Before and Afterlives and The Shirley Jackson Award

In all the hustle and bustle that lead up to the release of “Jamie Marks is Dead” I failed to report a fantastic bit of news that occurred in mid-July. As I’d mentioned in an earlier post back in May, my short story collection Before and Afterlives had been nominated for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award in the category of Best Single-Author Collection. In July it was announced that I had won the award. In fact, there were two winners: my collection and Nathan Ballingrud’s amazing collection, North American Lake Monsters.

I could not be happier to have this collection–something of a retrospective of the best of my short stories from the first decade of my life as a publishing writer–recognized with this award. Shirley Jackson’s work has been an enormous influence on me since I was a teenager assigned to read “The Lottery” in a high school English class, like so many of us from a certain generation were. Her small town spooks and just-on-the-edge-of-surreal thrills spoke to me on so many levels. To have my collection of stories recognized in her name is really, as they say, a dream (or perhaps in Shirley’s case), a nightmare come true.

I’d like to thank Steve Berman, my publisher at Lethe Press, for believing in my stories and for bringing this collection out into the world. I’d also like to thank Alex Jeffers for the gorgeous interior design, and Steven Andrew, who designed the cover, which I still look at from time to time and think, Damn, that cover is unbelievably fantastic.

Thanks, too, to the many editors of the magazines and anthologies that first published the stories individually.

Here’s a photo of the book and the award itself.

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Brit Mandelo at Tor.com reviews Before and Afterlives

And another great review for Before and Afterlives comes in. This one from Brit Mandelo at Tor.com. Brit takes the collection and analyzes it in depth, by way of three particular stories that display three very different styles or approaches I take in my writing. Being able to perceive something like that is particularly available for a reader to notice in a single author, full length collection that spans a decade of a writer’s stories. Which is why I love short story collections. There’s a breadth of vision to story collections, rather than the depth of the immersive experience novels tend to provide. 

In any case, here’s a bit of what Brit has to say. But you should really click over to read the entire piece:

“What We Know About the Lost Families of ——- House” is in the vein of a gothic. It has a haunted house, grim family secrets, incest, murder, and most of the other accoutrements. Barzak, though, takes the typical gothic and twists it by giving the narrative through a communal voice: a voice that represents the town itself, the people who make it up and who have observed ——- House’s history. In a move familiar from Barzak’s other stories, which are often densely and carefully constructed, this piece relies on strong, detail-oriented prose with an engaging voice; however, it also relies on the audience’s familiarity with the tropes of the genre to offer a different avenue of exploration.

The story is not told from the point of view of the young woman who marries into the House to communicate with its ghosts, as I’ve mentioned before, so it’s not a typical gothic. Moreover, and more interestingly, though the town’s communal narrative is concerned with rescuing her by the end and with telling us her story as if it’s tragic, it’s impossible to read it the way the townspeople want us to. Their patronizing tone, their willful ignorance and their excuses, render the reader unable to sympathize with their point of view entirely, so we cannot believe or support everything that they do or say. As with the underbelly of resentment, neighborly knowledge, and gossip in any small town, the town in which ——- House is located is conflicted, uneasy, and often judgmental. (Of course, considering the ending, they are perhaps not entirely wrong to want to burn the House to the ground.) This sense of play with form and with tropes is common to Barzak’s short fiction.

And, of course, so are the ghosts: Barzak’s fantastic work is often concerned with the strangeness that lies just outside of everyday life. In Before and Afterlives, as the title implies, there are many sorts of hauntings, not merely of houses and not all of them unpleasant. There is a resonance to these pieces about death and lingering, or about leaving and loss, or all of the above, that makes them quite memorable—just as much as the generic experimentation and the investment in telling different-but-familiar stories with rich characters and settings…

On the other hand, “Plenty” is a different sort of story, one that represents another thread in Barzak’s body of work. It’s set contemporarily, it deals with economic impoverishment, the decay of industrialism, and the fantastic alongside one another, and it offers—more than a plot, though it has one of those too—a developmental arc or moment in a person’s life. “Plenty” and other stories like it in this collection are, in a word, intimate. They are character driven, observational, and often the narrative arc serves a greater provocative emotional arc. In this piece, where friends come apart and together based on differences in their personalities and life choices, a fantastical table that makes feasts—but only for someone so generous as to want to give them away—helps the protagonist to see what he had been unable or unwilling to see about his good friend’s inner nature. The other man is able to reconsider his own distant friend’s apparent selfishness through his gift of the table, his willingness to part with it and to keep its secret for the betterment of the suffering community. (Put like that, it’s almost a parable.)

