Friday, October 30, 2015

Short Fiction - October 2015

[Clip art courtesy of Dover's weekly free samples.]

Short Fiction - October 2015

In addition to some favorite Halloween-themed fiction that I've read recently, here are my favorite stories that I read in October.

As an aside, I'm up to almost 400 short stories read this year, and I'm not even remotely getting tired of my one-a-day goal. On days when I'm pressed, I can always read flash, after all. And I am always interested in hearing what stories my friends have read and liked, so I'm getting great recommendations that way.

"Virtual Blues" by Lee Budar-Danoff

I've seen a lot of stories that deal with "wired society," in which people interact almost exclusively via virtual interfaces, but I think this was the first story I've seen in which some people's bodies simply reject the implanted interfaces in spite of anti-rejection drugs. And if the rejection doesn't happen immediately, a person may quickly get used to being wired, and then have to live without. Can you imagine your life without the Internet now? Probably not, or not easily, and this kind of "wired" goes significantly beyond what we have today. Imagine the eerie silence of a crowded public space in which nobody is interacting with anyone else who is physically there.

But what makes this story special is that it's also about creating and playing music, and the bond created between a performer and a live audience. I found it quite moving, and I felt like the author completely "gets" jazz, as well as music and performing in general.

Published in March 2015 in Diabolical Plots (read here).

"James and the Prince of Darkness" by Kevin Lauderdale

This humorous "deal with the devil" tale shows that sometimes, it's all in the story's execution. James, a Wodehouse-style valet, proves very resourceful when he learns that his employer displayed a serious lack of judgment whilst drinking at his club the night before. This story's tone is pitch perfect and wonderfully consistent, with some truly funny lines.

This was published in Third Flatiron's 2015 anthology Ain't Superstitious, and is available for purchase here.

"The Demon of Russet Street" by Jessica Reisman

This story, at about 5,500 words, is so incredibly rich that I'm experiencing world-building envy. It's slightly steampunkish and slightly godpunkish, yet filled with other little odds and ends too -- I loved, for instance, how bits and bobs from the sea were incorporated into everyday life. The story follows a farrago named Rusk, who was bequeathed autonomy and wealth when his deviser passed away. Rusk is asked by the authorities to look into the "disassembling" of another farrago -- murder, really, but under the law, the only penalty for someone who destroys a farrago is compensation to its owner. The author incorporates magic, some amazing technology, and creature rights in a way that made me want to see a lot more stories set in this world.

Dare I say that I was even reminded, flavor-wise, of Ted Chiang's work? And that's not something I would say lightly. There was just a sort of fearlessness in the world-building, if that makes sense.

Read in the September 2015 issue of Three-Lobed Burning Eye here.

"Every Other Emily" by Joseph Sloan

Published in the September 2015 issue of One Teen Story, this mainstream YA piece consists of Emily's e-mails to Paul, who has gone off to Yale. Emily vents to Paul about the $600 per hour IQ coaching her parents have forced her to take. They want her to get into an exclusive school for a "gap year" after high school graduation, all so she can get into a college good enough to be suitable for their lifestyle. Emily also writes about how much she misses Paul, and says that he represents the only thing she ever decided on her own that she wanted.

This is beautifully written. I wasn't surprised at the turn the story took (although I didn't know what the details would be), but I was satisfied with the resolution.

I also want to mention again how much I like this publication. One Teen Story publishes a single story per issue, delivered in a little print chapbook. I've read eight issues so far, and I've rated half of them at 4 out of 5 stars or higher, which I suspect is a much higher average than I get for most other publications. We all have a limited amount of money we can spend on subscriptions, but this little magazine is one I really look forward to getting in my mailbox each month. It's an offshoot of One Story, which has the same one-story-per-issue concept, but has a much more adult literary feel. I like One Story, but it's much more hit and miss for me than One Teen Story.

Available from the magazine's website here.

