As part of this year’s short story reading project, I’ve been noticing the strong structural and structuring pull rite or rituals exert on stories.
Structurally (and that’s how I’m talking about them in this post), rituals can be a way to first summon a story and peel apart a world, and then at the end to stitch through many layers, to mend and make new. And of course ritual brings with it layers of language, formulation, knowledge, history, time, family, the numinous brushing the physical, a way of altering the world or being acknowledged and changed by it, and (rendered bureaucratic) all the ways that can be made soulless.
This post is lengthy… (among other things, after the initial draft I injured myself in a way that made editing very difficult).
This post is a roughly tidied version of my May 2022 tweets about short stories. It’s quite long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.
I was recently asked how I choose the short stories I’ve been reading for the short story reading posts. It’s not particularly scientific. But I’m trying very hard not to primarily review each story or reduce comments to whether or not I personally like it. Rather, I’m interested in what a story does, and how.
That’s why I’ve been working through a few recommended / year’s best lists (e.g. Locus and Quick Sips Reviews, among others).
I tell myself the stories have been
(a) published by a venue, and
(b) additionally selected by someone else,
so there’s no need to add my additional valuation to that. (Counterintuitively, this has also made it a lot easier to just enjoy the stories.)
I’ve chosen to read through some anthologies and collections because I’m interested in the author or editor or theme;
sometimes a story just catches my eye, or a recommendation floats past;
I’ve been reading Fireside Fiction and The Sunday Morning Transport stories as they arrive in my inbox; and
when awards shortlists are announced, I’ve been adding any stories I haven’t read yet to the list.
So far, this reading project tends to be most revealing about:
an author’s techniques and boundaries and the size of the blocks they build with
a magazine’s vibes (these can be extremely distinct — often far more than editorial or authorial flavours)
the consensus definition of a theme (in a given group — see e.g. the comments on the Supernatural Noir stories in the February post)
the particular interests and tastes of people who collate lists of recommended stories
I need to read more anthologies, as the patterns of editors’ motivations are still a little obscure. There are lots of overlays there — the market or venue’s style, what is submitted, the collective motivation or interpretation or concerns of a particular group of authors in a particular era. I suspect analysing what’s happening at the anthology-construction level, across a number of books by the same editor, would give more of a sense of this.
This post is a roughly tidied version of my April 2022 tweets about short stories. It’s quite long (although the month’s reading was abbreviated by Covid), so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.
My short story “Gisla and the Three Favours”, first published last year in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #43, has been selected for THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY, VOLUME ONE, edited by Paula Guran (Pyr Books). It will be published later this year.
• Marika Bailey, “The White Road; Or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River” (Fiyah #18) • Elizabeth Bear, “The Red Mother” (Tor.com) • Tobias Buckell, “Brickomancer (Shoggoths in Traffic and Other Stories) • P. Djèlí Clark, “If the Martians Have Magic” (Uncanny #42) • Roshani Chokshi, “Passing Fair and Young” (Sword Table Stone: Old Legend, New Voices) • Varsha Dinesh, “The Demon Sage’s Daughter” (Strange Horizons 2/8/21) • Andrew Dykstal, “Quintessence” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #324) • James Enge, “Drunkard’s Walk (F&SF 5-6) • Karen Joy Fowler, “The Piper” (F&SF 1-2) • Carlos Hernandez & C. S. E. Cooney, “A Minnow, or Perhaps a Colossal Squid (Mermaids Monthly, April) • Kathleen Jennings, “Gisla and the Three Favors” (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #43) • Allison King, “Breath of the Dragon King” (Fantasy #72) • PH Lee, “Frost’s Boy” (Lightspeed #128) • Yukimi Ogawa, “Her Garden the Size of Her Palm (F&SF 7-8) • Tobi Ogundiran, “The Tale of Jaja and Canti” (Lightspeed #135) • Richard Parks. “The Fox’s Daughter (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #344) • Karen Russell, “The Cloud Lake Unicorn” (Conjunctions:76) • Sofia Samatar, “Three Tales from the Blue Library” (Conjunctions:76) • Catherynne Valente, “L’Esprit de Escalier” (Tor.com) • Fran Wilde, “Unseelie Bros, Ltd.” (Uncanny #40) • Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, “Gray Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts” (Apex #121) • Isabel Yap,“A Spell for Foolish Hearts” (Never Have I Ever) • E. Lily Yu, “Small Monsters” (Tor.com)
Once, not so long ago, a marvellous stag lived in the forest at the foot of our mountain, on the other side of the little bridge you must still cross when you leave our village…
My (very) short story “The Wonderful Stag, or The Courtship of Red Elsie” has just been published on Tor.com — with this gorgeous and luminous illustration by John Jude Palencar.
That lit crescent of its antlers! The strange wise oddity of its face! The texture of its fur! The ears!
A fun fact about this story is that it actually began as an illustration — one of the earliest of the ink-and-gold Inktober fairytale illustrations I did in 2019.
The story I imagined behind this illustration was a little different (although it survived as one of the narrator’s asides about possible origins). It was prompted by a @fairytaletext tweet “Before long, the suitor fell in love with a mischievous stag.”
I couldn’t shake the image of a stag running through the forest, hung with rings with which it had made off. When I sat down to write that, however, the consequences became rather deeper-reaching, and George-the-Wolf emerged to listen to the rumours, and Red Elsie flickered into being, and all the courtship arrangements of the isolated village…
“Framed as a bit of history, part anecdote and part fairy tale or myth, the piece is quietly moving and archetypal, sweeping and sweet and dark all at once…. It’s a piece that looks very much at the almost accidental power of small good things.”
It’s a story of promises and hospitality, set in Australia (or something like it), and I’m still rather fond of its heroine and her not-entirely-absent family.
This is the first publication of Undine Love since it appeared in ASIM in 2011, and although Tor.com doesn’t usually illustrate reprints, I wanted to do a fresh set in the style of the silhouettes in Flyaway.
My quite short story “The Present Only Toucheth Thee” has been bought by Strange Horizons!
It will come out in a few months and I will definitely tell you about it again then. (What I can tell you now is that I had to include a caveat in the cover letters for this story that it’s not in faux-Elizabethan! The title is an allusion.)
This will be my first publication by Strange Horizons as a writer, and I’m thrilled. They’ve brought out some lovely pieces, and I recommend checking out their text and audio issues: Strange Horizons.