Short Story Rec: “The Minotaur’s Wife” by Megan Arkenberg

“The Minotaur’s Wife” by Megan Arkenberg is included in the January, 2015 issue of Pantheon Magazine. You can read it for free here.


I had not chosen to marry you, but I had chosen to become the Minotaur, and to do it well.

Like the other Megan Arkenberg story I’ve written about here, “The Minotaur’s Wife” is epistolary and quiet and desperate. I haven’t read enough of her stuff to know if this is a trend of hers, or if I just happened upon two particularly good ones written in a similar way, but hey, if you want two good, melancholy meditations on doomed love in epistolary form, Arkenberg’s got them for you.

This one involves a drug trade, and queerness, and arranged marriages that twist around to something different over the course of time, and barren houses that slowly fill themselves up. What I love about Arkenberg’s writing in this story is how much of Naxos, the narrator, you see in the details she chooses to write about in her letters. The letters themselves, the construction of them, are as revelatory as her actions.

And this works as a story. Where I would have made this something much grander in scale–probably a duology with all of the backstory filled in–Arkenberg limits the scope to such a tight focus. We only see Naxos and Asterion. She has a keen, clean eye for the core of her story and the details that support it. It feels huge, because lives for those living it is always huge, but she keeps that tight focus, and the story works at its clean length because of it, even though it spans over thirty years of Naxos’ life.

Short Story Rec: “Baug’s Hollow” by Cathrin Hagey

“Baug’s Hollow” was published in issue 32 of Luna Station Quarterly, and is free to read here.


She found her cottage yard dotted with spring’s first blooms, yellow poppies bursting from the frigid earth, the flag that other blooms would follow. Hen entered the cottage, pushing hard against the well-sealed door, one of Baug’s many gifts to his then young wife. “Heavy door, warm hearth,” was what he had said.

This is a very sweet, very quiet story about a woman who learns that her dead husband was both exactly who and not quite who she thought he was. I tend to read stories with angst with darkness in them, but this is one with comfort and wonder in it, and the warmth of it etched its way into my heart anyway.

I hope that when I am old that I am as patient and curious as Hen, and that I am as open to the strangeness and the beauty of life as she is.

Short Story Rec: “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins

“Firstborn” by Maria Haskins appeared in Capricious, issue 7. You can read it for free here.


I’m so tired: tired of crying, tired of screaming and begging. The night is cold and silent. It holds no answers, no prayers, no lullabies, no dreams. I am empty, hollowed out, scraped clean. I am nothing: not Em, not mother, not woman, not even human, anymore. I am a smudge of cold and shadow beneath a tree in a forgotten place in an abandoned world.

The best short stories are the ones that take some long-buried part of you, some feeling you forgot you ever felt, and then bring it right to the surface of your heart so sharp and crystallized that it sends you spinning right back in time. “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins did that for me.

Like Em in the story, my kid was born six weeks early. Like Em, the creeping anxieties of new parenthood swallowed me whole. Having a newborn is absolutely terrifying and incredibly isolating, and no one tells you that until it’s too late. For me, I ended up an insomniac who tracked everything in spreadsheets–how much the baby was eating, how often he was peeing, when he was sleeping. All of it. And then my partners intervened and sent me to therapy. And I got slowly better.

This story, about the eerie loneliness and terror of having a new life that only you are caring for, is strange and bizarre and filled me full of old familiar fears.

Short Story Rec: “Three Points Masculine” by An Owomoyela

“Three Points Masculine” by An Owomoyela was published in issue 72 of Lightspeed. It is free to read here.


The damn rev had a point: I got to be a guy because I took a test and it said I got into enough fights, played enough sports, had enough right interests and few enough wrong ones. I got to be a guy because some white-collar jackhole stamped and signed a form. I never would’ve got to be a guy just because I was a guy.

This story hit me hard.

This is some of the realest shit I’ve ever read about what it feels like to be transgender in a ciscentric world. In the context of the story, there are Gender Assignment Tests, and you are rated based on points as feminine and masculine. Certain thresholds of one or the other get you into certain positions and can get you access to certain jobs.

