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The Grifters by Jim Thompson – There Is No Ease On Uneasy Street

Just finished Jim Thompson’s The Grifters. This compelling and oh-so-bleak noir tale is a lesson in concision, tight plotting and character development. It differs a bit from the movie of the same name, which I saw many years ago, but the basic story is the same.

One of the enjoyable aspects of the novel things is Thompson’s occasional commentary on the state of his characters’ world. Here’s a favorite passage, steeped in noir, where Thompson describes a major downside of the daily existence of those who make their living through cons, swindles and double-crosses:

“…a fearful shadow lies constantly over the residents of Uneasy Street. It casts itself through the ostensibly friendly handshake, or the gorgeously wrapped package. It beams out from the baby’s carriage, the barber’s chair, the beauty parlor. Every neighbor is suspect, every outsider, everyone period; even one’s own husband or wife or sweetheart. There is no ease on Uneasy Street. The longer one’s tenancy, the more untenable it becomes.”

Classic.

On a lighter note, as a craft beer drinker and a fan of West Coast IPAs, I had to laugh at this passage, in which grifter Roy Dillon drives out of La Jolla, California looking for a place to buy “a good ale.” Check it out:

“Turning the car toward San Diego, Roy drove out of the southerly outskirts of La Jolla and into the more humble districts beyond, slowing occasionally for a swift appraisal of the various drinking establishments. Many of them were open, but they were not the right kind. They would have only the West Coast beers, which, to Roy’s way of thinking, were undrinkable. None of them, certainly, would have a good ale.”

My how times have changed. Perhaps if Roy had been able to enjoy the fine West Coast ales from Stone, Ballast Point, Port Brewing and many others, things would’ve ended better for him. Perhaps.

The Incredible Expanding Short Story

Less is more. Brevity is the soul of wit. The shorter, the better. Etcetera, etcetera.

Let’s face it, the conventional wisdom out there tells us to keep it short. In general, it’s good advice. It’s certainly something that was drilled into me as a newspaper reporter during that stage of my life and career. (Newspapers – remember those?) Most websites and magazines that publish fiction encourage writers to keep it short, and many put 5,000 words as a cutoff point for story length.

I recently completed the first draft of a horror story at about 5,500 words and just knew that I needed to cut it down during the revision process, even though there were a couple aspects of the story that were still going to require a bit of fleshing out. I was certain that there were other parts that could be chopped down substantially. And there were.

But here’s the thing. As I worked to develop some of the key points that I thought could be addressed in passing, some very vivid and important scenes started to come to life. When you find yourself flying along, coming up with arresting images and vivid portrayals of characters’ emotions, you damn well should go with it and worry about story length later. Those moments don’t come around as frequently as I would like, and they are precious.

So, I’m now about to start the second revision of a short story that has crossed over into the realm of the novelette. There’s still some tightening to be done, and possibly some expansion. In the end, every story should be as long as it needs to be. Sometimes that means a 500 word flash piece, sometimes that means a 3,000 word short story, sometimes a novel, sometimes a trilogy, etc., etc.

With that, I’ll sign off before this blog post gets way too long!

Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural

The word “classic” may be horribly overused, but in some cases I simply can’t think of a better word. For example:

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I remember finding this amazing anthology in the library back when I was in middle school (late 70s/early 80s). It revealed to me the depth and breadth of what could be considered a “horror story,” “a ghost story,” or a “tale of terror.” It even introduced me to H.P. Lovecraft, in the name of all that is unholy!

Back in those days, before the Internet and social media, I had no idea just how widely known and influential this book was. I thought I had stumbled upon some secret volume spirited away from the public consciousness decades prior. Titles like “The Great God Pan,” “What Was It?” and “The Beckoning Fair One” radiated mystery and forbidden knowledge, luring me into their world and under their spell. Simply put, this was the book that started a lifelong love for short stories of the weird, fantastic and horrific.

Years later, I found the edition pictured above, a bit battered and worn but intact and complete, at an antique store in Red Bank, N.J. I’m relatively certain it’s the best $8 I’ve ever spent.

Favorites of the Year, Part 2 – Ray Cluley

Another exciting discovery for me in 2014 was Ray Cluley.

I read his story “Bones of Crow” in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 6 and was immediately taken with it. I have long been intrigued by birds – from Poe’s “The Raven” to Hitchcock’s The Birds to a very intense scene in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run that has long haunted me. Birds have played a major role in a couple of my own stories as well.

Now, you can add Cluley’s story to my own personal list of bird stories that are scary and disturbing. The final encounter  Continue reading

Favorites of the Year – North American Lake Monsters

Over the next few days, I will be putting up brief posts about some of my favorite works read in 2014. Note that these books weren’t necessarily published over the past year, but I discovered and enjoyed them during 2014.

NALM

First up is Nathan Ballingrud’s powerful and disturbing short story collection North American Lake Monsters. This books fuses horror with more general literary fiction to pack an emotional wallop of  Continue reading

A New Blog – And A Couple of Things To Read

Greetings and welcome to my world. I’m a reader of all sorts of fiction and nonfiction, and a writer of (usually) dark fiction. I’ll be using this space to let the world (or a teeny, tiny percentage of it) know about my new works, as well as books, music and other media I enjoy and recommend. I hope you’ll take a look around, find something of interest and drop me a line if you’d like.

Click on the Stories  & Writing tab to find links for two pieces. The first is a flash fiction piece at QuarterReads.com entitled “The Elegant Curve of Its Neck,” about an aging gent with a rather interesting attitude toward a certain bird that has come into his life. The second is a paper on dreams and madness in the works of horror author extraordinaire Thomas Ligotti that I wrote a few years back for a graduate English class. Enjoy!