Hey, What if we Just Started Over? – Editor-in-Chief, Kelly Fitzharris Coody

Hear me out.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.

I know I’ve (we’ve) had lots of “almost shutting down” forks in the road, submissions email changes, editorial staffing and contributor changes, and a lot of confusion about themes, no themes, what status your work is in at the moment, etc, etc, etc ….. And you can basically just continue that ellipsis until infinity. Some of that comes with the whole “online-indie-lit-mag” territory. I’m simplifying some really important points, then I will promptly move it to our submissions guidelines page and we will move forward from there.

Here are some guidelines-slash-pointers moving forward with the new SLM: 

  1. FORGET past submissions that you never heard back from me or any other editor about. Just put it on a metaphorical (or maybe an actual) shelf for now. Otherwise, we’re all going to be chasing our tails forever. No thanks.
  2. If you submit and you don’t hear back from me, dude, you’ve got to relax. Do not chase me down on Facebook, Twitter, insert other social media here, or send e-mails to my personal e-mail. It’s just NOT okay. I have children, i.e., a family, too, just like you. I am busy trying my damnedest to make their childhood great and I also work a full-time job so I can put food on the table.
  3. Most definitely don’t establish a great working relationship with me and then post disparaging comments about the web site and how SLM is suddenly “the worst.” Dude, guess what? It’s still literally just me. It is me who is approving that comment you wrote. And it sucks. Don’t do it. Write me an e-mail. And don’t be a jerk.
  4. Don’t take advantage of my openness and generosity. If you send me plagiarized work and I publish it, I WILL find out about it.
  5. Basically, let’s wipe the damn slate clean and start writing again.

One more really important thing that I must touch on before we get to the fun part: 

TIMELINE and GUIDELINES: 

  • I don’t know when I will get back to you after you submit your work. It could be that same day. It might be a month later. If a really, really long time has passed, it’s safe to assume that it didn’t quite work.
  • WE DO NOT publish books, book-length material, nor do we review books at this time.
  • We DO accept simultaneous submissions and reprinted material.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s what I want from you and here’s where I want you to send it: 

  • I know, I know, yet another new email. Just think of it as an official way to wipe the slate clean: kmfitzharris@gmail.com
  • What do I want? I still want originality, I still want writing that is genuine, sincere, and writing that is specific to the genre of YOU (meaning write what you write, not what you think I want you to write).
  • What do I look for in your submissions email? Be yourself. Don’t try to pitch me your writing or sell it to me – you are good enough just as you are. Be candid and tell me what’s up and why you’re submitting your work to me. You can either put your submission in the body of your email or attach it as a word doc. Please, no PDFs.
  • Word count: Unless it’s a Gone-Girl caliber page-turning suspenseful roller-coaster ride, for the love of God and all things holy, don’t send me 30 pages. Honestly, don’t send 20! Unless I get lost reading your work and can’t even tell what page I’m on, which is awesome, those are way too long for an online literary magazine. And it takes time away from other submissions I could be reading.
  • Genre / type of work: Really, anything and everything. Poetry, fiction, prose-poetry, erasure poetry, abstract art, photography, fan art for this magazine, a series of cool old letters that you found in a drawer in your attic, an op-ed, a personal essay, non-fiction, LGBTQ, flash fiction, fan fiction.

Have fun writing and be sure to submit your work to me at kmfitzharris@gmail.com

Happy writing!

I will talk to you soon,

 

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Kelly Fitzharris Coody,

Editor-in-Chief

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Allow me to Introduce Myself – Nikki rae Spano, Assistant Editor

Hi friends! I’m Nikki, I’m new to the SLM team, and I’m excited to be here.

 

Let me introduce myself. I was born and raised in Staten Island, NY; I’m currently living by the beach in New Jersey, and I’m planning on moving somewhere far away in the spring. Where exactly? I don’t know yet. It’s part of the adventure.

I got my Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, from Chestnut Hill College, which probably none of you have heard of. It’s a tiny college on the outskirts of Philadelphia and it’s notorious for looking like Hogwarts.

I graduated in 2015 and my mind was set: I was going to get an internship at a publishing company and work my way up to the title of Editor. I fluffed up my resume. I applied to every publishing company in NYC that you’ve ever heard of, and then some. I went to the mall and bought the perfect suit for job interviews but I never got to wear it. It’s still hanging on the back of my bedroom door at my parents’ house with the tags on it.

At some point during the process of applying and reading job descriptions of the position I thought I wanted to end up in, I realized that it wasn’t at all what I thought it was, so I gave up. I got a shitty retail job and quit that to move to Jersey with the woman I (stupidly) thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I ended up in the restaurant industry—which, if we’re being honest, is soul-crushing.

So there I was, heartbroken, angry, and alone, working in a restaurant at the Jersey Shore in the dead of winter.

Creeping into my consciousness was the thought that there was nothing left for me in this place now that she was suddenly gone and marrying her ex on the west coast. (Still bitter. But that’s a different story for a different day.) It was then that Kelly tweeted that she wanted a creative counterpart to help revive Sick Lit Magazine. I sent a DM, and now here I am.

