Friday, January 25, 2019

Announcing the Flash Cat Award for flash fiction!

The Flash Cat Award
Named after Apollo the lux tux cat, this is a new award for flash fiction, to be awarded in June 2019. How does one go about winning a Flash Cat? Well, the first step is to submit your flash fiction to SBLJ by March 1, 2019. If your piece is published in Volume 3, it will be in the running for a Flash Cat. Rumors abound of a $100 prize, and the rumors are not without reason. Flash should be under 1,000 words. For submission guidelines click here.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Welcome Guest Editor of Flash for Vol. 3, Word Wrangler Extraordinaire, Rachael Q.

We at the SBLJ are pleased as punch to introduce Rachael Q., who will be selecting Volume 3's Flash Fiction. Flash would be fiction that is under 1,000 words that offer character and plot development. Rachael looks for well-crafted works of whimsy and measure. Bonus points if you or your work is connected, in some way, to the theme of Bellatrix, Greek mythology’s “female warrior,” otherwise known as the Amazons. Rachael would like you to "Send us your twitterature, minisaga, nanotale, and micro-stories: surprise us!"

Rachael certainly knows her way around the metaphorical pen. She has published articles in the Santa Barbara Independent and Impact Magazine. She’s an active member of the SCBWI and participant in #MGLitChat, #OwnVoices and #MGBookChat. In addition to being a freelance writer, she’s a novelist. Look out for her forthcoming middle-grade science fantasy novel, Phuel! Curious about our Word Wrangler? You can visit her site here.

Originally from Northern Virginia, she lived in New York City for a number of years before moving to Santa Barbara, CA, and launching her hospitality business. What does owning a hospitality business have to do with writing? Very little except in the way it affords her time to do the things she loves most in the world: read, write, and run. The former two she does quite rigorously as part of the Creative Writing & Literature graduate degree program she’s enrolled in through Harvard University Extension School.

To submit your flash for SBLJ's consideration, please follow our standard guideline submissions, available here. The submission window opens now and is open until March 1.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Mistress of Song Bids You Sing of California...

Our Mistress of Song, onstage, Alcazar Theater, October 2018

The Lyrics Section of the Literary Journal is curated by Laura Hemenway, our Mistress of Song. The theme of the Lyrics Section for Volume 3 is “California.” Laura has made most of the selections for Volume 3, but is accepting a few additional songs in recognition of the fact that she may not have heard every song ever written about California.One song will be considered per singer.

Your submission should include:

1. A short (3-4 sentence) biographical paragraph explaining who you are as a songwriter. Include any websites/social media.

2. Include a recording of your song (theme: “California”) in the body of your email. This can be a “scratch” recording, but it should be clear enough that the melody and accompaniment are distinguishable.

3. Include a lyric sheet; (how you want your lyrics to look on the page) in the body of your email.

There is a relationship between the title of Volume 3 (“Bellatrix", a star in Orion's Belt whose name means "Female Warrior.”) and “California” (the title of the Lyrics Section)...can you guess what that might be?

Submissions for Volume 3 are now open and will end on March 1, 2019.  

Send submissions to:
sblitjo AT gmail DOT com

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Letter from the Editrix

There is the famous French saying "Après moi, le déluge," a quote from the mistress of the Sun King, loosely translated to "After me, the deluge." She meant it rather callously, in the sense that she gave not one fig about what happened to those peasants starving on French land. And, indeed, the deluge was coming, but aimed at the royal family. In my lexicon, and particularly on a day after elections in which the right kind of deluge finally came, I use the phrase to denote the unknown wave looming in a liminal moment between an action and its result.