These characters and their realistic, unfortunate misunderstandings and misapprehensions are the focus of the tale. When Barzak is studying people, telling us their stories, his work is powerful; these stories incite a great deal of consideration about others, their needs, and the functions of living in a world where industrialism in the West is decaying and whole cities are ground under by poverty. Barzak’s background in an Ohio city of similar experience adds a distinct level of solidity to many of the stories set in or around that milieu, and offers the reader a glimpse into the sort of survival that those places require…

Before and Afterlives reveals a series of confluences and concerns in his short fiction, and as such, works remarkably well as a coherent collection. It’s a thoughtful, pleasant, and lingering sort of book: many stories, many lives, and many deaths to consider—as well as how these things, and the people that power them, intersect and reflect reality in a fantastical mirror.

James Sallis reviews Before and Afterlives

Something really amazing came in this week: a review of my collection by James Sallis, in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

When I say it’s something amazing, I mean it. Because, man, I have never read a review that was written so eloquently and with its own poetic energy to it like this one.

And on top of that, it’s a great review of my collection, bookended with reviews of Kij Johnson’s latest collection and George Saunders’. Great company to be in!

In any case, I received permission from the publisher to show a decent chunk of the review here on my blog. I’m still bright-eyed from reading a review like this, by someone who reads really closely. This excerpt is the main body of the review for my book, but there are other bits in the whole review, which I’ll link to once it goes up on the magazine’s website:

Boxes, black or not, come in every imaginable size and shape. And there’s that word again. Imaginable. Imagination. Image.

     “Lying here in this abandoned hotel, I have done it once again. Once every year or so, depending on my finances, I allow myself to die. […] Now comes the burning sensation of re-entry, a tingling sensation that grows to feel like fire. As I find myself returning to my body, every cell expands, flooding with electricity. […] I gasp for a first breath, then howl like a newborn. After this I can see the people who killed me hovering over my body, their oval faces peering down, curious, amazed.”

“A Resurrection Artist” is a story that wears its subtext like a second skin just beneath the first, something that might be said of many of the stories collected here in Before and Afterlives. Are they about haunted houses, the death of a classmate one hardly knew, a world in which mermaids wash up so regularly on the beach that the police have clear procedures to deal with them? Yes. But for all their high fantasy and somber tones, the stories speak clearly and directly about straightforward things — verities, daily struggles, and choices. Like going on.

     And they move, forever restless, forever reaching.

     He has a taste for blurriness, Christopher Barzak has said in interviews, for stories that change shape as you read them, for writing fiction that skates around various genres, sometimes going straight through their territories, other times just around the edges, and oftentimes starting out in one kind of story and ending up in another.

     “What We Know About the Lost Families of — House,” the social history of a haunted house, abounds with the stories of those who inhabited it and with finely wrought sentences such as “And Jonas’s father, the gun cracking his life open like a pocket watch, to let all of the time spill out of him.”

     Much as Kij Johnson’s “Fox Magic” led to her novel The Fox Woman, Barzak’s “Dead Boy Found” later grew up to become his novel One for Sorrow. Part coming-of-age story, part the portrait of a dissolving family, part ghost story, it recreates for us the far-reaching effect of a boy’s murder on a fifteen year-old classmate barely managing to hold himself together, tugged this way then that, in the flash and tamped-down fury he sees about him.

     Another begins, “There was once a boy who was born wrapped in barbed wire. The defect was noticed immediately after his birth, when the doctor had to snip the boy’s umbilical cord with wire cutters.”

