Friday, November 16, 2012

So Long, Fictionwise and EReader

On December 4, Fictionwise and EReader will no longer be offering ebooks for purchase, and customers will no longer be able to access their bookshelves after December 21.  They'll be missed.

Fictionwise and EReader (simply FW for the rest of this post) got all my ebook business from the time I started purchasing ebooks in 2000 until 2010, a bit after the sites were acquired by Barnes & Noble and fewer selections were made available in multiple formats or secure ereader/mobipocket.  Even though I didn't purchase from them nearly as frequently after that, I still checked their new release listings religiously every Monday.  I can recall few real problems with purchases from FW (2 or 3 in 10 years, and I bought a lot of ebooks there) and never had a problem that wasn't fixed quickly.  It was a pleasure to do business with FW, and I hope every member of their staff that wants to keep working in the ebook world either has another gig lined up or finds one quickly.  My best wishes to their whole crew.

And about those bookshelves going away after December 21: there's an option out there to move your purchases to a B&N Nook library account if you like, so even after FW closes down, you'll still have access to your books.

One more thing: the ereader format.  Some people didn't care for it.  I don't recall that it handled illustrations particularly well, for instance.  But that format had the most wonderfully customer-friendly DRM you could want.  If you wanted to read your book on more than one device, fine.  If you wanted to read it on 173 different devices, fine.  If you wanted to put it on your friend's PC so he could read it, you could do that too even though you shouldn't.  The DRM wouldn't stop you.  But before you could open that ebook on any PC or handheld device, you had to enter the ebook's unlock code.  The unlock code for each ebook was the name and account number on the credit card that you used to purchase it.  Neat, simple, easy for the customer.  And how many people were going to "share" their ebooks and the unlock codes on the internet if it meant giving their credit card number to thousands of strangers?  It was a DRM method that assumed that the customer was honest -- nice attitude for a company to take; if there had to be DRM, this was a nice way to handle it.

Bests again to the gang at FW.

 UPDATE: It's being reported in posts at MobileRead and KindleBoards that B&N isn't importing all the titles from Fictionwise/EReader bookshelves.  So if you're a Fictionwise/EReader customer with a large bookshelf, make sure you download your titles and the software you use to read them on your PC & handheld devices.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Little More Backlist News, and a Brief Commercial

    It's a nice time for backlist in ebooks.  The big news in genre fiction is probably the scheduled release date for all the titles in John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, coming in January. 
    But there's a lot of backlist material in the pipeline.   John O'Hara's Butterfield 8 will be released here in 2013; Barbara Pym's Less Than Angels is already available.  Both these writers have a number of titles available as ebooks in the United Kingdom, but not much available yet in the U.S.; if we're lucky, their other novels and collections of short works will follow soon.
     Library of America has begun to publish ebooks as well, with editions of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Lincoln's writings, Ambrose Bierce's selected works, and a few others available.

    On November 6, Open Road (which has published backlist titles from Lawrence Block, Budd Schulberg, Jonathan Carroll and many more) will release ebook editions of several titles by Malcolm Lowry.  The initial Lowry offerings will include: the short story collection Hear Us, O Lord, from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place; his first novel, Ultramarine; his posthumous novel, October Ferry to Gabriola; and the book that is regarded as his finest work, Under the Volcano.
Under the Volcano chronicles the last day in the life (that's not a spoiler) of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic ex-consul drinking himself to death in the Mexican town of Quahnahuac; scan a few lists of the best novels in English, and you'll generally find Under the Volcano ranked there.  It isn't always an easy read -- the novel takes some effort to get into, but it's worth it.  Also worth a look is John Huston's film version with Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bissett.
    There's a story that goes with Under the Volcano, if memory serves, that recounts one of the gutsier moves a writer can make.  Lowry worked for a long time on this book, more than a decade.  It made the rounds of publishers, and Lowry would often decide portions of the book still weren't quite right and go over them again.  While Lowry revised and tightened his book and approached publishers, Charles Jackson published his novel The Lost Weekend, which concerned an alcoholic.  After the publication and success of Jackson's book, even houses that had seen earlier versions of Lowry's manuscript rejected his final version, regarding any book dealing with an alcoholic character as an attempt to cash in on the success of Jackson's novel.  Finally, Jonathan Cape in England agreed to take the book but wanted changes to address issues raised in the publisher's reader's notes on the manuscript.  Rather than agree to the changes in this novel that he'd been writing and revising and trying to publish for the past decade, Lowry sent a letter back to Cape explaining why it was necessary to the novel for the specified sections to stand as they were.  That letter, as I recall, takes up about thirty or forty pages in Lowry's Selected Letters.  And after consideration of the points Lowry made, Cape agreed to take the novel as it stood.
     Not yet announced for Kindle are Lowry's Selected Poems, Selected Letters, Lunar Caustic, Psalms and Songs and Dark As The Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid.  Later, maybe.


