“Undercurrents”: More Than Just a Collection of Tales From the Deep

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The twenty-three stories in Undercurrents are all about the mysteries of the deep, but beyond that they are as varied as it gets. Master story telling weves tales about monsters who dwell in the ocean depths and send chills down your spine. The monsters featured range from those of legendary status to those of the fantasy realm: krackens; sea dragons in Guardian of the Sea, by Kristin Luna; sirens in The Old Man and the Sea Siren, by Steve Pantazis; fairy horses in In the Water, by Jessica Guernsey; mermonsters in All Yours, by Melissa Koons; and the underwater cat in Underwater Cats, by Mary  Pletsch – to those that are unidentified, as in Cold, Silent, and Dark, by Kary English; or spring from the recesses of the human mind, to inanimate objects as innocent as a pair of bookends in Bookend, by Chris Mandeville.

The points of view presented are varied, as well. As a reader, I was allowed to glimpse through the eyes of both hunted and hunter, getting the unusual P.O.V.s of things like a kracken in The Kraken’s Story, by Robert J. McCarter, a siren in The Siren’s Song, by Aubrey Pratt, a dragon in The Sea Dragon’s Tale, by Nancy D. DiMauro and a puffer fish in Mandala, by Jody Lynn Nye.

The stories in this collection explore more than just the waters of the deep. Sea Wind, by Kevin J. Anderson explores the idea of losing a brother to the sea. Four Billion Years of Solitude, by Alex P. Berg explores the oceans of distant planets. Eat Me, by Lauren Lang explores a revelutionary weight loss system involving antipods harvested from the sea. Songs to Sing and Stories to Tell, by L.D. Colter explores saying good-bye, and Lure, by Joy Dawn Johnson explores the connection between twins, and Sea Dreams, by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson explores the ties between friends. To Become, by C.J. Erick explores facing the unknown, while In the Garden of the Coral King, by C.H. Hung explores facing one’s own fears, and A Marsh Called Solitude, by Gregory D. Little explores self-sacrifice and altruism.

My personal favorites include Teens Teach Tech, by Terry Madden, where a teen tries to help an old woman face her fears of the past; Heroes of the Russian Federation, by Chris Barili, where an experimental bio-weapon escapes and goes out of control; and High Seas Burning, by Lee French, where the real monsters are of the human variety.

Best of all, all proceeds from this anthology go to the Don Hodge Memorial Scholarship to help students without the financial means  to attend the Superstar Writing Seminar,  a seminaar that addresses the business end of writing. The Superstars have been putting together anthologies, along with seminar attendees since 2015. Undercurrents is the fourth anthology to result from the Superstar Writing Seminar. In more ways than one, the Superstar Writing Seminar is quite special and the recipient of a scholarship is fortunate indeed.

News of this seminar was exciting to me because so many writing courses or workshops focus on the craft of writing and ignore the fact that there are some business skills required in order to be a successful writer. I’ve heard many authors gripe about not realizing they had to have marketing skills as well as writing skills, or complaining about the time they must put into marketing that could be used to write instead. The line-up of Superstars who offer their expertise include Kevin J. Anderson, David Farland, Eric Flint, Rebecca Moesta, James A. Owen and Brandon Sanderson. Each year they have additional guest instructors, chosen from the creme de la creme of the publishing industry. They all share their knowledge and expertise during the annual seminar, which is held in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Well-crafted stories fill this anthology exploring the ocean depths and the depths of the human mind in Undercurrents, an anthology created by master story tellers. I give it four quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

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“Short Stories Not Forgotten” may be too short

Short Stories Not Forgotten

Short Stories Not Forgotten by Calvin Bender is a small collection of short fiction. As I’ve mentioned many times, a big problem with a lot of short fiction is that authors fail to get in a full story arc. With this collection four, that is a problem with every piece. In fact, these seem more like brief ideas, each being a good start for something, but none following through to make a complete story. Every one ended abruptly, with none feeling quite finished. If the author just would have given us more. In all honesty, I can’t give it more than two quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Let’s Talk About Short Fiction

The Collapsar Directive

I have a story appearing in the newly released science fiction anthology from Zombie Pirate Publishing, The Collapsar Directive. It’s a dystopian tale titled, If You’re Happy and You Know It, set in a world where you’re only allowed to be happy on the weekends.  I must give kudos to the editors, Sam Phillips and Adam Bennett for their selections for this anthology. The other stories featured in this anthology are all top rate, and my fellow authors are a talented bunch. I feel proud to be counted among them.