I strongly believe in the mission of SLM. Back in 2015 when my job applications were going ignored and my email inbox was piling up with rejections from literary magazines, I sent what I believed to be the best piece of flash fiction I’d ever written to SLM. It was my last hope. And for the first time, I was published, and I had something to be proud of. Now I get the chance to be that last glimmer of hope for another talented writer out there. I’m ecstatic to be able to keep the dream alive. Not only for great writers disillusioned by rejection, but for myself. I have a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

I can’t wait to work with Kelly and all of you to bring Sick Lit Magazine to its full potential.

 

Nikki rae Spano

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Listen up, Bitches: It’s 2018! New Writing Prompts, Submissions Questions Answered, and More…- Editor-in-Chief Kelly Fitzharris Faulk

Transport me. Make me believe.

Prompt # 1 (Running for the month of February): Write a story in which five characters (it doesn’t have to be exactly five) are trapped in a house or a building because of an emergency, such as a severe winter storm.

*Any submissions sent for this prompt must have TRAPPED in the subject line.*

Prompt # 2 (Running for the month of March):  Write a story that begins with your protagonist knocking on their ex’s front door.

*Any submissions sent for this prompt must have DOOR in the subject line.*

Prompt # 3 (Running for the month of April): Write a story that takes place at a rest stop and captures its limbo-like vibe.

*Any submissions sent for this prompt must have REST STOP in the subject line.*

**NOTE: The ‘FUTURE’ prompt is, at the moment, running sort of open-ended, so for those of you who are still emailing back and forth with me about your future piece, please note that this new prompt schedule will not affect your work. **

 

The first addition to the editorial team here at SLM is…drum roll…Nikki rae Spano. She’s coming onto the team as my Assistant Editor. She’s a brilliant writer, collaborator, and is dedicated to keeping SLM’s mission alive and reaching even more writers that might be stifled or have yet to find us. Look out for her editorial note, which is in the works.

We have a new submissions email! – the other one must be destroyed. Its backlog is slowly overwhelming and eroding the OCD portion in my brain. Email ALL submissions, submissions questions, and everything else to slmsubmissions@gmail.com.

You may address your submissions to me or to Nikki. As far as all of the submissions currently stuck in my personal inbox, if you’ve yet to hear back from me, re-send it to he new address. If we’ve been in touch, hang tight. My children bring regularly bring home severe colds and/or flus, and I am suffering from one of those two things at the moment. (Great, right? Just what I need.)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t joking. The old submissions email has been accidentally, maliciously destroyed by yours truly.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s meant that I’ve had more time to spend with submissions, writers, photographers, and artists on how the post will look on the web site, and it has given me more time to tailor it and whatnot.

What I’m about to say in this next paragraph is REALLY IMPORTANT: IF you have submitted to the future theme SPECIFICALLY and have not heard one peep back from me yet, email me again, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! The other day I accidentally archived things that weren’t meant to be archived. And, sometimes gmail likes to bury submissions in the spam / junk folder. I’m serious about this. I’m not asking you to pester me to the point of harassment, because I can and will probably lose my shit. But an email or 2 checking in on your future submission IF you’ve not heard anything would actually be extremely appreciated by me.

The only thing holding you back is YOU. I don’t care how cliche that is. I genuinely mean it. If your work needs guidance or help to make it shine, let’s work on it together. But don’t give up. If you write: if you derive joy, happiness, contentment, catharsis, or anything that’s slightly above a neutral emotion, then you’re a writer and you matter. You are apart of a community and you do belong.

NOW is the time to polish your work — every piece I publish from January the 1st up until right before the deadline is ELIGIBLE TO BE NOMINATED by me, by SLM, for the Pushcart Prize. My entries, which are limited to 6 per year, have to be postmarked by, at the very latest, December the 1st. The window for me to get them SLM’s entries for 2018 is from October the 1st until December the 1st and I take these nominations seriously.

I have a renewed sense of hope, excitement and passion for this magazine. And I hope you do too.

A few things: Heads up! There might (this means there will inevitably be) be more than a few template / layout changes to the site before I find one I like. Switching it up helps me to find the best way to reach you guys and to find out what sort of template you find the most aesthetically pleasing while being easily navigable.

We hope that the prompts inspire and/or excite you, that the content and the vibe here at SLM becomes infectious, and that you guys are looking forward to getting to work. Because we’re sure as hell excited. Here’s to moving forward.

Peace out, 

Keep doing what you do, 

zzzyy

Over and out, 

Kelly Fitzharris Faulk, Editor-in-Chief

Among the Stars – by Mary Johnson

Among the Stars

by Mary Johnson

 

The first thing she saw was a ceiling. It was gray, so pale it was almost white, and seemed to be made of metal. There was something hard under her body, and a light blue sheet over her. She heard the hiss and murmur of machinery.

She blinked and swallowed. Her mouth felt dry; so did her eyes. She swallowed again and said, “Arnold? Is anyone there?”

A tall man smiled down at her. “Doctor Singh? She’s awake,” he said.

Then a woman’s face appeared, dark like the man’s. Both wore blue caps and coats. “How are you feeling?” the woman asked. She had a lilting accent.

“Fine. I’m fine. Is Arnold there?”

“Who is Arnold?”

“My husband. Arnold’s my husband. Am I out of surgery?”

“No.” The woman’s voice was soothing. “You did not need surgery. We simply gave you an injection.”

