And thanks to David Wisehart for the support.
…and it’s another short story, available for free, at Smashwords!
Thor (not the Norse god, just regular-guy Thor) goes shopping to get a birthday present for a friend and finds a great deal on an item that’s way too cool to give away. But, of course, things quickly start going terribly wrong…
I have a new story available on Smashwords. It’s called “The Part-Timer,” and it’s free. Check it out!
Gilbert Ragwater, the protagonist from the novel Open Stage, returns in this short story. He’s faced with an overly aggressive job seeker who wants to work in Ragwater’s music store–and won’t take no for an answer.
In honor of the month of May, I’ve decided to run a buy-one-get-one-free promotion for Ray Holland Kindle editions. Here’s how it works:
1. Go to Amazon and buy a copy of The Hookie Pookie Man for only 99 cents.
2. In your e-reader, search for the word snow. You’ll also find snowball, but we want snow. It will appear once, very early in the book. So if you haven’t read that far, there’ll be no problem with spoiling vital plot points.
4. Wait. Within a day or two I’ll send you a .mobi file of the other book you requested as an attachment via return email.
This offer is good through the month of May and will expire on midnight, June 1, 2011, EST.
An epidemic of teenage suicide is sweeping through the town of Gethsemane, Ohio. At least, suicide is how it appears to the townfolk. It appears to the reader, though, that there’s more to these deaths than meets the eye.
While the story is based on a solid horror genre premise, I think the true strength of the novel lies in the characters. Steven Wrigley is a high school senior living with his dad; his mother has died. He’s a loner, as is his father, and although the two seem to genuinely love each other, there’s no true connection between them–no closeness. Although both feel the space between them and wish they could develop a closer relationship, neither one knows quite how to go about it.
The Sorrow King is a story about love, loss, and sorrow (obviously) and its place in our lives–leading into the idea that it’s a necessary part of the human experience. That’s not to say, though, that the supernatural elements are tacked on after the fact. Not at all. This is, after all, a horror novel–but one that takes some time to go into greater depth with the characters that one might normally expect.
I have a sort of on-again, off-again love affair with photography, so when I saw the cover of Brian Cartwright’s new book Losing the Light (from Atlatl Press), with the cover photo of a young-looking woman holding a camera in front of her face, presumably lining up a shot, my interest perked up.
Quique Martinez is a burned-out, globetrotting photographer who shots gatefold girls for Raconteur magazine. The publication is owned by a cynical, ethically-challenged man named Underhill who give Quique’s work heavy airbrush treatment and has no greater regard for true art than for hack work produced simply to fill up pages. Quique decides to go to the North Africa to get away from his boss, perhaps hoping to find something fulfilling. Once in Morocco, he strikes out into the desert, at which point he goes through a surrealistic, hallucinogenic sequence of encounters with the important people in his life . . . and then the book moves on to the story’s conclusion.
It’s hard to know what more to say about this book. All the elements of the plot are so well-integrated, and the story is told with such economy, that saying much of anything specific about it runs the risk of disclosing spoilers. Well, let’s go with a few general comments:
A lot happens in a mere 70 pages. I commented in a previous review that a novella-length book had the scope of a novel, and I would say the same thing about this one. That’s not to say I think it should have been developed into a full-blown novel. Although I wouldn’t mind a bit more backstory in regard to Quique’s development as a photographer (pun intended), I don’t think I’m asking for more than a five or six more pages at most to bring it off nicely. Otherwise, I think it’s good as is.
A number of life-as-an-artist-related themes run through the story, including a hard look at the dichotomy between art and the fact that it has to be treated as a product if the artist is to make a living at it. The artist has to find his place in the world and make peace with it if he’s to function.
Cartwright finds a nice spot for Quique in the “art vs. commercial product” continuum. In fact, I would say it’s an ideal spot. We see that he clearly has artistic sensibilities and intentions. Yet—by contrast—he doesn’t descend into the self-important, head-in-the-clouds attitude we saw, for example, so wonderfully portrayed in Barton Fink (a portrayal that worked very well in the film, but which would be disastrous in this story). Quique has a realistic and fairly sensible view of his situation.
