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Riley McFarlane: Lia Purpura Taught Me to Dissect the Scene

January 21, 2020

My writing comes alive when I describe the micro-scenes of my life. If the writing is read with an eye toward metaphor, occurrences can be inferred. The reader of my creative work about my mother may infer that she may have an anger problem, an obsession with buying gifts, and perhaps a lack of desire to update the interior of her cabinets. There could be an assumption that either her sense of smell is less than acute or that she doesn’t consider that the stale smell of cigarettes linger inside the cabinets.

“The kitchen of my mother’s home is the size of her fist. There are corner counters opposite of each other. The bigger one is used for stacked bills and catalogues for what could be Christmas gifts. The cabinets are wood and have a thin cushioned lining in the bottom of some. The lining has a repeated singular tulip with leaves in a grid-like pattern. The inside of the cabinet above the microwave smells like cigarette ash. It is the plate cabinet. I imagine the plates coated with a film of the dingy scent. The vitamin supplements and Advil are also housed in the cabinet above the microwave. I wonder if the microwave radiation infects the supplements. I am not worried about the Advil because I refuse to take pain relievers. I’d rather feel the pain.”

If read without an eye toward metaphor, this excerpt would seem almost emotionless. But if the reader can pick up that the kitchen explained in detail is a metaphor for the mother’s world, and therefore the daughter’s world, then a lot can be understood by the reader about the mother/daughter relationship.

My craft analysis of Lia Purpura’s “Autopsy Report” showed me the power of using precision and senses to describe a scene. Purpura wrote, “I shall touch, while no one is looking, the perfect corn rows, the jacket’s wet collar” and continues, “four or five holes like ragged stars, or a child’s cut-out snowflake” referring to the bullet wounds in the body. The description of the wounds is not emphasized by their gruesomeness, but by the snowflake-like shape on the body they create. One would not normally compare bullet wounds to something a child would make. This allows the reader to assume that Lia Purpura sees beauty in the death of a human. Purpura wrote, “A call to jettison the issue, the only issue as I understood it: the unknowable certainty of being alive, of being a body untethered from origin, untethered from end, but also so terribly here.” It may be that Purpura felt relief when seeing bodies at their end. It may also be that Purpura felt relief when seeing the body on its way back to its origin.

The reader can infer that being “here” is what’s beautiful, yet simultaneously gruesome. There is the seeing, the being seen, and the lack of words to describe that interaction or occurrence. The only way to define that feeling is to call it God, yet that is too rigid in itself, so we must call it being here. And being here can “be at once mourning and gestures of ease”. Being here can be terrible and concurrently lush. The universal message of the Purpura essay may be that there is a grossly overlooked fragility in humans, and how we stay alive with the kind of barrier that seemed so easily breakable on the autopsy of bodies.

I guess my point in writing this now is to capitalize on the concept of writing micro-scenes. Purpura wrote detailed descriptions of the body being dissected, and I’m inspired to continue to describe the scenes in which I find myself in¾my mother’s kitchen, my childhood bedroom, my current bedroom, my apartment’s kitchen. Through these detailed descriptions, deeper afflictions will emerge, as if from the core of the earth.

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Riley McFarlane is attending Columbia College Chicago with a major in creative nonfiction writing. In their work, emotion bleeds through words that have the movement of curious musings written with plain language, allowing a strikingly close relationship with the reader. She believes that there is truth where there is love. She values genuine human connection and prefers to have honest and respectful relationships with everyone, mixed with a touch of dark humor and sarcasm.

Book Reviews

Student Editors of Punctuate Present Points of View & Reviews of F(r)iction: A Literary Journal with a Difference

January 4, 2020

F(r)iction is the emboss of the international literacy nonprofit Brink Literacy Project. With a mission to escalate literacy rates and a commitment to storytelling, the magazine is by no means conservative. This literary journal is eye-catching, from its holographic cover, to its full-color pages.  Each page is a visual delight and tactile treat, featuring original short comics. The artwork is well-defined and accompanies every piece.  It represents young, underrepresented and diverse writers. In its wide array of genre and artwork, there are no borders, which makes the collection as a whole, highly baffling in its surprises, all for the sake of creative writing and fine art. F(r)iction takes risks with form and content in a mixed bag of goods, reveling in the unexpected, and rewarding inventiveness and insight in works from traditional literary fiction or genre-bending sci-fi, fantasy, horror poetry, and nonfiction¾all accessible to the reader.