Other stories read in October 2015:

(alphabetical by author)

- "A Marriage" by Kiik A.K. (original 2014; reprint 2015)
- "The Great Old Pumpkin" by John Aegard (2004)
- "The Half-life of Chocolate" by Nancy Fulda (original 2011; reprint 2015)
- "The Last Book" by Guanani Gomez (2015)
- "8 Steps to Winning Your Partner Back (From the Server)" by A.T. Greenblatt (2015)
- "Possessed of a Fierce Violence" by Alexis A. Hunter (2015)
- "Genie From the Gym" by M.K. Hutchins (2015)
- "Message from Beyond" by José Pablo Iriarte (2015)
- "Something Wicked This Way Plumbs" by Vylar Kaftan (2007)
- "Dis-Orientation" by C.I. Kemp (2015)
- "And in the End, They All Lived Happily Ever After" by Michelle Ann King (2015)
- "Spirit Board" by D.J. Kozlowski (2015)
- "Crystal" by Ken Liu (2015)
- "The Devil Is Beating His Wife Today" by Sandra McDonald
- "The Cats' Game" by Michelle Muenzler (2015)
- "The Burger Bargain" by Wendy Nikel (year unknown)
- "Bloody Mary" by Norman Partridge (2013)
- "When the Circus Lights Down" by Sarah Pinsker (2015)
- "The Mirror Man" by Andrija Popovic (2015)
- "Summer in Realtime" by Erica L. Satifka (2015)
- "Super-Parents Last All Childhood Long" by Erica L. Satifka (2013)
- "The Librarian's Dilemma" by E. Saxey (2015)
- "Night Witch" by Shawn Scarber (2015)
- "Bump in the Night" by Linda M. Scott (2015)
- "Stalked by Night" by Michael Seese (2015)
- "The Terrible" by John Wiswell (2015)
- "The Grim Rufus" by Peter Wood (2013)
- "Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?" by Isabel Yap (2014)
- "Grim Hunter" by Tina Yeager (2015)

List of the sources from which these stories came:

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

- Ain't Superstitious (anthology), edited by Juliana Rew, September 2015
- Daily Science Fiction, various dates
- Every Day Fiction, various dates
- Expanded Horizons, October 2015
- Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, July/August 2015
- Havok 2.4, October 2015
- Nightmare, October 2013; March 2014
- One Teen Story, September 2015
- Page & Spine, October 2015
- QuarterReads
- Shimmer, Halloween 2007
- Strange Afterlives (anthology), edited by A. Lee Martinez, 2015
- Strange Horizons,
- Three-Lobed Burning Eye, September 2015
- Uncanny, March/April 2015
- Unlikely Story: The Journal of Unlikely Academia, October 2015

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Time: Recommended Halloween Short Fiction

[Image of pumpkin made from a book by Anthology on Main, an Etsy seller specializing in book page "flowers" for weddings and upcycled book holiday centerpieces. Photo used here with permission. Click here to view the Anthology on Main Etsy shop.]

The idea for this post came about by accident; one day in early September, I had about fifteen minutes to spare while waiting for my husband so I went in search of a short podcast by clicking on the "miniatures" tag on the Podcastle website. The story that caught my eye was "We Clever Jacks" by Greg van Eekhout, and it put me in such a Halloween mood that I decided to go out looking for more Halloween fiction. The stories below were some of my favorites. They're not all creepy or scary -- some are funny or even moving instead, but for me, they all say "Halloween" in some way.

[Alphabetical by author]

"The Great Old Pumpkin" by John Aegard

This was published back in 2004 in Strange Horizons, and I remember being delighted by it then just as I was upon rereading it now. Part of the joy in this story is realizing just what this parody mash-up consists of; the clues come quickly, so it won't take you long. I don't want to say more than that, but trust me, this story is funny and wickedly clever. (And I really wish I could draw well enough to whip up an illustration for it!) Read here.

"The Scream" by Nancy Fulda

This is a horror story (some might call it dark fantasy) about a boy named Pete. His brother Kody, who has a troubled past, sticks his knife into a pumpkin in order to carve it for Halloween, only to release an evil psychic scream that takes up residence in Kody's head. I found the resolution uncomfortable, but that was kind of the point. This story, at approximately 3,900 words long, is very well-written, and I recommended it for those who like the darker stuff.

This was published on and is available here.

