This piece was submitted to ZeroFlash’s October/November Contest. Didn’t win anything, but I’m proud of it nonetheless as a creepy little fiction. Note: I’ve edited it slightly.
The Tishman Review nominated my story “And We Who Never Died” for Best Small Fictions.
BSF is an anthology that honors the “best short hybrid fiction published in a calendar year.” The Harvard Review wrote that the pieces in BSF are like a “splash of ice water in the face,” a wake-up call to “your life… unspooling.”
When I heard I’d been nominated, I was like cool beans and moved on to lesson planning and grading.
Then Coffin Bell posted this:
And I discovered that MY WIFE HAS BEEN NOMINATED.
As of this day, she and I are no longer friends. No longer best friends. No longer lovers.
But bitter enemies locked in literary combat.
THIS. MEANS. WAR.
This isn’t my achievement, but my wife’s. Coffin Bell has published J. Motoki’s “Directions After Death” digitally and physically in their first print issue. If anyone’s interested, the anthology, Coffin Bell: ONE, is available for preorder ($15). Per usual, I’m both horrified and impressed by my wife’s dark literature. Where I’m satirical and speculative, she’s weird and wonderful and clearly, clearly, the better writer.
This isn’t my publication, but my wife’s. “Life Flies, Like Lights,” which published in Nowhere.Ink, is a dreamy spelunk into a maze of madness or what might be the halls of the dead. I have no idea, actually, but it’s still freaky, especially the line “All around me are sounds like suppressed laughter in mausoleums, like bouts of applause, like flies on a cat corpse in summer.”
Anyway, I’m so proud of J. Motoki and the products of her horrifying brain.
Nowhere.Ink is a digital collaborative devoted to dark minds and cooperation over competition. Its members have several outlets. Polished pieces go in their Library (like my wife’s) while anyone can post prose or poetry to the Facebook page. Then there’s other worlds like Twitter and their Red Light District.
Actually, my wife and I have a little history with the collab. We, along with its creators, used to post to a literature platform called Prose.
That site went south, forgetting its manners and indulging in toxic utilitarianism. Lost were Partners and $100 weekly contests; found were advertisements, random rules, and Prose Gold, a pay-to-be-a-partner subscription service. Suddenly good writing wasn’t based on its popularity but how much you could pay.
There was also a (now-infamous) Simon and Schuster challenge where fifty stories were picked from 500+ entries and submitted to S&S for review. Some of the entries “selected” were written by the Prose judges themselves, a little bit of unethical behavior that did not go unnoticed. (My piece, Iron Abbie, was also chosen, and I add that only to establish that I’m not bitter for losing.)
The first generation who’d given Prose its style split away. Luckily, Tony Cavanagh and Amanda Cary, two brilliant contributors to Prose, gave some direction to the Great Migration. They created an alternate platform, a place devoted to the exercise and excitement of writing. Funny enough, the “nowhere” in Nowhere.Ink comes from Tony’s old Prose handle—Miles Nowhere.
Rune Bear claims to be a digital literary magazine dedicated to the Strange, Surreal, Supernatural, and Speculative.
We ordered the genres like that for the soft soil of sound; a sussuration as subdued as Robert Frost’s sound of sense. Sometimes alliteration is an aroma, an allure. But if we wish to sustain submissions, we’ll need to suss out exactly what we’re looking for.
By Strange, we mean Weird fiction, a subgenre of the speculative encompassing horror and tales of the macabre. Science, myth, and horror blend into stories which estrange the familiar, break the laws of Nature, and bring the reader into contact with madness. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, editors of the incredible anthology The Weird, add that “With unease and the temporary abolition of science can also come the strangely beautiful intertwined with terror.” But Weird fiction is not necessarily terror-inducing. As Jake King explains “Weird Fiction is about things that aren’t just unknown, but essentially unknowable to humans. Given that we as humans fear the unknown, we usually assign it as horror, but it doesn’t have to be.”
By Surreal, we refer to writing that tries to capture the wilds of the unconscious through irrational juxtaposition. André Breton, founder of the literary movement, defines the Surreal as a proposal to “express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought.” He adds that it’s an assertion of “complete nonconformism.” In this way, surrealism is better than realism—a rejection of the refined, a rapture of the raw. The bizarre, unreal, incongruous, paradox, and perverse are elements of Surreal, as well as thirty-six blue rabbit trucks.
By Speculative, we mean fiction of the “what if?” As David Bowling describes, these are worlds “that could have been, or might have been, if only the rules of the universe were altered just a bit.” Often the grounding is in the sciences. Innovations or alternatives in psychology, sociology, biology, and technology lead to wild human problems and wilder solutions. In this way, Andy McCann describes, speculative fiction is “preparation for all futures”—an anticipation of infinite destiny. Ultimately, however, Steve Tully writes that the genre is “about you and me” (Lilly). The otherworld, be it magical or mechanical, is a testament to the human imagination, but also human reality.
