Journal Review: F(r)iction #4 Presents Fresh Creative Delights in “a weird and beautiful little book.”
An advance reader’s copy of F(r)iction #4 for today’s review was provided by Tethered By Letters (TBL).
LIMITED OFFER: the first person to comment on today’s review receives a 1-year digital subscription to F(r)iction on me!
When I received the invite to review F(r)iction #4, I had no idea what delights awaited me. Sure, I expected solid lit plus a few pictures… but F(r)iction isn’t your run-of-the-mill mag with a fistful of images sandwiched in the middle.
F(r)iction #4 delivers a diverse cross-section of work by new and established authors, each thoughtfully framed by full color, full page art. Think “illustrated kid’s book” – but for big kids. Big, strange kids like me. This tri-annual zine embraces the best that modern publishing can offer: global voices, limitless design options, and bounteous indie weirdness. (Yes, I count room for more weirdness among the benefits of modern publishing.) Mixed with stories, poems, and artwork you’ll find author interviews, reviews, a book excerpt, and other treasures.
Before I dig in to the lit, I want to mention that Arthur Asa, Tyler Champion, Elle Levy, and Brian Demers created my very favorite illustrations for this book. (And the other illustrations are wonderful too, of course.)
After an elegant introduction (I felt a true kinship upon reading the Editor’s Note), we kickoff strong with Becoming, a short story by L.P. Walsh. Becoming offers many opportunities for a bigger story without sacrificing completeness. Walsh provokes questions around gender, identity, adolescence, and innocence, while subtle (and not so subtle) textures evoke our increasingly familiar modern pharmaceutical culture. Walsh’s story feels weirdly personal – as a child, I assumed I could choose to be a man or a woman (until Sex Ed came along and said otherwise, as if biology had all the answers).
Three poems by Marc Frazier provide a dreamscape intermission. Ethereal, sensorial, and deceptively simple, these poems might be a challenge to finish. Each time I read them, I seem to get distracted by some shiny fragment they dredge from my memory, as with the line “… roots. gather energy, / a poplar’s nimbus / glows.” These poems feel solitary and introspective, like looking into a hand mirror in a very quiet room of an empty building. My favorite: “Once Upon a Time.”
Several stories and poems in F(r)iction #4 tackle the familiar themes of love and loss through death, including Saver by Michael Twist, and Cold Blooded Old Times by Ryan W. Bradley. Since I admit I get fatigued by some journals’ dedication to the tragic, I truly appreciate that the F(r)iction editors do a good job of spacing them throughout the book.
Kit Reed touches on mortal topics in Stickyfeet™, but with a focus on the strange, twisted, and beautiful roots of personal idiosyncrasies and phobias. Shelley Wood’s Think of Sad, a short story contest winner, paints a bittersweet portrait of people who connect through distances of space, time, and memory; how those distances grow and shrink in a blink. Picking up where Wood leaves off, Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum’s On the 100th Anniversary of Mary’s Death emphasizes the strangely permanent out-of-timeness that accompanies the death of someone you love. I, too, did not watch speechless as 22 ravens mechanically swooped and looped through my backyard, fanning the grass flush to the earth.
We did not! We did not! We did not!
Graphic stories are a natural fit for F(r)iction, and issue #4 boasts Jonas McCluggage’s creepy-but-beautiful Follow the Leader. McCluggage renders palpable characters with captivating art and soft colors that increase the sinister, foreboding presence that lurks in every frame.
Speaking of foreboding, All Manner of Thing by Rebecca Mlinek appeals to the fantastical with nods to shapeshifters, vampires, and workaday humans. While the thrust of the story hinges on mystical transformation and domestic secrets, what really brings this story to life for me is Mlinek’s attention to the discoveries and struggles of motherhood, parenthood, and partnerhood: those corporeal, emotional, and mortal.
The Art of Impalement by Tyler Lacoma is a favorite of mine. Tyler uses this flash piece to explore three characters – Jay, She, and their Love. I enjoy all the nuances in Lacoma’s language selections, and the end absolutely makes me smile.
