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.
Neglected but not forgotten, I’m happy to tell you the Brainripples blog is a victim of its own success. With precious few moments for blog posts, stories, or poems, I’ve spent these past two years writing oodles of small business websites and marketing materials, helping organizations articulate and promote their brands and products, and supporting entrepreneurs through social media management and market research. (Last year I also helped my best friend on earth heal after knee surgery – so hip hip hooray for good health!!!!)
To see what I’ve been up to, I invite you to learn about some of these unique organizations:
This 15-year-old community development financial institution (CDFI) helps Northwest nonprofits develop affordable housing, community facilities, and retail space that enhance the lives of low- and moderate-income residents. I worked with the Noise without Sound team to produce a fresh website, launch the newsletter, and promote fundraising events with email campaigns. We also help them produce the annual report each year.
Comtronic is a trusted Northwest family business that builds, services, and supports award-winning debt collection software for small- to medium-size collection agencies. I helped Noise without Sound produce the Debtmaster product brochures for 2011 and 2014, as well as advertisements for trade magazines.
Need help with databases? How about business processes? Ready to launch your new startup? Call Peter at Seabeck Systems. After 12 years helping organizations get things done right, Seabeck Systems was more than ready to clarify their brand, update their website, and register a trademark. I produced Seabeck’s website, blog, and social media, and forged clear brand elements which we handed to Noise without Sound for matchless trademark design.
Two small urban design firms joined forces in 2012 and hired hired Noise without Sound for a new name, logo, and website. I joined the team to create their new 3 Square Blocks brand elements, plus crisp web content in plain English.
What’s ahead for Brainripples in 2016?
I have instructions from a few dear friends to make time for poems – so that’s on the list. I’m also consulting as a business analyst to help a business intelligence team gather requirements to design, develop, and deliver great software (which also means – yep – more software documentation). There’s a growing garden of tree photography just itching to come online, which includes hundreds of beautiful pictures taken during my adventures in Kaua’i, Hawai’i (mahalo, Dad). Finally I’m about to expand my services to include WordPress website and blog hosting for small businesses. I spend most of my time writing and producing web content, so this will provide one-stop-shopping for all of you who need a simple, hassle-free WordPress site.
Coming up next on the blog: tips for new writers…. and maybe an interview or two. Fingers crossed.
How about you? I want to know what you’re up to too – tell me in the comments!
Grab the A cappella Zoo Bestiary and pull up a chair, but don’t get too comfy. Guest Editor Gina Ochsner keeps her eye on the comfort zone horizon while selecting the best poems and stories for this celebratory tenth issue. Ochsner prefers writing that nudges a reader, as she explains in a 2010 interview with Jeff Baker at The Oregonian,
“I’m not here to make people comfortable, I’m not even writing to make myself comfortable. I make myself really uncomfortable because then I’m hitting on a raw nerve and that’s what it should be all about. The worst thing someone could say about my work is, ‘That was a nice read. I felt so comfortable.’ That would be horrible.”
This same disquiet and vibrancy represent speculative literature (speclit) at its best. Ochsner’s choices for the A cappella Zoo Bestiary accordingly transport readers from the pedestrian path to the Twilight Zone with tight, visceral writing.
Some works in the Bestiary unsettle more than others. From the first sentence, Andrew Mitchell’s story “The Rocket in the Sky” corkscrews with tension of impending and immitigable doom, a lightning flash in the lifetime of Perry Abbot.
Joe Kapitan’s story “War Crumbs,” shows us children who playfully reassemble Uncle Henry, a veteran who literally falls to pieces. As the children periodically hunt Henry’s body parts, we readers puzzle through violent histories, old wounds, half-truths, and meted justice.
“Teaching a Post Lunar World” is a poem by Caitlin Thomson that reads with the clarity and brevity of a nursery rhyme. Don’t be fooled. When the “eldest asks, How could you sleep?” in a moon-and-starlit night, I find myself wondering, How would I ever sleep in a post lunar world?
While you’re looking skyward, flip to Lora Rivera’s story “Calling Rain,” an offering of healing that will crack your heart open like thunder. True to Ochsner’s objective, Rivera gently but unflinchingly introduces us to Tara, a powerful woman, a survivor of violence and sexual abuse, a caller of rain, a sentinel of inner strength.
All speculative literature does not read equally. I find some pieces easy to apprehend on the first read, while others require more work for me to acclimate to their universe. “The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob” by Theodore Carter falls in the category of easy to apprehend, and I was glad to see it reprinted. What can I say? “Sea Blob” pulls on my heartstrings.
Other pieces take a little more mastication. I remembered “The Creature from the Lake” by Hayes Moore like a bit of old dream. On this reading I felt more familiar with my surroundings, less focused on the strangery, and more able to regard the dynamics of the characters.
The real joys of the Bestiary are the unburied treasures: poems and stories I’ve missed from back issues. I’ll just take this chance to say, Thank You, Gina Ochsner, for retrieving so many sparkling jewels like…
… “The Legs Come Off Easily,” a story by Emily J. Lawrence, wherein self-plasticizing young girls pose: “‘The real question is, were you ever real at all?’”
… “Man without a Wishbone,” a poem by Prartho Sereno that muses on “the strange gift of wantlessness / However we come by it.”
… “Take Up the Bonnet Rouge,” a story by Chantel Tattoli that reads like creative nonfiction and affords us the essential levities of garden gnomery.
… “Tale of the Avian Saint,” a poem by William Keener that invokes our senses of responsibility and accountability, and invites us to listen closer and think more carefully.
