Cough Syrup Magazine

The subject of the most recent in my series of literary journal and genre magazine reviews is a publication I have a hard time describing yet enjoy very much.

Cough Syrup Magazine publishes both online and print editions four times a year.

What They Say About Themselves: “The Wyrd. Those In Between moments you experience at 3AM that you try to explain, try to make someone understand but no one gets it. The Fourth Dimension, the Fourth Plateau. The Creeping Strangeness. The Clarity of ‘Oh shit it’s always like this’, but no one can sees it. The Fucking Weirdness that’s always around. And the reverse alchemy of trying to distill that feeling into a story or poem or art. The Glimpse of Horrible Ecstatic Clarity and we all just want everyone to have a taste. You want to see it , to feel it. It’s here. Dig the day.”

Issue Reviewed: “It’s Working,” a collection of short stories

Genre: All over the place. Mostly literary realism, some speculative content, very adult oriented.

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Day Off,” by Mark Keane. An anonymous Irish Civil Service worker decides to take a day off from work. Not much happens that day, mostly because the narrator doesn’t know what to do with himself. This darkly comic tale made me laugh out loud with the line: “My choice, my decision to take a day off and I had to get through it.”

Exploding HelicoptersThree Explosions. Good dramatic tension in most stories.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. The story cited in my review actually had no profanity at all, but some stories in this collection did turn up the dial on the coarse language.

Parable of the Sower

Rarely do I regret not having read a book, but I’m kicking myself for not discovering Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 novel 20 years earlier.

The story begins on the 15th birthday of Lauren Oya Olamina, whose journal comprises the novel’s entirety. The year is 2024, and the world depicted in a little over three years from the time of this post seems disturbingly similar to the world we have now. Gated communities, disinterested and often criminal police forces, rampant drug use, violent gangs, disastrous climate changes, labor laws enabling employers to enslave workers… Dystopian novels set in the near future tend to not age well (I’m looking at you Mr. Blair), but Butler’s prophetic ability is as brilliant as it is unsettling.

Another problem with this genre is tone; once you read the fate of Winston Smith, Robert Neville, or Dwight Towers, you can’t help feeling hopeless. Dystopia is at its best when it offers a solution, a way to escape from mankind’s dark fate, whether it be from a belief that survival is insufficient or an unlikely military victory. In Butler’s novel, hope is seen in Earthseed, the “religion” founded by Lauren in her journal. Quotes are needed because Earthseed, while it borrows language and thought from multiple established religions, is unlike any belief system that came before it. Lauren views God as an independent being, but one that needs to be shaped by its followers:

God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought… ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace — and how to deal with the others.

Lauren, through her thoughts on Earthseed, also looks beyond this planet, and sees humanity’s potential being realized on worlds beyond our solar system. In other words, there isn’t much hope for Earth, but there is hope for its people when they reach the stars.

Butler wrote a sequel to this novel, but her plan to complete a trilogy died with her in 2006. I don’t know when I’ll get to the second book, but it will probably be right after reading another dystopian novel gets me feeling helpless.

Neon

Another in my series of literary journal and genre magazine reviews.

Neon is a British literary magazine that has published two issues a year since 2006.

What They Say About Themselves:Neon is a magazine of slipstream fiction, poetry, and artwork. We publish creative work that is fantastic or surreal, and which crosses the boundaries between science-fiction, horror and literary fiction.

It is one of the longest-running independent literary magazines in the UK. It is supported entirely by its readers: no adverts, no sponsors, no public funding – just a community of people who all enjoy the same kind of weird literature.

The magazine is published in print and in a range of digital formats. You can set your own price for a digital copy.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue 51 (Autumn 2020)

Genre: Slipstream fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Instead of a story from issue 51 I chose one of the site’s recommended stories, “Best of Drive-Thru” by Mack Gelber. The customers who pull up to the speaker at Large Burger don’t often ask for a hamburger, which is a good thing since the staff isn’t that keen on serving them. An entertaining piece about unfulfilled desires.

Exploding HelicoptersTwo Explosions. The focus is on language and innovate form rather than compelling narrative.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. A few PG-13 and All-Audiences tales mixed in with some grittier matter.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Austin Channing Brown wouldn’t have had much use for the Diversity Training workshops I attended during my corporate work years. Those sessions featured a lot of polite dialogue, along with plenty of numbers and dates demonstrating our company’s commitment to diversity. These were harmonious affairs, comforting and reassuring to anyone save an unrepentant bigot.

