An Unlikely Hiatus

Hello, gentle readers. It’s been a while since we’ve posted an update, and as such, this announcement may not come as a surprise. Unlikely Story is officially going on hiatus in 2017. At the moment, day job demands have made it impossible to devote the amount of time to Unlikely Story that it deserves. It is unfair to the authors who work so hard to write us brilliant stories to keep them waiting indefinitely to hear back from us, and waiting even longer to see their stories in print, and it is unfair to our readers for us to release a publication that is anything less than our best effort. Rather than trying to fit Unlikely Story into a few free minutes here and there, we’ve decided to take a step back, take some time to breathe, and hopefully come back to Unlikely Story when we can focus on it properly.

In the meantime, our archives remain online, and Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix -- our first print publication -- is available for purchase. If you missed an issue or a story, now is the perfect time to catch up. Thank you for coming with us on this journey so far. We don’t have a timeline for when we might resume operations, or what form our publication will take in the future, but once we do, you’ll read about it here.

Thank you once again for reading, and best wishes for 2017.

Award Eligible Works 2016

Award season has kicked off with the opening of the nomination period for the Nebula Awards. As a handy reference guide, here’s what Unlikely Story published in 2016.

Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix is eligible as a whole in the anthology category for awards that have such a category (Stoker, World Fantasy, This is Horror, etc.). The individual stories in the anthology are also available in the Short Story category for most major awards, except for the following five stories, which were originally published in 2015: Five Things Every Successful Clown Must Do, Perfect Mime, A Million Tiny Ropes, Everyone’s a Clown, Break the Face in the Jar By the Door. All the other stories in the collection are eligible.

All the stories which appeared in our Unlikely Observances Issue are also eligible in the shory story (or equivalent) category for most awards, and are free to read online.

The Death of Chaos by anne m. gibson

Old Customs by Rajiv Moté

The City & The Man; The Man & The City by Joshua A. Dilk

Little Government Gets Us Nowhere by Rhonda Eikamp

“Fear Death by Water” by Arkady Martine

Ship of Fools by Heather Morris

Burning Day by Charles Payseur

That’s what we did in 2016. Thanks for reading!

Journal of Unlikely Observances Issue 12.5, April May June 2016

Table of Contents

The Death of Chaos by anne m. gibson
Old Customs by Rajiv Moté
The City & the Man; the Man & the City by Joshua A. Dilk
Little Government Gets Us Nowhere by Rhonda Eikamp
“Fear Death By Water” by Arkady Martine
Ship of Fools by Heather Morris
Burning Day by Charles Payseur

Editors’ Note:

Ah, Spring! Winter’s reluctant release as the river’s ice cracks and breaks away, as the year’s new leaves unfurl and flowers push up through the warming soil. Insects emerge from dormancy, bears crawl forth from the earth, and baby raccoons fill the wildlife rehab centers. The world explodes with color and sound. And we mere humans can’t help but celebrate the renewal of the earth in a thousand myriad ways, from the colorful celebrations of Holi to the resurrections of Jesus, Mithras, and Dionysus; from the Feast of Fools to the dances of Beltane. And of course, April Fool’s Day: a day of tricks and jokes, of inversions and the breaking of rules.

Winter, as just about everyone reading this should have heard by now, is always coming. But Spring breaks those frozen chains. Spring cheats Death; Spring hopes eternal.

The Journal of Unlikely Observances is Unlikely Story’s third April Fool’s Day mini-issue. This year, we bring you stories that celebrate celebrations, stories of hope and self-discovery and renewal, and of putting the past away. Stories of tricks played, and of tricksters played as well.

And let us ask, Dear Reader: What better day to celebrate April Fool’s than the last day of June (or is it the first day of July where you are? O Time, trickster even unto the end!)? No matter. Together, let us cheat Time itself, and Time’s vicious, tyrannical side-kick, Deadline.

Every day can be April Fool’s Day, if you let it.

chicken break

Cover art by Linda Saboe


Announcing The Journal of Unlikely Observances ToC

It may not be April Fool’s Day anymore, but it’s still April, so it counts, right? At long last, we’ve made our final decisions for Unlikely Story #12.5: The Journal of Unlikely Observances. Now we’re delighted to unveil (in no particular order) the ToC:

Burning Day by Charles Payseur
The Death of Chaos by Anne Gibson
Old Customs by Rajiv Mote
Fear Death by Water by Arkady Martine
Little Government Gets Us Nowhere by Rhonda Eikamp
The City & the Man; The Man & the City by Joshua Dilk
Ship of Fools by Heather Morris

As always, we had tough choices to make in selecting the final line up. We received many excellent stories, so thank you to everyone who submitted work. We thoroughly enjoyed reading your pranks, your celebrations, your transformations, and your rebirths. The Journal of Unlikely Observances is going to be fantastic, and we look forward to sharing it will all of you soon!

