Short Thoughts on Short Fiction: Single Author Shenanigans

So it’s Saturday afternoon, I’ve just finished the grocery shopping, I’ve got the house to myself for a couple of hours while the wife and the toddler are out on a play date and I’ve just sucked down a monster size can of Redbull, so I figure I can do one of two things.

A)    I can sit down at the machine and take advantage of the peace and quiet and the caffeine buzz and get some writing done.

Or

B)     I can stroke a quick one out and take a nap.

So as you can probably guess I’ve decided on option A, mostly because stroking one out just seems like way too much effort at the moment.

Anyway, for today’s Short thoughts on Short fiction I thought I’d spotlight a few single author short story collections that you may have missed out on. As most of you know, I’m a nut for single author collections, for me, they’re the best way to gauge a writers overall range as a storyteller before I invest my hard earned bucks and all too precious time to reading a novel length piece from the author. However, with the writers I’ll be spotlighting today, only one of them has published a novel.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and get to the reviews.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Published by Wayne State University Press)

I was introduced to this amazing collection of short fiction by my friend Patti Abbott, who’d been singing the praises of Campbell long before American Salvage was nominated for a National Book Award. And believe it or not, I was fairly resistant to purchasing the collection for a number of months because it was nominated for the National Book award. I don’t know about the rest of you butt nuggets, but I tend to be consistently let down by most fiction which garners awards nominations, especially from the so-called “Big Three”—the Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Award, and the PEN—it just seems to me that all three of these bodies are as out of touch with actual readers as, well, the publishing industry is. But with American Salvage, all the praise and the nomination were flat out deserved.

Now to start off, not everyone is going to love American Salvage as much as I did because of the somber subject matter of the stories and the characters which populate them. Nor will you like Campbell’s hard panned Midwestern, yet oddly poetic, delivery. Nor will you like the slightly stomach churning stories such as the collection’s opener “the Trespasser” or the hard knock “The Solutions to Brian’s Problem”. No, you’re not going to like her vivid descriptions of the slow death of the American working class through the machinations and greed of corporate America and the working classes own overwhelming self pity. Nope, you’re not going to like any of this shit and you should probably run down to Wal*Mart and buy yourself a James Patterson “novel” instead of reading American Salvage.   However, if you’re reading Spinetingler chances are you’re into the dark shit as much as I am, so run to your local bookstore and immediately purchase this collection.

Bad Juju & Other tales of Madness and Mayhem by Johnathan Woods (Published by New Pulp Press)

Here’s another collection that’s been receiving a lot of mainstream media attention in the past couple of months and rightfully so. Bad Juju is without question one of the most original single author collections I’ve run across in quite some time. The stories are about as hardboiled and pulpy as they come, but if one can say that fellow Plots with Guns alumni Greg Bardsley is the Fellini of short crime fiction, than I think it is safe to say that Woods is the David Lynch. Woods stories are hallucinatory and absurdist. Violent wet dreams filled with guns, buckets of gore, and scheming femme fatales.

Woods is an intense noir stylist who has few peers who can equal his technique and whip crack pacing. In my opinion the two best stories that exhibit Woods full power as a storyteller is the hilarious yet chilling, “Incident in the Tropics” and the lovelorn “Dog Daze.” But I’d be hard pressed to say that I disliked any of the stories contained in this collection. Also, I would normally say that I can’t wait for Woods to produce a novel—and I am looking forward to it—but in the same breath, I’d have to say due to the overall strength of Bad Juju, I’m looking forward more to his next collection

Cienfuegos by Chris Deal (Published by BrownpaperpublishinG)

I should preface this collection by saying that I hate micro-fiction.

Seriously, I loath it.

Proponents of the sub-genre will tell you how hard it is to tell a story in fifty words or less and that these stories have the same emotional impact as a story that is a thousand words or ten thousand words. Some writers of micro fiction will even go as far to say that these nuggets of prose have the same evocative power as a novel.

My response is always the same.

Bullshit.

For me, all micro-fiction is lazy writing, or the writer’s inability to mentally maintain a storyline for longer than five minutes.

I did try to keep an open mind when I cracked Cienfuegos open, and I’m glad I did. Deal writes like a noir Richard Brautigan, each story is dark poetry and only takes a second or two to read, but the overall impact leaves you reeling and going back to re-read certain pieces. Don’t get me wrong, Cienfuegos has by no means changed my overall attitude towards micro-fiction, but it did introduce me to a young writer of great potential, that is if he can drive his word count up just a tad higher.

[Ed note: the entire Cienfuegos collection is available as a PDF by going here.]

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Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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About Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

5 Replies to “Short Thoughts on Short Fiction: Single Author Shenanigans”

  1. Bad Juju sounds terrific, Keith. I assume you’ve read Kyle Minor’s collection. Maybe I ever heard about if from you. Another of my favorites.

  2. Bad Juju is great, Patti, I really enjoyed it and I’ve revisited a few of the stories more than a couple of times since completing it. And I love the Devil’s Territory, it’s another book that I’ve re-read a couple of times since I first read it.

  3. anything that can come close to the hem of the garments of REVENGE OF THE LAWN has to be worth a taste.