"Night Witch" by Shawn Scarber

This story isn't as Halloween-oriented as the others, but for me, it still has the right feel for this time of year. And it technically is about a witch, so there you go. In this story, the "Night Witch" refers to a Russian female bomber pilot during World War II; they were so called for their tactic of silencing their engines right before a bombing run. A German Bf 109 squadron encounters a Night Witch, and there's more to her than initially meets the eye.

I first heard this story read aloud at a writing event earlier this year and have been meaning to go back and read it ever since I heard it had been published. It perfectly suited my mood for this month, with just the right amount of creepy atmosphere. I also thought the aerial battle was particularly well written. This appears in a 2015 anthology titled Strange Afterlives, edited by A. Lee Martinez.

"Strong as Stone" by Effie Seiberg

This is a sweet, beautifully written story about a girl made of stone, who spends much of her time in the hospital while doctors study her condition and try to deal with some of the unique physiological problems that she faces. She begs her parents to be allowed out on Halloween, assuming she will finally fit in since that's the day everyone deliberately tries to look and be different. Alas, she discovers that Halloween is not a holiday from cruelty, but she also learns, with the help of a new "neighbor" in the hospital, to appreciate her own strength and beauty.

This story appears in an unusual venue for fiction: a fashion magazine that describes itself as "edgy." The story is "illustrated" with stunning photos of a woman looking at roughly humanoid figures made of stone. In a way, the photos don't go with the tone of this story, but at the same time they didn't feel wrong, if that makes sense. I was glad the photos were there, because they're gorgeous to look at -- but I'd also love to see this story specifically illustrated for children.

This link goes to a PDF that is a portion of the magazine issue; just click forward through a few pages to get to the story.

"We Clever Jacks" by Greg van Eekhout

And last but not least, I absolutely loved this story. And although I think I would have loved just as much if I'd read it as text, for me it's one of those stories that just begs to be read aloud. Here, reader Marshal Latham infuses the story with wry humor, and the background music adds yet another layer of quirky creepiness. The story is narrated by a Jack, a Halloween pumpkin. He (I'm going with he because they're all named Jack, although of course they don't all have to be male) goes through a roll call of the neighborhood Jacks, including Laughing Jack, Shrieking Jack, Happy Jack, and Wailing Jack. But it's Grimacing Jack who has big plans for the "holiday" this year.

This is a perfect Halloween story for kids, because it's delightful and creepy but not at all gory or violent. It's not scary, really, just very atmospheric. (Podcastle rates it as "PG.") This was originally published on the author's blog here in 2007, and reissued as a podcast by Podcastle in 2012 here.

* * *

I know there are likely to be all kinds of great new Halloween stories published this week, but I didn't want to wait until Halloween to talk about Halloween fiction -- I love the time leading up to holidays, but once the day itself passes, I am very much done with that holiday until the next year! In the meantime, I'll be posting at the end of the month as usual, about some favorite stories read during October that don't happen to be Halloween-themed. In the meantime, Happy Trick-or-Treating!

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Monday, October 19, 2015

October publications

October has been a big month for me publication-wise, with three stories just out and one more to launch on October 31. Funny, I just realized that three are sort of love stories -- does that mean I'm a romantic? The fourth is a piece of Halloween flash fiction.

"My Eyes Molly Brown"

Eric's miniature horse, Molly Brown, isn't just a pet; she's a companion guide animal that helps Eric navigate through an increasingly challenging near-future world. And she's also his best friend.

"My Eyes Molly Brown" appears in A Quiet Shelter There, an October 2015 anthology edited by Gerri Leen. Read the Publishers Weekly review here; order the print book from Amazon or directly from the publisher, Hadley Rille Books. E-book editions should be available soon in a variety of formats.

"Dressing Mr. Featherbottom"

When AnnaBella Frostwich insists on dressing her robotic companion, Mr. Featherbottom, in the latest fashions, her mother doesn't know what to think! This will appear in the Robotica anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hirst and published by Pop Seagull Publishing, to be launched on Halloween weekend at Can*Con in Ottawa. I'll be there for the launch party, along with several of the other authors.