It features edgy, gut-wrenching, and raw poetry by Nick Flynn and Alli Cruz; animalistic, wild, and weird short fiction from Annie Neugebauer, Jason Baltazar, Samantha Schmidt, Jason McCormick, Alexandra O’Neil, and Vaughn Gaston.  You’ll find pleasant revelations of creative nonfiction by Patricia Horvath, a pioneering writer feature with Joyce Carol Oates, a breaking ground debut author feature with Emily A. Duncan, and a community feature with Words Without Walls Prison Writing Program. In partnership with Words Without Walls, F(r)iction stays true to their mission, giving back to the community, and with that trade-off, we get a glimpse inside the minds of writers in Allegheny County Jail and Sojourner House with important words to be shared in multiple pieces in which we would know about otherwise. In a world that puts trust in the established, F(r)iction dares to challenge this notion, welcoming new writers to emerge with celebrity writers.

Writing world: take note. Readers: hold onto your seat. F(r)iction is fresh, providing menace to the publishing world in its beyond imaginative and interesting curated work.

Review by Lejla Subašić

 


F(r)iction, a print journal dedicated to publishing eclectic works, began in 2015, with an aim to do things differently. A letter from the editor on the first page of the journal is a call to action that in so many words encourages the reader to not let good, weird literature die. Those experimental pieces writers keep tucked away in lonely computer files and desk drawers have a home in F(r)iction.

F(r)iction announces itself as a different-kind-of-journal from the cover. Issue No. 13 beams an iridescent image of a devious child with a mechanical glove and homework glowing and floating around him. Embedded in this image is Joyce Carol Oates’ name among others, a nod to the magazine’s clout, enough to garner big literary names while still publishing new, emerging writers. With glossy, bright pages decorated with varied art submissions, it’s a journal that could cause a riot at the book fair while it leaves adults daydreaming, connected with their inner child.

I thought, based on the cover and colorful pages, F(r)iction would be lighthearted and playful. It is, in some respects. However, shortly after diving into a story adorned with illustrated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I was dumbstruck and heavy. “How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” by Samantha Schmidt tells the story of a cook for prisoners’ last meals and one odd request for a PB&J. The cook grapples with how to make something ordinary extraordinary and momentous. The story draws irony from the most conventional tradition in our society of making death (a common, ordinary thing) into a grand, special event. After reading this story, I am left in my reading chair, holding my head wondering how I let a literary magazine—one that told me it would be strange and thought-provoking—convince me it would be all play.

This is perhaps exactly what F(r)iction is aiming for. The name speaks to its efforts; it goes against the grain and causes a reaction. In addition to their print issues, F(r)iction’s website is just as glossy. Its navigable format displays a log of numerous categories, a testament to its variety. They feature comics, creative nonfiction, editorial, essays, interviews, flash fiction, poetry, read-alongs, reviews, short stories, and staff picks.

Where F(r)iction’s letter from the editor might tell a story of the underdog, a magazine fighting to stay afloat, the pages tell a different story. Each page radiates vivacity and radical confidence in the power of art. F(r)iction is armed with a glimmering mechanical glove and ready to fight.

Review by Brigitte Riordan

 


In many ways, a magazine—digital or hardcopy—constantly requires a fresh and bold adaptivity to the changing world around it. This lays heavily upon literary journals; the stories and narratives they contain represent the undertones of today’s society that are embedded in worlds either fictional, or not. In F(r)iction, the eyes are drawn in by the vivid color, images, and layout of the magazine. The most provocative section was created with the special feature “Words Without Walls,” a creative outreach program serving Allegheny County Jail, and Sojourner House, a residential drug and alcohol treatment program for mothers and their children. The visual artists for this magazine take big steps into making F(r)iction appealing to the eye, but what of its content?

