March Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

In February, you found the jelly to your peanut butter. The Nutella to your spoon. The sprinkles to your sundae (okay, I’m done). Now, it’s time for a little spring fever, which means you should make a change. Let loose so your adventurous spirit can go wild, and follow that off-road path wherever it takes you.

Before you hit the bricks, check out this monthly story pick.

  • Teaser: “We are warm and comfortable only so long as we circle from a distance, wear dark glasses, stand in the shade, protect bare skin, guard as much of ourselves as we possibly can.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

While you can handle Debbie Downers like a pro, you should still watch your step around the workplace. Last month may have been dull, but in March, avoid pesky things like coworkers or squabbles or credit-stealing-gremlins. Really, anything related to your coworker—avoid that. 

And check out this story pick on your next break. It’s sure to stay with you long after your first read.

  • Teaser: “After a while, we kick through the leaves, walking home, holding hands like we used to do when he loved me, when he loved himself.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Oh, Gemini. So far, 2021 may have been tedious and boring, but spring will be a pedal-to-the-metal kind of season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; you’ll be the recipient of a rare opportunity toward the end of March.

Enjoy this unique story along the way:

Teaser: “Jordan fell in love with himself every time he stepped into the hot tub. With every inch he further immersed into the water, the more enamored he became.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Guess what, Cancer? A new friendship could be yours! Look for it around the height of the month, when you’ll be your best outgoing-while-virtual-self. But try to keep the neediness to a minimum, at least until the second Zoom call (or the end of the first one).

In the meantime, I have a mesmerizing poem for you.

  • Teaser: “decades pass & you pluck your daughter’s / ears enough to vent: Osarenoma, never forget where you came from.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

February was all about making choices and testing your cheery nature. Think of March as “opposite day.” So, put on that comfy robe and kick back after work. There may be a personal anvil (or two) around the end of the month, though. Sorry to break it to you!

Enjoy the for-now-calm with your story pick.

  • Teaser: “My own jellyfish was still in the sky, flirting with a dragon. They couldn’t stay away from each other, they dared not get too close.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

These last few months have been fun but tiring for you, with all those dates and life changes. Try to kick your feet up in March. Really, take some time for yourself. That could mean online retail therapy, a new home spa, or watching one of a hundred streaming services.

You could also indulge with a lovely story: 

  • Teaser: We spend the summer picking kumquats from neighbors’ trees, all bare feet and little girl giggles and sun-bleached hair. We eat the kumquats peel and all (the sweetest part) and leave no trace except sticky fingers and a neighborhood of bare Nagami trees.”
mad hat alice & cheshire cat (crazy cat lady) by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Good news, Libra! You should be a magnet for monetary goodness this month. Toward the middle of March, you’ll also find a new friend in your orbit. Enjoy some hot and heavy courting of the platonic-and-remote variety. It sounds like a thrill a minute.

In the meantime, I’m predicting you’ll fall in love with this poem.

  • Teaser: Best to admit they never loved you, these strangers / among whom you lived and worked, these dear / damaged machines

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Obstacles are stacking like boxes in your professional life. Work off your frustration with some fitness goals and, you guessed it, new workout clothes! That’s right, it’s time to bust out the neon spandex and exercise videos. There might be a few clouds on the horizon, but no need to worry about them. Much.

Anyway! Save this compelling piece for a well-deserved treat.

  • Teaser: “They don’t talk to me, so I sit in the demon tree. The black leaves tickle me and grush to ash on me. Ash goes mothish round me and flies high as the grey tree goes. Higher till it gets lost in the sky. I tilt my head back and watch it. And I feel flying, too.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

March will be quiet as a mouse, which is your kryptonite. Sorry, all you archers—change won’t hit till the early days of April. You probably want to know if that freight train is good or bad news. Because I’m feeling charitable, I can tell you it’s the kind of change that is both good and bad (I’m winking, if you can’t tell).

You can always distract yourself with some good reads!

  • Teaser:When I was done, I held my heart in my hand. A little like raw steak. A little like Jello. I put my heart on the tray, just as the doctor had asked. I lay it down gently.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

This month, you might be a smidge disappointed with your family. Try to remember that they’re only human. According to these tea leaves, the other areas in your life will be smooth sailing without a cloud in sight. Some areas may even improve (gasp, I know!)

Your monthly read is the kind of poem that will stick with you.

  • Teaser: My mouth still full of poetry, I fall asleep, / despite my mother’s warnings, / loose-leaf pages for pillows under tangled couplets in my hair, / haiku soft against my cheek, ode between my thighs, / a sonnet in my fist.

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Don’t worry about any gossip you might hear in social circles. After all, you’re fluent in sarcasm and drink tears for breakfast. Plus, you’ll be rewarded for good behavior around the height of the month. Not only will you have a professional breakthrough, but that recent flirtation just might turn into the best date ever.

On a coffee break, delve into this incredible story.

  • Teaser: It blew against the swaying yellow wheat of the field, the cacophony of it sweeping around a thin, pale teenager, and for a moment, it appeared as if he was at the center of the world.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

Finally, it’s Pisces season! Feed your artistic side with some fun projects. Revise your schedule to include more you time, purchase some home-spa gifts and pamper yourself. It’s your time to shine, and shine you will, you delightful thing, you.

This story pick is sure to put you in a creative mood.

  • Teaser: I feel young when I admit to my friends that I have only been hunted once before.”

February Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

They say not to fight fire with fire. When it comes to your love life, you’d better toss that advice out the window! Embrace fire or air signs during the month of love~ Behind door number one? Leo, Sagittarius, and your fellow Aries. Open the second door for Libra, Aquarius, or Gemini, who really counts as two.

As for door number three, I’ll let you discover that reward for yourself:

  • Teaser: “I trace the blue inside your wrists with this parched tongue and you smile, say remember when it rained for forty days and forty nights and I say that’s a story, what used to be a nightmare but now sounds like a dream.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

For the most part, February will be a dull month. Try to accept it with some meditation, hot yoga, etc. While you’ll still have fun on Valentine’s Day, it’ll either be unremarkable or spent without the one you want. Speaking of, keep your eyes peeled for all signs water or earthy—we’re talking a five-chili pepper rating for Virgo and Capricorn here.

And read your story pick, of course. This CNF piece is wonderfully written, painfully relatable, and somehow hopeful, all at once.

  • Teaser: “The redbuds are scrappy and hardy at once, teeming with a color found nowhere else in nature, almost blinding in their sudden spring blush.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Moody people like yourself—er, I mean adaptable—often vibe with air and fire signs. This could be trustworthy Libra or fun-loving Leo. So, pursue your romantic interest(s). Try virtual speed dating, send that first text; I don’t think you’ll regret it. Be true to yourself but don’t muzzle that closet romantic in your heart. Much.

If you need a break from romance, though, this mesmerizing read is framed by a different kind of love.

Teaser: “The first dead mother was mine. Fifty-eight years old and dead seven Tuesdays ago, not from an incurable disease, nor from a car accident.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Strut your stuff in February and flash your romantic side. You’ve never been an old hand at the game of seduction, but I know your secret—at your core is an adventurous crab that wants to have some fun. Spoiler alert: You can indulge the most with earth and water signs.

Speaking of indulgences…

  • Teaser: “Maya has an athlete’s body and an assassin’s stealth. Her voice is smoky, with a trace of a Slavic accent. She moved from her lonely Latvian town to London three years ago.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

In an ironic twist of fate, your cheery nature will be put to the test. Some of you lions will even be torn between two love interests (hint: they’ll be fiery or up-in-the-clouds). I know, it’s the rom-com moment you didn’t ask for. Valentine’s Day could be spent with McRam, McArcher, or McTwins. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure story!

But first, pick secret option #4 and read this stunning poem.

  • Teaser: Gentle tap of spoon against shell / where feathers stick wet and splayed / a crack. The hard-outer layer splits, spits / pieces, and sound drums deep in the skull /revealing soft yolk, the centre of feeling.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

January may have been cloudy, but February is grey with a sprinkle of love. Now, don’t sigh—this isn’t the start of a corny movie. It’s the start of your entire month! Steer into the skid and shed that cool-kid aura. Be a tad vulnerable. C’mon, V-day only comes around once a year.