Foolish April

At Unlikely Story, we take April Fools very seriously. We had every intention of sticking with tradition and having a new issue out to celebrate the day. Obviously, that isn’t going to happen. But don’t despair! The Journey of Unlikely Observances will still be published, just not on April 1st as originally planned. We have a handful of stories from February 28 & 29 to read and respond to, along with the stories we’re holding for further consideration.

Unfortunately, at this point, we’re not entirely sure when we’ll be able to get the issue published. Day job demands are eating up a lot of time, hence why we’re running behind. We’ll do our best to keep folks updated as we go along, and we apologize for the delay.

Thank you to the authors who are still waiting to hear from us for your incredible patience, and thank you to all of our readers as well. We promise that when it appears, the issue will be a fantastic one, and worth the wait.

Submissions Open

Submissions are now open for our April Fools’ Mini-Issue — The Journal of Unlikely Observances.

This time around, we’re looking for short fiction of up to 2000 words that explore the rituals and festivals and symptomology from which April Fools’ Day derived. For more details, see our guidelines:

The Clowns Have Landed!

The road to the circus has been a long and winding one. We may have gotten lost and taken a few wrong turns along the way. You see, we packed the mini full of clowns, but it turns out there was no room left for the map with all those red squeaky noses, bow ties, and rainbow wigs on board. They say it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters. Well, we managed both, and, at long last, the clowns have arrived. We have clown autopsies, whaling clowns, parasitic clown shoes, and clowns at the end of the world, just to name a few.

Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix is finally here! We have print copies in hand, and we’ll be sending them out to Kickstarter backers and contributors soon. The ebook version is available on Amazon, and we’re hoping to get the paperback version up there shortly.

Now that the clowns have arrived, what’s next for us? First, we kick up our big floppy shoes in celebration, and break out the bubbly -- seltzer water straight out of the trick flower. After that, keep your eyes on this space. We’ll have an announcement about our next project soon. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join us under the big top. We’re very proud of this anthology, and we’re delighted to share it with you.

Award Eligible Work 2015

It’s been… a year. Since its inception, Unlikely Story has undergone several changes, and 2015 was another metamorphosis year for us. We launched our first Kickstarter campaign, and had the best intentions of publishing our first print anthology within this year. Alas, the clowns took longer to get ready than we anticipated, so Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix will be published in early 2016. That said, it’s been a hell of a year. This is what we’ve done (and what is award eligible, if you’re so inclined) and we are extremely proud of it…

Jump Cut by Lauren C. Teffeau

Dropped Stitches by Levi Sable

It’s Machine Code by Curtis C. Chen

Those Who Gave Their Island to Survive by Barry King

The Confession of Whistling Dixie by Fiona Moore

The Joy of Sects by Joseph Tomaras

Five Things Every Successful Clown Must Do by Derek Manuel

Perfect Mime by Sarah K. McNeilly

A Million Tiny Ropes by Virginia M. Mohlere

Everyone’s a Clown by Caroline M. Yoachim

Break the Face in the Jar by the Door by Carlie St. George

Follow Me Down by Nicolette Barischoff

Minotaur: An Analysis of the Species by Sean Robinson

The Librarian’s Dilemma by E. Saxey

The Dauphin’s Metaphysics by Eric Schwitzgebel

Soteriology and Stephen Greenwood by Julia August

And Other Definitions of Family by Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Candidate 45, Pensri Suesat by Pear Nuallak

The Shapes of Us, Translucent to Your Eye by Rose Lemberg

We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with all these amazing authors over the course of the year. Hopefully you enjoyed reading their stories as much as we enjoyed publishing them. See you in 2016!


An Unlikely Interview with Rose Lemberg

The Shapes of Us, Translucent to Your Eye deals with several important themes, namely visibility and who has access to education. Did your own academic background inform this story in any way, or is it a more general, widespread societal issue you wanted to address in your story? Do you see any positive changes in recent years within the education field when it comes to access? What can and should schools at all levels improve on so that they are reaching as many people as possible?

