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New Short Story – Behind You

Hi all, I’ve resurfaced from an orgy of writing to deliver the following news. I’ve got a new short story out, which was set up as part of a neat publishing deal with Writer’s House. The short story–and those that will follow it–are part of a book imprint I’m now in charge of: Ash Lane Books.

Every month or so, I’ll be releasing a new short. They’ll all be priced at $1.00 unless they have bonuses or are part of a bundle.

Most of the stories will be spooky, but not-quite-horror. I’m not a big fan of writing gore and violence. I do, however, love psychological horror and old fashioned ghost stories.

Which brings us to the weirdness of Behind Youthe first story in the collection. Here’s the official description:

“Here again?” I said. It was the first time I spoke to him.

“Here always,” said James Schubert. It was the first time he spoke to me. He sat in a corner with his back against the wall.

There’s a reason why James Schubert never moves from his spot with his back against the wall. In the days of the California Gold Rush, James saw terrible things. And when he’s finished spinning his tale, nothing will ever be the same.

Can’t you just hear the spooky ghost town wind? Can’t you? I love this story. It was a blast to write. It’s been edited by some pros and I can’t wait to hear what you think.

You can get it for one dollar by following that link, or clicking the cover below. The story runs over 9,000 words, which is roughly 36 double spaced pages.

 

behind-you

Thank you all.

PS: for everyone who has asked about other upcoming writing, I just turned in the fifth draft of a novel (cross your fingers), and am hard at work on a much longer project called All The Men Are Dying. 

 

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Oliver Sacks and an Essay Worth Reading

It’s hard for me to express how much I have loved Oliver Sacks and his work. Like many people I know, I first heard of him because of the movie Awakenings. I forgot about the movie fairly quickly, but immediately went on to devour every book he had written.

A couple of years ago when I got a gift card for Barnes and Noble at Christmas, I immediately used it to get his latest book Hallucinations, and to replace my worn copy of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. 

When I was looking for blurbs for The World’s Strongest Librarian, my editor, agent and I thought my story might be of interest to a man with such an immoderate fascination in brains gone wrong. We received a very gracious denial, stating that Mr. Sacks’ eyesight was already so poor that he was no longer able to read as he wished.

He is now 81 and has written an op-ed about a sobering development in his health. It is worth the time to read it.

Mr. Sacks, thank you for everything. You are loved and always will be.

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A New Way To Look at Wrenches

Hi all, I’m back, despite ongoing challenges with the website. All will be well soon.

I felt the need today to share a story of tool-centric mayhem. I saw what may very well be the worst tattoo in history. Now, the sad truth is that most tattoos are bad, whether you are an enthusiast or you think tattoos are trash.

The wrong design, on the wrong person, on the wrong muscle, with improper execution/color/intention/needles. It can–and does–go wrong in so, so many ways.

However, this one was a very high-quality tattoo. Of a crescent wrench the length of a man’s forearm. The crescent wrench was wreathed in flames. Three yellow banners were interlaced with the flames, and the banners held the words, thusly displayed:

WRENCH

TILL

DEATH.

Now then, what do you make of this? Is this just a man who will never stop using a wrench? Is the wrench a metaphor for unknown, wrenching traumas?

It made about as much sense to me as having a tattoo of a pencil sharpener that said:

NEVER

DULL

TICONDEROGA #2 FOREVER

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Two Things, One Great, One Murderous

First of all:

I got engaged over the holidays. I am getting remarried in October of 2015, and I get to have my wedding in MARK TWAIN’S HOUSE in Hartford! I didn’t talk much about the divorce publicly, and won’t be doing so, but thank you to all of you who’ve been so concerned. Everything is getting better.

Second of all:

At the library yesterday, there was an interaction that led to someone telling me:

“I’ll kill you with my dick!”

“Highly unlikely,” I said, and I stand by my assessment. Few of us know the manner by which we shall depart this life. I am confident that I will not die because of anyone’s dick.

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Exploits of a Booklicker

Not so long ago, this may have happened.

I was sitting at a desk with a colleague. A woman nearby began licking a book with great enthusiasm.

Lick lick lick.

Then she’d hold it away from her and squint at it, assessing.

We were so thunderstruck that neither of us did anything.

Lick lick lick. 

Finally it was enough. Enough licking, I mean. She frowned at the book, which was now very wet. She scrubbed the open book furiously on her leg.

Shortly afterwards, a librarian was heard to say to another librarian, from whose collection the book had come, “Someone was seen licking this book.”

He did not know how to respond. So it goes.

Update: To clarify, the book was open. The inner pages were being licked, not the covers. 

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A Terrifying Tale

I have a six year old son. He suddenly wants to hear scary stories every spare minute. And if I invent them on the fly, so much the better.

He has a ranking system. He says things like “Tell me a story that’s nineteen scary. No. Five hundred scary.” Occasionally he’ll ask for infinity scary, but I’ve restrained myself.

Recently he said, “Tell me a fifty scary story. With a zombie.”

