Cheney: still wrong after all these years

Former veep, elegantly cloaked in fiction

Crediting Dick Cheney for his rebuke of Donald Trump’s bigotry gets no traction with me. Sorry Dick: you can’t make up for decades of reckless decisions and bad policy based on one easy moment of obvious decency. You’re still a modern architect of the very party now on the verge of nominating a racist bully with a wild ego and worse ideas than your own for the White House.

dickedI made a big mistake when I ordered D*cked. A colossal error indeed. What I should’ve done was get the paperback instead of the e-book. That way all the riders on DC Metro would know about my impeccable taste for biting prose and my disdain for wicked human beings.

The real beauty about the compilation titled D*cked: Dark Fiction Inspired by Dick Cheney is that in spite of its premise, the book didn’t turn into a couple of dozen stories about trolls. What was the premise?

“No rules, no quarter. Make him a hero. Make him a perp. Make him a throwaway reference. Whatever fired the writer’s engine. All our authors had to do was craft a fictional, satirical tale inspired by the most vexing juggernaut of modern American politics — Dick Cheney.”

Yes: the troll is there (“Neighborhood Watch” by Rachel Canon). But so is the twisted, murderous perv who designs his own latex Cheney lookalike so he can run his hands up and down the former Veep’s nethers (Keith Rawson’s “The Many Loves of Arthur Snow”); so is futuristic Dick, or his statue anyway, whose reckoning becomes the subject of a high school senior prank in Jimmy Callaway’s “A Restoration of Power and Authority”; Flamethrower Dick gets it on in Greg Bardsley’s “Behind Those Yellow Rapids”.

Full review

The views expressed on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of my employer

San Francisco: Crime and Baseball

San Francisco–can you get any stranger? Spiked baseball bats chained to parking meters all over town. They appeared, 27 of them, on Thanksgiving: preparations for the Black Friday zombie shopper apocalypse?

SF's strange new bat population...
SF’s strange new bat population…

Speaking of crime, baseball, and the City by the Bay: check out Tom Pitts’ Knuckleball…

The whole city of San Francisco wants a cop-killer caught. Over at Giants stadium Hugh Patterson’s jolly mug fills the Jumbotron: 30K reward and the good will of the city, the tabloids, the cops.

Patterson was a good cop. No ordinary beat-walker. Loved his uniform, helping old ladies and handing out stickers to kids. He was a believer, a Giants fan. He was a man of the people until one of the people put a bullet in his head, then five more for good measure.

knuckleball

Patterson’s partner, Vince Alvarez, a cop in golden handcuffs, doing his time until retirement. Bust the baddies and get home to his wife, his high school sweet heart. Doesn’t give a fig about more than that. She’s his reason for being and maybe some day they’ll have kids.

Shooting at 24th and Capp, San Francisco’s Mission District, good cop goes down. Bad cop’s got a shoddy story, looking for someone to pin it on.

Full Review

The Patron Saint of Juvenile Delinquents

Everyone who’s grown up Catholic has a few stories to share, long or short. The good folks at The Citron Review were good enough to publish one of my really short ones:

CONFIRMATION

Mrs. Dever sees their faces but can’t remember what to call them. They all look alike. They all look bored. They all look drugged. They all look through the Bible for the names of saints and prophets they’ll take when done with her course and confirmed by the Bishop as members of the Catholic Church. Mrs. Dever lights up during class in the church basement.

"...the Bishop looks mighty in his Mitre..."
“…the Bishop looks mighty in his Mitre…”

Darren Ford has lice. Harry Brooks got dropped from swimming and everybody knows the swim team takes anyone. Vera Davis is dying to visit her brother at college and doesn’t understand why. Rhonda Watts hopes she’s a nympho, because there’s lots of money in porn and she’s sick of being a poor small-town girl.

Mary Magdalene. Was she a saint?
Is.
Can I use my given name?
Does it have to be a saint?
Why don’t we hear more about the prophet Malachi?
Was Jeremiah a saint?
Jeremiah was a bullfrog.
What about Jesus? Was He a saint?
Is.

Visit The Citron Review and read it all.

Debut San Francisco Cyber-Noir

Mark Richardson’s Hunt for the Troll (New Pulp Press) is a step up from ordinary pulp. It’s what happens to San Francisco noir when the shiny new promise of Silicon Valley comes to town, pushing back the fog to play some light in the corners. In this case, the light is more ominous than the dark. Our comfortable eyes, adjusted to the power outage, are burned by the glare when the lights go on.

Gone is the reluctant hero and snubnose pistol stoicism; in their place are dot.com entrepreneurism and quantum computing. Gone are the troubled dame and her leggy needs; in their place are the chessboard and another step toward transhumanism.

hftt

The narrator’s a cipher, a man without a name, an identity tattooed on his arm in binary code and a bad-ass alter-ego in the gaming world of Centre Terrain. He’s king and serf in his own domain, part creator and part creation. His story proceeds between worlds: the real world of breakfasts and sex; the gaming paradise he helped build, not unlike a Tolkien wet dream; and that place between sleep and wakefulness that isn’t a dream but nor is it quite real. Is it?