And no, you can’t hate me. I bring you this awesome story pick.

  • Teaser: He was so lovely in the moonlight that I almost believed that he was a gift, left just for me to find him.”
native by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

If last month started the good times early, then February will be more of a cool-down period for you. You might even forget about Valentine’s Day. And that’s fine. This year, you won’t be interested in celebrating with chocolate or air and fire signs. Stay true to the course, my friend.

I have just the story pick for you:

  • Teaser: “I’d say he never gets mad either, yet I now know him well enough to claim otherwise; he gets mad all the time, only he’s good at hiding it. Until he feels safe enough to explode. He’s an endless, recurrent bomb. Never tired of exploding, when the time is right.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Guess what, Scorpio? This month will be all about fun and frivolity. While scorpions like yourself tend to charm the pants off people, you’ll have to get creative during this pandemic (hint, hint). Start with those fluid water signs and grounded, earthy folks.

Your February read is striking, just like you.

  • Teaser: “I thought the garden would bloom spectacular from the amount of emotion I left in that dirt. Lush. Heavy blooms. Straw mushrooms under the peppers and okra after a good rain.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Happy Galentine’s Day! This month, you’ll be all about ladies celebrating ladies. Call your gal pals and shake it on the dance floor (i.e. your living room). Or enjoy virtual drinks from one comfy couch to another. Some of us prefer takeout on Christmas, and Galentine’s over Valentine’s. You do you.

Before you gel with those fire/air signs, though, indulge with a poignant read.

  • Teaser:Jade was celibate seven years when we met. The reasons were vague, but involved a failed marriage to a classical musician, abuse, divorce and a lengthy period of self-isolation during which she produced stacks of abstract paintings.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

You might think love should be easier to find. Sometimes, you have to go looking, but other times, it’ll crash into you like a ton of bricks. It could be a new coworker, or someone standing six feet away in the checkout line (hey, it could happen). Try and put yourself out there: An earth or water sign could be the peanut butter to your jelly.

Reward yourself with this thought provoking story pick:

  • Teaser: “I thought it was a wonderful idea. I’ve never liked ripping Band-Aids off. Slow peeling is better.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Sorry to give you whiplash, but it’s time to swap those priorities again! February is all about you. The stars will align, the odds will be in your favor, all that jazz. You’ll be romance central for most of the month, too. Whether you meet someone new or a friendship turns into something more, you’ll be on cloud nine with other air and fire signs.

When you come back to Earth, check out this truly sublime read:

  • Teaser: The old soul wakes in the top of its cypress tree, beak tucked under wing. It readies its bones for flight knowing the sun will stretch fingers over the horizon line soon.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

For you, the flavor of February is romance. Get creative and whisk your partner away for some safe but hot n’ heavy dates. Tip: Water and earth signs usually dig the outdoors. If you’re solo, channel that energy into your own happiness. Hey, you deserve to be romanced, too!

Your monthly read is this vivid, moving poem.

  • Teaser: Finding my seat, I stowed her snugly / in the storage bin directly over my head, / and as we crossed time zones and into night, / we talked in whispers, illicit lovers on a redeye flight”

Portrait of a Girl Named July

Winner of F(r)iction‘s Spring 2020 Poetry Contest.

July slips out of Mother’s rusty womb
Tonguing red wails: 妈 for mother, 爱 for love. 

Her cheeks fleshy, she blinks innocently, 
Giggling. The gunfire reverberates outside. 

Leaving the hospital, Mother thumbs the
Party’s Manifesto down her throat; July coughs. 

Soon, she’s taller. Her hands grow steady; she
Learns to walk. She sings melodies of a strange

World: of peace, of books. Mother frowns.
Her hands sting July’s face.

The house turns less home, more cage. 
July yearns to sing, to dream. But her

Skin’s still rusty from Mother’s womb. 
And as she stretches, she cracks. 

It’s midnight and July is crouched in the attic, 
Fingers running over yellowed photos, silently

Mouthing her song. Her cheek is smeared red. 
She cannot remember the words. 

A Review of There is a Man by Pete Hsu

Published on January 12, 2021 by Tolsun Books

Sharp and ingeniously layered. That is, quite simply, how I would summarize Pete Hsu’s arresting debut, There is a Man. The three short stories in this fiction chapbook experiment with narrative style and structure in ways I have never experienced before, bringing such a subtle yet powerful dynamic to the whole work.

The chapbook opens with “Asleep for Days.” At once absurd and painfully relevant, it depicts a world in which “everyone has a gun” and is eager to use it at any provocation—from short-tempered adults to literal infants. “The Lovecats” then tells a story of tragedy through a series of sections, labeled as numbered “examples,” each one laid out with the dispassionate style of a textbook physics problem. And finally, “Mission Concept” shows us the consequences of sacrificing family relationships for long-distance work.

“There is a man,” as each story opens. He is the reckless driver who aggravates our first narrator into a shootout. He is the lone figure on the ledge of a hotel rooftop. He is an astronaut and a distant father working in trade. He is different in each encounter.

There is something methodical in the structure of all these stories, and the narrative progression is always anything but straightforward. The first two stories, organized into a series of days and examples respectively, build suspense and intrigue as each successive section adds more complexity and context to the opening premise. “Asleep for Days,” for instance, follows a series of unnamed narrators over the course of eight days, during which the feeling that they are entitled to use violence over the slightest inconveniences leads to increasingly sobering confrontations across the nation, creating a powerful satire on gun use and possession. The chapbook’s final story, “Mission Concept,” is structured slightly differently but it is no less striking, opening with a sweeping frame narrative that then narrows down to a single family and their problems. The emotional toll of the father’s work is palpable in juxtaposition with the ever-distant “astronaut.”

Though the details of the characters and settings are often sparse, Hsu nevertheless achieves remarkable poignancy and emotion in these stories. “The Lovecats” is my personal favorite. The first section, “Example 1,” sets the somber tone of the rest of the piece: the protagonist is standing on the ledge of the hotel roof that he visited with a close friend before her death. Each subsequent example begins similarly but then adds a little more context, as if the narrator is attempting to re-explain a difficult problem—or methodically rationalize and process the trauma of his friend’s death—over and over again. Each character comes into being slowly but starkly, and by the time we come to understand the hints folded throughout, the ending is all the more gutting.

What is most fascinating about these stories is not what they are about, but rather how they are told. Hsu’s words are straightforward and his descriptions short and factual, so much so that at first I thought the narrative style would be off-putting, too distant to resonate. Perhaps it would have been, had Hsu not accompanied this narrative style with such effective layering that it becomes one of the greatest strengths of this chapbook. Hsu writes with a masterful command of the narrative voice, each word intentional and restrained—the perfect example of “show, don’t tell.”

Unmasking Mental Health & Masculinity in The Boys: Season Two

Several years before my Bipolar Depression was officially diagnosed, I remember my mother ending a letter with the lyrics to “Only the Good Die Young” in an effort to cheer me up. So, the second season of Prime Video TV Series The Boys quickly won me over when the main character, Hughie Campbell, connects to Billy Joel’s music as a way of coping with the traumatic events of the previous season. If you haven’t watched it, The Boys offers an alternative, adrenaline-fueled version of our real-world issues. Throughout both seasons, we watch a group of human beings trying to unravel the conspiracy around the illicit activities of a celebrity superhero team called The Seven and Vought, the corporation they work for. When we first see Hughie Campbell hiding underground after the events of last season, Billy Joel’s “Pressure” is playing as Hughie struggles to get out of bed under the hum of fluorescent lights. Hughie is doing all he can to hold it together.

