New Fiction: Blood Bond

So, Blood Bond is a piece (a novella? A novelette?) that I’ve been fiddling with for a long time. I don’t think I can sell it–it’s a bit on the old fashioned side and long. But, maybe you might enjoy it. I know I do.

Click here to read Blood Bond.

Or find it up top under Standalone Stories.

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Review: Cold In July by Joe R. Lansdale

Cold In JulyCold In July by Joe R. Lansdale (9781616961619): Tachyon Publications (c1989, 2014)

Lansdale’s gritty, pulpy, Texas-noir powerhouse opens in 1989 with Richard Dane being awoken by his wife in the middle of the night because she hears a prowler entering their home. Richard takes down a pistol from his closet and goes to investigate. In the process, he walks in on the prowler, who draws a gun and fires at him–luckily, the shot goes wide and Dane returns fire, killing the burglar in the process. As Dane deals with soul-deadening unease at taking a life, he also has to cope with the notoriety the event gives him in the sleepy East Texas town where he lives and works. But when the burglar’s father, Ben Russel, comes to town threatening Cape Fear-style revenge, Dane discovers that things are not at all what they seem and, in a strange turn of events, ends up working with Russel and an eccentric private investigator to get to the truth. Along the way, they find that they’re working against both law enforcement and the Dixie Mafia to try and do the right and honorable thing in a world that gets darker with each passing day.

Lansdale (Bubba Ho-Tep, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket) is the gonzo prose-laureate of East Texas and this novel is a brilliant example of his writing at its tightest. He slowly turns up the tension in the first third of novel as Russel becomes an eerie force of menace, tormenting Dane and his family in the finest noir tradition. Then the story takes an abrupt turn into a straight-up crime novel as Dane, his wife Ann, Russel, and the competently egotistical PI Jim Bob Luke begin to put together pieces of the mystery that neither Dane nor Russel can let go of–even when what they find challenges their definitions of humanity. Finally, in its bloody and blazing climax, the novel transforms again into a pulpy action triumph. Even throughout these transitions, Lansdale manages to add another layer of storytelling to the mix, that of the psychological turmoil of the protagonist (Dane) and his questioning of what it means to be a man and “do what a man has to do”, his ability to be a good father, and the burden of his own sense of honor. All of this in a tidy, 250-page package.

The characters Lansdale creates are vivid and lively. Ann Dale is a lovely, strong woman who can easily go toe-to-toe with these über-masculine men she finds herself involved with. Dane is a sensitive, but rock-solid man, the salt of the earth. Russel is a man with a soul-sucking darkness in his heart, but is also a man full of regret and a basic humanity that keeps him from becoming a monster. And Jim Bob Luke has enough personality for ten characters, but Lansdale manages to keep him from hogging all of the available spotlight.

Finally, as he usually does in his fiction, he evokes the very spirit of its setting. You feel the heat, smell the stifling air, and taste the salt of the sweat in the stifling sauna that is an East Texas summer. He paints a vivid picture of the brimstone and fire of South Texas refineries and the desolate scrub of the country outside the asphalt jungle of the city. Texas itself is as much a character in the story as the players.

Needless to say, this is probably my favorite Joe Lansdale novel yet. And that’s saying something.

By the way, the novel has been made into an acclaimed movie by Jim Mickle and Nick Damici and starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepherd, and Don Johnson.

 

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I Have A Problem

I have a problem.

Like most people do, I try to talk to people about it. Maybe I need help in solving the problem. Maybe I just need to vent about the fact that it is a problem. But I need to talk about it, to seek out answers, and to set things straight in my mind. And to make those that contribute to the problem aware of it and maybe, just maybe, get them to stop.

But every time I talk about it to you, you start to tell me about your problem.

You tell me that it’s well and good to be aware of my problem, but I shouldn’t forget the importance of your problem. “It’s only fair,” you say.

And, on the surface, I suppose that is true. Your problem is there and it is real and it is important.

But, right here, right now? I’m talking about my problem. Maybe, just maybe, there’s another time and another place to talk about your problem.

