Thursday, July 30, 2009

Everything Stops

Although I think his current books don't pack quite the same punch as his earlier ones, everything stops for me when a new Michael Connelly book comes out. I'm in the middle of listening to his newest, The Scarecrow. Also I've reluctantly put Bernard Cornwell's The Winter King on a brief hiatus (Sorry, John...) in favor of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire, the sequel to the excellent novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. So far, the sequel is even better. (Plus it's one of the library's new 14-day books, so I'm working with limitations here.)

So what author(s) must you read when they put out something new?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


From time to time Jeff VanderMeer sings the praises of David Madden's Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers on his blog Ecstatic Days. I bought the book a couple of years ago and initially read bits and pieces of it. Now I'm working through it on a regular basis, attempting to target problems in my own writing (which are legion).

Yesterday I came across Technique # 15 (of 185): Considering your overall conception, is your style inappropriately simple or complex?

I suppose I'd given this some limited thought, but obviously never enough. Madden provides examples of plain/simple style from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, complex/grand style from Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, and a controlled use of simplicity and complexity from James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Says Madden: "Usually, the simple style works best for first-person narration, the complex for omniscient, and the midstyle for central intelligence. The passages above are examples of each..... The most obvious danger of the simple style is banality, of the complex style is overwriting or confusion, and of the midstyle is blandness. Sometimes style may be too simple, and you need to revise for greater complexity."

Madden's book has really exposed the limitations and weaknesses of my writing in a clear, no-nonsense way. I could (and probably will) spend years in this book. I'm already a better writer for the small amount of time I have spent there.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More About Flannery

I'm still riding high from my visit to Flannery O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah. I wish we had been allowed to photograph the entire house, room by room, but we were only allowed to photograph what I suppose you would call the "parlor" or front room, and that picture turned out far too dark to be of much use.

This picture was not on display, or if it was, I didn't see it. I am including it anyway.

This one (or a reproduction of it) was on display in Mary Flannery's (as the tour guide called her) bedroom. Boy, she really does look intense, doesn't she? Several of her childhood books were displayed in glass cases. One (whose title I forget) was open to the title page, upon which a young Mary Flannery had written in a large, cursive hand, "Not a very good book."

Before visiting Savannah, I had no idea O'Connor was a visual artist. She attended Georgia State College for Women and was the art editor of the college yearbook, The Spectrum, from which the above work was taken. Our guide showed us the 1944-1945 yearbook featuring her work on the end pages. Apparently O'Connor submitted several cartoons to The New Yorker, only to be rejected.

O'Connor Fever continues. I think I'm going to have to break down and buy the new biography soon.

Back from Vacation

Sadly our vacation is over, but it was a really good one; a family vacation (eight adults, three kids, none of them over the age of 3.5) in Orlando. Cindy and I stopped in Savannah, Georgia both ways. The highlight for me was visiting Flannery O'Connor's childhood home, a must for O'Connor fans. Cindy and I were the only ones there, so we got the tour guide's full attention. Now I want to reread all of O'Connor's stories again, as well as the new biography.

We also did Disney: five theme parks in five days. My favorite ride: Mission: SPACE at Epcot. (Although Cindy didn't feel so hot after it was over.)

Other highlights: a small but nice water park, 18 holes of golf on an incredible course, food, drink, and of course, family. Lots of fun, but good to be home.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Vacation Reads

Cindy and I are getting geared up for our big family vacation later this week. Cindy's planning what clothes to bring, food, running gear, etc. And, of course, I'm planning on what books to bring.

I always like to take at least one fiction and one non-fiction title. I'm really enjoying Bernard Cornwell's The Winter King and can't imagine not taking it on the trip. I've also just started the non-fiction Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent. I'm still working on Daniel Kalder's Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia, which is indeed strange, funny and not a little frightening. I'll attempt to renew it today, so if no one has a hold on it, it's going on the trip.

On audio I'm hoping to bring David Marusek's Counting Heads, which I've had in book form for over a year, alas, unread. In case it's a bust, I'm also taking Thomas Perry's Dance for the Dead, a thriller. I've never read Perry, so I'm going out on a limb with this one, too.