By Supernatural, we mean fantasy, a genre of imaginative fiction. Sometimes there is a natural world, with the supernatural pressings against its edges. Sometimes the supernatural is the world; the rules of reality re-adapted to make-believe. Tolkien writes that fantasy “touches on or uses Faerie” which “may perhaps most nearly be translated [to] Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power.” Or, as George R.R. Martin writes, “Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab” (Perret). In this genre are epic, urban, high and low fantasy, fable, myth, steampunk, arcanepunk, a whole slew of other punks, and what Tolkien calls “the Perilous Realm.” We, of course, take all of the above.
Breton, André. Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). Ann Arbor :University of Michigan Press, 1972.
King, Jake. Weird Fiction Discussion Group. Facebook, 26 March 2018.
Lilly, N. E. “What is Speculative Fiction?” Green Tentacles, March 2002.
Perret, Pati. The Faces of Fantasy: Photographs by Pati Perret. New York: TOR, 1996.
Oziewicz, Marek. “Speculative Fiction.” Oxford Research Encyclopedias—Literature, March 2017.
Tolkien, J. R. R. Tree and Leaf (1939). New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
VanderMeer, Ann and Jeff. “The Weird: An Introduction.” Weird Fiction Review, 6 May 2012.
My pieces “And We Who Never Died” and “Scarabaeidae” were published in the Spring Issue of The Tishman Review, a well-respected quarterly magazine devoted to prose, poetry, and people. Behind the paper’s philosophy is the idea that literature’s “value to humanity is beyond measure.” Editors must “remain open to the possibility that an individual work may take us beyond the boundaries known today.”
“And We Who Never Died” began as a metaphysical conflict. What if when we die, our souls don’t abide the afterlife, or face annihilation, but transfer to the objects around us? What horrors would arise? What fears? The story—about a mother sending her children to search the house for their dead father—is one of many scenarios that might result.
“Scarabaeidae” is an ode to my wife, to us. I try to write without goo, mush, doggerel, singsong, cockamamie, and all those wonderful descriptors of poor poetry. But then, “Scarabaeidae” does have a line that begins with “shall I compare thee to.” Maybe it works since it ends in “a dung beetle.” Glimpsed here is the failure and mundanity of the struggle to love another.
Zeroflash, a flash fiction magazine that features many, many great interviews with writers and publishers alike, has a monthly competition series. The winner receives an original illustration of their winning entry, ten pounds, an interview with Uprising Review, etc., etc.
I submitted a story to the February competition (judged by Alex L. Williams) and lost. My story didn’t even make it to second or third. It wasn’t featured on the list of honorees.
S’all good, though. I did better than my wife. She submitted a piece which was so bad that it never materialized among the February entries. (Just kidding, it was probably buried in the slush.)
Again, it’s all good. Rejection is a step toward success. Sometimes rejection’s a success all by its lonesome. And if that’s even remotely true, I’ve made it.
The February prompt was this draconic kaleidoscope with granite blues and pinks and a hidden zero. And it was the caption: “I’m asking for the trippiest, freakiest, most surreal piece of prose you can concoct. Let your mind roam and your words dance.” 300 words minimum.
by Jon Stubbington (2018)
So here’s my loser’s piece. I went for Paracelsus meets the goblins in Twilight Eyes meets skin made out of asbestos. You be the judge if it works or not.
There Would be Warmth
by Desmond White
Now the mediæval men knew a thing about doomsday. They scribbled its steps in codices long-brown, although none of them were excited about cityside basilisks and resurrected gods, content with pulling gold from menstrual blood. Not me. All my years I burned to clear the crust of life from this planet. (Humans, dogs, the yellow cities, trees, all that color.) So I studied the works recounting the Vulcani, those lizards that grow in fire like fishes in water, what some call salamanders. If you grow them big enough they’ll survive outside their element—bigger and they’ll turn the elements into char.
I get a fire going until the flicker-roots are blue and the smoke thick enough to climb, then I step between logs glimmering like sticks in a stomach. The lizards see me and run and die in the cold, so maybe, I think, I must accustom the new hatches to my scent. The eggs are easy. I find a clump of black logs glowing with a thousand eyes and there I find them, small, angry. I raise one to see if the fetus is kicking in the ash, but I take the egg too close to the air element, or maybe wind blows out of jealousy, and the egg turns to coal in my boiled fingers. The fire is kind enough to lift my tears. The next egg I push down my throat, placing it by the heat of my liver, wrapped motherly in blood-web, and now I’m running out the tipi, running for the lake to wash the blackened scale of my skin, to feel the living stone inside my belly, to finish what the mystics never started.
An edited variant of this published at Rune Bear Weekly on April 25th, 2019.