Finnian Burnett

Storyteller

I wanted to submit this to a webpage but since I had already posted it on my blog, I couldn’t, even though I had deleted it previously. So, I’m posting it here with love.

Martin’s War

Martin swore as a screw fell between the arm of the chair and the wall. He groped for it with one hand. The piece of wood in his other hand threatened to disengage from the rest of the unit. It was usually easy. Slot A into slot B. Piece C to piece D.

A ship had landed earlier. He’d heard it while working on the previous chair. His fingers closed on the screw and he held it against his chest for a moment, eyes closed. There would be people in that ship. They might want chairs.

A woman approached him. “It’s time to go, son.”

“I just need to finish assembling…”

She touched his shoulder. “You’re needed.”

 Martin looked up. “I need to finish putting this chair together. People need chairs.”

The woman’s face was kind; she was smiling. “You’ve been alone for a long time. If you come with me, I can get you help.”

“My father…”

“Your father,” she said, stressing the word father, “has been dead for eighty-three years.”

A memory, his father yelling at him. I didn’t create a robot to assemble furniture, Martin. I built you to win this war.

“I won the war,” he whispered.

“I know. I saw your father’s video logs. We can correct the error that eliminated your ability to distinguish the enemy from the allies.” The woman put her arm around his shoulders and helped him stand. “This is important. We need your help with our war.”

Martin looked out over the rows and rows of empty chairs. “I was created to win.”

Y’all, I’m not doing too badly on my goal to read for pleasure more in 2021. Admittedly, school hasn’t started back up and I’m sure when I’m knee-deep in obscure 19th-centrury poets and pedagogy in the digital age, I’ll be less-inclined to pick up a good fiction book when I could be staring into space drooling after hours. I have a long list of books I want to read this year and I have to admit, the more I read, the more I up my own writing game. I just submitted a short story to a contest and it felt like the best story I’ve ever written.

To that end, I read People Like You, a short story collection by Margaret Malone. I had the good fortune to take a workshop with Margaret last year. It was so great, it inspired me to seek out her work. I’m glad I did.

I very much enjoyed this collection of short stories. The author has a good grasp of the awkward and realistic ways in which people exist in the world. If you’re a fan of all tidily wrapped up endings, you may not enjoy these. But if you’re like me and you like stories that kind of leave you saying, “Yeah. It’s like that” at the end, you should enjoy these. There are some absolute standouts in the so-awkward-it-makes-my-toes-feel-weird category, especially “I’m Your Man” which is cringe-worthy in how realistic the process of trying to conceive can be. If you’re a fan of short stories and of the human condition in general, check these out.

My resolution to read more in the new year is going swimmingly so far. It’s the second and I’ve burned through two very good, though very different books. Yesterday, I wrote about Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias. After that book wrecked me, I was skimming listlessly through my past purchases on Kindle trying to find something to spark an interest. (Yes, I buy Kindle books and paperbacks, as well, with the intention of reading them and sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.) I scrolled past “Pining and Loving” by Emma Sterner-Radley and remembered when it came out, I was intrigued because the main character has clinical depression. (Hey, that’s me!) I also remember someone saying it was a charming romance. I kind of needed a charming romance after the brutality of yesterday’s book. I just needed to balance out the hard read of yesterday with something completely different. I wasn’t disappointed.

Below is the review I left on Goodreads. I do highly recommend this book if you love a great friends-to-lovers romance, whether you have depression or not.


It took me about three pages of reading to realize I was going to end up spending the rest of the day with this book. (So much for my resolution of reading ½ hour a day.) The characters, specifically Gwen and Aya are lovingly developed in such realistic (and yes, sometimes painful) ways. That feeling of missing a train and knowing a normal person would just buy a ticket for the next one and maybe get some lunch instead, but being unable to do anything because IT WASN’T THE PLAN and instead ending up in full meltdown mode? Can I say how much I relate to Gwen? Can I also say how much I relate to Aya?

But you don’t have to deal with mental illness to relate – these characters are just so engaging. The burgeoning friendship with brief moments of sexual attraction is so lovely to watch and charming in so many ways. This author deftly gave us glimpses into the growing attraction between Gwen and Aya while still creating a realistic reason (Oh, the blond goddess!) for them to not consider their own relationship.

Still, the loving detail in this book such as the way Gwen self-comforts and the awkwardness of the two MCs being stoically (to the outsider) stuck in their own inner self-flagellation while the other assumes it means something about them makes this book so authentic. I love when characters are so real, when they have weird quirks, when I get insight into the often irrational things they think about themselves. I also love the way the characters can show up for each other even when they can’t advocate for themselves.