Then yesterday at church a friend of mine loaned me Kenneth E. Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, which looks fascinating, but may be a little heavy for a vacation read. Maybe, maybe not. We shall see.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ebert Slams Bay; I Revise

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert is very enthusiastic about the new film The Hurt Locker. Apparently he's also sick of defending his scathing review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which Ebert calls "a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine."

In his review of The Hurt Locker, Ebert says,

“The Hurt Locker” is a great film, an intelligent film, a film shot clearly so that we know exactly who everybody is and where they are and what they’re doing and why. The camera work is at the service of the story. Bigelow knows, unlike the pathetic Michael Bay, that you can’t build suspense with shots lasting one or two seconds. Frankly, I wonder if a lot of “Transformer” lovers would even be able to take “The Hurt Locker.” They may not be accustomed to powerful films that pound on their imaginations instead of their ears.


Reading this review makes me glad that most book and short story reviewers (at least the ones I read) aren't so scathing. Which brings me to my next point:

I got a rejection letter a couple of days ago for a new story I sent out for the first time. I looked over the story and decided that it's bad. Very bad. Embarrassingly bad. It won't go out again, not without some major revisions. Sometimes your own evaluation of your work can be just as scathing as that of a critic. Only this time I'm thankful only one other person (I hope!) saw it. Have a good weekend, whether you are revising or not.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Parts 12 & 13

After a brief season away from short story collections, I'm back with two for your consideration (and my possible purging). So here we go....

Fancies and Goodnights (2003) - John Collier

This collection of fifty short stories, ranging from 1931-1951, begins with an introduction by Ray Bradbury. Since he knows far more about Collier than I do, I'll let Ray take over for a minute or two:

What kind of short-story writer is John Collier? His work exists in a world somewhat similar to those of P.G. Wodehouse and his Jeeves, Saki, and Thorne Smith, author of Topper.

Looking at his books this late in time you could say that Collier stands out because he is neither politically correct or politically incorrect. Between his stories and politics there is a complete disconnect.... It is a world where anything can happen and always does.

Fifteen of Collier's stories were adapted and filmed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. One ("The Chaser") was adapted as a Twilight Zone episode. The stories I read were light, humorous, a bit twisted, clever and briefly satisfying. But I forgot them very quickly, not thinking about them again until I began writing this post.

The Verdict = Keep it for now; probably purge after reading.

The Haunted Hotel & Other Stories - Wilkie Collins

Collins (1824-1889) is best known for The Woman in White and what many consider one of the finest early detective novels, The Moonstone. I picked up this Wordsworth edition a few years back at a Half Price Books store and thought it looked good. (Wordsworth editions are printed on cheap paper, but don't cost much.) At the time they had just come out with a "Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural" line which includes collections by Poe, Stoker, M.R. James and others.

The title story is probably the selling point for this collection, but at 150 pages, I decided to skip it and read "The Devil's Spectacles," a tale that, according to the collection's introduction, Collins refused to see published in book form during his lifetime. Hmmmm.... Maybe because it's practically two stories. In the first half, the dying servant of a wealthy young man confesses that he was once a cannibal. As he dies, the old man passes on a pair of spectacles to the young man, the devil's spectacles that will allow those who wear them access to the hearts and souls of those viewed with them. The second half is much lighter and not nearly as satisfying as the story's opening. Still a fun story. When I have a longer stretch of time, I'll read the title story and make my decision.

The Verdict = Keep until I've read the title story, then decide.

Next: The Avram Davidson Treasury

Sunday, July 05, 2009

"Where the Vultures Feed"

This story was originally published in Southern Comfort: A Charitable Anthology for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. My original ending was very different and rather bleak. In light of the physical and emotional devastation of Katrina, the editors wanted a more hopeful ending, which I agreed to and rewrote.

Looking back on this, my first published story, I see a lot of things I would now change. Except for changing a couple of awkward-sounding sentences, this is pretty much how it appeared nearly five years ago. The title comes from a line in the Bob Dylan song “Dignity.”


