Review of Dark Moon Digest #1
[NOTE. This blog entry was flagged for its content, specifically for containing malware. I believe it was the links to the Dark Moon Digest website which are now re-directed to an ad page. I have removed the links and hopefully all is now well.]
(I was flattered to receive two separate requests to review this issue. Any requests or other comments can be sent to casual.debris[at]gmail[dot]com.)
The second issue of Dark Moon Digest delivers on its promise of surpassing the quality of its predecessor. The stories included here are overall superior and there are more of them (eleven versus eight). The non-fiction is generally better written and more involving, though there is still plenty of room for improvement in this area. The issue maintains its easy on the eye interior design, and as for visuals it invests a good deal more space by including artwork, photos, page one of a graphic horror story as well as a zombie cartoon. The variety makes for an evening of entertainment on the couch with a glass of scotch or a mug of cocoa (or both, as is my habit).
The classic reprint here is Kate Chopin's 1894 short short story, "The Story of an Hour." As Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" proved a good companion piece to the opening story of DMD #1, "The Story of an Hour" does a great job in highlighting the techniques of flash fiction writing, and serves well to enhance the two flashes included in issue #2. I have always been mixed about Chopin (nor have I latched onto the recently popular flash fiction bandwagon), but this particular story, aside from illustrating the effects of good flash fiction, contains enough ambiguity that it is well worth a revisit. It can be read online at the VCU site.
Issue two of Dark Moon Digest continues to promise more future excitement by way of themed contests for each of the next three issues, so writers working in genre fiction can keep in mind the deadlines for DMD's call for submissions in these areas: vampires, the paranormal and ghost stories. Visit the website contest page for details or check out the back cover below.
The lead-in story is a little problematic (I am discussing it here in terms of its treatment; the story proper is discussed in its own space below). I am a stickler for reading journals beginning with page one and then working my way through to the end. Editors spend a fair amount of time decided how to organize content, so that anthologies and journals are designed not simply to share individual stories with their audience, but also to create a cohesive whole. We judge these collections not only on the merits of their individual content, but on the merits of the construction of the book. Sitting down to read a journal of horror fiction I am psyched for, well, horror fiction, along with its implications: the suspense and the tension that I enjoy. Lights dimmed and a warm blanket over my feet, a glass of scotch to enliven the experience, and I open the titillating glossy cover to be struck head-on with a comedy. Of course, I can always move over to story number two, but of course I don't. Comedy horror is great, but works better as a brief respite from the tenser bits of fiction.
Moreover, the copy is poorly handled. The rest of DMD #2 is cleaner in terms of copy, far cleaner than issue #1, but this story seemed to have been forgotten in the course of the editing process. First of all there is the incorrect and even inconsistent formatting and use of the dash, which is formatted as a hyphen and frequently used in place of a comma. Secondly, the grammar is all too commonly improper: "All you have to do is lay there" (6: should be "lie") / "bachlorette party" (7: missing an e) / "crows feet" (7: missing an apostrophe) / "during his University years" (7: odd upper casing) / "the wind seemed to push us forward rather than against us" (8: so the wind was nearly pushing them against themselves?) / "double checked" (8: needs a hyphen) / "The paramedics might as well of announced" (8: preposition in place of a verb as of should be have) / "even though I barely had a scratch on me" (8: redundant since you can't exactly have a scratch on someone else)... and the list goes on, adding to it a number misused or altogether missing commas. These errors made for a clunky read, though I was relieved when the other stories were so much cleaner. Perhaps this was a late entry, I don't know, but irksome nonetheless.
I Married a Zombie by Craig Garrett 7/10
The story is well structured. It begins in the middle, at the wedding, skips over to the past and works its way into the future. This is a good way to grasp a reader's interest, by plunging them into the unique depth of the plot and slowly revealing what brought our protagonist to such an odd predicament, and then working into the denouement of the whole fiasco. And the denouement of the story is, unfortunately, a fiasco in itself. What I was hoping for was to learn more about groom David's family and their influence on society. A mysterious organization that has the ability not only to intervene in people's lives, alter the nature of their personalities (as with our protagonist's hapless father), but also achieving the ingenious task of bringing their heir back from the dead. No Corleone, Soprano, Hapsburg or Kennedy family was ever able to manage even that. I liked that the nature of the family was not explicitly explained; it did not need to be and really the fun is not in what they are made of but what they can do. The "past" of the story works very well in this respect, but the "future" sequence seems to have forgotten its family history, and resorts instead on blood and guts.
Please forgive this aside: It is an unfortunate trend for quirky ideas to be treated as comedies. Standard concepts work better as comedies as they evoke ideas of parody and satire, using familiar plots and conventions to bring across new ideas, or simply reworking the norm so that it becomes fresh and re-invigorated. Quirky ideas should be treated seriously. It is difficult in this day and age to be truly original, so when an original idea comes along it can be used to illustrate or to illuminate, to make people think of the world around them in a different light. Kafka's Metamorphosis was serious indeed, revealing a common family situation and a boy's alienation in a truly thought-provoking way. I can even recall first reading the haunting Orson Scott Card story "Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory" though several years have passed, and its impression remains with me simply because it's unusual treatment of character and guilt made me think. I would like to recommend that writers with the ability to evoke original ideas take the time to examine its possibilities, to consider what important aspect of the world around us can be challenged through a different lens, and to approach with the hope, rather than of making someone laugh, but of inspiring them to think.
Barking by Tracie McBride 6/10
Miss Webster's Little Arm by Frances Augusta Hogg 7/10
Thirteen Seconds by George Morrow 7/10
I have never been excessively fond of flash fiction but Morrow does a great job in economizing. The story idea is perfect for something so brief since it is aiming at a singular effect rather than an all-encompassing form of story-telling. The characterization is minute and we're drawn in via sympathy with the simple fact that we know Manget is innocent; this ploy will forever make a reader anxious of the story's outcome and the character's fate. The ending is well delivered, for whether we anticipate it or not (and most of us would) it is nonetheless rendered to its intended effect.
Family Ties by Chris Doerner 7/10
Tenants: Part One by Kevin McClintock 7/10
There are some glaring errors in copy and content in this one too, though less frequent than our opening story. "Then" is used rather than "than," and simple verb conjugation needs fixing: "the flesh about the eyes and along the cheekbones are scraped and worn." (46) The term crocodile tears is misused. I am also confused about the time-line in the story's history. We are told that that our hero has been possessed since the age of twenty-four (52), yet later we learn that she was first possessed after recovering from a suicide attempt brought on by the death of her fifteen year-old daughter. Which mystery is greater, her occupying avenging angel or the fact that she became a mother at the pre-pubescent age of nine?
As an aside, the story's title page artwork by Marc Olivent is a nice touch.
The Sidehill Toggler by Steve Scott 8/10
Running with the Pack by Graham Williams 6/10
Down Cellar by Jeremiah Dutch 7/10
The Book of the Month Club by Graham Williams 6/10