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

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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/

The Leaf – by Susan Richardson

 

The Leaf

 

 

She woke up pissed off, with a pounding headache and the smell of disaster lingering in the air. It was her least favorite thing, waking up; it was just one kind of darkness leading to another, obscure shapes hiding in the shadows.  She kept her eyes closed as long as possible, trying to fall back to sleep, but it was useless.  She sat up, reached for her white cane and opened her eyes. The light was so bright, she recoiled from the assault of it.

 

She could barely breathe. What was happening? She hadn’t seen anything in years. Her first thought was that she must be dead; she had a way of veering toward the darker conclusions, and didn’t people say that you see a white light when you die? She held up her hand to block the glare, just in case it had actually been real, and opened her eyes again. She could see the details of her hand, light coursing between her fingers. Curiously, she touched her palm, fascinated by how smooth it looked.  She didn’t feel dead.

 

She tried to sit up, but her head was heavy and her limbs felt dormant.  Perhaps she was still asleep, and this was all just a dream.  She remembered taking a sleeping pill that felt a little different from the other pills in the bottle, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.  She started to panic, mind racing, and jumped to her feet, searching in vain for the pill bottle. She felt her heart slamming against the wall of her chest and knew she was definitely awake. What the hell was going on?

 

She made her way cautiously around the bed and forced herself to pull her eyes away from the floor. The walls were saturated with what she imagined was sunlight, giving an otherworldly glow to the room, golden hues jumping out at her from every surface. She could feel herself starting to relax.  Her joints were loosening and her body felt better than it had in years. Her step was light and her breath easy. It was like she was 30 years old again, instead of her actual 50.  She stood for a moment, taking in the new sensations of color and movement, then turned to explore.

 

The door to her bedroom seemed to glow brighter than anything else in the room, as if it were beckoning her.  She had to see what was on the other side.  She reached the door in three graceful strides, but she couldn’t open it; there was no knob.  She pushed against it with her hands, but it didn’t budge.  She knocked on it lightly, and a glass bowl appeared in front of her, floating in the air; inside the bowl was an emerald green key. She picked it up; it was weightless and pleasantly cool to the touch.  She placed it delicately in the palm of her hand and it transformed into a leaf. She had never seen anything so green. The leaf began to sparkle and hum, as if it were made of something magic, newly forged and waiting for her touch.  She was transfixed, her eyes following an intricately woven map of veins gliding across the surface of the leaf as it melded with the flesh of her hand.

 

A tapping sound, like raindrops against a window, pulled her from her reverie.  She had always loved the rain. She looked up at the door, certain it must be raining on the other side.  The door had changed; the wood had become glass with a bright green leaf etched into the center.  She pressed her palm into the grooves and the glass became rain. With eyes wide open, she stepped through the curtain of crystalline drops.

 

What had been a dry and withering landscape was now lush and bathed in color.  She took it all in with her eyes; hillsides covered in trees with leaves that kissed the sky, and flowers that stood 5 feet tall, bursting with deep violet and red petals.  There were streams with water so clear, she could see the shimmering scales of fish that frolicked in the soft current. She felt what she thought could only be joy and sprang into motion, running through the grass, her bare feet brushed by the velvety blades.  Nothing was familiar, not even her own heart.  It was if she’d been asleep her whole life.

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Susan Richardson is living, writing and going blind in Hollywood. She was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2002 and much of her work focuses on her relationship to the world as a partially sighted woman. In addition to poetry and short-fiction, she writes a blog called “Stories from the Edge of Blindness”.

 

 

 

 

 

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. 
# # #
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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.

Breaking my Silence and my Happy Mask – Kelly Fitzharris Coody, Author

All the Things I’m NOT Supposed to Say – so be it, I’m biting the fucking hand that feeds. – Kelly Fitzharris Coody, Author of Unhinged

 

I won’t and can’t apologize for the minor editing errors that slipped through the literary cracks; not when I look at the whole of the process that was writing, editing, and taking on the responsibility for “professionally editing” my own manuscript, with the help of my longtime friend, Marisela Mitchley. (Despite what was promised to me by my publishers in my contract.)

Yes, I got a damning review over the weekend of my book, Unhinged.

(Psst: please, no need tell me over and over again that “you are going to get these bad reviews, Kelly,” because I KNOW THAT. I have a few things I need to address.)

The “errors” that were called out in said review aren’t actually even grammatical errors – to so confidently call out a writer for “assaulting the English language” and for “possessing bad grammatical skills” warrants a manuscript that is consistently poorly written, by a writer who uses the wrong “your” or “there” and doesn’t understand how commas or semicolons work. Not a few sentences ending in prepositions. Or for the way I used the word “idler.” To say that M.B.Reviewer has grossly exaggerated her assessment of my literary abilities is putting it lightly.

Sitting in my author’s seat is very frustrating; I’m not allowed to defend myself. It comes across as whiny, defensive, and flags me, by proxy, as weak and thin-skinned, along with possessing an inability to take constructive criticism, not to mention it pegging me as difficult to work with, when that could not be further from the truth.

