Fiction on the Web

My weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazine leads me to a distinctively eclectic e-zone.

Every Monday and Friday, Charlie Fish publishes a new story to the Internet site he calls Fiction on the Web.

What they say about themselves: “FICTION on the WEB is a labour of love. Every single story on here is hand-picked and carefully edited by me. I don’t have a staff, and I don’t make any money. I do this because I want to give authors a chance to get their work out there, and I love sharing great stories with the world. FICTION on the WEB has been online since 1996, which makes it the oldest short stories website on the Internet. Hundreds of stories have been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of readers. This new incarnation of the site aims to take advantage of the latest trends in connectivity while keeping things nice and simple.“

Issue reviewed: None. All stories are available only on the website. For this review, I read back a few weeks to get a feel for the site.

Genre: Hard to assign a category to this site. Some stories were straightforward literary realism, others had a distinctly speculative or horror element. I think Charlie chooses the story that appeals to him at the moment.

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Who To Call In Case Of Emergency,” by Marina Rubin, published on September 14. When a coworker faints and is taken away by ambulance, Tulip leads a campaign to update everyone’s contact information. This leads her to develop a close friendship with Senna, who is very unlike the straight-laced and “vanilla” Tulip. A satire of office life that is both outrageous and realistic.

Clapperboard RatingThree Klacks. Engaging characters and storylines throughout the stories.

Profanometer: Dammit. Most of the language was pretty clean.

Cream City Review

At the beginning of this year, I set a goal of writing a review each week of a literary journal or genre magazine. I‘m giving myself a Christmas break, so I’ll be stopping at 50 weeks. Thirteen to go after I hit the Publish button on this one. 

Founded in 1975, Cream City Review is published twice a year from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

What they say about themselves:Cream City Review is Milwaukee’s leading literary journal devoted to publishing memorable and energetic pieces that push the boundaries of writing.  Continually seeking to explore the relationship between form and content, Cream City Review features fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, visual art, reviews of contemporary literature and author interviews. Published biannually, Cream City Review is a volunteer-based, non-profit journal which has attracted readers and submissions from around the world. Approximately 4,000 submissions are received each year from both unpublished and established writers.

The name Cream City Review pays tribute to the publication’s home in Milwaukee. Known as “The Cream City,” Milwaukee is the birthplace of the yellow-colored brick made exclusively from clay native to this area. The “cream” bricks, first made in 1835, proved more durable and aesthetically pleasing than the traditional red bricks produced by East Coast kilns, and quickly became Milwaukee’s most characteristic building material.”

Issue reviewed: Volume 44, Number 1 (Spring/Summer 2020)

Genre: Experimental Literary Fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Stray,” by Aram Mrjoian. When a dog with no identification shows up in Ella’s home (which is actually the summer home of her late grandfather), she searches through the neighborhood to find its owner. A recent college graduate uncertain about her future, Ella is as much a stray as the dog she takes care of.

Clapperboard RatingOne Klack. The stories focus on form rather than action.

Profanometer: Dammit. The language was surprisingly clean.

Relief

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

Relief is “a journal of art and faith” that publishes one print issue a year.

 

What they say about themselves: “For over a decade, Relief has helped shape the landscapes of faith and imagination for readers around the world. In our annual print journal, we feature fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, graphic narrative, and reviews by some of today’s finest literary practitioners, alongside emerging voices. We also publish new reflections on our blog each week—meditations by diverse writers pondering our contemporary moment through the rich lenses of art and faith.

Relief eschews tidy ‘inspirational’ writing that represses the troublesome and complex dimensions of our lives. Instead we are dedicated to human flourishing through literature.

In architectural terms, a relief is a raised projection of figures or forms on a flat surface. It is an image caught somewhere between 2D and 3D. For us, relief is a metaphor: It is work that nudges us toward a fully-embodied reality, toward seeing face-to-face rather than in a mirror dimly. We celebrate writing that broadens our perspectives on the world and humanity, moving us ever closer to the true and beautiful — and in turn, the true and beautiful bring us another kind of relief.”

Issue reviewed: Spring 2020

Genre: Spiritual (mostly Christian) literary fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Summit,” by Anna Trujillo. Seeking a momentary escape from her stressful job and uninspiring life, an anonymous young woman hikes regularly on a nearby mountain. When she encounters someone at the summit one day, she’s forced to make an important decision. The main character’s physical struggle mirror her inner turmoil in a clear way without being heavy-handed.

Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The characters wrestle with their conscience more than they do with each other.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Not a profanity or blasphemy in sight.

Everything I Never Told You

Celeste Ng’s first novel may not be made into a Hulu series, but is nevertheless an engaging family drama.