Where the Vultures Feed

I wait outside the barn, leaning against the gray wooden door that gets harder to close every year. My chores are done for the day, except for fixing supper. He’ll have to come tell me what he wants, so I just wait. Such a simple thing, a son waiting for his father. Simple, but not easy. It’s much easier to look out beyond the fields, to dream of someplace---anyplace away from him. Maybe tonight. Maybe.

His faded red tractor rumbles in the distance. I smell the heat of the late afternoon sun burning into the ground. The Mississippi Delta could pass for hell on a day like this. I know he’s getting closer, but it seems he’ll never arrive. I’m not patient anymore, not since Mom died. How can I be patient knowing that he’s the one responsible?

The sun moves quicker than he does, casting a red glow across row after row of our corn. When he gets close, I see that ridiculous straw hat he always wears while driving the tractor. His hair is now completely gray and longer than it should be for someone his age. He is a foolish king sitting on a throne of nuts and bolts from a place nobody cares about. His overalls are stained dark blue where the sweat flows from his neck to his chest. Dust and dirt mix with the sweat, forming a sheen of filth on his arms. Everything about him disgusts me.

He stops the machine and lets it idle. The air is filled with the metallic bitterness of tractor oil and I know I’ll taste it in everything I eat tonight. He removes his hat long enough to wipe his brow with a dusty handkerchief from a set Mom gave him ages ago. The the machine sputters and jerks, shaking him around in the seat. With an exhausting effort, he reaches for the ignition and the tractor dies a slow, ragged death.

He eases himself down from the tractor, favoring his right leg, the one he broke years ago falling down in the rain after drinking too much. The next day, all my friends at school knew only that he had slipped. The looks of concern on their faces told me they didn’t know the whole story. Looks of pity from their parents told me they knew.

He takes an unsteady step and holds onto the steering wheel for balance. My stomach tightens. He clears his throat the same way he used to do when he’d been drinking and wanted to say something he thought was important, and me and Mom had “damn well better listen, I’ve got this belt here.” When it was over, Mom would pray for hours to be delivered from him.

He clears his throat again, but the sound is hollow, the rage gone.

He sits there, panting in a slow rhythm. “Roy,” he says, “how ‘bout getting me a glass of cold water. Please.”

I stand there looking at his dirty sweat, his filthy overalls, the pockets that are worn out from where the flask has been. The stench of sweat and dirt and heat slap me in the face and I hate even the thought of getting him anything. I want to let him stand out here, I want to tell him he can get his own water, I want to watch the mosquitoes swoop down and suck out every drop of his blood.

Birds circling the sky catch my attention. They’re so far off they look like specks of black pepper. I wonder why they don’t fly away to a better place. If I were a bird, I’d fly to another part of the world. If I were the Silver Surfer, I’d fly across the universe until I found the place I wanted to be.

My father clears his throat again, reminding me that I’m down here and not up there. I look up again anyway. The birds are closer. And larger. I think maybe they’re vultures.

Then I look down to the parched ground and walk to the kitchen to get his damn water.


“You still readin’ them funny books?” Fay Waggoner says from behind the drug store counter. She looks beyond me to the two other customers in the store; only two, but enough of an audience for her. Old Mrs. Simmons turns her head from reading a bottle of Milk of Magnesia. Jeb Turner, waiting for his prescription, stops reading the newspaper.

“They’re comics,” I tell her.

“How old’re you now? Fourteen?” Fay says. She cocks her head to the left like she’s trying to figure something out. The black-rimmed glasses sway from the chain around her neck.

“Seventeen.” She knows damn well how old I am.

Fay smirks at the four comics I’ve placed on the counter. “The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer. Oh, listen to this one,” she announces, “Fantastic Four - The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine! Huh! Crazy stuff!”

She stacks and folds the comics, her chipped thumbnail making a hard crease down the middle of the books, and drops them into a paper bag that’s too small. “Seventeen and still readin’ funny books...” She shakes her head then gives me a stern look. “You payin’ for this or you want me to put in on your daddy’s charge?”

