2021: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Fiction

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.

Only Circles in the Sea” – Mermaids Monthly – August 2021 – (250 words)
I Am Not Your Tragedy” – Mermaids Monthly – August 2021 – (250 words)

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

Now Available at Mermaids Monthly: “I Am Not Your Tragedy” and “Only Circles in the Sea”

The August issue of Mermaids Monthly became available over the weekend, and happy news for me: I have two (very, very tiny) stories in there! Mermaids Monthly has this super neat collaborative feature called Each to Each where writers can submit 250-word-or-less stories and (if accepted) get paired with an artist who subbed their own mermaid sketches. The artist draws something for the writer’s fic, and the writer writes something for the artist’s work, and boom, two tiny stories and neat pieces of artwork.

I got paired with Clare McCanna, whose mermaid drawings are awesome. If you’re interested, you can check them out (as well as my writing) here:

I Am Not Your Tragedy

Only Circles In the Sea

(Your unofficial Radiohead pairing for both stories is “Bloom.” I thought it’d be cool to try and find one song for both pieces, especially considering they’re both so short. This ended up being a much greater challenge than I anticipated, but I ended up happy with the results! As always, you can listen to all my super serious Radiohead pairings HERE.)

Now Available at The Dark: “Forward, Victoria”

I know I’ve said this before, but man, writing is fickle. Nothing to report for months and months, and then all of a sudden, bam, two stories out a week apart.

Today’s story is “Forward, Victoria,” which is available to read for free at The Dark, and is the latest evidence of my slasher movie obsession. In the past, I’ve written about final girls, as well as the ladies who rarely get the chance to become final girls. Today, we have the girl as monster, the undead girl. The masked killer girl.

There are a lot of presumably obvious horror movie influences here, but the biggest one for me? Definitely this dude.

(Your unofficial Radiohead pairing, BTW, is “Decks Dark,” which has been the first runner up song for so many stories. Listen to it, and all my other silly Radiohead pairings, here.)

If you read “Forward, Victoria,” I hope you enjoy!

Now Available at Daily Science Fiction: “An Ever After Diverged”

I have a new story up today!

I sold this one at the tail end of 2020, and I’m happy it’s found a home at DSF. I am, by nature, a wordy motherfucker, so I always feel a little special extra joy when I manage to write and sell flash fiction. If you like stories that are a little angry, fairytale adjacent, and run backwards through time, you may enjoy this one.

Your requisite Radiohead pairing for this story is “Go Slowly.” Listen to it—and all my other silly Radiohead pairings—here.

2020: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Stories

Looks like it’s that time of the year again. Let’s go ahead and tackle my stuff first. I have two short stories eligible for award consideration:

Monsters Never Leave You” – Strange Horizons (June 29th, 2020)

I’m very fond of this story, but it was not an easy one to write. I went through several versions before this final one could be born, and I’m proud of how it ultimately turned out. TBH, I kind of wish more people had read it, so if you’re a fan of fairy tales, sibling stories, found families, living houses, domestic witchery, creepy trees, and/or dessert, I hope you consider checking it out.

Spider Season, Fire Season” – Nightmare (July 2020)

If you’re looking for slightly creepier fare, you might consider this short story instead. I wrote it shortly after the Kincade Fire, and structurally, it’s a bit of a switch-up for me. (Thematically . . . possibly not so much.) You may enjoy this one if you like ghost stories, found families, non-linear storytelling, California, violent comeuppance, and a bit of optimism in your horror.

Moving on now to some of my favorite short stories I read in 2020, in no particular order:

1. “One Time, A Reluctant Traveler” – A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld)

Oh, this one is just lovely, a story about family and loss, history and survival, about taking all the tales you inherited and finding an ending of your own. It’s a quest story unlike any other quest story I’ve read, and that last line? Utter perfection.

If you must know, I left because if I stayed in Nat’s house one night longer, I was going to unravel, like a tragic traveler in one of my family’s tales. And that was a story I didn’t want to be.

2. “The Mermaid Astronaut” – Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

There’s a lot to recommend in this stunning blend of mer fantasy and space travel: the exquisite prose, the supportive relationship between sisters, the bittersweet resolution that doesn’t rely on a cruel twist. This isn’t a story that punishes our young mermaid for having dreams, and I really appreciated that.

“I don’t think it’s such an evil thing,” Essarala replied, “to want to see new worlds and taste their waters.”