A brief commercial announcement:

    The short story collection I mentioned at the end of my last post is finally available in the Amazon Kindle store and at Smashwords (from where it should find its way into other ebook retailers before long). 
    A SOUVENIR FROM THE WAR, AND OTHER STORIES sells for $1.99 and it includes eleven stories, mostly dark.  Six of the stories are new to this collection, one had been included in a previous collection that is no longer available, three have been available as individual stories in the Kindle store, and one was previously published in this blog on the occasion of Ray Bradbury's passing.  Give it a look if you get a chance.
    Find it at:
    Smashwords - A Souvenir from the War, and Other Stories  and at
    Amazon - A Souvenir from the War, and Other Stories

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee Coming to Kindle

Barring accident, act of God, the collapse of Amazon, or a catastrophe to be named later, most of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series will be released as Kindle ebooks on January 8.  Sixteen of the twenty titles are listed as being available on that date, and I imagine the other four will either be released the same day or very soon thereafter.

For some time now, the only MacDonald titles in print have been the McGee series and (if memory serves) his novels A FLASH OF GREEN and THE EXECUTIONERS (perhaps better known as CAPE FEAR, and better than either of its film versions).  With any luck, Kindle releases of his work won't be limited to the Travis McGee novels; MacDonald was a giant in the mystery and suspense field, and books like THE EXECUTIONERS, THE END OF THE NIGHT, APRIL EVIL, THE NEON JUNGLE, THE DAMNED, MURDER IN THE WIND, and CRY HARD, CRY FAST are not to be missed.

And speaking of APRIL EVIL, that novel (again if memory serves) contained a bit of description that poet Donald Justice used in writing his poem "The Tourist from Syracuse."  It's worth a look, a nice short piece with just the right touch of chill at the finish.  Find it at:
The Tourist from Syracuse, by Donald Justice

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just a Couple of Announcements

My short story "Saturdays That Might Have Been" will be free in the Amazon Kindle Store for two days, July 22 & 23.  After that, it's back to 99 cents.  Find it in the US Amazon Kindle Store here and at the UK Kindle Store here.

Recently I was interviewed on two web sites.  You can find these interviews at:, the web site of G. R. Yeates, author of The Eyes of the Dead, Shapes in the Mist, and Hell's Teeth.
( links directly to my interview, but then you'd miss other interviews and samples of Greg's work, and why would you want to miss those?), the web site of The Abominable Gentlemen, a group of four writers -- James Everington, Iain Rowan, Aaron Polson, and Alan Ryker.  In addition to my interview, you'll find an interview with indie writer Cate Gardner and links to the Penny Dreadnought short story anthologies, which are well worth a look.

Had fun with both sets of questions, and I'd like to thank Greg and James for their invitations to be interviewed on their pages.

I've got another short story collection in the works that will gather the stories not included in The Other Iron River and Other Stories and a number of new stories.  Working title is "A Souvenir from the War: Dark Stories."  It should be available in August, and I'll post an announcement here when it's out for sale.

And bests to all.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


On June 6, Ray Bradbury passed away.  He was one of the world's great writers, a master fantasist whose words enchanted millions of readers for more than half a century and will go on doing so for as long as people read.  People have been posting for days now about the importance of Bradbury, what he meant to them, their sadness at his passing.  When I sat down to write something about Bradbury, this is what my pen put on the paper.

