Lit Zine Showcases Innovative Fiction and Fine Artwork
The printed zine, nearly extinct now in the internet age, is a handmade periodical meant for specific subcultures. Although “zine” derives from “fanzine,” the term has broadened over time to include independent publications geared toward any variety of readers: not just dungeon masters and punk rockers, for instance, but also radical feminists and avant-gardists. As artifacts, zines are most associated with slapdash assembly: mimeographed sheets, stapled spines and a lifespan like that of a common housefly. Quite often, they’re the products of rabid editorial passion and miniscule production budgets.
Thrice Fiction, a hybrid print-online literary journal, takes the zine’s renegade ethos, polishes its rough edges, and adapts it to a digital-publishing platform. As its title indicates, Thrice Fiction publishes three times a year, and only fiction. And although the journal seems to favor experimental writing, Editor RW Spryszak, in his introduction to Issue #9, registers his contempt with such terminology: “Call it ‘new’ or ‘uncategorized’ or whatever, but don’t call it ‘experimental.’ ‘Experimental’ makes it sound like you don’t know what you’ll end up with when it’s over.” Spryszak’s valid argument captures the journal’s aesthetic: the editors seem to champion self-assured narratives regardless of genre or convention.
One of the more traditional stories in Thrice Fiction #9 is Robert Steele’s “N.E. Imported.” It concerns a salesman stricken by guilt after years of hard-selling faulty, unnecessary goods: “almost everything,” the narrator says, “electronics, appliances, sometimes even cars.” While each salesman’s livelihood depends on his sales figures, the central character’s remorse – he goes so far as to offer refund checks to his past customers – turns him from golden boy to corporate pariah. “N.E. Imported” is a rich, surprising story. Its narrator’s voice is personal and accessible, like that of a thoughtful raconteur speaking over a high-top table during happy hour.
Among the less conventional stories is Jane Liddle’s “Yeah But Like Why,” which partly adapts the epistolary form to our era of instant messaging. This story glimpses a young woman trying to nonchalantly explain her recent stay at a psychiatric hospital to a friend over Gchat. Although this subject might seem a formula for melodrama, Liddle delicately avoids that route. In the end, “Yeah But Like Why” shows a friendship that exists free from cultural stigma or judgment.
Other notable stories include April Bradley’s “The Brittle Sisters,” in which two adult sisters steal their uncle’s ashes to dispose of them “in the creek out by the old farm with a shot of bourbon,” and B.Z. Niditch’s “The Accident,” where a one-time Hollywood starlet sees how much her fame had dulled at the re-release of her big film.
Although the editors welcome submissions of any length, the pieces in Thrice Fiction #9 tend to be rather brief: the longest story is just over 3,000 words, while the shortest piece is under 100. (At times, unfortunately, the shorter stories are slightly less satisfying, as if their brevity signals lack of development rather than willful compression.)
What distinguishes Thrice Fiction from its literary peers is the original artwork that accompanies each story. These illustrations are lush and varied, expanding upon themes or images from their respective narratives. For example, paired with Liddle’s “Yeah But Like Why” is a photo from Katelin Kinney showing a young woman lying tangled in a web of red cords, an apt image for a story about stifling emotional tension.
And while each illustration is something to admire in its own right, Art Director David Simmer II sees that the artwork never intrudes upon the story. The page layouts are clean and accessible, and although I read Thrice Fiction #9 as a PDF file, I could easily imagine holding it as a print magazine and admiring the care and thoughtfulness that went into its design. (Each issue is available for free on the journal’s website as a PDF file, ePub file or MOBI archive. For those who prefer the physical artifact, copies can be special ordered from print-on-demand service MagCloud.)
This latest issue of Thrice Fiction concludes with perhaps its strongest piece, India McDonough’s “Storm Music,” a rapid-fire direct monologue addressed to a lover in a rainstorm. The prose is lush and lyrical, entrancing in its rhythm and repetition:
The drum rolls of thunder drown out our songs at intervals and we’re up and dancing like improvs at jazz clubs. . . and we join our voices with the voice of the storm and the wail of the speakers. . . . You sing the lightning and I yell the thunder and we both dance the rain and the coffee table holds me but no coffee because all we need is this moment to stay up forever.
McDonough’s story might be what Spryszak had in mind when noting that “experimental” writing need not be half-baked, inconsequential, or obtuse. “Storm Music” addresses the ideas of young love, bursting passion and shameless joy, accomplishing its purpose in one 1,000-word paragraph. Along with the rest of the work in Thrice Fiction #9, “Storm Music” shows just how focused, polished and expansive the literary zine can be in the digital age.