Those are great questions; unfortunately, I could bloviate endlessly about those topics. I’ll try to be relatively brief. As a twice-immigrant and an academic, I’ve been in education systems in multiple countries, mostly in public institutions (first without much choice, then by choice). I teach at a large state university and I care deeply about my students and their success, so yes, this is one of the stories that are informed by my own experiences and views. Positive changes -- well, the story, I think, comments rather heavily on budget cuts, and in my career as a student and as a professor, budget cuts have been a refrain. Shrinking educational budgets affect student success. It’s often hard to find the silver lining among all these cuts and the often inefficient support systems. I live and work in the US now, and what I see in the US specifically is an ever-widening gap between those students who can afford their education, usually through parental supports, and those who must take out student loans if they are to have a chance at all. I believe that this establishes inequalities very early in life. Another issue is that many students do not even get to participate in higher education because of pervasive issues like systemic racism that often begin to harm children as soon as they are in any educational system. And many students who do reach university reach it already with scars, already hurting, and those students are often lost. To improve anything at all we need to fix society. But yes, there are some positive developments. There’s a new federal initiative that’s called the First in the World grant that is awarded to some institutions to financially support underprivileged and first-time college goers. I’m waiting to see how this will work at the universities involved.

Do you have a favorite magical school from literature? If that school offered you admission, do you see yourself gravitating toward a particular subject or specialty? If you were offered a teaching position at that school, is there anything new you’d add to the curriculum?

I am not a very tropey person, but I do love magical schools. Since it’s been a very, very long time since I talked about anything mainstream, I think I’m going to make an exception now and talk about Hogwarts. I was actually selected to attend Hogwarts when I was 11. This is a true story. I was raised by my grandmother in Ukraine, but when I was 11, I briefly lived with my parents in Vorkuta, one of the northernmost towns in Russia and a former GULAG site. Vorkuta lies beyond the Arctic circle, and it gets very, very cold. We lived in an apartment building on the outskirts of town, which overlooked the tundra. One evening my mother was in the kitchen frying beef cutlets. She opened a small window to let in some air, and some minutes later, a gigantic snowy owl flew in from the tundra and tried to get into the house; its wingspan was too large to fit in, though, and it made an unholy racket striking a metal box that was affixed under the window. My mother, a famous yeller, nearly outshouted the owl, at which point my father emerged from the living room and chased the owl away -- my admittance letter went with it, I reckon.

Anyway. Hogwarts. I like thinking about Hogwarts because, for me, it represents things that are both cool AND wrong with our education. The exclusion of non-magical students; the problematic treatment of students with disabilities; the fact that students from non-magical backgrounds are not as well positioned to succeed as the students from magical backgrounds; the rather arbitrary division into four houses with Hufflepuff being the most denigrated, etc, etc. I am, obviously, a Hufflepuff. I’m pretty sure the Sorting Hat would try to put me in Ravenclaw, but I’m a determined person. Unsurprisingly, I feel a certain affinity with Albus Dumbledore. I don’t see myself teaching at Hogwarts, though.

In my own secondary world, Birdverse, there are a few famous magical schools and universities, with different teaching styles and approaches to magical disciplines. There is a striking difference between the southern and northern scholarly traditions of magic; the oldest and probably still the best academy is southern, in Keshet. I’d probably teach in one of the Northern universities -- they are all flawed and problematic, but I am yet to find an unproblematic institution of higher education anywhere. In terms of Birdverse magical disciplines, I am afraid I am a magical geometrist. Magical Geometry is a foundational discipline. I went for much more obscure choices in real life, but I don’t see myself doing anything else in Birdverse. I’d focus on theory, though I could branch into more applied things too, like Strong Building. Some of these things appeared in my Birdverse novelettes and poems, but academia is truly in focus in the novels. Academia specifically is a focus of my Birdverse novel Bridgers, which needs a revision -- I’m hoping to tackle that next year. I’m looking forward to publishing novels, if that ever happens -- I do hope it will. I’d really also love to write a magical school MG or YA novel set in Birdverse. If I were hired to teach at a magical school, I’d probably do what I’m doing now: lots of mentoring.

Whether it’s philosophy or quantum physics or economic theory, speculative fiction writers often draw from academic theory, research and new discoveries to inform their work, and it’s no surprise that an Academia-themed magazine will attract stories that do just that. Can you tell us a little about one such influence? Who are they? What aspect of their work resonated with you, and how has it influenced your own work?

