Amazon bought Goodreads. It was big news. Goodreads is a popular social network where readers connect with each other, connect with authors, and review and recommend books. It’s a very active community. Amazon wants to incorporate the site into their Kindle tablets, and the easiest way to do that was to buy the site.
Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads created some hysteria. What would happen to the site? Would it essentially become another arm of Amazon? Would Amazon basically be spying on people to learn what they like to read? Eh, I don’t know. I think we are all plenty spied on by merchants, especially online. I don’t expect to keep my preferences private when I’m wandering all through cyberspace.
Amazon has already changed the world of books. Basically, Amazon has made traditional publishing companies poop themselves. No longer do new writers have to bang their heads on the doors of those hallowed halls. They can publish their own books, and sell them. Established writers are wandering off the farm, too. They are self publishing both their old and their new material. In addition to books, Amazon sells virtually everything you could ever hope to buy, and they are even stepping on eBay’s toes by letting at-home vendors sell.
So, Jaye Manus and I were discussing this and, frankly, laughing about it, when we started saying, “What if Amazon REALLY took over?” Thus was born JUNK MAIL, my vision of Amazon making the zombie apocalypse a little more survivable. It’s a twenty-something page short story, and it’s available as an ebook through, of course, Amazon.com
Special shout out to Jaye. She’s writer, she’s an ebook genius, and she’s a fun, fun girl. Together, we plot our own version of world domination, and it’s a blast.
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about short stories. Larry the Kindle loves him some short stories, especially when I’m cooking dinner. It’s like my very own floor show. Read a story, stir the pot, read another story, scream like a madwoman because something is burning, order a pizza and read another story. Life is good.
So in no particular order:
BEAT TO A PULP: Hardboiled. Glenn Gray (Author), John Hornor Jacobs (Author), Kent Gowran (Author), Kieran Shea (Author), Thomas Pluck (Author), Wayne D. Dundee (Author), Patricia Abbott (Author), Garnett Elliott (Author), Scott D. Parker (Editor), David Cranmer (Editor)
Recommended to me by Thomas Pluck (aka @tommysalami) over on Twitter, this collection of hardboiled crime stories follows the tradition of pulp noir crime fiction. (Tommy, I really liked “Black-eyed Susan,” twisted and nasty, just how I like it)
Also recommended by Thomas Pluck was this collection of dark, disturbing, and very good stories written and presented for charity. All proceeds for the ebook go to CHILDREN 1ST, an organization in Scotland championing the rights of children and vulnerable families.
Lost Children, Paul D. Brazill (Author), Luca Veste (Author), Chad Rohrbacher (Author), Benoit Lelievre (Author), Susan Tepper (Author), Seamus Bellamy (Author), Lynn Beighley (Author), Thomas Pluck (Editor), McDroll (Editor), Ron Earl Phillips (Editor)
I’m biased since I edited this short story, so you’ll have to trust me when I say it is one of her best (so far, since we’re getting ready to release Zombies Take Manhattan very soon and that collection is her best so far!). If you like zombies, Ferris wheels and sick humor, you’ll love this one.
McKenna’s short stories are always a delight. Unusual settings and themes, wicked humor, lots of irony. This one is set in the future where it isn’t the cops in speed traps you have to worry about, but those killer eyes in the sky.
What do Occupy Wallstreet and the Grim Reaper have in common? It all depends on who is using whom. A creepy little tale with some interesting points about the haves versus the have nots.
Catch & Release, Lawrence Block.
Larry the Kindle is not happy unless I have a few Block novels and short stories in the TBR pile. Block never pulls punches, but this short story has to be, hand’s down, the most chilling story I’ve read yet by him. Pop into the mind of a serial killer, if you dare. This one will have you locking the doors and looking funny at the neighbors.
If you have an ereader, short stories are the best value for entertainment around. If you’re loving the resurgence of short fiction that e-publishing is fostering, too, list some of your new-found treasures in the comments.
So I sez (last minute, of course), “Let’s do some Halloween fiction! Everybody write a short story and I’ll post it on my blog.”
Kelly sez, “What’s the criteria for a short story?”
Sez I, “It has to be short.”
Marina sez, “And a story.”
“About what shall I write?” Kelly asked (she is early in the process of being corrupted as a fiction writer).
