February 17, 2015

Short and Sweet Banner copy

Winter has come to Kentucky. And before you northerners chuckle to yourselves and say “those poor bastards wouldn’t know winter if it danced naked in a snowdrift with christmas ornaments in its hair,” let me tell you: it’s our biggest snowfall in 17 years and it’s not getting above freezing until Saturday. It counts. So, the first story this week is fittingly titled, “In Winter.”

In Winter, Sonya Taaffe, Lackington’s Magazine

taaffeeI meant to read all the stories from the Winter 2015 issue of Lackington’s—how could I resist, when the theme is “beldams” and the cover is a bright-colored quilt of women and magic and books? But when I got to the website I bounced around like a pinball and ended up reading the issue from last summer, about quests.

The story that struck me was Taaffe’s “In Winter,” and not only because the illustration features an adorable little skeleton-girl with a fish in her pocket. It’s about the robber girl, a soldier-child on the front lines of World War II, fighting the Russians in what I suspect is Finland. The outlines of the plot are often subsumed in sensation and scenery, but I’ll forgive any sin for sentences like these:

“She dreams of running with them, over endless snowfields without ski-tracks or the treads of stopped tanks; she dreams of summer, as distant and strange as home. She dreams of her finger on the trigger, the sun on the shine of glass. She dreams of blood, blooming like roses in the snow.”

It was the sensory realness of fighting a war in the depths of the far-northern winter, and the terrible loneliness of it, that lingered for me.

Lesson: Let those sentences run where they will sometimes, twining and doubling back on themselves like Russian rivers, unbounded by a miserly fear of adverbs and rising word counts.

Coin Flips, Tina Connolly and Caroline M. Yoachim, Daily Science Fiction

Flash fiction isn’t something I knew about before I slipped into richly-shadowed corner of the internet where the speculative short stories live. And once I knew what it was, I wasn’t sold—short stories weren’t short enough for you people? Where will it end?

Most of these short-short-short stories have been little more than blurred almost-ideas flashing past my windshield like lightning bugs in the summertime. But sometimes—just sometimes—they’re not lightning bugs. They’re tiny planets lighting up in the distance, intricate and elaborate.

Yoachim and Connolly’s “Coin Flips” is a whole world in less than 1,000 words. It’s about a Wild-West-ish planetary frontier in need of settling, and a no-good man who keeps his lover’s consciousness locked in a coin in his pocket. He flips the coin. She wins.[1]

I like this one because it inspires enough emotional oomph in the first two paragraphs to make you root for a gold coin. And because it accomplishes that most-elusive fictional feat of giving a character a voice so real you can almost hear it, can see his shifty swagger and hangdog expression, the slick speech of a habitual gambler. It’s also the best use of the rarely-justified second-person I’ve seen in a while.

Lesson: There are times when you can write in second person—you know there are. You’ve just seen it done so poorly, so casually, and it’s a tricky tense to master.

—-

[1] What’s the point of providing a real plot summary for flash fiction. You could read the whole thing in the time it took to look at the bottom of the screen and read this footnote, for chrissakes.

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