“Evil, no,” the witch said. “Difficult, yes.”

3. “Open House on Haunted Hill” – John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)

As is likely obvious from my own eligible work, I adore stories about haunted houses and/or houses that are otherwise alive. 133 Poisonwood Ave is definitely alive: sweet and lonely and longing for a family to live inside its walls. This one is heartwarming and an excellent comfort read.

All 133 Poisonwood has is a light touch, but it knows how to use it. Haunting is an art.

4. “Teeth Long and Sharp as Blades” – A.C. Wise (PseudoPod)

Maybe one of these years I’ll make a favorites list without an A.C. Wise story on it, but honestly? That just doesn’t seem very likely. This one is dark and fascinating and hooked me from the very first line. I mean, come on: “Have you ever thought about how fairy tale heroines are like final girls?” That’s basically ALL I think about.

This is my story, but when you hear it, I am irrelevant, a moral in the shape of a girl, an object to be acted upon.

5. “My Country is a Ghost” – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny)

A melancholy, gorgeous, and ultimately hopeful story about immigration, assimilation, family, and culture. So many of the lines in this one . . . I mean, damn. It’s an incredibly moving piece and an absolute must read.

When Niovi tried to smuggle her mother’s ghost into the new country, she found herself being passed from one security officer to another, detailing her mother’s place and date of death over and over again.

6. “The Sycamore and the Sybil” – Alix E. Harrow (Uncanny)

Look, I know envy is unseemly and all, but also, Alix E. Harrow’s prose is just unfairly beautiful. This story is about women and witches and surviving, until survival alone simply isn’t enough anymore, and if you haven’t already read it, well. Get to it, please.

Before I was a sycamore I was a woman, and before I was a woman I was a girl, and before I was a girl I was a wet seed wild in the hot-pulp belly of my mother. I remember it: a pulsing blackness, veins unfurling in the dark like roots spreading through the hidden places of the earth. You remember things different, once you’re a tree.

7. “Housebound” – Ao-Hui Lin (Drabblecast)

Oh, this story. I knew almost immediately that it was gonna kick me in the stomach, and sure enough, that’s exactly what it did. It’s disturbing and tense and made me positively seethe in fury. This story stuck with me well after I finished reading it.

The closet. It used to be here, through this door, under the stairs. Now there’s just a pit and bite marks on the door jamb.

8. “Sunrise, Sunrise, Sunrise” – Lauren Ring (Apparition Lit)

Clearly, I love a good time loop story, and this one is particularly fantastic. It’s the rare story where the protagonist doesn’t want to break free from her loop, which I found both original and extremely intriguing. Great concept, strong character work, and a spot-on ending.

Every day, it goes like this: I wake to golden light, with the surface of a star just beyond my wide viewport window. As the hours pass, a supernova forms, enveloping my little research vessel. I check my monitoring equipment, I eat my favorite meals, and then in the evening, I die. 

9. “A Moonlit Savagery” – Millie Ho (Nightmare)

Oh, this is a spectacular horror story, full of loneliness and betrayal and some particularly flavorful just desserts. It’s also my introduction to phi pop, which is very exciting; I want to read about ALL THE GHOSTS, especially the hungry ones.

“ได้,” I mutter against his skin, already dizzy with fantasies of splitting his ribs open.

10. “Dead Girls Have No Names” – Claire Wrenwood (Nightmare)

Finally, we have even more hungry dead in this excellent Frankenstein-inspired short story, where dead girls are stitched together by a mother bent on revenge. It’s dark and  poignant and powerful, and the ending is absolutely sublime. READ IT.

As the lid slammed shut, the truth of our new existence dawned: Never again would any mother name us or hold us or take this cold from our bones.

There in the terrible darkness, we tried to weep and discovered we could not.

That’s it for now. Happy reading!

Now Available at Nightmare: “Spider Season, Fire Season”

A funny thing about the writing business: you can’t always predict when your stories will be published. I submitted “Monsters Never Leave You” to Strange Horizons months before I even wrote “Spider Season, Fire Season.” I officially sold the former to SH in November 2019, while Nightmare didn’t buy the latter until late January 2020. Sat here for six months with little writing news to report, and then boom! Both stories are published within eight days of each other. Writing is weird.

