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.
I met Martin Turnbull several months ago when I happened upon ‘The ‘Garden of Allah’ novels blog. At the time he was shopping his novel to agents. I liked his energy and sense of humor, so started following his blog. I chimed in with some words of encouragement. As he kept hitting brick walls, I sez, Hey, just because agents don’t think your book is a good fit in the current market, doesn’t mean they’re right. Have you thought about self-publishing?
Martin did think about it. He did the research, figured out what was involved and decided to go for it. This week it paid off. The Garden on Sunset went live on Amazon. Whoo hoo! I bought the ebook a few days ago, read it and am happy to report that I am most pleased Martin didn’t let the nay-sayers dissuade him.
(from the book description)
When Marcus Adler’s father runs him out of Pennsylvania, he can think of only one place to go: 8152 Sunset Boulevard, the home of luminous silent screen star Alla Nazimova, who visited him on his sickbed when he was a child. But when Marcus gets to Hollywood, Madame Nazimova’s home has been converted to a hotel. Marcus checks into The Garden of Allah and starts his new life. He soon finds friends in Kathryn Massey, who ran away from her overbearing stage mother to become a journalist, and Gwendolyn Brick, a hopeful actress from the Other Hollywood—Hollywood, Florida—who wants to try her luck in Glitter City. The three naïve hopefuls band together to tread water against a tidal wave of threadbare casting couches, nervous bootleggers, human billboards, round-the-world zeppelins, sinking gambling boats, waiters in blackface, William Randolph Hearst, the Long Beach earthquake, starlets, harlots, Harlows and Garbos. But how will they get their feet inside Hollywood’s golden door?
(Odd thought, pardon me, but it’s on my mind. What exactly determines “historical” fiction? Rule of thumb in antiques: fifty years makes it vintage and a hundred years make it antique. Would a story set in the 1920s-1930s qualify as a period piece or an historical? I think my rule of thumb will be, anything older than me is historical. I can do that. This is my blog.)
What really intrigues me is Martin’s passion for Hollywood. Hollywood in its glory days. The Hollywood that set the standard for glamor and style. Ever since Martin ended the agent-quest, he’s been writing articles about historical Hollywood. He writes about the movers and shakers, movie stars, and legendary places. The Mocambo nightclub, Schwab’s Pharmacy, Sunset Boulevard, Bullocks Wilshire, and famous theaters like Earl Carroll’s and the Palladium. If you have any interest at all in the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’ll love Martin’s well-researched and highly entertaining articles. Just as cool, too, has been following Martin’s own Hollywood-story starting with his article, My Big Fat Hollywood Meeting, about his first encounter with a movie producer. It’s a hoot.
The Garden on Sunset didn’t disappoint. Martin brings Hollywood and its stars to life. But wait, there’s more! There’s dish on journalists and gossip columnists and studio heads and talent scouts, too. I fell in love with Marcus, Kathryn and Gwendolyn (Oh, that Gwendolyn! You never know what that girl will do in order to be discovered. Her antics had me laughing and wincing) in their struggles to follow their dreams and their hearts, and it’s a tough town for that. It’s a story, too, about friendship and love, mostly learning how to love yourself and be yourself in a place where such values aren’t usually valued.
Good job, Martin. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.
Discovered: The author’s blog
Bought: on Amazon for my Kindle, January 4, 2012, $4.99
The story of Jager, a 16 year old hunter from the town of Derry, who discovers a dead titanboar in the forest. Compelled to touch the beast, Jager is transformed into the Bright One, the mystical, magical savior for the race of majestic titanboars. Jager is ill-equipped to handle the magical abilities or responsibility. He’s only a boy.
He is a good boy, though, with a good heart. Aided by the beautiful and feisty Rolinda, and three wizards, Wazdan, Wazilla and Wazatoni, and their contingent of magical cats, horses, birds and vipers, and guided by his new relationship with the titanboars, Jager learns how to use his magical gifts. It’s a strange magic, though, and it catches the attention of the evil emperor, Dragene. Dragene has been corrupted by dark magic and now his survival depends upon devouring the essence of the good and virtuous. No creature is more good or virtuous than the titanboars. The only thing standing between Dragene and the extinction of the titanboar race is one uncertain, and unreliable 16-year-old boy.
Author Acheson claims he is not a “real” writer. I didn’t have high expectations for this self-published novel. I did find some flaws and unevenness in the writing, but the story sucked me in anyway and I found myself utterly charmed by the titanboars, the talking cats, the haughty queen of horses and a wise old viper. The wizards are amusing. Rolinda is a strong female lead. Jager is an interesting young man with a good heart, but a teenager brain that often leads him astray.
Young readers will enjoy this story since it’s filled with action and adventure and some funny bits, too. The titanboars are a wonderful creation. Parents of young readers will appreciate the healthy messages about responsibility and the nature of good versus evil. Not this is a preachy novel. It’s not. It does have strong themes about doing the right thing even when it’s hard and accepting loss and not being too quick to judge based on prejudices and fear.
Purchased: December 30, 2011 from Amazon. FREE. Special deal. (regular price $.99)
Discovered: The Passive Voice blog.
You need to forgive me if I’ve been gushing a lot about Lawrence Block lately. He published the majority of his back list last year as e-books and he keeps holding sales. Of course every time he holds a sale, I have to run over to Amazon and start 1-clicking titles for my Kindle. I read a lot of Block’s work back in the day, so this is like being reconnected with an old friend.