“I don’t remember. I don’t remember that. The doctor said it was inoperable, but Arnold said there had to be something they could do. Where is he?”

The doctor hushed her. “Don’t think of these things. You’re doing very well. Are you hungry?”

She thought for a moment. Then she shook her head. “No, but I’m thirsty. May I have some water?”

“Of course.” The man appeared with a small clear cup. “Can you sit up? We’ll raise the bed.”

An engine hummed, and the bed pushed at her till she was half-sitting. The man held the cup to her lips, and she drank eagerly. “Would you like more?” he murmured, and she nodded. Another cup appeared at her lips, and she swallowed the water. “Good. You’re still not hungry?”

“No.”

“Good. The doctor says you should not try to eat. We will try that when you wake again.”

“Where’s Arnold?” she mumbled.

Where am I, she thought. But there was no answer.

 

#

The dark man and woman were standing next to her when she woke again. “Let’s get you on your feet,” the woman said. “I’d like to see you walk a bit.” Once again, she heard a faint hum from the bed, and found herself sitting up. “We’ll help you. We don’t expect you to take more than a few steps. Then you can rest. Can you swing your legs over the side of the bed?”

She tried to obey. Her legs felt like sticks of wood, as though they didn’t belong to her, but she was able to move them. The man stood at her side to support her. She stood. “It feels like pins and needles!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know if I can move.”

“The pins and needles are a good sign. We’ve been moving your legs for you since we treated your tumor, but that shows you can feel them. There is no nerve damage. Can you walk?”

Obediently, she slid one foot forward, then the other. “Try to lift them,” the man murmured in her ear, so she tried. She made it to the door of her room. By then, her legs felt heavy and she was strangely breathless.

“Good! That’s very good. We are going to continue with passive therapy twice a day, and we want you to keep walking, a little further each time.”

“I’m exhausted,” she said. “Where’s Arnold?”

“You asked that before. You said Arnold was your husband. Can you remember his full name?”

“Of course! Arnold Heller. Haven’t you heard of him?”

The doctor shook her head. “I’m afraid not. But we will certainly search for information about your family. The more you can tell us, the easier that will be. Please don’t worry. Try to rest now.”

#

How could she rest when she was so worried? But her body seemed very weak and tired, and when she wasn’t lying on her back, she was doing some sort of physical therapy or test. Always, there were the metal walls and floor and ceiling. Always, there was the faint hum of machinery. Always, there were questions, hers and theirs. Sometimes the questions were spoken.

“Your husband was Arnold Heller? Did you have other family?”

Did? What was with the past tense?

“Yes, of course! We have children. Arnie’s three, and Michelle is just one. Where are they? Where are my babies?”

“We’ll try to find out,” the nurse said, his voice soothing. “You’ve been asleep for a very long time.”

“How long?”

“We’ll try to find out,” he repeated. She stared. Why did he look so solemn, and why couldn’t he just answer her? But before she could ask another question, he asked, “Can you remember your name?”

“My name? P-Pearl. Pearl Heller.”

“Did you have a different name before you married?”

At that, she hesitated. All the other questions had been easy: she was American, she was twenty-eight years old, her parents were dead, and her husband was Arnold Heller. She’d been a daughter, a wife, a mother. But who was she? After a long moment, it came to her. “Fletcher. Pearl Fletcher. How long have I been asleep?”

“We don’t know yet. We’ll try to find out.”

 

#

It was strange that she was so tired if she’d been asleep for days or months. The next time they took her for a walk, she managed to ask some questions. “Where am I?” she said to the nurse walking beside her. “And what’s your name again?”

The nurse looked grave. “My name is Marcus Santos. You can just call me Marcus.”

“Thank you. But where am I?”

“Dr. Singh and the captain will talk to you when we get back to sick bay.”

“Sick bay? Are we on a ship?”

Marcus nodded. “We are aboard the Scholastica. We’re a ship of exploration and discovery.”

“Oh.” It must be a very big ship, Pearl thought. It traveled so smoothly; she couldn’t feel the ocean waves at all. “When will we come to land?” she asked.

“Not till next month. Here we are.”

#

The doctor was waiting for her, along with a tall woman with broad shoulders, full lips, and tightly curling hair cut close to her head.  She was brown-skinned, like Marcus and Dr. Singh, but then, Pearl had noticed that most of the people on this ship were various shades of brown. The strange woman clearly wasn’t a doctor or nurse, because she wasn’t wearing blue. Instead, she had a lovely red scarf draped over one shoulder.

Both women stood up when Pearl came into the room. “Ms. Heller,” the doctor said, “can you tell me what year it is?”

“Of course. It’s 2017.”

“I see. Will you sit down, please?”

Pearl obeyed, and the doctor poured water into a glass, staring at her gravely. The tall woman said, “I am Captain Sands.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Pearl whispered, and held out her hand. After a pause, the captain took it and shook it. Then she licked her lips and continued, “The year is 2517. You are aboard a spaceship. We discovered you floating in space in a cryogenic capsule.”

“In a–what?”

“A cryogenic capsule. You had been frozen.”

“No. Oh, no,” Pearl said, shaking her head. “I was going in for surgery. The first two doctors said the tumor was inoperable, but Arnold said we’d get a third opinion. He said,” her voice dropped. “He said he wouldn’t let me die.”