    "So what do we tell him about Ray?" Ellen asked me.
    "The truth, I suppose.  What else?"
    Jimmy's plane would land in a few hours and we would pick up our grandson and spend the next six weeks enjoying his presence and trying to keep up with a ten-year-old boy who never went anywhere at less than a dead run.
    But this summer there would be something missing.  There would still be the zoo and the fireworks on the Fourth of July, and the carnival that passed through town every summer and the late night drive out past the edge of town, out past the lights with the old telescope that I'd somehow kept since childhood, so that Jimmy could see Mars and Saturn's rings and the double star that was the middle of the Big Dipper's handle.  But part of the daily ritual was over now, because Ray Spaulding had died this week.
    Ellen said, "I don't think he knows anyone who's gone, does he?"
    "No, not that I know of."  Our grandson, at ten, had not yet been touched by death.  He had not yet lost a pet or a friend or a family member.  The people important to him were still in their proper places.  Death was something he knew only from movies and stories, from the occasional roadside animal struck down by traffic -- it was an abstraction, a concept only.  But this summer it would become real for him because Ray Spaulding was gone.
    Ray Spaulding was a writer; he'd written fantasy and science fiction since the late 1940s, he was famous in his field though not widely known outside of it, and he was still active though not at anything like the pace of forty or fifty years ago.  He'd grown up near here and had moved back a few years ago, the same summer that Jimmy's annual visits had begin.
    Jimmy had never known his father, and his mother, though devoted to him, had to work.  While she spent her evenings and weekends with him, a chunk of that time was eaten by necessary household chores.  The company she worked for had inventory and other end-of-year processes late each June, so a few years back, we'd started keeping him for six weeks in the summer.  Ellen and I were retired, and while we were slowing down, we were still able to do things with him, like the zoo and the carnival.
    One afternoon that first summer, as Jimmy played in the sprinkler on the front lawn, he ran through the spray and then kept going, out of our yard and into the next, stopping at our new neighbor's front steps, and I heard him say, "Hi.  I'm Jimmy.  What's your name?"
    Ray Spaulding sat in a chair on his front porch, enjoying the summer sun and smiling at the soaking wet seven-year-old boy.  "I'm Ray.  Do you live near here?"
    I caught up to Jimmy.  "The grandson," I said.  "We've got him for six weeks."
    "Good for you," Ray said.  Then he looked at Jimmy again.  "So.  Jimmy, is it?  What do you like to do?"
Some kids are shy; Jimmy was not one of them.  And what he liked to do burst out of him, the words tripping over each other in Jimmy's rush to answer Ray Spaulding's question.  The words poured forth so quickly that Ellen and I could hardly understand everything Jimmy was saying.  But Ray didn't seem to have any trouble with the torrent, and while Ray was old now and visibly frail there was in his eyes as he looked at our grandson more than a touch of the child he once must have been, the child that perhaps he had never forgotten how to be.
    And for the next hour, Jimmy and Ray talked about dinosaurs and magic tricks and comic books and Halloween and ghosts and what might be on the dark side of the moon.  Whatever Jimmy brought up, Ray seemed to know of it.  Ellen and I were old, and so was Ray -- he was older than we were by perhaps twenty years -- but Ellen and I thought of ourselves as old now, and standing there listening to Ray and Jimmy it seemed that Ray could never have thought of himself as old, had kept his sense of endless youth through all the decades of his life.
    Some time spent talking with Uncle Ray became part of the daily ritual for Jimmy during his summer visits.  Every day, at some point, of a morning or afternoon, or sometimes after dark with the moon full and the fireflies challenging Jimmy to catch them as they winked at him on the front lawn, he would sit and talk a while with Ray Spaulding.  And later, Ellen and I would find ourselves with Jimmy at the bookshop or the library, getting a copy of Treasure Island or Oliver Twist or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and we would read to him at night until he fell asleep.  Some of the words in these books had to be going right by him, but Ray had told him enough about the stories that he listened, rapt, the whole time.  One afternoon, after he'd talked about dinosaurs with Ray, Jimmy asked us about two movies, and we took him to the video store and found copies of the original King Kong and The Lost World.  Jimmy was spellbound by them, and so were we; neither Ellen nor I had seen those movies in decades.