With this story, it was actually the other way around. I wrote the story and thought, well, obviously my subconscious is telling me to write an article about immigrants and language hegemony, so that’s what I did in the summer.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education -- who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

As a high school student and immigrant (in Israel), I was constantly struggling with the system. Like other new immigrants I was often assumed to be linguistically incompetent, and there were constant attempts to put me in ‘special’ classes for immigrants -- that had to do with discrimination rather than language ability. I don’t think I’ve ever, in my life, asked anyone “Why do I need to know this”; I am a voracious learner. But, of course, there were things I did not want to learn. At some point I was in an advanced physics class and the obscure important thing I learned in there was beginning Old Norse (I snuck in a bilingual edition of the Poetic Edda). I was also sneakily working on my conlang, Takiritalë, which is the language I mention in my Strange Horizons poem The Three Immigrations -- Takiritalë had a regular modality and a Road modality which did not grammatically mark for gender, tense, or person. I still think that was neat. I did quit advanced physics (it was an elective) and all was well.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I’m not one of those people who held a lot of odd jobs. The oddest… well, when I was 17 there was a brief stint during which I folded hats at a clothing factory. My takeaway from this was “hats really don’t need folding.” After graduating high school, I worked in an architecture firm, where my job was mainly coloring architectural drawings for clients. This is described briefly in my magic realist memoir, “These are the Roads that Loop and Entwine Me” published in Bahamut earlier this year. During my first college year I worked as a support person at a faucet factory. I try not to think about that much, because my brain fixated on the various types of faucets and faucet components.The thing that saved me from going completely faucet during that time was an epic poem I was composing about … surprisingly… a magical bird. Things improved after that juncture.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

My first ever published work was “The Dragonfeeder’s Lament”, a poem in Star*line (2008). It was the first poem I did not delete (I used to regularly delete my writing). I am a better poet now, but I still like that piece.

Twenty years is a geological microsecond, but is a vast stretch for a person, no matter how quickly it seems to slip away, and it can be interesting to think about what one’s characters might be doing twenty years in their futures. Do you see anything interesting in any of your character’s futures that you’d be willing to share with us?

Warda… well, you know, there is an older Warda in Amal El-Mohtar’s “Pockets”, which is how I ended up with this story in the first place! Warda of “The Shapes of Us…” is an alt!Warda, though. I hope that in 20 years Warda of “Shapes…” is a full professor with lots of students and lots of good publications. She’d probably be a departmental chair, too, because she’s a kind of person who gets saddled with more and more responsibilities because she is hard-working and gets along with people. There’s also a good chance that Warda does not have a happy life. She’s lonely and tired and did not publish all that much and she’s done a lot of teaching and service which is not appreciated, and she’s still an associate professor and she is pretty bitter.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

I mostly read short fiction by emerging writers. Among the people who don’t have a novel out (yet?), I enjoy the work of Vajra Chandrasekera, JY Yang, Bogi Takács, Ken Schneyer, Shweta Narayan, Sonya Taaffe, Alyssa Wong, Lisa M. Bradley… too many to list. Some of those authors have brilliant work forthcoming in an anthology I edited, An Alphabet of Embers. M. Sereno has an amazing story in An Alphabet of Embers, her first story sale. We hope to release the book soon! If you want to drop everything right now and read a short story, I hope it’s Polenth Blake’s “Never the Same.”

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?

Too many things. There’s my upcoming debut poetry collection, Marginalia to Stone Bird (Aqueduct, 2016). There’s An Alphabet of Embers. There’s… well, rumors of a Birdverse short fiction collection next year. I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet, but I am working on. Those are the big projects. Smaller things: I just had a novelette (almost novella) come out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, “Geometries of Belonging.” I hope you give it a read.

An Unlikely Interview with Pear Nuallak

Candidate 45, Pensri Suesat explores, among other things, art, authenticity, academic culture, gender, mythology, and varying expectations of those inside and outside a culture. What drew you to these themes and combining them in this particular way? Did you draw on your own experiences in obtaining your degree in Art History as you wrote this story?

I wanted to question certain assumptions about art education. It can be just as academically rigorous, and also just as rigid and oppressive, as any other subject. There’s this idea of art as being above the world--above politics, above society--rather than being a direct cultural product. I wanted to write a story in a secondary world which pays attention to art as a cultural product.

Both my parents graduated from well-regarded Thai arts institutions, my mother from Poh Chang and my father from Silpakorn. I’ve always been proud of this heritage. When I got to university myself, however, I began to understand the larger histories and historiographies, personal and academic.

