Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Reads of 2010

Five best books I read this year in no particular order:

Everything Matters- Ron Currie Jr.
This book took over my life for a few days.  I was at the lake this summer, and the rest of my family couldn't figure out why I wouldn't leave the bedroom.  It's so good, it hurts to read because it makes me face my own limitations as a writer.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter- Tom Franklin
I loved Poachers, Smonk, and Hell at the Breech, but Franklin's latest may be his best.  Small town Southern gothic murder mystery wrapped in a dual past-present narrative.  Did I mention the flawless writing?

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth- Kevin Wilson
Read this: http://www.greensbororeview.org/fall-2005/birds-in-the-house.html
Most of the stories are that good.  Nuff said.  If you want more, I have a more in depth analysis here.

We're in Trouble- Christopher Coake
Read my thoughts here.  A stunning collection.  Can't wait for this guy to write a novel.

Looking for Alaska-John Green
Much like Everything Matters, this book held me under its spell for a few days.  I talked about it so much with my wife that she read it and even tried to get her book club to read it (no go; most of them had already read it and didn't like it).

Seek these out if you haven't already.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Year in Review (2010)

It's been a good year.

Or at least a good five months.  From January to July of 2010, it was shaping up to be one of the most frustrating years since I began writing nearly a decade ago.  I was struggling to finish the novel that was supposed to be "the one."  As in the one that would get me an agent, get me published, and launch my career.  I finally finished it in April and then began the frustrating process of querying agents, some of whom requested partials or fulls, but no matter how enthusiastically an agent raved about my potential or how he or she wanted me to send them my next book, I didn't get any real bites.  At the same time, I had this short story collection sitting on my desktop and in the slushpile at one place (Chizine Publications).  It was frustrating because I kept hearing the same old mantra- Nobody buys collections.  Because of this, and because they'd had my collection for over seven months, I didn't hold out much hope that Chizine would buy it either.  And if they didn't, I had no idea where else to send it.

Enter August.  I was still querying agents, mostly those who handled young adult.  Since my novel had a 14 year old protagonist, I believed I had written a young adult book.  Yet, most of the responses I got from agents were along the lines of "if you decide to rewrite this in the kid's voice think of me."  See, I had a 14 year old protagonist but the voice was that of a thirty year old man remembering his fourteenth year.  I was frustrated and about to give up when I received an email from an agent that I didn't even query.  Her name was Beth Fleisher and she said she'd like me to send the whole manuscript to her as well as some of my short stories.  I did a little checking and saw that she was with BG Literary, and I had queried Barry Goldblatt, so I could only assume he'd passed the query and the first fifty pages onto her.  I sent her what she requested, thinking it would be another long wait followed by another positive rejection (if you're a writer, you know a positive rejection is like kissing your sister).  But lo and behold, Beth got back to me the next day with one of the most exciting phrases I think I've ever read in an email.  "Can we set up a time to talk next Monday?"

And we did.  One of the first things she told me was that my novel was not young adult.  It was literary horror.  After some reflection, I agreed, and a few weeks later, Beth was my agent.  She's been outstanding so far, offering advice and counsel on both the manuscript and all aspects of the business.  Landing Beth alone would have made 2010 my best year ever.  But it gets better.

Remember that collection?  The one I thought Chizine would never buy?  In September, I heard from Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi and they said they loved the stories and wanted to publish it.    I informed Beth and she immediately went to work ironing out the contract, which at this date is actually still being tweaked (I also learned the publishing works really, really slowly this year), but I do have a tentative release date- April 2012.

As if that wasn't enough, I also found out that one of my stories "The Water Tower" was selected for inclusion in Paula Guran's Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Prime) and another story "Long Fall into Nothing" was a finalist in the Crime Factory sponsored contest and will appear in a future issue.

So yeah, it's been a pretty good year.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A lot of news...and links

The last few months have been really cool.  Let me list the ways:

1. Haunted Legends came out.
2. "The Water Tower" was accepted for reprint in the Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.
3. I found an agent, Beth Fleisher.  She works with BG Literary, and I couldn't be more pleased with her so far.  I just sent her the revised version of my novel, and if it meets her approval, she'll be submitting it soon.
4. Finally, Chizine Publications has accepted my short story collection, Shoebox Train Wreck to be published in Fall of 11 or Spring of 12.  Still negotiating contract stuff, so hopefully I'll know more soon.  If you aren't familiar with Chizine, they put out some of the most beautiful books.  Check their covers out here.

