Dang Good Stories: The End is Only the Beginning

This time around, we have stories about endings, about conflict, and about hope in bleak situations.

“Beautiful White Bodies” by Alice Sola Kim (Strange Horizons December 2009)

God, this story.

Justine is a boomerang millennial working at a coffeeshop in the suburbs after she loses her newspaper job. She befriends an unpopular high school student, Pearl, right before something starts happening to the young girls in their town. The girls become beautiful, and strange, and deadly. Soon what was limited to the popular girls starts trickling down.

Kim works this delicate balance of quiet satire and horror that had me laughing even as my heart was pounding. Kim’s twenty-seven-year old Justine and sixteen-year-old Pearl are so spot on, they genuinely feel like real humans living now. Pearl is sarcastic and angst without being a Sassy Teen(TM) and Justine feels like one of my friends. Very rarely do story teenagers feel truly real.

“A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” by Amal El-Mohtar in The Djinn Falls in Love, and Other Stories

This story appears in The Djinn Falls in Love, a new anthology of djinn stories from Solaris, but I had the pleasure of hearing El-Mohtar read it at ConFusion this January.

Like “Beautiful White Bodies,” “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” is a careful balancing act. It is political yet sentimental, clearly a story and yet nearly a poem, strikingly original and yet instantly recognizable. An extended metaphor with bird ecology and personified nation-wizards standing in for the immigrant experience does not sound like a thing that should work, but it does, it does.

I’ve been reading a lot of El-Mohtar’s stories lately. I love the joy that is so often at the core of her stories (see “Pockets” in Uncanny, or “Madeline” in Lightspeed). “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” gets very dark indeed, but the joy still shines through in the cracks.

“The Shadow Collector” by Sveta Thakrar (Uncanny March/April 2016)

Rajesh grows girl-blossoms for the Queen, but in his spare time he collects shadows stolen from passersby and he covets the queen’s. When he has the chance to seize this most desirable of prizes, he thinks nothing of the destruction he will cause.

I love this story’s ambiguity. There is no explanation for the shadow-stealing or the girl-blossoms. It passes no judgement on Rajesh for his covetousness, his human fragility.

This is a story about…not redemption exactly, because Rajesh is not redeemed in the end, but about hindsight. About realizing how you have failed and seeing just too late the ramifications, and doing what you can to fix it anyway even if you can do very little.

 

 

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Story Notes: Marking the Witch

Today my first story, “Marking the Witch,” was published at Flash Fiction Online!

Alina’s witch lived in a third-floor walkup downtown, and she preferred sunglasses to pointy hats. She had another name of course, but everyone knew what she was, and so in whispers and rumors, she was only The Witch.

You can read it for free online, or get an ebook of the issue for just 99 cents, or subscribe for a whole year for just $10.

This is the first flash piece I wrote, and it came about at a weird time in my life, when I was unemployed and directionless and unsure of myself. It’s about love and witches, an also about wanting to find yourself but not wanting to change. I’m very happy to see it at FFO, which has published a lot of my favorite strange and lovely flash fictions.

Soundtrack:

Hello, 2017

Well, it’s 2017.

After the election I didn’t write much of anything until late December, and it’s only now, when this whole mess finally seems real and not like a terrible fever-dream that I’ve really gotten back in the saddle.

It’s also really weird to talk about how things are going well for you when the world at large is slowly burning down. In a few days, I’ll have my first published story come out, and several more over the next months. I finally have a full-time job with reasonable hours. I’ve moved to a town I love and I’ve got friends and a nice place.

And yet, there’s men in the White House who don’t want people like me to exist. Refugees are being sent back to countries where they will likely die and a Nazi-loving, maniacal racist is my country’s Chief Strategist. The fuck.

Today I also saw this tweet from Marissa Lingen and the thread that follows about talking art in frightening times:

So I’m starting this blog back up. I’m going to make a big effort to do at least one Dang Good Stories a month, because we need stories now, and I’m also going to talk about what I’m working on to remind myself it is worth something.

The good thing is I have been writing. I even bought myself a calendar and some motivation stickers.

