One month into our book publishing venture, 55 Fathoms Publishing, and one thing has become remarkably clear: there are a lot of writers out there who can tell a great story and deserve to have their books published. I know that sounds simplistic, and possibly pollyanna-ish, but sometimes the simple thing has to be said. That’s because in the never ending quest for publication, in the dozens, hundreds, often thousands of rejections a good writer receives in the course of a career, it’s easy for writer to think that they can’t write very well and that they don’t deserve publication.
Although we will probably only publish two or three of the hundreds of talented writers who will have submitted to us by the end of the year, we want you to know that if the market were different, and if the finances were different, we would probably want to publish quite a few of you.
When you think about it, it’s quite unfair. There is always room for another lawyer or another doctor. There is always room for another teacher or paramedic. There is not a lot of room for good writers.
From these simple facts some other things are pretty obvious, but I don’t want to get too deep into the conversation about how most of America doesn’t read very much, or at all, or the comic irony that most Americans would really like to write a book even though they don’t read. Those of us who would love to write for a living—and by this I mean actually write and not teach and review and blog and edit other people’s work—know that there is very little room for us.
I know that it’s similar among some creatives—actors and musicians and dancers and comedians—but it’s not quite the same because a writer must write alone. There’s no group to work things out with, there’s no audience on which to try a new routine. A writer (more like a composer or a painter) performs in isolation. That feeling of being on, and totally focused, comes only when there is no one else to appreciate it. The praise or criticism that comes later is detached from the experience of writing; it is a separate aspect that I consider more a part of the business of writing.
This is where the blogger is supposed to turn into the coach and offer the encouragement that appeals to the writer’s hope—that boundless vessel of possibility—the one that keeps writers writing in the belief that if they work hard enough and long enough someone will notice, someone with the means to publish their stories. For some this eventually comes true. For most it does not. So I’m not going to say it. Instead I’m going to say that from us to you, we know you are there. Even though we can’t publish as many of you as we would like, we know you have the talent and the drive. And we are with you in mind, in practice, in spirit.
The Brits used to be proud of the saying, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Those days are long gone, thankfully, but the phrase came to mind when considering the writers featured in this new issue. Our writers this time hail from Canada, Ireland, Israel, Puerto Rico, and Australia, in addition to the continental United States. Instead of being united by subjugation, these talented people are connected by a passion for writing. So you might say the sun never sets on great storytelling.
There is movement, however glacial, toward this form of unification. It’s mostly visual and digital, but the core of it is the human need to tell and to hear stories. It is what connects us and what helps break down barriers between us. Perhaps the truth of that lies within the fact that despite our many technological advancements, so many people still take joy in writing and reading the old-fashioned way, in a simple book with words on pages.
We hope you enjoy this one.
– Joe, Zac, Renee, Marci, David, Zoë, Ronak, Lauren, Ai, and Tommy
Table of Contents(click the links for stories and excerpts)
Isolation and quarantines made necessary by the COVID-19 epidemic have some people looking for ways to fill the extra time spent at home. Our friends at 7.13 Books have a suggestion: reading discounted ebooks. All their ebooks are now priced at $2.99.
We’re partial to 7.13 because Publisher Leland Cheuk has put together a lineup of incredible titles by debut novelists, giving authors who would otherwise be ignored by the New York publishing industry a chance to introduce their work to the world. His press has received praise from many major industry review outlets.
Oh, and one of those books is Mr. Neutron, a science fiction/satire mashup by Orca Co-publisher Joe Ponepinto.
Whatever your situation during this crisis, the team at Orca hopes you stay distant and safe.
We’d like to take
November’s blog to introduce an upcoming concept issue for our journal. While Orca
was founded on our love for literary storytelling, we like to champion any use
of rich, carefully crafted language. Some of our favorite novels and short
stories fall under the umbrella of genre fiction, but they remain classics in
our heart for their wonderful use of language and their broad exploration of
With that in mind,
beginning with our fourth issue and continuing with every third issue of Orca,
we will be celebrating submissions of literary speculative fiction and shining
a deserved light on those storytellers who push boundaries and manage to break
away from the conventions and tropes of their genre and seek to craft something
What do we mean by the
terms Literary and Speculative—and what does it mean when those two worlds
Literary: A style of writing in which the focus is on language and character, and plot is often secondary. A literary story is about ideas. It has an overarching theme distinct from the narrative and a leitmotif running through it. It treats its characters as real human beings and not as props to espouse an author’s opinion or to simply move the plot forward. It approaches language as art: a literary writer pays attention to every sentence, every word.
Speculative: The term “speculative” has been employed by writers and editors to connote works from a variety of genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopian, space opera, and similar subjects. All of those genres are welcome, and we hope to celebrate shining examples of them all, but for Orca we are specifically looking for submissions that adhere more closely to the original sense of the word, which is to consider what might be, instead of what is. Think a near-future where the political structure is turned on its head. Think about an alternative present where the South won the Civil War. Imagine a fantastical horror that over the course of ten pages begins to feel all too real. Think Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone. Think “what if….”