Which is a very dramatic way of saying that I pressed the "print" button on Volume 2 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, and now...I wait...possibly for the deluge. All I ask are 100 copies delivered to my door with no tilt, no dropped text, no acts of heavenly vengeance on my typesetting, no blurred words. Such are the pins and needles upon which an editor dances, imagining errant init-caps and dropped footers. But if all goes well, and it usually goes much better than I think it will, Volume 2 will be an amazing issue, the culmination of a lot of effort in both the writing of the pieces and the designing of the volume. We work awfully hard here at the SB Literary Journal to do justice to the stories, poems, and lyrics we print. And, dare I say, I think this one is even handsomer than Volume 1? I present, then, the cover of Volume 2, with artwork courtesy of the talented and generous Robin Gowen.

We will have several local events to celebrate Volume 2. The first will be on November 29, at Chaucer's Books in Santa Barbara. I do hope you will join us.

In the meantime, the Editrix waits, waits, waits for that box of perfect copies to be delivered to her door. Après moi, le déluge? We shall see!

Join us November 29 in Santa Barbara for a Volume 2 reading!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Accidental Zombie: An Interview with Mark Bessey

by Silver Webb

Mark is one of those writers who, to all appearances, is sitting quietly in the corner, writing code, when in reality he is unleashing a wry humor into stories, usually about zombies. His flash fiction "You Get Used to It" sent zombies stumbling into Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Because Mark has a great sense of humor, I veered into weird and unusual interview questions, and he rose to the occasion.

Silver: What is the appeal of zombies and why do you write about them?
Mark: Zombies have a fascinating history in American media. They are the go-to stand-in for whatever the general population is afraid of at the time. The 1950s zombie movies were about the Red Scare, and the early 2000s saw the rise of Jihadi stand-in zombies, and now... well, that’s interesting. We have a lot of different zombies now.
     One reason I started writing the zombie stories I’ve been working on is that I thought it would be interesting to explore some themes around a “zombie apocalypse” that happens in more of a slow-burn fashion over years (or decades), rather than in a week or a month, as has been the case in much of previous zombie stories. In a world concerned about Immigration policy, the failure of the Millennial generation to "leave the nest," and other generational issues, I thought it’d be an interesting area to explore.

Silver: In twenty years, what do you hope to have accomplished as a writer...novels? particular awards?
Mark: Mostly, I want to have my stories published, and to have people read them and (hopefully) laugh at my jokes. I don't have a novel in progress (well, technically, I do, but haven’t worked on it in a year), so for now, I’m focusing on short stories. I have a bunch of short story ideas set in the same “universe,” so maybe that’ll grow into a novel.

Silver: What are you working on now? 
Mark: Besides the zombie short stories, I have a project that I keep coming back to. It’s a trans-humanist interactive fiction project, exploring the question of what it means to be human, and the responsibilities that the next evolution of the human race has toward those of us left behind. It’s likely going to end up as a sort of visual novel, though I’m still experimenting with game-play ideas.

Silver: If you won the lottery, what would you do?
Mark: I’d probably be the most boring lottery winner ever. I’d take the one-time distribution, pay off my mortgage, and put the rest into mutual funds until I figured out what to do with it. Ultimately, I’d end up giving most of it away to charity. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in my life, already. I don’t need more money to feel better about myself.

Silver: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
Mark: Mostly, I think about work. That’s kind of a cop-out, since the vast majority of my time in the car is spent driving to and from work. When I’m on longer trips, I tend to think about what I’m seeing along the way. Sometimes those things make it into my writing, like the literal dust devil I saw that one time.

Silver: What’s your favorite 80s song and why?
Mark: Probably Weird Al’s “Dare To Be Stupid.” He out-Devo’d DEVO at the height of their powers. It’s an amazing little time capsule of 80’s culture. And in retrospect, it’s a pretty damning indictment of the culture that lead to our current world.

Silver: If you could transform into any animal in the world, what animal would you be and why?
Mark: Probably a Brown Bear. I feel like bears are the animal I see having the most fun out in the wild. They get a lot of time to think about their poetry every winter, too.

Silver: What is your most embarrassing moment from high school?
Mark: I don’t really know. Possibly having to explain to my parents that the reason I was in danger of not graduating was because I *forgot* to serve a detention I got for an utterly stupid reason.