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The orange/yellow stickers are for 250 words written, the pink stickers are for 3 pages edited, and the green stickers are for 20 minutes of reading. The blue stars are submissions, the gold are acceptances (none so far, sigh) and the red are for when I put “the end” on a first draft. Words are happening. Slowly, but they’re happening.

Onward we go.

 

Cobweb-Clearing

In the last month, I have:

  • Started a new job
  • Started another new job
  • Moved
  • Sold a story to Flash Fiction Online (yay!)
  • Had my computer break twice. Very expensively, I might add.
  • Finished three short stories

Which is to say life is going mostly well, but this blog has fallen by the wayside. I’m aiming to fix that this month. I’ve got two half-finished Dang Good Stories and a movie review to go up, so stay tuned.

12 Thoughts on DC Rebirth

Yeah, I’m a little behind the times. But I just picked up DC Rebirth, and the Rebirth: Batman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League #1s, and boy do I have feelings on them. Originally this was going to be a structured post with actual paragraphs, but it turns out when you’ve been reading comics since you had object permanency it’s tough to keep on a single train of thought. (Also, Twitter has rotted my brain).

For context, I’ve read comics my entire life, and DC has always been my drug of choice. I stopped reading them during the whole New 52 debacle because the comics were no longer doing what I wanted them to, for a variety of reasons that no one wants to listen to me yammer on about. I’ve liked the press around Rebirth, so I’m giving DC another shot.

My totally subjective and emotional thoughts about Rebirth in no particular order:

1- Rebirth: Justice League is a team book where no two members of the team appear in the same panel except the Green Lanterns. In fact, I think the only interaction anybody has really is Batman and Cyborg talking over the comlink. This is always a bad sign for me. I read team books for the interactions–I’ve read enough “how the Justice League came together” stories for a lifetime, thanks. The concept is no longer new.

2- This whole exchange from Rebirth: Batman #1 fills me with joy:
batman rebirth #1 panelI love it when writers can have a sense of humor about Batman and point out that Bruce is kind of a ridiculous human being, because he is.

3- I don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on with Superman and Lois Lane.

4- YES WALLY WEST 1 IS BACK. He was a great character to use to introduce Rebirth–Wally’s always exemplified the happy, well-adjusted side of the DC Universe. He’s also in my top 10 favorite DC characters and his obliteration from the timeline was a major part of why I quit reading. I’m interested to see his relationship with Wally West 2 play out, but I just know that every single DC book is going to have a “Wally West? Which Wally West?” joke in the next few months. RESIST THE LOW HANGING FRUIT, WRITERS.

5- I’m so glad they’re walking back the silly “Wonder Woman is Zeus’s daughter” origin that New 52 gave us. Wonder Woman’s suffered a lot over the years from inconsistent characterization, and I appreciate that this seems to be a return to the “warrior for peace and truth” take.

6- Rebirth suffers from some of the same continuity issues New 52 did, though to a lesser extent. The problem with incomplete reboots is that new readers are still confused while old readers don’t want the recap. For “intro” comics, these issues depended a lot on New 52 specific events: Diana as the God of War, Superman’s whole whatever, the gang of Robins, two relatively new Green Lanterns.

Interestingly, DC Rebirth suffered the least from this problem, as it did a pretty good job of recapping the relevant storylines. Rebirth: Batman #1 did the worst. I did not read We are Robin or the last few years of Batman and Detective Comics so I’ve got no idea who Duke is or what’s up with his parents. This could have been cleared up in a couple panels and I wish the creators had stuck that explanation in.

7- I don’t want Watchmen anywhere near my DC universe. Ugh.

8- I’m glad none of these books had a senseless superhero-against-superhero battle. Generally everyone was written as an adult capable of using their words, and honestly that’s all I ask of comics these days.

9- I realize it’s difficult to convincingly write characters who are smarter than you are, but it would be nice to see the World’s Greatest Detective actually detect something once in awhile. That said, I didn’t mind the lack of detective work in Rebirth: Batman as much as I minded it in some past series or in BVS.

10- I’m never going to buy a series that puts out two issues a month. It’s too expensive.

11- Hal Jordan has all the personality of a sad potato and I was so happy to see that he’s not the Justice League’s Green Lantern this time around. Fight me.