    On Jimmy's next visit, he was still happy to spend time with Ellen and me, but the main attraction for him was the chance to spend some time with Ray Spaulding.  Ray told him of things we would never have remembered to tell him, things we might not have thought important enough to pass on.  Ellen and I could remember the trains that had run so often between the lonely prairie towns where we'd grown up -- Ray remembered the smell of the coal-fired engines, lingering for a while in the hot still air of summer after the trains had passed by.  We could remember that we'd run and played in woods that seemed, when we were ten or eleven, to go on for miles even though they were probably not nearly as deep as we thought -- Ray remembered those woods and he remembered the tree-houses that our parents had never seen, remembered nights spent in high branches or in tents in clearings with ghost stories accompanied by the moaning of lonely night winds and the glow of eyes just beyond the reach of firelight.  We could speak of some of these things to our grandson, but Ray knew them.  To us they were memories, fading as we ourselves were beginning to fade -- Ray knew them as if he were still the child to whom they were all as new as today's sunrise.  To us they were dead leaves pressed in scrapbooks, but to him everything from all those years gone by was fresh and alive and flowing from him to Jimmy, and Ellen and I couldn't begin to express how much we envied him that gift, that capacity to capture all those details from all those decades and pass them on apparently so effortlessly.
    Gone now.  And we knew that we were going to miss Ray Spaulding as much as Jimmy would.  While we didn't see him every day when Jimmy wasn't here, we would see him sitting out on his front porch at least two or three evenings a week in good weather, and spend a little time talking with him.  We found him as captivating as our grandson did, and if Ray found us as dull and stodgy as we thought we must be in comparison, he never let on.
    And now we had to tell Jimmy that he wouldn't be seeing Ray any more.
    There had been no time to prepare him for it, no time to call and let his mother break the news.  We'd been away for ten days, visiting friends in Phoenix, and Ray had a stroke and died the night we'd left and by the time we got back home the night before Jimmy's arrival, it was all over.  The family had made the arrangements, Ray had been buried next to his wife in Eugene, Oregon, and Ray's son and daughter were going through paperwork and possessions as they prepared to close up and sell the house, and we didn't realize what had happened until this morning and Jimmy was already on his way here.
    When we picked him up at the airport, he was already bursting.  He was ready for the zoo, of course, and the telescope, and the Fourth's fireworks, and all the things he wanted to tell Uncle Ray and all the things he wanted to ask Uncle Ray.  As we pulled into the driveway, he immediately noticed the two cars parked in front of Ray's house and asked who was visiting.  We went inside and sat in the front room.  We didn't know how to tell him, so we just told him.  "Jimmy," I said, "Mr. Spaulding died last week.  He's gone, son."
    No tears, just silence and a look of solemnity that seemed to me beyond a child's capacity.  Then Jimmy said, "He said that might happen because he was old and he was sick.  But he never seemed old."  He was silent again for a few moments.  "Will we visit his grave?" he asked.
    "I'm afraid not.  His grave's quite a long way from here."
    Nobody said anything then, and finally Ellen and I said almost in unison, "Are you hungry after your trip?"
    Jimmy said he was, and we fixed ham sandwiches and lemonade and took them out on the front porch.  The porch swing and the trees gave us shade for now but the sun and the clear sky promised heatstroke weather by late afternoon.  We talked a little as we ate, talked of inconsequentialities, about anything but Ray Spaulding.
    We were almost finished with lunch when the front door of Ray's house opened and Ray's son and daughter, Dennis and Barbara, stepped out.  They noticed us and waved, and then stepped back inside.  When they emerged again, Dennis was carrying a box.  They came to our porch, smiling.
    Dennis said, "I'm thinking that you'd be Jimmy.  Am I right?"