I slap the money on the counter and grab my comics. Not much longer, I think. Maybe tonight. Maybe they’ll come back tonight and take me away. That’s what I think about as I push open the front door of the drug store and walk down Main Street toward the truck.


It’s a clear sky and I’m thinking this would be a perfect night for the aliens to return. I stand behind the barn, looking to the east, toward the place I last saw their ship. It was a little trail of light, just like the Silver Surfer riding across the sky. I thought the light was a shooting star, but it changed direction. Shooting stars don’t do that.

I prayed that the light might be Mom and as soon as I did, it came closer. Against the blackness of the sky, it would have been impossible to tell if it was a ship, but the full moon reflected off it. I prayed harder and felt Mom was very close.

After several seconds, the ship flew out of sight. I prayed again but it didn’t return.

The sky is so clear. This would be the perfect night.

Mom must be responsible. I think she wants to bring me to her, wherever she is. She wants us to be together and so do I. I think about her most in the mornings, just before breakfast. I’ll walk downstairs, thinking that she’ll be standing there with fresh fruit cut, milk and cereal ready. But she never is.

It was all too sudden and it was too damn stupid the way she died and it was his fault anyway. If she hadn’t been riding with him, if he hadn’t been driving drunk. But he was. He’ll always be a drunk.

The stars look good tonight. Like they’re waiting for something to happen.


“I need you to bring in the beans and tomatoes. Sam Kaskie’s gonna be stoppin’ by this evenin’.” He doesn’t even say Good morning or What the hell were you doing outside all night? Just Sam Kaskie and his damn beans and tomatoes.

“Yes sir,” I say. I salute him with a spoonful of Corn Flakes, but his back is turned. “I’ll get it done.”

He stands by the coffee pot and pours half a cup. “I need you to take a look at the tractor too. You hear how it just ‘bout died yesterdy?”

“I don’t know what you want me to do about it. I’m not a mechanic.”

He downs his coffee and wipes his face with a handkerchief and I wonder if it’s the same one he used yesterday. “It won’t hurt you to take a look at it,” he says.

Then he’s at the kitchen sink, turning on the cold water and splashing his face. Water drips off his leathery skin. His mouth hangs open like he’s just awakened and doesn’t know where he is. He glances up at the corners of the ceiling like he’s looking for something he’s lost. “You got the air on. Seven-thirty in the mornin’ and you got the air on.” He shakes his head and walks over to the thermostat. The whoosh of cool air coming into the kitchen ends in a whisper. He walks back outside through the kitchen door. I finish my cereal and decide to take a look at the weather on TV before I start on the tomatoes. Maybe we’ll have another clear sky tonight.


It doesn’t take long before I’m working up a sweat from picking tomatoes. The sun feels like it’s right on top of me, sucking out what’s left of my life.

I thought the aliens would come last night. They must have heard her prayers. Did they hear mine?

I suppose they can make her happy, wherever she is. I’m sure they can do that. They can probably do just about anything, maybe even reconstruct her face from the accident. Do they know when I’m thinking about her?

Sometimes I can almost feel Mom standing next to me and sometimes I swear she’s right inside my head, trying to tell me something. I can’t make out her words, or else they’re words I’ve never heard before. Maybe she’s learned a new language where she is now and it’s the only way she can communicate. But I know she’s there. They’ll come. I just have to be patient.

I pick a few more tomatoes from the vine and reach down to place them in the bushel. The sweet smell overwhelms me for a moment and I get lost in an image of Mom slicing tomatoes for an afternoon snack. When I straighten up, the alien is there.

His eyes are two tiny black dots. The nose is just two little slits, like ones you’d make with a knife to vent a baked potato. His mouth opens no larger than a dime. The skin is colorless, transparent. Except for the black eyes, I can only see a vague outline of him as he moves in front of the vines and stalks. I can’t tell anything else about him.

“She will send for you,” the alien says with a calm, lilting voice, “when you are ready.” His eyes seem to grow larger as he looks me over. For a few seconds he shuts his eyes like he’s praying and when he opens them, they’re even bigger.

“She will send for you,” he repeats. The black eyes stare into mine, then shrink to their previous size. “But you are not ready. You are not finished.”

