How does the writer of genre fiction approach difficult subject matter like sexual assault? Two excellent and potentially triggering recent short stories by two fearless writers suggest two effective approaches. “What’s Done Can’t Be Undone” by Tucson writer ReneĂ© Bibby in the January 2019 issue of Five on the Fifth weaves ugly revelations with witches […]

Horror 101: The Way Forward edited by Joe Mynhardt explores a tremendous territory of information, advice, and experience with essays written by many different creatives who work in the genre. These essays are organized into four main sections about the horror genre itself, the artistic opportunities in horror, writing horror, and building and maintaining a career in horror. There are some very useful commonalities to be found between various essays, but there are many differences, too, and even contradictory information. I love that. I found this mix especially inspiring because it underscores just how much room there is for you and me to explore the genre as singular readers, writers, artists, and enthusiasts. Even when I told myself I would absolutely *NOT* emulate what a particular essayist has done in their career, I loved learning about their experiences and how this only proves how wide open horror is.

Book cover of Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder, with a cat on the cover hanging from a frayed rope

The tone and humor might be a little dated, even insensitive and problematic at points, but there’s no question that Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is a book packed with useful, easily digestible, but comprehensive information. Ostensibly written for screenwriters, I think novelists and short stories writers will find this book equally as beneficial. It might even have a thing or two to teach poets.

The Wonder That Was Ours by Alice Hatcher is a deeply moving novel that makes smart use of its narrator—the collective “we” of cockroaches—to explore the legacy of colonization. Hatcher’s collective cockroach narrator is funny and astute, and finds the disturbing and heartbreaking parallels between our species, while pointing out the ways humans might be far worse.

With TV Girls—six incredible flash fiction stories in one fantastic chapbook—Dana Diehl’s compassion for reality TV stars flattened by the medium recovers their individuality and complexity by exploring in gorgeously-crafted prose how they are vulnerable, exploited, and managing the relentless attention.

Neil Gaiman’s “The Mushroom Hunters” was my personal favorite in the collection, along with Mary Soon Lee’s “Advice to a Six-Year-Old” and all her other poems, Linda D. Addison’s “Sycorax’s Daughters Unveiled”, Cislyn Smith’s “Hot”, and Shannon Connor Winward’s “The Raven’s Hallowe’en.”

Simon and the other characters are the highlight of Simon vs the Homo sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, about a high school student on the verge of coming out as gay dealing with doubt, first love, and blackmail. He and his group of friends are the heart of the story and I particularly love Simon’s voice in this first-person narration. He’s funny and astute, but also heart-breaking at times: “And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.”

Every single story in this collection of historical fiction and contemporary fiction pieces is breathtaking, full of incredible and often all-too-real details, and features characters (whether based on real people or not) that leap off the page. I particularly appreciate how writer Jim Shepard finds the humanity and depth in characters that are otherwise difficult to like.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville My rating: 5 of 5 stars An incredible if interminable reading experience made nauseating by deplorable racist interjections (sometimes an excruciating chapter long) and gory slaughter. This was not a pleasant read; I had to take frequent breaks from what was so upsetting about the novel and Melville’s comments about other […]