So far, I’ve read about 75 short stories that were published in January 2013. Despite this, there are still markets I haven’t even looked at yet — I haven’t read a word of Shimmer 16 yet, for instance — so even though it’s February, I’m definitely not done reading stories from January yet.
But I’ve read stories from 24 different zines so far, which is the most intensive reading I’ve ever done of short fiction as it’s being published. These zines run the gamut from pro markets to token-paying markets. (One or two non-paying markets may have slipped in too — I’m not discriminating much.) Most are free to read online.
The most surprising finding so far is that reading 75 new short stories was easier than I expected. That may be partly because it’s winter in Cleveland, and I’m not tempted much by anything outside my apartment. But once I made a list of stories to read for the month, it was relatively easy to switch on my iPad and read a few of them before bed or to knock one off during lunch at work. Apparently, the keys are being organized and having goals and tracking progress.
I don’t even feel like I’ve fallen behind in my other reading — I still managed to finish a few novels in January. (Bunny Lake Is Missing was the best. If you like old detective stories, go read it.) I suspect that most of the time I spent reading zines would have otherwise been spent watching TV or goofing off on Twitter. If anything, I’ve fallen behind on old episodes of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which is a bit of a shame… But ah well.
This is not to say that I want to read 75 new short stories every month for the rest of my life — or even the rest of the year. The main reason I think it’s worthwhile to read all these stories is because I love coming across something truly wonderful. The secondary reason is because I think it’s good for a writer to know how different markets look from the point of view of a reader. Is this zine fun to read? Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
And both of those goals are likely to eventually lead me to read a smaller, better curated list of zines than the anything/everything list I currently have now. The twist to this is that if I decide a zine isn’t much fun for me as a reader, it’s pretty likely to fall to the bottom of the list of places I want to send submissions too. So the stakes are high! But luckily, I’m pretty forgiving.
Anyway, here are some stories that I enjoyed from my reading in the second half of January.
“Boat in Shadows, Crossing” by Tori Truslow, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This is the “something wonderful” that makes reading 75 short stories in a month worthwhile, and it’s my favorite from this batch.
Bue comes from a fishing family in the swamps near a bustling metropolis full of canals, but decides to take a servant’s job in the city as an alternative to an unwanted marriage. The swamps and city alike are full of ghosts, and Bue seems to have a particular talent wrangling them. This comes in handy, as ghosts are needed to make some of this society’s machinery work (they power Bue’s master’s boat, for instance).
The plot involves a love triangle — or maybe quadrilateral — that includes both Bue and a ghost who peers from the window of a room with no door. But you’ve probably already guessed that the plot is not the star attraction here (though it’s a perfectly fine plot). What sets this story apart is the detail with which the world is rendered, and the depth of its invention. I’m not sure if this city and its ghosts are based on anything in particular, but I can confidently say that this is not your usual western ghost story at least.
The structure is also unusual — there are stories within stories, and some parts are told out of order. But the way the story is told adds to the dreaminess of the setting, and the slow rhythms are fitting.
“Harlequin’s Butterfly” by Toh EnJoe, in Asymptote. I had never heard of Asymptote before this January, but I’m glad I know about it now. (I think Bogi Takács is the one who mentioned it. Thanks, Bogi!) It’s a zine committed to translating the works of non-Anglophone writers into English.
To be honest, a lot of the stories in Asymptote didn’t connect with me. The prevailing style seems to be literary, with an emphasis on language and imagery (at least in this particular issue). But “Harlequin’s Butterfly” adds a strong dose of whimsy and humor, both of which really appealed to me.
The story relates the narrator’s encounters with Mr A. A. Abrams, a multi-millionaire entrepreneur who uses a tiny butterfly net to catch loose ideas that he can turn into successful business ventures. The idea in this case has to do with publishing books especially made to be read under specific circumstances — on a plane, on a boat, while standing on your head. It’s a fun idea, and an enjoyable read.
“Body Language” by Alex Aro, in Bourbon Penn. There are a number of interesting stories in the January issue of Bourbon Penn, but this is my favorite. It’s short and a little vague and extremely metaphorical. But this tale of a narrator rendered helpless by his disintegrating lover perfectly captures what it feels like to lose control of a certainly doomed relationship with a lack of communication on its way to quiet dissolution.
“The mMod” by Ken Liu, in Daily Science Fiction. Raymond’s partner gives him an experimental tablet computer (the mMod) made by her company (Abricot) to play with while she’s on a business trip to Hong Kong. Her reasoning is that if its assertive customer bonding features can win over technophobe Raymond, then it’ll be a hit with anybody. The story proceeds mostly along the expected path, but there’s a lot of attention to detail in what makes the mMod so alluring. It’s also nice to see a story about an addicting gadget where the corporate creator isn’t a cartoonish villain.
“Distance” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, in Our Own Voice. This is another market that I didn’t know existed — its mission is to publish works by Filipinos in the diaspora. Fittingly, “Distance” is a short tale of a Filipino emigrant who lives in the west and marries a foreigner. It’s a brief and wispy story, a bit like something Colette might have written, but without the sharp barb at the end. And though it’s not speculative in the least, there’s some planetary imagery that I like a lot.
Full disclosure: I’ve been published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Daily Science Fiction, and I’ve submitted stories to Bourbon Penn. I’ve exchanged friendly words with Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, and I once critiqued a story for Ken Liu (in addition to friendly banter).