    Jimmy nodded, and Dennis continued, "Well, Mr. Spaulding was our father, and he told us about seeing you here the last few summers.  Did your grandparents tell you what happened?"
    "We're going to be around another couple of days, going through things."  He hefted the box and smiled more broadly at Jimmy, and I was struck by how much he resembled his father -- something in his eyes, and much of that resemblance was there in Barbara's eyes too.  "Our dad said he'd been telling you about books and other things, and we think he'd have liked you to have these."  He put the box down next to the front door.  "Maybe your grandparents will read these to you later.  Okay, Jimmy?"
    To us, he said, "We'll be in and out of here the next couple of days -- we'll stop by before we lock the place up and leave, if that's all right."
    "Of course."
    And they were off, and in a little while we went inside, bringing the box with us.  Jimmy made no move to open it, and neither did we.  It was the last he had of Uncle Ray and he was in no hurry to use it up.  He didn't open the box that day or the next, and we didn't say anything about it.  I'm not sure that we really wanted to see it opened either.
    Years ago, after the death of my father, I ended up in possession of a box of his things.  There were half a dozen of his favorite books, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart he'd won during World War II, some photographs of people I didn't recognize, and a packet of letters he'd received from a few of his army buddies as well as some letters he'd send them, returned to him after their deaths I suppose, and some newspaper clippings of obituaries.  Without Dad present, these objects had seemed like simply debris from his life, cast-off things already crumbling to dust.
    We wondered if Jimmy somehow felt that opening his gift from Ray would let whatever remained of him escape into final oblivion, leaving only a box of discarded toys that would one day seem like clutter rather than holy relics.  Maybe Jimmy was afraid to open the box; I'm sure that I was.
    Two days after Dennis and Barbara had given Jimmy the package, they knocked on our door to let us know they were leaving.  "We'd like to tell you again how much Dad enjoyed your grandson's visits," Barbara said.  "And your company as well."
    Dennis was looking at Jimmy.  "Did you like your package?" he said.
    "I didn't open it yet," Jimmy told him.
    Dennis didn't seem surprised by that, and I thought that somehow he knew just what Jimmy thought would happen if he opened the box, that he also knew what I'd felt about my father's things.
    "He read stories to you, didn't he, Jimmy?" Dennis said.  Jimmy nodded and Dennis continued.  "He read to us too.  All the time.  He read to us from Dickens and Verne and Wells and Melville and Poe and Burroughs.  He read us short stories and whole novels and poetry.  He read us books that we couldn't have fully understood or appreciated at our age, but it was clear that he loved the things he read us, so clear that we loved them too.  But he always read to us from other writers; he never read us his own stories.  When we were your age or a little older, he showed us the books he wrote, just to let us know they were there.  He knew that we'd read them some day because they were his, but in the meantime there were all these other writers he wanted us to meet."
    Jimmy, still silent, looked from Dennis to the box.
    "When Dad was a little bit older than you," Dennis said, "he went to a carnival, and one of the carnival people told him to live forever.  And he will, as long as people read what he wrote."
    "Is that what's in the box?  His books?" Jimmy said.
    "And some others, but yes, his books are there.  When you feel like you're ready, open the box and read them.  He wrote them for you."
    Dennis stood and looked at me and Ellen.  "We'll be going now.  It was nice meeting all of you."
    "And you both," Ellen said.  "And again, our sympathies."
    Barbara said goodbye to Jimmy, and moments later they were gone, leaving an empty house next door and a package, waiting to be opened, on the coffee table.
    Jimmy stepped to the coffee table and opened the box; he began removing the contents, stacking the paperbacks and comics neatly on the table as he did, and stacking Ray's titles separately.  He picked one of Ray's titles from the stack and handed it to me.  "Grandpa, will you read me this one?"
    We sat on the sofa, Jimmy between me and Ellen, and I opened the book and began to read:  "First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys."
    And I kept reading, as enthralled as my grandson, long into the warm summer night.