And every time you bring up “valid points” that simply serve to change the subject, you send a very clear message: My problem is not important. Because it is not about you.

Then, when I describe what problematic thing others are doing to me or to people like me, you respond that you don’t do that. That there are other people that don’t do that.

Which is true, as far as it goes. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a problem. It doesn’t mean that my problem is any less real. And by being defensive about it, you’re once again trying to make it about you.

Once again, what you are saying is that my problem isn’t important. Because it isn’t about you.

So then I seek out others that have the same problem as me. People that understand and  have similar experiences. And I talk about my problem and possible solutions, and share my pain and humiliation and heartbreak with them so that the shared burden is an easier one to bear. But you follow me there and, once again, try to insert your problem into the conversation.

This isn’t the time or place to talk about your problem. Because you are clearly sending the message that my problem, and the problems of these other like-minded people, are not as important as your problem.

It isn’t about you.

The hard part, I think, is that you are very used to it being about you. And so, when I try to share my pain and my struggle, it does not compute with your experience.

Because it’s not about you.

Instead of listening and learning about something others, and thus expanding your experience, you, instead, try to control it. To change the focus to more “important” points.

And this happens every time I try to talk about my problem. If it’s not done by you, then it’s by someone like you.

You have problems, too. I get that. And we can talk about them at some other point. There are lots of problems in the world and we need to fix them.

But right now, I need to talk about my problem. I need to have you be there and listen to what I have to say. You may not have a solution. You might can only sympathize. And that’s okay.

But don’t change the subject. Don’t get defensive. Don’t bring your grievances to the conversation. Don’t make it about you.

Because when I’m continually reminded that my problem is not important, that my experience is not as valid, because it is not about you?

I have a problem.

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“Gauntlet” reviewed at Tangent.com

My short story “Gauntlet” (appearing in the Spring 2014 issue of On Spec, if you haven’t gotten a chance to read it), received a brief but positive review at Tangent.com

Shedrick Pittman-Hasset has produced a slam-bang action storyDefinitely a highlight of the issue

Check out the full review here!

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Review: The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White

The IncrementalistsThe Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013): 9780765334220 (Tor Books).

“It’s the little things that get you when you weren’t paying attention…” Jim’s Big Ego, “Stress”.

The Incrementalists are members of an ancient secret society that seeks to make the world a better place, a little bit at a time. They use “switches”, psychological levers, to gently nudge people into making the right decisions. They use their influence to guide the moving forces of the world in the right direction. And they use their relative immortality to endlessly debate and consider just what the “right” direction may be. Renee, a smart and perceptive project manager, has been recruited to join their number by Phil, the most venerable Incrementalist alive. He wants her to take on the “stub” (an amalgam of memory and personality) of Celeste, his former lover and constant antagonist. But something has gone wrong, and it seems that Celeste has been making some changes not only to the world but to the Incrementalists themselves. Now, the core of the society must meet in Las Vegas to consider the ramifications her meddling.

I recently read and reviewed another “secret society controls the world through arcane manipulation of people and events” novel called Lexicon by Max Barry. It, too, had a male-female pair of protagonists that were drawn into an internecine struggle within that organization. But that is where the similarities end. Where Lexicon was an action-thriller, filled with car chases, explosions, and the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, The Incrementalists is much quieter and more intimate. It is essentially a series of conversations and interactions between characters. There is only true act of violence in the book, an act so jarring that it makes quite an impact.

Despite the above description, the book is far from boring. Brust has always been a master of dialog (I love the interactions in the Vlad Taltos series) and White (with whom I am not previously familiar) obviously knows what she is doing as well. Their collaboration is seamless, both authors creating interesting characters and a fascinating plot that asks a lot of big questions. What is the nature of memory and personality? How does one interact with the other? What is the “soul”? Does meddling make love any less legitimate? And it manages to ask all of these questions while having fun at the same time.

The Incrementalists is a fascinating book and very human book. It’s a big plot told in intimate gatherings. It’s not a loud blockbuster, but a small independent film that has a lot of heart. Feel free to enjoy it in one big bite, or even just a little bit at a time.

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