It’s been a while since my last one of these, but I haven’t read litmags in a long time—at least it feels like I haven’t, because I’ve been neglecting my list of indie books to read and endlessly researching a shapeless story I’m almost-but-not-quite stuck on. We’ll see.

And I think this year I’ve learned how to read litmags. Here are some thoughts.

You’re not going to love every story they publish all the time.

You may also be so intimidated by a writer’s skill you can’t ever imagine yourself appearing in the same pages.

You may read a story so incomprehensible that it’ll make you feel excluded from the world of literature itself, as if a prestigious publication is saying to you, “If you don’t understand this and why this is good, go cut off your hands and gouge out your eyes, dirtbag!”

You may fall into the deadly trap of thinking that any lauded outlet has no chance of accepting a story of yours because you don’t write like writer X Y Z does. This is why it’s best to read more than one issue. Mags have a bigger range than you’d expect, and if you submit to them, they may surprise you! Conversely, it may be that the only reason they haven’t accepted a story of yours is because it’s shit, objectively—which, despite how subjective literature can be, is an actual thing. I should know: it’s happened to me dozens of times this year. (No shame: it’s happened dozens of times this year to your favourite writers, even—but they don’t tweet about it much if at all.) Either way, no stranger is capable of placing value on who you are as a person. They don’t know you; they just know your work. I know your work means a lot to you. You should be proud of it! But it is not you. You might suck also, like as a person, but no one’s judging that here.

You will also read stories that you enjoy so much that none of the above seems to matter. The purely transcendent. Isn’t that the whole point?

Folk like me read litmags for research, and as part of our self-assigned job as writers. We tend to forget that reading these mags is actually a lot of fun, that the reason we are writers is because of the love of literature that came first, that everyone involved—the editors, writers, etc—they all want the maximum enjoyment out of you. Literature is a bastion of joy and hope in a world of resentment. When resentment bleeds into literature, shit gets fucked. So don’t. The success of others not only doesn’t infringe upon our own, but likely assists it.

So join me in celebrating some cool shit. I’ve restricted my selections to what’s available for free online. You should consider subscribing to some of the ones below, but of those whose stories don’t appear online, I can also recommend Unnerving Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, Black Static, Interzone, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Helios Quarterly, Phantaxis, DevolutionZ, Lamplight, KZine, Deadman’s Tome, Dark Moon Digest, The Singularity, Create50 anthologies, Crystal Lake’s Tales from the Lake anthologies, Bizarro Pulp Press’ More Bizarro Than Bizarro anthology, and the Horror Sleaze Trash: Fiction in Poor Taste anthology.

Handjob by Dan Ayres (Open Pen)

For BritLit, I enjoy Structo and Open Pen. I also read Open Pen’s “Best of” anthology earlier this year, and can highly recommend it. Dan Ayres’ story in the latest issue, #20, is a surreal exploration of the London gay scene’s overfucked and underloved. It starts off tame and ends up super weird. Very cool.

(Doesn’t hurt that Open Pen published a story of mine, “The Other Half”, in Issue Nineteen! Never thought I’d see the day.)

The Zodiac Walks on the Moon by Will Ludwigsen (Nightmare)

Weirdly poetic rumination about Ted Cruz’s thoughts on the moon landing. Perhaps about the ongoing struggle between explorers, conquerors, creators, innovators and those who exist purely as forces of nature contrary to anything that can be considered progress. Poetic and haunting.

Stuck Girls by Emma Copley Eisenberg (Granta)

I love the typically clear, simple prose of Granta stories. This one is humorous, surreal, evocative.

Red Lights, and Rain by Gareth L. Powell (Clarkesworld)

I didn’t know Clarkesworld would publish a story about a time-travelling vampire hunter! This was a cool and gripping addition to a mag typically filled with dense and cerebral stories.

Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny)

Prasad’s last publication, “A Series of Steaks” (Clarkesworld) was in one of my earlier lists this year, and she’s back again with a sweet and uplifting story about robot-written fan fiction, effortlessly demonstrating that literature can still be contemporary, relevant, thought-provoking, hopeful and fun.

The Three-tongued Mummy by E. Catherine Tobler (Apex)

I love when authors create their own personal mythology. This story asserts its own mummy legend with a strong authorial voice and weird, original mysticism. Check it out.

Infinite Love Engine by Joseph Allen Hill (Lightspeed)

This one grabbed me straight away with its fun and wild world-building and language. The story itself is perhaps a knowing cliché, but entirely besides the point.

The Future of Hunger in the Age of Programmable Matter by Sam J. Miller (Tor)

This is the one story on this list that I most wish I’d written myself. Gay meth addicts and kaijus—too good.

Girl, I Love You by Nadia Bulkin (The DARK)

I’m reading Bulkin’s collection, “She Said Destroy.” Today I read a story I thought was familiar—and I realised I’d already read it in The DARK magazine! (Which I’ve recently come around to—sometimes you just need the one author you like within the pages of a mag for the rest of the stories to click!) It’s a great story and a phenomenal collection, so read this one and if you like it, pick up “She Said Destroy.”

Boneset by Lucia Iglesias (Shimmer)

I’m not often a fan of writing that prioritises language over story—but when the language is this cool, who the hell cares what’s going on? And yet there is a simple and quite haunting story nestled within this weird world.

Show, Don’t Tell by Curtis Sittenfield (The New Yorker)

Funny and emotionally charged story about creative writing programs!

Phew—there it is. The best of the best from someone with excellent taste! I should put up a damn paywall around myself!! Enjoy 🙂

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