Some other folks have had some good times recently as well:

Sam W. Anderson has a funny (and twisted) story in the recently released Blood Lite II.

Erik Williams continues his hot streak with more best sellers at the Horror Mall.  Check out Blood Spring and The Reverend's Powder, not to mention his books available for the Kindle.

The Horror Library 4 is up for preorder.  It contains stories by Erik, Kim Despins, and Kurt Dinan.

Speaking of Kurt, his story "Nub Hut" will also be appearing in The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.

Ian Rogers has a new chapbook out from Burning Effigy Press called The Ash Angels.  It's already been very well reviewed.

Paul Tremblay's collection In the Mean Time is due out any day from Chizine.  I'm really looking forward to this one.

John Rector is still selling The Cold Kiss.  If you haven't picked one up yet, do yourself a favor and buy a copy now.  He's also got The Grove coming soon.

If I missed anyone, I apologize, but that's all the linking I can handle on a Saturday morning.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror

My story "The Water Tower" (originally appearing in Fantasy Magazine) will be reprinted alongside some great authors in the 2010 Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror edited by Paula Guran.  It should be a cool book with some absolutely first rate authors including Peter Straub, Paul Tremblay, Kelly Link, John Langan, Margo Lanagan, Holly Black, Stewart O'Nan, Norman Prentiss, and Kurt Dinan.  Dinan, as most of you know, is in my writing group, so I'm especially excited about sharing a TOC with him.

Look for it this fall.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reading...

I've been doing a lot of reading lately, so it's time for a report:

Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr.

There's nothing much I can say about this book to do it justice.  I will say this:  Best book I've read this year, probably one of the best books I've read in a long time.  If you haven't read it yet, quit reading this and go buy it now.

The Cold Kiss by John Rector

I always dread when I have to read a friend's book.  What if it sucks?  What if it's just okay?  Do you just say nothing or lie about it?  I still haven't figured that one out, but luckily, I don't have to worry about it with John Rector's debut.  It's a hell of a first novel.  I loved the setting, the characters, the impending sense of doom, the growing claustrophobia as you read.  Most of all, I loved the writing--smooth, polished, and stylish.  Check it out if you like thrillers or noir.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This National Book Award winner tells the story of a kid who grows up on a reservation and decides to attend the "white" high school in order to better himself.  This doesn't go over so well with his best friend and some of the other kids on the reservation.  He becomes torn between loyalty to his community and loyalty to himself.  A fast-paced, insightful, and often hilarious read about an important topic.  I liked it a lot.

Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks

Okay, this is not a book I would normally pick up, but it was assigned to me for a class.  I was surprised that I kind of liked it.  Well-written and has a few surprises, but definitely a little too romantic for my tastes.

My Abandonment by Peter Rock

Yeah, this one was exceptional.  About a girl who lives in a forest with her father.  They live on the fringes of society and they like it.  It's a sad and strangely uplifting book.  Highly recommended.  I'll be picking up some of Rock's other books.

And on a semi-related note, I recently found out I'm getting a Kindle!  Thanks Linda and Eugene!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Haunted Legends

From Ellen Datlow's blog:





Pre-order here:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sigh (story by story)

I finished Christopher Coake's brilliant collection WE'RE IN TROUBLE about twenty minutes ago and I still feel the chills rolling across my skin.  It's one of those books whose cover is full of effusive praise that the skeptic in me looks at and thinks, "Yeah, right."  But then you open the book and begin to read, and suddenly Nick Hornby saying that "you forget to breathe" when you read these stories doesn't sound so ridculous.  Coake's tales have a certain intangible voice about them that makes it feel as if he is literally whispering the words in your ears.  The subject of all of these stories is love in the face of death, which in lesser hands could quickly fall into sentimentality, but Coake writes in such spare, yet lovingly assembled prose that such concerns quickly seem ridiculous. 