The mission of this magazine is clear within the Editor’s Note, “. . . a collection of stories that would enchant us regardless of genre, where the biggest names in the industry shared a spine with brand new voices from diverse backgrounds. . . . It would be a book brimming with color and art and specialty printing.”

In other words, the magazine includes a variety of poems, short stories, interviews, and comics that all act to dismiss the quota of “traditional literature,” and although “Words Without Walls” is the special feature, the entire magazine plays off as such. Every story conspires with an image, playing off of the details within the stories. Each snippet of these give you a variety of narratives, sprouting from “Freaks” within a cruel circus, to warrior women whose bloodline are destined to kill off the beasts of their world.

The magazine does not disappoint with its inclusion of the witty, bizarre, and unique.

Review by Tracie Taylor

 


F(r)iction is a magazine that sees no limits and knows no boundaries, where both established and new writers have an equal opportunity to share their work. The magazine is one of the liveliest that I’ve seen, with a vibrancy that clearly encapsulates the passion of the writers and artists featured within its pages.

The relationship between story and illustration can be a challenge to navigate. It’s difficult to have those two elements coexist without one overshadowing the other, but F(r)iction found the perfect balance. The artwork not only compliments the stories, but propels them, and helps the reader become fully immersed in the writing.

“Clean Slate,” written by Jason McCormick with artwork by Enrica Angiolini, was one of the first stories that really stuck out to me. It was the bright neon graphics that caught my attention, and the first sentence, “I have purchased 28 boxes of chalk over the semester, and that is simply too much” drew me completely in. “Clean Slate” followed the story of a professor whose chalk kept going missing.

The professor waited for hours in the classroom to catch the culprit, but ended up falling asleep, and woke up at midnight to find that the new chalk that was left out had gone missing yet again. The professor rushed out of the classroom and saw a janitor pushing a cart down the hallway, and followed the janitor to the elevator and up to the roof.  After stepping out onto the roof, the reason why the chalk had been going missing became apparent; the ground was covered in drawings of stars and planets, and in the midst of that, a game of hopscotch.

The illustrations that were paired with this story did the job of providing the reader with a clear image of what the narrator was seeing. A mental image could have been formed without the use of artwork, sure, but then the story wouldn’t have been the same. A drawing of the hopscotch game took up the center margin, and the outside border was filled with neon red and blue and pink graphics of flowers and stars, and the black background the words and artwork were set on, made the graphics stand out even more.

The primary goal in Issue 13 of F(r)iction was to drift away from the traditional and take risks. Dani Hedlund, editor-in-chief of F(r)iction, states, “We dreamed of something different¾a collection of stories that would enchant us regardless of genre, where the biggest names in the industry shared a spine with brand new voices from diverse backgrounds, voices we would mentor every step of the way.”

Review by Katie Turner

 


At first glance, “the comeback issue” of F(r)iction, published in the spring of 2019, is for Mad Libs lovers, a mischievous little boy on the cover, ready to take Thanos-style revenge on his schoolyard bullies.  I entered my reading experience thinking this was a magazine geared toward youngsters like the boy on the cover, and was quickly disabused of that notion with the first story’s writhing grotesque of a main character, Centavo, also known as the shapeshifting Amorpho of the Cosmideluxe Circus and Sideshow.

Jason Baltazar’s imagery is precise within the story, describing how it feels to rearrange the muscles, arteries, and bones in time with music; how it feels to float formless on a peaceful pond; and how it feels to pander to a nameless crowd with your true self exposed many times over.

But before we even get to the opening story, “Amorpho and the Leering Freak,” we read the Editor’s Note, adoringly addressed to “Dear lovely reader.”  Within, Editor-in-Chief Dani Hedlund promises “a collection of stories that would enchant us regardless of genre, where the biggest names in the industry shared a spine with brand new voices from diverse backgrounds. . . . It would be a book brimming with color and art and specialty printing. Every page would be as lush as the stories within.”  Hedlund and her crew deliver.