Unlikely Patron Saints, No. 5" (podcast)

When an unmarried Chinese daughter dies too soon, her parents may follow the tradition of minghun, or arrangement of an afterlife marriage. But what if that daughter doesn't want a husband, even in death? This story originally appeared in Strange Horizons in 2007; it has now been re-issued as a podcast, read by S. Qiouyi Lu. Listen free in the October 7, 2015 issue of Glittership here.

"Dear Editor"

A concerned citizen expresses his doubts about a certain demonic practice that has had . . . unintended consequences. This micro-story appears in Havok 2.4 (October 2015), which is their special "Shivers and Screams" Halloween issue. Available for purchase here.

Click here for a complete list of my fiction publications.
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Friday, October 16, 2015

O Columbia

[Soprano Pureum Jo as Becca in O Columbia; photograph by Lynn Lane appears with the Wall Street Journal review of the production written by Heidi Waleson.]

This is a shamefully overdue review of the O Columbia, which we saw on opening night on September 23 (the first of only two performances).

This chamber opera was everything I'd hoped it would be.

Although we've seen bits and pieces of this opera throughout its entire development over the last year and a half, this was the first time we heard the full music played by the chamber orchestra, and it was gorgeous. I don't know why -- possibly because all the creators behind O Columbia are so young -- but somehow I wasn't prepared for how full and rich the music would be. Now? We'll be on particular lookout for opportunities to see composer Gregory Spears' work performed. And by this time, Royce Vavrek's libretto was an old familiar friend (in addition to the workshops, I saw a preview event at NASA the previous Friday, in which the cast performed some excerpts). I've loved this libretto all along, but it was really special to hear the words in their intended context.

The production was staged in the Revention Music Center (formerly the Bayou Music Center), an open warehouse-like venue that not only hosts concerts, but also roller derby matches and wrestling entertainment. The stage was set with a billowy white backdrop, with the small orchestra, consisting mainly of strings, seated in front. Dressed in black with white sneakers, the cast initially sat in a ring of white chairs surrounding a bed and a small stand with a record player: the bedroom of Becca, portrayed by Pureum Jo, a young girl who daydreams about going into space one day. Along with her classmates, Becca first contemplates Sir Walter Raleigh (Ben Edquist), who sings about the inherent risks of exploration and traveling to the New World. He also mourns the lost Roanoke colonists, and says that the best way to honor them is to continue exploring.

In the second part, Becca is in her Houston bedroom awaiting the return of the Columbia space shuttle, and carries on an imaginary conversation with an astronaut (also sung by Edquist), in which she asks him what he sees, and asks for a role in the mission. She is, of course, devastated upon hearing the news of the shuttle's disintegration, but still determined to go into space.

In part three, Becca looks to the future, to a time when humans are exploring beyond the solar system, looking for habitable planets elsewhere. Lady Columbia (Megan Samarin) appears to tell the astronauts that she is watching over them as she does with all explorers, including those who are lost.

The hardest part to convey here is how original and inspired director Kevin Newbury's staging was. Except for Lady Columbia, all of the singers, dressed in black with white sneakers, remained on stage for the entire 70-minute opera. In addition to the chairs, they each had a simple, stylized astronaut helmet, and used the chairs, flashlights, and even the bedding to various effect. I was moved when I realized that the chairs, now stacked in a jumble, were meant to signify the shuttle wreckage. As the seats were general admission and we got there at the last minute due to dinner plans beforehand, we ended up sitting high up to one side, but I didn't feel we missed anything from that vantage point, because the singers were constantly in motion and facing different directions all the time.

Honestly? I think the only thing I might have been tempted to change would be to dress Lady Columbia differently than the other singers, especially as she did not come on stage until part three. I understand why dressing her the same as everyone else makes sense, but I kept picturing her in a draped white gown to go with the laurel wreath upon her head.

After the performance, we stayed for the "Talk Back", or Q&A, with the creators, and then went to an informal celebratory gathering at the Okra Charity Saloon. This was especially fun for me, because although most of the performers weren't there, I did get to chat with one of the Ensemble cast, Teresa Proctor, who performs frequently with HGOco. I also had a truly fascinating conversation with the opera's lighting designer, Michael James Clark. I know so little about that part of the opera world, and I'm afraid I pestered him with all sorts of questions.

