Category Archives: Authors

Breaking into the mansion

The mansion was the way I’d always feared a mansion would be, only more so. In my fear I’d never managed to conjure the spectacular astounding details. A quick inventory of only this one room made me hate myself. Made me hate myself and all my type that came before me. This mansion was sixteen levels higher than any place I’d ever been among.

As I stared about – gawked, probably – I likely blushed pink to go along with those trembles.

I’d say what such things as I saw in that room were, if I knew the proper names of such things, though I’d bet heavy I’ve never heard those names spoken. I’m sure such things have personal names – those moody lampshades made of beadwork, and a chair and a footstool put together with, like, weaved leather hung on frames of curled iron or polished rare bones, maybe, and end tables that had designs stabbed into them and stuffed with gold leaf or something precious, a small and swank desk over by the far wall, and a bookshelf so old our Revolution must’ve happened off to the sides of it, carved up with fine points and nicely shined, with a display of tiny statues and dolls arranged just so all across it.

Pretty soon I crawled away from the light, back to the dark parts of the mansion. That sinking feeling set in. Truly, I felt scared, embarrassed for the poorly decorated life I was born to.

The mansion is not but about a rifle shot distant from the trailer park, but it seemed like I’d undergone interplanetary travel. I’d never collided with this world before.

– Daniel Woodrell, Tomato Red

Go read Knockemstiff

You think you had it hard?  You didn’t have it hard.  The folks in Knockemstiff have it hard.

A collection of short stories set in the hardest-ass landscape you’re going to see this side of doing hard time.  Get ready to get pounded in the face.  Go on.  Get in there and see if you can take it.

Not for the squeamish, and not for the easily entertained.  But you’re here, right?  That’s not what you’re looking for.

Donald Ray Pollock worked a paper mill for 32 years before deciding to try his hand as a writer.  I’d say he’s done pretty well for himself.

 

Donigan Merritt goes e-bookin' – buy it

Noted author Donigan Merritt has made his 1982 debut, One Easy Piece, available as a Kindle book.

Here is what Donigan has to say about it:

One Easy Piece was my first published novel; it came out in late 1982, before I had finished work for the MFA degree from Iowa, which I received in December of that year. It has been out of print for just less than forever, although in its day it sold very well. It’s been a while, but one word sticks out as common among the newspaper reviews of its day: harrowing. Yes, I think it is harrowing reading.

One Easy Piece was originally titled “The Devil You Know,” which is the novel’s epigram — few of the original titles of my books have made it all the way to publication. The basic idea, or theme, of this novel came from a program aired on “60 Minutes” back then about wife abuse and a look into the lives of women hiding out in a “safe house.” What most intrigued me about the story was how many of the women were forgiving of their abusers, how many had returned to the man, or would return. My wondering about this eventually lead to the story of this novel. Conversations with three women who had been abused by husbands or boyfriends constituted the bits of pieces that created the characters here.

One Easy Piece costs less than a Starbucks latte and has traveled almost three decades to reach you.  Go pick it up.

Donigan also plans on releasing it in iPad and Nook format soon.

Donigan Merritt goes e-bookin’ – buy it

Noted author Donigan Merritt has made his 1982 debut, One Easy Piece, available as a Kindle book.

Here is what Donigan has to say about it:

One Easy Piece was my first published novel; it came out in late 1982, before I had finished work for the MFA degree from Iowa, which I received in December of that year. It has been out of print for just less than forever, although in its day it sold very well. It’s been a while, but one word sticks out as common among the newspaper reviews of its day: harrowing. Yes, I think it is harrowing reading.

One Easy Piece was originally titled “The Devil You Know,” which is the novel’s epigram — few of the original titles of my books have made it all the way to publication. The basic idea, or theme, of this novel came from a program aired on “60 Minutes” back then about wife abuse and a look into the lives of women hiding out in a “safe house.” What most intrigued me about the story was how many of the women were forgiving of their abusers, how many had returned to the man, or would return. My wondering about this eventually lead to the story of this novel. Conversations with three women who had been abused by husbands or boyfriends constituted the bits of pieces that created the characters here.

One Easy Piece costs less than a Starbucks latte and has traveled almost three decades to reach you.  Go pick it up.

Donigan also plans on releasing it in iPad and Nook format soon.