James Lee is the son of Chinese immigrants who attends Harvard in the 1950s and meets Marilyn, a white woman with dreams of being a doctor. It’s an era when open xenophobia is acceptable, women aren’t expected to have professional careers, and interracial marriage is still illegal in many part of America. When they move to a small college town in Ohio to raise a family, they begin a comfortable but unsatisfying life. James never overcomes his disappointment at not earning a professorship at Harvard; Marilyn resents turning into her mother, who’s refused to see her since Marilyn’s wedding day; their children do well in school and make friends, but always feel separate from their peers.

There are many things I liked about this novel — the mystery introduced on the first page is solved in a manner that seems both literary and realistic — but perhaps its greatest accomplishment is the subtle but powerful depiction of the microaggressions faced by ethnic minorities in America. One passage in particular deserves a full quote:

You saw it in the sign at the Peking Express — a cartoon man with a coolie hat, slant eyes, buckteeth, and chopsticks. You aw it in the little boys on the playground, stretching their eyes to slits with their fingers — Chinese — Japanese — look at these — and in the older boys who muttered ching chong ching chong ching as they passed you on the street, just loud enough for you to hear. You saw it when waitresses and policemen and bus drivers spoke slowly to you, in simple words, as if you might not understand. You saw it in photos, yours the only black head of hair in the scene, as if you’d been cut out and pasted in. You thought: Wait, what’s she doing there? And then you remembered that she was you. You kept your head down and thought about school, or space, or the future, and tried to forget about it. And you did, until it happened again.

The prose isn’t as as polished as Little Fires Everywhere; narrative perspective jumps suddenly and often between characters, and while many of Ng’s metaphors are quite interesting some are forced, almost seeming perfunctory, the writer feeling a need to create a metaphor when one isn’t really needed. Yet Ng’s debut is still superior to the best efforts of most other novelists. I’m anxious to see where Ng leads her readers in the coming years.

Crazyhorse

For the first time in several months, I’m writing my weekly review of literary journals and genre magazines before the weekend. I’m hoping to take the holiday weekend off from responsibilities, and this post gets me a step closer to that goal.

Founded in 1960, Crazyhorse is a literary journal published twice a year from South Carolina’s College of Charleston.

What they say about themselves: “Founded by the poet Tom McGrath in Los Angeles in 1960, Crazyhorse continues to be one of the finest, most influential literary journals published today… Throughout the 1970s, other editors took the helm of the journal, among them Deb and Edith Wylder, who played a key role in the life of Crazyhorse when they brought it to Murray State University in Kentucky… From 1981 to 2001, Crazyhorse was housed at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, continuing its ascent as a journal of the best contemporary work… But in 2001, after Ralph Burns had served as sole editor of the journal for several years, financial strains at the University of Arkansas took their toll, and Burns, through mutual friend David Jauss, contacted Bret Lott at the College of Charleston to ask whether the College might be interested in taking over the journal. The rest is history. Since coming to the College, Crazyhorse has found new life, both in terms of its content and its design–a life that has continued to grow the reputation of the journal as one of the premier venues in which new writing can appear.”

Issue reviewed: Number 97 (Spring 2020)

Genre: Experimental literary fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Your Bullet and You,” by Sheldon Costa. In a world where bullets pursue their victims for days, weeks, or even months, an anonymous woman flees from her bullet, only to begin wondering what she is racing towards. “There were too many things she wanted to accomplish before she died, though she wasn’t entirely sure what these things might be.” A tale which captures how violence in our life has become part of our mundane existence.

Clapperboard Rating: Two Klacks. Most of the conflict is internal rather than external.

Profanometer: Dammit. Occasional f-bombs and scatological references, but none which distract from the narratives.

Bourbon Penn

I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine every week this year. But today’s post gets me one step closer. Bourbon Penn is an online journal established in 2010 with an apparently irregular publishing schedule. What they say about themselves: “We are looking for highly imaginative stories with a healthy dose of the odd.  Odd characters, odd experiences, odd realities. We’re looking for genre / speculative stories and are quite partial to slipstream, cross-genre, magic realism, absurdist, and the surreal. We want character.  For us, stories live and die by their characters.  We’re looking for fully drawn characters who surprise us with their honesty, complexity, and contradictions. We want mysterious.  We’re looking for stories that grab the reader, make them ask, “what the hell is going on?” and then deliver on the tease. We want ideas and we want action.  We love exploring big, philosophical ideas, but we revel in suspenseful plotting.  If you’re adept at blending these elements, we can’t wait to read your work. We want fresh voices and exciting prose.  We want to be surprised.  We want to be inspired.  We want to find stories that we can’t wait to publish, promote, and evangelize.” Issue reviewed: Issue 21 Genre: Speculative fiction One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Disappearer,” by Jason Baltazar. Maddox, a half-Salvadoran 19-year-old, has the ability to make objects disappear. Because he can’t control this power, he becomes a criminal suspect. A story that was both imaginative and very much set in the real world. Clapperboard Rating: Four Klacks. The stories are consistently engaging. Profanometer: Sonovabitch. Some stories never used the f-word, some used it once or twice, some a lot.