I can relate to this scene. As someone who lives with Bipolar Depression, I have made deals with myself to just get my feet on the bedroom floor and have known days when stepping outside is a major achievement. The fact that the season premiered in September—Suicide Prevention Month—wasn’t lost on me. I appreciated this small, genuine depiction of mental health in the superhero genre, a genre known for its asylums for the criminally insane, traumatic orphan origin stories, and manically laughing homicidal villains. In the past, I would often turn to superhero comics for escapism, to cope with what I was dealing with when it came to mental health awareness. Recently, this has made me reflect about how mental health appears in the superhero genre. Does it raise awareness and enhance discussion if chiseled deities are being given feet of clay, or is it propped up on 2D character sketches?

Before I continue, I do want to mention a couple of triggers. Watching characters in hiding, unable to go outside for fear of being detected by omnipotent superheroes, felt tough during a pandemic when we have to limit our own time outside. I found that switching the time I viewed the show to the daytime instead of when each new episode dropped weekly helped to minimize this anxiety. Also, for those interested in watching, it’s worth noting that the show has ultra-violent moments, extreme sexual situations, and mentions of suicide.

The characters are also being triggered. We watch as Mother’s Milk, a fortysomething man built like a linebacker, experiences an intensification of his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) during his time in hiding. We see him building a fully furnished, to-scale Victorian dollhouse to cope. The show does not present this as a laughable image of a muscular gunman in this situation, but instead uses it as foreshadowing. As the season progresses, we as viewers, along with other characters in the show, slowly realize that he needs to tap the steering wheel before changing lanes, or stir his coffee three times in a certain way. Eventually, Mother’s Milk opens up to Annie January, a celebrity superhero, about how his OCD is inherited from his father. It is an open and frank conversation about mental health and heredity. As someone who comes from a family where we all needed to give ourselves an extra fifteen minutes before leaving the house to check the door multiple times, I appreciated this scene. Before I checked myself into the hospital for the first time in 2013, one of the warning signs was getting to the point where it took an hour to check everything in the office before I left for home. And a small but relevant note: Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” plays in the episode in which Mother’s Milk’s OCD is revealed.

In the second episode of Season 2, Hughie plays the “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” music video on repeat, watching as it opens with a young man on a city bridge and Billy Joel as a Clarence Odbody type figure from It’s A Wonderful Life. I’ve been there myself, playing Doctor Who speeches and David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” on loop till the dark tide rights itself and I can face the day. The Boys deals with coping mechanisms to help you hold on till your “Second Wind,” including how to reach out and see the warning signs in others. It works hard to help break the stigma of masculine men talking about mental health, particularly in the scene where team members confront Billy Butcher, the foul-mouthed leader of the team, after seeing suicidal warning signs. When I was demoted at my job due to the pandemic, I took it really hard and had to reach for the building blocks of my mental health toolbelt in order to build myself back up. The organization I worked for was a complete one-eighty compared to where I was working before I went into the hospital, which also helped: an attentive coworker noticed and went to Human Resources, and we ended up having a dialogue about how I was coping. So, I definitely appreciate additions to the superhero genre, such as The Boys, that help to open up the discussion of mental health awareness.

Not that there aren’t missteps along the way. Episode 6 of the second season reveals that the megacorporation Vought is experimenting on inpatients at the Sage Grove Center to stabilize the effects of Compound V on adults. The treatment of mental health in the superhero genre in this episode felt more similar in tone to DC’s Heroes in Crisis miniseries (written by Tom King, art by Clay Mann). Heroes in Crisis is a murder mystery set around Sanctuary, a hospital for superheroes dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the first issue, everyone at Sanctuary has been murdered except for the suspects on the run, and we follow the “whodunnit” for the remaining nine issues. I found this first issue of Heroes in Crisis triggering. I knew how many years it took me to check into the hospital for help. And when I finally did check into the hospital, I walked past others pacing outside, wondering if they should turn back or walk inside. Once inside, it took a while to become comfortable around my other floormates and to sleep soundly at night. Quickly, I saw that we were all in this together and would rally everyone for group sessions. New patients thought I was a counselor until they saw that I wasn’t wearing shoes but traction socks. These fellow patients saved my life. I built a survivor’s bond by being vulnerable with all of these people. So a comic book that shows that letting your guard down, checking yourself in for help, and sharing your story can get a person killed felt ironically tone-deaf. And this from the company that publishes Superman—a symbol of hope with super hearing—as one of their biggest icons.

If we learn anything from The Boys, it’s that the average person can stand up to superheroes and the corporations they represent. We can shine a light on what needs correcting in the overarching message of mental health in the comic book genre. The Boys made some steps in the right direction, but from where I’m sitting, I see the fan community—not the industry—taking the lead on mental health awareness. Librarian and teacher resource groups have lists available for biographical comic books for all ages that center around mental health. I am happy to say that these lists are growing and that those works are not only winning awards—like Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka and New Kid by Jerry Craft—but are also being adapted into movies like I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & Ken Niimura, and musicals like Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. As we open up the conversation about mental health awareness, I feel comics and graphic novels are a great tool to convey and connect about the daily challenges and victories achieved not by saving the world but by choosing to face the world. San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) had multiple mental health awareness panels this past summer, and I encourage more conventions to offer similar mental health panels.

But more importantly, I encourage fans to share their stories and help decrease the stigma of mental health. I suffered for as long as I did because I grew up thinking it was stronger to hold it all in like a secret identity. I had a plan to take my life by suicide. But I got help. I found a name for what I had been both silently and publicly struggling with. Bipolar Depression is a part of me and I work on managing it every day, but it does not define me. It is a part of my story, but not the whole story. After all, as a wise man once sang (probably at nine o’clock on a Saturday), “I’m Only Human.”

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing: Jihyun Yun

An Interview with Jihyun Yun on Soup, Cottagecore Aesthetics, & K-Pop

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.

Laura Villareal (LV)

This is a cozy list of topics to talk about as we move through the winter months. What are some of your favorite soups? Do you have any recipes that you love?

Jihyun Yun (JY)

Oh, this is hard, there are so many! Soup is my favorite kind of food and I could happily eat it for every meal of the day (and I often do!). My ultimate comfort soup in the winter is probably a Korean one called Seolleongtang  which is a very mild bone broth seasoned with only salt, pepper, and scallions. It tastes very simple and soothing, but it’s an all-day endeavor to make and it’s very temperamental. If you don’t boil it long enough, it’ll be too thin and if you boil it at the wrong heat, the broth will turn a little brown from marrow. I have lots of memories of coming downstairs in the middle of the night and seeing my mom asleep against the kitchen island with the burner still going behind her. I feel like most latchkey kids have one particular dish that their parents would often make in bulk and leave for them to pick at throughout the week. Bone broth keeps well in the fridge, so it was mine. I probably complained about being sick of it when I was younger, but now it’s what I crave when I’m lonely or miss my family.

I also love pho and Vietnamese noodle soup dishes of all kinds, which feels like a given for anyone from the Bay Area. When I’m back in California, San Jose pho is always one of the first things I seek out.

As for recipes, my go-to is this soft tofu stew recipe. It’s spicy, comforting, customizable and most importantly, very east to make (if you can find the ingredients).

LV

I’ve seen so much more cottagecore content across social media platforms since we began isolating during the pandemic—like people are making sourdough starters, starting gardens, etc… What interests you about cottagecore?

JY

It’s a pretty new interest, and I have to admit I don’t know a whole lot about it yet. In all honesty, my interest in cottagecore only started during the pandemic when I came across BlackForager on Instagram (I don’t know if she would consider herself cottagecore, but she teaches her audience how to identify plants, forage and make amazing things like acorn jelly and pawpaw bread from scratch. I learn so much from her content, I hope everyone checks her out!).

Personally, I’m not interested in the little house on the prairie decorative/fashion aspects and more interested in the cultivation aspect. Like everyone, I too have made sourdough and started an herb garden this year. I’ve also found lots of personal fulfillment in processes like making jam or canning and pickling things: all labor that I have always been too busy for. I wonder if the rise of cottagecore lately is, in addition to most of us being sequestered to our homes and desperate to escape zoom, a reaction to the many failures of capitalism that the pandemic has made even more obvious. I’ve been unemployed for months and hit the point of feeling like “oh, you want to bail out wall street but leave folks to survive on a $1,200 check with no rent relief and grocery prices going up? Fuck you, I’ll learn to make my own bread.” Which is, I know, such a small rebellion. But anything that gives me any sense of agency right now feels immeasurably important and fulfilling.