Zombie Pirate Publishing is pretty smart really, because they get their authors involved in the process – not really the actual publishing process, but with the final editing and, certainly in the marketing process. And having been involved in the process with this great group of writers, reading the stories of the others, which are all well written pieces, got me to thinking about what elements make up a high quality short story.

When I review a short story, I look for the same things I’d look for in a novel length work, with a few exceptions. I’d down my rating for the same type of things though: if it doesn’t read smoothly, if there are logic problems (which occur less in short fiction, but they do occur), excessive use of adjectives and unnecessary words, or if there are a lot of typos or spelling errors which bring my editors mind right out of the story.

Just as in a longer story, I want to see a well-written story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. But, this is where short stories often fall short. In a novel, it may take the author several chapters to wrap up all the loose ends and tie their story neatly into a bow. Short stories don’t have that luxury. Although, there is no set length as to how long a short story should be, other than word count limits set by those you are submitting to, it is even more important with short fiction to eliminate any unnecessary words and get to the point of the story. If you don’t, your story may end up becoming a novel. So, in short fiction, I look for stories that tell the tale without drawing it out unduly.

However, it can be difficult to get in a full story arc, without drawing out the tale, so I’ve come to expect this to be the case with short fiction. That way, instead of being sadly disappointed when a short story falls short (pun intended), I am pleasantly surprised when I come across short fiction which feels complete at the end of the story. It is even harder with flash fiction. The shorter the story, the less space you have to accomplish the task. I recently reviewed an anthology in which almost every story had a full arc, leaving me with a very satisfied feeling. (Catch my review of Darkscapes.)

All of the stories in The Collapsar Directive accomplish this feat, as well. All the stories featured seem to arc nicely, the beginning, middle and end are usually easy to identify in each one, and they all hold my attention to the end. That, of course, is the most important element in any story, long or short. It has to pull you in and hold you there from the first page to the last, regardless of the length of the story.

 

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“Gnarled Bones”: A Collection of Five Brief Tales

Gnarled Bones

Short stories carry the burden of telling the tale in few words, so they often sacrifice many of the qualities one finds in a novel length work, including details that fill in our mental picture for us, making readers work harder to gain a clear vision for the story. Another common complaint that I often voice is the fact that they are a brief glimpse into the character’s lives and don’t always have a complete story arc, making them feel incomplete, like there should be more. Such is the nature of the beast we call the short story. I have had to learn to expect these things when I’m reviewing short fiction, and not mark against the story for these faults alone. So, while I may comment on some of these qualities when reviewing anthologies or short story collections, they will not be the basis for lower ratings. Those will be based on the quality of the writing and how well the stories are crafted, just as they are with a longer work.

That being said, I found Gnarled Bones and Other Stories by Tam May to be a collection of highly crafted stories, with brief descriptions that skillfully put readers in the scene and allow them a clear vision of each story being told. Each story in this collection has heavy literary qualities and each carries the theme of empowerment, or the lack of it, in some way. Although most of them felt unfinished to me, they were none-the-less captivating, capturing my full attention during the brief snapshots I was allowed.

Along with Gnarled Bones, the story which sticks out most in my mind is The First Saturday Outing, which I enjoyed at first, but was later disappointed in, when the woman’s inability to empower herself and embrace her freedom became apparent, making the character, whom I’d been routing for, appear weak and inept.

Also to be found in this collection is Mother of Mischief, where Marie is driven by her need to look after and care for someone, drawn to mischievous men who need to be kept in line. Bracelets, where Isabelle, a circus acrobat is drawn to her circus family through the tragedy of a lion attack on a child. And, Broken Bows where, for Anne, a train ride becomes an act of defiance and two very different souls find one another briefly.