More

The Blind Rooster Jumps to Paperback

Preston Lang’s The Blind Rooster (Crime Wave Press) is now more pulpy than ever before. It’s recently been made available in paperback!

Reading this dime-store crime tale is a lot like people-watching at the Laundromat: the major figures resemble coin-op types, people resigned to the vague indignity of paying to have their underwear tumble around in a public washer. And don’t take your eyes off them for a moment—they’d just as soon pinch a quarter from your pocket as take your favorite pair of jeans from a hot dryer.

rooster

Review

This summer I pretended to sit down with Lang to talk about a few things. We covered the emotional intelligence of peanut eaters, the role of fire hydrants in the government’s summer emergency plans, and the collected work of Franklin W. Dixon, among other things.

If you’re eager for more Preston Lang when you finish, check out his crime books: The Carrier and The Blind Rooster.

Skip the small talk and heading straight to it: Interview with Preston Lang

Kingly Reads for the Throne

Eight great books to get you through those lonely moments with the fan on. Presented in no particular order—the right book will depend on your mood, and the size of the job before you.

1. The Onion Ad Nauseum
This is closest to reading the old classic: an actual newspaper. It’s a little heavy to hold, but more than makes up for its weight with sheer levity. Also, a lot more manageable than the original broadsheet.

2. Our Dumb World—Atlas of the Planet Earth 73rd Edition (the Onion)
Perfect companion piece to the first recommendation. The Atlas takes us around the world marking important historical events such as U.S. engagement with Iraq in 2001, when President George W. Bush deployed 15 top officials to the country “on an excuse-finding mission.”

3. Shakespeare’s Insults for Teachers—Wayne F. Hill & Cynthia J Ottchen
You don’t have to be a teacher to use these witty ripostes against the children, parents, and administrators who plague your time. Blast your bosses and other nags with lines like: “I will do nothing at thy bidding. Make thy requests to thy friend.” (Timon of Athens 1.1.267-8)

4. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook—Piven & Borgenicht
The best part of my copy of this important text is the note from Christmas 2004 that reads: “Dear Chris, Whoever (Ben): May you never experience the worst case scenario. Affectionately, REDACTED”. What this shows us is the utility of such a book as a gift-giving item. Contents include bountiful illustrations and simple directions on how to handle Great Escapes and Entrances, Leaps of Faith, The Best Defense, and Adventure Survival.

5. Earth (The Book) A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race—The Daily Show with John Stewart Presents)
It’s funny because it’s true.

6. English as a Second F*cking Language—Sterling Johnson
This gem in the shape of Strunk & White’s classic treatise on grammar goes far beyond our expectations in the proper use of cusswords. It categorizes, for example, the Need to Know, Nice to Know, and Forget Its when finding colorful ways of admiring particular feminine curves. The book itself falls into the category of Need to Have, with brilliant examples of usage on every page: “I shit a brick” (See the IDIOMS section) “I shit a porcupine” (See a good proctologist).

7. I Am America (and So Can You)—Stephen Colbert
If you miss the real faux Stephen, here’s your chance to reacquaint yourself with his original brand of humor. Best for shorter stints… there’s really only so much we can take of it.

8. Any collection of David Sedaris essays.

Bonus Read: Wake Up and Smell the Shit
This collection of short stories is so terrible you won’t feel bad about ripping it up and using it for toilet paper. Remember to call Joe the Plumber soon afterwards, however, since this pulp will wreck your sewage. Full review coming soon.

Review: C.S. DeWildt’s Love You to a Pulp

C.S. DeWildt’s Love You to a Pulp packs two narratives, tight spirals driving like hammerdrills against the cranium til they breach the dark cavern beneath. You’ll know it when you get there underground with him.

In the first narrative glue-nose dick Neil McGrath sniffs out a mystery involving the pharmacist’s daughter in a Podunk southern town. In the second, McGrath is raised hard by a degenerate father. Drugs, violence, sex (& incest) propel the present. Booze, violence, sex (& incest) litter the past. The present arc comes off with varying degrees of coherence, owing in part to a protagonist warped by a lifetime of headblows and vapor trails. The past is blackness, full of cobwebs and caves, things too awful for a child to bear:

She whined as the filthy men ravaged her and she watched the boy, stumbling on newly found legs over the bottle-littered stead, looking at the scene periodically only when a severe thrust did bring a shriek from his mother’s lips. She looked away and saw McGrath in the doorway of their shared clapboard, a still silhouette like a graven idol backlit and flickering in the light of a single oil lantern.

love you to a pulp

Both narratives trade hits, one-two punches, each knocking down the other, chapter by chapter. Together they bring on hangovers, shiners, doses of regret that’ll test the grit of any crime fiction aficionado; together they inspire awe and reflection. More importantly they dignify a genre more often defined by shitty writing and fake-ass tough guys. Love You to a Pulp is the real deal: hard and fast, but also rich with literary merit.

