Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Gingerbread and Ashes by Jaelithe Ingold

Arcane #1My story recommendation of the week is for "Gingerbread and Ashes" by Jaelithe Ingold from Issue #1 of Arcane Magazine.

"Gingerbread and Ashes" is told from the point of view of Hansel, many years after he and Gretel encountered their witch. Now Gretel has disappeared, and Hansel returns to the witch's gingerbread house, on the hunch that Gretel has been drawn back to the scene of their famous story. If that sounds like a formula for a charming or silly tale, guess again. "Gingerbread and Ashes" is marvelously creepy and disturbing.

Hansel and Gretel have had a bitter go of it since their famous adventure, for none of the villagers wished to believe their story. The remains of the gingerbread house serve to remind them of their lost innocence:
My ebony walking cane helps me to totter along the dirt. Peppermint sticks once formed railings along the toffee-colored path, but both are now gone. Licked away by the forest.

We discussed it once. Whether the gingerbread house should have vanished when the witch died. If the house was enchanted, if its survival depended upon the witch, then it should have long melted into the forest floor.

But the house remains far beyond the witch's lifetime, which means something else is at work here.
In the gingerbread house, Hansel encounters a ghostly presence, or perhaps two, and sorting out who is who makes for an engaging story. On a metaphorical level, "Gingerbread and Ashes" is a powerful examination of how difficult it is for children who survive a traumatic experience to move past it and have a healthy adult life.

Arcane Magazine (subtitled "Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century") put out a call for the kind of stories H.P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith might be writing today if they were still around. The stories editor Nathan Shumate has selected are mostly dark, but in an interesting variety of ways, including the odd tongue-in-cheek piece. But I'm biased, since I have a story forthcoming in Arcane (one of the tongue-in-cheek ones), assuming the magazine finds enough support to keep it afloat.

I've never met Jaelithe Ingold and I know almost nothing about her, but apparently her work appeals to the same editors mine does. She and I have both appeared in Linger Fiction this year, we've both sold a story to Arcane, and we both have stories forthcoming in Abyss & Apex. Here's hoping she sells to Asimov's and F&SF very soon!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Hanged Poet by Jeffrey Lyman

Hanged Poet art by Nicole CardiffMy story recommendation of the week is for "The Hanged Poet" from the June 2011 issue of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show. I am deeply biased on this one, since Jeff Lyman was one of my fellow winners of this year's Writers of the Future Contest, but this story is far too good for me not to recommend. Anyway, it's most appropriate for Jeff to get a recommendation from a fellow WOTF winner, since the entire June issue of IGMS is made up of stories by former WOTF winners.

The protagonist of "The Hanged Poet" is General Veritas, a military leader who helped build an empire, but now has been unwillingly retired by the emperor. As he travels alone to the nearly-forgotten homeland of his youth, he comes across the body of a hanged woman:
She was a young woman, small, pale-skinned as all northlanders were, and long dead. A weathered shift of gray wool hung down from her shoulders. Her hands had been bound behind her back, and her bare feet dangled at the height of his chest. The toes the dogs had not worried over were black with frost. . . .

She swung slowly after the dogs' last attentions, and her rope creaked. He would cut her down to keep the noise from bothering him while he slept.

"May I share your tree tonight?" he said, then joked, "Maybe later I'll hang myself beside you."

Her eyes snapped open, eyes washed-out blue like the winter sky. Veritas leapt back, stumbling on a branch beneath the snow.

"I wouldn't mind some company," she said in a dry voice, like leaves skirling across cobblestones. "But I don't think you want to rest up here. It's going to get cold when the sun sets."
The hanged woman is a long-dead poet, in a world where poems can effect powerful changes. General Veritas has already had poetry greatly change his life, and the hanged poet promises at least one more alteration to come.

The tale is told mostly through dialogue between the two characters, exquisitely written dialogue that gradually reveals the characters' fascinating and cleverly interrelated backstories. This is a story in which almost nothing happens onstage, and yet Lyman manages to make it all feel dramatic and satisfying. Outstanding work!