Also, I think now is the time when we all need to lean fully into any somatic pleasures that are available to us: touching soil, baking and eating pie, sunning ourselves outside with hot tea. All things the aesthetic seems to advocate for.

LV

I totally agree about how we need to “lean fully into somatic pleasures” right now. Cottagecore seems to encourage folks to see the process before the product. You mentioned finding fulfillment in making jams, pickling, and baking. Was there a process that surprised you by its simplicity or that you enjoyed more than a store-bought product?

JY

I had no idea that making jam was so simple! I made it for the first time when I forgot to put a bag of frozen mixed berries in the freezer. It was basically mush when I discovered it, but I didn’t want it to go to waste so I threw it on the stove with a bunch of sugar and some lime juice and hoped for the best. There’s something very comforting about tending to something over low heat for a long time, and it ended up great! I prefer it to most commercial store-bought jams for certain because I can personalize the sweetness levels. Lately, I’ve been enjoying experimenting a little more with adding spices and citrus peels to batches. It’s a nice way to pass time and level up my breakfast game.

LV

K-Pop fascinates me. It’s a wonderful hybrid mix of genres and the stars work so incredibly hard to hone their craft. I’ve said more than once this year, “Who knew K-Pop stans would save us all” after they’ve taken over hateful hashtags and Trump’s Tulsa Rally. What do you think it is about this genre of music that has made its fans an ally in the revolution?

JY

K-pop fans and Tik-Tokers sabotaging the Tulsa Rally was one of the rare things that made me belly laugh during the pandemic. It’s been really wonderful to see fans getting involved in this way (often by trolling. Like that time when they crashed police tip apps that were collecting information on protesters by flooding it with K-pop memes). The most salient instance that comes to mind though is when BTS fans matched the group’s 1 million dollar donation to the Black Lives Matter global network in less than 24 hours. Truly incredible, and if it’s possible to stan a fanbase, I definitely stan the BTS Army.

I think it has less to do with the music and more to do with the type of fans internationally that are drawn to K-pop in the first place. The fact that they are able to love the genre at all indicates that they’re people who are less likely to be deterred by arbitrary borders like language or cultural differences.

I think it also needs to be said that while there are many non-Black allies within the K-pop fandom, the fandom does span across all demographics. Many of these efforts were initiated by and contributed to most fervently by Black K-pop fans.

LV

Yes, excellent points! Especially the point about K-pop stans not being “deterred by arbitrary borders like language or cultural differences” What are some of your favorite K-Pop groups?

JY

My favorite K-pop group is definitely BTS! I’ve been a big fan since 2016, and it’s been so lovely to see them breaking down linguistic barriers in the states and challenging stereotypical notions of western masculinity. Maybe it’s because I never really expected to hear Korean on national television here, I feel personally invested in their success.

Aside from BTS, I really like girl groups. I listen to Twice when I’m down and want to cheer up, I listen to Red Velvet when I want to relax, and I listen to Mamamoo when I need energy. K-pop is so often denigrated for no good reason that often just boils down to xenophobia, but it’s a very diverse genre and I think there is something for everyone if people listen to it with an open mind.

January Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

Look at 2021 as 2020: The Redo. December might have been wishy-washy, but January will be a seize-the-day kind of month. Break out your New Year’s resolutions and embrace 2021 like it’s going out of style. Don’t forget to live in the moment, too—the now is everything.

And you have two story picks this month. After 2020, I thought you deserved a treat.

  • Teaser: “When she comes home from space, the astronaut will feel so heavy. She will lift her arms from her sides, marvel at the immense weight of them.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

Now is the time to play your cards, Taurus! If there’s something extra you’ve wanted to take on, this is the time to do it to it. A confidence boost should lighten your steps by the end of the month. So, those insecurities don’t stand a chance.

But first, this mesmerizing read:

  • Teaser: “She took cold showers. She ate peanut butter sandwiches, drank chocolate milk, and watched re-runs of Bewitched. Maybe she could be a mother, after all.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Let’s be honest: December wasn’t half bad. You got to feed your inner gremlin. Be a holiday junkie. Turn into a carnivorous houseplant—all that fun stuff. This month, though, you’ll be coming down from your sugar high. In fact, indecision may visit you on the daily.

Combat nauseating January by stocking up on good stories and poems. Speaking of…

Teaser: “If the river flowed only once a year we would / be drunk on the whole expanse of it, / we are the riff in this song, / we gulp birds & frogs & cattails, / because here we are, this is the day.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Don’t worry about high tides, you responsible stick-in-the-mud—just kidding!—because it looks like calm waters ahead. You might even feel on top of the world for the next 31-ish days. Oh, and keep your peepers open: A new relationship is on the way!

I have just the story pick for you, too.

  • Teaser: “When we finally met, it was at the library where I worked. I was shelving books on astronomy. ‘Did you know the bigger a star, the shorter its lifespan?’ someone asked from behind me.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

In January, you’ll want to stay with the stars. Honestly, the holidays can have that effect on the best of us. Keep your feet on the ground with some tough love and good ol’ fashioned discipline. You might sparkle in summer, but you can shine in winter, too.

When you need a break, here’s a monthly story pick that’s just for you:

  • Teaser: “You’re across the bar jingling quarters in your cupped palm, blue-faced from the light of the jukebox, looking for songs that aren’t there when a woman wearing a purple tutu on her head says she’ll read my palm for a shot and a beer.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Some sticky days are in your January forecast. Bad news aside, you only need to put in a lot of effort to turn that frown upside down (sorry, dad humor). Schedule some extra Skype calls and visit your loved ones to make up for it. And treat yourself to a little TLC, of course.

My recommendation? Read this great story pick:

  • Teaser: When we get back to the river, other drifters amble along hoping we’ll share, and sometimes if we’re feeling the fellowship, we’ll offer a short pull. Otherwise, forget it. River rules: There are no rules.”
neuromancer by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

They say Leos can be great partners for balanced folks like yourself. This month, take the opportunity to declare some romantic intentions (virtual style!) Knowing you, the whole thing will be disorganized and just a tad over-the-top. Be true to yourself, but maybe don’t ask to meet their parents yet.

In the meantime, check out your story pick for January.

  • Teaser: “Like how the first thing you did when you were alone with him was to press the release valve over his heart and listen quietly while he spilled words that came out trailing dust from being held in for so long, subtly coated in disbelief that someone could do this, one random night at 1 a.m. in a nightclub.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Congrats, you made it to 2021! I wasn’t sure if you would still be in one piece (I kid, I kid). According to my tarot cards, this should be your best New Year yet. Start January right and make a few changes in your life. No need for olive branches—psh, that’s not you—but put that ambitious nature to good use.

On the way, dip your toes into this fantastic read.

  • Teaser: “Both turned to the child, whose mouth had dropped open, unhinging, jaw distending to mid chest. There were no teeth inside, only a gaping darkness, wide enough to fit a grown man’s shoulders, wide enough to fit the universe, every star in the sky.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Since it’s the New Year, you’ll be in hyper-go-mode. This past year has been hard for most people (to put it lightly). I know staying indoors drives you crazy, but you’re almost to the finish line—do whatever it takes and hold out a little longer. Lap those stairs between your bed and your work station. Call friends. Read, read, read.

Speaking of, this story pick is sure to hit all the notes for you.

  • Teaser:He snaps a photo, listens to the whir. Crawling into his car, Jackson turns the ignition and sets out toward Sarasota, his window down, Polaroids trailing his exhaust like orange oak leaves.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

Man, you’re killing it, Capricorn! Winter looks like a stellar time for you. The stars will be aligned in your favor till the 19th. Having said that, there might be a pinch of negativity toward the end of the month (come on, don’t groan). Enjoy your time in the limelight before you go back to being your responsible self.