The other nice thing is that I'm finally starting to feel like HGO is not just an opera company, but my opera company. That may sound silly, but for me, it's been harder to feel connected to the opera because the lead roles for the main stage productions are imports, whereas with the ballet, we get to watch the same dancers over the years. But now that we've gotten to see some HGOco productions, we get to see those singers as well as some of the HGO Studio artists. This season, we're going to see all three leads from O Columbia in main stage productions: Megan Samarin as Olga in Eugene Onegin, Pureum Jo as Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro, and Ben Edquist in Eugene Onegin, The Little Prince, and Carousel. How cool is that?

In the meantime, I have my fingers crossed that O Columbia will be picked up by other companies, especially in places where there is a NASA center or a higher-than-average interest in the space sciences. The Phoenix Opera, for instance, would be ideal for this piece, because both Arizona State and the University of Arizona have planetary science programs, plus the Planetary Science Institute is located in Tucson, just a short trip down the highway. And Phoenix already has a built-in opera audience. Then there's Washington D.C. (NASA Headquarters), Los Angeles (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and Orlando (Kennedy Space Center). Seriously, more people need to see this.

[Megan Samarin as Lady Columbia, Pureum Jo as Becca, and Bed Edquist as Sir Walter Raleigh/Astronaut. Photo by Lynn Lane.]
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Monday, October 5, 2015

Pop-Up Microfiction: That'll Learn 'Em

I hope you enjoy this little pop-up piece of microfiction. It's an embedded PDF that can be clicked to enlarge or download. (I promise it's clean; I don't have the slightest idea how to embed nastiness into files! It took me about two hours just to figure out how to get this in a post.)

©2015 by Amy Sisson. Free to share with correct attribution. Read more!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Houston Ballet Fall Repertory

Last night we saw Houston Ballet's Fall Repertory program, and if you'll forgive me for gushing, I believe that may be the most perfect evening of dance I've ever seen. I've said for a while that I actually prefer the mixed rep nights more than the full-length ballets, but normally there's at least one of the pieces that I didn't quite like as much as the others. Not so this time; they were all incredible.

The performance began with Stanton Welch's "Tapestry", which was set to Violin Concerto No. 5 by Mozart. We saw this piece when it premiered in 2012, and I was happy to see it again. There are three main movements (although I'm not sure I'm technically using the term correctly here), and perhaps it has to do with my food-centric short story reading in September, but I thought of each movement as a food course. This probably won't make much sense to anyone but me, but the first part made me think of blood orange creamsicle mimosas, the second of sweet and tart green apples, and the third of butternut squash and russet apples. Hmmm, remembering how I thought of last season's Romeo & Juliet costumes as raspberry sherbet, I'm beginning to think I have some weird music-color-food synesthesia....

But back to "Tapestry" itself ... I've often thought that Stanton Welch hears music and sees its movement, which he then teaches to the dancers. Not one possible movement for those notes, but the specific movement that was intended when the melody was created. There was only one moment when it felt a tiny bit too literal for me, which was when female dancers timed jumps into the males' arms and froze in place. It seemed almost jarring, and took me out of the moment. On the other hand, I don't know what another solution would be, since the music does stop that suddenly.

In any case, I felt that the rest of the piece was pretty much perfect. There was one part in particular, when principles Connor Walsh and Ian Cassidy lightly tossed Karina Gonzalez between them and it was so light and airy she seemed like a handkerchief fluttering from one to the other. I mean, it looked effortless. There was also a part that beautifully showcased three exciting male dancers: Aaron Robison, Oliver Halkowich, and Harper Watters. Last but not least, violin soloist Denise Tarrant was amazing, and received a tremendous round of applause.

The second piece was Christopher Bruce's "Ghost Dances", which premiered in Bristol, England, in 1981 and in Houston in 1988. The program describes the opening scene, in which "three skeletal figures with matted hair await the next consignment of the Dead." The piece begins in silence (something I struggle with, because then I notice the audience's every last cough and shift in their seats) with these three figures on a sort of rocky shore. Then, a group of men and women arrive in various types of dress. I hadn't read the program description before seeing it, but it was easy enough to interpret that these people were dead. To me, they seemed to be puppets, or animated corpses trying to hang on to life, not knowing that it has already been taken from them.