Full Review

Other Reviews

The Halloween Hundred

Dragons Are Dangerous

Mulridge interrogated the boy, chilled by his flat voice and steady hands. Twenty years in police psychiatry, he’d never met so cold a child.
“You’re a knight?” Mulridge said. “Is that dragon blood on your costume?”
“I’m a knight. Knights kill dragons.”

dragon
“Did you know the dragon you killed was your brother?”
“Dragons are dangerous.”
“Did the dragon threaten you? Or attack?”
“It breathed fire. So I killed it.”
“Fire? Out his mouth?”
“The fire came out the wrong end.”
“The wrong end?”
“It lifted its tail and breathed fire at me, so I ran it through with my sword.”

Better Than the Local Library

Anyone interested in reviewing books should know about Edelweiss, a free online catalog housing a seemingly endless collection of forthcoming and recently-released titles.

I can tell you what Edelweiss is, and I can walk you through how I use Edelweiss to select books for review. But the best way to really understand what’s available there is to take a look for yourself. It’s easy enough (and free) to create an account.

mountains-and-riverBW880t

In the “Review Copies” tab, users can browse for books, link to in-depth summaries, see comparable titles, and access a host of other industry-related information. But best of all, the system makes it easy to request advanced reading copies and digital review copies of titles that look good. Some are immediately available for download to your Kindle or other device, while others require a quick note to the publisher (the system stores your standard message, something as simple as “I post reviews of literary and crime fiction for the 2.5k followers who read my blog at yadayadayada.wordpress.com” will do).

I’ve requested and downloaded almost 40 books in the last year and a half. I’ve reviewed about a dozen of these (some of my review copies come from other sources). So far as I know there is no penalty for requesting a copy and not doing a review (or, for that matter, for including negative commentary here and there). Between 90-95% of the titles I’ve requested have come within a few days. Some have taken a little longer, and only one request has been outright rejected.

Edelweiss describes itself as “a web-based interactive publisher catalog system that enhances or replaces the use of hard copy catalogs… Use of Edelweiss is completely free for booksellers, librarians, reviewers, and other professional readers.” Read on!

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Writers at Rest

Taking a break from producing fiction? A couple of reads that offer ridiculous, pathetic, sad, witty, funny–fun–looks at the fiction-writer’s life include The Visiting Writer, a short story from Matthew Vollmer’s collection Gateway to Paradise, and Chris Belden’s novel, Shriver.

The Visiting Writer delivers us into the world of literary aspiration, a lament on the lack of success, a self examination, perhaps, of the baser cravings and realities of scribes too early in their careers to have realized lasting achievement: “As an untenured professor, I depended upon a world of illusions to sustain my artistic legitimacy…” He’s an “emerging” writer (though emerging from what, not even he could have said). Oh, he’s published a novel but its worth just a cent on eBay, and his work’s appeared in print, but in those places that pay two contributor copies, and in all honesty even his current position with the university is a gift grafted onto his wife’s teaching contract. He amounts to so little in the world, in fact, that even the bathroom faucets fail to register his existence.

So what happens when the visiting writer seems to signal the possibility of a fling? It’s an innocent dinner with a woman old enough to be his grandmother, yet the allure is there. A willing participant, he grinds the butt of her cigarette against the sole of his shoe, literally her human ash-tray. She invites him to escort her to her room, with a purpose, and puts her card “into—and out of—a slot”. The human ash tray thinks, “As idiotically self-destructive as it was, I couldn’t help wonder what it might be like to open up a hole in my life, to slip into a darker realm where I would be utterly—and no doubt deleteriously—transformed.” In ways the reader might not predict The Visiting Writer gives us aspiration, humiliation, abject failure, and a reality more soul-crushing than a mailbox full of generic rejection slips.

Chris Belden’s Shriver, meanwhile, might be called a book about a novelist who wrote a book called Goat Time which everybody seems to enjoy but nobody seems to have read, at least not entirely, including not the author Shriver himself. Add to this nonsensical loop a few day’s worth of swarming mosquitoes, a crate or two of whiskey, and a parade of cheerleaders, lurking shadows, and self-centered artists through a mid-western college town and voila: a quick, witty parody of modern-day writerly conferences.

Shriver, reissued late last month by Touchstone Books, manages to be witty without pretense, absurd without hopelessness, a literary romp roiling with characters who are simple yet evolved, endearing and funny. Best of all, they are fun to be around. Read more about it here.