The book is full of “bizarro elements,” yet it doesn’t have the feel of a full-blown bizarre book. The opening scene takes place on a golf course laid out on the backs of a series of enormous turtles out at sea. Subsequently, Quique is seen at a photo shoot discovering that his model is, in fact, not a human but a water nymph. And there’s more. Yet, as important as the weird elements are in regard to giving context to the issues Quique faces and to creating the dreamlike atmosphere that contributes to the book’s distinctive feel, they seem to remain in the background. I get the sense that one could “deconstruct” the story and with only very minor retooling, build a new version without anything bizarro going on. The new version would, admittedly, have a wholly different look and feel, but could very well make equivalent statements about art. And so, despite the assortment of otherworldly characters, this is very much a book about the real world.
This is a book that’s best read at least twice. The second time, you’ll have a different perspective on events, knowing how everything ties together and where the story is going. In fact, read it more than twice. As noted earlier, there’s a lot going on, and I’m inclined to believe it’ll reward as many readings as you want to give it.
In this new installment of Meta Crossover Reality Conversations, Maxwell from Open Stage interviews the Neuralgia Sisters from Goliath. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a long time—too long, in fact. It would seem that Maxwell had a great deal of trouble pinning the ladies down to a specific time for their discussion.
“They kept making all sorts of unreasonable demands,” he wrote me in an email. “They wanted Narcissio Calvani gowns, a stretch limousine to take them to and from the interview, a camera crew to film it, and a quart of milk from the gas station down at the corner. Needless to say, I’m not going to run around on shopping trips for people.” Nor did I expect him to.
I got on the phone, and it took several calls over the course of a week to make them see the light. They kept asking things like, “What’s in it for us?” and “Do we have to tell the truth?” and all sorts of other things. Finally, I threatened to put them in another novel and make them groupies for a hop-hop polka band touring on the bowling alley circuit. The N sisters are tough, but by golly, they’re not tough enough to endure that.
And so it was that Maxwell emailed me once again: “We were supposed to meet at Olive’s Coffee Shop on a Saturday at noon. I’ll have you know, my friend, that I showed up on time, freshly shaven and with a list of highly topical questions. I sat at a corner booth waiting for them. Did you know that place had music playing inside, like, coming from nowhere? I mean, no one had any instruments. It was very strange.
“I drank five and six-sevenths cups of coffee, and at a quarter after two they finally showed up, giggling at each other like little girls and giving all the customers dirty looks and then giggling at each other some more. It didn’t take long for most of the customers, feeling uneasy, to leave. This suited the sisters just fine. They poured all the leftover coffee and tea and other drinks on the floor, then threw the leftover food at the walls and smushed some of it into the now-wet floor with their feet—giggling, of course, like little girls the whole time.
“And the employees, for some reason, seemed scared of them. They—the employees, that is—stood behind the counter and watched in horror as the N Sisters ran amok through the place, creating a holy mess. Well, they weren’t really running amok. It was more like walking, but no matter what you call it, those girls were certainly ill-behaved. And enjoying it, no less! I’m sure their mother must be very, very disappointed. Ray, does she know how they act in public? She didn’t teach them that, did she?
“Finally, they sat down at my table and primped their hair, acting as if nothing unusual had happened except that occasionally they would burst out giggling like little girls. Then they had the nerve—the unmitigated audacity—to start threatening me. They were going to start doing all sorts of awful things to me if I wrote anything that would make them look bad.
“Well, I ask you, Ray: What else could I possibly write? But that’s neither here nor there. In the interest of carrying out my assignment, I liked to them. I assured them I would make sure they would end up looking like the very saints themselves. I got the right word, didn’t I? Saints? Anyway, that seemed to satisfy them, and we had a very nice chat.”
And that was all he wrote. Once again, I was picking up the phone, this time to call Maxwell. “Where’s the interview?” I asked.
“It was at the coffee shop,” he said.
“No, I mean in the article. You have all this stuff leading up to it, and then you stopped. Where’s the interview?”
“You wanted me to write about the interview?”
“Yes! That was the whole idea. Otherwise, all this other stuff is completely pointless.”
“But really, they didn’t say anything interesting. I think most of it was a big pack of lies, if you want to know my opinion.”
“Let me be the judge of that. You were supposed to interview them and report what they said.”