“I just finished,” I say. Then I realize he’s not talking about the tomatoes. I look at him and pull my head back. “What do you mean I’m not finished?”

He turns away. “You are not finished.” He walks into the cornfield and is gone.


My father’s doing it again; the lies, the stories.

We’re sitting at the kitchen table. “Why are you going to Greenville tonight?” I ask him. I look at him sitting across from me and know what’s up.

“I told you, I have a meeting with Mr. Jennings.” He bends over the table eating salmon out of a can, which looks so primitive.

“Who’s Mr. Jennings?”

“I told you, Roy. Mr. Jennings works for the Department of Agriculture. He was supposed to make the rounds and come out here this afternoon. He called and said he couldn’t come and asked for me to meet him.”

I looked at the kitchen clock. “After seven o’clock?”

“That’s right. Said he’s having a right busy day.”

I look at him and wait for that twitch that he sometimes has in the corner of his eye when he’s lying. But he doesn’t do it. He’s gotten good.

“You’re going drinking,” I say.

He drops his head and stares at the gash in the kitchen table. Maybe he remembers making it that night years ago when he was so drunk he threw an iron skillet of Mom’s cooking at her. “No, son. I ain’t going drinking.”

“You’re lying. I’ve never heard of this Mr. Jennings. We’ve had ag men come out here before and none of them were ever named Jennings.”

“He’s new.”

“He’s new,” I say, nodding. “He’s the new bartender at some dive in Greenville, that’s who he is.”


“Go ahead, go on to Greenville, drink it up with Mr. Jennings!” I stand up and don’t even realize I’ve knocked over my chair until I hear it hit the floor. “I’m glad Mom isn’t here to see any more of this. I wish to God I wasn’t.”

I storm out of the kitchen into the night air. I run into the cornfield to lose myself in its high stalks, trying to think about her and forget about him. But the more I think about her, the more I remember all the times she hugged me hard after he’d exhausted himself from yelling and passed out on the floor. And all the times the bastard said he’d change. He swore he’d change.

I hear him start up the truck and head down the dirt road leading to the highway. Go ahead and soak it up with your buddy Mr. Jennings.

I look up into the blackness of the sky. I am so ready. Please. Tonight.


The next morning I walk into the kitchen and notice he hasn’t made coffee. Probably hung over in his bed. I didn’t hear him come in. God knows what time it was.

The truck isn’t outside. The kitchen clock reads 6:35.

The phone rings and just about jerks me out of my skin. He’s probably calling from the county jail.


“Roy Pearce?”


“Sheriff Watson. Roy, did someone bring your dad home last night?”

I knew it. Somebody had to drive him.

“I don’t know. I figured he--- Wait a minute. I’ll check his room.”

Empty. His bed hadn’t been slept in.

I walk back to the phone. “No sir, he didn’t come home.”

Sheriff Watson sighs so loud I have to pull the phone away for a second. “Son, I think you’d better come meet me. I’m on Highway 61 south, about a half mile past the Mt. Olive exit.”

I get dressed and ride my bike out to meet the sheriff. It should have taken fifteen minutes to make it, but I do it in eight. Sheriff Watson and two other policemen stand hovering around our truck parked on the side of the road. I pull up and notice two more policemen looking through the tall grass just beyond the truck.

I move off my bike and Sheriff Watson walks up to me. “Roy,” he says, “I’m sorry to have to call you out here.”

“Is he dead?” I ask.

Sheriff Watson’s eyes narrow. “When’s the last time you saw your father?”

“He left to meet someone in Greenville last night. At least that’s what he said.”

“About what time was that?”

“I dunno. Seven, seven-fifteen. Where is he, in the hospital?”

The sheriff shakes his head. “We don’t know. One of my deputies saw his truck here early this morning.” He points to a small strip of dirt between the truck and the road. “A couple of footprints right here, but that’s all. If he started walking on the shoulder, who knows where he went?”

Especially if he’s drunk.

“Roy, I want you tom come down to the station with me. This is no place to talk.”

“He was going to Greenville to get drunk, Sheriff.”