Note: Ray Spaulding, of course, is and is not Ray Bradbury.  Spaulding is unknown outside the genre, while Bradbury was world-famous.  Spaulding returns to live a few of his last years in the area where he'd been a boy, while Bradbury did not.  Spaulding has a son and a daughter; Bradbury had four daughters and I have no idea what stories he read to them.  Both Spaulding and Bradbury loved books and reading, and both had retained the sense of wonder they'd had in boyhood, and both had been able to communicate that wonder to readers of all ages.  The book that the narrator begins reading to Jimmy at the end of the story is Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes; if you haven't read it, or The Martian Chronicles, or The Illustrated Man, or The October Country, or Dandelion Wine, or so many of his others, you're cheating yourself.



Saturday, May 12, 2012

Wish I'd Written That...

Not long ago, Terry Teachout posted a list of the ten American novels and the ten American plays he would most like to have written.  Patrick Kurp followed up with a few comments and a list of his own.  There was some overlap, but not as much as you might expect.

Terry Teachout's list is at and you can find Patrick Kurp's response at

It's been said that we can't know how even our closest friends experience music (can't recall who said that -- may have run across the comment in one of Joseph Epstein's essays...) -- sometimes I wonder if the same isn't true of the experience of art in general, of film and photography and fiction and all the rest.  The novel that I find trite and mawkish may move you beyond your capacity to express; the poem that I find heartbreakingly sad may leave you wondering just when I lost whatever critical faculties I may once have had.

It's also been said that the act of drawing up such "wish I'd written that" lists exposes you to the sneer of the critic, professional or otherwise, who looks over the list and says, "You like that?"

But drawing up such lists is a lot of fun.

So, in no particular order, here are some novels, short stories, and poems I wish I'd written.

William Goldman: The Princess Bride; Boys and Girls Together
Don Robertson: Praise the Human Season; Mystical Union
Theodore Sturgeon: "The Girl Who Knew What They Meant;" "Hurricane Trio;" "A Saucer of Loneliness"
Robert Heinlein: The Puppet Masters
Robert Silverberg: Dying Inside; The Book of Skulls; Thorns
Joe Haldeman: 1968
Stephen King: "The Body;" Hearts in Atlantis
John D. MacDonald: The Damned; "End of the Tiger;" The Executioners; The End of the Night
Evan Hunter: Sons; Far from the Sea; Love, Dad
Joseph Epstein: "The Goldin Boys"
Roger Zelazny: "A Rose for Ecclesiastes"
Donald Justice: "Men at Forty;" "The Tourist from Syracuse"
Dana Gioia: "Summer Storm;" "Unsaid"
Harlan Ellison: "Paladin of the Lost Hour;" "Shatterday;" "The Function of Dream Sleep;" "Jeffty Is Five"
Ray Bradbury: "Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby Is a Friend of Mine;" "The Town Where No One Got Off"

That list is by no means exhaustive -- there's plenty more to be added to it, and it changes, and you'll have noticed it doesn't get into Hemingway/Fitzgerald/etc country at all (but, really, who wouldn't want to have written Gatsby or "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"?)

One nice thing about running across lists like those of Teachout and Kurp is that you run across titles that you'd not heard of, or you're reminded of titles you'd meant to read but had simply forgotten to make note of.  But that also means that your to-be-read pile gets even bigger -- I don't know how you're doing with your TBR pile, but I don't expect to live long enough to finish mine, so I should know better than to look at such lists.  But I look at them anyway.  So if you've got a list of your own, pass it along or post a link in the comments; I'm always happy to put a few more titles on The Amazing Colossal To-Be-Read Pile.

Late to the Party Department: Robert McCammon's novel Boy's Life is a terrific read.  If, like me, you'd missed it, grab a copy immediately.  If you like Bradbury, or King's "The Body," or Dan Simmons's Summer of Night, you'll enjoy Boy's Life.  My thanks to Kealan Patrick Burke and the gang at his Goodreads group for steering me to this one.

And a brief commercial: I've got a new short story up at Amazon's Kindle store called "Saturdays That Might Have Been;" it's a short fantasy with (I hope) something of a Jack Finney/Twilight Zone feel to it.  It's free from May 11 through May 13, after which it goes back to 99 cents.  Give it a look if you get a chance and while the price is right.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Few More Horror Recommendations

If you read ebooks, it's a nice time to be a fan of good supernatural and horror fiction.  There have been first-rate small presses devoted to the genre for a long time, and some of them are making backlist and new titles available in digital editions at reasonable prices.