“Um, cannibal fairies,” sez I. “And a duck.” (I believe fiction writers should be thoroughly corrupted with no hope of turning back) “Make it a love story.”
Then the ever so charming artist, Chris Zombieking, sez, “Cannibal fairies? A duck? I can do that.”
So Marina and I (already thoroughly corrupted) took up the challenge as well, though we cheated and included neither cannibal fairies nor ducks in our stories. They are, however, short and stories.
(Hey, don’t look askance at me about the above mostly-true and pretty much factual conversation. You all keep asking where writers get their ideas. So there you go)
The Red Band
by Kelly Shew
“I cannot believe they stuck me with you, of all faeries!” Fatina threw up her hands as she fluttered in the air. “Even Arcus the Dunderhead would be better than you!”
Nibale flew up to meet her. “It’s not like I’m happy about this either! Do you think I have nothing better to do than drag around a Papinae on this mission? I hope you can keep up, because I will not be held accountable for your failures!”
Both faeries hung suspended in air as they glared at each other. The Grand High Faerie Council had decreed a hunter from each tribe would be assigned the task of locating a rogue faerie who was ignoring the Age Restriction.
A thousand years ago, the Council determined that, if allowed to continue hunting unchecked, faeries would soon eat themselves out of existence. Were younger faeries easier to catch? Absolutely. They weren’t old enough to have learned any survival tricks. They were needed to continue the line. What would the faeries do when they ran out of food? It was decreed that faeries could not hunt anyone under seven seasons in age. (to read the rest of this story, click here)
As said before, Marina has neither cannibal fairies nor ducks in her creepy little tale. Nor does it have Halloween.
“Hmn?” sez I.
Marina sez, “Christmas is more horrifying than Halloween.”
Good enough for me. Read on…
Xmas House of Horrors
The church parking lot lights winked at Tim through the lens of his excited breath in the unusually cold Southern air. He slammed the car door and slung his full backpack over his shoulder.
“Tim, honey, stay with me,” his mother called as he plunged into the sea of parked cars.
“We are already late, Mom!” Tim shouted, leaving his mother to unstrap baby Jennifer from her car seat. Tim didn’t like to think of what fun he’d already missed while his mother had been stuffing Jennifer into her new snow suit. Jennifer had pooped her diaper half way through, which had forced Mom to reverse the process before starting it all over again. Having to haul a baby around slowed everything. It was more than a twelve year old could bear.
Tim arrived at the front gate. A rickety old privacy fence looked as if it had been stolen from five or six different back yards. A ticket booth was set up beside the gate.
Tim couldn’t see through the fence. He could hear people laughing and shrieking at the wonders inside. He could hear music and see flashes of light in the air. The ratty sign over the ticket booth sparkled with promise. “Spirit of Giving Christmas Carnival” was splashed in faded red paint across yellow canvas. (to continue reading this story, click here)
For your edification, here is exactly where I got the idea for the following story. I read a tweet on Twitter: “I sold my soul to the Devil. He got a shitty deal!” To which I thought, hmn…
The Devil His Due
by Jaye W Manus
“This is an as is deal, right? No take backs? No do-overs?”
Bub curled his lips in Smile Number Four— the Winner. Every morning, after his workout, but before his shower, he practiced in front of a mirror his repertoire of smiles. He had sixteen. He hadn’t become the Big Boss’s top producer by neglecting details. “Are we having second thoughts, my dear? You don’t have to sign. You do have free will.”
The waitress looked between Bub and the contract printed in blood-red ornate calligraphy on golden parchment. “Just making sure. I don’t want you coming back and saying I cheated you or anything.”
“Once you sign, the deal is done. No take backs.”
“Yay!” She took the proffered Mont Blanc fountain pen and signed her name. Instead of a dot, she drew a heart over the ‘i’ in Brandi. She handed back the pen.
“So that’s it, Bub? You have my soul and I get my heart’s desire? Do I need to do anything else?”
“You’ve done quite enough, my dear.” He slid the pen into his shirt pocket and gave her Smile Number Thirteen— Wicked. He rolled the scroll. It was warm to the touch and gave off a faint scent of brimstone. He tied a neat bow in its securing red ribbon. “Good day.” (to continue reading this story, click here)
Ms Becky Joy will have us know that no collection of Halloween stories is complete unless it includes a tale suitable for reading aloud to children. I will agree.