This ballet also had a post-apocalyptic feel to me -- rather than seeing these people as just a handful who happened to have died recently, I felt as though the whole world had died. Very specifically, I got a kind of Avatar-meets-Mad-Max-zombies vibe, and I was also reminded of a very intense young adult book I read a few years ago, The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. It was about a boy who kept transitioning between the real world and a cannibalistic, post-apocalyptic version in which he finds the counterparts of many of his real-life friends. Of course, there's no relation between the ballet and this book, not even remotely, but I mention it because it shows that we all bring our own powerful associations to any art form that we experience. Just as no two people read the same book, no two people see the same ballet.

At the risk of gushing again, I also have to say that any time James Gotesky is on stage, I can't take my eyes off of him. I also loved the recorded Chilean folk music by Inti-Illimani, and will definitely seek out some of their work.

The third piece was a world premiere: "Reveal", choreographed by former Houston Ballet dancer Garrett Smith. This ballet had some of the most dramatic, effective lighting I've ever seen in a ballet. It was set to music by Phillip Glass, and primarily showcased a female dancer and her reverse-negative mirror image. In the program, the choreographer says "As dancers, you're always constantly training and trying and sculpting your body, constantly looking in that mirror all day to the point of obsessing with this love-hate relationship of ballet. In Reveal I wanted to try to let go of that and just embrace and accept what you have been given in life."

It's hard to describe this ballet more specifically than that, as it was fairly abstract, but it was absolutely haunting. I also loved its genderbending qualities, and thought that the music made it seem as though the stakes were life and death.

There are two more performances of this mixed rep production: tonight (Saturday October 3) and tomorrow afternoon (Sunday October 4).

[All photos property of Houston Ballet. Top: Connor Walsh, Karina Gonzalez, and Ian Casady in Tapestry. Middle: cast of Ghost Dances. Bottom: Karina Gonzalez in Reveal.]

Edited to add: A friend of mine named Cole Mikeska, who also sees all of Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera's performances, had something to say about "Ghost Dances" that I found intriguing. He said that he thought the "dances between the group marching in and out were flashbacks to their individual lives and what they remember. As a few fell out, that was the point that they realized they were dead." He also said about "Reveal" that he would describe it as "the ego becoming aware of the id via the mind of David Lynch."

This is what I mean every time I say I support the arts, and write fiction myself, because I want to be "part of the conversation." Every time we see a piece of art and talk to others about it, we get to see something new in it through their eyes as well.

My friend's blog, "The World According to Cole", is here. Check it out for interesting reviews, including "30-second movie reviews," and commentary on social issues.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Short Fiction - September 2015

By coincidence, most of my favorite stories for September are grouped around two things: food and flash fiction, including one story that encompasses both the theme and the format. I should note, however, that I'm leaving some of this month's favorites off this list -- but only because I plan to discuss them separately later this month in a post recommending some wonderful Halloween-themed fiction that I've found recently.

I should also note that some of these are non-genre. As always, my reading is at least 90% genre, but I do like mainstream and literary short stories also.

Finally, although I normally list my favorite stories alphabetically by the author's last name, this month I feel compelled to group the stories a bit differently. (I'm one of those people with a slightly abnormal desire to categorize things. Yes, I separate my M&Ms by colors before eating them.)


"I Was Really Very Hungry" by M.F.K. Fisher, read by Christina Pickles

I think I picked up this audiobook anthology through a bargain website a few years ago for next to nothing; before then, I had no idea that this fairly extensive collection of "Selected Shorts" audiobooks, "as heard on public radio nationwide," existed. This volume, titled Food Fictions, contains six stories, and the first selection, M.F.K. Fisher's "I Was Really Very Hungry" is truly centered on food.

Narrated by the aptly named Christina Pickles and recorded (as they all are) in front of a live audience, this story is about a traveler who stops for lunch at a small restaurant in France. She intends to order a light meal and is unsure what to expect in terms of quality from this unassuming little place, but she is quickly cowed by the polite but authoritative waitress and ends up trying -- and finishing -- all sorts of dishes that turn out to be sublime.