     Like Kij Johnson’s, Christopher Barzak’s stories do not take the shapes we anticipate; they continuously mutate, changing as our eyes move down the page, as language doubles back to catch its breath, as a comma pauses to hook its tail into a sentence. And dense as they are — “Dead Boy Found” spins from a domestic argument to the mother’s paralysis in an auto accident, to discovery of the murdered child, to the haunting of the girl who found the body, to Adam’s own unsettling encounter with dead Jamie, then flashes forward to what his life will be — the stories unfold easily, nary a bump in the road.

     Determined that something undeniable and nontrivial will happen to the reader.

Kirkus reviews Before and Afterlives

A late but  better than never review from Kirkus Reviews came for Before and Afterlives at the tail end of last week. It’s a goodie. I’m happy. I can only post a couple of lines from the review without infringing on copyright stuff, lalala, so I’ll post two of my favorite lines here, and then link to the rest of it, which you can read at the site itself.

“The 17 stories collected here bring readers into worlds where mermaids beckon to the sea, where a boy wrapped in barbed wire becomes wrapped up in love, where the end of the world is just another way to find yourself, and where ordinary characters meet extraordinary circumstances. Barzak takes what readers know (or think they do) and skews the view, exposing a new side of reality. Fans of speculative fiction especially will enjoy this ride through the fantastic worlds Barzak conjures.”

Read the rest by clicking here.

Sneak Peeks of Before and Afterlives (Born on the Edge)

Today’s preview from Before and Afterlives is the opening of my story,”Born on the Edge of an Adjective”. It’s a story about two lovers who can’t get it together, one of whom moves across the country to find himself, and is instead found by a different sort of love, an alien love. I mean that, too. An alien love, though you won’t be able to tell just how alien from this excerpt, which will seem fairly realistic. The story originally appeared in the very cool zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Born on the Edge of an Adjective

“I was born on the edge of an adjective,” Neil tells me from San Francisco.  He’s calling on his new cell phone.  He bought it because he thought it would add a little something to his image, but now he’s not so sure.  “Everywhere I look, people have these stupid things,” he says.  “I didn’t realize till I had one of my own.”

“You were what?” I ask.

“I was born on the edge of an adjective,” he tells me.  “That’s for you,” he says, and pauses to drag on his cigarette.  “For your next song.  At least a line, if not the title.”

Neil’s calling from a bar called the Shamrock, which he’s frequented since leaving Youngstown behind.  In the background of his voice, the crack of pool and the sound of eighties music. I can almost smell the smoke, see the haze.  Neil hates eighties music, so I’m wondering why he’s there.  I’m wondering why he isn’t here with me.

“That’s a great line,” I say.  I don’t tell him that I don’t write songs anymore.  That when he left, the music went with him, that I haven’t written since.  “You should write it,” I tell him, and light a cigarette for myself.

“That’s your thing, Marco,” he says, and it still sends a thrill through my body to hear that name, instead of just Marc or Marcus.  Only Neil calls me something different from everyone else.

“So when are you coming back?” I ask, then immediately revise my question.  “When are you going to visit?”

“You know I can’t, Marco,” he says.  “I can’t come back, at least not for a while.  I have to find out who I am.  Ohio only obscures it.  We’ve gone over all this before.  Besides, I’m unboyfriendable.  You need someone better than me.  Someone solid.”

I nod in agreement, even though Neil can’t see.  He went a thousand miles away to find himself, which sounds lame as a talk show conversation, but he did it, and I still can’t help but ask when this self-imposed exile is going to end.  Neil might not know himself, but I could tell him.  I know who he is, he’s just not listening.  But when do any of us listen to what others have to say?  I don’t write music anymore.  I only listen.  If Neil asked me, I could sing him his song.

“I have to get going,” Neil says impatiently.  There’s the click of his lighter and the exhale of smoke.  “I have a date with this woman.  I need to meet her on the other side of town.”

“A woman?” I ask.

“She’s cool,” Neil says.  “A dancer, real light on her feet.  It’s like gravity has no effect on her.”

“So she floats?  That’s pretty amazing,” I say.

“Seriously, Marco, she made me practice lifting her for her next recital.  It was like picking up a teacup.  An empty  teacup.  You would like her.  Don’t be a cynic.  She’s our type.”