For each page—even the table of contents—is jam-packed with specially-created art (even to the detriment of not having a page number most times).  For every poem, the title is blended seamlessly into the art.  Snippets of the art is featured in the handful of stories featured online from each printing, but the true decadence lies in holding the physical copy in hand.  The cover shines with luminescent flashes of reflective sparkles.  The deep reds and vibrant greens drip off the page¾the page itself transformed into the precise artwork needed to enhance and accompany each story, interview, or poem.

While “Amorpho and the Leering Freak” is sympathetic horror, “The Reds,” by Annie Neugebauer, is the classic Little Red Riding Hood fairytale expanded—the lineage of grief and revenge left behind after little red riding hood has been digested by the big bad wolf.

Side by side with these two genre-bending stories are the real truths told by female inmates via the Words Without Walls Prison Writing Program and an interview with prolific author Joyce Carol Oates.

The F(r)iction crew’s love for this “weird little book” is palpable and brave.  F(r)iction was “fueled by passion and naivety and stubbornness” when they started their strange and artful literary journal, and they still are.  In Hedlund’s note she promises the magazine will expand, to find new ways to thrive because the crew “love[s] stories.  We believe in their power to change the world.”

Check them out at frictionlit.org to see what they have to offer.  You will be pleasantly surprised at what a literary journal can say and do with just a little bit of passion, naivety, and stubbornness.

Review by Rachel Martin

 


The cover of the Spring 2019 issue of F(r)iction magazine is iridescent and glossy. There is a young boy illustrated with a mischievous expression, a bruise on his cheek, and wearing a mechanical red glove. There are beams of energy expanding out from the mechanical hand. There are school lockers behind him and papers that look like worksheets from class suspended in air and outlined in iridescence. In the editor’s note, I am greeted by the Editor-in-Chief, Dani Hedlund, addressing me as “lovely reader.” They are informing me of the struggle that the literary journal industry entails: dwindling readership, mentorship not being economically viable, and the foolishness of creating an issue with emerging artists—yet they notified me of their expansion as a magazine.

I find that the cover and the editor’s letter are very intuitive. They seem to embrace the “weirdness” of our world, leading the reader to “reimagine the way you see the world.”

F(r)iction magazine is full of underdog stories and they are each “steeped in fighting spirit.” This is evidenced by Nick Flynn, whose work is presented on pages 18 through 21. His three poems involve famous musicians. The first poem is titled, “Alphabet Street” and it describes a moment between the speaker and their daughter, listening to the radio. The daughter asks why the radio is talking about a person who has just died. “Why is anyone so / important?” The poem ends by including the lyrics of Alphabet Street by Prince in italics, “No / one, nothing—if that’s / the only way—is / replaceable.” The next poem, titled, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” is about the speaker’s daughter drawing a picture and in the last lines, David Bowie’s lyrics are intertwined in the moment with promises of not being alone. The last poem by Nick Flynn is titled, “Kurt Cobain Wallpaper.” The three poems not only include classic artists, but also personal thoughts and experiences by the speaker. He gives a feeling of staying alive through mundane moments, appreciating the present, and using music as a way to bridge the gap between experience and thought.

Although F(r)iction has well known writers, such as Joyce Carol Oats whose writing took the center of the magazine, the underdog theme is carried through. The fact that they feature writers from Words Without Walls—an outreach program that serves women in jail and women in a residential drug and alcohol treatment program, I hope to see more boundaries broken by this magazine in the future. Their expansive energy is enough to keep them moving forward.

Review by Riley McFarlane

 


In an industry where they “see great journals go under,” F(r)iction made it a mission to maintain their momentum and put together a selection of work of varying genres and forms by writers in different stages of their careers. Literary fiction and dark fantasy, short poetry and comics—this volume has variety. All of it is accentuated by eye-catching and, at times, bombastic artwork, tailor-made to each of its featured stories.

Each individual piece is united by the theme of underdogs. They take stories of characters in an oppressing, hostile environment seemingly out to beat them down, and how they lead their lives. And each author manages to use this theme in unique ways.

