Category Archives: Writing

City News and Books on December 10, 1988

52. Deadly Sleep – John Applegate

The cover features a teddy bear in a bed brandishing a bloody knife in the air – awesome. The story features an overly worried middle aged man who can’t control himself when he sleeps. There’s also some business stuff – boring. Who hasn’t woken up as a dad in the suburbs, wondering if they killed someone the night before? It’s the stuff of a million excuses and a million insurance fraud murders. So garden variety.

It’s okay, Horace, you can snuggle back in free from fear, there’s no middle aged suburban dads around.

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Beware those who peaked in high school.

2. The Tarot Spell – Willo Davis Roberts

Stuck in a fantasy land of her own making, “unpretty Catherine Sorenson” demonstrates one possible outcome of never leaving your hometown after high school. She always wanted to marry that popular douche Jason, and, after years of caring for an elderly man, the elderly dude dies, she inherits, and she finally gets her chance to marry for looks and pipe dreams instead of love. Yay! What fun!

Unsurprisingly, Jason sucks, but she has a friend whose house suddenly burned down to talk to about how weird it is trying to integrate with rich folks who keep asking you for money. That friend also demonstrates another option for townies who stay, extreme bitterness.

Anyway, between Jason sucking and bitter friends lay the unpredictable fortunes to be found in a tarot reading and frankly, I just feel bad for Catherine even though she’s imaginary. She should’ve taken that inheritance and gone somewhere else; somewhere she wouldn’t have been told she’s just unpretty and couldn’t expect anything out of life except a large amount of anxiety attacks and people using her. Jeebus.

Pammy took care of Thaddeus as they both aged – he aged a little faster – and inherited a corn hut, quite a few stuffed animals, and no failing lumber mills.

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Cult cookies.

7. Waking the Witch – Kelley Armstrong

I read the Otherworld series in a very random order, and this was the first witch-focused book I read. I didn’t know Savannah’s back-story from Stolen and I definitely recommend reading that before reading this one. It would’ve been nice to have some frame of reference for how Armstrong deals with witchcraft before reading Waking the Witch. Armstrong has a lot of characters in her Otherworld series, so even the minimal summaries left me a little lost because I hadn’t at least read Stolen. I can also tell you that my “review” of Stolen will not help you. No it won’t.

Savannah is a likeable protagonist and she’s headstrong but manages to be fun to follow along with as she tries to solve some witchcraft-adjacent murders in a small town. She has good investigative skills (and now I know how she learned them, now, so much later) but still acts like the twenty-one-year-old she’s supposed to be and that was an improvement over Armstrong’s YA work for me, where it felt like she was consistently talking down to the audience. So now I know she can represent slightly-above-youth youths without being patronizing.

Ozma: Plucky, ready for action. Peregrine: Sleepy, ready to send Ozma into the fray.

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Well, he’s not wrong with that subtitle.

20. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread – Chuck Palahniuk

There are several stories in this collection that I won’t forget.

Especially “Red Sultan’s Big Boy,” I got halfway through that one while waiting for an appointment – I predicted accurately where it was going, and I had a hard time not spewing that forth during my appointment because, well, I had just the right friend to tell about that story, but I had to finish it first.

Belvedere was not that friend.

I am not sure how I feel about his new choice to use animal names for characters. During the story about the poor monkey (I mean, “Monkey”) marketing the cheese it seemed novel. But I feel like Flamingo got pretty screwed over in a later story and frankly, it put a very, very weird set of pictures in my head. There’s a newish Sanrio character, a red panda named Aggretsuko who hates her job and sings metal kareoke and works with a gorilla and a hippo who won’t stop showing baby pictures and…I just don’t really want Palahniuk’s animal characters in the same office block as Aggretsuko. I like her and don’t want her to suffer anymore than she already has to in order for me to identify with her. She’s got a super cute rage face.

Belvedere also has a super cute rage face.

“Cannibal,” well, the less said about that story of high school romance, the better to surprise. If you got through the one with the pool drain, you’ll get through “Cannibal.” High school kids can certainly suck.

Belvedere never went to high school. He didn’t suck.

Anyway, as usual, Palahniuk aims for the uncomfortable and reaches it, digs into its abdominal cavity, and pulls out a spleen and that is why I read him for the most part. I will take the named animals over the freshly invented languages that made Pygmy and Tell-All harsher to get through though, as long as he leaves guinea pigs and red pandas out of it.

No, really, Belvedere agrees with me. Leave guinea pigs out of it. You don’t know what they do well enough to give them jobs. Barely anyone seems to.

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Loners in groups.