“That’s great,” I say.  I tell him, “Call me soon,” and put the phone down on its cradle.  I turn up the radio, thinking she is not our type, not mine at least, and I wouldn’t like her.  I already hate this woman, Neil, and she’s probably a bad dancer.  Her legs are skinny like a flamingo’s, and her hair is most likely blonde.  Also, she floats.  People who float aren’t people.  It’s like a law or something.  No floating for humans.

Neil likes his men different from his women.  He prefers his men quietly smoldering, with dark eyes and thick hair.  He likes his women blonde and loud as ambulances, with legs up to their chins.  He used to read books with grand plots and lifeless characters.  Now he reads books without plots that have grand characters, who think a lot throughout most of the book.

Take my hand, I want to tell him.  Let me lead you through the hall of mirrors.  I know your way.  If I were alone, I’d be lost myself.  But with you, I see the way clearly.

He wonders who he is, what it means to live in this world, how he’s supposed to be.  I’ve seen him clap his hands over his ears, as if the world grew too loud suddenly, and he sank down on my bed and curled into a fetal position.  He wants to know what he’s like, where he’s going, where he’s been.  He’s a blank slate, he tells me, a tabula rasa.  But this is not true.  A more accurate description is possible.

He was like a book left behind by some weary traveler, in a country where no one knows how to read.

Take my hand, I want to tell him.  Even though I’m blind on my own, I can see your path clearly.

*

     Where are you going?  Where have you been?  These questions were our constant conversation.  The first time we met, we were both at The Blue Note, one of the bars where the band I wrote songs for sometimes played.  They still have an ongoing gig there, but I don’t stop very often.  They leave messages, various members of Winterlong, the lead singer, the bass guitarist, the piano player, Harry, who always says they’re going downhill and need an injection of something new and different.  “Give me a call, Marcus,” he says.  “Let’s get together on something.”

Neil was standing at the bar, in front of an empty stool, drinking from a pony-necked bottle.  I sat three stools down.  Finally, after the band took a break, he walked over, sat beside me, and, without looking at me, said, “The songs are good, but they need a new singer.”  I laughed involuntarily, almost spitting out a mouthful of beer.

“Really?” I said, grinning.

“Most definitely.”

“And the songs?  What makes them more deserving?”

“They’re full of raw emotion.  The lead singer doesn’t know how to get that across.”

It was something I’d heard other people say about someone else’s music.  Something you might read in a review, or hear on a college campus amongst earnest but not so humble students.  But Neil was flattering.  This quality is a necessary attractor.  I was attracted, I cannot lie.

We went home that night together, after the band stopped playing, after closing down the Blue Note, and when we woke in the morning, him lying on his stomach, me flat on my back, his arm flung over my chest, I told him that I was the song writer.

“I knew that,” he said.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you knew I knew.  Really, don’t act so innocent.”

Sneak Peeks of Before and Afterlives (Vanishing Point)

Today’s preview from Before and Afterlives is the opening of my story, “Vanishing Point”, which first appeared in the Canadian literary journal, Descant. It’s a story about a mother whose son has been afflicted with a mysterious disease that is plaguing her community. People begin to vanish slowly, to become invisible and to lose their solidity in increments, and over a period of time, they disappear altogether. The narration style is a monologue, or a letter, however you’d like to imagine it, in which she speaks to a social scientist who is attempting to collect narratives from people who have lost a loved one to the strange illness.

Barzak-Point

Vanishing Point

 

You asked me, sir, to tell you about my son’s disappearance.  I must admit that I did not know what to think when your first letter arrived.  And when you phoned, I think I was a bit startled by all your attention.  We don’t get many phone calls here, you see.  But since last week, when I told you an interview was out of the question, I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Nathan and how, as a mother, I have a duty.  Others should know the truth.  You wanted to know what life was like here, in my house, in my family, with Nathan and then, afterwards, without him.  It’s not as simple as that, though.  A person isn’t here one day, then gone the next.  If I’m going to tell you anything, it won’t be what you’re expecting.  It might not be what you want to hear.  But, in any case, I’ll tell you what I know.  What I know is the truth.