Annie Neugebauer’s “The Reds” tells a chillingly dark story of girl born into her role as a “Red”, forever bound to her duty of hunting beasts by a legacy of women before her. The bloody, graphic imagery contrasted with the protagonist’s cool and at times beaten voice captures the imagination. Vaughn Gaston’s “Snargle Fox” experiments masterfully with point of view, head hopping from one character to another, never content to remain in the same place for more than a few paragraphs at a time, ending with a surprisingly beautiful narrative.

As for poetry, I’d like to direct the reader’s attention to “A Dog Ran Down the Highway” by Kim Chinquee. For a poem less than fifteen lines, Chinquee’s work tells a far too familiar story of a woman’s relationship through implication alone. The last line, “Oh, no. I said. You’re not.” ends the poem on a note that, while not a conclusion to the woman’s story, is a gut-punch that I think everyone needs to read in context.

The work discussed above barely scratches the surface of F(r)iction‘s spring 2019 issue has to offer. The comics are beautiful, the poems, concise, the non-fiction, revealing. But, there’s something more magical about F(r)iction magazine’s spring volume that goes beyond the stories that it includes—something that may well apply to F(r)iction as a whole. It’s devotion to making each of its contributing author’s stories the star of its own show, is truly what makes F(r)iction a joy to read. I’ve read many anthologies that include sparse amounts of artwork, aside from the obligatory cover photo, that will draw in a reader browsing a rack of magazines. F(r)iction on the other hand has incredibly detailed artwork for every one of its stories, accompanied by pages accented by border, page breaks, and art in the margins that fit its aesthetic. If there is anything to take away from F(r)iction’s spring 2019 volume, it’s that they will spare no expense in making sure everything they publish is as polished and detailed as humanly possible. Some of the stories mentioned in this review are available on their website, and I highly recommend that you check them out.

Review by Elijah Abarbanel

 


 

Semi;Colon

Tracie Taylor: My girlfriend burnt a piece of toast while I’m writing this and I can’t wait to write a poem about it (praise for Olivia Gatwood)

December 17, 2019

I feel as if I’ve only stuck one measly pinky toe in the wide pool that holds poetry authors and their work. More of a toenail when it comes to poet authors I can actually talk about or have an opinion on. I have a fascination with poetry, but as a poet and actress, I have a special adoration with spoken word. As a unique form of performance art, I believe that spoken word is a spell cast like in a theater production or an open mic reading.

When I discovered the spoken-word poet, Olivia Gatwood, I was just discovering my love for poetry, and how it becomes a special kind of performance art when it’s spoken word. I’ve been surrounding myself with contemporary poets: living in big cities, socially awkward, bare-faced and brutally honest in their Instagram posts. She caught my eye as an author, a Pisces with a Scorpio moon, so poetic and breezy in her words.

Her content so far has revolved in the nature of women, their bodies, and most recently how true crime somehow sickenly glorifies the murder of women. I just recently went to her show that was a part of her tour promoting this genre, titled the “Life of the Party.” It is also the name of her new poetry book. She is a true creative author, her tour inhabited small, quiet spaces as well as large arenas. She had touring with her a singer, Ari Chi, and Caitlin Nolte, a cello player. While she was performing spoken word Ari’s voice and Caitlin’s cello underscored her verses. As an author, her words were simple, they never stumped me like some poets tend to do when getting elaborate. As a poet myself, I enjoyed the sense of grace that was still able to convey emotion in the reader.

When I heard the poems finally read aloud, I was expecting to be taken on a slightly different journey. I knew Olivia had been doing this a long time; she captivates an audience like she’s reading from a storybook. I feel like her poems are little stories, quick and fierce as a gust of sudden wind. I chose her as an author I admire because of her simplicity, but also her quiet and fierce nature as a poet. I’ve read so much of her work, that there are other poets I am gaining a love for: Melissa-Lozada Oliva, Natasha Thretheway, Ocean Vuong, and the classic Edgar Allan Poe. I feel as if my collection of favorite poets can come across as cliché, but everyone begins somewhere and at their own damn pace, right?