There's really not much story here; it's all in the telling, and I can't imagine reading this piece in print as opposed to listening to it, because it's the tone in the dialogue that makes it so delightful. Ms. Pickles does such a wonderful job with the waitress's French accent and almost fevered proclamations that Madam will be very pleased, because she is about to taste something unlike anything she's ever tasted before. The live audience laughs out loud throughout the story, as did I.

The liner notes indicate that this particular story originally appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1982. This audiobook, and others in the series, is available at online retailers or direct from the publisher.

"Enough" by Alice McDermott

This story comes from the same audio anthology, after first appearing in The New Yorker in 2000. Read by Fionnula Flanagan, "Enough" tells the simple story of an Irish Catholic woman, starting from when she is a girl to when she is an old woman. When she's young, she looks forward to the Sunday dinners at which her family has ice cream for dessert (but oh, how she dreads the Sundays they have stewed fruit instead!). I don't think I've ever come across ice cream described so sensually before. As she grows up, she seems to experience sex the same way, but once she's a widow, it's ice cream again; she sneaks it from her children's freezers when she's babysitting her grandchildren.

I'm doing a terrible job pinning down what made this story so good. I'm naturally drawn to this kind of generational fiction for some reason, finding comfort in the cycle of children growing up and having children of their own, which is odd considering that I never had a desire to have children myself. In any case, the depiction of the woman's full life, the narrative's humor, and the loving detail with which the ice cream is described all came together to create something I really enjoyed.


"Found Day" by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

For me, this was a perfect piece of flash fiction. On the holiday "Found Day," people have the day off so they can look for, and find, the one thing they've lost in the past year that they've been missing the most. It's such a simple idea, but so original and charming. Don't you just wish we had a day like that? Even if that were the only magic in the world, what a lovely bit of magic it would be.

And the best part is that the story doesn't waste the idea -- I've read many stories that take an amazing concept and just squander it. But "Found Day" makes the best possible use of its central idea, giving us a meaningful, emotionally satisfying story in under 800 words.

Published in Daily Science Fiction here.

"Regarding your Position as our Third Year Teacher" by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

Yet another wonderful piece of flash. This is a humorous piece about a teacher who maybe should have thought it through before she took that teaching job at a far-distant space colony....

Read this if you want something fun to brighten your day. It was originally published in Daily Science Fiction here, but I read it at QuarterReads, which I encourage people to check out. It's a site with hundreds of stories under 2,000 words. You can browse a short opening section, and decide if you want to drop a virtual "quarter" in the slot to finish the story. The author gets 22 cents of that quarter, which is a much higher percentage than many other venues. You can even tip the author an extra quarter or two if you really like the story.

"Grass Girl" by Caroline M. Yoachim

In "Grass Girl", a girl made of bamboo envies the girls who are made out of driftwood, and tries to emulate them. The story's theme of self-acceptance is a common one, but the author has found a lovely new way to express something both familiar and important. Caroline has become my favorite flash fiction author (she writes great longer stories too), and as you can see by the pattern here, Daily Science Fiction publishes a lot of terrific stuff. Read here.


"Bread of Life" by Beth Cato

By complete coincidence, this piece of flash fiction, which is a "Natures Futures" story, is also very much about food. It's about bread and memories, and it works in an interesting concept about alien motivations. It's astonishing how inventive this is for such a short piece. Read here.

[Illustration by Jacey]

(I should also mention that although Caroline Yoachim's "Grass Girl" is not about food, it so happens that Caroline does have a food-themed series of flash fiction, the "Tasting Menu" series. My favorite of these is "A Million Oysters for Chiyoko". You can find all Tasting Menu stories, each of which stands alone, here.)