“Did he?” The captain had a deep, warm voice, like velvet. “Well, you’re alive now.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know that.” Pearl could hear her own voice rising. “If I’m alive, where’s my husband? Where are my children?”

The doctor stood and pressed the glass of water into Pearl’s hand, saying, “Drink this, please.”

In the past year, Pearl had grown accustomed to obeying doctors. Before that, she’d done what Arnold had wanted, and before that, she’d obeyed her parents. She took the glass and sipped from it. Her hand was shaking, and the water tasted a little too sweet. “Is there something in here?” she asked.

“Just a mild relaxant. Please drink it.”

“No.” To her own shock, Pearl snapped her wrist so the water went splashing out of the glass toward the doctor. But she had already taken a couple of swallows. She could feel her muscles softening. She sobbed aloud, just once, and asked again, “Where are my children? Where are they?” The glass slipped out of her hand and bounced on the carpeted floor. Then she saw the captain shaking her head at the doctor. Next came a soft hissing sound and darkness.

 

#

Both women were by her bedside when she woke again, along with the nurse, Marcus. “Good morning, Pearl. Do you remember our last conversation?” the captain said.

“Yes.” Pearl turned her head away and closed her eyes.

“Can you sit up?” This time it was the doctor who spoke.

“I have a headache,” Pearl mumbled, but she sat.

“I think we may have some good news for you,” the captain said. “We began researching your family history, and it seems your son and daughter both married. You have descendants on Mars colony.”

“Mars. Why should they care about me?” Pearl’s voice was flat. What she meant, but couldn’t manage to say, was, why should I care about them?  “They don’t know me. They don’t know my children. Everyone I ever knew is dead.”

“We can get in touch with them, if you like. Please think about it.”

 

#

She did think about it in the days that followed, while she worked at her physical therapy and all the other tasks the doctor wanted her to do. The only thought that came to her, over and over, was the one she’d spoken aloud: her children were dead. She could not stop mourning them.

Little Arnie had just entered the nuts-about-dinosaurs stage. He loved going to the natural history museum and pointing out everything there to anyone who would listen. She could hear him saying, “Look, Mommy, that’s a ‘ceraptops. He used to fight with T Rex!”

“Who won?”

“T Rex! He ate him!”

Pearl smiled. “Are you sure? He doesn’t look like anyone ate him.”

“Yes! T Rex always wins.”

“So who’s your favorite dino?”

“T Rex! Oh, look, that’s a terasaur!” He was too little to pronounce all the difficult names, but he already knew everything about dinosaurs. He’d tell the whole museum all about the lives and habits of the flying monsters, while Michelle gurgled and waved at her brother from her stroller. Such bright, happy children.

And now they were dead. Dead and buried and turned to dust. She would never see them again.

#

She kept thinking of Arnold, too. He’d loved science fiction. On the shows he watched, starship crews had uniforms and ranks and strict schedules. The Scholastica wasn’t like that. It was like nothing she’d ever imagined. Here, people moved to a soft sound of bells, and there were snatches of song and laughter.  Of course, the doctors and nurses had their blue coats and caps, but otherwise, there was no uniform, except that everyone wore black shirts and skirts or leggings or trousers. They had soft black shoes or slippers or sandals; some went barefoot. The only mark of rank was a long, bright square of cloth. Some were red, others yellow or green or blue. People wore their scarves differently, tied at the neck and flowing down their backs, or over one shoulder, or round their waists as a sort of skirt. They had one knot, or two, or three. Marcus, like some of the men and women, wore his scarf as a sort of sarong, tied round his chest and falling to just above his knees.

He took her on a tour of the ship when she was strong enough, showing her the library, the gymnasiums, the cafes. “And this is my favorite place. Our oxygen well. It’s right in the center of the ship, and anyone can come here when they’re off duty,” he said, walking through a double door.  Pearl gasped as the warmth and humidity hit her. She was in a greenhouse. A palm tree rose toward the ceiling in front of her, and there were bright purple and yellow flowers everywhere. It was lovely, she had to admit, but she didn’t feel drawn to go back when she was pronounced fit to walk around the ship on her own.

No, the place that drew her was a common room with a view of the stars. You could stare out the small, oval portholes and watch them streaming by in streaks of red and blue and white and gold. The stars reminded her of her husband.

He’d been more than twenty years older than she, and he sometimes talked about his death. “I’ll be up there,” he’d told her, peering through his telescope. “Take a look! I’ll be right up there among the stars and you’ll always be able to see me.” She smiled, because that was what he seemed to want her to do. “I’ll look for you,” she promised. “But that won’t be for a long time. Not for years and years. I don’t want you to die!”

“Hey, sweetie,” Arnold hugged her from behind. “I bet, years from now, we won’t have to die. Just think of the progress we’ve made in the past century alone! If I get cancer or something like that, I’m going to get frozen. They can thaw me out when they have a cure.”

“Ugh!” Pearl said. She couldn’t see that being frozen was any better than being dead. “Don’t talk like that! You’re not going to get cancer.”

She’d been right. Arnold hadn’t gotten cancer. She had. Inoperable cancer of the brain. And she’d been frozen. Had he done it, too? Was his body, still encased in ice, floating somewhere out there among the stars?