From the beginning, his growing absence was oppressive.  If I was not in the kitchen making supper for Sarah and myself, I was attending to my son in his room.  We seemed to eat a lot during those days.  An affliction of hunger consumed us that could not be satisfied.  As Nathan disappeared, Sarah and I ate and ate.  I made meals we’d never heard of, recipes out of foreign cookbooks, fancy dishes that required an orange peel or a sculptured radish rosette on the side.  We were pretending to have money, even though we had no money.  I do have money now, though.  Now that Nathan is not so demanding.  Yes, sir, Sarah and I are off the dole.

We ate exotic foods, Thai and Indian curries.  We ground our own spices in the coffee grinder.  Also we had a peculiar taste for Ethiopian, and Sarah and I would sometimes joke about this.  You know, how starving those people are and how we craved their recipes.  What a laugh!  It was a laugh then, I tell you.  I had my own boy starving.  Starving for solidity.  Sometimes he could barely move off of his bed.

Do you know those movies where a person suddenly acquires the ability to walk through walls?  The ones where someone becomes transparent to the point that no one else can see them unless looked at very hard?  The Invisible Man?  Movies like that?  Let me tell you, they’re a pack of lies.  Those people never seem to have problems.  They move through life more easily in fact.  Now they can walk through moving traffic and never have to wait for the light.  Now they can strip off their clothes and sneak into shower rooms to watch people, bodies, drifting through steam, larger than life, without ever getting caught.

There were days when Nathan couldn’t bring himself to go to the bathroom on his own.  There were days when Sarah and I tried to help him into the shower, but he fell through our hands, through the hardwood floor, down into the living room.  We’d find him lying under the coffee table, his arms threaded through the table legs.  Or, once, splayed out in the middle of the broken plants and pottery he’d landed on.  I was always frightened.  Someday, I thought, he will fall and fall forever, and then where will he go?  I remembered how, when we were little, we thought if a person dug a deep enough hole in the ground, they’d fall through to China.  Our parents frightened us with thoughts like that.  Why was it they wanted to frighten us?

Nathan never fell to China.  Or if he did, he fell back in time for me not to notice.  I don’t think this is possible.  I don’t think this ever happened.  Still, though, I’ll leave it open.  I have learned to leave things open, sir.  Have you?

*

     It was a Friday last September the school called me.  The school nurse said, “I think you need to come down.”  I told her that I had to work, and she said, “I really think you should come down, Miss Livingston.”  She said my name real tough-like, like she was gritting her teeth.

“All right,” I said.  “All right.  I’ll come down.”

Nathan was waiting for me in the nurse’s office.  He was lying on a table, like in a doctor’s exam room, with the crackling paper rolled over its top.  Only that paper didn’t crackle.  It didn’t make any noise at all.  Now being a doctor yourself, sir, you know you can’t shut that paper up.  Even though you are up there at the university studying “the social implications of phenomena”, as you put it in your letter, and are in great need of “personal narratives” and “statistics” so that the research will be “pure”, and are not a real doctor, practicing medicine and such, I’m sure you have been on one of those tables before.  Not even staying completely still, which is impossible if you ask me, will shut that paper up.  I asked, “What’s wrong?  What’s happened here?”  And the nurse, a woman who was not as severe as I had expected, a woman who wore a fuzzy blue sweater and did not have her hair up in a bun but let it fall over her shoulders like dark cream, she said, “I’m so sorry.”

I went over to Nathan and looked at his eyes.  His eyes were open, but he didn’t seem to see me.  They were blue eyes, watery eyes, my father’s eyes.  When he was born, how happy I was to see those eyes!  Not my husband’s, who was a drunkard and a cheater, not his eyes.  I said, “Nathan?  Honey, what’s wrong?”  His lips trembled.  I thought, What am I going to do?  Already I knew without knowing what afflicted him that things were going to change.

The nurse put her arm around me and said, “Be calm.”  She unbuttoned Nathan’s shirt, one button at a time, her fingers were so deft, and pulled back each side of his shirt like a curtain.  If you could see what I saw that day.  It was not always like that, I assure you.  Nathan:  his chest, only his chest, had gone translucent.  I saw those lungs filling and expelling air, two brownish, soggy sacs going up and down, up and down.  And his heart, it throbbed beneath them.  The blood slid through his veins and I thought of blue rivers winding on a map.  The nurse covered him over again and began buttoning his tiny buttons.  And look here, I thought, even those buttons are clear.