Along with theme, the stories in Gnarled Bones and Other Stories have other things in common, as well. Each has a female protagonist, each has literary qualities and feel, and each is well crafted to tell the story with skill and ability. I give it four quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Weeping Willows”: A Ghostly Tale

weeping-willows

Weeping Willows by B.J. Robinson has the potential to be a good ghostly tale. Unfortunately, Robinson didn’t take it quite far enough. All the elements are there, but they just don’t come together very well.

The story fails to set a tone scary enough to cause any real anticipation. The House of Usher, it is not. The one spirit that actually shows herself, isn’t very threatening, is actually rather helpful, providing all the needed information about the house’s history, so the story may proceed, thus removing any sense of mystery the story might have been carrying.

The plot is classic haunted house to the point of almost being cliché. Two couples enter into a contest where the couple who lasts the longest in the old house, which threatens to crumble and fall into the sea, wins a honeymoon in Hawaii, but of course, the house is haunted and the spirits don’t seem happy about its latest guests.

The circumstances often seem a little too convenient, as if the events occur at the convenience of the author, to get the story out. It feels like the characters do what is necessary for the story to unfold, but perhaps not what would be natural for their personalities, but that could be because the characters lack depth. Character development is always a challenge when writing short fiction due to the short amount of page space, but without it, it’s difficult to care about the characters.

Weeping Willows is a ghost story of fair quality. I give it three quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces”: A short fiction collection that’s full of surprises

Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces

This week I’m pleased to review Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces – the latest collection of short fiction by my friend and colleague, Jeff Bowles. Since I know Jeff personally, I do admit to a certain amount of bias, but only because I truly admire the way this man crafts a story, so I went at this reading with a certain amount of anticipation. With Jeff, I never really know what to expect, but I always expect to be pleasantly surprised.

And, I was not disappointed. The stories found in this collection are original and unique, and the artwork is awesome.

The first story, Will of the West, has a good western flavor with a surprise ending.  I truly enjoyed the vivid imagery of the lightning dance is Blue Dancing With Yellow, and Jeff’s story telling voice in Tumbleweeds and Little Girls nails the young girl’s POV. Four Heads, Two Hearts is a unique romance with its own unusual set of obstacles and a very interesting solution. The Fall and Rise of Max Ziggy is a reincarnation story of the feline kind.

Two of the stories deal with the topic of mid-life crisis, a topic that the author seems too young to know a lot about, but when you read these stories, us old foggies may find, or at least I did, that his interpretations are pretty spot on. Mid-Life Crisis: The Video Game defines the age of technology in a way the older generations can relate to, right down to the frustrations of dealing with voice activated responders which never seem to get our answers right. And,  Jack Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis provides an online view of the mid-life crisis of a hit man that is sure to make you chuckle.

The collection also offers two ghost stories: Falcon Highway is a good, old fashioned ghost story running along the lines of an urban legend. And, Deadman’s Hand is a ghostly tale of being ‘spirited’ away.

All of the stories contained in Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces are well crafted and quite entertaining, and they all contain unexpected elements that Jeff Bowles makes to work in short story form. Each and every one carries the uniqueness that is Jeff Bowles style, making for an overall enjoyable read. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys”: An Entertaining Ditty

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The short story How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys by Deanna Knippling captures the tone of old England to perfection. Knippling has created a likeable main character in Smoke, a sharp young girl on the street who eeks out her living as a chimney sweep, and as one follows her brief tale, one can’t help but long to see her succeed.

Living as part of a street gang, Smoke is the oldest of the chimney sweeps, who passes for younger than she is due to her small stature, but she knows her days as a sweep are numbered and she must find a new mode of living before the gang retires her in a brothel. Fortune is on her side when an opportunity appears before her, but it’s not without risk. The resulting adventure had me rooting for her every step of the way.

Short, but well crafted and quite entertaining,  this tale is everything a short story should be. I give How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys five quills.  Five Quills3