Three old friends

The other night I re-read three old friends.

The gentleman.

The first was Nagai Kafu’s “The Peony Garden.”  I re-read this story every few months.  I read it the first time in 1999 or 2000, if memory serves.  I think it is probably my favorite short story of all time.  If I could write a short story this good, I would be satisfied.

It is pitch-perfect in every respect.  Simple and elegant, yet a portentous aesthetic achievement.

I once had a goal of doing a new translation of this story from the Japanese.  But then what with all my and then my family’s nomadism these last years, my copy of the Japanese volume got lost somewhere.  Also, my Japanese has slowly ossified and I don’t know that I’d be up to the task any longer, not without lots and lots of help from a dictionary, which no doubt would render the translation not an improvement over the one we’ve got.

Anyway, even in current translation, as fine a short story as exists in my known universe.  I re-read it every few months just to see where I’m trying to get, one way or another.

Speaking of nomadism, moving into our own house has finally allowed me to free a few shelves of books from dusty boxes in the basement out at the farm in Nebraska.  Among them was Best American Short Stories 2001, which I bought somewhere along the line.  Read all the stories faithfully that year, I’m sure, then promptly forgot them all.  Except for “Labors of the Heart,” by Claire Davis.

The lady.

The utterly unsentimental tale of a very fat man in love with a very thin and bitter woman stuck with me for years, even after I’d forgotten the title of the story and its author.  Last night some googling around revealed that I had the story back in my possession.  So I sat down and re-read it, for the first time in, what, 9 years.

I’ll admit, I was inwardly cringing a little, afraid that the story would not measure up to my memories of it.  Not to worry.  If anything, I appreciated it all the more for the years of writing and living since the last time I read.  A story packed to the gills with wisdom, packaged as a wonderfully orchestrated sentences.

I think I’ll be re-reading this one every few months from here on out, too.

The rock star.

Lastly, Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, which, like Brad Watson’s “Visitation,” managed to get into the New Yorker despite not being composed of sleeping pills masquerading as sentences.  It’s the only one of these three available online; read it here.  I did, again, last night.

Like “Labors of the Heart,” it’s been some years since I’d read this piece.  I must have read it in Best American Short Stories 2004, possibly while I was first in Thailand, or maybe one time when I was back for Xmas or something.  I can’t remember.  Anyway, it was another of those stories that stuck with me through the years, the image of the homeless Indian heroically wandering the streets of Seattle trying to get back his mother’s pow-wow regalia.

Quirky and fantastic, not a word out of place.

Old friends.

Read Aliens In The Prime Of Their Lives

I’ve read two amazing short story collections recently, both by authors who are still alive. It’s wonderful when that happens.

One of them is Aliens In the Prime Of Their Lives, by Brad Watson. My Kindle was a-humming with page clicks when I downloaded this baby. I read each story at least three times; some more four and five times. Like “Visitation,” which you can read at the New Yorker. The opening paragraph:

Loomis had never believed that line about the quality of despair being that it was unaware of being despair. He’d been painfully aware of his own despair for most of his life. Most of his troubles had come from attempts to deny the essential hopelessness in his nature. To believe in the viability of nothing, finally, was socially unacceptable, and he had tried to adapt, to pass as a believer, a hoper. He had taken prescription medicine, engaged in periods of vigorous, cleansing exercise, declared his satisfaction with any number of fatuous jobs and foolish relationships. Then one day he’d decided that he should marry, have a child, and he told himself that if one was open-minded these things could lead to a kind of contentment, if not to exuberant happiness. That’s why Loomis was in the fix he was in now.

I haven’t done a review around here in a long time; fortunately Tom Bennitt over at Fiction Writer’s Review picks up the slack and gets the job done. His reaction was more or less mine:

At times I asked myself, how human are these characters? Are they alive, or are they perhaps dead spirits wandering in search of their past lives? Whatever the answer, and despite their often hopeless plights, I cared about these characters and was moved by them. I attribute this to Watson’s great skill as a writer; his voice in each of theirs carried me seamlessly through this collection.

Get your hands upon this one.

"What it's like living here" up at Numero Cinq

I have a piece of creative nonfiction up at Numero Cinq.  I was deeply flattered when the estimable Douglas Glover requested the essay, and then provided helpful comments and edits when I did.

Please head on over and have a look.  Thanks.