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.


Popular posts from this blog

Reading Response to "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Reader Response to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” Morgan Crooks I once heard Flannery O’Connor’s work introduced as a project to describe a world denied God’s grace. This critic of O’Connor’s work meant the Christian idea that a person’s misdeeds, mistakes, and sins could be sponged away by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice at Crucifixion. The setting of her stories often seem to be monstrous distortions of the real world. These are stories where con men steal prosthetic limbs, hired labor abandons mute brides in rest stops, and bizarre, often disastrous advice is imparted.  O’Connor herself said of this reputation for writing ‘grotesque’ stories that ‘anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.’ This is both a witty observation and a piece of advice while reading O’Connor’s work. These are stories about pain and lies and ugliness. The brutality that happens to characters …

Arisia 2019: Wrap Report

Arisia 2019 is over!

It’s back to the real world this week after an entire weekend in Arisia 2019. I go to this convention every year, but this one will definitely be special to me. For one thing, this is the year that felt, at least for a moment, like it wasn’t going to happen. If the debacle with the e-board wasn’t enough, there was the strike at the Westin. The convention felt slimmer this year for sure. A lot of people self-selected to not come this year and honestly with the smaller, more confined venue of the Boston Park Plaza, that was a decision enormously beneficial to my enjoyment of this con.
I had a blast. I was more invested in the panels this year because I wrote a portion of them. It’s one thing to go to a panel and listen for reading suggestions, or new ideas, or people to follow on social media, but it’s quite another to put together a panel of people to create a very specific conversation and then get to sit back to see how the discussion plays out. I loved that aspect…

All Words Are Made Up

The title of this post (and the panel I’m participating in for Arisia 2019) come from a random exchange between Thor and Drax in last year’s “Infinity War” movie. It’s what Thor replies when to Drax when the always literal-minded hero doubts the existence of Niðavellir its forge. It’s a funny throw-away line and the title of this post because I think there’s always been a bit of defensiveness on my part when I add some invented vocabulary to a story of mine.

The art and craft of inventing new languages has a surprisingly long history. A 12th century nun by the Saint Hildegard is credited with one of the first (sadly incompletely recorded) constructed language. There was also a period during the Enlightenment when the creation of ‘philosophical languages,’ meant to resolve age-old problems and reshape society, were the vogue. Gottfried Leibniz, for example, tried to a create a language that was logically self-consistent. The task proved too much for him, but that drive to bring the peop…