the creative industries.”
Issue reviewed: Issue Number 271 (November 12 2020)
Genre: Literary Realism
One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Since the journal only publishes one story each issue, the selection for this review was made easy. Jenn Alandy Trahan’s “The Freak Winds Up Again” is a first-person narrative about a young woman in Louisiana struggling to overcome the suicide of her older brother. She finds comfort in following the career of baseball player Tim Lincecum, who shares her Filipino heritage. A story about baseball which is actually more about how its fans invest themselves into the game.
Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The story gets its momentum from the narrator’s insights rather than what she does.
Profanometer:Dammit. For some reason I expected far more rough language in this story. Nice to see an author showing some restraint.
The latest in my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.
Founded by professors at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, The Malahat Review is published four times a year.
What they say about themselves: “The Malahat Review, established in 1967, is among Canada’s leading literary journals. Published quarterly, it features contemporary Canadian and international works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction as well as reviews of recently published Canadian poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction. On occasion, it also publishes interviews, essays, and issues on a single theme or author,… Malahat originally bore the subtitle ‘An International Magazine of Life and Letters,’ reflecting the founding editors’ background in European literature and connections in the international literary community. Under succeeding editors and in step with the growing of a truly national literature, the journal became more strongly Canadian, with a focus on Canadian and international poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction rather than belles lettres and critical work.”
Issue reviewed: Issue 212 (Autumn 2020)
Genre: Literary Realism
One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Asleep Till You’re Awake,” by Francine Cunningham. An anonymous first-person narrator keeps falling asleep in public places, and when he visits a doctor’s office about his condition he sees an unexpected person in the waiting area. A quirky yet engaging story about grief.
Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The stories favor insight and empathy over suspense and action.
Profanometer:Dammit. The adult language is certainly there, but never seemed gratuitous.
At the beginning of this year, I made a commitment to write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine each week. Now that we’re in the middle of the final month of a very tasking year, I’m glad to have only a few more reviews to write.Asimov’s Science Fiction has published monthly issues since its founding in 1977.
What they say about themselves: “From its earliest days in 1977 under the editorial direction of Isaac Asimov, Asimov’s Science FictionMagazine has maintained the tradition of publishing the best stories, unsurpassed in modern science fiction, from award-winning authors and first-time writers alike. In recent years, Asimov’s has placed more stories on the Final Hugo Ballot than all of its competitors combined, and more than twice as many as its closest competitor. Bestselling author Robert Silverberg calls Asimov’s ‘a truly distinguished magazine, worthy of being set beside such classics of the earlier golden ages as John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction of 1939-42.’ The Austin Chronicle lauds Asimov’s as ‘the most consistently innovative and readable SF magazine on the newsstands today.’”
Issue reviewed:Volume 44, Numbers 11 and 12 (November/December 2020). The magazine prints novellas and novellettes in addition to short stories; my review is limited to the latter.Genre: Science fiction and fantasy
One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Grief, As Faithful as my Hound,” by Marissa Lingen. As the Earth is visited by a species of non-communicative aliens, Rina sits with her dying mother in a hospice. Her grief takes on a new dimension when one of the aliens begins following her. Both poignant and funny, this is one of the best stories I’ve read during this year-long exercise.Clapperboard Rating: Two Klacks. The stories present interesting characters in highly imaginative situations, and don’t rely much on conflict or suspense to propel the narrative.
Profanometer:Shitfuck. As one of the stories featured a self-indulgent amount of profanity, I hereby use this designation for the first time.
I recently created a spreadsheet to keep track of my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. That list now takes up almost two full screens.
Since 2013, the online magazine Youth Imagination has published new issues monthly.
What they say about themselves: “Youth Imagination is interested in creative fiction stories by teens as well as by adult authors. Make the stories awesome, inspiring and engaging. Our goal is to publish the best writing for and by teens. We particularly love stories exploring their issues, such as bullying, drugs, romance, school, parental issues, teacher issues, etc., as well as about the grit and character of teens and young adults.
We accept most genres of fiction, including modern, urban or classical fantasy, as well as sci-fi, slipstream, literary, action-adventure or suspense…
Give us something unexpected and well written. Technique, voice, characterization, and language will all play a part in our decision to publish. Amaze us with your writing, use of language, sense of story, and memorable characters. Give us a story readers will not be able to forget and will eagerly recommend to others.”
Issue reviewed: Issue 90 (November 2020). The magazine publishes several ongoing series in addition to individual short stories; my review focused only on the latter.
Genre: After scrolling through several of their back issues, I have to agree with their above statement about themselves — they’re open to anything.
One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Essay Question #3,” by David E. Poston. Written in the form of a college application essay, Charisma is tasked with explaining how her family has helped her determine her goals. Limited to 600 words, she relates a story about her half-brother Trace, a police raid, and a python. Quirky, yet socially relevant.
Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. The stories feature memorable settings and characters.
Profanometer:Gee Willikers. Not a single f-bomb in the entire issue? A breath of fresh air, if you ask me.
Max Brooks’ 2006 novel was the third and final work I read for a recent reading workshop on “contagious fiction.” This lacked the philosophical insight of The Plague or the literary artistry of Station Eleven, but for all its emphasis on gore and action, it still has moments of insight.