Silver: What is the oddest thing that has ever happened to you?
Mark: Funny thingI’m actually working on a book about the odd things that have happened to me. It’s really hard to pick out *one* oddest thing. In terms of truly unique experiences, it’s probably the time I took a Zeppelin ride down the California coast with Buzz Aldrin.

Silver: You’ve been given an anteater. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the anteater?
Mark: Is it an Echidna or a South American Anteater? That really makes a huge difference. The true anteaters of the southern Americas are much more cuddly, but also potentially much more destructive. We have a nice little courtyard in our house which could pretty easily be made anteater-appropriate. And the local Argentine Ant mega-colony would probably keep even a Giant Anteater well fed. We’ve got a local dog park which has a number of downed trees, so I think I’d probably end up spending more time at the park with both of the animals.

Silver: If you could be any superhero, who would it be?
Mark: James Robinson’s Starman (Jack Knight). I’ve always thought that the “reluctant superhero” was the only kind that made any sense. There are probably people out there who’d be all “I can shoot laser beams from my eyes? That’s AWESOME!” at the end of their origin story, but the more realistic reaction for most of us is probably along the lines of “Oh, great, now I have to deal with all this costumed hero crap, AND hold down a regular job?” Also, Jack has an obsession with old things, which definitely resonates with me. In a parallel universe, there’s a version of me who owns an antique shop. In my case, the antique shop is probably filled with music boxes, farm tools, and Victorian automata.

Silver: A penguin walks through that door right now wearing leiderhosen. What does he say and why is he here?
Mark: “Guten Tag”maybe it’s that they’re always wearing a suit, but I have always taken Penguins to be very serious and formal. If I saw a penguin walk through my door, I’d assume they were lost, and try to direct them to the beach, using Google-translated German.

Silver: What would the name of your debut album be?
Mark: “A Series of Unlikely Events”

Silver: If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?
Mark: Microsoft Project. Everybody thinks they recognize me from somewhere, but they can’t quite remember where from.

Silver: What is your favorite food?
Mark: Pizza is, as far as I’m concerned, the best evidence we have for the existence of a benevolent creator. It’s an entire food pyramid, in conveniently-transportable form. And it’s delicious.

Silver: What was your best McGuyver moment?
Mark: Probably the time my Jeep overheated in the middle of nowhere, and I rappelled down into a ravine using a bunch of random rope-like objects we had with us (cargo ties, maybe a belt and some bungee cords), to get water out of a mountain stream so we could limp back out to the highway.

Silver: What is the last book you read?
Mark: John Scalzi’s Head On. He’s probably the writer I want to be “when I grow up.” Consistently funny, and hugely productive.

Silver: If aliens landed in front of you and, in exchange for anything you desire, offered you any position on their planet, what would you want?
Mark: Artist-In-Residence. I lack any kind of confidence in my ability to RUN anything in an alien society, but my nu-metal cover of ”Mary Had a Little Lamb” is, I guarantee, like nothing they’ve ever heard before.

Silver: If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would play the lead role?
Mark: Probably Michael Cera or Tom Holland, depending on when they get filming, and what period of my life they decide to focus on. I feel they both are pretty good playing at the wide-eyed innocence that has been my stock-in-trade for essentially all of my life.

Silver: What would drive a person to put nutmeg in literally every dish they make?
Mark: As my lovely wife can attest, I’m very easily influenced in my shopping habits by the end-cap displays in stores. I happened to be at the local market when they were having a promotion on bulk spices. I ended up buying half a pound of nutmeg. Now, nutmeg is a pretty strong spice. After you’ve made it out of eggnog season, 8 ounces of nutmeg starts looking like a lifetime supply. So, I’ve been experimenting with expanding my use of the wacky evergreen spice. In a hearty stew, it blends right in. Sprinkled over vanilla ice cream? Not so much.