Start by cracking open this gorgeous read.

  • Teaser: “And I painted with a brush until you told me you’d like nothing better than to live surrounded by the whorls of my fingerprints, forever.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

You had your fun in December, but now, it’s time to cut the holiday chord and get back to business. Try your hand at some much needed reflection. Think about your goals for the New Year; i.e., ponder what’s important and quit shelfing any pesky obligations.

Treat yourself with an enthralling story pick.

  • Teaser: Once everyone is counted, the numbers don’t match from the notebook to the preliminary count I’ve been given to audit. I realize I haven’t counted myself. And I bear back down to count again but it’s too late, everyone has moved and changed clothes and changed families and homes and names.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

It’s Jumpstart January, Pisces. This means you can ditch the storm cloud from 2020 and start fresh. After all, your adaptable nature is ripe for a transformation. Climb out of that cocoon so you can start planning for a new stage in your life.

But remember loved ones from the past, too. Try to keep their memories alive without losing yourself.

  • Teaser: “and you’ll want to friend them back / for that split second before you remember / they’re dead—and more so in the hollow pause after”

December Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

November was all about indulgence. This month won’t be quite as satisfying, but it won’t have any Debbie Downers, either. Greet the end of the year and reflect on your goals for 2021. I might be biased, but I have a feeling that it will be your best year yet.

Start by digging into this offbeat and arresting read. 

  • Teaser: “Day 1. It started when someone forgot the cereal.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

A few health issues might make an appearance over the holiday season. Combat them with all the things you love, virtual style. Try a tea or coffee advent calendar. Buy some chocolates, go on a blind date with a book—Etsy has all the good ones!

Once you’re settled, immerse yourself in this heartbreaking, beautifully written story.

  • Teaser: Don’t think about how you know things about your best friend that even her future husband doesn’t know, like how she got that scar on her foot and why she refused to watch any movie set in outer space.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Last month, you motored through all kinds of creative projects. Now, it’s time to feed your inner gremlin/holiday junkie/carnivorous houseplant. Set aside some nights so you can recharge and mentally prepare yourself for the wintry season. C’mon, you’ll be more productive if you rest up.

And don’t forget your stock pick:

  • Teaser: “Scott and I found the ghost in our attic. She was sitting in an old rocking chair my mother didn’t think matched the rest of our decor. I pulled on the light string.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

You might become a tad disappointed with your friends. Try to remember that they’re only human, and this year has been hard on everyone. The other areas of your life will be sprinkled with goodness. You might stumble into a new relationship come January, but let’s save that surprise for the New Year. 

Lose yourself in this enthralling read.

  • Teaser: “The day I lost my mind, I stepped into my clip-in biking shoes, and sailed through the morning like a rock through a window, determined to bike to work despite the cold.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

This month, you’re due for some oh-so-fun complications. Don’t fret, though; everything will clear up before you can say “Grandma got run over by a reindeer!” (Do kids still know about that song? No? I’ll see myself out). P.S. Your cheery nature will shine extra bright around the 19th

Oh, and save this moving poem for when you need a treat.

  • Teaser: “Now I sit on her small couch, / at times a stranger to her, at other times another client, / only occasionally myself.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Treat chilly December as an opportunity to make up for lost time. You might prefer the burnt ends of summer, but when it comes to creative endeavors, the winter season could offer all kinds of inspiration for your angsty soul. 

But first, this mesmerizing read:

  • Teaser: She wears $45 lipstick called Heart’s Blood™ and leaves red blots on the linen napkins she makes me set out for her. She waxes her eyebrows away and then draws them back on in the shape of the Gateway Arch.”
female icarus by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Oh Libra, I’m glad you made it through summer and fall. Now you can sprint into the holidays and party like it’s 1999. In your home. Virtually. Hey, at least there’s no shortage of wine! Don’t forget to hydrate and eat lots of bread. Bonus: You might just get a certain promotion at work (wink, wink). 

In the meantime, check out your story pick for December.

  • Teaser: “Those nights were not the beginning of a winning trajectory or the start of a big finish—they were the pinnacle of our spirits, the peak brightness of our light-shining hearts.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Guess what, Scorpio? Your November romance is still going strong! That’s an impressive feat to pull off during a pandemic. I would say don’t be a shrinking violet—your accomplishments this year were downright impressive—but that’s not a concern for charismatic folks like yourself! Mind you, I say that with love.

Before you strut your stuff, though, crack open this truly unique read.

  • Teaser: “When you are inhabited by a geography, its waters – / the animal scent of the marsh, the brine-soak / of the ocean – rise into your mouth. You swallow.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

It’s that time, my friend: Winter has finally come! Most nights, you’ll dream of snow and wake up giddy. Cackle from the rooftop. Sing in the shower. Get a little wild or a lot cozy. Channel all that energy into whatever you choose—it’s your month to shine, you lovely ball of sugar/spice/everything nice.

I have just the story pick for you, too.

  • Teaser: “Edith will continue to visit that patch of forest, looking for secrets in sunlight, shafts of whispered incantations hiding among the trees, decades of worship with her eyes closed.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

In December, your careful plans may go ass over tea kettle. It’s either that or you’re fated to run into a bee’s nest (What? These tea leaves can be hard to read.) If it helps, you’re supposed to get a reprieve around the 16th for some sweet, sweet relief. 

This compelling story will distract you from wishy-washy December.

  • Teaser: “In month six of quarantine, I still feel a writhing squid in my throat when they call.” 

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Good news, Aquarius: This month is sure to sparkle like a wintry wonderland. More good news: Your relationships are going to blossom now more than ever. Why, you might ask? Apparently, the cosmos rolled the dice in your favor!

When you’re not giving thanks to the heavens, check out this innovative story pick.

  • Teaser: Thank you for calling, how may I be of assistance tonight? yes, I can tell you if he’s thinking about you (he is) and whether or not he’s going to call you (probably not tonight, though he should tomorrow), but I can’t tell you how to be happy without the knowledge that you crossed his mind while he washed the dust from his hair, the other parts of his day circling the shower drain.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

November might have been pedal to the metal, but in December, you’ll be back to cruising speed. In fact, there’s no need to put on any airs this month. Wear those old robes and start a Netflix show or a garden-balcony-hobby. You deserve to start 2021 feeling rested and refreshed. 

Your story pick is a stunner, too.

  • Teaser: Grace will keep every baby tooth in a tiny porcelain treasure chest. She will keep an inch of umbilical cord, dehydrated as a pressed rose.”

TO FUGGEDABOUTIT OR NOT TO FUGGEDABOUTIT

In celebration of the recent release of F(r)iction #17: Memory, we bring you this read-along…

Friction #17 with Tea

This year has been a real dumpster fire, and if the technology existed, I’m sure there would be plenty of folks lined up (six socially distant feet apart) to eternal sunshine the whole sordid mess of it down the drain. Opting in to selectively edit unpleasant memories from one’s mind is an appealing prospect for anyone who’s ever experienced a loss, a breakup, or an internet comment-thread, but is ignorance really bliss? Is forgetting the best medicine? Think about how frustrating it is when we can’t remember that actor’s name or who sang the song that’s earwormed its way into our brains—would forgetting an entire YEAR bring us welcome relief or would we find ourselves in a “no memories, ‘mo problems” situation?

Since science hasn’t yet given us the option to permanently erase what ails us, there’s no empirical data about whether or not the benefits of memory-scrubbing outweigh its possible downsides. So, to help you draw your own conclusions on the matter, here are ten unforgettable (groan) books about forgetting—a diverse sampling of fiction and memoir, adult and YA, prose, and graphic storytelling containing accounts of both voluntary and involuntary memory loss. Did I forget anything? 