But to the actual point: “Spider Season, Fire Season” is available to read for free at Nightmare! I wrote this little ghost story shortly after the Kincade Fire last year, and I think it came together pretty nicely. (She says, hopefully.) Especially recommended for anyone who likes ghosts (obviously), found families, California, multiple points-of-view, non-linear storytelling, and horror that has room for hope. TW for violence (including domestic violence) and off-screen deaths (including deaths of children).

If you do end up reading, I hope you enjoy!

Official Radiohead pairing: “2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)

Now Available at Strange Horizons: “Monsters Never Leave You”

First, a quick note: RL is very much A Lot right now, so I may or may not end up taking a small step back from the blog in the following weeks. If I end up doing so, never fear! The movie reviews, TOS recaps, and possibly even the Jell-O shots will return!

Today’s business: I have a new story out! “Monsters Never Leave You” is available to read for free here at Strange Horizons as a part of their Chosen Family special issue. Anyone who knows me and my fanfic tropes of choice can probably guess how ecstatic I am to be included in this particular issue.

This story was not an easy one to write. It has gone through many, many revisions. But I’ve become very fond of it, and if you end up reading this one, I hope you are too. “Monsters Never Leave You” is especially recommended for people who like contemporary witches, retold fairy tales, undead magic children, living houses, and sibling stories. Also, for anyone who’s ever found trees just a little bit creepy.

Also, the artwork by Sam Guay? GORGEOUS.

The official Radiohead pairing for “Monsters Will Never Leave You” is “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” The music video in my head goes something like this: a grainy, old school home video capturing a series of moments, starting out properly domestic (cups of cocoa, studying at the kitchen table, etc.), then growing more wondrous and magical (speaking to animals, levitating household items), then growing steadily creepier and creepier (pulling back to reveal the cabin’s location in a dark forest and all the undead people just outside the windows, watching).

Once again, you’re all lucky that I don’t know how to properly make fanvids, or I might be tempted to do so for my own work and thus become the most obnoxious person alive.

Behind the Scenes – Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus

No century-old monsters to discuss today, I’m afraid; I’m a little behind in my Universal movie watch. Instead, we’re gonna do a guest blog! Guest blogs are the best because, frankly, I don’t have to do all that much work; also, this one is about NEW DARK FANTASY NOVELS. Victorian goth fantasy, even. Basically, it’s a win for everyone.

The current pandemic has disrupted, well, pretty much everything right now. Rather obviously, Covid-19 takes priority, as it should; unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier on debut authors whose books have just come out. Which is one of the reasons I invited my friend, Jonathan Fortin, to come on my blog and talk about what inspired his debut novel: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus, which just recently came out from Crystal Lake Publishing. If you’re looking to read something new and/or support debut SF/F/H authors, then feast your eyes on this absolutely gorgeous cover art by Ben Baldwin and continue on to learn all about Lilitu.

BEHIND THE SCENES OF “LILITU: THE MEMOIRS OF A SUCCUBUS”

I’ve always felt that succubi and incubi take everything that’s scary and sexy about vampires, and amplify it. They’re beautiful demons that prey on humans, but they have some pretty cool traits that vampires don’t. For one thing, they can enter and manipulate dreams. For another, they often have wings, horns, or tails. But the biggest difference is that, while vampires are often figuratively about sex, succubi and incubi are far more literal–actually drawing sustenance through sexual energy.

Maybe that’s why there haven’t been too many serious books focused on succubi. There are certainly a few, but more often than not, succubi remain side characters–usually femme fatale sex symbols that exist primarily for the male gaze. It’s also pretty rare for books to portray succubi as folklore does. For example, rarely do succubus protagonists enter dreams, or have wings or horns.

With that in mind, there were a few main goals I had in mind while working on LILITU: THE MEMOIRS OF A SUCCUBUS:

  1. To write a succubus-centric novel that wasn’t male-gazey.

  2. To have it take the folklore of succubi and incubi seriously.

3. To use that folklore to explore gender issues in an exciting horror/dark fantasy tale.

I felt that a proper succubus book needed to address gender issues because of society’s double standards about female sexuality. Indeed, sometimes when men feel threatened by a woman, they will call her a succubus, literally demonizing her–particularly if the woman in question is sexually liberated, dominant, or just won’t submit to male authority.