Silver: Name the three greatest dangers of living in the Midwest.
Mark: Weather, weather, and weather. When I moved to California, a couple of my relatives asked me “Aren’t you worried about earthquakes?” and I just had to laugh. My cousin’s house was nearly destroyed by a tornado (it got the doghouse out of their yard!),  I know several people who lost parts of their fingers to frostbite, people drowned every year on the great lakes in bad weather...and everybody’s worried about me getting hurt in a once-in-a generation event?

Silver: How often do you write and what inspires you to do it?
Mark: As I suspect is true for many writers, the answer is “not as often as I should.” I have always been a bit jealous of writers who say that they’re compelled to write. For me, writing has always been *hard* work, and I feel like I have to wrestle with myself to get anything written down most of the time. But sometime, idea does take hold, and I can sit down and write for a couple of hours, and it feels totally natural. I’ve been setting aside time to write every Monday, which has been somewhat more successful in getting some writing done every week.
     A lot of my writing starts as a little vignette, or a scrap of dialog (dialog is the one thing I actually find “easy” in writing). I usually write a scene, and the story comes from figuring out how these people got here, and where they’re going.

Care to see Mark's work in print? You can purchase Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal here.

Thanks to a successful career in tech, Mark escaped the hustle and bustle of the strip mall infested Silicon Valley for greener pastures in Santa Barbara. When he’s not writing about the impending zombie apocalypse, he enjoys zeppelin rides, using too much nutmeg in everything he cooks, and hunting for ghosts in abandoned mining towns. You can read his thoughts on technology issues on his blog,, or follow him on Twitter at @mbessey. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

An Excerpt from "Pests"


by S.M.C. Wamsteker
from Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal

A high-pitched smack shatters the stillness the retreating night leaves behind, a loud hissing its apparent echo. “Vile insects!” A broken housefly tumbles to the ground.
“Off to more beautiful things,” he whispers and descends the wooden staircase with measured steps. As he arrives in the dusky hallway, he flips up the Bakelite light switch on the faded wallpapered wall. He closes his eyes and deeply inhales the mildewy scent that drifts in subtle wafts from behind the kitchen door. A smile of contentment appears on his still-swollen morning face. He never used to get this puffiness before, not even when he still drank. And he did drink, especially towards the end. Drink to recover from the endless workdays. Drink to get through the time he had to spend with her. Drink to forget the empty waste his life had turned out to be.
He takes a hold of the handle and opens the door a sliver. Through the crack, his eyes scan the space behind it to find the object of his anticipation. For an instant, he fails at detecting it in the lingering early-morning dark. Something has changed. His mind adjusts and focuses on the correct location. The bed of dark brown leaf matter at the far left end of the room is dotted with newborn lilac pinheads that have attained an ultraviolet hue with the bluish morning light coming in through the kitchen windows. A warm ecstasy passes through his body and settles in his groin.
He opens the door wider and enters the kitchen, which looks like a graveyard full of freshly interred caskets. The kitchen table is taken up by a man-sized crate structure full of soil. Virginal white spheres are strewn over the moist black earth like so many little moons across a night sky. Blue plastic wide mesh buckets hold an abundance of perfect white stalks that have pushed their grey disc-like heads through the holes. Moldy wood stumps are positioned haphazardly throughout the room. A few are residing on the sink’s cracked marble workspace. Some, barely recognizable as pieces of tree trunk anymore, erupt with tiny lacquered porcelain umbrellas; others are almost entirely covered with fleshy beige cushions. Still another is decorated with a fringe of bright yellow funnels looking up in silent expectation.
Unable to take his eyes off of the compost pile at the far end, he gathers his robe, which has come loose, revealing his worn off-white underpants and soft hairless potbelly. He approaches the crate with the lilac protrusions in the soil. A small sign attached to the side of the container reads Clitocybe nuda. With tender reverence, he gazes at the tiny bulges, passes his fingertips gently over the mauve caps of the wood blewits, and closes his eyes.
“There you are,” he sighs, “finally.” He stands for a few minutes, relishing the sensation of their velvet skins.
Since her departure, he’s felt a peace he never experienced before. She was always so present. She didn’t understand.
They look so still, but they never really are. Something is always brewing. How often has he been caught off guard by their sudden appearances? Or, perhaps even more so, by their unexpected demise, when their ephemeral beauty is replaced by unsightly goo? The quiet transformations. That’s what fascinates him the most.  
Taking a deep, complacent breath, he opens his eyes and looks out at the woods that are beginning to stir, the solitary song of a wood thrush announcing a prolific day breaking.
After downing his breakfast, he walks towards the sunroom, where he takes the latest Mycology Digest from the coffee table and sits in his worn leather recliner. He likes to be here when the day dawns. On the cover of the magazine is a breathtaking picture of a Clathrus ruber, one of the several mushroom species that are less likely to be recognized as such. It resembles red coral, with branch-like protrusions and a pale red color, but the Clathrus doesn’t fan out at the top; its shape is like that of a rounded red cage that emerges from a white egg, the volva, in the ground. This one is captured in early morning, the freshly emerged sunlight refracted by the dewdrops perched on its alien arms, its shape still flawlessly oval.
To him, the odor of this wondrous creation resembles the musky sweet smell of the secaderos in the Spanish mountains, where the hind legs of the acorn-fed Bellota pigs are hung inverted from the ceiling to cure, while the fat drips away and is collected in small white cones stuck into the meatiest part of the leg. The tour of the cure houses in Guijueolo, Salamanca, was the only part of the Spanish holiday she made him go on that he really enjoyed. Vacations are a waste of time and energy. Without holiday travel, he is convinced nobody would ever again be ‘too busy.’ He only agreed to join her on this one because it was their twentieth anniversary.
She had always known about his social phobia, and accepted it. In a way, it had made her feel special.