The Low, Low Woods

by Carmen Maria Machado, DaNi (DC Comics, 2020)

In the dying coal-town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania, two teengirl BFFs, El and Vee, wake up in a deserted movie theater with their underpants on inside-out and no memories beyond the film’s opening credits. What begins like an SVU episode pivots sharply into Buffy’s feminist-supernatural territory as we discover that the pervasive memory loss affecting the town’s female population is far from its only concern: sinkholes swallow people whole, the woods teem with malformed creatures and magic mushrooms, and the local witch can only do so much. So the pals unite to battle the patriarchy and the packs of skinless men, seeking justice for the town’s women in-between college application essays and smooching other girls.

The Book of M

by Peng Sheperd (William Morrow, 2018)

What happens to humanity when a mysterious phenomenon begins affecting a percentage of the world’s population, causing first their shadows, and then their memories, to disappear? Even more worrisome here is the object impermanence—whatever the shadowless forget vanishes from the world, and what they misremember manifests, so now guns fire rounds of thunderstorms and deer have wings on their heads. The world becomes increasingly unstable and unpredictable, as the epidemic threatens to erase thousands of years of human progress: transportation, cities, literature. It’s also hell on relationships. If you think it’s bad when your spouse forgets your anniversary, think about what could happen if they forgot…you.

True Story

by Kate Reed Petty (Viking, 2020)

Following a night of teenage partying, Alice passed out in the backseat of the car driving her home. Afterward, two boys bragged about what they did to her while she was unconscious. Although she has no memory of being sexually assaulted, she’s ashamed, and suffers through the fallout of reputation-damaging rumors and victim-blaming until the incident is swept under the rug to protect the boys’ future. Fifteen years later, Alice is still defined by what she can’t remember, and her sense of self and self-worth have suffered from the lack of closure. Reflecting Alice’s fragmented memory, the novel shifts through multiple perspectives, genres, and formats, mixing up facts, fiction and memory until the true story emerges. 

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

by Sarah Hepola (Grand Central Publishing, 2015)

For an actual true story of alcoholic amnesia, there’s Sarah Hepola’s frank, funny recovery memoir. Organizations offering memory-wiping services may not exist, but Hepola managed to achieve countless memory gaps DIYing the process with blackouts caused by excessive alcohol consumption. More grandiose than mere unconsciousness, blackouts are the demonic possession version of passing out, where your body carries on doing and saying all sorts of things without your knowledge. This means that sometimes you wake up in a dog bed and sometimes you wake up in the middle of having sex with a man you’ve never seen before, unsure what country you’re in, living out some NSFW Quantum Leap fanfic. “Oh, boy,” indeed. 

The Book of Memory

by Petina Gappah (Faber and Faber, 2015)

We all know that our memories can’t be trusted, but can we trust a CHARACTER named Memory?

Memory is an albino of Shona descent sitting on death row in a Zimbabwean prison, convicted of murdering her white adoptive father; a loving man whose wealth afforded her every opportunity in life. Whether or not she did it, and why, is the question at the heart of the novel, but (M)memory is slippery. She shares her story in circuitous, occasionally contradictory episodes, frequently alluding to how malleable memory can be as she orbits the truth and keeps her secrets close. Memory puts the ‘lie’ in ‘unreliable narrator,’ ultimately proving that neither capital-m Memory nor lowercase-m memory is trustworthy. 

The Good Son

by You-Jeong Jeong (Penguin Books, 2018)

Although “murdering your mother” is the kind of thing anyone would like to forget, if there’s a chance you didn’t actually do it, it’s probably worth investigating. After waking up covered in blood in the duplex apartment he used to share with his mother—and now shares with her corpse—over the course of three intense and revealing days, the seizure-prone, memory-gapped Yu-jin will do just that. Armed with his mother’s journal and what little he can remember from the night of her death, he will stop taking his blackout-inducing epilepsy meds and try to get to the bottom of what he did—or didn’t—do. 

More Happy Than Not

by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015)

Sixteen years spent growing up in the boogie-down Bronx have exposed Aaron Soto to many adult-sized problems: gun violence, racism, his mother’s struggles to make ends meet, and his father’s recent suicide. He’s been dealing with his grief and depression alongside some lingering neurological quirks following his own suicide attempt. And yet, it isn’t until he starts developing romantic feelings for his new friend Thomas that he decides to pay a visit to the Leteo Institute to take advantage of their memory-altering/uncomfortable-urge-suppressing services. Then he’ll finally be able to reciprocate the love of his otherwise-perfect girlfriend Genevieve, right? It’s not like sexual orientation is one of those deeply-rooted core identity thingies, right? 

The Memory Police

by Yōko Ogawa (Pantheon Books, 2019)

In The Book of M, amnesiacs inadvertently forget things out of existence, but in the ultra-dystopian world of The Memory Police, the opposite is true, and object-specific amnesia is compulsory. Not only must the citizens of the novel’s unnamed island collectively forget the existence of certain items—hats, flowers, boats—they must also gather and destroy the physical objects themselves, ensuring that what happens in amnesia stays in amnesia. Failure to do so puts them at risk for a visit from the titular Memory Police, who can also make the disobedient disappear. 

🎵 They command you while you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve complied or not, so forget for goodness’ sake. 🎵  

The Blinds

by Adam Sternbergh (Ecco, 2017)

In the real world, snitches get stitches, but in the town of Caesura, informants and criminals live together in harmony, thanks to the magic of memory erasure. It’s a next-level experiment in Witness Protection; a gated community deep in middle-of-nowhere Texas for both criminals and victims of crimes looking for a fresh start. Cut off from the rest of the world, free to leave—but not to return—these folks are given new identities and selective memory wipes freeing them from the knowledge-burden of what they’ve done or who wants to kill them, whether those individuals are on the outside or…right next door. It’s an elegant system: Don’t ask, don’t know, can’t tell. What could go wrong? 

Mother Daughter Widow Wife

by Robin Wasserman (Scribner, 2020)

A woman suffering from dissociative amnesia forgets who she is and abandons her home and family…twice, years apart. Wendy Doe, stripped of her identity, becomes more symbol than woman; a clinical puzzle to those studying her case and a family mystery to her daughter Alice. As Wendy begins to reinvent herself without the weight of memories and obligations, the novel shifts from psychological to philosophical suspense, becoming a reflective examination of the relationship between identity and memory. How much of who we are is dependent upon our memories? What could we become without the roles and expectations assigned to us by others? And, circling back to our original question: can forgetting everything be an opportunity for growth and healing? 

November Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

Embrace your true self this month. Don’t put on any airs with friends or family members or roommates. Instead, wear those worn but comfy clothes, buy that baked good over three-point-five berries; opt for indulgences over a harsh regimen. You deserve a break and, frankly, 2020 has been kind of a nightmare.

First thing’s first: Crack open this raw, stunning read:

  • Teaser: “November whispers purgatory / wrings its hands until / sound sleep and shivers / slough off of its skin”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

Last month was all about campy movies and old habits. November won’t be quite as exciting, but it won’t have any big downers, either. Use this time to start thinking about your goals for 2021. I might be biased, but I have a feeling that the new year will be one of your best yet. 

Celebrate with this fun and offbeat story. It has teeth, after all. 

  • Teaser: They hold me to it. George and Ross’s heads roll over to me. Bill rubs his belly, and it’s time. They take me, and I hold the heads in my arms. Bill and Lynnie sing to me. Chant to me. Like I’m the only one.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Treat dreary November as an opportunity to make up for lost time. (What? It’s all about October and December). When it comes to creative projects, the heart of autumn is your time to shine. So, don’t give in to your moodiness or inconsistent nature all the time. C’mon, I know you can do it!

Your reward is this touching yet inventive read:

  • Teaser: “Makeisha has always been able to bend the fourth dimension, though no one believes her.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! This means you can dive into a new project and immerse yourself in all that goodness. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the drama around you. Stay in that cocoon, friend. 

After you read your story pick, of course.

  • Teaser: “Behind Mitch’s parents stood two creatures. A tall, thin woman with long white hair and large ivory horns, wearing several necklaces heavy with human teeth.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

Since it’s officially pumpkin-spice-everything-nice season, you’ll be in a cheery and hyper mode. A few changes will come your way around the 16th, though. That would be a bummer for most people, but you’re a rock star when it comes to this stuff. Keep being your fabulous self!