"The Springwood Shelter for Genetically Modified Animals" by Verity Lane

This last story is neither about flash nor about food, but it is my favorite of all the stories I read in September. This appears in the September 2015 issue of Crossed Genres, which has the year 2065 as its theme. In this short story, a young woman named Mel, who hopes to "graduate" from the Matherson Children’s Home and get a real job in lieu of being sent to a labor farm, begins a temporary assignment at the Springwood Shelter for Genetically Modified Animals. Mel realizes that Anita, the citizen assigned to oversee her, is uncomfortable, but as they begin their rounds feeding the animals (okay, so there is food in the story!), the two begin to form a connection.

There's much more to the plot, and some lovely details that I don't want to mention so that readers can discover them for themselves. Suffice it to say that this story had everything I like: an inventive (if somewhat scary) future, well-developed characters, and real heart. Also animals, so bonus!

The story is just under 6,000 words but reads very quickly. And I was particularly impressed when I visited the author's blog after reading the story, only to find out this was her first fiction sale. Highly recommended. (Link)

Other stories read in September 2015:

(alphabetical by author)

- "Rediscovering Happiness" by Jessica Marie Baumgartner (2015)
- "At Apocalypse's Edge" by Rebecca Birch (2015)
- "The Circle of Life" by Aline Carriere (2015)\
- "Indigestion" by Anton Chekhov, read by Bradley Whitford (original English language publication 1996; audio CD reprint 2007)
- "Witness for the Prosecution" by Agatha Christie, read by Christopher Lee (original publication 1925; audio CD reprint 2004)
- "Second Lives" by Danika Dinsmore (year unknown)
- "Stacey and Promo Sail the Seven Seas" by Graham Downs (year unknown)
- "Pidgin" by Katrina S. Forest (2015)
- "The Scream" by Nancy Fulda (2010)
- "Kids in the Mall" by Mel Glenn (2000)
- "The Late Mrs. Buttons" by Sally Hamilton (2015)
- "Better than 1000 Monkeys with Typewriters" by K.R. Horton (2015)
- "Confessions of a Superhero" by Joel Hunt (2015)
- "Weight of the World" by José Pablo Iriarte (2015)
- "Flight Feathers" by Kerry Kullen (2015)
- "The Wedding Gig" by John League (2015)
- "Ginny & The Ouroboros" by Stephanie Lorée (2015)
- "FemCloud Inc." by Mary E. Lowd (2015)
- "Weremoose" by Mary E. Lowd (year unknown)
- "To Express How Much" by Mary Ann McGuigan (2000)
- "Closet" by Melissa Mead (2015)
- "Ink Night" by Devin Miller (2015)
- "From the Other Side of the Rubicon" by Sean Mulroy (2015)
- "Beacon" by K.S. O'Neill (2015)
- "Just a Little More" by V.S. Pritchett (original publication 1978; audio CD reprint 2007)
- "Strong as Stone" by Effie Seiberg (2013)
- "To Be Carved (Upon the Author’s Tombstone in the Event of His Untimely Demise)" by David Steffen (2015)
- "The Book" by Shelley Stoehr (2000)
- "An Immense Darkness" by Eric James Stone (2015)
- "Tell Me Who You Hang Out With and I'll Tell You What You Are" by Eleanora E. Tate (2000)
- "Tell Us You Were Here" by Anne Valente (2015)
- "We Clever Jacks" by Greg van Eekhout, read by Marshal Latham (original publication 2007; podcast reprint 2012)
- "Pocosin" by Ursula Vernon (2015)
- "Note from the Future" by Ray Vukcevich (2009)

List of the sources from which these stories came:

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

- Analog, March 2015
- Apex, January 2015
- Crossed Genres, September 2015
- Daily Science Fiction, various dates
- Every Day Fiction, various dates
- Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, February 2015
- Flash Fiction Online, December 2009; September 2015
- Lost & Found (anthology), edited by M. Jerry Weiss and Helen S. Weiss, 2000
-, December 2010
- One Story, April 2015
- One Teen Story, August 2015
- Perihelion, September 2015
- Podcastle, October 2012
- QuarterReads
- Selected Shorts: Food Fictions (audio CD anthology, 2007)
- Strange Afterlives (anthology), edited by A. Lee Martinez, 2015
- Urban Fantasy Magazine, March 2015
- Veux Magazine, October 2013
- Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (audio CD collection, 2004)

Read more!