It might be. She remembered now how they’d gone to his lawyer together and signed living wills. It seemed like a good thing at the time. “This way we’ll be able to decide for each other if either of us gets very sick.”

“But you won’t get very sick. I know I won’t! Not any time soon,” Pearl said.

“Sure, of course not! You’re young and healthy, and I try to be. But you never know. Remember, sweetheart, if I ever get too sick for them to operate, I want the cryogenic option. I’ve written it down. I want that for you, as well. We can both live in a glorious future!”

“What does that mean?” Pearl thought their future, watching the children grow up, would be glorious enough. She didn’t want more. But Arnold was a dreamer. That was one of the things she loved him for, after all. So she didn’t argue very hard. She signed the form.

Now she wished she hadn’t. It just wasn’t right, this cryogenic option.

 

#

That was what she thought of when she stood at the porthole in the center of the common room and stared at the rainbows of stars flashing by. She was in outer space, far beyond her own solar system, and her babies were dead. Her husband was dead. Why was she alive? She spoke the thought aloud: “I should be dead.”

A voice spoke behind her. “Your life is a gift. You may not throw that gift back in the giver’s face.”

Pearl jumped. She’d thought herself alone, but the doctor had come up behind her. Pearl felt herself shaking. Was she afraid? No, she realized with something like surprise. She was angry. “I didn’t want this!” she shouted. “No one asked me if I wanted this! You should have left me alone!” Pearl swung an awkward slap at the doctor, who caught her wrist and held it. “You should have let me die! I’d rather be dead! Let me go!”

Doctor Singh dropped her wrist. “I must defend myself if you hit me again. It’s all right to be angry. I understand. But don’t hit me again.”

“I’m sorry,” Pearl gasped. “But I–”

“You just want to hit someone? Who are you angry with?”

“I–you! I’m angry at you! You should have left me alone!”

“All right. I understand,” the doctor repeated.

“No. You don’t. You can’t. You can’t possibly understand. Leave me alone!” Pearl whirled away and stared out the porthole. The stars blurred and streaked into swirling lines. She heard quiet footsteps, then silence. Then the sound of the door sliding open. “Miz. Fletcher? May I speak with you?”

Pearl kept staring out at the stars. “It’s Mrs. I’m Mrs. Heller.”

“I apologize. We keep our own names when we marry.”

“We don’t. I didn’t. What do you want?” Pearl turned. The captain stood just within the doorway, staring at her gravely.

“Doctor Singh is deeply concerned about you,” the captain said.

“Well, good for her. Let her be concerned. She should have left me alone. Why didn’t you leave me alone?”

The captain took a deep breath and crossed the room to stand next to Pearl. For a moment, she looked out at the stars. Without turning, she said, “Let me try to explain. We are a ship of exploration and discovery. When we saw your capsule, we didn’t know what it was. We brought it aboard to find out. When we saw it contained a human being, and that she might be alive, we naturally tried to rescue you. Life is a great gift; it’s precious. We are bound to try to serve life. Had we known your wishes, we might have left you alone. But we didn’t know.”

“Okay. You do now. Can’t that doctor give me an injection or something?”

“Let me be clear. You are asking if Doctor Singh will kill you.” Pearl was silent. She hadn’t actually thought of it that way. “She is a doctor. She’s taken the Hippocratic oath. She will not kill a healthy patient,” the captain said.

“But my babies are dead. They’re dead! Why am I alive?” To her shock, Pearl began wailing aloud. Ugly, loud sobs came up from her gut and shook her whole body. Captain Sands embraced her, and Pearl clung to the older woman as she might have clung to a tree in a flood. The captain stroked her the way she used to stroke little Arnie after one of his tantrums when he was overtired. Pearl sobbed and sobbed.

“That’s good. That’s good. Let it all out,” the captain said. Pearl leaned on the taller woman. She wasn’t sure she could stand without the captain’s support. “It’s hard. I know. It’s hard to lose someone you love,” the captain whispered in her ear.

At last, Pearl managed to stand on her own. She wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. “I’m sorry. I got your beautiful scarf all wet.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. It’s only a scarf. You’re a human being. You good now?”

“I think so.” Pearl wasn’t sure; she wasn’t sure what “good” even meant in this new world. After a moment, she asked the captain, “Do you have children?”

“Two. A boy and a girl, like you. But they’re grown now, off studying. My boy wants to be a monk, but I think he’ll change his mind. I can’t see him as a monk.” The captain looked straight into Pearl’s face. “I know it’s the wrong way round. It’s hard. But we all lose our children someday.”

“But–”

“When you went in for surgery, didn’t you think you might die?”

Pearl paused. “Yes. I did. I was afraid I might never see Arnie and Michelle again. But that’s different.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. Yes, it is.”

“Okay. I can see that. I’d hate it if my son and daughter died before me.” The captain sighed. For a moment, she stood next to Pearl, staring out at the stars.  Then she said, “We’ll be entering the solar system within seven more solar days. We were on our way back when we found you. We’ll be stopping at Europa colony and Mars colony before we get to Terra. Have you thought about what you’ll do?”

Pearl shook her head.