Start by digging into this poignant read. 

  • Teaser: “And now sure enough, she finds herself dazzled by glass and steel, by crowds of faces. Thankful for the sense of invisibility in this new world, yet longing for the green fields of home.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Now that October has ended, you might want to cool it with the nightly shenanigans (unless you remember to bring a parka). This month, you’ll have an opportunity to see things for what they are—not how you want them to be. No judgment if you need to shove your head in the sand.

Or, you know, find a shovel. But read this story pick first.

  • Teaser: “Down in tunnel-dark, light slices past manhole cracks, like peeking up through vertical keyhole, decaying stink, and I never really saw her until I could barely see her at all.”
the golden age of radio by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Some butter-side down days will hit near the end of autumn. If you’re so inclined, try a little maximum effort and turn that frown upside down (sorry, dad humor). When you’re not channeling your inner Deadpool—yikes but also freaking awesome—spend extra time with loved ones to make up for the cloudy days. 

My recommendation? Distract yourself with some gorgeous poetry.

  • Teaser: “the way sleep begins as speculation, marmoreal / & lush. the mind loosening its ropes on the body”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

For you, the flavor of November is a Jack-Skellington-style-romance. Halloween may be over, but you can still channel The Nightmare Before Christmas. So, buy extra breath mints and whisk your partner away for some hot n’ heavy dates. We’re talking shower-singing levels of happiness here. It’s your month, after all!

And check out this fantastic story pick. 

  • Teaser: For their wedding in a temple on a lone hill, she wears a transparent red dress, a black veil over her face resembling a cobweb. A rose garland on his frail-white frame, electric-blue shades taped on his pointed nose.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

If last month was ripe with good times, then November will be more of a contemplative period for you. You might even forget about the latest holiday. And that’s fine. This year, you won’t be interested in celebrating with turkey or pie. Stay true to the course, friend—it’ll be winter before you know it. 

In the meantime, I have just the story for you. 

  • Teaser: “Everyone is already gone, but the dregs of their drinks remain. Shuffling along the bar, glugging flat half-glasses of IPAs and DIPAs and Belgians, he catalogs their tastes: lipstick, cigarettes. Forty flavors of bitterness.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

Start this month with a bang. October may have been all about family, but November will be a full-steam-ahead kind of month. Finish old projects and embrace the end of the year. Change is ahead, my friends. Don’t freak out—that’s a good thing.

Your monthly read awaits, too. 

  • Teaser: “The girl in the mirror waves from afar, like she doesn’t care. She doesn’t recognize me, like I have unzipped me to come out as somebody else.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

November will be a tedious month of boredom for you. Try to ride it out so your brain can recharge (stop to smell the roses and all that). While you’ll enjoy the next few weeks, it’ll still be an unremarkable time for you. Around the 20th, commune with nature or try retail therapy.

And read your story pick, of course.

  • Dad, by Jo Withers
  • Teaser: We knew it was mean but when Dad started losing his mind, we persuaded him he was dead already.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

October was all about having fun and embracing your marshmallow center. Think of November as “opposite day,” so put on that game face gathering dust in your closet, and prepare for a few anvils in your professional or personal life. Sorry to break it to you!

Try to recover with this mesmerizing read:

  • Teaser: “In bed, it was so quiet, I heard the acorns drop from the oaks onto the graves as if someone was knocking.”

A Review of Heck, Texas by Tex Gresham

Published September 4, 2020 by Atlatl Press

Heck, Texas is not a novel. The cover even says so. It’s a fairly short work of fiction by Tex Gresham, who also wrote the excellent nonfiction piece “Matchstick 66” published in F(r)iction #15. The book is 125 pages of experimental fiction, so I’m pretty sure that the “not a novel” description excludes novellas as well. Heck, Texas is more like a joke book. A very bleak, disturbing, and yet creative joke book. There isn’t much in the way of narrative cohesion. Instead, the book uses a series of vignettes to illustrate life in heck-on-Earth, Texas. Based on geographical locations in the book, Heck, TX seems to be between Houston and the Louisiana boarder. 

The text is generally chaotic, with the rules of writing and style completely thrown aside. Capital letters and punctuation are for the birds, while ampersands abound. Brief lines of verse break up the onslaught of violence and abuse in each vignette. Occasionally, a photograph or drawing will break up the text, while the different typefaces for the vignettes keep the reader aware that the stories are disconnected in time and space. 

The book is divided into three sections. The first two are entirely made up of these disjointed vignettes. The third is the closest Heck, Texas comes to a conventional plot and character arc. This section is written like a screenplay, where a madman named Ishmael journeys through town burglarizing houses, screwing with pedestrians, haunting storage units, and evading authority. 

Most characters exist on the fringes of society: they’re poor, they’re ugly, they’re addicts, they’re suffering. The way they’re described is as though they are unwritten song titles from the deranged southern metal band The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza: “this is in the back of his car––kick drum with torn head, empty pack of newports, nine unused spiral notebooks, book about the coulthurst murders in alaska, & a gallon of eggnog.” 

Most of the stories are tragic, and the ones that aren’t end with a cruel joke at the character’s expense. For example, one character is at a club one night and slips into an existential crisis. His stream of consciousness covers meaning, solipsism, beauty, and living in the present. He comes to some profound realizations. Once he’s finished rambling, a stripper asks him, “Okay, but like do you want a lapdance or not?” 

It’s a foul-mouthed book, with plenty of offensive language and slurs. But the bad language illustrates the closed-minded and ignorant people that inhabit Heck, TX. I’m reminded of Mid90s, a 2018 film that took some flak for using homophobic slurs. The movie depicted a specific youth culture and time where what is now considered hate speech was common vernacular. In the same way, Heck, Texas is simply holding up a mirror to the worst parts of Americana. 

I give Gresham a lot of credit for a book this nasty being his debut. If you’re the type of person that can find humor in the macabre, if there’s a streak of misanthropy in you, if you’ve been desensitized to violence by a supremely violent culture, then this book might be for you. If you’re easily offended, if you’re an empath who feels all pain, and you don’t enjoy immature toilet humor, then this book definitely ain’t for you. The seventh page of the book even ends with a footnoted warning: “to continue with more shit like this, turn the page[.] to stop reading shit like this, burn the book[.]”

I like Heck, Texas for the same reason I like the music of Father John Misty. Both completely own their shit. Josh Tillman as Father John Misty is a self-absorbed asshole know-it-all. He indulges that side of himself and owns his flaws, giving honesty and authenticity to his music. Tex Gresham has written a book that is so crass and vile in a political climate where making racy jokes is not welcome, but he also owns what he likes. He finds humor in pain, in body horror, and reminds readers that what is taboo does not have to be off-limits. A lot of readers will only see the offensive stories in this book at face value. They won’t spend time trying to understand why someone wrote such a disturbing comedy: Heck, TX exists all over the United States. 

Eight years ago, my house caught on fire. When I walked inside the next day and saw how wrecked my living room was, I blurted out laughing and disturbed the insurance agent who was walking around with my landlord. Heck, Texas is like that. In a world, a town, a culture so sick, all you can do is laugh. Heck, Texas is, as Anthony Fantano once so eloquently said, “the feel terrible hit of the summer.”

An Interview with Lara Ehrlich

What inspired you to write this collection? Did you always know you were going to create a short story collection, and if so, how did that affect your writing process?

The collection began with the title story, which I began writing as a young adult novel. I wrote hundreds of pages but it wasn’t gelling, and I realized that’s because it was meant to be a short story! I pared it down to the kernel of the story: the relationship between the mother and daughter.

While writing this and the next few stories in the collection, I was interested in exploring the threshold between childhood and adulthood and how fraught this period is with anxiety, fear, shame, and desire—feelings children don’t yet understand when anticipating their adulthood. Throughout the years, my focus shifted to the concerns of adulthood, wifehood, and motherhood—the various roles women accumulate throughout their lives. 