12- Overall I like the new costume designs. Classic without being throwbacks. I’m iffy on the yellow-outlined bat symbol, but I’m always iffy on yellow. I’m reminded of that one comic (a Frank Miller comic, I think?) where Bruce rationalized the bat symbol with “I put a target on my chest because I can’t armor my head” and everyone was like, IT’S CALLED A HELMET BRUCE.

 

So, were these the DC comics of my dreams? Nah, not completely. But I think it would take a sizable culture shift at DC and another reboot for their comics to line up with the characterization in my head. I did enjoy them all and I’ll be picking up Trinity and Supersons when they come out in September, so I’d say they did their job.

Dang Good Stories #4

This week, three stories to keep you awake at night.

“each thing i show you is a piece of my death” by Stephen J. Barringer & Gemma Files (Apex Magazine September 2013)

The idea of infectious stories is an old one (and the basis for so many internet urban legends), but this piece dives right into the horrific possibilities of the concept. The story follows two filmmakers crowdsourcing their latest project. They receive a tape that appears to be of a man killing himself and reappearing, over and over. Things get worse when the man starts showing up in the background of other videos, and the filmmakers’ lives start going terribly wrong.

I am not, in general, a huge horror fan. My “freak yourself out” media of choice tends to be on the true crime side of things. But damn, this story is amazing. I think I’ve read it five or six times by this point. Barringer and Files tell the story through emails, press releases, and other ephemera to create a slow, slow build, so you don’t realize the true scope of what’s happened until the end. Go read this.

“The Food in the Basement” by Laura Davy (Apex Magazine July 2014)

Apex is not the first magazine that comes to mind when I think of horror, yet they’ve published some of my favorite dark tales. Like the story above, “The Food in the Basement” takes a common trope (here, vampires) and adds a new twist.

Sondra has been held captive, for months, by the vampire Kaden. He feeds off her but also cares for her the way one might care for a pet. The story follows her relationship with Kaden and her increasingly desperate attempts to leave, attempts that she knows are almost certainly doomed to fail.

For a story about vampires, there’s surprisingly little violence here. The real horror comes from the sense of dissonance, the ways in which Kaden tries to create a sense of normalcy for Sondra inside her cage. He buys her a chinchilla. He watches I Love Lucy with her. These mundane moments build the anticipation, because Sondra is waiting the entire time for Kaden to kill her. The whole story is built on these details, on what we can read between the lines of what looks, almost, like a normal life.

“Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions” by Gwendolyn Kiste (Nightmare September 2015)

Unlike the prior two stories, this one doesn’t obviously approach a notable horror trope. But I see something like a portal fantasy in it–or at least, an attempt to peel back the happy portal fantasy to reveal the horror implicit in the premise.

This is a story about people disappearing. Not just one person, but hundreds. Thousands. Those people who feel like outsiders (like the typical protagonist of a portal fantasy) seem to be more likely to disappear. Panic grows, and someone develops a test for potential disappearers. The narrator is just a child, but when the test shows she’s likely to disappear she is put in a special classroom with other “dangerous” children, including Tally, who seems to long for disappearance. The story follows the two girls as they come of age in a world frenzied over the increasing disappearances.

On a more thematic level, it’s a story about paranoia. The people who seem to be in trouble are the ones being punished by ostracization and fear mongering. No one is really sure who is in charge of stopping the disappearances. A shadowy “they” develops the Ten Questions and takes away people who may be about to disappear. The world is clearly not safe for those who are different and not just because they risk disappearing. An excellent read.

 

What I Did This Week Instead of Writing

This week I took a vacation to the east coast (Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts mainly). Luckily–or unluckily–it was also the week when my increasingly-unreliable Macbook finally gave up the ghost. No writing got done, but I had a great time. Below are some of the stops I made along the way.

The Corning Museum of Glass has an exhibit going on right now featuring marine life done by the Blaschkas, a pair of German glass artists who produced replicas of biological specimens to fragile to be preserved in the mid-19th century. The specimens are utterly beautiful, and a little bit creepy in how accurate they are to the real thing.

(Images and more stops below the cut)

Continue reading “What I Did This Week Instead of Writing”