“All right,” Captain Sands said, and laid one hand on Pearl’s shoulder. “You’ve got time. One thing I wanted to tell you. You’ve got a great-great-great-great granddaughter on Mars colony. She’s a grandmother now herself, and she’d love to see you. Her name is Michelle.”

“Michelle,” Pearl said softly. And then she was in tears again, but this time they were silent and peaceful tears. She let them run down her face and stared out at the kaleidoscope of stars. A bell chimed. When she dried her eyes and turned round, the captain was gone.

 

 

 

 

 

#

Nine days later, the Scholastica stopped at Europa colony. Pearl had been thinking hard. What would it be like if she were told she could meet an ancestor of hers from the 16th century? What on earth could they even talk about? “I don’t know what I can do for her,” she murmured aloud. She was in the sickbay, being checked after more physical therapy.

“Who?” Dr. Singh asked.

“This woman, Michelle. She doesn’t know me.”

“But she wants to know you. Isn’t that right?”

But what do I want? Pearl thought to herself. All her life, she’d done what other people had expected of her. Now she was alone. What did she want?

“You said you didn’t know what you could do for Michelle Forrest. Maybe you don’t have to do anything for her. Maybe she wants to do something for you.”

Pearl didn’t answer. “Right. You’re doing very well; pulse and blood pressure normal. You’re free to go,” Dr. Singh said, and Pearl slid off the examining table and walked back to the common room with the view of the stars.

Mars colony. She thought of that when she looked out the central porthole. She thought of the doctor’s words. Wouldn’t she have enjoyed showing her life to her 16th century ancestress? TV and handheld telephones, hot showers, the children playing on their iPads, cars and trains and everything else that was so familiar to her, but that would have seemed like marvels to a woman from five hundred years in the past? She was sure she would.

But who was she, Pearl Fletcher Heller? She’d always defined herself by her family. She had been a daughter, a wife, a mother. Now she was none of those things. Who was she, herself?

She walked back to the infirmary and said to Dr. Singh, “May I speak to the captain, please?”

“Yes, of course.” The doctor pressed a button. A moment later, there was a chime, and the door slid open. Captain Sands said, “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes.” Pearl licked her lips, which had gone very dry. After a long pause, she said, “I wondered–I wanted to ask. Do you think my husband could be out there? Floating in space, the way I was?”

“It’s possible.”

“And my children?”

The captain said nothing, merely shaking her head.

“I think I want–I want to know. To find out what happened to them.”

“We can help you look for records. There would be documents.”

Pearl sighed. “Okay. Good. I’d like to do that. But first, I think I’d like to go to Mars.”

“You’re quite sure?” The captain looked at her gravely.

“Of course not. How can I be sure of anything? But this woman wants to meet me. That’s a place to start, isn’t it?”

Captain Sands inclined her head. “Yes. I think you’re right. It is a place to start.

#

The captain, Dr. Singh, and Marcus all embraced her when she prepared to board the shuttle for Mars colony. “We’ll be back here in a month’s time,” Captain Sands told her. “If you wish, you can board again and journey with us. You will always have a home here.”

“Thank you,”

“I will do what I can to find out what happened to your husband and children. Michelle Forrest can also help you research. “Doctor Singh added, “We will see you soon. Be patient with yourself. You’ve been very brave.”

Brave? She’d never thought of herself as brave.

“Vaya con Dios,” Marcus said when he hugged her. Go with God. She wasn’t so sure she believed in God, but she appreciated his good wishes. For the first time, it occurred to her that he was handsome and kind. Would he miss her when she got on that shuttle?

She would miss him. She’d miss all of them. The Scholastica had begun to feel like home, but she wasn’t actually part of the crew. She needed to find a life. Maybe she would find it on Mars colony.

She squared her shoulders and walked through the hatchway into the shuttle.

# # #

I are a writer

Mary Johnson will always be grateful to her family for nurturing her love of story. Her father read her Lewis and Tolkien, her mother introduced her to the Greek myths, and she played endless games of make-believe with her sisters and brother. Her sisters are still among her first and best readers. Mary’s been published in “Mythic Circle”, in the “Westchester Review”, and now, for the second time, in Sick Lit.  You can find some of her other writing at her author page, where she welcomes comments and discussion. Visit her online at http://mjohnsonstories.net/, or at http://maryj59.wordpress.com/

Imagined Futures – Photography from Jason Jackson

ghostslevelsprotestwallmangatewayfigure

These images come from an ongoing project called Imagined Futures.
I’m interested in how the act of photographing something can remove it from its context, allowing it to become re-imagined as a scene from a dystopia. So, a mannequin in a Berlin shop window, an anti-Trump protest, a car-park, people on the street at night, and graffiti in a Bristol back lane and the gate to my local park all somehow become part of possible, imagined future worlds.
# # #
P1050430
 Jason Jackson takes photographs. He also writes short fiction and poetry. In a busy life he hopes to get better at all three.

SLM Interviews The Writer, Amanda McLeod – (Heads up – She’s Savvy and A Damn Good Writer)

Interview with the Writer 

Sick Lit Magazine: How long have you known , deep down, that you’re a writer?