35. The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion – Margaret Killjoy

Vengeance demon! Fun! This was a strangely stiff bit of punk fantasy. There were a lot of conversations that slowed the narrative, even though it’s extremely short. I was originally interested because of a description I found that mentioned the book was quite weird and set in my home state. Being in Iowa doesn’t have anything important to do with the story as far as I can tell now, having read the whole thing. Fine.

I did quite like the onset of the weirdness and the vengeance demon was quite cool. The characters were interesting, some of them fit stereotypes of people who want to tell you about how great communal lifestyles are…like the Manson Family… You know, like, everything should be free – this is both a stereotype and something I’ve mainly heard from rich people who have rejected being rich, except for the, like, money from their parents part. They don’t really want to “live like common people do.” Thankfully, there were also characters with a little more dimension, although a couple of them never appeared in the story while alive. And the story took place right at a point of conflict in the town that revolved around how irritating it is to actually work together and have leaders and how an entire community’s priorities rarely line up smoothly. Overall, I give it the bread with jelly on it scratch n’ sniff sticker- “Grape Stuff.” I might also be tempted to stick the individual roller skate one on the side so that the edge is hanging off – “Keep Rollin’,” as this is a series and I will certainly read book two. Does anyone really know what that skate was supposed to smell like?

Danger Crumples, seen hoarding the resources of Ozymandias. Guinea pigs are technically social animals, but they totally let the hierarchy get in the way. All the time. Herd politics. They get that weird sticker that’s an incredibly realistic pickle and just says “GOOD WORK” in the semi-blandest of fonts, which signals they’re shit at working together beyond begging for treats within ten minutes of having finished their previous treats.

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Somebody read some Lansdale and put their own spin on it…

8. Midnight Crossroad – Charlaine Harris

There seemed to be a lot of possibility in Midnight, Texas. There are antiques, a diner, vampires, a psychic…a bunch of townspeople who are probably all hiding supernatural connections and secrets… It’s not entirely True Blood in Texas, but it’s also not totally set apart enough to not feel a like True Blood in Texas – complete with TV deal and vampire. I thought about watching the show, after all, the beginning seasons of True Blood were bloody, ridiculous fun, but I still haven’t. I also thought about reading more of this series, but I still haven’t. Midnight Crossroad just had a little too much scene setting and not enough story for me. I don’t want to know that you’re setting up a series, I want a whole. A solidly conclusive whole story, at least on some level that I felt Midnight Crossroad was lacking.

This is Merricat’s “Interrogating Pawnshop Workers in Texas” face. So intimidating.

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“Show me your teeth” – Lady Gaga

34. Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

Although I do feel that Gillian Flynn is contributing something very important with her unlikeable heroines, when I read Sharp Objects I started repeating the phrase “beautiful, but damaged” in my head. I felt like the main character could easily be reduced to just that phrase and I was very annoyed with that.

Sharp Objects is Flynn’s debut and perhaps the irritation I felt is a result of an overzealous editor reducing what she wanted to do to tropes, but, maybe not. Maybe she was just being cliché with her narrator in her first novel, it’s impossible to tell. And I have to say that she utilized the trope of returning to one’s hometown in a better way in Gone Girl, where she threw the out of place feelings onto the sociopathic outsider and bullshit hometown-heroed the townie husband.

Murderface is beautiful, but sleepy.

 

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Somebody’s watching that coffee and contemplation.

32. Stalkers – Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg, eds.

One of the nice things about libraries is that they sometimes make purchases from smaller publishers and those things stick around…waiting for their chance. Stalkers was published by Dark Harvest of Arlington Heights, IL in 1989.

It features authors of horror novels for the most part, several of which wrote books on my shelves that I haven’t yet read, like J.N. Williamson. Williamson’s story “Jezebel” was very moralistic but also captured the feeling of being watched when you’re really not doing anything worth watching as a lady very well.

Pickles was constantly doing something worth watching. Here she is, looking alert.

Some I forgot about, like John Coyne (The Legacy aka that book/movie poster with the cat head sticking out of the green, zombie looking hand that scared and intrigued me as a child). Coyne’s story “Flight” was one of the weirder ones. A man takes off with his child when he’s totally not supposed to and ends up in a cabin with a paranoid old coot and it gets very bizarre from there. Features ye olde proverbial “They.”

Some I hadn’t heard of, like Michael Seidman, the editorial director of Zebra…a publisher that probably would have published me back in the day and stuck lots of weirdo skeletons on my covers. Oh, to go back in time. Seidman’s “What Chelsea Said” was a creepy little urban nightmare. Bumbutt.