From this idea emerged the character of Maraina Blackwood–a mortal woman, raised to believe that she must submit to the patriarchy, who ends up becoming a heroic succubus fighting to smash it. Maraina’s arc is all about exploring the ideas that are drilled into our heads growing up, and recognizing how toxic they are. She deconstructs the femme fatale archetype by being a noble seductress. Similarly, the villain of the book, the cruel incubus Salem Sotirios, is a condemnation of toxic patriarchy, as well as of “abusive-but-sexy” Byronic love interests like Edward Cullen or Christian Grey.

Once I had this concept, I ended up setting the book in Victorian England. Part of this was because I wanted to give the book a pervasive Gothic Horror aesthetic; this way, my succubi could wear corsets, my incubi could wear top hats, and they all could frolic around in dark, crumbling castles. As an enthusiast of Victorian Gothic Fashion, that sounded just dandy to me.

More importantly, though, the Victorians had infamously rigid gender roles and severe sexual repression. It was a perfectly horrible society for Maraina to grow up in, making her all the more of a sympathetic rebel.

From there, I considered the rules of succubi and incubi, and adjusted them to fit the narrative I wanted to tell. “Succubi and Incubi” was too mouthy to repeat over and over, so I settled on naming the species as a whole “Lilitu.” Different lilitu bloodlines would have different traits–some would have horns while others wouldn’t, some would shift gender, etc.–but in all cases, they would be able to enter and manipulate dreams.

Another factor was the fact that succubi are supposed to be exceptionally beautiful. I didn’t want to support the idea that there’s one valid form of beauty, so I ensured that we meet succubi of all body types throughout the book. I also decided to deconstruct this facet of the mythology by exploring how society demands that we look and act a certain way based on our sex, and the dysmorphia we can feel as a result.

LILITU is dark fantasy, so it’s got plenty of fun, magical bits: flaming swords, sexy demons, and blood rituals, to name a few. But at its core, it’s attempting to explore very real issues, and many of its most unsettling moments are based on the factual truth of Victorian life. Unfortunately, in our modern world, many of these issues remain uncomfortably relevant. The main takeaway from LILITU is this: all demons do is draw attention to the horror that was already there.

ABOUT THE BOOK: England, 1876. Twenty-year-old Maraina Blackwood has always struggled to adhere to the restrictive standards of Victorian society, denying the courage and desire that burn within her soul. But after a terrifying supernatural encounter, Maraina’s instincts compel her to action.

Maraina soon discovers a plot to unleash a new world—one of demonic aristocrats, bloody rituals, and nightmarish monsters. Putting her upbringing aside, Maraina vows to fight the dark forces assuming control of England. But as her world transforms, Maraina finds that she too must transform…and what she becomes will bring out all that she once buried.

Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus is the first chapter in an epic dark fantasy saga, proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

PLACES YOU CAN BUY: Amazon

(Or if you want to support small business, check to see if your local bookstore can order the novel and ship it directly to you.)

ABOUT JONATHAN: Jonathan Fortin is the author of “Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus” (Crystal Lake Publishing), “Requiem In Frost” (Horroraddicts.net), and “Nightmarescape” (Mocha Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the Next Great Horror Writer in 2017 by HorrorAddicts.net. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian vampire, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow him online at www.jonathanfortin.com or on Twitter @Jonathan_Fortin.

Now Available At The Dark: “You Were Once Wild Here”

Friends, enemies, wayward strangers stumbling over this blog: I am delighted to announce I have a new story out today. “You Were Once Wild Here” is now available to read at The Dark!

If you are perhaps already familiar with my extensive 2019 oeuvre–it’s two stories, including this one–you might notice some similarities in my recent work: 2nd-person POV, for one; also, ace teenage protagonists. I’m extremely fond of both stories; this one, however, is much more noir in both plot and tone. If you happen to like psychic dreams, werewolves, cheerleaders, dysfunctional family dynamics, witchcraft, and murder, this might be something you’d enjoy. Official Radiohead pairing: “We Suck Young Blood.”

2019: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Stories

It’s that time of the year again: Award Nomination Season is upon us.

My own list of award-eligible works could not accurately be described as a list so much as a solitary bullet point. Nevertheless, I’m very proud of that particular bullet point:

Can you call your own story heartwarming? Is that a writer faux pas? Because, honestly, that’s how I like to think of it: a heartwarming sequel to a slasher movie. If you like stories that feature deconstructed horror tropes, found families, ace protagonists, violence, humor, and Feels, well, please consider making my day and checking it out.

ETA: Apparently, I was incorrect before; I have two bullet points. My story “You Were Once Wild Here” in The Dark will also be eligible!