Letters from Afghanistan is perhaps my very favorite part of F(r)iction #4. Here we glimpse new poems by Hajar, a woman poet from Afghanistan. Hajar’s poetry comes to us from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP), working to give a voice to Afghan women of all ages and help them tell their stories. Hajar’s poetry explores emotions with care, contrasting vulnerability with confidence and decisiveness. She never leaves us floating out there on the emotions – we are habitually connected to the here and now through modern touchstones like pills and medicines, wallpaper and cigarettes, politics and air pollution, Facebook and Googling. As much as I enjoy her poetry – which begs many readings – I am especially grateful for the Q&A that follows her work:
I want to see an Afghanistan where people young and old, women and men read. I dream big, and I have noticed that. But I want to be in my countrymen’s bookshelves one day, in each and every library of Kabul. This is my future goal—though perhaps unrealistic, through my writing, I can picture such a day.
So can I, Hajar.
Readers can visit the AWWP website for more poems and stories from Afghan women.
You know I want to go on, to mention every piece and creator by name as they deserve, but it’s time for you to stop reading me and go get your own copy of F(r)iction #4.
As a journal that is unafraid to be different, I recommend F(r)iction to anyone seeking fresh voices in a less-than-traditional presentation. And if you’re one of the weird ones like me, I hope you’ll submit. I’ll be looking for you in the next issue.
Remember: first person to comment receives a 1-year digital subscription to F(r)iction from me.
Disabled Vet. Anything Helps. God Bless. Now online at the Lascaux Review 2012 Flash Fiction Contest
As promised, my short story is now online for your reading pleasure. “Disabled Vet. Anything Helps. God Bless.” is submission #12 at the Lascaux Review 2012 Flash Fiction Contest.
Writers, Lascaux Flash is a great opportunity to submit your work, share constructive critiques with fellow creatives, and catch a few new readers in real-time. Oh yeah, and Lascaux Review is paying the winner a buck a word – that’s right, $250 USD for a juicy piece of your flash fiction. Sweet. As of this morning there are 12 days remaining to submit your entry.
If you’re a reader, I similarly encourage you to explore the Lascaux Flash contest pages this September. Each story is no longer than 250 words, which means you can enjoy a few fresh stories on your lunch breaks (see also: The Clarity of Night short fiction contest archives). Of the submissions I’ve read at Lascaux Flash (about 20 of 60 so far), my personal favorite is entry #13, “When Horses Dream” by Bruce Roush. My goals for my next flash fiction piece: half the words, and real laughter.
For this July’s Clarity of Night “Uncovered” Short Fiction Contest I created a piece of poetry (with narrative movement to meet the requirements of this contest), inspired by Jason Evans’ image of gemstones here. You can read my entry Forties Club Finalist #22 here.
Laure-Alda and Francis aren’t strangers: they are characters from one of my story ideas. This poem started as a 200-word flash fiction piece written from Francis’ POV. After a few hours I realized that the fiction could be extracted to make a poem or rather, a love letter. I’m using love letters to explore Laure-Alda and Francis, their lives, their friendship, and their current circumstances (such as it relates to the story).
Listen to the audio (MP3 link below), and be sure to spend some time at The Clarity of Night this week – there’s a lot of good reading to be had.
* * *
For Laure-Alda, from Francis
by Jade Leone Blackwater
If we awoke
clasped in sunlight
and found that the lump in my throat
had burst and broken
birthed a trinity of gemstones
to my dune grass pillow
would you cradle the tokens
to your nose as dew drops in the palm
watch colors radiate along our wrinkles,
remember our love for what dazzles,
burns us with brilliance?
Would you join me at the gorge
gulp turpentine and cinnamon wind
knock the sharp, sacred clap
which calls the rainbow-scaled fish-sage who,
in his high lip-pop dialect,
whispers “Only when the moon is dark,”
until the incantations crack
open our skull caps
into which we’d drop jewels
as cherries to dish, wait
for the western orb to reach the zenith
blaze its beam down and scoop us both moonward?
* * *