The Fantastical

cosmicomicsI’ve always been fascinated by the fantastic-mythology, folklore, everything from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Poe to Tolkien and Marquez. Anything that makes me look at the world differently, any story about a human or animal who changes form, I love it all.

So of course, these themes bleed into my own writing. But as a writer, my writing is a giant splatter of what I’ve read and experienced, so it’s a mix of all these conflicting and complementing elements. And I struggle to define it, to pin a term to it. Is it fantasy, or magical realism? Literary or YA? What is the difference, and what does it matter if the story is told? Isn’t this a publisher’s job? But how will I get a publisher to read my manuscript if I can’t even explain what it is?

After chatting with friends and family and doing some googling, I’ve realized it’s never simple, and maybe that’s a good thing. Stories shouldn’t be confined by definition. But still, genre helps us think about a story and figure out if it’s something we want to read.

This is one of the clearest definitions I’ve found of the differences between Magical Realism and Fantasy:

Of Mirrors and Rainbows: thoughts on being yourself

So I came across this really excellent article on IGN yesterday about how gay characters do exist in video games, but are always minor characters, just like in most other forms of media.

It got me thinking about a couple things:

1- There is this idea that well meaning, generally accepting straight people toss around that seems to be prevalent today, this idea that sexuality doesn’t matter. The heart of this statement is in the right place, but it feels like a punch in the gut to a gay person. Here’s why:

Saying sexuality doesn’t matter is saying it doesn’t affect us, the way we live our lives and who we have struggled to become. It says our struggle to fight to love ourselves enough to be ourselves despite a culture that says we are freaks at worst and comedic sidekicks at best doesn’t matter. And most of all what hurts is that it says that our pain, our torment, and suffering at being judged, hated and threatened doesn’t matter. Even though, thankfully, it isn’t as common today, you don’t think you’d live your life differently if you knew there was some chance you may be attacked physically or verbally for holding your spouse’s hand in public, or even casually bringing them up in conversation? It matters.


2-I’ve heard so many people say, I’m a writer (insert any profession) and I’m gay (insert any minority status), but I don’t want to be a gay writer. Really? If you are not yourself then you are no one. If you don’t embrace and love yourself, no one will love you. Sure, some people will judge you for being true to yourself, but others will love you. The real you, and you can’t be true to yourself, find your story, tell your story if you reject a part of yourself. So be a gay writer, or a Christian writer, or a black lawyer, or a Muslim model, or whatever the hell you are. Be yourself. Love yourself. Tell your story.

Springing Forward

My sister’s lovely post on the writing life.

Brenna Layne


It’s 6:30 p.m. on Ash Wednesday, and my children are listening to Christmas music.  It’s understandable; there’s still snow on the ground that’s been around for weeks, hiding underneath the snow that fell on Monday and shut down the Shenandoah Valley for two days.  The days are getting longer, the chickens have stopped being stingy egg-layers, and even Cancer-Dog has a new spring in her step, but outside, it looks and feels like the snow-crusted dead of winter.  This Saturday we’ll turn our clocks forward, but at the moment it doesn’t feel like the right time of year for it.  Now is the winter of our discontent.  Stupid groundhog.

It’s been a wintry month in this writer’s soul as well.  Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain hope in the face of the overwhelming odds that define this profession, this calling–this imperative–to write.  You know that writing is the thing you’re…

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Book Review – Casualties by Kirsten Clodfelter

Book-Cover-194x300Describing Kirsten Clodfelter’s Casualties as a war book is like saying America is a war country. Yes, war is a prevalent theme throughout these five stories, but they are not primarily about war. These stories can not be defined by war, because they have so much more to offer, just as a country has more to offer than its soldiers and its potential for destruction.

Instead of being about war, these stories exist in a world at war; it is their setting, not their purpose.

From the moment you dive into Casualties, the silence is deafening. You are told by the title of the first story that “The Silence Here Owns Everything.” And that it does.

That silence doesn’t always occur because no one’s speaking. In “Where Will I Go in Search of Your Safety,” we are introduced to this distance that sound can only attempt to penetrate. A deployed soldier named Daniel calls his wife and “As he talks, his faint, uneasy laughter is swallowed by the crackling static, and I’m reminded that what’s binding us together in this moment is fragile-an electromagnetic transmission carrying our voices through a distant satellite to cover the six thousand miles between us-and the science of this feels so unreal that it’s like magic.” This is my favorite passage from the book because it is brilliant and poignant and just plain beautiful.

Later in the story, Daniel’s voice is described as “sounding lost somewhere inside his own body.” The silence in this story owns everything, not because no one is talking, but because there is too much to say, words and sounds cannot carry their meanings across such distance of space and experience.

In “Homecoming” a mother feels the pressure of war from all around her, pressure to support her deployed husband, pressure to take care of their baby all alone, pressure to welcome her husband back to a home that has been overtaken by the silence of his absence. “This is also a type of warfare,” Clodfelter writes. And this powerful assertion runs throughout all of the stories in the book. War is not only soldiers on a battlefield. It is countries of mothers and wives, and everyone on the planet, fighting in just as many ways.

“My American Father” tells the story of a Kuwaiti girl whose life is torn by war from the moment she was conceived. Her father was overseas fighting a war at the time and returned home to America before she was even born. She never knew her father because war pulled him from her before she was gone. Yet at the same time, war was the reason she was born in the first place. This delicate balance is also a type of warfare.

The collection ends with “What Mothers Fear,” a story that dives into the warfront. It shows the final cost of war as a family endures bombings and the fallout, the fear and uncertainty of shattered lives. This story takes the collection to the other side of the war, revealing the truth that war is not just America, it is every country in the world. It is terrifying and uncertain to everyone, no matter where they live, which side of the battle they are on, no matter whether they are carrying guns or children.

ImageKirsten Clodfelter is the author of a chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, published by RopeWalk Press in 2013. An adjunct professor of English and composition at Indiana University Southeast and Ivy Tech Community College, she also works as a freelance writer, editor, and social media marketing consultant. She is the Series Editor of At the Margins, a small-press review series at As It Ought to Be, where she is both an editor and contributor. She lives in Southern Indiana with her incredible partner and the funniest, cutest little girl on the entire planet.