And as always, I find myself horribly conflicted upon reading such a great book.  I want to celebrate the brilliance even while I want to lock myself in a room and tell myself over and over that I'll never be able to write this well.  Yeah, I suffer from a few self-confidence issues.

On to the stories:

We're In Trouble- this opening suite of three stories, sets the dark and probing tone of the book.  These short explorations into tragic circumstances aren't the best tales in the book, but I enjoyed them and realized very quickly, I was in the hands of a writer who knew exactly what he was doing. 8/10

Cross Country- a story within a story about a kid who sees something on a cross country drive with his father and then imagines all the details that occurred to create said moment.  It sounds complicated, but that's because I'm not describing it well.  It's really a very well-done story that reminds me of how there is a story behind every small gesture.  9/10

Solos- a story about a woman waiting to find out about the fate of her husband who is mountain climbing.  In the meantime, she has an almost affair with his brother and frets over the future of her son.  Coake has a knack for taking the reader deep into the interior lives of his characters, and it is the narrator's conflicts and desires that seem so familiar to us that make the story truly transcend. 9/10

In the Event- when his best friend dies, Danny is left with the staggering responsibility of caring for his friend's young child.  The story takes place on the night Danny discovers the news of his friend's death, and he choses not to wake the child.  Again, this story shines as it explores Danny's fears and doubts about taking over a job he feels ill-prepared for.  8/10

A Single Awe- this was my least favorite story, but it was still an engaging, thought-provoking read about why we love people and how sometimes, those reasons are not good enough. 7/10

Abandon- I loved this story about Brad and Mel, two people on the brink, who find love and then disaster in a Michigan snowstorm.  Very affecting and real.  10/10

All Through the House- this is the story that gave me chills.  I won't say much more than it centers around a sheriff and his best friend who snapped one night, murdering his whole family and then himself.  It's perfect in every way, and it lingers long after you close the book.  10/10

Overall- 9/10

Read this now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Looking For Alaska

I just finished John Green's Looking for Alaska and all I can say is go read this book right now.  It's always a double edged sword for me when I read a book like this.  On the one hand, I loved it to death.  On the other hand, I am almost sick with jealousy (which can quickly turn to despair) because Green is so damned good.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Entry for Jason Duke's Red Hot Writing Contest




A Long Fall into Nothing

I met Larry Bryant on a cold morning during the spring of 1981. I was a senior and rode the school bus because we couldn’t afford a car and my father had to be at work too early to take me. We lived pretty far out, near the Black Warrior River, in an area some people might have called poor—or if they were feeling less kind—rough.

The first time the driver, Mr. Jennings, stopped at Larry’s trailer, I thought he must be having bus trouble. There was no way anyone could live in such a place. The trailer had been burned and the whole front side was gone. Someone had strung up shower curtains to keep out the elements, but most of that had been ripped and pieces were scattered about the yard. When I saw the flashing lights and the stop sign extend on the left side of the bus, I sat up, anxious to see who would emerge from the squalor. When no one came out, Jennings blew the horn two short blasts, shrugged, and released the handbrake. Just as he started to pull away, a tall, broad-shouldered kid appeared in the doorway of the trailer and strolled across the trash-strewn yard like it was a Sunday afternoon walk in the park.

I pressed my forehead against the dirty glass, fascinated.

This guy was in no hurry. Normally, Jennings would have gone by now, but I knew he’d let this kid on because he was new and didn’t know the rules. But then he’d chew him. Eat him alive like he had done Reggie Calhoun last year.

Except… I don’t know what it was. This kid was pretty big. Jennings was bigger, though. That wasn’t it. It was more the way he carried himself. The way he held his chin out, like he was proud of his greasy hair and ragged clothes. It was the way he looked out past the bus at something only he could see.

I don’t know… To this day, I still don’t know.

Whatever it was, Jennings saw it too. There was a moment of almost unbearable tension, as the new kid climbed onto the bus, when I thought Jennings might tear into him, but it passed with Jennings grumbling something under his breath. Larry took no notice of him. Instead, he scanned the bus, looking for a place to sit. His eyes fell on me, and he worked his way toward the back where I was seated in the very last row.

“So,” he said, settling into the seat across from me, “what do you do around here to kill the goddamn time?”

