Standard disclaimer: This post looks at the text of a short story for educational purposes, and does not shy away from spoilers. If you don’t want the story spoiled, read the original story first. (And subscribe to support the magazine.)
For Southern Girls When the Zodiac Ain’t Near Enough
Apex Magazine. 111 – August 2018
Stepping In To The Story
On the outside this story is a woman getting a reading. It has the trappings of Tarot but it’s not any Tarot I’ve ever encountered. On the inside, well, I’m still not sure. This is the opening story in an issue dedicated to Zodiac-themed stories. Editor Sheree Renée Thomas makes this clear, so none of the stories in the issue are going to be out-of-the-box unexpected.
With that, the story sets the stage in a surprisingly clear second person voice. I don’t see that often. The reader/narrator is a woman, lost in the exhausting of living “the hate and the hurt” which could put this story anywhen after cars were common but feels particularly relevant today.
My inner pulp writer got a bit frustrated with this story. I wanted something to happen. At the drawing of the June Bug I thought “okay here it comes the Kafka moment” but no. I didn’t get that point of action, that challenge, because that’s not what this story is about.
This is a literary story. The reader/narrator experiences a monologue on the theme of “you can’t escape your past and you can’t escape who you are”. After a few more readings I began to see how part of the chaos of the world (see: eternal interrupted news cycles of fresh outrage) tries to displace us from ourselves, to remove the quintessential “me” and replace it with an unthinking “consumer”.
After this realization I saw the life lessons in each card that I need to apply to myself in some way. This is why the second person voice is so important to this piece. This is
Damn. Sneaky sneaky Eden Royce, you got me. Especially with this:
Food prepared in cast iron becomes infused with the iron itself, easing the weakness of blood loss. Share your food, your words, that which you have made with the world and see how it soothes, invigorates others.
For me, this is the challenge of my own Christianity. This is what I’m called to do.
Exercise: Draw a Card
There are lots of sites that suggest you do Tarot readings for characters, or use the Tarot in a “oh-crap-what-happens-next?” situation. You can Pull a Chandler, or Draw a Card. Mark Teppo’s book Jump Start Your Novel advocates the cards as a way to flush out plots and themes during the drafting stages of writing.
It never occurred to me that it’s also possible to re-write the deck itself. Extra Credit goes to the reader who can create a symbology-deck for various genres.
Exercise: Add a Symbol or Two
John Truby discusses the Symbol Web of stories. Pick a story that doesn’t seem to be communicating with the reader. Find a sore spot and weave in something that symbolizes the underlying struggle. Then bring back that symbol transformed in some way (even if it’s the same damn thing, your character can certainly see it in a brand new way) at the end of the story and see if that doesn’t help.
Thomas name drops Jarita C. Holbrook as a cultural astronomer focusing on Africa. This is a rabbit hole I’m going to have to go down one day.