Sunday, September 2, 2018

Short Fiction - August 2018

Short Fiction - August 2018

I've finally managed to re-start my short fiction reading project, in which I read at least one short work every day and then blog about my favorites each month. In August, I read a total of 39 stories. Without further ado, here are my three favorites of the month.

"Who Will Greet You At Home?" by Leslie Nneka Arimah

Length: 5,602 words
Category: Short story - Fantasy
Where Published: The New Yorker
When Published: 2015-10-26
Illustration by Jeffrey Fisher

This author is new to me. In this story, women fashion babies from materials at hand -- yarn, mud, twigs -- and have their own mothers bless the child into life. Women without mothers, or who do not get along with their mothers, can buy or barter for a blessing in backroom transactions that may literally cost them some of their own joy or empthy. Ogechi has tried again and again to make a baby that can withstand the physical dangers of a hard world, until finally in frustration she does the forbidden, creating a baby made of the hair of many women.

It's a little hard for me to put my finger on why I enjoyed this story so much, especially as it's a bit grim. But I definitely liked the inventiveness of this concept, and the emotions that it evoked. There's a literary element to this piece that makes it right at home in The New Yorker, yet it's more accessible than I find many of that publication's stories to be.

"Your Great Journey" by Ash Harrington

Length: 1,010 words
Category: Short story - Fantasy
Where Published: Daily Science Fiction
When Published: 2018-08-17

Second-person POV is becoming more widespread these days, and that's fine as long as it works within the given story. Here it most certainly does, at least as far as I'm concerned. In this piece, which is just a smidge over a thousand words, "you" have died on your fifteenth birthday, and you feel a little lost as you hang around your house and your grave. Your family and friends can see you, as is the norm in this world, but you're surprised at how uncomfortable they seem to be around you. This is a nicely told story in a small, tight package.

"The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections" by Tina Connolly

Length: 7,845 words
Category: Novelette - Fantasy
Where Published:
When Published: 2018-07-11
Illustrated by Anna & Elena Balbusso

In this beautifully written novelette, Saffron and her husband Danny were reasonably happy as the village bakers, but Danny's talents for infusing his sweet and savory confections with a little something extra make him known to the Regent, who imprisons the couple and forces them to work for him. Not trusting the pair, the Regent prevents them from communicating with one another, and makes Saffron act as his pastry taster lest Danny try to poison him. The sadistic ruler holds lavish dinners for members of his court, alternating courses of normal food with a tasting menu of Danny's creations, each of which evokes specific types of memories, such as the "Rose-Pepper Shortbread of Sweetness Lost."

The story builds at an appropriately slow and thoughtful pace, course by course, as Saffron relives memories and wonders whether Danny is trying to communicate something to her. It's a lovely story, and there are only two things I would change, one small and one not. [Major spoilers ahead] First, the name Danny doesn't fit my idea of this story world. More importantly, I didn't like that Saffron outright said to the Regent that he might enjoy reliving his memories of torturing her sister before having her executed. I felt the Regent would have immediately grown suspicious at Saffron's suggestion. Nonetheless, I found the story imaginative, satisfying, and, as mentioned, beautifully written.

Additional stories read in August 2018:

(alphabetical by author)

- "Hello Again" by K. Barrett (2018)
- "We Do Not Know What Happened to the Children" by Claire Bartlett (2018)
- "A Suitable Level of Reward" by Lee Battersby (orig. year unknown)
- "The App" by Dustin J. Davis (2018)
- "Timeskip" by Charles de Lint (1989)
- "Dispell" by Preston E. Dennett (2018)
- "The Nearest" by Greg Egan (2018)
- "A Midsummer Night's Abduction" by J.M. Evenson (2018)
- "Your Great Journey" by Ash Harrington (2018)
- "The Privilege of the Happy Ending" by Kij Johnson (2018)
- "The Friendly Beasts" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (2018)
- "A Matter of Perception" by KJ Kabza (2014)
- "One-Sided" by KJ Kabza (2010)
- "Anaphylaxis" by Stephen Kyo Kaczmarek (2018)
- "Final Inspection" by Afalstein JD Kloosterman (2013)
- "The Christening" by D.H. Lawrence (1911)
- "Second Best" by D.H. Lawrence (1914)
- "The Quartermaster's Charge" by Jessica McAdams (2018)
- "Glass Stiletto" by Meagan K. McKinley (2018)
- "Fleeing Gods" by Mary Anne Mohanraj (1997)
- "Time Travel Is a Voodoo Rite" by Grayson Bray Morris (2013)
- "The Sky Blue Ball" by Joyce Carol Oates (1997?)
- "The Nine Bajillion and One Names of God" by Aimee Ogden (2018)
- "The Day the World Broke" by Autumn Owens (2018)
- "Comment Below" by Ciaran Parkes (2018)
- "Quantum Entanglement" by Corie Ralston (2004)
- "Writing for the End of the World" by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez (2018)
- "Our Lady of Sorrows" by Austin Ross (2018)
- "In Our Country" by Jessie Seigel (2018)
- "The Fallen Girl" by Marge Simon (2018)
- "Customer Review: Life of Jesamie Blake 0-39" by Marie Vibbert (2018)
- "The Time Mechanic" by Marie Vibbert (2014)
- "After the First Comes the Last" by Holly Lyn Walrath (2018)
- "Strung" by Xinyi Wang (2017)
- "Final Girl Theory" by A.C. Wise (2011?)
- "Confessions of a Con Girl" by Nick Wolven (2017)
- "Tea for Two" by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (orig. date unknown)

List of the sources from which these stories came:

(alphabetical by anthology title, magazine title, website name, etc.)