Perhaps I am exaggerating this all a bit.  I don’t know.  This is how I remember it:  his lungs, his heart, the blood in his veins and arteries, the webbing of his nerves.  Sir, I know you are a not a real doctor and all, but let me ask you something.  Have you ever seen anything like this?  Have you ever seen your own child like this?  Sir, do you have children?

I took my son home and, while we drove in the car, neither of us said anything.  Nathan looked out the window at the passing mills and factories, the ones that all closed down years ago.  Their smokeless stacks loomed above us, gray against the gray sky.  I live on the South side of town, not the best place to raise children, Lord knows, but I did the best I could.

The factories we passed were tattooed with graffiti.  The gridwork of their windows was busted out.  Kids used to come down to the mills to paint their names, to spray-paint their useless childhood loves, to mark down their childhood enemies as though they were making hit lists.  They threw rocks, pieces of broken concrete, at the gridded windows high overhead.  The glass would shatter and rain down at their feet, onto the factory floors, and oh, how we laughed and gripped each other’s shoulders at these small victories.  It felt good to bust up those places that broke first our parents’ backs, and then, after shutting down, their spirits.

I think Nathan and his friends did this, too.  To let out frustration.  I don’t know.  I’m only guessing.  It’s something I’ve learned to do.

Sneak Peeks of Before and Afterlives (The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire)

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll  be posting previews from the 17 stories in my new short story collection, Before and Afterlives. If you like what you read, take a hop over to your favorite online bookseller and purchase either the print book or the e-book, and leave a review when you’re finished reading. It helps other people figure out if they’d like to read the book (and strokes my ego, at least when they’re good reviews). ;-)

Today’s preview is the opening to a short story called “The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire” which originally appeared in The Journal of Mythic Arts, edited by Terri Windling and Midori Snyder. This story is what I think of as a Midwestern fairy tale. I wrote it in 2004, after waking from a dream of being tangled up in a barbed wire fence in the woods on my family’s farm here in Ohio. It was a couple of months later that I’d move to Japan, so this was the last story I wrote prior to that experience.

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The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire

 

There was once a boy who was born wrapped in barbed wire.  The defect was noticed immediately after his birth, when the doctor had to snip the boy’s umbilical cord with wire cutters.  But elsewhere, too, the wire curled out of the boy’s flesh, circling his arms and legs, his tiny torso.  They didn’t cause him pain, these metal spikes that grew out of the round hills of his body, although due to the dangerous nature of his birth, his mother had lost a great amount of blood during labor.  After delivery, the nurse laid the boy in his mother’s arms, careful to show her the safe places to hold him.  And before her last breath left her, she managed to tell her son these words:  “Bumblebees fly anyway, my love.”

They followed him, those words, for the rest of his life, skimming the rim of his ear, buzzing loud as the bees farmed by his father the beekeeper.  He did not remember his mother saying those words, but he often imagined the scene as his father described it.  “Your mother loved you very much,” he told the boy, blinking, pursing his lips.  The beekeeper wanted to pat his son’s head, but was unable to touch him just there–on his crown–where a cowlick of barbs jutted out of the boy’s brown curls.

The beekeeper and his son lived in a cabin in the middle of the woods.  They only came out to go into town for supplies and groceries.  The beekeeper took the boy with him whenever he trekked through the woods to his hives.  He showed the boy how to collect honey, how to not disturb the bees, how to avoid an unnecessary stinging.  Sometimes the beekeeper wore a baggy white suit with a helmet and visor, which the bees clung to, crawling over the surface of his body.  The boy envied the bees that landscape.  He imagined himself a bee in those moments.  As a bee, his sting would never slip through his father’s suit to strike the soft flesh hidden beneath it.  His barbs, though, would find their way through nearly any barrier.

One day the beekeeper gave the boy a small honeycomb and told him to eat it.  The comb dripped a sticky gold, and the boy wrinkled his nose.  “It looks like wax,” he told his father.  But the beekeeper only said, “Eat,” so the boy did.