Even with his entire kitchen and garage occupied by an exceptional collection of cultivable fungi, which he can contemplate from every possible angle, he has an insatiable hunger for more images.
However, he does have his preferences. Miracles like the Clathrus ruber he admires from an aesthetic point of view, but nothing brings him more pleasure than a strapping bolete on the cover. The perfect curves of the usually chestnut-colored cap, tiny yellow or cream pores peeping out from underneath—just a sliver, like the scarce pubic hairs of a teenage boy sticking out of his too-small swimming trunks—if too much is visible, he knows, death and decay are not far off. The strong and fleshy stipe, rising proudly from the moss.
Of the boletes, the Boletus luridiformis or dotted stem bolete, which has bright red pores, is his favorite. The vermillion of the pores, so strikingly unlike the gills of other mushrooms, is like an invitation to him. Towards the end, she caught him, once, while he was servicing himself over the picture of an especially well-shaped specimen. Her reaction was outrageous, of course, but nothing worse than could be expected of her. She uttered words like “aberration” and “unsound” and issued threats of psychotherapy, involuntary confinement. Well, he can’t help thinking, chuckling to himself, look who’s confined now.
For a while, he reads. Mostly things he already knows. About how fungi can clean up the world. How they absorb heavy metals that have contaminated the soil in certain areas, especially those surrounding abandoned metal smelters. Apparently, some even grow in areas that have become seriously radioactive because of a nuclear disaster and simply “ingest” the radioactivity.
Sure, we pump all these toxic chemicals into the earth, and what do we do? We let nature herself clean the mess up. His heart palpitates with angry agitation, but admiration takes over and puts him at ease again.
He recalls an afternoon when he saw some puffballs growing on a dead fox, slowly decomposing it. Disassembling it into its original elements. Truly the great cleaners of nature.
His peace is enhanced by the knowledge no one can disturb him anymore. There is a phone in the house, but he had the landline disconnected. She had still been around when he did, but he never let her know. When she noticed the line was dead, he told her he’d already called the phone company.
“Yes, uh, I’m on it. Some wiring problem… it must have been caused by that, um, thunderstorm we had last week.” She had accepted his explanation, probably because she had a cell phone. She never felt safe, all alone in the woods.