The thing is, this is not that different than the world we live in now. The thrust of the story, the interactions between the trans narrator and John, the trans colleague he works with and ends up depending on, are the kinds of conversations I’ve had with my trans friends. And they boil down to the idea that when cis people are running the show, you’re never going to get those last three points you need. Somehow, that brass ring is always out of reach.

Your identity is never really yours, because it’s always qualified. You have to keep proving it over and over again, justifying it to people who don’t experience gender and life the way you do but serve as gatekeepers anyway.

The story is beautifully written–hard, and sharp, and vicious. The world Owomoyela creates drips with bitter realism just cranked up to eleven. This story gave me all the trans feels and then some.

The Myriad Carnival is out today!

And I’ve got a story in it!

MyriadCarnival_FrontCover

Amazon | Goodreads

About the Anthology
Roll up, roll up… The circus has long been that dream palace, intoxicating with so many lights and sights, sounds and smells. Sawdust, popcorn, strange animals, make-up, and the sweat of the roustabouts. The circus intrudes into the life of the ordinary and mundane and brings magic. Editor Matthew Bright invites you to the enjoy the sixteen attractions of the fantastical and dark Myriad Carnival.

About “The Sharpshooter” by B R Sanders
Never look too close at anything in the Myriad Carnvial; everything there is an illusion. Beneath the makeup and the wig and the costume in the gunslinger’s tent is Yves: French, genderqueer, armed with an enchanted gun. Trouble comes for Yves, but what happens when the West’s best shot is no great shot at all?

Also, hey, check out this cool trailer Lethe Press put together!

It was a pleasure working with Matthew Bright on this story, and I am so excited to be included in this anthology! I hope you’ll check it out!

Short Stories I Loved in 2015

I read a great deal more short fiction in 2015 than in years past. Here are the short stories I most enjoyed in no particular order:

“Heaven Under Earth” by Aliette de Bodard

“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

“Geometries of Belonging” by Rose Lemberg

“Shimmering, Warm, And Bright” by Shveta Thakrar

“We Love Deena” by Alice Sola Kim

“The Occidental Bride” by Bejanun Sriduangkaew

“Dustbaby” by Alix E. Harrow

“All in a Hot and Copper Sky” by Meg Arkenberg

 

 

Short Stories I Have Lately Loved: 12/11/2015

“Shimmering, Warm, and Bright” by Shveta ThakrarInterfictions, issue 6, Nov. 2015

She leapt into the luminescence, burying herself in its warmth. It soaked into her skin, saturating her, familiar, loving. No, there was no way she could ever be sad.

And yet we see Tejal be sad throughout the story, because that’s how brains are. Even the best balm doesn’t protect you forever.

I read this story weeks ago, but I keep thinking about it as the sun slinks further away and the days get clipped shorter and shorter. I write this next to a paltry little light box, and what I wouldn’t give for Tejal’s sunshine closet. Not that it solves all of her problems, or her mother’s problems, but, still, what I wouldn’t give for one. Shveta Thakrar tapped into the magic of the everyday and the creeping horror of depression in this story. As someone with seasonal affective disorder, and as someone who’s wrestled with depression otherwise, this story sticks with me.


 

“Geometries of Belonging” by Rose Lemberg; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, issue #183

I know that one day he will ask me to heal him.

The day I heal him is the day I’ll heal myself.

There are some short stories that hit you with their precision, with their brevity. And there are are some, like, this one, that are long, luxurious reads. There is a lot going on in “Geometries of Belonging”–plots and subplots that dovetail and mirror themes back together. It’s an intricate, finely wrought piece about damaged people and the damage people do. It’s a heartbreaking piece about heartbreak. It’s just…it’s so emotionally deep and satisfying, and especially as a non-binary person it is so respectful and affirming. Bittersweet and lovely.


