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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Society of Misfit Stories

Today is a landmark in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines — I’ve now reviewed every journal and magazine to which I’ve submittted at least one story. But I’m not stopping this series, as I’ve identified several more publications for future submissions…

The Society of Misfit Stories is a publication of Bards and Sages Publishing, and prints three online and print editions a year.

What They Say About Themselves: “The Society of Misfit Stories is a home for those wonderful stories that are too long for most magazines but too short for stand-alone print books. Whether you call them short stories, novelettes, or novellas, these stories are all of a length that often struggles to find publication traditionally. Each issue offers a substantial volume of amazing speculative fiction for readers who enjoy spending time with a good tale.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume III, Issue II (June 2021)

Genre: Speculative fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Black Leather Gloves,” by Alex Woolf. Travis Enderby owns a second-hand bookstore outside of London which specializes in science fiction and horror. When an enigmatic woman arrives in his shop, Travis becomes obsessed with her and the black leather gloves she wears at all times. A gripping tale of obsession and repressed guilt that also contains insightful observations on both literary fiction and speculative fiction.

Exploding Helicopters: Four Explosions. I like stories that combine page-turning action — in other words, narratives in which something actually happens — that also contain some insight — in other words, tales which make me think. The stories in this collection combined those characteristics well. The stories are indeed long, but weren’t tiresome.

Profanometer: Sonuvabitch. Two of the six stories contained a gratuitous amount of profanity, while the others (including the one I commented on for this review) contained none at all. I like that balance.

Beloved

I read a wide range of fiction, and occasionally like to challenge myself with a work that’s well outside my usual fare. Many times I rise to the challenge, and those experiences can be rewarding. Yet there are times when I find a work a little overwhelming; those experiences can be frustrating.

Unfortunately for me, Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction that year, falls into the latter category.

The elements of a great story are all there — a band of unforgettable characters, a tense setting with a tragic history, and a supernatural being sowing chaos. When I step back from the prose and consider the individual elements of the novel, I’m very impressed with its scope.

The prose, however, is very dense, and the timeline is anything but linear. The text moves effortlessly between past and present, but the shifts happen with a frequency that is dizzying.

This isn’t a novel to be read; it’s a novel to be studied.

However, I feel the fault in this case is more on me than the work itself. I may not be able to appreciate its artistry, but I can at least acknowledge it. Some works are to weighty for me to enjoy, and “Beloved” is one of those works that is just too big for me.

Azure

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

Founded in 2015, Azure publishes both online and print issues.

What They Say About Themselves:Lazuli Literary Group is a platform dedicated to fostering the delight of the literary imagination through a small publishing presswriting contests, and an online/print literary journalAZURE: A Journal of Literary Thought. We are a two-person editing team with diverging tastes (one classic and one contemporary) that harmonize in a third, uncharted space. We are particularly drawn to writing that broadens the concept of ‘literary’ to one that pulls from a global pedigree of storytelling technique. We seek authors who revel in the rhythmic possibilities of the poetic line, who contemplate the flavor, the shape, and the history of every word they use; who are so committed to the pyrotechnics of the written word that they comprehend the beauty of classical forms and yet feel compelled to constantly re-invent their craft. Our goal is to support underrepresented styles of writing, specifically within a genre that we imagined, which we call otherworld realism. We like work that generates an eclectic mix of literary, lyrical, experimental and witty reading experiences; as such, we publish works that may not be suited for mass consumption, due to their raw yet polished innovations in content and form. ​

otherworld realism
[uhth -er-wurld] [ree-uh-liz-uh m]
noun

  1. a style of literature devoted to intellectual and imaginative pursuits that point towards a potential, evolved reality.
  2. a genre that represents the known world in an elevated or defamiliarising way.
  3. art and literature that evokes the space before clarity in which one must navigate the logic of intuition and instinct, alongside the duplicity of fact.
  4. an approach illuminating a psychic space of process; a space of ambiguity, silence, and internal struggle.
  5. the pre-dawn.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 5, Issue 2 (April 2021)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Most issues feature only one short story, and for this issue that would be “The Looking Glass of Arthur Gordon Pym” by Frank Meola. The protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe’s novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” writes a first-person account of the true events of the tale.

Exploding HelicoptersOne Explosion. The emphasis is on florid writing over action.

Profanometer: Dammit. The language was pretty restrained.

LampLight

I avoid making qualitative judgements about the literary journals and genre magazines I use in my series of ongoing reviews, but I’ll make an exception this time — I really like this one.

LampLight is an independent quarterly magazine of dark fiction.

What They Say About Themselves: “We are a literary magazine of dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits.”…

We go for stories that are dark, literary; we are looking for the creepy, the weird and the unsettling.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 9, Issue 3 (April 2021)

Genre: Speculative fiction with a dark flavor

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Several to choose from, but I’ll go with “Directions to Joe Langley’s House (And How to Avoid What Descends on Sunbeams,” by Victor Sweetser. While giving directions to his rural Alabama home, the first-person narrator warns the reader about mysterious and malevolent creatures who hunt humans during daylight and moonlight. A clever take on the quest story, in which the journey is far more interesting, and deadly, than the destination.

Exploding HelicoptersFour Explosions. Plenty of external threats in the stories, each of them combined with interior threats within the characters.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Not a single f-bomb in the entire issue! Further proof that you don’t have to use colorful language to display strong emotion or create suspense.

Ginosko Literary Journal

Back in January 2020, I began reviewing literary journals and genre magazines once a week, with a break over the holidays. This is the latest in that series.

Ginosko Literary Journal is an independent periodical from California. First appearing in 2003, the journal now publishes two electronic issues per year.

What They Say About Themselves: From page 3 of issue 26:

ginosko
A Greek word meaning
to perceive, understand, realize, come to know;
knowledge that has an inception, a progress, an attainment.
The recognition of truth from experience.

γινώσκω

Issue Reviewed: Issue 26 (Spring 2021)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Small Town Summer,” by Ashley Pearson. An anonymous student in an Illinois college is forced to live and work in the town next to campus one summer when her father in California loses his job. She finds work at a desolate Dollar General store and discovers the uneasy relationship between the town and the college. The use of the second person narrative form was interesting, as the device reinforced the protagonist’s detachment from her environment.

Exploding HelicoptersOne Explosion. The stories are rich in setting and characterization without many plot complications.

Profanometer: Dammit. The stories I read featured no colorful language at all, although my search for four-letter words in the PDF version of the issue found a few hits.