***

Violence was something I learned about early on. My mother shot herself when I was eight, and although I was spared the sight of her body, I heard the door to her room slam just before she unloaded the 45 into her mouth. I heard that too. Dad, drunk on whiskey, still had enough sense to get me out of the house. It was a firecracker, he’d said. I must have looked at him like he was a fool because he shoved me hard toward the front door and told me to play, okay Jake, just go outside and play. I was still outside playing when they carried her off in the body bag.

Though Dad never offered much in the way of an opinion about why Mom shot herself, I had some ideas of my own. She couldn’t take living with her husband anymore. She couldn’t take being passive. She couldn’t take anymore. Period.

My mother’s suicide worked on me. Even when I wasn’t thinking about it, I felt it there gnawing at me, whispering. And something else was there too. The adrenaline rush of violence. I could feel it deep inside me, and in rare moments, like déjà vu, I felt it coursing through my veins, a steady thrum of blood that felt like a birthright.

***

I suppose it might have all been different if Larry had chosen somewhere else to sit, but all the sleepless nights have taught me the futility of thinking like that. So I accept what happened even if I can’t understand it, this puzzle of events that nearly thirty years later, I am still trying to assemble.

Larry was a senior like me, but he could have passed for a man in his twenties. He was long-haired, sullen, and utterly intimidating.

We’d ridden in amicable silence for three days when he leaned across the aisle and said, “What we need to find,” he said, “is an easy target.”

“Huh?”

“How about her?” he said, gesturing to a girl a few rows in front of us. Mae Duncan. Fat girl, extraordinaire.

“Mae?”

“Yeah. The fat bitch.”

I shrugged. I didn’t understand where this was going.

“What’s your name,” he said, his tone changing, becoming friendlier. There was something ingratiating about him then. I wanted him to like me. Lord knows why.

“Jake,” I said and stuck out my hand.

When he took it, his hand felt cold, lifeless, and somehow, I knew then how it would all end up.

***

“Little help!” Jennings called as he always did when he had to turn the bus around at the stop near Ben Self’s driveway. It was a hell of a turn for a bus, and I’d always felt proud he’d entrusted me to help him do it.

The tricky part was where Ben lived, on a bluff facing out over the Black Warrior River. Jennings had to nose into the Selfs’ driveway and then put the bus in reverse, while cutting the wheel hard. No problem there, Jennings could handle a bus. The problem was what he had to back into—a sheer forty-foot drop into fast moving water, riddled with jagged rocks. Jennings and the school administrators had been after the county for years to put up a guardrail so at least he’d have something to bump against before the bus plummeted out into nothingness, but the county didn’t give two shits for what the principal and a bus driver wanted, and Jennings was left having to rely on students to help him.

Anyway, I was supposed to call out to him when he got near the edge. The first few times, he had me do it, I hollered stop too early, and he couldn’t make the turn, so I learned from trial and error the back of the bus had to be practically hanging out over the bluff in order for him to avoid the pine trees in front.

Because of the danger of this maneuver, Jennings demanded absolute silence when he made the turn. Even the little kids who had never been close enough to the back to see what dizzying fates we were tempting, fell strangely silent, and when Jennings made the cut and put the bus in drive at last, there was a palpable sense of relief. It was a like a collective sigh, a hushed whisper that said, we did it, we pushed the limit, but we did not die today.

***

I opened the back door and leaned out, aware of Larry’s eyes on me. He muttered something, but I ignored him, concentrating on the pavement below. It would turn to grass and then to nothingness. The grass came. I waited, leaning forward. The Black Warrior streaked past. A hawk skimmed the surface of the river, its beak grazing the silver current.

“Stop!” I shouted.

Jennings stopped.

He cut the wheel hard. Put the bus in drive. I shut the door. The tension was gone.

I turned to look at Larry, but he was standing, admiring the river through the window.

The bus stopped suddenly. “One more time!” Jennings shouted. I’d been too cautious. He’d have to back up again to make the turn.

He put it in reverse. I reached for door release, but Larry’s hand was there first. “I got it,” he said.

“But—”

“I got it,” he repeated in a tone that made me feel like any argument would be silly.

I slid back into my seat. He opened the door, leaning way out. “Keep coming,” he said.