I want to make a brief mention of the side characters in this book – brief because I could probably go on for about ten pages listing the things I love about this book, by which point, you’d no longer need to read it because I told you everything about it. Suffice to say I love the side characters; I love that Charlotte is the kind of best friend who’ll cancel dates for a friend in need and offer practical advice when needed and is compassionate and loving without letting her BFF wallow in self-pity.

I found myself alternately laughing, crying, and wincing over this book and even when I kind of wanted to hate Aya for a minute, I couldn’t because she really was just being real. And you know, it’s not just the person dealing with mental illness who gets to overthink things. So many things resonated in this book for me from Aya’s assumptions about what she thought she knew about depression to Gwen’s shaming of herself for the way she feels when depressed even as she intellectually knows it isn’t her fault.

This is a great book, and I am happy to recommend it.

I’ve long held that what we do on the first of the year sets the tone for the rest. To that end, I always try to spend the first day of each year reading, writing, moving my body, talking to and kissing my wife, and cuddling with the cat.

The first book on my list for this year was Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias. I randomly lucked into taking a workshop with this author and because of that, decided to read one of his books. I came in with no expectations and no prior experience with his writing. I’m putting the review that I left on Goodreads below. (Amazon rejected it for language. I might try to clean it up and resubmit) I would love to hear your thoughts if you end up reading this or if you have read it before.


Wow. Seriously, skip this review and just read this book.

Damn this book. It’s not a just a horror book. It’s not just a crime novel. It’s not just a deep dive into insanity and a chilling horror. It’s not just about the way grief, violence, and lifelong oppression live on bodies. It’s not just insight into what makes people do the horrific things they do. It’s not just an invitation to look at your own life and realize your comfort is because of the luck of place of birth and nothing else. It’s all these things and my brain barely had time to rest from one chapter before moving onto the next. Iglesias captures the inner lives of so many different people in various stages of life, grief, desolation, and shame and he does it so deftly, I believe each character as much as the last. Some scenes almost broke me. “La Bruja” was always bone-chilling and brutal. I stopped for a break after each appearance, but I was too involved to stay away.

I spent this entire book either saying, “Holy shit!” or “What the fuck just happened?” and being torn between wanting to slam the book down because it was so evocatively written, it made me physically uncomfortable, and unable to slam the book down because it was evocatively written, I couldn’t stop reading.

I read some sections with my mouth hanging open the entire time and some I read holding my breath. Reading some scenes made my fingers hurt.

The reader gets to occasionally float through the book on the lyrical language before being stabbed in the face with reality over again – it’s a hard read because it’s so real and also unreal. It’s an easy read because it is so beautifully written.

What the hell with the ending? How could it end there? How could it not? It was perfect and horrible all at once. But… Some things ended so badly. And some things left me with more questions than answers. And why did the author allow me the briefest hope that something might turn out okay for that one character before slamming the door on me. The injustice of it all sucks so bad. Just like life sometimes.

Listen. It’s that good. It’s really that good. I can’t pin down exactly what I want to say about this book because it’s not like anything I’ve read before. I don’t know how else to describe it. I loved it and hated it like you would love and hate someone who wrecked you to the soul and made you thank them for it after. I want everyone I know to read it, even the ones who can’t possibly appreciate it as much as I did.

I recently took part in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest. My genre was romance. I had to include the action of looking in the mirror. And I had to use the word “warm” in my 250 words. This is my story.

Melody leaned toward the mirror, frowning at her tired reflection. A flash of white caught her eye—a woman, a dress. She whipped around. “Hello? Who’s there?”

She walked out of the bathroom following a lingering trail of Le Labo Santal 33 perfume through the hallway. Was someone there? In the bedroom, another flash caught her eye as she walked past the floor-length mirror. The swirl of a skirt, a flash of red hair.

She backed away, knocking into the dresser. Her sketchpad started to fall, and Melody grabbed it. The cover fell open to the first of many sketches of a red-headed woman. “Hello?” she called again. Tucking the pad under her arm, she walked into the hallway, chasing the scent. Compelled by a desire to see her, Melody ran into the living room. Nothing. In the kitchen, Melody glimpsed herself in the stainless-steel fridge and a movement, more felt than seen brushed across her reflection. The shadow touched the Melody on the fridge and reverberated through her body.

Where was she? Melody’s heart ached to touch the woman. Had Melody drawn her to life? Had she dreamed her into this world? She ran back into the bathroom and stared into the mirror. “I’m not afraid,” she whispered.

The redheaded woman appeared in the mirror, her brown eyes warm and welcoming. She reached out a hand and for a moment, Melody stared at it. “Well?” The redhead smiled. Melody took her lover’s hand and stepped into the mirror.