Short Fiction Review: Apex Magazine Issue 121

Apex Magazine is back!

Apex went on what looked like permanent hiatus while editor-in-chief Jason Sizemore dealt with multiple surgeries for serious health issues (see his editorial in this month’s magazine). But he’s thankfully recovered, and after a successful Kickstarter, he’s re-assembled the Apex editing team, and resurrected the magazine!

Issue 121, then, is their first new issue in almost two years. It’s a double issue, as all of them will be from now on, released every two months. You can grab your own copy here

So let’s dive in! (no spoilers, I promise).

Root Rot, by Fargo Tbakh

Jesus, this story.

Reading it is disorienting at first. There’s a good reason for that, for why the narrator’s voice seems jumbled and confused. But as I read, more and more pieces fell into place, until the very last scene broke my heart.

I wish I could write something this powerful. This moving. An inspiration, and a bar to shoot for.

Your Own Undoing, by P H Lee

Second person, represent!

I usually hate stories told in the second person. All those “You”s feel like commands, and I instinctually kick back against those, and out of the story.

Not so in this case. Lee’s story wove a meta fairy tale around me, a story that was itself an illustration of the conflict at its heart.

If it sounds too clever for its own good, don’t be put off. It’s not. It’s a fantastic story, first and foremost. It’s only afterward, when thinking about it, that its clever structure reveals its shape. Just amazing.

Love, That Hungry Thing, by Cassandra Khaw

This one….this one did feel too clever for its own good, for me.

Not in structure, but in the way it leans so far into the modern (well, post-2004) tendency to leave readers out on a limb. Being confused can work — see the first story, above — for a while, but I (being very careful here, as I know not everyone shares my tastes) tend to get very frustrated if there’s no payoff at the end.

And there’s no payoff in this story, for me. In fact, there’s very little action at all, or even dialog.

A lot of beautiful description, though. Evocative words and phrases that promise glittering insight into this future, but then never cohere into a stable image. Nothing falls into place. It’s an exquisitely described place, though.

Mr Death, by Alix E Harrow

My favorite of the bunch.

I don’t want to say too much, lest I give anything away. Let me just say that this is what I wish the movie Soul had been. Read it. You won’t regret it.

The Niddah, by Elana Gomel

A short story about a global pandemic. Yes, really.

Grey Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts, by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

Had an allergic reaction to this one. Something about another story that drops the reader into a confused space, with no explanation, and calls its main environment “The City.”

All I Want for Christmas, by Charles Payseur

Short, powerful flash piece. Made me shudder.

Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

Simply put, a fantastic ghost story. Like a horror film from the 80s updated and put in novel form.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • 3rd person omniscient works only if you stay out of characters’ individual perspectives. Say what happens, and report what they think, but as an outsider
  • Tragedy for a minor character has more impact if we spend some time with them first, however little, to see how they act normally
  • Remember that characters only know what they see, and that can mislead them sometimes. That’s okay. Let them be wrong when they should be wrong, so that when they’re right it’ll feel like triumph.

Patience

Sent the novel out to my first pick agent this weekend. I know it’ll most likely be rejected — it’s my first real stab at a query letter — but I’ve got to start somewhere.

Also got back another rejection of one of the stories I’ve been circulating. I didn’t waste any time worrying about it, though. I picked another market, and sent it right back out.

While waiting for rejections, I’m rewriting one of the stories I wrote last month. The feedback I got on it was positive, but in fixing the problems the reviewers pointed out, I discovered a different story sitting under the one I was writing.

Same characters, same themes, but a different plot.

I have a feeling this version will turn out much better than the first two, but the only way to find out is to write it 🙂

First Novel Done!

It’s done!

Finished the final editing pass for the last few chapters of my first novel early this week.

So now it’s time to build a list of agents to look at, and start querying.

I’ve been going to Publisher’s Marketplace every morning, researching another agent to add to the list. This weekend I’ll pick one, get my query letter in order for them, and send it off.

It’ll feel good to get the book out there. Even if every agent rejects it. True, the rejections will hurt…but there’s no way to get published without getting some.

And, now that the first book’s done, I can turn my attention to the second novel I wrote, and start putting together an editing plan for it. There’s also the short stories I wrote over the last month to edit (one may need a complete rewrite).

So much to do, and thank goodness!

Beyond the Editing Wall

Only four chapters left in the final editing pass for the novel.

Four chapters.

I’ll be done early next week. Thank the gods.

Then it’ll be time to gather a list of agents to send it out to, polish up my query letter, and start emailing the thing out.

It’s been…two years? almost three?…since I started work on it. And soon, very soon, I’ll finally have a finished version to send.

So, what have I learned? What lessons will I apply to the next book?

  • Definitely break up your editing passes. Trying to fix every problem you see as you see it will only lead to a mess.
  • Don’t be afraid to edit the story. Your first take on the story — not just the words, but what happens and why — doesn’t have to be the last one.
  • You’ve got time to get it right. Take as many editing passes as you need. No one has to see it until it’s ready.

Wrapping Up a Month of New Writing Habits

Wife made it back from Arkansas on Tuesday (huzzah!), so my hermit-writing time is coming to a close.

Overall, I think having the weekly goals really helped me. While I didn’t hit them all (mumble mumble agent-search), I hit enough of them to build up a writing rhythm, and got a lot done.

All told, I’ve:

  • written two new short stories, and have started a third
  • circulated three previously-written stories
  • completed final-pass editing of all but the last quarter of my first novel
  • reviewed nine submissions by litreactor peeps

I’d like to keep up some of my new habits. I think the litreactor reviews help me to see similar problems in my own fiction, and practice fixing them. I also think the chapter-a-day editing is the only way I can get detailed editing passes done.

I like writing a new short story every week, but at some point I’m going to need to work on editing them all into shape, so I can submit them. So I’ll keep that one for perhaps the next week or two, then settle into editing what I’ve got.

Scorecard: Third Week

Third and final week. How’d I do?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Check. Whew.
  • Write a new short story: Check! Last week’s story is up on litreactor for feedback. Newest story will be going up as soon as I have the points.
  • Critique two stories: Check and check.
  • Find a new potential agent for querying: Dropped.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: Still on track. Got some good feedback on “Wednesday” from the fine folks at litreactor. I’ll revise it this weekend, and should have it ready for submitting by the end of the month.

Scorecard: Second Week

Two weeks in. Had a holiday in the middle of this one, so…how’d I do?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Mostly check. 5 days out of 7 isn’t too bad.
  • Write a new short story each week: Done. First draft of “Wednesday” is complete and ready to submit to litreactor. Draft of second story is coming together.
  • Critique two stories each week: Check. This has become the easiest one to do.
  • Find a new agent to query each week: Nope again. I might need to drop this one, till the editing is done.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: On track. Hope to get feedback on “Wednesday” soon, and then will revise and start submitting. Also got a rejection back for one of the stories I’d submitted, so I need to send it out again this week.

Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Fantastically well-done. Weaves together magic, fairies, Great War trauma, romance, sisterly rivalry, and the treatment of special-needs children into one cracking good story.

So very happy to discover there are sequels.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Dribble out your backstory. At the start, offer just enough to explain the choices that brought the character to that point. Introduce the rest later, as needed for the story.
  • You can get away with a romance between two characters that have little in common if you make their raw attraction clear and compelling.
  • Sometimes the greatest climaxes (or turns in the story) happen when the protagonist realizes something about themselves that they didn’t know before.