Jennings, who I had long suspected was hard of hearing, didn’t notice the voice belonged to someone else.

“Got plenty,” Larry said. “Come on.”

I stood behind Larry to look out. What I saw made me grip the seatback with both hands. The bluff was gone. We were teetering on the brink of disaster.

“A little more.”

“No,” I said, but my voice wasn’t strong enough.

“Good!” Larry called out and smiled at me.

Jennings grunted and put it in drive. The back tires were poised on the very edge of the bluff. Any further and we’d have slid right off into the river.

The bus lurched forward and Jennings had no problem missing the trees.

***

Larry and I fell into an uneasy rhythm: mornings he spent in the seat beside Mae, chatting her up so well that in a week she was smiling at every word he said. In the afternoons he sat in the back and took over—without really ever asking—my responsibility helping Jennings. He seemed to have an innate sense about just how far to go without sending the bus plummeting into the Black Warrior, and he delighted in nudging us right up against that line. Once or twice, leaning against the side window, watching the lip of the bluff disappear, I was sure we were doomed, but just when I thought Jennings couldn’t go further, Larry would call him off with an ecstatic, “Whoa there, Nellie!”

One day he told me he was going to be visiting Mae’s house after school. “It’s on,” he said. “Parents out of town. Fat girl’s going down.” This little rhyme seemed to please him to no end.

I tried to imagine Mae on her knees, her heavy tits sagging almost to the floor, as she regarded Larry’s dick with that stupid, wanton smile she always gave him. Something about this image both sickened me and turned me on.

“Hey,” he said. “You should come.”

“Nah, sounds like you two will need some privacy.”

“Fuck that. I don’t care about privacy. You can watch. Hell, you can participate if you want.”

“What about Mae?”

“What about her? She’s a fat whore. You know what fat whores are good for?”

I shook my head.

“Catching cum.”

“What?”

He punched my arm. “You a virgin or something?”

“Hell no.”

His eyes darted around my face, never meeting mine. I think, in all the time I knew Larry, I only locked eyes with him once.

“Well, shit. Come with me this afternoon. You’ll see how fun a fat girl can be.”

Just then Jennings shouted out for “a little help,” and Larry popped out of his seat to open the backdoor.

***

Mae’s house was worse than I ever imagined. I’d seen the place where she got off in the afternoon, but that was only her bus stop. I knew she had to walk a long dirt road to reach her home, and I’d assumed it was a dump, but dump didn’t quite do it justice.

The windows were broken. All of them. The siding had been ripped clean off the front of the house, and somehow the whole place leaned to the right. Her yard—if you could call it that—was littered with rusted bicycles and kitchen appliances. A stained sheet hung over one broken window, flapping in the wind.

Larry approached the window with the sheet. He caught it in his fist and ripped it down. We peered inside letting our eyes adjust to the darkness. She was on the couch wearing a pair of cut-off jeans and bikini top. When she saw us, she smiled, offering us that same “please pet me” smile I’d seen for weeks on the bus. I wanted to leave.

It wasn’t just that I felt sorry for her. I also felt sorry for myself. What was I doing? Why was I letting this new kid, this bully, pull me along in his wake? I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t, though the perspective of time has given me some ideas.

We went inside. Some things happened. They were all bad.

When we left, Larry was laughing. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me to him, giving me one of those best friends forever hugs. I remember smiling, even though I felt sick inside.

***

I think about what happened next the most. It was a warm day, almost spring, the sky painted a double-coated shade of blue, the bare tree branches reaching out for something that was not there.

Larry sat down in the seat across from me. “I’m bored,” he said.

“What about Mae?”

“She’s used up. Too easy.”

“I thought that’s what you wanted.”

He shrugged. “It’s like there’s no goal anymore. She just lays there and let’s me do whatever the fuck I want.”

The last couple students climbed aboard as Jennings cranked the bus. Mae was one of them, swiveling her hips to keep from getting stuck between the rows of seats. From the look on her face, I saw that Larry had already made his feelings clear to her. Still, she kept coming, until she sat down in the seat directly in front of Larry.

“Something you need?” Larry said.

She shook her head, her eyes flashing with an anger I didn’t think she was capable of.