Sheriff Watson grimaces and looks down at his boots. “Roy, I know what your dad used to do, but he ain’t had a drink since your mother---”

“Sheriff, I live with him. I know what he does. He hasn’t changed. Maybe he’s fooled you into thinking he’s different now. But he hasn’t changed.”


“Your dad knew a lot about farming, Roy. Pulled everything he could out of this little farm.” My Uncle Larry moves his empty lemonade glass in little circles on the kitchen table.

It’s been six weeks and they still haven’t found my father’s body. The memorial service is tomorrow. I don’t know what I’d have done without Larry and his two sons these last several weeks.

I get up to pour Larry another glass. My arm and leg muscles are so stretched they feel like worn out rubber bands. I think back to everything my father used to do on this farm and I realize there’s some truth in what Larry says.

“Roy, your dad’s drinking was a terrible thing. After your mom died, he changed. I know you can’t see it because you haven’t forgiven him, but after the accident, he put all his energy into making this farm work.”

I fill his glass and hand it to him. I feel like having another glass myself, so I finish the pitcher and sit back down. “I’m going to have to sell it, Uncle Larry. I can’t do it by myself. And I can’t ask you to keep helping me; you’ve got your own farm.”

Larry stops moving his glass and gazes at it. “What if I bought it, Roy? Kept it in the family? You could stay here, finish high school.”

I guess the look on my face shows how surprised I am. I never figured Larry would be interested, our farm is so much smaller than his. Maybe he’d give it to one of his sons.

“Just think about it, Roy. Okay?”


I’m sitting on the front porch, watching the evening sun fade away like a sigh. Cricket music begins and I’m thinking about the offer Larry made yesterday, mostly because it keeps me from thinking about the memorial service we held this afternoon.

Larry’s right, the farm should stay in the family. Only I don’t want to work it anymore. I don’t even care about finishing high school. There’s nothing left for me here.

A breeze rushes in and stalks sway lazily in the cornfield. I used to think the field was so small, but it looks bigger now and I see something of the hard work it took to keep it going day after day, year after year.

Something stirs in the cornfield, but the sun is gone and I can’t make out what it is. The sound stops. I can’t hear the crickets anymore either. But I know that the alien is here.

“They send for you,” the alien says. I can’t see him, but I hear his voice.


“Yes. They send for you. You are nearly ready.”

“She does?”

“Yes,” the alien says.

“And him? He’s there?”


“And she’s with him? He’s with her?”

“Yes. Will you come?”

I stand up, madder than I’ve been in a long time. “You tell him,” I yell. And then I look to the stars and they stop me cold. I think that things must be a lot different out there, so different I can’t even imagine it. Maybe the aliens have different rules. Maybe they don’t have any rules at all. I stand there looking at all those stars and it makes me quiet.

But how could they take him? Don’t they know the suffering he’s caused?

“He did change,” the alien says, like he’s reading my mind.

“It was her wish,” the alien continues. “He did change, or we would not have accepted him. It is now their wish that you come. Can you accept this?”

I’ve got so many questions bottled up I don’t know how to let them out. But the alien seems to know my questions, my thoughts. His words come through the corn stalks softly, like a tender rush of wind.

“So many things in this place are not as they should be. When people are ready---willing to change---we are there.”

The thought that somebody - aliens, angels, I don’t know - can mend something so broken, the possibility that any good can come out of everything that’s happened, just the idea of what they’re offering, I----

It’s all too much and the sky is too big and the stars are too many and the world starts spinning so fast. And I realize I’m just a speck in it.

“I need a minute,” I say to the ground, trying to calm my breathing.

I leave the alien and step inside the house. I go to my room and reach underneath the bed for the framed picture that I took down from the living room after the memorial service.

We’re at Six Flags. I am seven. I’ve just gotten off the roller coaster and I’m smiling. Mom is standing to my left, also smiling. She looks so pretty. And there’s Dad on my right. He’s got brown hair and he’s standing straight and tall and proud.

For several minutes I just sit on my bed, staring at the picture.

I slide it back under the bed.