Both definitions pay
particular attention to the idea behind the story. Good, literary
speculative fiction has its basis in concepts that are larger (often much
larger) than the story itself, and seeks to examine one aspect of it, and how
that aspect affects the story’s characters.
A great example of
excellent literary speculative fiction can be found in the opening paragraph of
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Notice how, on its surface the
narrator is simply establishing a setting, but then marvel at how, within this
description, Atwood manages an incredible amount of world building:
We slept in what had once been a gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat shot through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures, later in miniskirt, then pants, then in one earring, spike green-streaked hair. Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, and undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands make of up of issue paper flowers, cardboard devils, and a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with snow of light.
Not a word is wasted.
Notice how the backstory it hints at creates far more questions than answers.
Notice how the future being described is done, not through heavy-handed
narration or purple prose, but through carefully constructed sensory images
that give the novel’s world a full past, present, and future, all in a brief
Horror, too, can find a
home within the speculative literary world, for what genre better epitomizes
the collective sentiment of the human condition that we tend to feel today? In
this world of polemics and 24-hour push notifications, who among us can turn on
the news or read an article and not be stricken with a sense, false or not, of
There are few better
than Shirley Jackson when it comes to writing literary horror. Consider her
opening to Hill House and the world it opens up to us, like the day to
twilight shift of a full eclipse:
No organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
While we want to keep
this upcoming issue open to all types of literary speculative fiction, it is
unlikely that we would publish anything considered high fantasy or hard sci-fi.
So too, would we be likely to pass on anything that focuses on extreme gore,
violence, or eroticism. All of those can be great tools for a skilled writer,
but only when used sparingly.
Consider this thematic
issue our challenge to the many writers who have submitted to us in the past,
to break away from the mold and to craft something boldly imaginative. To pose
a “what if…,” explore it, and perhaps, even attempt to answer it. We cannot
wait to read your submissions!
Is getting by in life the same as finding meaning in life? It may sound like a strange question, but once you’ve read the stories and essays in this issue we hope you’ll see a connection. Some of the people you’ll meet are dealing with family, birdwatching, and interpreting dreams. There are also stories about less traditional lives, such as people making lives out of discards, engaging in prostitution, pursuing murder for money, and enduring the long-term effects of gun violence.
The value of literature, and often its attraction for readers, is that it allows us to see meaning in the decisions characters make—big or small. Sometimes they work out, other times they result in an existence that has them questioning how they got there. Ultimately, literature reminds us that meaning lies in the life you lead, not in how you spin it for the public forum. We may go viral and be famous for fifteen minutes, but when that moment passes, then what? Who are you really?
As we head into another holiday season we hope this issue offers an opportunity to reflect on how we spend our time, and where we find that meaning.
Wishing you a happy and thoughtful holiday,
– Joe, Zac, Renee, and the Orca staff
Table of Contents(click the links for stories and excerpts)
Better Ground, an organization dedicated to the environmental health of the Puget Sound region, has designated Saturday, October 19, as Orca Recovery Day. Residents of the area are encouraged to join in volunteer activities designed to improve the habitat of these special animals.
The site features an interactive map, and persons interested in getting involved can learn about activities in their area by clicking on their local county/conservation district.
Orcas flourished in Puget Sound for millennia. But now their existence here (and in other locations) is threatened due to environmental degradation. Estimates put the current population of local Orcas at only 75.
Publisher/Senior Editor Joe Ponepinto is the author of the novels Mr. Neutron and Curtain Calls, as well as dozens of short stories published in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. His major literary influences include Zadie Smith (whose novels somehow convinced him he could become a writer), Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Bolaño, James Joyce, Bernard Malamud, Ted Chiang, Yasunari Kawabata, Margaret Atwood, Tobias Wolff, and dozens of others. Best book on writing: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders.
Publisher/Senior Editor Zachary Kellian, a widely published author of flash fiction and short stories, is finishing up his first novel. He is also the co-host of the podcast Literary Guise, encouraging men to use literature as a way to discuss their thoughts and emotions. His major literary influences include Dylan Thomas, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Yukio Mishima, Anne Proulx, and John O’Brien. You can find him online at zacharykellian.com
Editor Renee Jackson is a multi-disciplinary artist currently splitting time between the US and Argentina. She has a passion for new work and a background in theatre where she has had the pleasure of assisting in the literary development and staging of several plays including (Non)Fiction (Jillian Leff), The Wildling (CJ Chapman), Minotaur (Teagan Walsh-Davis), and Gothic Arch (Jeffrey Fiske). Renee’s literary influences include Samuel Beckett, Sylvia Plath, Denis Johnson, Albert Camus, Dylan Thomas, John Donne, and Paula Vogel.
David Anderson is a writer of short fiction. While primarily focusing on short stories, his interest in flash fiction sparked while studying at Hugo House in Seattle. A recent finalist in a national flash fiction competition, he continues to study and challenge himself within a small group of emerging writers. David has also been a panelist at Pacific Northwest Writers Conference and Emerald City Comic Con.