Larry ignored it and scanned the bus. “What about that girl up there?” he said, pointing at one of the younger girls, a sixth or seventh grader. I didn’t know her name but she had an eye for the older boys and a body to match.

“She’s a little young,” I said.

“It must be boring being you,” Larry shot back, a challenge in his eyes. Jennings pulled out onto County Road 22, and the tension in the back of the bus was palpable. “I mean, what the fuck do you get out of life?”

Before I could answer, he turned and grabbed a handful of Mae’s hair in his fist. She let out a low whimper and said, “Don’t touch me.”

Larry pulled her hair back even farther, so her neck was bent. Her face was flush and her eyes darted to me.

Since the day I joined Larry at her house, she’d ignored me. Even though she was compliant with Larry’s every request that day, I could tell she wasn’t comfortable with me being there. I thought she hated me, but maybe I was wrong.

“Let her go,” I said, and was immediately disappointed in the strength of my voice.

“Did you say something?”

“Let her go, Larry. Do you have to be so mean all the time?”

Larry let go of her hair and placed his palm on the back of her head and shoved hard. “Nah. You’re right. I need to be a nicer person. I’m going to be nice to her.” He pointed directly at the young girl in the front of the bus. Then he got up and brushed past Mae.

For the next several miles I tried not to think about anything.

***

“Little help!”

Larry rose and made his way to the rear of the bus. He threw open the emergency door and leaned way out into the opening, using both hands to brace himself on the doorframe. Over time, he’d become even more daring, and sometimes it seemed like he wanted to fall. Larry, I had come to realize, felt constrained by everything. He was always looking for the boundaries not because he wanted to stay behind them, but because he wanted to move past them. Me, on the other hand, I was looking for something absolute, some secret, some reason for why things stayed together and why they fell apart.

“Come on,” he said, leaning out the back of the bus now with only one hand positioned on the doorframe to keep him from falling out into the river. The other hand was in the air, waving Jennings on.

“Whoa!” he shouted. “You’re good to go.”

I felt myself relax; I felt the bus relax, a general sigh of relief because once again we were back on track, certain disaster averted.

But disaster can never be completely averted. Like violence, it always lurks, waiting for the right moment to explode and make you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

I heard her before I saw her. When she rose from her seat, there was the sound of her blue jeans and her blouse scraping against the torn seats. I turned and saw Mae’s eyes locked in on Larry, both arms extended like some of those pictures you see of Frankenstein’s monster stumbling forward.

She hit him with all of her weight, and for an instant, I thought she was going to go with him. The momentum of the bus moving forward, combined with Mae’s heavy blow literally shot Larry through the opening. For one fascinating moment, I saw him frozen, his body arched like a diver setting up to bend and tuck and turn into a perfect needle nose descent. But none of that happened. Instead, something even more miraculous did.

He flailed his hands and one of them managed to catch the door release—a slender steel bar. Somehow, improbably he held on. Somebody closer to the front screamed.

Jennings slammed on the brakes.

I leaned out and saw there was nothing between Larry’s dangling legs and the rocky rapids below. If his hand slipped, he’d plummet into the teeth of the river. He twisted his body around and reached out to me with his free hand. His other hand was already beginning to slide off the door release. I knew if I didn’t reach for him, he’d have to take a chance and lunge for the door opening. He’d probably get his hand back in and be able to climb back onboard. Probably.

“What the hell is going on?” Jennings demanded.

I knew there was a window, however slight, that had opened. An almost imperceptible space in time when I could do something, something big, something important, something right. I reached one hand out for Larry, bracing myself against the door frame with the other. He took it. Even as I felt his rough hand cover mine, I knew Larry couldn’t be as evil as he appeared. But at that moment, I didn’t care. All I cared about was making sure he couldn’t hurt anyone again.

“Come on,” I said reaching out my free hand. “Give me your other hand.”

He looked at me then, his eyes locking right on mine. I nodded, reassuring him. He looked afraid. Damn if that look doesn’t still haunt me. Why is it some of us can feel pity when it is least deserved while there are others of us who cannot even fathom the sentiment?

He must have read the pity in my eyes because he let go of the door release bar and reached for me.