Amanda McLeod: I always loved to read, and could read well before I started school. English was always my favourite subject and right through school I just adored reading and writing.
I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English, but was just a little too scared at that point to try and make a career of it. Later, I tried again – starting an editing course – but I had to move in the middle of the course, and external study wasn’t available so I had to withdraw. After my first child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I started studying child development and education so I could be the best advocate for him that I could be. This set me on another path for a while, supporting and advocating for children with additional needs. As I studied though, I found a passion for children’s literacy. The way young children are spellbound by books, and how beneficial reading is for children, really resonated with me. I studied writing children’s picture books – they’re much more complex and nuanced than they seem on the surface!- and have written a number of manuscripts. This led me to question why I shouldn’t keep going, and write the kind of literary fiction I loved so much in school (and still do, to this day). I sent out two pieces. One of them was rejected pretty quickly, which was really deflating. But I read it over again and I knew it was good. I believed in it. I just had to find it the right home – it needed someone who wouldn’t shy away from the grittiness of it. And that’s when I heard about an editor named Kelly, who ran a magazine called Sick Lit, which published material others would shy away from. I read some Sick Lit content and it felt like it might fit. Turns out, it did. The feedback I got from Sick Lit staff made me feel like I could back myself. So I dove in, and started writing and submitting in earnest. Recently I’ve had an opportunity to exercise my journalistic skills, which has been both challenging and enjoyable. I’ve ended up coming full circle, back to the reading and writing I’ve loved for so long – it just took me a while to get here.
SLM:  What inspires you as a writer?
AM: A lot of my work stems from asking questions like ‘what if…’ and ‘what about…’. These flights of fancy can take me in unexpected directions. 
The piece ‘Remains’ is a great example. When I first read your prompt, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I haven’t written or read very much science fiction. But I let the concept of ‘future’ sit there in my mind and incubate for a while. What might the future be like? It depends who you ask. I pondered today’s forward thinkers. People are planning for the colonisation of Mars. Space flight is coming closer to being a reality for everyday people. People will soon be leaving Earth, many permanently. Plenty of people have speculated about how intergalactic travel might look in the future. I started wondering, ‘what about everything that gets left behind?’ If in the future (and this is becoming increasingly likely) Earth can no longer support humanity, what might be left? Life almost always finds a way. If all the humans upped and left the planet, how might life change? 
And what if something, or someone got left behind? What if someone refused to go? How might it feel to wake up and find that the universe had moved on without you? Those were the seeds of thought from which ‘Remains’ grew.
SLM:  Tell me one thing that scares you and excites you all at the same time.
AM: Sharing my work with the world! It’s exciting to think that others might read my words and engage in deep thought or lively discussion as a result, as I have with the words of so many others. But it’s also terrifying to take something you’ve worked so hard to create, and share it with strangers. 
SLM: Name one of the WORST experiences you’ve had as an up-and-coming writer; I.e., submission disasters, strong personalities, etc.
AM: I’ve been focusing really hard this year on paring back. For a long time I was multitasking to the point of ridiculousness, and it was draining. I started really cutting back on everything – stuff, engagements, responsibilities – so I could dig deep and make real, substantial time for the things in life that truly bring me joy. And I really notice it now when that overwhelm starts to creep back in – because I start making really careless errors. The worst was a competition entry I sent, rushing to beat the deadline when I decided what I’d written was good enough to enter, and promptly submitting the wrong file because I was trying to balance too many tasks at once.
SLM:  Favorite book. Or books. And go!
AM: Take a seat, we could be here a while… I have a beautiful illustrated collection of Jane Austen’s work that my husband tracked down for me. I had a copy of Bryce Courtenay’s ‘The Power Of One’ that I read and read until it fell apart, and each individual page was loose inside the cover. I have a book by Norma Johnston called ‘The Potter’s Wheel’ that I have dragged to every house I’ve ever lived in – it resonated with me when I was younger and I’ve kept it with me ever since. More recently, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood really got me thinking and sparked a lot of intense conversations, which is something I believe books should do. And a marvellous book called ‘All Cats Have Aspergers’ by Kathy Hoopmann holds a special place in my heart. 
SLM: Is there a novel in the works for Amanda McLeod? If so, tell us about it. And then send it to me so I can mark it up and encourage the hell out of you!
AM: There is a novel! It’s in the super early stages of development. I’ve written about three chapters. I’ve got it planned out, but structuring it will be challenging – the protagonist is unravelling a family secret that only came to light after her mother’s death. There are two people who know the whole truth, and one has just passed away. I need to make sure that it peels like an onion, and as the layers come away, new meaning to old events becomes clear. I’d be honoured for you to read it Kelly, when I get more of it written! There are also a number of children’s picture book manuscripts I’m working on, and a series for early readers. Children who love books grow into adults who love books and sparking that passion for literacy early is something I really feel strongly about and want to be a part of.
SLM: I got over 200 rejections before my book was finally published in 2016. I still take rejection to heart and sometimes react very poorly. How do you deal?
AM: Nothing rips the base out of your gut like a rejection, does it? The disappointment still stings me every time. Depending on the situation, I think I react differently. If it’s a straight up ‘no thanks’ and nothing else, I go back over my list and remember all the pieces I had published that were initially rejected. Just because they weren’t right for one publication, doesn’t mean they won’t be great for another one. I cast a critical eye over my work again – have I missed something? – and then just keep looking for the right home. If I get feedback with the rejection, I look at it as an opportunity to improve it, and hone my skills. Another great consolation is to look at acceptance rates. A lot of them are really low – I figure a 5% acceptance rate means 19 rejections for every acceptance. And finally, I tell myself that the sting is because of how much I value my work. 
# # #
Amanda McLeod Headshot
Amanda McLeod is a writer and artist, currently based on the east coast of Australia. Her fiction has appeared in Sick Lit Magazine, The Scarlet Leaf Review, OJAL: Open Journal Of Arts And Letters, and elsewhere. She enjoys good coffee, rainy nights, being outside, and almost anything to do with cheese. Her plans for the future include finishing her novel and publishing a children’s book.