Ronak Patel is a first generation Indian-American writer, researcher, and educator. His research interests include racism in education and the model minority myth. He has published reports and data narratives for non-profits, school districts, and state agencies in Washington and Hawaii. Ronak’s fiction explores narratives of the South Asian American experience and his literary influences include Juhmpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai, T.C. Boyle, Michael Chabon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arundhati Roy, John Cheever, and Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Marci Pliskin is a Seattle-based writer. Her work has appeared in The Cottonwood Journal (University of Kansas) and Orca, A Literary Journal. She has written for MSNBC. She is a 2019 New Millennium Writer’s Finalist in Non-Fiction. Some of her major literary influences include Alice Munro, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Sam Lypsite, Kimberly King Parsons and Annie Proulx.
K.A. Tate is a tech turned fiction writer living in the Northern Shenandoah Valley with two great partners who are quiet when she’s writing and the same number of parrots who are not. Her work is focused in rural Appalachia where she was raised. She has her MFA from West Virginia Wesleyan and has so far been published in BULL with other publications upcoming. Her biggest literary influences include Stephen King, Otessa Moshfegh, Alice Munro, Shirley Jackson, Larry Brown, and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. She has a website where she writes about craft for people who don’t know they’re writers yet at katatewriting.com.
Jacob Laba is a young writer currently living in El Cerrito, California. His focus is chiefly that of short stories which tend to settle in the realms of fabulation and the literary allegory. His literary interests are far and wide, but some of his major influences include Italo Calvino (and other members of Oulipo), Jorge Luis Borges, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, Isabel Allende (as well as a great deal of other Latin American magical realists), Ali Smith, and Julio Cortázar.
Liz Rosen is a short story writer whose work has appeared in Litro, Ascent, Pithead Chapel, Sanitarium, Best Short Stories of the Saturday Evening Post, and others. Her fiction has been nominated for Pushcart Awards twice, and her story “Tracks” was the 2021 first prize winner of the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition in the literary/mainstream category. She is a former writer for Nickelodeon TV; Associate Producer of primetime news; academic whose area of specialty was apocalyptic storytelling; and Non-Fiction Editor for Ducts.org. She is currently obsessed with ghost-hunting shows and has an excellent “Did you hear that?!?”
My name is Noah Barry and I’m currently living in Richmond, California. I’m a novice when it comes to the literary world—with a newfound passion for writing short, vignette style stories. I’m part of multiple organizations—some of which include advocating for animal rights, being part of an organization supporting pro-choice for abortion rights, and the “Physicians Organizing Committee” advocating for better access to health care for people with unfair disadvantages. I’ve recently started getting more into different styles of poetry—some of my inspirations include William Wordsworth, and many poets who go deeper into writing poems regarding nature. One writer who I love reading, who can make you think and writes in a very elegant manner, is Kazuo Ishiguro.
Noha Khalil is a writer and student from New York City. Recent work has appeared in King Ludd’s Rag. Noha’s favorite writers include Toni Morrison, Yaa Gyasi, and Stephen Jay Gould.
Nolan Thilk is a young writer living in Aurora, Illinois. His literary tastes are eclectic, and his influences include Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, George Orwell, Dorothy Parker, and Salman Rushdie.
If you are interested in joining our staff, please visit the Read for Us page.
Orca publishes short stories, flash fiction, and nonfiction. We are a literary journal and we believe in the literary style of writing. We are open to almost any topic, as long as it’s written in a literary style.
We are committed to diversity of identities, origins, and perspectives on our pages. Many of our contributors are from other countries and cultures. But the main criterion by which we judge submissions is the quality of the writing. We seek work that is high concept: imaginative, thoughtful, even speculative, and open to possibilities. We look for deep, diverse characters, and narratives that blend genres, or connect seemingly disparate ideas. We currently pay $50 for published short stories and $25 for flash fiction.
We are also committed to the intentions of our contributors. Although we often work with writers to polish their stories, we also respect their original intent, and as much as possible retain the artist’s individual and local language, spelling, style, and vernacular.
Beginning in 2023 we will publish three times per year: June, speculative issue; October, literary issue; February 2024, literary issue. Submissions will remain open year-round. Literary stories with a speculative aspect are sometimes included in the literary issues.
Although we are relatively new, our fiction has already been honored with a reprint of Kristyn Dunnion’s “Daughter of Cups” in the anthology Best Canadian Stories 2020. Three of our flash fiction contributors have been selected for the 2021 edition of Best Small Fictions: “July First and Last,” by Stephen Ground; “Life Underground” by Avra Margariti; and “A Fall Play: In One Act and Three Scenes” by David Luntz. “A Terrible Thing Has Happened” by Natascha Graham received an honorable mention in the Rotary Club of Stratford’s (Canada) 2021 Short Story Contest.
Fiction published in Orca may also be nominated for anthologies such as Best American Short Stories, Best Small Fictions, the Pushcart Prize, and others.