… “Old Myths,” a story by Collin Blair Grabarek, wherein we witness the Valkyrie descend on an oilrig seeking heroes to defend us in the end times, only to find mere mortals.
… “Kentucky-Fried Christ,” a poem by C. E. Chaffin that offers a kaleidoscope of burning materialism.
… “Brunhilde’s Escape,” flash fiction by Danya Goodman that juxtaposes cityscapes and wildlife, plucks at secret hopes of escape, joy, possibility, and reconnection; I too harbor a not-so-secret delight that Brunhilde the hippo’s “proud and foreboding footsteps are now free to stomp on pasture and road alike.”
Whether you sail the slipstream every day, or just want to dangle your toe in speculative waters, the A cappella Zoo Bestiary will satisfy with a healthy serving of well-written and willfully discomforting speclit.
Ready to read? Visit A cappella Zoo.
So too I echo, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t kick up a few summertime jewels?
The poem “Or Both. We Could Do Both.” appears in the Black Warrior Review 38.2 This is the first of Rock’s work that I’ve read, so I’m unsure if this piece is an example of his usual experiments. His poetry takes its time, meandering over a few pages. Segments of the poem are struck through with a line, only to be supplanted by one or more replacement lines:
The result is a pleasureful, slidey sort of reading experience, where the mind is free to oscillate between potential imagery and reflexive intentions. It’s fluid, dreamy, and surprisingly satisfying. I say surprisingly because sometimes it can be difficult to take to a poem on first read when the form is so willfully misdirecting. Rather than losing me, Rock’s poem redirects constantly, leads me on like a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and invites me to try again for a different result.
I wonder how Rock prefers to read “Or Both.” aloud? With partners? Shifting voices and positions? Multiple readings? Maybe I’ll get bold, write to him and ask. I plan to experiment. (For all I know, this is an established poetic form and I’m in the dark. Feel free to kindly illuminate me and your three fellow readers at Brainripples.) I think I need to go play with this form, maybe chop up some old discards for a new life.
I’m new to Lascaux Review, but that’s because Lascaux is new! Edited by Stephen Parrish and Wendy Russ, Lascaux “provides a showcase for emerging and established writers and artists.” Asaph’s “Us” keeps you moving with clean language and dry wit, and in doing so clears the stage for much bigger topics like American society, mental health, and our heartfelt desire to make a true connection with other people.
Stick around, because Lascaux Review is hosting its first ever short fiction contest which opens this September 8, 2012 at noon Eastern Time. Here’s the 2012 photo prompt:
I’ll be submitting, and I’ll be making time to read (and time permitting, respond to) the other submissions. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, short fiction contests are a fun opportunity to glimpse a sparkly fresh batch of stories among comrades. I like these contests because they usually result in real-time readership and feedback. (I think it’s something about the group creative effort that takes me back to my OM days.)
Every year I try to make time to read a couple of classics. Thanks to audio ebook downloads available from the Kitsap Regional Library, I am now free to ponder on-demand the chewiest of language whilst I scrub skillets, prep meals, and fold laundry. I’m glad to report that Great Expectations was not what I expected. First off, kudos to Mr. Simon Prebble, because his excellent reading with well-honed and lively character voices makes Great Expectations extra enjoyable. (I’ll also add that if you’re of the insomniac ilk, you might try this reading of Dickens as a bedtime snack. I found it does the trick.)
I was grateful to Dickens for sparing us a total crash and burn ending for the main character. Even with all the character miseries and drive-by morality whompings, I nonetheless savored Dickens’ skilled craft so much that I downloaded and listened to the book a few times more. My favorite takeaways from this story are first in Dickens’ excellent use of food and meals as metaphors for subjects like society, class, health, and relationships. His special skill is a humorous use of irony. As I explained to my mother, I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed Dickens quite so much in my teens as I do today. I had no idea that Dickens would make me laugh so much, and I’m pretty sure most of the jokes that get me now are imparted through his tactful expositions on the ironies of youth. Oh yes that, and the masterful run-on sentence.
The fun thing about unread books on the shelf, is that they’re always ready when you need them. I picked up Water Witching at an independent bookstore in Cedar City, Utah back in 2010. West’s book has been waiting quietly for me to be quiet enough to read it. The familiar language disarms you; no great expectations, so she can really surprise you. Reading West’s poetry is a little like swimming slowly out on a lake, lulled by comfortable confidence, not realizing how far you’ve strayed from the shore.
I haven’t finished her book yet. Not only am I a slow reader, but I find the most satisfaction in poetry when I read poems one at a time, with long pauses in between for thinking space. Among West’s poems, mundane objects found in the home and garden are tools for revealing the invisible and mystical. Try these lines from her introductory poem, “Pining Away as an Erotic Activity:”Nothing on hand, but a jar of relish, to whet and unsatisfy my hungering tongue. Weak and empty, I watch visions like late movies, turning to the restricted channels. How perfectly I can tune you.
A good poet can tantalize and teach in the same breath. Her piece “Celebrating Disaster, The Sinking of Hood Canal Bridge, February 13, 1979” reads a bit like someone’s private journal pages, with personal asides and hearsay woven through the memory. One of my favorite kinds of literature to collect when I travel are the self-published journals from the elders of yore, newly rediscovered by modern descendents. Here’s a great one from my neck of the woods: Tales of Hood Canal, by Ethel M. Dalby, edited by Valerie Johnson.
And speaking of poets who teach, I feel like this poem cannot be shared enough, so here it is again: Sonia Sanchez, “Peace.” Listen, then speak.
I’ll have some new work to share in September/October. Until then, please feel drop me a note in the comments, share what you’re reading or writing.