 

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Tracie Taylor is a first year graduate student at Columbia College Chicago, where she is pursuing her MFA in poetry. In her undergrad (Ball State University) she earned a BA degree in English with a Theater minor.  She loves to write about her deepest (and darkest) emotions, with themes pertaining to her identity as a queer, biracial woman. She also, of course, has a passion for acting/performance. Her work has been published in From Whispers to Roars, Eclectica Magazine, and a special feature on Indolent Books, What Rough Beast.

Semi;Colon

Vlora Xhaferi: Survivor Stories

December 17, 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, a novel based on the true story of the Holocaust, on the challenges of escaping the concentration camp and how a young man named Lale found love with another survivor. Lale Soklovo, whom this true story is based on, was once a prisoner of the concentration camp located in Auschwitz-Birkenau in April of 1942. During which time, his captors discovered that he spoke several languages, so they made him work as a tattooist. From April 1942 to January of 1945, Lale was tasked with marking his fellow innocent prisoners. Throughout the story the writer, Heather Morris, does her best to stay true to Lale’s story. In her writing, I could visualize, listen, and read how determined she was to keep everything of Lale’s story true—down to even the most heartbreaking detail. If a survivor from a terrible event, such as the Holocaust, is going to trust you with their story, you need to stay true to what they say.

The first time I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, it was a warm, but dim summer’s eve in June of this year. I was about to turn twenty-one, which I was not happy about, and embark for my third trip to a language camp in Spain. During this week my grandfather, Arif Xhaferi, was getting ready to see our family in Albania for a month. Before we each left for our trips, I had spent some time trying to write the story of my surviving grandfather. He is one of the very last survivors from the communist attack on Albania in October of 1941. I struggled with how I was going to possibly get him to talk about his past; he went through so much at a young age and many of those things were the furthest thing from pleasant. At the same time, I was also afraid that if I started, there was a chance I would lose him the next day, and ultimately fail him by not completing his story. Everyone in my family knows the story of his escape, survival, and journey to America. But only he knows and remembers what that journey was like to endure. When I made the decision to begin reading The Tattooist from Auschwitz, I had nothing else to do. I snuggled up in my bed without thinking more about my big trip. There were many thoughts spinning through my head when I started reading my new book. But the two strongest thoughts were, one, keep in mind that everything in the book actually happened. And two, throughout my school years learning about World War II and the Holocaust, I never had the opportunity to learn about a true survivor’s story during that dark age.

Lale Sokolov and my grandfather, as survivors, are alike in some ways. They witnessed the loss of good people, they found their own strength to survive, and most importantly, they were very fortunate to have survived the many terrible events and try to leave it behind to have a good life. In the story, Lale had to summon enough courage to do things that would most likely get him killed by his captors. He used his tattooist position to trade in contraband goods for foods, medicines, and other comforts for his fellow prisoners and his future wife, Gita Fuhrmannova. After escaping with her in 1945, they both made it to his town of origin, married, and were blessed with one son, Gary. Lale knew that if he could not get them out of the country, he could only do what was necessary to keep them alive long enough to be free one day. When my grandfather was thirteen years old, the communists attacked Albania.  He decided he would flee the country after the tragic death of his parents and two of his three siblings.  His other living sibling chose to stay behind.  Knowing that he might get caught and killed, like his parents and two siblings, my grandfather knew that it was better to try to flee rather than look back later in the future and regret trying. After escaping, he made it to Italy, London, Korea, Vietnam and after so long, he made to America and met a Polish woman, my grandmother Agnes, and she blessed him with four boys. Lale and my grandfather, both had to fight their own wars. Whilst my grandfather fought to survive, wherever he was, for his life and a chance to live a better life, Lale fought to stay alive and ensure that he could help others, including Gita, and get out of the concentration camp. Both men, fortunate in many ways, knew that by not doing so, would have never lived to see better days.