The honeycomb filled his mouth with a sweetness that tasted of sunlight on water.  Never before had something so beautiful sat on the tip of his tongue.  Swallowing, he closed his eyes and thought of his mother.  The way she held him in her arms before dying, the way she spoke before going away forever.  The memory of his mother tasted like honey too, and he asked the beekeeper, “What did she mean?  Bumblebees fly anyway?”

“Bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly,” said the beekeeper, closing the lid on a hive.  Honeybees crawled on the inside of the lid like a living carpet.  “Their bodies are so large and their wings so small, they shouldn’t be able to lift themselves into the air, but somehow they do.  They fly.”

Purchase the whole book at Amazon.com

Purchase the whole book at Barnes and Noble.com

Before and Afterlives Arrives

My first full length short story collection, Before and Afterlivesreleased this week! I’m sort of over the top excited by that, because since I was a teenager, I imagined my first book being a collection of short stories, something in the vein of Ray Bradbury or Shirley Jackson, but contemporary in style and setting. They were two of my favorite authors for the longest time, and I still feel their influences on me all these years later, after publishing a novel and a novel-in-stories prior to my adolescent-imagined short story collection.

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Before and Afterlives collects the majority of what I think of as my best and better stories from the last decade, the first decade of my life as a publishing writer. They are mainly stories of the supernatural, or contemporary fantasies (the word fantasy writers and publishers used to use for what is often now called urban fantasy, which is a term I think is too limiting in terms of setting). But there are several speculative fiction/scifi-ish stories included in the collection as well. In many ways, it’s the kind of mixed genre collection I used to enjoy as a young reader: in one story you’ll encounter a beached mermaid who is taken in by a woman whose daughter has disappeared, in another you’ll witness a haunted house destroy the lives of several different families over a century, and in yet another you’ll come across a young man whose lover has been stolen away from him someone who just might be an alien. There’s a girl who can call ghosts to her, and a man trying to survive the end of the world. There’s a contagion that causes people to vanish, little by little, and there’s a young man who makes his living by allowing other people to kill him for a fee, and to let them witness his remarkable ability to resurrect.

If I hadn’t written all of these stories, I would totally be wishing that someone else would have. I think that’s the writer’s impulse really. They’re readers who have become so obsessed by story that they are eventually moved to create their own stories, the ones they can’t find written by someone else.

It’s an odd thing. When I was growing up, short story collections were read as much as novels were, but times have changed. The poor short story has lost ardent fans the same way poetry has over the decades, and while I personally can’t understand why this would be–short stories are, to me, the perfect size to contain a narrative in its most distilled form, like strong whiskey–that’s how things are, regardless.

And on top of that, a lot of story collections are now published by smaller, independent presses, which have taken up the slack of larger, corporate publishing houses who specialize in producing novels. This also means it’s harder for those presses and authors to make people aware of their collections. My publisher, Lethe Press, went out on a limb to publish this collection, and I appreciate the efforts of the publisher, Steve Berman, and the beautiful interior design work done by Alex Jeffers, along with the awesome cover art made by Steven Andrew, in the production of this book.

So, dear reader, if you’re interested in helping me spread the word about mine, you can help in a variety of ways:

1.) Buy the book, and then review it somewhere. Like Amazon.com, or Barnes and Noble.com, or on Goodreads.com, etc. 

2.) Buy the book as a gift for someone you think might like it.

3.) Buy the book for someone  who is your frenemy and that you’re sure they won’t like it.

4.) Tell other people about it.

5.) Ask your local library to purchase a copy for the shelves.

6.) Ask your local brick and mortar bookseller to order it for their shelves.

7.) Have someone drive you down the street while you lean out the window with a bullhorn, announcing the title of the book and throwing candy at the youngsters lining the sidewalk.

8.) Blog about the book.

9.) Tweet or facebook about the book. Take photos of yourself reading it.

10.) Run for political office with the book as your main platform. Be sure to reference it in all of your speeches.

I’m sure there are other ways you can help, and I welcome any additional modes of promotion that I haven’t thought up yet to be listed in the comments of this post!

But in essence: new book is out! Thank you for buying, reading, reviewing (buying even if you don’t read or review it), and for being there, reader, both the ones who know who they are and the ones who don’t know just yet, but soon will be. 😉

Kindle edition also available here.