One series I had never read before is the Chip Harrison series. Block first published these under a pseudonym, and his publishers kept changing the titles, so I never discovered Block was the author. Apparently, No Score, the first Chip Harrison novel, came about when Block was still working for a soft-porn mill. He realized there was something special about this book, that it was good enough to qualify as a “real book.” Here is what Block has to say in Afterthoughts:
No Score is the first of four novels featuring Chip Harrison, and they all bore the lead character’s byline when they first appeared as Fawcett paperbacks. The working title of No Score was The Lecher in the Rye, which sums it up well enough; it’s a picaresque account of a young man’s desperate attempt to become sexually experienced.
Fawcett did very well with the book, and a couple of years later I wrote a sequel. And, because I liked the voice, I wanted to write a third book, but how many times could one lad lose his virginity? So in the third book I put him to work for a private detective, and books three and four are mysteries that could be called Nero Wolfe pastiches.
The funny thing is, I’ve never been a huge fan of coming-of-age stories. Especially those involving young men getting their horndog on. Chip charmed me, though. He’s a mixture of tough and tender, decency and desire, that makes him an interesting narrator. Maybe it’s my age. I doubt I would have liked Chip when I was a teenager or even into my 20s or 30s. “Stupid boy. What a stupid, selfish boy,” would have been running through my head as I read. Back then, I wouldn’t have understood him. I would have fixated on the sexy parts and missed completely the thread about finding one’s self and how easy it is to lose one’s way and the struggle it takes to get back on track. In the second book of the series, Chip Harrison Scores Again, Chip’s antics drove me nuts. I was so angry about some of his decisions. Again, maybe it’s my age, I could understand why he did what he did. Despite his failings, I wished him well. I certainly wanted to read more of his adventures.
I dunno, maybe that’s what For Mature Audiences Only truly means.
Chip comes into his own when he starts working for private investigator, Leo Haig, a genius who believes Nero Wolfe was real. Because Haig wants to be recognized as a great detective, he hires Chip to be his Archie Goodwin. Make Out With Murder and The Topless Tulip Caper are funny, funny books. I’ve never been a huge fan of deductive mysteries, far preferring the gritty stuff with lots of science and police procedure. Readers hoping for the hard stuff in these books will be deeply disappointed. You can’t read this series with those expectations. You read it for Chip.
But this was business. Leo Haig had a case and a client, and his client was performing at the Treasure Chest, and since Leo Haig was no more likely to hie himself off to a topless club than I was to enter a monastery, I, Chip Harrison, was elected to serve as Haig’s eyes, ears, nose and throat.
Which explains why I had just tucked a ten-dollar bill into a very large and callused hand.
‘Ten bucks?’ said the owner of the hand. ‘For ten bucks you could go to a massage parlor and get a fancy hand job.’
‘I’m allergic to hand lotion.’
‘I get this horrible rash.’
Chip is a charmer all right.
These stories can also be read as period pieces, with a voice and flavor that’s very much locked in the 1960s. The themes and characters are timeless, making them as readable and enjoyable now as they were then.
Block says it annoys him when fans beg him to write more stories about their favorite characters. I am very tempted to add my voice to the clamor and beg him to write more Chip stories (and Block wouldn’t have that problem if he didn’t write such wonderful characters in the first place, so it’s his own damned fault). I’ll behave, though, and savor what is now my favorite non-series.
Chip Harrison novels (in order):
I read the first book in Jeff Strand’s Andrew Mayhem series this weekend. Laugh, cringe, laugh, cringe, laugh some more, cringe some more. In other words, lots of fun. As soon as I finished, I wanted more, so I popped over to Amazon to buy #2 and #3 in the series. And as soon as Download Complete appeared on my Kindle, I’m like, What is the hell is wrong with you? Just how many ebooks do you need in the queue? Have you no self-control whatsoever?
So then, this morning I got an email from Lawrence Block informing me that all his Open Road ebooks are on sale for today only. One day? Oh crap. So of course I had to pop right over to Amazon. Three minutes later, seven titles are off my wish list and loaded on my Kindle.
I am such a slut.
But wait just a minute. For less than the cost of dinner and a movie, I have nine new books to read. Unlike dinner and a movie which will be over and done with in about four hours and mostly forgotten within a day or two (Unless the movies were either Seven or Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, both of which I bitched about for weeks and can still get riled up about years later for offending me so greatly with such stupid plots).
Here’s the thing about books, especially genre fiction. The vast majority are temporary entertainment. I can enjoy a few hours lost in somebody else’s world and maybe learn a thing or two along the way. There are a few that stick. A few that matter for whatever reason. I have some books, now tattered and soft, the spines a mass of crinkles and broken paper, because I’ve read them over and over. Those books offer more than pleasure or information. They speak to me. They feel like old friends and we have a connection.
Since I was old enough to speak, I’ve been a story addict. I’ve had lots of interests in my life and a few passions and one or two obsessions (or to hear the old man tell it, “Your OCD acting up again?”) Those come and go. Except for stories. My passion, even my obsession for stories has never died.
Give me a book and a few hours of quiet and I am happy. Tell me a story and I am happy. I’m convinced that if a tornado roared through the neighborhood and flattened my house and swept away all I own, the only possessions I would truly miss would be my books. Even then I wouldn’t be too depressed because even if the books are gone, the stories remain and I can find them again.
They say money can’t buy happiness. Oh yeah? Well $25 just added another page and a half to my Kindle home page. That makes me very happy.
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.