It was easy. Much easier than I thought. Just before I did it, I heard Jennings behind me, telling me to hang on, he’d pull the bus forward and goddamn why had we let him back up so far? I also heard the blast of a 45 and my father again: just go play, okay Jake, just go outside and play.

I let go.

His eyes stayed locked on mine as he fell. I’d like to believe I saw a kind of recognition in them, a flicker of insight that took most people years to obtain. I’d like to believe in the instant before his body broke on the rocks below that he thought about how cruel and pointless his life had been and how his actions had only brought pain to himself and those around him. I’d like to believe a lot of things. But in reality, I don’t believe much of anything these days.

Jennings grabbed me from behind and pulled me back into the bus. It was only then I realized I was halfway to falling out myself.

I was sobbing. I’m not sure for whom.

Jennings heaved me into a seat. “It ain’t your fault. You tried, son. You tried.”

***

And I did try. In my own way, I tried to do the right thing, to turn the violence that needed to jump out of me like an ungrounded current into a kind of heroic act. Thirty years later, I’m not sure I succeeded. I’m not sure how to put together the pieces of my life. I turn the events over and sometimes try to force them into something like meaning, but those constructs are only temporary, as enlightening as learning truth isn’t absolute and the world is a series of indecipherable paradoxes. In the end, I always come back to that long drop, the look in Larry’s eyes as he fell, the rocks waiting beneath. This is absolute, I tell myself. Truth, I tell myself. Greater good. I did the right thing because there is a right thing.

But then I remember my own indiscretions, the fumbling, half-skewered world of my childhood without a mother. And I think maybe when I let go of Larry, I dropped someone else off a cliff as well, somebody who loved him. Somebody who needed him. I don’t know.

I do know this: Larry wasn’t the only one who fell. I’ve been falling too. The difference is he found what he was looking for: a hard line at the bottom that could not be crossed. My greatest fear is I’ll fall forever and never find the bottom. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friends in High Places, Part II

Okay, so these next folks aren't necessarily "friends" (well some of them are), but they've all helped me in some way during my writing career (are you allowed to call it a career if you don't really make any money?).

Paul Tremblay:  Besides writing me a really nice blurb for my (still unpublished!) collection, Paul has offered advice along the way.  More importantly, he's always been gracious about it even when I email him out of the blue with dumb questions.  If you haven't read any of Paul's stuff, you really, really need to do so because the man can flat out write.  Here are a few options to get you started: The Little Sleep, No Sleep Till Wonderland, and the soon to be released In the Mean Time.  Check them out.

Douglas Clegg: I met Doug at Borderlands in 2006 when he was nice enough to say some encouraging things about my short story Halloween Comes to County Road Seven.  Since then, he's always been responsive to my emails, providing timely and valuable advice.  He also read my (still unpublished!) collection and wrote a nice blurb.  He also said some other things to me in the email that made me feel really good about my writing.  Doug has tons of stuff out, but here are some highlights if you'd like to check him out: Neverland, Isis, and many more.

John Rector: Another nice guy, who hasn't let all of his success go to his head (a rare thing, I think).  I met him when he was writing short stories and being a general smartass at RJ Cavender's Horror Library at Zoetrope.com.  Now he's got book deals coming out of his ears and has already garnered some rave reviews for his upcoming novel The Cold Kiss.   He's offered me great advice on pushing through the inevitable wall when writing a novel and helped me focus my query letter.

Thanks guys!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Friends in High Places

It's good to have friends in this business, especially the ones that are successful and don't mind helping a little guy like me out.  So I thought I spend this blog talking a little bit about the people who have been very generous with their time.

I've got to start with my writing group: Sam W. Anderson, Kim Despins, Kurt Dinan (that's Deenan to you), Petra Miller, and Erik Williams.  With the exception of Kim, we all met at Borderlands in 2006.  We decided to pool our collective talents and set up a private office on Zoetrope.com.  In 2007, we added Kim after she completed a rigorous application process, also known as a few beers at WHC.  In the past several years, these guys have read all my writing, even the crappy stuff that nobody else sees because it is so... well crappy.  So here's a little bit about them:

Sam has just released a long awaited collection of his short fiction called Postcards to Purgatory (do yourself a favor and pick up a copy).  He's also got so many other projects in the works that I can hardly keep up.