Edward D. Hoch, “The Stalker of Souls” was an academic mystery. I haven’t read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but I got that vibe from it nonetheless. The reveal was a little tiresome, but the atmosphere leading up to it was great and very on theme.

Belvedere raises his head while being accused of nefarious plans by Pickles. Again. She’s the guinea pig Sherlock. Sort of. Not really. She’s far too cute and not nearly addicted to heroin enough to be Sherlocky.

The story that stuck with me the most has its own introduction, an oddity for short story collections, usually there’s just a short paragraph introing the author (if that, and sometimes the contributor bios are in the back). The introduction discusses how long Dean Koontz had the idea and other situations where the story didn’t work out to be published and it’s a nice insight. I’ve read one Dean Koontz book, The Funhouse, it was written under a different name and it was weird but didn’t make me want to dig in to the rest of his catalog. I think my main turn off, as usual, is the font they use for his name. It doesn’t appeal to me.

Anyway, now I’m a little more intrigued. I will at least always look for his stories in more of these weird little horror story anthologies because “Trapped” played right into my worst stalking fears and also hit several areas of my interest – isolated homes, mad science corporate bullshit gone awry, smart heroines who don’t freak out, a hero very much like Chief Hopper… But as I was saying, those worst stalking fears – RATS. Genetically engineered rats who are even smarter than rats already are. Also bigger. And they cut off your phone while staring at you with their beady little eyes. And they thought about the car. And they’re huge and white with red eyes. And of course there was a fucking illustration for that story. NO. I try not to show fear around real rats because I appreciate how smart they are, but, No. Also, rats are not afraid of people. They like people.

Pickles hides from smart rats in her hay. According to a 1921 book about pets I have, rats hate guinea pigs, so she doesn’t really need to.

 

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“He traveled through time in an awesome custom van” – Hamlet 2

22. Lamb – Christopher Moore

Jesus’ unaccounted for years as told by Biff, his childhood friend. This book explains why there are Easter bunnies and that alone is a reason to read it…but it’s not my favorite Moore. Maybe because I don’t, like, really know biblical stories particularly well. Although one time I was reading a Buzzfeed listicle and I found a posting that said Jesus’ name somehow translates to being “Oily Josh,” which makes a lot of sense in the context of this book.

Thaddeus knows there are Easter bunnies because the people in Jesus’ area had not been to South America to find the Easter piggies. They wouldn’t let him try out for Cadbury bunny, he may be a little bitter.

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The cover has a warning: “No Inspirational Life Lessons Will Be Found In These Pages.” How could I resist?

60. Half Empty – David Rakoff

A friend of mine bought this book for me and told me that when she saw it, it “reminded her of me.” What she didn’t know is that when we worked together at the public library, I came across this book several times while shelving, thought about checking it out, and then didn’t get around to it…so it also reminded me of me.

Starting with the essay “The Bleak Shall Inherit,” Half Empty demonstrates a lot of truths that the more pessimistic among us will recognize, sort of like a New York-centric, more amusing version of the message from the wildly popular to interlibrary loan book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck (Side note, I tried to skim this because of the appealing title, it said something about being fine with being normal and I had to close it. I’m abnormal and I like it, sir, and not just in an “Oh, I’m so unusual, I drink coffee with four shots of espresso and am writing a screen play at Starbucks because I MUST express myself” kind of way, more in a “What did you just say? Why do you like talking about that?/Did you really just glare at me for saying ‘hamster’?” coupled with side glances and grimaces from other people when I talk kind of way.).

One of my favorite passages had to do with the musical RENT. I don’t like paying rent even though I’ve been doing so for what feels like thousands of years now, but that’s a digression mainly meant to set up the fact that I have never actually seen RENT and despite not seeing RENT, I have had that “525,600 minutes/How do you measure/Measure a year” line stuck in my head before (and now, so do you). Rakoff mentions that the super-creative creatives of RENT don’t really spend much time creating and then mentions the songwriter “noodling on his guitar,” which has long been one of my least favorite things. I hate guitar noodling. I don’t have all day, I’m dying here. We’re all dying. Stop noodling. Anyway, a short while later in the essay he talks about the creator of RENT dying the day before RENT opened, which is awfully sad, but also something that seems like a truism of creativity at this point (especially if you have to do something else to pay rent). You have to have a blind cocky optimism in order to be willing to create because it’s unlikely that it will become popular while you’re still alive. Sometimes you have to die to be popular. Or win a Putlizer. Posthumously. Also, you have to actually follow-through with making something in order to have created something that won’t be recognized until after you’re dead. Whee! Half empty!

Morty is the friend who gave me Half Empty’s favorite guinea pig. Here’s his cute little nose. He never paid any rent.

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