What I consider to be an assault on the English language are words like, “obvs,” “OMG,” and “guyliner” not only existing in pop culture, but being added to the Oxford Dictionary. THAT is an assault.

You may read the review here: Review on Amazon of Unhinged

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ending a sentence with a preposition is “not a grammatical error.” And, according to http://www.dictionary.com/browse/idle, the way I used the word “idler” in the prologue is 100% correct. The statements that this review made about my abilities as a writer are defamatory, unnecessary, and flat out bogus.

A successful constructive critical review might look something like this: Coody’s book provided great literary insight into a different type of protagonist, giving the reader layers to peel back as they discover different aspects of Agnes’s personality and background. While, at times, Agnes is a character I can identify with and root for, there are other times that I feel Agnes is written to be too aggressive, detracting from the main plot and story-line, making the reader side with those around her who are out to get her. But, then, at the same time, is Coody attempting to make an overarching statement about how a protagonist doesn’t always need to be someone we identify with? While a few minor typographical errors made their way into print, they weren’t enough to distract me from the story and the characters. Unhinged is a solid, thrilling, unique book. Although I wasn’t a big fan of the way the book ended, and feel that it could do with a bit of revision, it’s nothing that a second and/or third edition wouldn’t be able to address and/or fix. Overall, Unhinged is one hell of a psychological thriller that will stay with you long after you read it.

Here’s the other part:

I’d love to share a story with you.

No, not a fictitious one; not an anecdotal, humorous holiday tale, either. But I’d like to share with you the ridiculously unprofessional process I endured and underwent with the publishing of my first book, Unhinged.

I was saddled with an editor whom shall remain nameless and gender-less in order to protect their identity. This person broke my book; they made unnecessary changes according to their style and/or taste, added errors and sentences that made no sense with the story, and repeatedly asked me to dumb my book down for the readers.

To be frank, I tried my hardest with the shit I was shoveled and I’m not the least bit sorry that more than a few shitty bits of grammar edged past the editing process and made their way into the final manuscript.

This has been an optimal outcome for me: through dedication and hard work, my friend and I made my book a cohesive, solid manuscript in a short amount of time, after playing clean up with what nameless editor had done to my manuscript. (One example: they changed Rolling Stones to Rolling Stone’s.)

Given this unforgivable lack of knowledge, competency, and professionalism, this editor was “let go” from “their” position at said contracted editing company.

NOW, mind you, I, like my good friend Marisela Mitchley, am not given to brevity. So stay with me.

After “Rookie Editor” soiled my manuscript, I looked over the PDF that was about to be sent to print, “Ready-to-go!” The further I read, the worse it got. Rookie Editor fucking annihilated my book, ADDING IN grammatical errors, changing my correct grammar to incorrect.

Guess what I was given as an alternative to “Rookie Editor?”

NOTHING. A half-hearted, ‘I’ll try,’ from the CEO of the contracted editing company, whose email to me was RIDDLED with typos, which I politely turned down. I was also given the same offer by the men who own the publishing company which published my book. They said the same thing, ‘This isn’t really my area, but I can give it a try.’ 

WHAT THE FUCK? 

At this point in the process, I’d become so jaded and disillusioned with not only the publishing process, but with everyone’s lack of concern and competency who were the supposed “experts” and “professionals” surrounding me, when it came to my book.

So, guess what I did? Guess what I had to do?

Not trusting the two people who freely admitted that they would probably fuck up my book even more, I enlisted the help of an old college friend. We were initially given two weeks, which was extended to about six. the fact that we were able to fix all of the many, many added typos, grammatical problems, and more than a few apostrophe problems, along with editing it the way it should have been done the first time around is nothing short of a miracle.

As for the remark in this review regarding the book’s premise being “not so unique?” This book is based on my life. Yes, I’ve mixed fiction in with it, but the premise is my life. Me. I don’t know how much more unique I could have gotten than that.

I’ll tell you something, though: despite the few “errors” that you feel discredit me as a writer, I am a damn good writer, I am proud of the book, and I have excellent grammar.

(“errors” = they aren’t, by definition, grammatical errors)

I’m not an idiot, guys. Some of you have even told me that you hated thrillers and that’s why you weren’t a big fan of my book–then, two weeks later, I saw that you posted something about how much you love thrillers.

This week has been a hard one for me. Forgive me, but my family has lost two important people; two close, dear, family friends, and it has thrown a crack into our foundation. So, in between the daily sexual harassment I deal with, along with the hypercritical stone-throwing pertaining to my literary merit, I am grieving, and am so, so deeply sad for my friends and their families during this time, along with feeling violated and stepped on for a long time now.

Don’t worry though: I love proving people wrong. I’m actively working on The Undoing.

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

(Just to show you another instance of utter incompetency on my publishers’ part, when they first listed Unhinged on Amazon for sale, they added a hyphen to my name. This is a pseudonym, for God’s sake. I don’t have a hyphenated name, nor have I ever. My legal name is Kelly Marie Coody, because I changed my name after I was married 9 years ago.)