After reading long enough for the sun to have fully risen, he climbs the stairs to dress himself. Sitting on his bed, he takes off his slippers. He tries not to look at his feet, but he has to. The white is coming up between his toes now. Thin white veins of dead skin find their way to the upper part of his foot. If he spreads his toes, he can feel the skin crack, and tender pink patches reveal themselves underneath the white scales. At first it had been invisible—if he chose not to look at the soles of his feet, but it was spreading to the dorsal surface now.
Without the painful itching, he would have been fascinated. A while ago he had taken a piece of effected skin and placed it in a petri dish to see to what extent it would grow. It didn’t.
When she discovered the white spots on his feet, she had gone off on him.
“I’ve had it! They’re taking over our house, our life, even our bodies.” She assumed her characteristic domination stance, her voice carrying that tone of excited anger. “I mean, they’re everywhere! The walls in the kitchen have black mold, fruit rots in front of our eyes, bread doesn’t last more than a day.”
He had been too hurt and stubborn to tell her that any fungal growth wasn’t caused by the mushrooms, of course, but by humidity.
“You have fungus growing on your feet, for chrissakes!”
During those moments, he always remained completely silent. Her voice grated on his nerves to the point where his jaws would clench. Always trying to get him to say things.
Dismissing the memory, he rises and gets socks from the cupboard. He has started using cotton ones, but they don’t seem to make a difference. Antifungal creams are out of the question, as he fears they might pose a risk to his population, and the same goes for any “natural” remedies. He tried rubbing vinegar on his feet, but it stung the raw spots fiercely, and when nothing had changed after a week, he decided to discontinue the treatment. Besides, he was afraid that acidic traces from the vinegar might harm the fungi. Any substance that could possibly be detrimental to the result of so many years of diligent work was banned from the house.

When he started using the kitchen for cultivation he’d had dark shades installed on the windows. Mushrooms are not fond of direct sunlight—in fact, most of them don’t need any light at all.
One evening upon returning from work he’d learned that the shades had been up all day after she had failed to roll them down in the morning. It had been a sweltering day, and the mushrooms in the beds near the windows had suffered. The following day, about half of all the fruits growing in the kitchen had disappeared—but even worse, the beautifully knotty mycelium inside the jars he had inoculated with spores of Tricholoma matsutake, the edible and very rare red pine mushroom, had dried out irreparably.
She had apologized, but not really. “It was such a sunny day, for once I didn’t feel like obscuring the entire kitchen for the sake of a few vegetables.”
At that time, the kitchen still retained its original function, and only held half the number of fungi it does now.
“And you know what, I opened a window, and the dampness has gone too,” she had added triumphantly. “Those moldy jars with dead plants don’t smell as bad anymore.”
Getting nauseous, he barely managed reminding her that the kitchen needed to be humid and shaded for the fruiting of fungi.  In a choked voice he told her, “First of all, um, mushrooms are not vegetables, and the ‘moldy jars with dead plants’ you refer to, hold, uh, the s-s-spores of a very rare edible mushroom.”

“Oh well.” She had shrugged and rolled her eyes. “You never eat them anyway.” Not long after that, she was gone.
Curious to see what happens? You can read the rest of "Pests" in Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, available here.

Although she is Dutch by birth and living in Amsterdam, English is S.M.C.’s language for writing fiction. It’s her creative language. The foundation for this was laid during the four years she resided in Los Angeles, where she moved to pursue an acting career. Instead of making her an actress, however, the city forged her into the shape of a writer.

Before she moved to Los Angeles, she lived in Santa Barbara. It didn’t throw her around the way L.A. did, but it still occupies an important part of her heart. She had the opportunity to go back last June, to attend the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. After bidding farewell to her acting career, she returned to Amsterdam to study English literature and become a journalist. She was a reporter for several Dutch newspapers.

Fiction is a truer love, however, and she finished a novel titled LA Diary or The Dark Side of the Sun. At the moment, she is working on a screenplay for a Dutch film company and researching a new novel.