Cemetery Dance is an excellent publisher of horror fiction; even if the house wasn't publishing good new material, such as their limited edition hardcover of Kealan Patrick Burke's Kin and the new ebook A Life in Cinema by Mick Garris, CD would deserve kudos for issuing the ebook edition of Kirby McCauley's 1980 anthology Dark ForcesDark Forces was a big collection of original horror stories done by some of the field's top names along with entries by writers not usually associated with the genre at the time such as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Joyce Carol Oates.  This collection contained the original appearance of Stephen King's "The Mist," and also included work by Theodore Sturgeon, Russell Kirk, and Dennis Etchison.  It's an excellent collection and it's available at a bargain price -- only $6.99 in the Kindle store.

Also active in ebooks these days is Ash-Tree Press.  Ash-Tree is a Canadian publisher specializing in the classic ghost story, epitomized by the work of M. R. James.  One of Ash-Tree's offerings is A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings of M. R. James, which includes all of his ghost stories and his essays on supernatural fiction.  Ash-Tree is also in the process of releasing six collections that will include all the ghost stories of E. F. Benson.  If you've not read Benson's work, check out the text of his short story "Caterpillars;" after you've read that one, you'll want more.  Ash-Tree is also offering work by H. Russell Wakefield, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others.

And publishers such as Necon, Samhain Publishing, and Macabre Ink have issued novels and short story collections by writers such as Alan Peter Ryan, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, Jack Ketchum, Thomas Tessier, John Skipp and Craig Spector, Al Sarrantonio, Richard Christian Matheson and plenty more.

There are a number of good writers who are simply putting the work out there on their own.  A nice example here is the series of Penny Dreadnought collections offering stories by James Everington, Iain Rowan, Aaron Polson, and Alan Ryker; three of these are out so far, and each contains a story by each of the four contributors. 

There's plenty for the horror fan to choose from in the way of novels and short story collections.  But what about the big anthologies?  The ones that could serve as textbooks for a good classroom survey course in the genre?  The best-known representative anthologies are probably the Modern Library anthology Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural and David Hartwell's The Dark Descent.  Both are excellent collections, and chances are any lover of the horror story owns one or both.  A more recent representative collection is the big 2-volume The Century's Best Horror Fiction edited by John Pelan and published by Cemetery Dance; this one's expensive, priced at $150 for the set, but the selection of stories is terrific.  None of these are available as ebooks, unfortunately.

If you want a good representative anthology of the weird tale in ebook form, your best bet at the moment is probably The Weird edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer.  This one isn't from a small press; it's published by Tor/Macmillan, and at first glance it may seem a bit pricey for an ebook at $14.99, but it includes stories selected from a century's work in the genre, like Pelan's two-volume collection (and while there's some overlap in the selections, there's not very much).  Among the 110 stories are Fritz Leiber's "Smoke Ghost," Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good LIfe," Robert Bloch's "The Hungry House," Saki's "Sredni Vashtar," Charles Beaumont's "The Howling Man," George R. R. Martin's "Sandkings," and Harlan Ellison's "The Function of Dream Sleep."  The lineup of authors includes Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Poppy Z. Brite, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Jorge Luis Borges, Shirley Jackson, and more   Pricey?  For a package this nice, $14.99 is a steal.

Links to some of the titles recommended above (links are to the U.S. Amazon Kindle store):
The Weird
A Pleasing Terror: the Complete Supernatural Writings of M. R. James
Dark Forces
"Caterpillars, by E. F. Benson"
The Penny Dreadnought Collections

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Writer Who Can Do It All

At in the Book Corner section, one of the denizens started a thread devoted to the question, "What are your top 5 books of all time?"

