This issue of Embark features a wonderful array of literary genres, demonstrating the powerful breadth and flexibility of fiction. I’m also thrilled to be able to showcase authors working in so many different locations, from Florida to Quebec to Madrid to the Central Coast of Australia.
One of the most influential purposes of fiction is to reflect on the conflicts and questions of the current era. In this issue, Devin Thomas O’Shea’s novel VP tackles the entrenched legacy of racism in St. Louis, Missouri, where a KKK organization called the Veiled Prophet holds social sway. It meets its match, however, in Angie LaClède, a young woman in the riot grrrl movement bent on inflicting a long-overdue revenge. Cathy Cruise, focusing on another troubled American region in TRACE MOUNTAIN, delineates the strong bond between a father and daughter in an area of the Appalachians where creationism is still taught in schools. Cruise’s young protagonist stands by evolution, but she and her father are also exploring a mystery on the outskirts of science.
By reaching into history, fiction can reimagine past lives and cultures, as with Terri Paul’s ALMOST AMERICAN, a novel narrated by a working-class girl living in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1920s. Sarah’s story vividly combines the timeless elements of family strife and a teenager’s first job with the unique experiences of Jewish immigrants in America and the constraints and preoccupations of an earlier decade. Hesse Phillips, in LIGHTBORNE, travels further back in time to explore the life of a real historical figure, the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. Phillips describes both Marlowe’s artistic ambitions and the dangers of being a gay man in an intolerant age, breathing vibrant new energy into a true story.
In MURDER MOUNTAIN, Louise Titchener marries historical fiction with the suspense genre, offering an immersive portrait of the ambitious, violent community of pioneers in New Mexico in the 1880s while also delivering an action-packed story of a kidnapped rancher’s wife and a one-time Pinkerton detective. Jason Bursack’s novel similarly uses the mystery genre to explore a particular place and time: A MURDER IN WINTER illuminates today’s American Midwest by plunging its protagonists into the murder of a childhood friend. Drawn back by the crime to the hometown they abandoned years before, Kate Walsh and her siblings must finally come to terms with their own roots.
Sometimes fiction is most entrancing when it takes us out of our world entirely. In Shannon Litt’s fantasy WREN CUTFORTH, PIRATE, readers are transported to a universe in which humans dwell alongside other sentient species and magic can both save lives and call up fearsome monsters. In this steampunk world, everyday details of school and gossip alternate with exotic elements of high fantasy. Similarly, the opening of Barry Riley’s novel, THE HERO’S DAUGHTER, takes familiar fantasy tropes—a medieval setting, mysterious forces, the headstrong child of a missing leader—and offers new twists, in both its rebellious heroine and the magical, danger-ridden realm of Thessland that Riley has created.
At other times the fantasy worlds of fiction bear a disturbing relation to the world we live in now, as in the dystopian genre. Donna Marie West, in THE TIMES OF MY LIFE, combines time travel with apocalyptic fiction to tell the story of a young woman preparing for medical school who is transported to a nightmarish near future, in which rampant disease has killed off most of the planet’s population. Similarly, Steph Shuff, in her novel NEW WORLD EDGES, presents an earth ravaged by climate change, wars, and plagues. Yet here, as in West’s novel, hope survives: Shuff’s two main characters, who also serve as allegorical figures, find meaning in each other as they navigate their empty world and reconcile two very different viewpoints.
Whether delving into our current age, our probable future, our complex past, or new worlds altogether, fiction vivifies humanity’s dreams and fears, connections and differences. In its vast range, it displays the incalculability of our collective experience.
— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor
Table of Contents
A MURDER IN WINTER – Jason Bursack
TRACE MOUNTAIN – Cathy Cruise
WREN CUTFORTH, PIRATE – Shannon Litt
VP – Devin Thomas O’Shea
ALMOST AMERICAN – Terri Paul
LIGHTBORNE – Hesse Phillips
THE HERO’S DAUGHTER – Barry Riley
NEW WORLD EDGES – Steph Shuff
MURDER MOUNTAIN – Louise Titchener
THE TIMES OF MY LIFE – Donna Marie West