I walk through the kitchen on my way outside where the alien waits. The first thing I notice is the kitchen table and I stop and stare at that gash my father made. I feel the anger rising and I know what I want to do with it, but I think about the picture and realize it’s not about what I want anymore.

I close my eyes and try to breathe slowly.

I got back in my room and get the picture. Gently I lay it on the kitchen table. Over the gash. My breathing slows.

It’s what she wants. What they want.

What we want.

I look out the front door. The stars fill the sky, brighter than I’ve seen then in a long, long time. I close my eyes and step out into them.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Books Read June

Books Read June

Pretty Monsters (YA 2008) - Kelly Link

A superb collection, not just for YA readers. Several of these stories have been previously published and a few were new to me. Nobody else writes weird like Kelly Link does. If you’ve never read her, pick this one up.

Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) - (NF 2008) - Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

The Emergent Movement and its writers (Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, etc.) are making Christianity very approachable to those who are seeking answers to this crazy world. That’s a good thing. But their theology is sometimes questionable. DeYoung (a pastor) and Kluck (a writer for ESPN Magazine!) take a serious look at the Emergent Church.

No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech (NF 2009) - Lucinda Roy

A few thoughts on this book here.

Hostage (2001) - Robert Crais

Suspense thriller about three small-time crooks in way over their heads. These losers rob a convenience store and kill the clerk. Looking for a place to hide out, they break into a Southern California home and hold the family hostage. The only problem? The father being held hostage does the Mob’s taxes. A good page-turner for most of the way.

Wait Till Helen Comes (J-Fic 1986) - Mary Dowling Hahn

Kids’ ghost story that didn’t do much for me mainly due to some really whiny characters. A few creepy moments, though.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (NF 2008) - Tim Keller

Some thoughts here.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (J-Fic 1968) - E.L. Konigsburg

Why do Claudia and her brother Jamie want to secretly live inside The Metropolitan Museum of Art? I had a great time with this book. But of course kids have been having a great time with it for over 40 years.

The Impossible Bird (2002) - Patrick O’Leary

A strange and wonderful story of two brothers, life, death, aliens, reincarnation, hummingbirds and more. O’Leary is a writer you should check out.

Ignore Everybody and 39 Others Keys to Creativity (NF 2009) - Hugh MacLeod

Short book with some real pearls of wisdom from Hugh MacLeod, who draws cartoons on the backs of business cards.

Tooth and Nail (1992) - Ian Rankin

Disappointing third book in the Inspector Rebus series. I never bought into the premise that the Scottish detective would be “invited” to help the London police catch a serial killer. Rankin is a good writer, but this story just seemed forced.

That's it for June. Go read something.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Books Bought June

Just a handful. The economy, ya know....

Secret Lives - Jeff VanderMeer

I noticed awhile back on VanderMeer’s site Ecstatic Days that this signed, illustrated edition from Prime Books was being offered at $20 (normally $35), so I jumped at it. If you’ve never read VanderMeer, you should. Soon. Now would be a good time.

Signed hardcover; Price = $20.00

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind - Ivan Doig

I’d seen this book around without ever giving it much thought until it came up in a Readers’ Advisory workshop a few weeks back. In that workshop, each participant partnered up with someone else and shared a book they liked. Based on the qualities of that book, the other person had to come up with three or four other books they thought the reader would enjoy. This House of Sky was one of the books I recommended to my partner (Her book of choice was the YA classic Hattie Big Sky.). I thought this non-fiction memoir of Doig growing up on a Montana ranch in the 1940s/50s sounded compelling. My good friends at Daedalus Books were more than happy to connect me with the book.

Trade Paperback; Price = $3.98

Poppy and Dingan - Ben Rice

One of the most useful aspects of the Clarion workshop is the one-on-one time with each instructor. I highly value my time with each of them, but I think my time with Kelly Link was the most useful. She not only talked about my writing, but also discussed what I read. She recommended, based on my writing and interests, several books she thought I should read. There are 28 books on that list. Poppy and Dingan is one of them.

Trade Paperback; Price = $3.98

Total expenditures = $27.96

Next time: What I actually read in June. And I haven't forgotten about the short story collection purge. Really.