The Story of Hall-o-ween
by Becky Joy
It happened in the hall, the same type of hall that is in your house. It was after midnight, cold outside, but it was just as cold inside. But only in the hall. The only sound was the ticking of the clock… Except… There was no clock… Not in the hall. Movement! From what? Was it a who or what used to be a who? Up the hall. Down the hall. Bump. Silence. Tick. Tock. Bump! “Oh!” I screamed. It echoed off the walls in the hall. “I ween that you were something to fear, with long fangs and the thirst for blood. Instead, you are my hamster, Jay, left in your plastic ball. I forgot to put you back in your cage.”
See more of Chris’s wonderful artwork over on -brainzzz or GTFO-. But don’t steal him. Marina and I got dibs.
I just had a birthday. As gifts (thank you thank you thank you, Marina and Abby) I got Kindle bucks. I spent hours browsing Amazon, picking and choosing, adding to my wish list. One of the nicest things about shopping for ebooks (compared to shopping for print books) is knowing that even if I don’t pick up a desired title this time around, I can put it on my wish list and when I go back I’ll be able to buy a copy. As much as I love bookstores, they are very much catch as catch can.
Anyway, thought I’d share with you some of my birthday treasures.
(click here to check out A Bomb Built In Hell on Amazon)
A Bomb Built In Hell, by Andrew Vachss. This is a strange one. According to the author’s notes, this was his very first novel and he couldn’t sell it. I can understand. It’s less a novel and more an indictment of how the Creators in a society create their own Destroyers. The main character Wesley is a tragic figure in the purest sense of the word. He has no hope, no redemption, no chance. If you’ve never read Vachss, I wouldn’t recommend you begin with this one. If you’re a fan of his Burke novels and his stand-alones (especially Two Trains Running, my fave) you’ll find the insights into the author as fascinating as the story of Wesley himself.
(click here to check out the story on Amazon)
Rose In Winter, by Marie M. Loughin. I met Marie online through blogs and Twitter. When she mentioned her short story, I had to see for myself. Only .99 cents! This is a fairy tale. A real fairy tale as opposed to Disney fairy tales with their guaranteed happily ever afters. The story first appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXI, edited by Diana Paxton. I hope Marie writes and publishes more, because I could easily become a fan.
(click here to check out Shotgun Gravy on Amazon)
Shotgun Gravy, by Chuck Wendig. I’m a big fan of Chuck’s blog, terrible minds. Last month I got my first taste of his fiction when I read his short story collection, Irregular Creatures. I couldn’t resist this novella about Atlanta Burns, a young girl with a big past. Chuck calls it YA noir. I personally don’t think he should try so hard to pigeonhole it. It’s a story about bullying, and all ages can relate to that.
(click here to check out the book on Amazon)
Here Be Monsters, short stories by Samantha Anderson, India Drummond, M. T. Murphy, Jeremy C. Shipp, S. M. Reine, Sara Reinke and Anabel Portillo. A fun collection about, you guessed it, monsters. Vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, aliens and even spiders. I enjoyed all the stories, but I’m not going to name a favorite (okay, hint, spider monsters are cool). My only gripe with the collection is that it includes some beautiful dark fantasy art by Jose Manuel Portillo Barientos and Alissa Rindels. I really want to see them in color. Which means I’m going to have get a Kindle Fire. The illustrations are gorgeous in gray scale, but I bet they’re poster worthy in color.
Doesn’t this make you wish your friends and family loved you enough to give you gift certificates for Kindle books? I haven’t even read all my purchases or spent all my Kindle bucks. Go on, admit it. You’re all green with envy right about now. Heh.
I resisted ebooks for a long time. I’ve been using a computer for writing since the 1980s, but that doesn’t mean I like reading on the things. I spend enough hours in front of a lighted screen to turn my eyeballs into quivering jelly. And they expect me to read for pleasure on a computer? Besides, I love printed books. I love everything about them from the way they look to the way they smell. Reduce a book to bits and bytes? No way.