- Asimov's
- Clarkesworld
- Curious Fictions
- Daily Science Fiction
- Diabolical Plots
- Every Day Fiction
- Nature Futures
- New Yorker
- Selected Short Stories (collection by D.H. Lawrence)
- Small Avalanches and Other Stories (collection by Joyce Carol Oates)

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Main Street Theater's "Buyer & Cellar"

Main Street Theater continues to put on a wide range of intriguing shows; the latest, which opened yesterday, is Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins. In this one-man, one-set, one-act play, a struggling actor named Alex (Doug Atkins) accepts a job maintaining a small faux shopping mall in the basement of (one of) Barbra Streisand's house(s). There he weaves by night and day, a magic web with colors gay .... whoops, sorry, that's Tennyson, not Tolins. There Alex waits, dusting antique dolls and maintaining a frozen yogurt machine in the hopes that the elusive Barbra, his only potential customer, will visit. When she finally does, the two form an unlikely connection, but does Barbra consider Alex a friend, or is he simply an employee whom she uses to alleviate a loneliness to which she barely admit?

This is an odd play. It's ably narrated by Atkins, who reminds the audience at the beginning that the story is fiction and then tells it like it's real. The setting, at least, is based in reality; Streisand's book My Passion for Design, published in 2010, gives a photographic tour of her estate, including the basement "street" with Bee's Doll Shop, an antique clothes shop, a gift shop, and more. Alex relates his encounters with the diva, his own thoughts and insecurities, and his exchanges with his boyfriend Barry, who grows impatient with Alex's tolerance of Barbra's selfish idiosyncrasies.

To be completely honest, I struggled a bit with this play -- not with Atkins' performance or MST's production, but with the play itself. It's laugh-out-loud funny in several places, and its point that successful people are often very lonely and insecure is well taken, but somehow I didn't find it quite funny or quite touching enough to justify itself. I couldn't help wondering: why write a play about this? What is here, other than the novelty of the set-up, that is funnier or more profound than what can be seen in other comedies with similar themes?

It took me a little while to figure out what I was looking for in this piece, but then I recognized that what I wanted was the same funny/moving experience I got from watching the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And then I recognized that that was somewhat arrogant of me -- at least, I think arrogant is the word I'm looking for. Buyer and Cellar and Priscilla are not about the same thing, so demanding that one be like the other is unfair.

In the end, I'm glad I saw this. It made me think, not just about its own content but about the creation of art, and the act of deciding what art can or should be based upon. I once wrote a fantasy short story about squirrels, for instance, and one friend's reaction was "you're really going to waste magic on squirrels?" Hell, yes! I love squirrels. And judging from the reception that Buyer & Cellar received for its 2013 New York debut, and the number of places it's since been performed around the country, clearly a lot of theater goers find what they're looking for in this play.

Playing July 14 through August 12, 2018; tickets here.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Main Street Theater's "Daddy Long-Legs"

I've been horribly remiss; I saw Main Street Theater's delightful production of Daddy Long-Legs a few weeks ago, and meant to post about it immediately, but a whole lotta life got in the way, so I'm only just posting now. And that means there are a few more chances to see it before it closes this Sunday (June 17). And it is so worth seeing!

By way of quick background, this version of Daddy Long-Legs stems from a late-2000s production that was co-premiered by three small theater programs before making London and off-Broadway runs. It's based directly on Jean Webster's 1912 novel of the same name, even retaining the one-sided epistolary format. And this is probably the only two-person musical I've ever seen, but if ever there was a property perfect for a two-person musical, this is it.

The plot is simple: an orphan named Jerusha Abbott receives news that she's to be sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, whose only requirement in return is that Jerusha write to him once a month telling him about her experiences. She is not to expect any reply, and will only know her benefactor by the obvious pseudonym of "Mr. Smith." That name is far too pedestrian for the imaginative Jerusha, however, so she dubs him "Daddy Long-Legs" after having caught a glimpse of his elongated shadow in the orphanage's vestibule. Jerusha's letters, spoken and sung in turns by the two actors, give life to Jerusha's social and academic awakening in the most charming way possible. Since much of the letters' text comes directly from the novel, Jerusha's original voice comes shining through.
[Shanae'a Moore as Jerusha Abbott.
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography.]

Seeing this play was truly special for me. I read the novel at least twice as a young adult -- I still own my copy -- and even sought out the tangential sequel about Jerusha's best friend at college, Sallie McBride. Matt Harris Andersen made a fine Jervis Pendleton, and Shanae'a Moore's exquisitely pure voice, combined with just the right amount of girlishness, made for a perfect Jerusha. In fact, after having several of the songs run through my head for days after the show, I broke down and listened to the off-Broadway recording, and I have to say that I preferred Ms. Moore's voice to that of Megan McGinnis.

The other thing that made this experience special was the theater itself. Although this production has such a simple story and small cast, Main Street Theater did not skimp at all on the set, with Jervis's beautifully designed and lighted study in the background, and some movable furniture and props representing Jerusha's surroundings at the forefront. And because this cozy theater is only three rows deep (on three sides of the stage), the audience feels immersed. I happened to be sitting in the front row, and once or twice felt compelled to draw my feet in closer because I didn't want Jerusha tripping over them in her skirts!

I highly, highly recommend this production -- click here for ticket information. And if you want to familiarize yourself with the source material, a public domain e-book is freely available in several formats on Project Gutenberg.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

New Short Story at "Page & Spine": The Chia Pet Brigade

My story "The Chia Pet Brigade" appears today in the online magazine Page & Spine. Although almost all of my published short fiction is science fiction or fantasy, this story just barely skims the surface of the genre pond, and even that little bit may be open to interpretation. Feel free to make up your own mind!

Read this story about a special education teacher named Sandy and her student "brigade" here (free link).

[Please disregard the "read more" link at the end of this post.]

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