Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Books I Read This Year

As always, these are the top five books I read this year (not necessarily published in 2011).  In no particular order:

1. Affliction by Russell Banks

This one started slow, but wow, what a finish.  My first Russell Banks, but definitely won't be my last.  There were some amazing passages in this novel, so amazing, I actually pulled out a highlighter for much of it (something I really don't think I've ever done before).

2. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Thanks to Paul Tremblay for the recommendation.  Abbott is a fabulous writer who grounds the reader firmly within the psyche of an adolescent girl.  The writing is image filled and gorgeous without ever losing the all important teenage voice.  The kind of book I'd love to write.

3. Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy

This fine collection features the kinds of stories I like best: edgy, violent, sometimes creepy, but always grounded by muscular, starkly beautiful prose and an acute sense of place.  My favorite "The Caves in Oregon" begins with blood leaking from a freezer and ends with a married couple traversing the caves beneath their house.  I always love stories where the strange (the caves) intersects casually with real life (the couple's devastation over a miscarriage).  Plus, the freezer bleeds!

4. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork

This novel covers a surprising amount of philosophical and moral ground without ever becoming didactic.  It's a about a boy who teaches the people around him what it means to be a good person.  He's a high functioning-- aw, screw it.  I'm really at a loss of how to describe this one.  Just know this: it will defy your expectations, and when you're finished, you'll walk away from the novel with the realization that you've fallen in love the Marcelo and Jasmine.  And "the real world?"  You'll realize it's pretty damned overrated.

5. Joe by Larry Brown

I don't know why it took me so long to read a Larry Brown book.  I read two this year, Fay and Joe.  I liked them both, but I loved Joe.  The best thing about this book is the characterization of the title character.  He comes alive, and despite all his flaws (and he's got a ton), the reader can't help but root for him.  It seems like many of the writers I love, are able to pull this feat off.  Brown does it with a keen ear for language and some of the best dialogue this side of Elmore Leonard.  Do check out Fay, as well, but out of the two, I liked Joe better.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sam Anderson (Tales From The Yellow Rose Diner And Fill Station)

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to read one of Sam W. Anderson’s short stories, you know he’s a writer long on imagination and short on wasted words. His Money Run mythos is so inventive, so damned full of humor and pathos and (most importantly, I think) possibility that I can offer no greater praise than to say I wish I had thought of it myself.

Anyway, like me and the other four members of our little group, Sam wrote a tale for The Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station. It’s one of my favorites in the book. It’s called “Hate Crimes and Therapy over Creamed Chipped Beef,” and it’s every bit as entertaining as that title suggests.

Despite this not being a Money Run Tale, all of the things that make those stories great are here: humor, pathos, an imagination as sharp as the edge of a straight razor, and that rarest of things in horror fiction—compassion. It’s obvious that Sam loves his characters, and I feel confident that the readers of his stories will too. Here’s a little taste from one of my favorite passages in the story. Check it out. You’ll see what I mean.

In his mind, he was there again, as if he could reach out and pull back the kid. He smelled the subway exhaust and dried urine; saw the grimy white and green tiles decorating the platform walls; experienced the eerie solitude of a Tuesday at two a.m. beneath the streets of Manhattan.

He’d been an NYC cop for less than a month and was working on a joint operation with the Transit Authority to crack down on subway system muggings. For the most part, it’d been pretty uneventful, but he was finally a cop. He’d survived the academy and the nonstop needling about his lack of size and fulfilled his promise. Pop would have approved. Everything in life was coming together.

Until he saw Eldrich Irons standing alone on the platform. The fifteen-year old was one of the suspects linked to the latest rash of muggings, and Darien had seen his picture a thousand times in the last month. The kid belonged to a group not organized enough to be a gang, but reportedly armed enough that they could have been.

Darien’s heart thundered and he put out his cigarette with his foot. The suspect hadn’t noticed. Instead he leaned out over the platform and looked for the next subway. His hands remained in a satin Yankees jacket and he fidgeted as if he needed a bathroom. He wore a black baseball cap, the bill turned backwards. Darien ducked behind a column. He’d wait until the train approached so Eldrich Irons would be less likely to hear footsteps.

A slight rumbling filled the space, but grew louder quickly. Darien quivered with a nervous excitement and anticipation he hadn’t felt since before his first track meet in high school. He slid from behind the graffiti-covered column and unholstered his firearm. The thumping in his chest grew so violent, it throbbed through his arms.

As the volume rose, Darien broke, his adrenaline pumping to the point he could almost fly. A set of headphones plugged the suspect’s ears. The train’s light illuminated the dark tunnel. Darien’s pace seemed to match the subway’s. As he reached for the suspect’s shoulder, the kid turned. His eyes opened comically wide, and he stepped back.

Darien missed with the first grab. As the kid fell, he reached again, but only pulled back the ball cap. A slight scream rose before the crushing of bones and the subway’s brakes.

The doors opened in unison with a loud hiss, but nobody exited the train. Did the driver not see the fall?

Darien stood with hat in hand, waiting for somebody to wake him. After a short eternity, the subway pulled away. Darien peered over the platform edge, the tracks too dark to see anything. He pulled free his flashlight. His hands shook so hard, he needed both to turn it on. When he lowered the light, he closed his eyes. He listened for any signs of life, but only heard the train in the distance. Swallowing hard, he opened his eyes and saw nothing. The body was gone. A pool of blood had formed between the tracks, and it streaked toward the departed subway.

His body went limp, as if it were he who the train had struck. He looked to his hand like the hat could bring the kid back. Through the forming tears, he saw the Chicago Blackhawks emblem.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cover Image for Shoebox Train Wreck (and blurbs)

This week, I got my first look at the cover for my collection (March 2012, Chizine Publications), Shoebox Train Wreck.  It's a collection of 16 stories that run the gamut from literary to noir to horror to fantasy/ scifi.  Most of them have been previously published, but a few are original to the collection.  Here's the cover:

Pretty sweet, eh?  Erik Mohr did the cover, and I'm not sure I've seen one of his that I didn't like.  He really captured the overall vibe of the collection with the cover.

And what about the collection?  Well, I've had some folks read it already who have been kind enough to offer blurbs.

"Outstanding! John Mantooth is an exciting new voice in dark fiction."
Douglas Clegg

"John Mantooth's short stories crackle with intelligence and violence.  He writes about desperate and simple lives gone not-so-simple, and those lives beat with a savvy and familiar broken heart.  His down-and-out characters are ugly and beautiful, and most importantly, compelling.  John is the real deal, and I think I hate him for it."  
Paul Tremblay, author of The Little Sleep.

"John Mantooth writes with enviable grace, vigor, ease. These stories pulsate with the inevitable pain of familial love, and loss, and the horrors of the human condition while remaining peopled with unforgettable characters who move through their lives toward moments of personal realization and doom that can only come from the Southern experience. Mantooth has here collected a group of stories that exceeds the sum of its parts. You won't regret picking up this collection and will think on these amazing and heartfelt stories long after you've closed the covers. Absolutely brilliant." - John Hornor Jacobs, author of Southern Gods, This Dark Earth, and The Twelve Fingered Boy

Hopefully, I'll have some more blurbs to post in the coming days...