Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review: Yes Trespassing by Erik T. Johnson

Before you read any further—if you’re looking for popcorn fiction, head elsewhere. Yes Trespassing is not what you are looking for. Maybe it’s what you need somewhere down the line, but you’re not quite ready for it at this point in your life. However, if you have time to enjoy a 12-course meal of literary weirdness, welcome to this review.

It’s difficult to place Johnson’s short fiction in a convenient box, which is a good thing where I come from. Is it horror? Sometimes yes, and when it is operating in that territory (for instance, in the first couple of stories in this book), it’s unsettling. It’s essentially what I hope the future of horror fiction looks like. No cheap, convenient scares or cliché approaches. Just something that feels wrong. Something that slices a thin pouch in your flesh and slides right in, making itself right at home, scraping its claws from inside every chance it gets. Is it literary fiction? Without a doubt (at least based on how I define it), though certainly on the darker/stranger side. And it’s this unclassifiable strangeness that pervades every word Johnson writes.

Which brings me to my next point. I suspect Johnson is the type of writer who obsesses over each word and sentence to unhealthy degrees, perhaps losing far too much sleep until everything on the page is exactly as his warped brain sees it. If this is not the case, then I hate his guts because he shouldn’t have so many perfect sentences in one 400+ page book. It shouldn’t be legal. I could probably point to any page in the book and find a line that dumbfounds me. However, the story “Blumenkrank” begins with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a while: “Because Brother hung himself from our chandelier with fine silk ties, mother and I had to take in a boarder.”

The stories are all over the place, from creepy to brain melting to hilarious. More than a few of these tales feature a private investigator named Martin Box, and they often evolve into the most bizarre of the bunch. My favorite story in the collection is “‘Do You Sing?’ Asked Xavier Steen,” a strangely poignant and touching piece of fiction, not something I ever thought I’d find myself saying about a story featuring a major plot point that involves the murder of a True Norwegian black metal band’s vocalist.

I must say, I really love the design of this book. Maybe this doesn’t matter to the average reader, but it matters if you care about the unlimited potential of art. The entire front cover contains a short story, several stories have been omitted but are apparently accessible via a QC code, there are many enigmatic handwritten notes throughout as well as brief conversations between writer and editor, and there is even a page you can tear out and use as a bookmark if you so desire.

I’m not going to pretend I understand what is happening in all of these stories. Some of them, frankly, went over my head, yet I was still engaged by the sheer force of the language. But Johnson has written a collection of stories that command attention, that demand multiple reads. I’m sure I’ll be returning to this book at least a couple more times in my lifetime, simply because I WANT to better understand the madness that is Erik T. Johnson.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Reading/Signing Event at Mysterious Galaxy July 29th for Secrets of the Weird

More info to come on this soon, but I've got an event coming up in San Diego at Mysterious Galaxy. It'll be Saturday July 29th at 2:00 pm. If you're in San Diego, you should definitely stop by and pick up a copy of the book. It would mean the world to me to see as many of you there as possible. Old friends, new friends, friends I see on a regular basis, friends I haven't seen in forever. You get the idea...

Looks like Mysterious Galaxy has put up a link where you can pre-order the book now, then just pick it up at the event. Or you can just show up and buy one if you so desire. Also, I believe there will be the opportunity for out of town folks to purchase signed copies from Mysterious Galaxy after the event, but I haven't confirmed that yet.

I'm also working on setting up events in Los Angeles and Orange County around the same time, and hopefully the Bay Area and Portland and Seattle in August and September. I'll keep you all posted!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: Yeti. Tiger. Dragon. by Daniel Braum

Were I a lazy reviewer, I’d just tell you to not read any further and go ahead and buy this book immediately. However, not only do I try not to be lazy whenever possible, but it also appears this book is sold out on the Dim Shores website, so you might need to do a little hunting (and I assure you it’d be worth the effort).

Spend a few minutes chatting with me about my favorite contemporary writers, and Daniel Braum is bound to come into the conversation at some point. I’ve written of his greatness on this blog before (see my review of his short story collection The Night Marchers…you should be able to acquire that particular book with far greater ease than Yeti. Tiger. Dragon.). There’s something about Braum’s prose that hits the sweet spot between literary fiction and something decidedly “other.” Braum does not limit himself by adhering to the laws of convenient genre buzzwords, which I believe allows him the opportunity to have a wider range of potential readership. His work tiptoes around magical realism, and were you to attempt to put his work in a box, this would be the most comfortable fit. Some stories are filled with strangeness, dread, and loss, others with innocence, mystery, and wonder. Feel free to mix these descriptors as you see fit, as Braum certainly does.

This particular collection consists of three stories spanning Braum’s career (from 2004, 2008, and 2016) that take a cryptozoological slant, and the quality of the writing is consistent despite the wide gap in years, a testament to Braum’s skill. As is the case with many of Braum’s stories, these tales are set in “exotic” locations (I use quotes because the term is relative), transporting readers to places they likely don’t travel to on a daily basis.

Though I recommend this book to anyone seeking quality fiction, other writers should especially be reading Braum, as his style can serve as a crash course for word economy. Never a wasted word, and the language is lyrical without being remotely flowery. Nothing is over-explained, yet I’m never left feeling like I need more to be fully satisfied (naturally, I WANT more, but that’s a different thing altogether, a positive thing). I’d argue he’s a master of the short story form. Rumor has it Braum has a novel coming soon, and I’m very interested to see what he does with a longer piece.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Angel Meat by Laura Lee Bahr

Where do I even begin with a writer like Laura Lee Bahr? If you’re unfamiliar with Bahr, it’s safe to say you’re missing out on something special. But do not fret—there’s still time to hop on this train and catch up. I first learned of the talented Laura Lee Bahr when I picked up her debut novel last year (Haunt, a brilliantly bizarre supernatural noir book published back in 2011). Next was another novel in 2015 titled Long Form Religious Porn, which is currently in my To Be Read pile, but I imagine it’s really damned good. Now, however, I’d like to focus on her most recent effort, a short story collection released earlier this year, enigmatically titled Angel Meat.

What I love most about Bahr’s fiction is that it isn’t easily classifiable. Depending on the story, it may be dark, funny, sexy, poignant, horrific, strange, or something else you can’t quite put your finger on. Often, it is some combination of these qualities. Ultimately, I’d classify it as literary fiction sans pretension, the type of fiction that can take you anywhere if you’re willing to embrace it, the tales where the language matters just as much as the story. Exactly the type of fiction that hooks deeply into my flesh and pulls it tight until I feel pain and pleasure equally.

These stories in this brief collection are all distinct in tone and tale, yet they are still united through Bahr’s consistent voice. Ranging from subtle science fiction (“The Cause’) to possible parable (“Rat-Head) to arguable autobiographical account (“In the Desert”), you never know what you’re going to get from a Laura Lee Bahr story. Though all nine stories are worthwhile, I’d like to focus briefly on my two favorites in the collection. First, “The Liar,” an uncomfortably dark tale that deals with a peculiar moral grey area surrounding victim and offender. A perfect blend of innocence and corruption. My other top was “Happy Hour,” which deals with the idea that there are strange and possibly horrible things we are willing to live with when the alternative is utter loneliness. Darkly humorous, but also tender in its on weird way.

There’s nothing else I can really say at this point except that you should buy this book (and all of Bahr’s other books). If you’re looking for something satisfyingly unique, you’ve come to the right place.