As these themes came into focus, I began writing toward them. For example, the protagonists of “The Vanishing Point” and “Burn Rubber” were originally male, but as the collection became woman-centric, I realized that all of the stories should be from a female perspective, and I changed those protagonists into women. That choice transformed the stories. My goal was to publish the stories as a collection so I wrote with that cohesion in mind, even as I published them individually in literary magazines.

These short stories all have some animal element in them, whether it’s real or fantastical. Did you go into creating this collection of stories with that element in mind?

I was halfway into the book before I realized that the stories all had animal elements, some more obvious than others. Once I recognized this element, I began to incorporate it more consciously into the stories. In part, this obsession comes from my love of fairy tales, which so often center on the transformation of animals into humans and humans into animals as a means of both entrapment and escape. 

In the swan maiden folktale that’s central to “Animal Wife,” for example, a human man steals a swan’s feathered cloak, trapping her in human form. There are many variations of this myth, featuring selkies, snakes, and fish, in which a wild beast is trapped and domesticated. She eventually reclaims her skin and returns to her true form, abandoning her family along with her human identity. 

Each of the women in these stories are unique, yet they’re easily recognizable as women we know, or women we have been. How did you tackle creating these characters? 

I tackled each character differently. I’ll use Diana, the protagonist of “The Vanishing Point,” as an example. Diana constructs a biomechanical deer suit and lives in the woods behind her childhood home. I needed her to be physically believable as a human and as a human wearing an animal body—and mentally and emotionally believable in her attempt to escape her life through transformation. 

I grounded Diana with realistic details so readers could suspend their disbelief as Diana embarks on her fantastical transformation. I interviewed women scientists to accurately represent Diana’s biomechanics career and the challenges she’d face as a woman in academia. I learned that the emphasis on postdoctoral research, grant-funded positions that prevent PhD scientists from starting their careers in earnest until their mid-thirties, pressures women to choose between work and family. I gave Diana this anxiety of being caught between her career ambitions and her yearning for a family, having just lost her parents. I did a lot of character layering to capture what Diana’s body feels like at various points, how her mental state changes, what she wants, and what, by the end of the story, she’s resigned to want. 

We get to see not only how situations affect the women in your stories on the surface, but also how those same women choose to react to those situations at a deeper level. How important was it for you to show the inner lives of women?

It’s crucial! In the majority of these stories, I found my way into a protagonist’s inner life through her exterior life, through transformation and fantasy. In “Foresight,” for example, a woman drinks a potion that allows her to see the outcome of every choice she makes, which branches off into countless other choices until she can see all of her possible lives branching into infinity. The protagonist lives hundreds of lives in the space of that 800-word story—but in the physical world of the story, only a few minutes pass. Nothing more happens on the surface than the woman drinking Foresight and lying on the couch; the story takes place in her inner world. Each story in Animal Wife is driven by its protagonist’s interiority; the story’s situation is often a vehicle for accessing it.

Some of these stories seem to have similar scenarios for their characters, such as a group of girls waiting for their friend who left in a strange boy’s car or relationships with significant others that don’t end well. Did you intend to have similar moments in your stories or was it something that just happened? Is there a shared world for any of these stories? 

While I didn’t intentionally incorporate those scenarios, they came through organically within the world of the stories. Once I noticed the echo, I consciously leaned into it to ensure that the scenarios resonate in a new way each time. In “Six Roses,” a teen girl drives off with boys she doesn’t know, leaving her friends feeling helpless and scared. In “Burn Rubber,” an adult woman recalls a friend who had driven off with strangers and projects that scenario upon her own young daughter, reflecting her fear that she’s losing control over her child. 

The stories are not linked, in that their characters don’t cross over or the locations are not the same—but they could exist within the same world. It was important to me that the world of the book be cohesive, believable, and follow its own rules—but that harmony doesn’t depend on the stories existing in the same town or within the same group of friends. Even the two pieces that are closest in nature, the bookending stories that share an origin myth, could be two parts of the same story from different perspectives—or their own stories within the world of the book. 

Lara Ehrlich. Photo copyright Janice Checchio. 2019. www.janicechecchio.com

I was fascinated by the strength of your shortest pieces. How did you manage to encapsulate a whole story in just one paragraph?

I strive for stories that are stark and efficient, where every word feels necessary like poetry. I pared the shortest stories to their hearts so they feel powerful and complete in a compressed space, whether that’s a few pages, a paragraph, or a single line. It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that a story must be thousands of words to be important, but length isn’t a measure of significance. Sometimes I’ll revisit a piece and challenge myself to tell the same story in one page, then one paragraph, then three sentences, and finally, one sentence. By paring it down to its finest point, I sometimes find that’s the story I’ve been trying to tell all along.

When it comes to many of the Animal Wife stories, there seems to be an underlying thread of tension or emotion that we don’t quite recognize immediately. What inspired this narrative choice? How did you decide to go about teasing that out?

The stories are not plot heavy. In “Burn Rubber,” for example, a woman becomes psychologically trapped in her car and drives around the Chicago suburbs for an indeterminate amount of time. On the surface, there’s not much to that story—but a story doesn’t have to be driven by plot; it can be driven by other elements that create a sense of momentum, like ratcheting up tension in the characters’ inner lives. 

In “Beware the Undertoad,” the teenage protagonist returns to her grandmother’s house at the beach summer after summer, encountering the same group of vacationing kids, including a boy who becomes the object of her fantasies. As she grows up, her relationship with the other kids—particularly the boy—becomes more emotionally fraught, as does her understanding of a sea monster the children call the Undertoad. Her anxieties and fears drive the story toward a physical confrontation with the boy and the monster. 

In some of the stories, your main characters have names, while others remain unnamed. Was this an intentional decision or did it just end up that way? Would you say there is a benefit to having unnamed characters?

It’s an authorial choice that impacts the way readers experience a story. When a character’s name is withheld, it’s unsettling. You’re denied a level of intimacy with that character, and the character is denied that intimacy with herself. I didn’t name the character in “Burn Rubber,” for example, because her identity has been subsumed by her role as a mother and a wife, which has eroded her sense of self. She’s referred to as “the mother.” Naming is empowering. Un-naming is an erasure of self.

Now that your book is out there, what’s coming up next? Do you have any plans for another short story collection or novel? 

I’m working on a novel loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” about a restless siren who becomes human, only to find that she is equally restless in that body. She runs off with her daughter to open a mermaid burlesque where they perform as sirens. A fun note: Last summer, I attended the Weeki Wachee Sirens of the Deep summer camp in Weeki Wachee, Florida, where women have been performing as mermaids since 1947. There, the park’s legendary sirens taught me how to swim in a tail. I wrote about that experience in Lit Hub.

If there is anything you would want readers to take from reading Animal Wife, what would it be? 

Rage. I’m furious that my daughter was born into a world in which women still confront inequality, indifference, and violence. Our bodies are policed and raped and sold. Many still have to choose between family and career, and if we pursue both we are ground to the bone because work-life balance isn’t valued in our capitalistic society. Yet, we’re told that if we just “lean in,” we can “have it all.” 

That’s impossible. The cost of daycare is prohibitive, we’re still paid less than our male counterparts, and we carry the mental load at home. The more we feel we should be doing, the more inadequate we feel because we can’t possibly do it all. We blame ourselves because that’s what women do—and it’s what our society does. We’re bombarded with the message that we’re bad mothers, bad employees, and bad wives. We’re monsters.

Now add a global pandemic into the mix! COVID-19 has widened these cracks; as the New York Times reported, the pandemic is going to “take our women 10 years back” in the workplace, with one in four women contemplating dropping out of the workforce. Between August and September 2020 alone, more than 800,000 American women left their jobs, vs. 216,000 men.

Animal Wife doesn’t offer solutions—it’s not feasible to live in the woods as a deer or beat the shit out of awful men while rocking a sequined cape—although that’s what I want to do sometimes. But as we confront the systems and rules designed to keep women in kitchens, I hope these stories give voice to our rage.