After reading this book, it gave me the boost I needed to continue writing my grandfather’s story. Although the Holocaust and the communist attack on Albania happened many years ago, there are still survivors living with untold stories. I especially feel a sense of sadness that people may have forgotten Albania and its historical event.

Lale Sokolov told his story before it was time for him to join Gita, because he knew that it was a story that deserved to be told. I felt inspired to tell my grandfather’s story because, after everything he had gone through, he deserves to have it told. Just as Lale did.

 

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Vlora Robin Xhaferi is an undergraduate student at Columbia College Chicago.  She enjoys drawing, painting and writing.  Her grandfather Arif Xhaferi, is one of the last survivors from the communist attack on Albania in 1941.

Semi;Colon

Elijah Abarbanel: A Personal Retrospective on Guilty Pleasures and Erin Hunter’s Warriors

December 17, 2019

I’d like to ask you, the reader, to try and recall your first—or most notable—guilty pleasure; I’d like you to remember a piece of media that you kept telling yourself you should despise, but found yourself unironically enjoying it nonetheless. Think about how you felt when talking to others about your love of that piece of media. Were you at all embarrassed to do so? Did you deny liking it when asked, or were you unashamed? I, for one, can say that ten-year-old me was thoroughly embarrassed of my many guilty pleasures, and none more so than my attraction to the Warriors series of novels.

Warriors, is a long, popular series of middle-grade fantasy novels produced and written by a collection of authors under the pseudonym of Erin Hunter. The protagonist(s) change for every subseries, but the setting and societal entities concerned in these novels always stay the same. Warriors is—by and large—about a society of four “Clans” of feral cats in an unspecified area of modern-day earth. United by “The Warrior Code,” a code of ethics concerning the structure and laws of the clans,  their rejection of living with humans, and an equally spiritual and supernatural connection to their forebears,  the clans struggle to coexist with each other, mired by political disputes, of territorial, ethical, and personal nature.

As a fifth grader attracted to any story concerning animals, I quickly fell in love with Hunter’s world of sapient cats. The very first novel in the series, Into the Wild (not to be mistaken for the non-fiction book of the same name), seized my young imagination with both hands. The story was told from the perspective of Rusty, a young house cat who one day, after a chance encounter with certain members of “Thunder-Clan” one of the four that reside within “The Forest,” leaves his home to become a “warrior” and live with his new, large cast of acquaintances. It had the drama! It had the intrigue! It had the characters! It had the large-scale cat battles! I loved every moment of that first book. In fact, I loved it so much that I immediately picked up the second book after finishing the first. However, it would prove to complicate my relationship with the series.

Fire and Ice had numerous and simultaneous plot-threads, but the one that burrowed its way into my memory was the one concerning romance. In this book, Rusty—now known by his newly given name “Fireheart”—discovers that his closest friend, Greystripe has been secretly having romantic meet-ups with Silverstream, a warrior from a rival clan. This, according to the “Warrior Code” (as well as the law of cross-clique romances in fiction) is explicitly forbidden. And this changed things.

Looking back on it now over a decade later, there is still a part of me that wants to label the many romances of the Warriors saga as generally “typical” (lack of a better term). Romances were almost always complicated by a love triangle or existed as an instance of star-crossed lovers. That being said, I’m still as enamored with all of them as I was back then, eagerly reading page 153 of Fire and Ice, detailing Fireheart’s discovery of this code-breaking behavior.

 

Fireheart held his breath as a face appeared on the far riverbank. With barely a sound, the silver she-cat emerged from the undergrowth and slipped into the river. Fireheart felt  his heart miss a beat. It was Silverstream, the She-cat who had rescued his friend!”

            She swam easily across the river. Greystripe stood up and mewed with delight. . . .

 

Up until that point in my life, I had shunned all romance, in all media. Romance is stupid I would tell myself, kissing is gross. All that toxic nonsense is the stuff that had taken root in my perception of the world around me, and of myself and who I was. And yet, I loved every minute of this cat-romance. As a child, that scared me beyond reason.  It began to crack the fragile identity I had constructed for myself.

