Issue 15: Out West

I was once an Eastern greenhorn, a city girl lured to the Rocky Mountain West by the promise of big skies and open ranges, rodeo riding and cowboy culture. I found myself in a small town in a sweeping landscape, where the sense of space expanded inner horizons as much as outer ones. Years later, back in England, I made another westward move (admittedly on a more modest scale), from London to the green hills of the Cotswolds.

The allure of the West, of wild(er)ness and migration, underpins much of Shooter’s Out West issue. Some of the edition’s writers celebrate classic aspects of Western mythology (horses, reinvention, seeking a better life), while others confront its downsides (toxic masculinity, guns, prejudice). Beyond myths conjured by pioneer history and movie lore, the issue sifts through these ideas to explore personal, nuanced elements of the American West. And beyond that fabled frontier, writers examine East/West culture clashes and mind-expanding experiences in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and even Sudan.

One piece that does so with a satisfying dose of humour is Georgia Boon’s opening story, “West Country”, about an actress sent to the south-western corner of England to bond with her equine costar. Horses also feature in “Nice Riding” by Becky Hansen, her memoir about a simple yet potent accolade from a straight-shooting cowboy.

The issue’s other two pieces of fiction explore darker aspects of the theme. Zachary Kellian depicts the toxic masculinity within a group of Nevada desert dowsers in “Set in Stone”, when one of the drill workers is forced to come to terms with his sexuality. Annie Dawid, in “Acts of Nature, Acts of God”, imagines a Wyoming coroner’s struggle following the gun death of a ten-year-old boy.

Travelling abroad gives rise to very different experiences for two of the issue’s non-fiction authors. In “What’s in a Name?”, Parnian Sadeghi writes of the challenge to her identity after moving from Iran to the U.K. For Barbara Tannenbaum, visiting New Zealand from California following a cancer diagnosis leads to an uplifting revelation.

Abundant poetry rounds out the issue’s prose (for the first time featuring an equal number of fiction and non-fiction pieces). Sally St Clair and Callista Markotich take inspiration from history and literature in “Californian Bone Soup” and “Language Lorn, Riding to Mexico”. Dreams of travel infuse Nicholas Hogg’s “Mariner”, while Millie Light conjures a strong sense of place in her two Cornish poems. Sinister elements lace Meghan Kemp-Gee’s “The Fugitive” and Richard Lister’s Darfur-set poem “Apart”. In “The Student with Spurs”, David M Schulz conveys the limitations of the Western dream, while John Laue rounds out the issue with some whimsical yet lucid Californian haiku.

Finally, don’t miss Lynette Creswell’s historical fiction, “Malkin Tower”, winner of the 2022 Shooter Short Story Competition. Inspired by the 1612 witch trials in Pendle, northwest England, Creswell conjures a compelling, suspenseful tale with a vividly murky setting. The story revolves around a young girl forced to testify against her mother and sister, who stand accused of witchcraft. “Malkin Tower” underscores that injustice can occur in any era – or, as other work in this edition shows, at any point on the compass.

Cover art by C R Resetarits

To order a copy of the Out West issue, please visit the Subscriptions page.

The 2022 Poetry Competition is now open to entries, and the theme for the winter 2023 issue will be announced imminently online!

Dark Arts issue conjures black magic, painting mastery, suburban sorcery and political manipulation

When daily news everywhere reeks of self-serving political machinations, it’s enough to make readers wish for a little black magic of their own: What spell could oust a buffoon from Number Ten (though perhaps, frustratingly, simply to be replaced by yet another toad)? What incantation might block an ex-president from the White House forevermore?

Some of the contributors to this winter’s Dark Arts edition have inspiring suggestions, if only in the realm of fantasy. Emma Levin opens the issue with an imaginative reversal of the frog prince myth,  “Moments Recalled in the Seven Minutes Before the Police Arrive”. Capitalists – and anyone who enjoys living on the planet – might do well to take note of the consequences in Judy Birkbeck’s allegorical “The Landowners”. In “Green Beans Are Valid”, Annie Power offers a satirical take on the Orwellian ideology police. Indebted to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Max Marioni follows yearning for belonging through to the bitter end in his tale about a student secret society, “The Laurel Wreath Club”.

Some of the issue’s most compelling work took the theme quite literally, moving away from the realm of enchantment into the world of painterly arts. The artist in Lauren du Plessis’s story, “Entropy”, finds such inspiration in astronomy at her mountaintop fellowship that she becomes her work as much as any painter can. In “The Black Place, 1944”, Robert Herbst channels Georgia O’Keefe’s experience in the New Mexico desert, where she created many of her famous paintings. The title of his story nods to some of O’Keefe’s most mesmerising dark art.

The outcomes of dark arts in war are often less positive, as Greta Hayer shows in her historical fiction “Tusk”, about an elephant handler and his giant charge in battle. Elizabeth Hosang’s malevolent “Fixtures” are much smaller, but no less potent, in the very different setting of a gnome-ridden house in suburban Canada.

To lift the spirits – as well as unsettle them – Lisa Farrell closes the issue with her entertaining piece about a rather too effective magician in her story “The Last Act”. Bewitching verse from Alicia Hilton, Jeff Gallagher, James Hancock, Nina Murray and Ceridwen Hall studs the edition, interspersing the prose with poetry on black magic, feminist revisions, challenging creativity, and the magic of science. The issue’s featured poem, Dominic Baur’s “Status Update” (winner of Shooter’s 2021 Poetry Competition), weaves together layered allusions and linguistic associations to conjure a strong sense of underlying narrative. (Both “Status Update” and runner-up Isabella Mead’s poem “Great Aunt Audrey” are available to read here.)

Also online is a new monthly project, Shooter Flash, for those who enjoy even shorter stories than the ones appearing in the magazine. The competition accepts submissions on a rolling basis, with cash prizes, online publication each month, and an annual anthology of the winning pieces that will go out to all of Shooter’s subscribers at the end of each year. The winning stories have been posted online since the inception of Shooter Flash a few months ago – please enjoy these punchy pieces on the website via the link above and, if you’re a writer of miniature masterpieces, go ahead and send us your work!

To order a copy of the Dark Arts issue or to subscribe to Shooter, please visit the Subscriptions page.