 

“Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters” by Alice Sola Kim; Lightspeed, issue 67, Oct. 2015

And then what? It is disputed. Is Hwang a force of good? Is he evil? How does he choose which daughters he appears to? Is he a matrilineal family curse? He tries to explain but it is not satisfying to his daughters.

On the first read, this is a bizarre little fable. On the second read, this is an incredible sad story of immense grief and guilt, the story of a man attempting to reconcile his purpose in life once he perceived himself to have utterly, completely failed. Hwang simultaneously erases himself and makes himself foregrounded in the lives of his descendants–all of his billion brilliant daughters. All the daughters except for the ones he actually wants to see again. It is a sly, clever, terrible, heart-wrenching story.

 

Announcement: “Marloh And The Sprite Queen” is free-to-read at Blog Z!

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Hi friends! Looking for a creepy short story to read? Have a hankering for a story featuring a clever elf girl? “Marloh and the Sprite Queen”, now up at Blog Z, might be right up your alley! Head over and check it out–it’s free-to-read!

And, of course, please feel free to leave comments, pass it around social media, etc, should you get the urge to do so.

-B

Short Story Rec: “Dustbaby” by Alix E. Harrow in Shimmer #27

The whole story is free to read here.

Grief, in my experience, is a lot like dust. It turns food gritty and sour, it sifts onto your pillow as you sleep and burrows into every pore of skin, and you can never truly be rid of it.

I am only thirty, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about grief. I’ve grieved in a lot of different ways, but I’ve (so far, and thank god) never lost a child. I also have a fascination with the Dust Bowl. These two interests are not miles apart. The Dust Bowl was a time of horrific grief for many. It was a time where the earth itself revolted in an unexpected carnage so blistering and total that no one knew what to do to survive it, and many didn’t. The dust literally ate people alive, or it starved them out. It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true.

I have a book I’ve been working on periodically for the last couple of years about pregnancy. It’s a sort-of body-horror book where I’m trying to capture the utter weirdness of pregnancy, the way it makes your own body alien to you while at the same time connecting you to its intricacies in a new and haunting way.

Harrow’s story brought all of these odd little thoughts and interests of mine together in her story about a lonely, heartbroken woman on a dying farm who finds a mysterious baby in the dust. The story’s style reminds me of Flannery O’Connor or Steinbeck–plain-voiced and gothic at once. Like O’Connor there is in Harrow’s story a current of destruction and a current of resurrection undergirding the story.

It’s brutal and sad and sweet. I loved it. You might, too.

New Pub: “The Demiurge” in THE WILD ONES

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I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, “The Demiurge”, is included in the inaugural issue of The Wild Ones: A Quarterly Queer Lit Rage. The issue is available for purchase here, and I encourage y’all to check it out! Here’s a synopsis of the story to whet your appetite:

Sometimes a genius biologist needs an entire island to herself. Sometimes she needs to pursue her work away from the prying and judgmental eyes of everyone else. Temperance, a theologian, understands this about her wife. She whisks Vera way to an isolated island in the Hebrides, and there Temperance watches her wife’s holy genius unfold.

“The Demiurge” is a historical science fiction story brimming with big questions and mad science. Where is the line between science and religion? And when you find that line, should you cross it?

The really lovely thing about short stories, from a writer’s perspective, is that they allow you to step outside your comfort zone for just the right amount of time. There are elements in “The Demiurge” that were easy for me—it’s earnest, it’s speculative, it’s queer—but there were other parts that took me decidedly past what I’m used to as a writer. It’s historical and it’s not a secondary world—set in 19th century Britain. The main POV character, Temperance, grew up wealthy. I so often do not write wealthy characters, and she had a particularly restrained way of thinking that I found very interesting and very challenging to write. I like her, though. I like her secret feistiness.

“The Demiurge” has its roots quite explicitly in Frankenstein. But Frankenstein itself was a treatise on the question of religious and scientific ethics, a set of questions that fascinated me enough that I ended up minoring in religion in college almost by accident. This is one of the few times I’ve explored those haunting questions in my fiction. I’m grateful that it found a home with The Wild Ones.