But then I got interested in indie publishing and I had to see what the fuss was about. So I bought a Kindle. I will not say it was love at first sight. It wasn’t. It’s not the same thing as reading a printed book. I had to learn how to maneuver it to use it properly (and at my age, there is a measure of resentment anytime I have to learn to do something I’ve been doing just fine for decades). I did get used to it. I know I’m entrenched now because just last week I was reading a rather weighty tome while lying in bed and my hand cramped because of the awkward way I had to hold the book. I thought, “Shees, this wouldn’t have happened with my Kindle.” I’ve also discovered that the Kindle is much better for reading while I cook (Cooking bores me, so while things are simmering or steaming or whatever else that involves just standing around watching pots, I read a book. The Kindle, bless its sturdy plastic casing, takes splashes, spatters, greasy fingers and cake batter in stride. Additional bonus, my cats don’t chew on the Kindle and while they do like to lie on it, they’ve yet to figure out how to do it harm.)
The very best thing I’ve discovered, thanks to my Kindle, is the resurgence of short stories. I’ve always loved short stories. It seemed like every magazine I read as a kid had at least one piece of fiction in every issue. There were zillions of monthly and bi-monthly magazines devoted to genre fiction. The very best writers, the mega-writers, wrote short stories for the top magazines. Writers could make nice livings just writing short stories. That changed. Magazines realized they could make more money with advertisements than they could with fiction. Genre digest after digest folded or merged and eventually became sad little shadows of their former selves. Rates for writers dropped. Publishers decided novels were the money-makers and yeah, some writers were able to publish collections, but usually only after they’d become bestsellers with novels. Short stories faced the fate of poetry. Something only artists did, in their spare time, when they weren’t working a “real” job and nobody was expected to make a living at it. If a genre writer was bursting with short stories to tell, his options for publication were limited. He could write novels and hope his publisher took him seriously enough to invest in a collection. He could hope to be invited to contribute to an anthology. While short stories are still being written and published, they aren’t the ubiquitous purveyors of ideas they once were.
From a writer’s perspective, short stories are pure delight. Other than the requirement that they be, you know, short, there are no hard and fast rules. Short stories can be tightly plotted or dispense with plot altogether. They can be snippets, character studies, an exploration of a single, “What if?” or a slice of life. Short stories are a great way to play with a style or just have fun with language. Short stories are about ideas. Big, small, important, trivial, dark, light and everything in between. Hell, Ernest Hemingway supposedly a short story in only six words:
“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Unfortunately for writers, as the markets dried up, writing short stories fell into almost hobby status. Forget finding a market that paid good money, try finding one that paid at all.
Then came the rise of indie publishing and ebooks. Writers have discovered a whole new market by publishing short stories direct to readers. Writer after writer is indie publishing collections and stand-alones, all for a very low price. Because they can make money at it, they have incentive to keep doing it, which means the variety and selection will continue to improve and everybody is happy.
This reader thanks them and Kindle and Amazon and every other outlet that makes it possible for me to find short stories. In the few months I’ve had my Kindle, I’ve purchased a ton of singles and collections. A few of the stories were freebies. Gifts by writers to their readers. I haven’t paid more than five bucks for any of them (and no, I don’t need to hear from you jokers asking how many novels that has led me to purchase, so how much money am I actually saving, hmn? Just shut it.)
The .99 cent short story is pure heaven. Because the cost is so low, I’m comfortable trying out new-to-me writers. I can explore genres that have been neglected by publishers. I no longer have to buy a hardcover at twenty bucks for an anthology in which I’ll probably only find one story worth reading. I really like that a lot of my favorite novelists are taking advantage of ebooks to put out short stories.
Here are a few I’ve really enjoyed:
Weird Fantasy: Irregular Creatures, collection by Chuck Wendig.
Horror: Blood is Red, collection by Scott Sigler
Horror: Specimen 313, by Jeff Strand (FREE!)
Zombies!: The Undead: Zombie Anthology, by David Wellington and many more.
Psycho Horror: Head Cases, anthology by Scott Nicholson and many more.
Horror: Pickers and Pickled Punks, collection by Marina Bridges (I’m biased here since I edited this collection, but they are really good stories or I wouldn’t have edited them)
Literary: House of Skin, collection by Kiana Davenport
Mystery: The Burglar Who Dropped in On Elvis, by Lawrence Block
Women’s: Is It Spicy?, by Julia Barrett
Mystery: The Night and The Music, collection by Lawrence Block
Not every short story or collection I’ve found has been a winner. But I have unearthed enough real treasures to turn me into a short story fiend all over again. Thank you, Kindle.