The author of this 2018 book writes about leading these sessions, during which she felt pressured by her employers to not offend the feelings of her white participants, to instead re-affirm their goodness. Dissatisfied with these experiences, Brown now advocates more honest talks, uncomfortable discussions about the continued dominance of white supremacist ideology in America, with a focus on actions rather than feelings.

Like Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Brown’s book combines personal narrative and social analysis. Brown’s narrative style is more effective than Kendi’s, mostly because she chooses a thematic rather than chronological format. She doesn’t match the lyricism of Coates, but not many writers can.

Christianity plays an important role in Brown’s work, and this focus sets her apart from the other two authors. While acknowledging the church’s role as a champion oppressor, Brown believes in a Jesus who is a champion of the oppressed. Hers is a Black Jesus, and she cites the influence of James H. Cone’s liberation theology on her beliefs.

One of the most memorable portions of the book comes in the description of an interracial journey through the south during college. A visit to a museum which documented the history of lynching provoked righteous anger from black students, defensiveness from whites. Brown records only one statement from a white student: “Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” It was a declaration focused more on action than on feeling, and could serve as a theme for the book. Like Kendi, Brown cares little about what people feel or believe; how they act, and how those actions support or attack the ideology of white supremacy, is far more significant.

The Woven Tale Press Magazine

There’s a lot of literary journals and genre magazines, and just about every week I read one and write a review.

Founded in 2013, The Woven Tale Press Magazine publishes 10 electronic issues a year.

What They Say About Themselves: “The cornerstone of The Woven Tale Press is our magazine—a rare breed, at once a literary journal and an art publication. We take pride in the careful balance of the writing and the visual arts in each issue; distinctly different but equally resonate fine art forms that are perhaps best appreciated when one is complementing the other.

With our site interviews, reviews, guest posts, and more, we are also a premier online platform and conduit that links distinctive writers and artists with both those seeking a cultural domain and with literary and art venues actively searching for new talents to showcase or represent. We are committed to serving those in the literary and visual arts by offering our publication, and opportunities to become practiced in today’s changing dynamics of artistic success — increasingly measured by an aggregate online presence and audience.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume IX, #3

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Fire on Ice,” by Kevin Loughrin. A young boy and his father from the city go on an ice-fishing expedition, but the first thing they encounter in the lake is not a fish. The curiosity of the story’s anonymous boy is engaging.

Exploding HelicoptersTwo Explosions. Not much action, but plenty of suspense.

Profanometer: Dannmit. Occasional coarse language just to keep things real.

LETTERS Journal

About once a week, I write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine. Here is the latest in this series.

Founded in 2013, LETTERS Journal is published twice a year by the Yale Institute for Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.

What They Say About Themselves:LETTERS is committed to publishing and promoting artists, visual and literary, who create in and towards forms (old and new) for what transcends and embeds human life. To write and create with spiritual concern or affection requires sincerity, honesty, and, often, bearing the full burden of a question’s ambiguities. Recognizing this, we publish work that ranges from deep conviction to turbulent doubt. Above all, though, we keep our ears tuned for what rings of the true, the beautiful, and the virtuous.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue 10 (Winter 2021)

Genre: Literary realism with spiritual elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “No Longer Mine,” by Adrienne Garrison. When her son returns to her farmhouse with his wife to work in a rural hospital, Mary lays not so subtle hints about having a grandchild. When tragedy strikes, Mary has to reconsider what is truly hers. A compelling portrait of a stoic woman navigating her way through grief.

Exploding HelicoptersTwo Explosions. The action in the stories is very subordinate to the ideas expressed.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Not a profane word in sight.

Charge Magazine

Another week, another review of a literary journal or genre magazine.

Charge Magazine has published four electronic issues since 2019. 

What They Say About Themselves:CHARGE is a big word. It’s a word we say every day when our phone battery is low. It is an injunction. It is something that has been entrusted to your care. It means to move swiftly and with purpose. It is a property of matter. It pervades something with a particular quality, feeling, or emotion. It is the sound that is yelled as an invading army takes the field. All of these have meaning for us in this space.