American Short Fiction

Still going strong with my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

Established in 1991, American Short Fiction publishes three issues a year from Austin TX.

What they say about themselves:American Short Fiction was founded in 1991 by Laura Furman at the University of Texas Press… Issued triannually, American Short Fiction publishes work by emerging and established voices: stories that dive into the wreck, that stretch the reader between recognition and surprise, that conjure a particular world with delicate expertise—stories that take a different way home… In the inaugural issue of the magazine, which included Joyce Carol Oates and a young Dagoberto Gilb, Furman wrote of the ‘shared love and respect for narrative itself’ that formed the foundation of American Short Fiction and continued: ‘We have great faith in our readers. We are sure that, just as we do, they have a love of reading and a desire for the involvement that good writing gives us all.’ Our goal here at American Short Fiction is to respect that involvement by offering consistently intelligent, engrossing, and beautiful reading, in print and on this website, and we appreciate your company.”

Issue reviewed: Volume 23, Issue 70 (Winter 2020)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Redwoods,” by Joyce Carol Oates. After suffering a fatal stroke, a man named Vanbrugh visits his wife and son, and remembers a moment from a hike in the redwoods several decades earlier. A ghost story in which the spirit is the one who’s haunted.

Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The prose is consistently excellent, with characters and settings firmly rooted in the real world. “The Redwoods” featured a ghost, but the focus of the story was on the main character’s life rather than his afterlife activities.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. Some, but not all, of the stories went a little overboard with the f-bombs.

Liquid Imagination

Just about every literary journal or genre magazine will advise writers to read their publication first before submitting a story for their review. One of my motivations for this project of writing a review of a journal or magazine every week is to be able to submit to a whole bunch of publications by year’s end. Liquid Imagination is an online magazine of speculative fiction that publishes four times a year. What they say about themselves: “Our mission is to publish a wide variety of art, creating visually stimulating publications of the highest quality that combine many artistic avenues, including graphic and digital art as well as traditional illustrations, photographs and paintings; speculative and literary fiction, micro-fiction, and poetry; music and audio works; digital poetry and digital flash fiction; and other artistic forms.” Issue reviewed: Issue 45 (May 2020) Genre: Speculative fiction, with a preference (at least in this issue) for suspense and horror One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Read This Again Please,” by Ron J. Cruz. A successful horror novelist lures a fan into his home, only to realize she is not just a fan and aspiring writer, but a character from one of his stories. A satisfying morality tale about writers, their readers, and the texts they share. Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. Plot and characterization are the principal drivers for the stories. Profanometer: Sonovabitch. I was going to award the Dammit designation, but then realized I had used this on the last seven journals I reviewed. (Yes, I keep track of these things, now anyway.) This tells me that I need to re-evaluate my criteria for this category. From now on, any time I see the f-word used in any story, that journal receives at least a Sonovabitch. After I complete my reviews this year, I’ll be interested to see how this category played out.

Fireside Magazine

Another week, another in my series of reviewws of literary journals and genre magazines.

Fireside Magazine is published online every month by Fireside Fiction, which also publishes the print journal Fireside Quarterly.

What they say about themselves: “Fireside Fiction Company started in 2012 as a Kickstarter-funded short-story magazine. We began with the goals of finding and publishing great stories regardless of genre, and paying our writers well. Since Nov. 8, 2016, we have a third goal: resisting the global rise of fascism and far-right populism, starting with the current occupant of the White House.”

Issue reviewed: Issue 82 (August 2020)

Genre: Speculative literary fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Redemption,” by Mary Soon Lee. An anonymous prisoner serving an eight-century sentence receives a surprising gift at the end of another routine day. A reminder that solitude is the ultimate punishment.

Clapperboard Rating: Two Klacks. The stories have fantasy or futuristic settings, but the language aspires more to literature than genre fiction.

Profanometer: Dammit. Maybe I’ve become numb to profanity, but it seems like the journals I’ve been reading lately have been fairly, if not entirely, clean.

New Reader Magazine

I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to honor my commitment to write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine each week this year. One week at a time…

Founded in 2018, New Reader Magazine is an online magazine published four times a year.

What they say about themselves: “New Reader Magazine is a quarterly arts, literature, and culture journal. Our purpose is to publish fearless literary works, groundbreaking visual art and conspicuous identities. We want to introduce the world to all the weird and wonderful people who are making things happen.”

Issue reviewed: Volume 3, Issue 10 (June 2020)

Genre: Literary realism with some speculative elements. The magazine also publishes a good deal of interesting flash fiction.

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The College Man,” by Ciaran McLarnon. A young man is determined to please his parents, no matter how greatly he has to lie. A comical yet disturbing study of how close family bonds can so easily lead to deceit.

Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. Each of the narrative voices was compelling.

Profanometer: Dammit. Most of the authors felt they didn’t have to use adult language to convey strong emotion.