My time at university was alternately deeply fulfilling and dehumanising. I read theories of postcoloniality, learned of hegemony, resistance, and hybridity. It felt increasingly strange to be taught my own culture through a determinedly Othering lense. I tried to reconcile that feeling with the chance to research and write about my heritage and having access to a thrilling number of university libraries and online academic journals.

During my research, I looked into the history of Silpakorn. It was founded in the early 20th century by an Italian artist and academic, Corrado Feroci, who actively supported Thai people in the study of their native art. He’s at once revered and loathed by Thai artists, critics, and academics. His passion for and dedication to Thailand and its people is obviously genuine, but he has some shockingly essentialist views about art, race, and nation. Excusing this as being a product of his time is lazy thinking: firstly, opinions such as his were condemned by contemporaries, and secondly, similar racist sentiments are repeated in the present day, impacting how Thailand’s art and artists are treated on a global scale.

In addition to your fiction writing, you also write non-fiction about food. How do your passions for writing and for cooking intersect, if at all? Do you spend time thinking about what your characters eat, why, and what it reveals about them as individuals, or their place in society as a whole? What’s your favorite dish to cook either for yourself, or to share with friends?

When writing fiction, I think about a character’s relationship to food as much as I do all their other traits. Everyone has a unique relationship with food: it can--in any combination and at any point in procuring, making, having, and recovering from a meal--be absolutely practical, an elaborate pleasure, or a source of immense pain and stress. If it’s interesting and relevant, I’ll include it.

Also, when Asian or Asian-inspired characters and worlds are created under an Orientalist lense, the food is frequently centred as a point of particular disgust, rendered as mystery fruit and unnameable proteins. When I write food into my stories, I’d rather describe dishes, table manners, ways of shopping, etc. which are actually familiar to me in the hopes that someone will also recognise it--or will take the time to look it up and find themselves expanding their knowledge.

The dish I secretly like to make for myself is doctored-up instant noodles which taste of hot and salt. If I’m cooking for a crowd and feel like showing off a bit, I make a savoury pie with all-butter pastry, or curry noodles entirely from scratch (either kuay-tiao kaeng sai gai or khao soi). Both dishes involve slow, steady cooking—toasting and grinding spices, careful simmering—and both are ideally polished off in 5 minutes.

Whether it’s philosophy or quantum physics or economic theory, speculative fiction writers often draw from academic theory, research and new discoveries to inform their work, and it’s no surprise that an Academia-themed magazine will attract stories that do just that. Can you tell us a little about one such influence? Who are they? What aspect of their work resonated with you, and how has it influenced your own work?

Miranda Fricker’s epistemic injustice was the driving force behind the more fraught moments in my story. That perhaps sounds like a quibble in an ivory tower, opaquely academic, but it’s something many of us who occupy marginalised identities have encountered throughout our lives and is very much relevant to on-going discussions about oppression.

This injustice of knowledge takes place between two parties, the speaker and the hearer, and this dynamic forms a feedback loop with structual oppression. The hearer can commit a wrong by discrediting the speaker’s knowledge because of the hearer’s pre-conceived notions about the speaker (testimonial injustice). One very common manifestation is when PoC speak truthfully about their lived experiences of racism but are immediately dismissed as “angry” or “self-serving.”

It can also be a wrong committed when people are deprived of the words to describe a shared experience and are instead scorned and silenced (hermeneutical injustice). The tools they could use to demarcate and name their experience are, for many reasons, difficult to access. If the shared experience is made into, say, a personal fault, a single self made to feel trivial, then people are made lonely and confused, perhaps more inclined to believe in the Just World hypothesis than the truth of their own suffering.

Objectivity is, in academia, highly valued. But I have learned that it can actually be very dishonest and at odds with true justice.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

My first published piece was a short light-hearted poem about women and the sea in Stone Telling’s ‘Joke’ issue. It’s my first and only rhymed poetry piece. I feel glad that I worked on that little project; I was actually feeling pretty stressed and disheartened at the time, and working on something slightly silly but with a level of craft was satisfying.

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?

In late 2015, my story ‘The Insects and Women Sang Together’ and two of my illustrations will be out in THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia (eds Jaymee Goh & Joyce Chng, Rosarium Press). It’s about domesticity and war, ambitious women, and clockwork insects.

I’m also working on queer re-imagining of a Thai folk tale, Manohara, which deals with memory, forgiveness, and tropes about Thai women.