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)

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