“Well, now, Ray, if you’re going to be giving people assignments like this, you really have to be more precise with your instructions.”
“Far be it from me to expect a little common sense,” I said.
“There’s no need to be like that about it.”
A number of ideas went through my head. I thought about telling him to reconstitute the interview from memory, but I doubted that he’d be able to do a competent job. I thought about telling him to try it again, but I was sure that no one had the heart to go through all that a second time, especially the innocent employees at Olive’s. I thought about making up the interview myself, but quite frankly, I’m too damn lazy.
I’m going to start out by admitting that I’ve never been big on video games. No matter the game, my interest usually starts waning as soon as I think I’ve gotten a feel for what I’m supposed to do. I’ve rarely spent more than twenty or thirty minutes playing any given game.
The upshot is this: Although I enjoyed William Pauley III’s The Brothers Crunk, I suspect I don’t have the appreciation for it that someone more knowledgeable in video games would. I’m inclined to believe I missed a lot of references and nuances due to my modest background in that area. Take that as context for the rest of the review.
So, regarding the book itself: It’s a bizarro story set in a world modeled on video games, located in a post-apocalyptic Japan. Game controllers are used as weapons, there’s plenty of video-game-style imagery and action, and certain game conventions are woven into the novel, such as players finding objects like coins and orbs that influence events.
Brothers Divey and Reynold, along with a third partner, Pete, run a breakfast burrito business from a van. The story kicks off with the brothers plotting to fix a game of Russian roulette so as to make sure Pete loses. The idea is lure him into what he thinks is a fair game because business is bad and there’s a meat shortage; the loser… well, the loser can provide meat for the burritos. Pete figures out the brothers’ ruse, yet his attempt to outsmart them fails and he loses anyway.
Then, as the brothers drive to Terratown, where they expect to business to be good, Reynold gets drunk and crashes the van in the middle of a desert. Taking the cuts of meat from Pete’s body with them, the brothers set out on foot. Eventually they discover a sort of robotic skeleton kind of thing. Divey touches the orb in the center of its chest and immediately goes into a catatonic state. From there, it gets weird.
Reynold embarks on a mission to save his brother. At one point he kinda sorta reconstructs a new version of Pete from the strips of meat and a skull/spinal cord he finds in a cell where he’s been placed. Consequently, Pete doesn’t seem capable of physical action, but is able to communicate with Reynold. (And asks for his cigarettes as soon as he’s able, then launches into a rant about how dumb Reynold is.)
To go into much detail beyond this would, I fear, constitute spoilers. Suffice to say Reynold and “Meat Pete” have some adventures and finally end up in the middle of a Blade Runner-esque plot line that culminates in a spectacular battle scene.
The writing is crisp and vivid, the dialog snappy and believable, and the story is well paced. Occasionally, it’s quite funny. In one scene, Reynold “walks” a coin across the back of his knuckles. Then (and this occurs after Pete has been butchered and reconstructed): “Reynold places the coin on the backside of Pete’s raw hand. The coin slowly slides off the wet meat and dances across the floor. The trick is only mildly difficult. Pete clearly isn’t even trying.”
Typical of bizarro books, this is a slender volume, a mere 93 pages, including a sprinkling of illustrations by Megan Hansen that contribute nicely to the atmosphere. But also like a good bizarro book, it does what it sets out to do with economy. It keeps you turning the pages.
But the bottom line is that you know you’re reading something special when find lines of dialog like, “Is this your ostrich, sir?”
It has just come to my attention that Anita Dalton at I Read Odd Books has posted a review of my novel The Hookie-Pookie Man (which I sent her a few weeks ago). And I have to say I’m pleased with her comments. By golly, I think she understands what I was trying to do with the story, and she said some very nice things: “…a well-written, well-edited, engaging book,” “folksy writing style,” “pretty good grip on the absurd,” “very subtle but deft characterization throughout the book.” Wow! I’ll admit I was just a little surprised when I saw her describe it as “sweet,” but I don’t object to it.
She also points to the big problem I’ve always faced with my work–that it’s not easy to categorize. While this doesn’t present a problem for a reader who has an open mind and is willing to simply approach a book on its own terms (Anita, for example), it is a problem for a lot of readers. Moreover, it can be a huge obstacle in marketing. But still, there’s an audience out there.