Skip to main content

Story announcement and notes for "The Emissary"

My short story "Emissary" is now available over at Selene Quarterly Magazine. This is set in a post-apocalyptic Upstate New York beset by invaders from the West bent on conquering and enslaving whatever remains of civilization. In the face of this nightmare, a woman with very little faith in anyone around her tries to find someway of saving her town. Standing in her way is her husband, Jon Alban, a man she has every reason to doubt but that nevertheless might offer a way out of the crisis despite himself.

Winter Burdens by Morgan Crooks (2018)
This story was written at the intersection of two ideas. The first was the sense of the main character, Darra, as a someone focused on saving a town she has very little faith in. The second idea was a retelling of a portion of Russian history.

Darra as a character was tricky to write and while I'm not sure I quite got her right, I do hope that her struggle to the right thing despite a Cassandra-like awareness of the weakness surrounding her is at least interesting. I think the thing that really clicked for me about the character is that she alone realizes the sacrifice necessary to save her town is not simply a one-off gesture.  The sacrifice must be repeated, celebrated, and maintained. One of the consistent critiques I've received about this story is the narrator's relative passivity. I absolutely recognize that critique as valid, but I'm hoping that the slow-burn aspect of her story pays off for readers. I would not personally describe Darra as passive. To me, she demonstrates the power of strategic patience.

Jon Alban, the husband mentioned above, is loosely based on Alexander Nevsky. Maybe inspired by is a better description of the final version in the story, but nevertheless this somewhat obscure corner of history fascinated me. The barebones outline of the actual story goes something like this. Alexander Nevsky was a prince in the Russian city of Novograd on the eve of the Golden Horde's invasion. The Golden Horde was rolling over the steppe as an unstoppable force grinding every city and civilization in its path to ruins. Nevsky, faced with this threat, did perhaps the only obvious thing: he capitulated. He pledged his fealty to the leader of the Horde and promised tithe taxes to the invaders.

What is interesting, at least to me, is that Nevsky is not remembered in Russia as a figure of surrender and cowardice. Far from it. In the wake of this capitulation to the Mongols, Nevsky railed the people of Russia to resist another invasion, this time from the West, by the Teutonic Knights. Meeting this new group with ingenuity and determination, he was able to save the Russian nation from total subjugation.

I think what this story provides is a parable about the usefulness of strategic thinking. I'm not sure if Alexander Nevsky was Machivellian as this little retelling suggests, but it does describe a person able to prioritize. Sometimes the world does not work out the way we intend and people are confronted with threats that cannot be surmounted. Is the better choice to fight to the point of utter annihilation or to resist only where some chance of success is possible?

I don't know the answer to that. I know in my gut there are certain threats that feel as though they must be resisted to the last ounce of strength. But the ability of people to resist is not infinite. Sometimes a people must pick and choose.  I wrote "Emissary" as more of a question than an answer.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 


SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…