I told myself that I thought it was stupid, I told my friends that I thought it was stupid. Yet, the more I read of the series, the more I became unable to deny that I was a giant sap for romance, no matter how much I tried to bury it under pretense of ironic enjoyment. All those love triangles, all those stories of star-crossed lovers—I ate them up like an oversized bag of chips. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that there is no reason to be guilty about loving them. The more I try to deny a part of myself, the worse I feel. In burying myself as an identity, I create a thin persona that serves only to bring me stress—this immature need to maintain an appearance that, really, no-one would judge me for.

When I eventually started embracing the fact that I enjoyed Erin Hunter’s Warriors, I became closer with some of my classmates because of it. The depression that I had sunk into that year after being forced to confront and live through an increasingly emotionally-taxing life at home, would temporarily disappear as I engaged within a small microcosm of Warriors fandom in the confines of a classroom. I was happy!

If there’s anything at all to take away from this story, it’s this: Guilty pleasures need not be guilty pleasures. Acknowledging your love of anything, will hopefully help.

 

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Elijah Abarbanel is currently pursuing a BA in creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.  He is a writer and editor from Boston, Massachusetts. He primarily writes a mixture of fantasy and “literary” fiction but aspires to write for every form of media that catches his fancy from animation to games.

Essays

Lisa K. Buchanan

December 16, 2019

Firstborn

My mother never announced having spent the day with her older daughter, but I always knew. Suddenly, my spaghetti spill was catastrophic; my loss of a gym sock, reckless; my impersonation of the school principal, unkind. Mom had a way of dropping a cheekbone onto the heel of a hand while she sat at the kitchen table, long after dinner was over. No doubt, while I was playing tetherball after school, she and her older daughter had lingered at the yarn shop and the antique store, errands I found interminable. Maybe the two of them sipped iced tea: liquid cat box. Maybe they played duets at the piano where my mother and I could only fight. “F shaaaarp!” The correction missiled from the kitchen, down the hall, and into my ear while I practiced scales. Mom had perfect pitch, but I often suspected it was her first daughter, five years older than me, calling out the note. When my mother was bored with me, I knew she was missing Pickle Puss—she who was musical and hopeful in the way our mother had been musical and hopeful; she who was freckled and photogenic in the way our mother had been, with bouncy auburn waves and coveted curves. Mom’s perfume smelled reachy on me, but when her older daughter wore it, our house was queen-scented. With her inherited cheekbones, nimble piano fingers, and even the wry humor that earned her nickname, the older daughter was our mother’s legacy to an otherwise disappointing world. Their symbiosis was absolute; it was the longing that got to them. Unlike me, the older daughter had emerged from my mother’s own womb. And unlike me, she had been still and silent and softly purple, a girl baby shrouded, a dream from which my presence could only awaken our mother, day after day, most cruelly.

 

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Lisa K. Buchanan’s work has appeared in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, Fourth Genre, Narrative, New Letters, and The Offing. She likes Brahms’ short waltzes, spinach with mango, Downward-Facing Dog, and breaking the Rule of Three .www.lisakbuchanan.com

Special Feature

Sydney Sargis

December 16, 2019

Ode to Not Scot’s

There stands a bar underneath the endless shaking

of the Montrose brown-line with a top-to-bottom

front window and dimmable green light bulbs,

with roars of drunken laughter and wood-waxed

bar tops. Here is where tethered bodies meet

to take laps around the sun, where beaten souls

come to get patched up by bartender-doctors

and their heavy rags that keep the place afloat,

and the candy-colored jukebox on the wall. This

place, which bears no true name but home, is

really not a place at all, but a brave joining

of commonalities, a collection of embodied

hearts that keep each other’s feet on the ground,

that keep the lights always burning.

 

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Sydney is an Assyrian-American poet working towards her Poetry BA at Columbia College of Chicago. Her work has been published Sydney is an Assyrian-American poet working towards her Poetry BA at Columbia College of Chicago. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Columbia Poetry Review, The Lab Review, The Albion ReviewRansack Press, and more. She has worked on the editorial board for both the Columbia Poetry Review and Teenage Wasteland Review.