Drum Roll Please…SICK LIT MAGAZINE’S 2017 PUSHCART PRIZE NOMINEES ARE…..

This is the final, official, carved-in-wood, list of Sick Lit Magazine’s 2017 Pushcart Prize Nominees

**Precursor: if you were on this list previously and are now not, I apologize. Works from 2015 are not eligible for entry – and one person has been disqualified for plagiarism.**

The very mention of the two words, Pushcart Prize, makes most literary buffs, writers and readers alike, beam with pride and happiness, while others whisper on in the background. It’s an honor to be nominated – and we, here, at Sick Lit Magazine, are honored to have you as our writers and audience. To be candid, I wish we were allotted more than SIX total nominees per year. It seems like an awfully small amount compared to how many amazing pieces of writing cross my path all year long.

**One more precursor: those that I’ve promised a Pushcart nomination who have continued to send in groundbreaking work to us are being nominated for the prize, but for a different piece of writing. A piece from 2016 – the current calendar year.**

So, take a deep breath.

Exhale.

Sick Lit Magazine’s Official and Final List of Pushcart Prize Nominees for the Current Calendar Year (in Pushcart years, that’s 2017-) are as Follows: 

1. The Tale of the Cabbage Patch – by STEVE CARR

2. Shrink – by DAVID COOK

3. Sexism Doesn’t Exist / Unburying / “That’s so like a girl!” – by PRERNA BAKSHI

4. Atavistic Lipstick / Silversword / Counting / The Chase – (a 100-word story collection) by JEFFREY H TONEY , PhD

5. The Bus / Yellow Dinghy / Muesli / He Buys Me Flowers / Impersonator / The Sea (A Collection of Flash Fiction) – by KATE JONES

6. The Blind Policeman – by TESS WALSH

If  you get a chance, congratulate each and every one of our six nominees for the 2016 / 2017 Pushcart Prize season! This year, I haven’t had the chance to contact each nominee individually before this announcement, so if you’ve contributed to us, I hope you’re reading this.

 

 

Punk and Circumstance – by R. A. Kennedy

Music is very important to many of us.

It can be the difference between a great day and a terrible week. No matter where we are in our lives music speaks to us, it doesn’t judge, it is there for you and it will listen to you if you listen to it. Music helps explain our own feelings when we ourselves cannot put our emotions into words, it shapes us and creates us, and a world without music in any form would be extremely dark.

I think we can all agree that we live in such fractious times, both socially and politically. Whilst there is so much fantastic music out there, there is a large proportion of it that, in my mind, corrupts and twists the art form and that, my dear friends, is the non-music conveyor belt of shows like the X Factor. These television shows shatter dreams and exploit those that quite clearly have the talent and the focus to make great art.

The list of problems with these types of talent shows can be summed up by this line from Rush’s The Spirit of Radio (From the album Permanent Waves) –

“One likes to believe in the freedom of music but the glittering prizes and endless compromises shatters the illusion of integrity.”

Outside the safe confines of Pop, R&B mainstream and the hype that surrounds many of today’s “hottest” acts, the sound of angry guitars can be heard. A rallying cry of sorts. A quiet resistance. A dawn of a new era that is somewhat reminiscent of the late seventies, the rise of Punk and the wave of Indie music that not only spawned some stunning post-punk bands but also established itself as a musical genre.

I’m not talking about just anyone with a guitar and a dream, the vast swathes of Metal bands that are continually breaking new ground, or how Metal is continuing to grow as a genre and a culture. I’m talking about a very thriving alternative rock scene that over the last few years has seen young, guitar driven rock bands that have something to say in the face of today’s social and political enmity.  And whilst alternative rock in all the sub-genres has never gone away, it seems the timing is right for new bands with something to say and who also mean what they say; to be thought-provoking and challenge the perceptions of the world around us.

The present has ties to the past and sometimes those links can be very small but ever so significant.

Listening to bands such as The Clash, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, The Replacements and many others made me think about how much of this music is still relevant. It still means something, against the backdrop of today’s society. Punk and other genres right up to Grunge still mean something.

And the rise of bands such as Slaves (who are nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize) and Savages, with a new album out next year and a recent performance at Banksy’s Dismaland, are showing that the musical resistance is growing strong and shouting back at the status-quo.

By using the world around them, these bands are channeling that into some truly stunning music that nods to past influences but is entirely original and very exciting.

Rock has sent a message to the hearts, minds, and souls- will you answer the rousing call?

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Romeo Kennedy is a Cornish SFF writer and book reviewer. R. A Kennedy’s stories mostly take place in his beloved Kernow. Once described as a “F**cked up Beatrix Potter” as many of his fantasy short stories feature nefarious animal characters.

R. A. blogs at http://sleeplessmusingsofawellgroomedmoustachedman.wordpress.com and is a writer for http://www.garbage-file.com

A Folklore enthusiast, specializing in Cornish Folklore and Mythology, as well as major interests in all things geek from books, comics, film, and television. A lover of most kinds of music and a bassist himself.

He tweets at @RomeoRites