I said, “Okay. Once upon a time, there were two guys. One was named Jim, and the other was named Bob.”

“Oh….that does sound scary,” he said with complete wide-eyed sincerity.

Then I laughed and we read Captain Underpants instead because I couldn’t figure out what to do with Bob and Jim.

 

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A Few Words on A Christmas Carol

It’s been an embarrassing time to be human. Amid the latest waves of massacres, rapes, riots, and other shameful acts, I’ve found myself nourishing my inner curmudgeon and misanthrope with a bunch of books that I’m not going to tell you about.

I wore myself out and then found myself frantically looking for something cheerful.

Then I watched A Muppet Christmas Carol with my son recently, and there it was, echoing across the ages, nay, across time itself! My favorite opening line in all of literature:

Marley was dead: to begin with.

Morbid? Maybe, if taken out of context. But after I put my boy in bed, I got out my copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and read it through in one sitting. The story is so familiar that it hardly bears reviewing. But if somehow you missed it, here’s the plot:

The Christmas-hating, employee-abusing miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. They show him how his actions and heartlessness have affected others, and the dreadful fate which awaits him if he doesn’t mend his ways.

And so, of course, he awakes on Christmas morning with love in his heart and goes about buying big fat turkeys and giving his employee a raise.

Lesser versions of me, versions that I’m not fond of, have at times found this tale to be saccharine to the point of inducing seizures. As my opinions of the world have darkened—is it not a heinous tragedy that the choice often seems to be between being happy and being informed?—I’ve felt like Scrooge more often than I’ve felt like Bob Cratchit. And  I’ve never had an attitude half as charitable as Tiny Tim.

Nearly everything I see lately has made me want to yell “Bah! Humbug!”

And yet, when I closed A Christmas Carol this time, I felt more peace than I had in weeks. This is one of the many powers of books. The best books can make us want to be better people. A Christmas Carol made me want to be a better person this time around. I wasn’t rooting for Scrooge. I wasn’t rolling my eyes. I wasn’t feeling cynical. I just wanted to weep for humanity. I’d spent the better part of December seeing nothing but the gloomy silhouette of The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

But now, I am recommitting to a kind and gentle life, a life of quiet service and dignity. Maybe it won’t last. But maybe it will. All because a man named Charles Dickens wrote a book one hundred and seventy one years ago. A book that brought me to tears on a dark night in my thirty seventh year.

You can benefit from A Christmas Carol without the aid of faith, without “God bless us every one.” I did, for the first time in my life. But I don’t think any but the Scroogiest can finish this book without feeling a little better than when they started it.

We need sweeping changes in the world, but they will be accomplished through innumerable small steps. Each of us committing to treat others more kindly is a good place to start.

I needed this book so badly this month. If you’ve felt down recently, please consider reading A Christmas Carol and smiling at a stranger while you’re out walking.

I’ll be doing the same.

 

 

 

 

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The Babadook! Ray Bradbury! Clifford!

If any of you are fans of psychological horror, it doesn’t get any better than the Australian film The Babadook. It’s available as a stream on Amazon.  It’s not a go-for-broke gorefest, and some will say it’s too slow, but don’t listen to them. I’ve never been quite this unnerved by a movie. No less than the director of The Exorcist has called it one of the most terrifying movies he’s ever seen.

In other news: Norman Ray Bridwell, the author of the Clifford the Big Red Dog series, has died. When my girlfriend moved to Salt Lake to live with me, she brought two original drawings from Mr. Bridwell, which he drew for her at an elementary school assembly long ago. They’re enormous, and are hanging on one of our walls.

Bridwell was a treasure. I’m so happy he was part of my childhood.

Also, I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 again. I’d forgotten too much of it. There are some books that are worth reading every few years. They don’t change, but I do. 451 is one of them. If you’re a Ray Bradbury fan, here’s one of my favorite interviews with him.

Be well, friends.

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A Brief Note On Knowing Things

The blog problems continue from a technical standpoint, so screw it. I’ve changed the theme while I try to fix it, because I’m tired of not writing. So! Pardon the mess and read the words if you’re still feeling charitable towards me. 

I’ve been in some conversations about knowledge recently. The fantastic book Plato At The Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away is partially to blame.

Here is the sum total of how I think about knowledge right now:

Knowing where to find an answer can feel like knowing the answer. Being able to look up the definition of a word–or all words–on your phone can feel like knowing the meaning of that word, or words.

It’s not the same thing. Does this matter? It matters to me.

Finding it doesn’t mean you know how to use it. It’s not the same thing as internalizing a concept that you can then use to weigh your actions against.

My greatest fear is living as if I know enough. As if I’ve read enough, or asked enough questions. As if I might already have learned the most important things.

The fact that I can look up the answers to any questions is, paradoxically, sometimes the very thing that keeps me from asking questions. That might not make sense if you haven’t experienced it, but it’s real for me, and it always leads to a less satisfying mental life.

There is a joy in figuring things out. When thumb typing questions into a search engine is the default, something precious is lost.

 

 

 

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