Is SLM Back? What’s the Deal Here? Submissions UPDATES. – Editor-in-Chief, Kelly Fitzharris Faulk

I recently (today, actually) got a submission to our FUTURE writing prompt from SLM regular, Don Tassone; and it brightened up my entire weekend the minute it landed in my inbox.

So, that being said, let me address a few of your comments, questions, and concerns on a broader scale for you.

  1. Is SLM back? 

Yes. And no. I have discarded the format I used while Melissa and Nicole worked for me. I am going back to small scale submissions sent to me at kelly.fitzharris@gmail.com and I no longer can stomach checking sicklitsubmissions@gmail.com because, as I’ve previously told you guys, I’m back running SLM solo once again, and it’s a beast. I had to delist the magazine from Duotrope just to try and cut some of the submissions to a workable load for one person.

I’ve also scratched the previous theme schedule in favor of the new writing prompt. It’s so specific that I don’t think I’m going to get any simultaneous submissions or withdrawals or anything.

Any emails that address previous submissions, will be, unfortunately, discarded for my health and sanity. Sorry not sorry, this is the new SLM.  In order to truly, truly move forward I have to keep my head up and stop looking behind me.

 2. What’s with the themes? 

Okay. I addressed this in Question number 1, but I will address it again. The old theme schedule that I’d proposed before I completely lost it while working alone and threatened to close up shop altogether is GONE. Forget it, scrap it, I’m sorry.

I can’t run the magazine solo like I did while I had interns, senior editors, assistant editors and junior editors.

It’s a different animal.

Bear with me.

3. Okay. I’ve submitted my work to the FUTURE writing prompt but still haven’t heard back. What gives? 

I’m in the woes of my first trimester, so, again, bear with me as I traverse this shaky terrain. I’m hopelessly listless most days, too nauseous to function, taking two naps a day as the baby growing inside me triples in size in three weeks’ time.

At 33, my body is going through a whole lot of change and leaving me tired and groggy.

This doesn’t mean that I’m not receiving your submissions. If you’re sending crap to sicklitsubmissions@gmail.com, then, no, I’m not getting it and I don’t really care. I cannot, for the life of me, manage two emails for one magazine.

Part of the reason you guys don’t hear back from me immediately is because I don’t have an automated response system; I don’t believe in that. I believe in a tailored, individualized response for each submission, as each submission is inherently unique.

4. What’s this new direction about for SLM? What can I expect?

Well, I’ve been through a lot in the last year or so. A lot. I’ve changed a lot, as has my day to day existence. I’m remarried, pregnant, and also split custody of my beautiful children from my previous marriage. Only seeing my kids 50% of the time is excruciating. Watching them walk out my front door every Sunday makes me die inside a little as I see my five year-old son’s blonde head bob down the sidewalk and as I see my nine year-old (who’s nearly as tall as me) listlessly wave goodbye to me and smile at me with her hormonal, sideways grin that says, Don’t worry. Stop being sad. We’re fine. 

But are they fine? What has the last year done to them?

I’ll never know. My parents are still together. This isn’t to say that divorce is a bad thing. Absolutely not. I would have never met my current husband, whom I love and cherish more than I ever knew myself capable of loving and cherishing another human being. But that’s not to say that just because I’ve found someone with whom I’m sublimely happy that it erases all the bad that was done to me and that it makes my children whole again. My kids are still bright lights on this earth who make me so, so happy; but they have also built up walls that sometimes I can’t even scale.

So, what does that mean for the magazine?

It means patience. It means trust in me that I have every writer’s best interest at heart. SLM is not, nor will it ever be, easy access. I expect every one of you to work for what you want in terms of your writing capabilities. I can not peddle writing that I deem to be sub-par or lacking in creativity just because you’ve written me a flashy submission.

When I say ‘Bringing the Real,’ I mean exactly that. Stop putting on a stupid show in your submission email and copying a literary agent’s template as you write to me. I can spot that stuff a million miles away and, well, being that I’m in the early stages of pregnancy, it sort of makes my gag reflex go a little crazy.

If you think that copying from a template will get you far in this magazine, you are wrong.

I’d rather read a spirited piece of work that needs some semicolons and paragraph breaks than a watered down, over-edited, overworked piece of prose that makes me fall asleep multiple times before I even reach its middle.

If you like anything you’ve read in my editorial note thus far, then this might be the home for your writing. Drop me a line at kelly.fitzharris@gmail.com – come shake up the literary horizon with me.

Over and out, 

my beautiful readers and writers 😉 

zzzyy

Kelly Fitzharris Faulk, Editor-in-Chief