Charge Magazine is an independent publication that seeks to publish work that deals intimately, creatively, and rigorously with the ideas, questions and challenges that confront us as humans on this planet. Some of these questions are specific and new. Others are timeless, but all are part of a larger human conversation. Whatever deep-thinking people wrestle with in their most profound self, whatever of this they bring to their work, whatever the medium might be, Charge is the platform for these types of conversations.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue No. 4

Genre: Literary realism with some speculative elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Kepler’s Canopy,” by Dennis Schaefer. After an exuberant weekend fling with New York attorney Bertram Montgomery, young poet Robert Goronski moves in with Bertram. Robert starts working in Bertram’s office, Bertram helps Robert compose his poetry, and the synergy between the couple leads them to explore the relationship of sex and power. A very good use of an unreliable first-person narrator. 

Exploding Helicopters: Two Explosions. The stories are driven more by character than by plot.

Profanometer: Dammit. The profanity was so seldom that it was easy not to notice.

Metaphorosis Magazine

Nearly every literary journal or genre magazine advises reading a sample issue before submitting. These reviews are my way of demonstrating I’ve done my homework.  Founded in 2015, Metaphorosis Magazine publishes monthly print issues and also posts new content online every week. What They Say About Themselves: “Metaphorosis is a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. We offer intelligent, beautifully written stories for adults… Metaphorosis is the title of our pre-launch introductory story, inspired by Kafka’s MetamorphosisIf you want a more intellectual-sounding answer, you could say it’s a method of understanding our surroundings through examination of allegory and parable.” Issue Reviewed: March 2021 Genre: Speculative fiction One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Going Home,” by Martin Westlake. Dimitriy Semenov, “a brilliant physicist with a top doctoral thesis in Biology and Materials Sciences from Moscow State University,” is teaching mathematics at a secondary school when he is approached with a mysterious job offer from a Russian military officer. The event which triggers Dimitriy’s journey has been the subject of many speculative stories, but Westlake presents a fresh take on the matter. Exploding HelicoptersThree Explosions. The stories are consistently imaginative and engaging. Profanometer: Gee Willikers. More proof that you don’t need colorful diction in a compelling narrative.

Sweet Tree Review

Another in my ongoing reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. 

Staffed by faculty and students from Western Washington University, Sweet Tree Review is an online publication that has produced four new issues a year since 2015.

What They Say About Themselves: “A sweet tree does not have a single definition. A sweet tree is everything you need it to be and nothing you expect it to be.
 
A sweet tree is the inceptive – your earliest memory, the stain of blackberry juice, the cat you lost in fourth grade, your latest road trip postcard, the B minus on your thesis, the old lady that laughed at you kissing your boyfriend, the bus you waited for in the rain when you misread the schedule.
 
A sweet tree is the aftermath – the fireweed, the clink of soapy glasses after a funeral, the lights without the sirens, the 3:34 am phone call, the bustle of the hospital after the monitor stops, the thrum of helicopter blades over rubble, the exhale of a rescue dog.
 
Confront us. Endear us. Scare us. Sadden us. Show us things we don’t understand; things we didn’t know we wanted to understand.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 6, Issue 1 (Winter 2021)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “White Noise,” by Adam Gianforcaro. Gene and Mario buy their first home in a college town, but their quiet world is soon disrupted by a fateful phone call. The story of their three decades in the home is told with appreciation for the couple’s compassion and includes both small and large moments that were truly genuine. 

Exploding HelicoptersOne Explosion. Aside from some noisy neighbors, not much happens on Gene and Mario’s street.

Profanometer: Dammit. The two f-bombs came at an appropriate time of the story.

New World Writing

Last year I began posting reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. If nothing else, this series has caused me to read some very interesting fiction.

Online literary magazine New World Writing publishes new content every few days.

What They Say About Themselves:New World Writing began life as Mississippi Review Online, a personal Web site that the editor (who was then also editor of Mississippi Review, the print magazine) put online in 1995. On departing his editorship of MR, the editor invited those folks who worked on the online version of MR to join him in this new venture. New World Writing (first as Mississippireview.com, and then as BlipMagazine.net) was among the first and most popular literary magazines on the Web. As of 2010, the magazine had more than fifteen hundred stories and poems in its archive…”

Issue Reviewed: The story I review below was posted this February 27

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “A Minor Character,” by Steve Lambert. James, a socially awkward loner, is convinced by his wife Rachel to go with her to meet another couple at the beach. When the two couples meet later for drinks, James’ behavior becomes increasingly strange. Social expectations can wear on a person, and this story does a good job of illustrating that wear.

Exploding HelicoptersTwo Explosions. The tension comes late, but when Steve is pushed too far he reaches for a desperate solution.

Profanometer: Dammit. The f-bombs came late and had the proper dramatic effect.