The devastating plague in this work turns its victims into flesh-eating zombies, and the uninfected fight a desperate global war for survival. From a strictly literary perspective, zombies make difficult antagonists. They are easy to fear, but difficult to hate since they have no personality. And the fear they generate is purely imaginary; the reader can fear a killer virus or a nuclear conflict depicted in fiction because those are potential events, but being afraid of zombies is like being afraid of dragons.
Fortunately this book features some villainous humans, characters we can truly despise because they are so real. Breck Scott is a con man who makes a fortune pitching an ineffective “cure” for the zombie virus, one that sounded very much like the hydroxychloroquine craze over the COVID summer. Grover Carlson is a White House official who freely admits the government withheld the truth about the zombie threat, similar to how the United States government now admits it lied to its citizens about COVID back in February.
In other words, while “World War Z” might not compare well aesthetically to the two other works I read in my workshop, it did a much better job of foreshadowing the actual events we’ve experienced this year. There’s something to be said for that.
At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of writing a review of a literary journal or genre magazine each week. It’s been a fun and worthwhile project, but reaching the end in a few weeks is gonna be a relief.Founded in 2006, Clarkesworld Magazine publishes a monthly issues in print, electronic, and audio formats.
What they say about themselves: “Clarkesworld is a monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine first published in October 2006. Each issue contains interviews, thought-provoking articles, two reprints, and at least four or five works of original fiction. Our fiction is also available in ebook editions/subscriptions, audio podcasts, print issues, and in our annual print/ebook anthologies. Clarkesworld has been recognized with a World Fantasy Award, three Hugo Awards, and a British Fantasy Award. Our fiction has been nominated for or won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, BSFA, Sturgeon, Locus, Shirley Jackson, Ditmar, Aurora, Aurealis, WSFA Small Press and Stoker Awards.”
Issue reviewed: Issue 170 (November 2020)
Genre: Science fiction
One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Lost in Darkness and Distance,” by Clara Madrigano. Mia is invited to a remote Caribbean island by her rich and eccentric uncle, where she meets a clone of her cousin Charlie, who’d died at a young age. To me, science fiction is at its best when it explores the consequences of extraordinary technology on ordinary people, and this story is a beautiful exploration of the necessity of grief.Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. Science fiction can be overly cerebral at times, and a few stories seemed more interested in ideas rather than character.
Profanometer:Sonovabitch. A mixed bag once again, with some stories using profanity as a way of showing a character’s rugged character (a lazy approach in my opinion), and others throwing in a single f-bomb to mark the story as adult reading material.
Three years ago I downloaded an audiobook of a novel I’d heard good things about from people I respected. I enjoyed listening to it so much that I looked forward to car trips. I even volunteered to run errands until I’d reached the end. I posted a review at the time, and recently read the novel for a reading workshop on dystopian fiction.
What struck me in particular on this reading was the broad timeframe of the novel. It begins in current day as a killer virus breaks out, then jumps ten years in the future after 99% of humanity has been eliminated. This is followed by a scene taking place decades before the flu outbreak. Successive chapters jump between time periods in a way most writing instructors would advise against. Yet I never felt lost, never had to ask myself “When am I now?” In this second review, I’d like to explore why this structure was so effective.
The key to success lies in the first twenty percent of the novel. A few short chapters show the pandemic’s origin and introduces the novel’s main protagonists. After jumping forward a decade the novel remains there for an extended period, revealing more about a key protagonist while also introducing the story’s villain. The novel then goes back into the past, each time using the perspective of an established protagonist to guide the reader. The flashbacks are informative, also necessary, as they help explain why the protagonists do what they’ve done in the apocalyptic future.
As an aspiring fiction writer, I’m curious to know why certain writing strategies work more than others. I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting Emily St. John Mandel’s novel a few more times in the coming years because it is both highly entertaining and so well-crafted.
The latest in my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.Image Journal publishes four times a year in both print and online formats.
What they say about themselves: “Image was founded in 1989 to demonstrate the continued vitality and diversity of contemporary art and literature that engage with the religious traditions of western culture. Now one of the leading literary journals published in English, it is read all over the world—and forms the nexus of a warm and active community.
We believe that the great art that has emerged from these faith traditions is dramatic, not didactic—incarnational, not abstract. And so our focus has been on works of imagination that embody a spiritual struggle, like Jacob wrestling with the angel. In our pages the larger questions of existence intersect with what the poet Albert Goldbarth calls the “greasy doorknobs and salty tearducts” of our everyday lives.”
Issue reviewed: Issue 106
Genre: Literary realism with religious themes
One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget:“Good Faith,” by Jessica Treadway. Em is a studious high school senior who is both envious and protective of her more popular younger sister Daphne. When Daphne faces a personal crisis, both girls find out the limit of their parents’ love for them. The story addresses a sensitive issue in an understanding and original manner.Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. The stories start off a bit slow, but eventually develop significant dramatic tension.
Profanometer:Gee Willikers. I didn’t read a single word you wouldn’t hear on the Disney Channel.