I’m pretty fond of this one, too. It’s, IDK. Brick meets Teen Wolf? Read if you like neo-noir, werewolves, ace-lesbian protagonists, second-person POV, weird magic, and psychic dreams.

Moving on: I am, as always, forever behind on my short story reading. Nevertheless, here are some of my favorites from 2019, in no particular order:

1. “We Are Here To Be Held” – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Strange Horizons)

This story is weird and gorgeous and I love it. Complicated maternal relationships and how the way you’re raised feeds into how you raise your children. What you learn, what you forgive, what you stand firm against. A lovely story with a perfect conclusion.

The first time your mother swallows you whole you don’t really see it coming.

2. “Away With the Wolves” – Sarah Gailey (Uncanny)

This is a lovely story about chronic pain and learning to let go of unearned guilt, about putting your needs, health, and happiness above what society unjustly demands. Bonus joy for shapeshifters and positive female friendships.

I’m still me when I’m a wolf, even if I’m missing some of the things that other people think of when they think of me. Even if I’m missing one of the biggest things I think of when I think of me.

3. “As The Last I May Know” – S.L. Huang (Tor)

Breathtaking. A story about war and propaganda and putting a human face on weapons of mass destruction, literally. What’s wonderful about this one is that it doesn’t condemn or glorify; it’s not so much about what decision is made but how it’s made. It’s not whether the ends justify the means. It’s that choosing to go through with those ends should never, ever be easy.

She didn’t know how, after so many people had read what was in her heart, she could feel so much like she had no voice.

4. “Where Gods Dance” – Ben Serna-Grey (Apex)

A swift gut punch of a story. Full of grief and dark wonders. A story about the inability to recreate what you’ve lost.

If he screamed, I never did hear it. They all spoke so softly. Abiram was his name. Marked but unburied.

5. “A Catalog of Storms” – Fran Wilde (Uncanny)

Oh, this is just lovely. Fascinating magic, strong family dynamics, and elegant prose throughout. A fantastic read.

While Mumma and I are gone, the Mayor comes by our house and puts a ribbon on our door. We get extra milk every Tuesday.

That doesn’t make things better, in the end. Milk isn’t a sister.

6. “This Is How” – Marie Brennan (Strange Horizons)

I am . . . I don’t want to say that I dislike redemption stories, exactly, but I can be a bit wary of them. Redemption, I think, can easily be handled poorly, even irresponsibly. Forgiveness, too. But this is a dark and beautiful fantasy about repentance and mercy and transformation, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A cat may let her prey run for a time before she catches it again, but not a valravn. He keeps what he kills, and will not let the man’s soul go.

7. “The Answer That You Are Seeking” – Jenny Rae Rappaport (Lightspeed)

This one hit me. Maybe because there was a school shooting the day before I read it, or because I live in one of the cities listed in this article, or because there have literally been more mass shootings than days of the year here in America. It hit me because the prose is concise and striking. It hit me because the desperation is real.

It’s the lollipops that break you.

8. “How The Trick Is Done” – A.C. Wise (Uncanny)

I mean, look, I’ve been an A.C. Wise fangirl for years. I love pretty much all of her work, and this story–with ghosts and resurrections and stage magicians and rabbit funerals and murder–is just a wonderful read, about people learning to let go of their toxic relationships, about learning to define themselves in new ways.

“I’m a Resurrectionist.” Angie’s mouth twists on the words, but she can’t think of a better way to explain. “Death and I have an understanding.”

9. “The Tailor And The Beast” – Aysha U. Farah (Uncanny)

A queer Beauty and the Beast where it’s the father who offers to trade places with his imprisoned daughter? I mean, yes, please. Lovely and sweet and romantic AF.

A beast dwelt in the castle on the hill.

There was nothing so very strange or unusual in this circumstance; recently it had been tremendously in fashion. A witch couldn’t really hope to make her debut in society without imprisoning at least one troublesome young man behind stone walls.

10. “The House Wins In The End” – L Chan (The Dark)

L Chan writes fantastic ghost stories. This is just fact. His hauntings are creepy and unusual, and they linger in your mind long after reading. This one is full of memory and trauma and the long, lonely struggle of learning to put your ghosts to rest. A wonderful read.

This is not a haunted house story. This is what happens after.

Happy reading, everyone! If anyone has any other short story recommendations of their own, I’d love to hear them in the comments.