Well, 2021 is nearing its end–it’s absurd, right?–so it’s officially That Time again. First, I’ll discuss my own writing; then, we’ll move onto my favorite short stories of the year.
In regards to my own work:
“Forward, Victoria” – The Dark – April 2021 – (3900 words)
Ah, my latest slasher. TBH, I’m pretty fond of this one. There are a lot of obvious horror movie references here, but I was primarily inspired by the shifting lore of the Friday the 13th franchise. I wanted to play with legends and monsters and how they both evolve over time. (Also, I just really wanted to write my own Teenage Girl as Unstoppable Masked Killer story.) You may enjoy this one if you’re interested in queer horror, undead girls, angry girls, second-person POV, fatal high school reunions, and a variety of violent kills.
“An Ever After Diverged” – Daily Science Fiction – March 2021 – (1000 words)
Ah, my latest fairy tale. I see I’m very on brand this year. This is a short, angry little piece about seers, bodily autonomy, and how quickly women’s lives are considered disposable. You may enjoy this one if you like upended fairy tales, feminist fairy tales, quick reads, reverse storytelling, visions, prophecies, and alternate endings.
The tiniest of mermaid stories! The quickest of reads! 2021, truly, was the Year of Flash Fiction for me. I’ve never been so lucky selling such short stories. (In fact, I have two more flash pieces coming out sometime next year. One in Nightmare, one TBA.)
“Only Circles in the Sea” is my prophetic mermaids story, and you may enjoy it if you like stories about loss, reunions, and the unfathomable magics of the sea. “I Am Not Your Tragedy” is my cyborg mermaids story, and you may enjoy it if you’re interested in rejecting ablest narratives and stories where sharks are bitey jerks. Both stories will take you less than five minutes to read and come with absolutely fantastic artwork by Clare McCanna.
All of these stories are eligible for Best Short Story in most major awards (World Fantasy, the Nebulas, the Hugos, the Shirley Jackson Awards, the Bram Stoker Award, etc.) Well. Okay, don’t nominate the mermaid stories for the Shirley Jackson or Bram Stoker Award. I haven’t written a murderous mermaid story. Yet.
With that out of the way, let’s continue. In no particular order, here are . . .
My Favorite Short Stories of 2021
1. “Eating Bitterness” – Hannah Yang – The Dark
Oh, wow, this story. There’s so much that I love here: the inherent creepiness of the second mouths, the disturbing burdens that mothers are expected to bear, the multi-generational attitudes and approaches towards duty, pain, and what it means to grow up. This story is dark, stunning, and gorgeously told.
Every evening we tie Mama down.
2. “Of Claw and Bone” – Suzan Palumbo – The Dark
I mean, goddamn. This one is fascinating, powerful, and goth as hell. We’ve got bone magic. We’ve got mobiles made out of tiny animal skulls. We’ve got the kind of abusive family dynamics that always kick me straight in the Feels. This one is all about mothers and daughters and validating different types of power and strength. I’m obsessed with it.
Your own skull is still in pieces, kept flexible to withstand the compression of the birth canal. There is no guarantee what kind of woman you will fuse into.
3. “Proof by Induction” – José Pablo Iriarte – Uncanny
So, this story is all about grief and mathematics, and while I can’t pretend to know anything about the latter, I really appreciate how this one handles loss, particularly when you’re not processing it the way people think you should. There’s a pragmatism to this story that greatly appeals to me; also, the bitter truth that no matter how many chances you get at a last conversation, it won’t be, cannot be, the closure that you’re looking for. A fantastic story all around.
“The Coda cannot change in the way that a person can, however; it cannot learn or grow.” Her eyes meet Paulie’s. “Your father’s soul is not in there. Your father has moved on.”
4. “We, The Girls Who Did Not Make It” – E.A. Petricone – Nightmare
I am, and forever will be, a sucker for a dead girl story. Or, as the case may be, the story of many, many dead girls. I love how this one gives so much time and space to meet each and every girl who was murdered, to know them both individually and as a collective group. This story is angry and unapologetic, and I like the fierceness of its resolution.