Kim has recently sold stories to Black Ink and Horror Library IV (the latter story is already being talked about and the book hasn't even come out yet).

Kurt has story out in the Springsteen Anthology called Darkness on the Edges and his story "Into the After" will lead off Horror Library IV.  Oh yeah, he writes poetry too!

Petra sold her story "Drain" to Doorways and then the magazine promptly died before it could come out.  It's a great story, and the rest of us are waiting for her to sell it somewhere else!  She's also hard at work on a novel about ghosts and nazis set in Tennessee!

I've said it before: Erik Williams is everywhere.  Because I am sure to miss something worth mentioning, you might want to start with his blog.  I will tell you that he has two books out right now: The Reverend's Powder and Blood Spring.  Prolific is his middle name.  Or maybe it's Leif.  I forget.

So that's my writing group, and I'm tired of writing.  I think I'll do a separate post covering some other people who have helped me out.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Story by story: Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson

I finished this highly accomplished collection today, and it's definitely one of the best books I've read this year.  Here's the story by story break down:

"Grand Stand In"
9/10- This story was dark in all the right ways.  Yet, like all of Wilson's stories, it had a heart beating strongly underneath.

"Blowing Up on the Spot"
8/10- What can you say about the story other than it's about spontaneous combustion and the main character works as a tile sorter in a Scrabble factory?

"The Dead Sister's Handbook: A Guide for Sensitive Boys"
8/10- Experimental story that features some of the most evocative language in the collection.

"Birds in the House"
10/10- Just a gorgeous story.  My favorite of the collection.

"Mortal Kombat"
9/10- Wilson's scenes explode with awkward intensity in this one.  Very moving.

"Tunneling to the Center of the Earth"
7/10- I loved the idea of this story before I read it, but oddly, the story itself fell a tad flat for me.  Still enjoyable and well-written, but not quite up to the excellence of the rest of the collection.

"The Shooting Man"
9/10- A brutal little horror story.

"The Choir Director Affair (The Baby's Teeth)"
8/10- Second person done right.  An emotional glimpse of how selfish people can be.

"Go, Fight, Win"
9/10- A girl trying not to fit in.  Loved the echoes of Flannery O'Connor in this one.

"The Museum of What-Not"
10/10- I want to write a story this good.  It seems like Wilson's characters are often holding themselves back, too afraid to fully participate in the world.

"Worst-Case Scenario"
8/10- This one really reminded me of George Saunders.

Overall- 9/10

I can't wait to see what Wilson does next.  He's obviously got talent to burn.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Home Again

It's nice to be back home with family after a weekend at the lake with my writing group.  We didn't do anything specific at the lake house.  Just a relaxing time to catch up, talk about things like promotion (see this shiny new blog?), and do a little writing.

Now that I'm back home, I'm ready to finish up the story I'm working on which incidentally shares the same name as this blog, and begin the next novel.  Author John Rector tells me it is important to leave the last one behind and get busy on the next one.  Makes sense to me (plus he's going to be big, you know).

I'm also excited about the books I've got lined up to read: Among the Missing by Dan Chaon, We're in Trouble by Chris Coake, and I think I'm going to give Hyperion a try by Dan Simmons.  As I read them, I'll offer my thoughts here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Over Here

I decided to switch to blogger because I wanted a change, so jmantoothwriter.livejournal.com is now defunct (as if anyone read it to begin with). So, I've got a new blog, and a new title, and hopefully a newfound desire to blog more. We'll see.

Now that you're here, I might as well talk about my writing a little. I've got a short story coming in September in Haunted Legends (edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas). It's called "Shoebox Train Wreck," which incidentally is the name of my collection I've been flogging to publishers since Christmas. In addition, I've got a story coming out in the next edition of the Canadian journal On Spec. It's supposed to come out anytime now.

Finally, I finished my novel SLIP. It's a YA book about a kid whose mother and sister vanish in the woods near his house. I'm querying agents and thinking about the next one.

Some books I've read recently (that are worth mentioning):

No Sleep Till Wonderland- Paul Tremblay

The Signal- Ron Carlson

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth- Kevin Wilson (let me just say this guy is freaking brilliant; reading these stories makes me want to quit sometimes)

More later.