Normally, I hate that question, for a few reasons -- never been able to understand how anybody could actually rank his favorites in such a way to come up with an absolute top 5 of all time, never been able to understand why anybody could actually WANT to rank them that way, and (worst of all) never been able to NOT think about the question when it's asked.  So instead of goofing off, or working, or doing battle with the novel-in-progress, I found myself thinking about my top 5 books of all time.

No, I don't have a solid now-and-forever top 5.  Given enough time and skull sweat I might be able to come up with a top 10 list in a number of different categories: top 10 thrillers, top 10 science fiction and fantasy novels, top 10 horror novels, top 10 general/mainstream/literary/call-it-what-you-like.  But I don't have those lists and I'm not going to clutter up the evening trying to build them -- an hour after I did so, I'd be kicking myself for leaving off this title or that one and then I'd have to build the lists all over again.  That way lies madness.

But while thinking about the question, it did occur to me that there's someone who'd rank in the top 10 in multiple categories.  Fantasy, thriller, mystery and suspense, general/literary, non-fiction.  As far as novel-writing goes, he's fallen silent; he's devoted most of his time to screenwriting and script doctoring for quite a while now.

The writer is William Goldman.

You know his work.  Even if you don't recognize his name (unlikely), you're bound to have seen at least one of the movies he's written.  Adaptations of books by other writers (including Misery, Hearts in Atlantis, All the President's Men, Absolute Power, A Bridge Too Far), original scripts of his own (The Great Waldo Pepper, The Ghost and the Darkness, Year of the Comet, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and adaptations of his own books (Marathon Man, Magic, and The Princess Bride).

Goldman's novels include: The Temple of Gold; Boys and Girls Together; No Way to Treat a Lady; Soldier in the Rain; The Thing of It Is...; Marathon Man; Magic; The Princess Bride; Heat; Control; Tinsel; Brothers; The Color of Light.  And he's written non-fiction as well, including Adventures in the Screen Trade and Hype and Glory.

Look at that list (if you don't know the novels but only the movies look at the list of originals and adaptations of his own work) and think about the range of it.  The Princess Bride is a wonderful comic fantasy.  Marathon Man is, in my opinion, the finest thriller of the 70s.  Magic is a chilling psychological horror story.  Tinsel is a big Hollywood novel.  Control and Brothers (a sequel to Marathon Man) are both thrillers with science fiction elements woven in.  No Way to Treat a Lady is a nifty mystery/suspense story.  And the others, like The Temple of Gold and Boys and Girls Together -- non-genre fiction of a high order.

How high an order?  Let me put it this way: Salinger's Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye always struck me as too much of a literary construct; Goldman's Ray Trevitt from The Temple of Gold seemed far more real to me.  Goldman could take a character like Aaron Firestone in Boys and Girls Together, a character who gets less sympathetic with every scene he's in, and make you cry for him.  Goldman could write scenes that chill your blood and almost make you laugh out loud at the same time, in books like Marathon Man and Magic.  (And if there's a novelist anywhere who can handle scenes involving insecurity or humiliation better than Goldman, I don't know who it is.)  Some people said that some of his later novels didn't measure up to the earlier ones, and for me Heat and Brothers weren't in the same class as their predecessors -- but even those books were so engagingly written that I never once felt I hadn't gotten more than my money's worth (and I didn't wait for the paperbacks -- grabbed them in hardcover on the day of release).  Some of Goldman's books may not have been in the same league as others of his titles, but that's the way it works for every writer -- Budd Schulberg once likened a writer's work to a mountain range and noted that not every peak is Everest.  I can't recall ever reading a page of Goldman that I found dull; dull may just be the only thing Goldman can't write.

If you know William Goldman's work only from his screenwriting (dynamite though that is), treat yourself to some of his fiction.  You won't be disappointed.  You may find yourself with somebody to add to your own top 10 list.

UPDATE: Dec 20, 2012.  On January 8, three of Goldman's best novels, The Temple of Gold, Marathon Man, and Boys and Girls Together, will finally be released as ebooks in Amazon's Kindle store.  The ebook editions will be coming from Open Road Media, a house that tends to release all or most of its authors' available backlist -- here's hoping that the rest of Goldman's novels will soon follow.