We wish we were she-demons with long claws. We wish the full moon rose and our stories ended with us picking our captors out from between our teeth. We wish we’d been stronger. We wish we’d lived.
5. “The First of Many Lies You’ll Tell Her” – Kelly Sandoval – Daily Science Fiction
I adore Kelly Sandoval’s prose. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but she always packs so much emotion, so much regret, melancholy, and love, into even the shortest of stories. Her work is outstanding. This particular story is all about the perpetual fear that goes hand-in-hand with being a parent, and while it took maybe three minutes to read, the words lingered inside my brain for much, much longer.
When they first lay her in your arms, you will relearn what it means to fear.
6. “A House Is Not a Home” – L. Chan – Clarkesworld
I’ve never bothered to make an actual Most Beloved Tropes And/Or Premises List, but if I did, “sentient houses” would definitely make the Top Ten. And this is easily one of the best sentient house stories I’ve ever read. It’s both a quick read and a gradual unfolding, and I just wanna give Home a big hug. A wonderful read with a perfect conclusion.
It is the truth that Home tells because Home has no choice.
7. “Pathfinding!” – Nicole Kornher-Stace – Uncanny
Ah, more of my favorite tropes: super soldier kids who are abducted/experimented on/raised by nefarious government agencies! The characters in this one are great: I love 06’s defiance, 22’s pragmatism, and the deep, utterly platonic bond between them. I love all the dark humor, particularly concerning the Director’s warped sense of her own heroism. This story is engaging, extremely quotable, and an overall delight.
They are fifteen years old, which each of them wears differently. 06: defiance, nobility, misplaced nostalgia, surgically precise rage. 22: indifference (false).
8. “One and a Half Stars” – Kristen Koopman – Baffling
Laugh out loud funny. This one is hilarious, biting, a pitch perfect satire of . . . shit, a whole bunch of stuff, TBH. How gynecological pain is brushed off as natural, harmless, insignificant. How ridiculously complicated basic troubleshooting and tech support can be. What does and doesn’t count as healthcare even though it is very obviously healthcare. And that last line? Jesus. Absolute perfection.
Before anyone considers buying this uterus, let me share a little story.
9. “Taking Control of Your Life in Five Easy Steps” – P H Low – Nightmare
Oh, I adore this story. It’s both darkly funny and deliciously unsettling, and I love the repetition, the absolute precision of the prose. This one is so sharp and concise, and some of these lines just snap. If you’re looking for a creepy sendup of unhelpful self-help articles, you have come to the right place.
Understand that your life is confusing because you are only a ragged reflection of a true person in a true world.
10. “Teeny, Tinman’s Fourth Wife” – Liza Wemakor – Anathema
I must admit that I’ve never seen The Wiz (at least, not in its entirety), but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying this story in the slightest. I love how Teeny talks about her own body. I love that she’s never ashamed of herself or her size; it’s just that she’s had the misfortune to fall in love with someone ashamed of his desire for her. Teeny struggles with her feelings for this tin-man who never deserved her, and the whole thing is a great read with a fantastic closing line.
When we heard the skin-girl and the scarecrow around the corner, I played dead per our protocol.
Finally, because I read WAY too many great stories this year, here are a bunch of Honorable Mentions:
“Laughter Among the Trees” – Suzan Palumbo – The Dark
“The Family in the Adit” – A.T. Greenblatt – Nightmare
“From Witch to Queen and God” – L.D. Lewis – Mermaids Monthly
“Ootheca” – Mário de Seabra Coelho – Strange Horizons
“If the Martians Have Magic” – P. Djèlí Clark – Uncanny
“Dragons” – Teresa Milbrodt – Strange Horizons
“Six Fictions About Unicorns” – Rachael K. Jones – Uncanny