by Joe Clifford
The problem with doing a Best Of list is you invariably leave someone off and then feel like a dick. I did one last year (on the recently revamped Candy & Cigarettes [thank you, Ron Earl Phillips]), and when I realized I left someone off, I felt like a dick. Then Brian at Spinetingler invited us Snubnose authors (or, as we delightfully refer to one another in private, “Snubbies”) to riff on the Best of ’12, and after reading Eric, Julie, Todd, et al, I didn’t want to be left out.
Let’s start with the obvious…
Even though I read the best collection I have ever read this year, Donald Ray Pollock’s remarkable Knockemstiff, I have to give this one to Hilary Davidson and The Damage Done. Tom Pitts (more on him later) and I went to see Hilary read at the end of 2011, over at the Book Passage on SF’s Embarcadero, and I’ve been carrying on like a lovesick schoolgirl ever since. Simply put, The Damage Done is the kind of book I hope to write someday. I love pulp and hardboiled, but I also appreciate how tough it is to write a viable commercial thriller. Hilary takes every element I love about crime and mystery and weaves the perfect tapestry of suspense and mayhem while still making it palatable to the mainstream. I’m in awe. I have a mad crush on Lily Moore, the wounded yet elegant travel-writing protagonist of her series, and will gladly follow her wherever her adventures take her. I devoured The Next One to Fall, and can’t wait for Evil in All Its Disguises. I’m just this side of a Tiger Beat poster in my room. Yeah, I guess you could say I’m a fan.
Django Unchained. Probably not entirely accurate. I just saw it, like, on December 29th, so it’s fresh in my mind. In a year that also produced the excellent sci-fi Looper and the wrongly maligned The Dark Knight Rises (which was, in my humble opinion, the best in the series, which would also make it the best superhero film ever made), it’s tough to give Django that mantle, but fuck it I’m going to anyway, because, for one, it’s catching a bunch of shit right now it doesn’t deserve, and, two, I haven’t liked a Tarantino film this much since Pulp Fiction (a Desert Island All-Time Top Five). I was unimpressed by Jackie Brown and underwhelmed by Inglourious Basterds, found Kill Bill unsubstantial. All still good. Just not Pulp Fiction good. Django isn’t quite either, nothing is, but it was nice to get that Tarantino feeling again. About halfway in, I was thinking, Fuck, this guy tells a story like no one else. Which is weird, because you can see all his influences right there. Then he crafts an entirely original product.
Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten. Best band in America. Hell, the world. I can’t think of anyone in England or the Ukraine knocking my socks off right now. Brian Fallon pens hardscrabble tales of lost youth and fading young man dreams like no one since Springsteen. A little cowpunk. A lot of pop and garage and twang. All Americana. Some killer lines. Like from “Mae”: And all my former lovers say…it was once magnificent. Or “National Anthem”: And I remember she used to look so good in that dress / Now she just screams how I promised her more than this… / Take it easy, baby, it ain’t over yet. Jesus, I’d kill to have written that.
OK, the rest, in no particular order, and we’ll just blast them out. My back is hurting and I need my hip replaced.
Best Book I Pre-Ordered and Am Still Waiting to Arrive
Todd Robinson’s The Hard Bounce. Because it’s Todd Fucking Robinson. Duh.
Best Laugh Out Loud Moment in a Short Story
Keith Rawson giving new meaning to a monkey’s uncle in Laughing at Dead Men.
Best Flash Fiction E-Zine (I Don’t Work For)
Shotgun Honey. 700 words never felt so right.
Best Short Story I Read (and Edited) This Year
Nicola Murphy’s “Daddy’s Girl.” When people submit to The Flash Fiction Offensive and aren’t quite getting it, I refer them to that story. Virtually flawless flash. (Runner-up, Chris DeWildt’s “McRib.” I won’t even begin to try to sum that one up. OK. I will. It’s like Jesus’ Son scarfs gelatinous food product while the Stones’ “She’s So Cold” blares in the background. Only weirder.)
Yeah. I go to plays. I’m not a fucking barbarian. Armistead Maupin’s Tales from the City at the A.C.T. Conservatory in SF. A simply delightful musical.
Best TV Show about a Meth-Making HS Teacher Named Walter White or Best Fucking Show of All-Time, Period
Best Reason to Stay Sober
Faces of Meth
Best Editors Not Named Brian Lindenmuth (In No Particular Order)
Matt Louis, Out of the Gutter (Because I work for him and if I don’t mention him he might dock my pay, and since I get paid damn near next to nothing, next thing to go is probably my thumbs)
Mike Joyce, Literary Orphans. Dude has impeccable taste in music. And he’s already figured this shit out and he’s half my age.
Jason Cook, Ampersand Review. Fuck hippies.
OK, now let’s give some love to the “Snubbies”…
Best Friend & Next Writer to Break Out
Tom Pitts. Love the man like a brother. A helluva friend and a goddamn great writer. Piggyback is out now. His latest, Hustle, will find a home soon (it’s a remarkable book). Tom gets mad because I tell this story so often, but… When we used to be junkies, Tom wanted to be a writer so bad he’d lug his PC—that’s right, not a laptop, a fucking PC, with bulky hard drive and keyboard, clunky-ass monitor and tangle of cords—up the hill with him to Hepatitis Heights because he wanted to work on his stories (after we fixed and shooed the mice, of course). Since we had no power, he’d hook up his station via the old transvestite living downstairs. I thought he was nuts at the time. But he was right. That’s the kind of dedication you need. I’m grateful every day that he made it out too.
Best Yet-To-Be Released Snubnose Book Featuring Characters Named Colin and Zoe(y) That Is Not My Own
Julie Kazimer’s Dope Sick: A Love Story. I was asked to blurb this. Read it in two days. Features three of my favorite things: heroin, rock ’n’ roll, and a good, ol’ fashioned mystery. Fast-paced, funny and furious, this one comes out soon. Don’t miss it!
OK, now I’m feeling bad because I can’t possibly mention all the Snubnose authors, and I’ll totally feel like a dick if I keep saying “best.” Eric Beetner mentioned this in his list the other day. There are simply too many quality books coming out from Snubnose for me to keep up (and I am mad busy + a dreadfully slow reader, which is a bad combination). So I’m apologizing in advance if I fail to mention anyone here (and I’m thinking specifically of Beetner, who designed a kick-ass cover for me, and I still have yet to tackle his books. They are on the list for 2013, Eric. Promise!)
Court Merrigan, Moondog over the Mekong. Court comes at this game from the same angle I do, with that little leftover literary bent, which gives his work that extra layer I dig. These stories are drenched in the exotic, but their root emotions and instincts are the same in any language: people are seriously fucked up.
Heath Lowrance, “My Life with the Butcher Girl,” Pulp Ink II. I love Amanda Knox. There, I said it. I don’t care if she’s guilty. She’s simply adorable.
Ryan Sayles. Because if I don’t mention him, he’ll cry. Oh, and that Richard Dean Buckner holy hell creation of his.
I’d write more but I think I caught Brian’s cold. Got a bitch of a sore throat and I’m going to bed.
Sorry for leaving anyone off and being a dick.