Montclair Authors Cocktail Reception and Don’t Quit the Day Job!

Thursday March 8th, I’ll be attending a Montclair Authors Meet & Greet cocktail reception sponsored by Sotheby’s and Watchung Booksellers. Come join us, it will be a good time.

From 7:00PM until 9:00PM, At 32 Valley Road Montclair, at Prominent Properties. Valerie Wilson Wesley is among those attending.
2018-03-02 13_44_36-Meet the Authors of Montclair Reception at Sotheby's _ watchung booksellers

Also, Victoria Watson asked me to write about writing with a full-time day job, as part of her series Don’t Quit the Day Job, and I obliged. You can read it here.


Short Story Challenge: Marching On

I picked up Denis Johnson’s The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, his posthumous collection of stories. I enjoyed the eponymous story very much, although the title has little to do with the story, so it will never be titular. (I like saying titular. But titular and eponymous are very different in meaning, which I now know, thanks to following copy-editors on Twitter). Johnson was one of our best, and I discovered him late. I avoided Jesus’s Son because I assumed it was religious, and read Tree of Smoke, which was interesting, but overlong. His short stories have always been satisfying, and this one is no exception. He says so much with so little. The character lives a soulless life, rich and entitled. The opening scene is unforgettable and I won’t ruin it. Read the book. To give you an idea of the man telling it, he gets a call from an ex-wife who has terminal cancer and is giving her final regards, and he can’t remember if it’s wife one or wife two. This seems ridiculous, but in Denis Johnson’s hands, it’s chilling and perfect.

Do you get annoying when a title is misleading? I threw the DVD across the room when I watched Head Hunters, based on the Jo Nesbø novel. No one gets their head cut off. It’s a gimmicky thriller where a rich tech bro ex-special ops guy tries to kill a jewel thief and tracks him–seriously–by putting nanotech in his hair. So, get it? He’s hunting him… by his head! Oh, wait. The jewel thief’s cover is that of an executive recruiter. A headhunter… get it? And this dingleberry has the gall to say he doesn’t read thrillers or crime novels because he’s “above genre.” I don’t normally call out writers like this, but he threw the first shot at the entire genre, and he sleeps on a bed of money, so he can shrug off my pitiful tirade. It won’t hurt his sales. Headhunters is the biggest movie hit in Norway, which makes me not want to visit.

Another fun read was “The Cage” by Tania James in the Winter 2017 issue of Tin House. It’s short and sweet, about overprotective, harried parents of today versus those who raised in the ’70s. It made me laugh.

In Shotgun Honey, Albert Tucher delivers–like he always does–with a Diana story called “The Caffeine Cure.” Al’s got a great voice and tells a great crime story, check out his novella The Place of Refuge for a longer read.

Denis Johnson continues to amaze me. Largesse is wonderful. You can read one of the best stories, “Strangler Bob,” set in a county jail, here.

“King of the Animals” by Josh Russell in the latest One Story magazine is the most chilling tale depicting the Juggernaut of authoritarianism behind our latest leader and the nightmares it has brought to life.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark
at Fireside Fiction is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long while, mixing history and fantasy to ask the revolutionary general how he could have treated people so badly while fighting for freedom.

Story Challenge for February, part two

I had a few book reviews due–Walter Mosley’s Down the River Unto the Sea, and Eva Dolan’s incredible This is How it Ends–so I’ve cut back on the short stories a bit. Now I’m back at it, and here are some favorites:

Death Valley, by schizo604

“Fractal” by Joyce Carol Oates at Lit Hub. She writes many kinds of stories, but this genre tale about a child prodigy with abilities we can’t understand is a real winner.

“Nobody’s Fool” by R.D. Sullivan at Shotgun Honey has a nice twist. Sullivan is a new voice on the crime fiction scene and one to watch.

Blacktop” by Mrs. Fringe is an entertaining read about a cocksure never-been character some of us know well. There’s always one of them at the gym or on the court.

Mendelsohn,” in Tin House, by Seth Fried, is a bit long but an entertainingly bizarre suburbia story. I like this in part because I wrote a terrible suburban story about an anthropologist at war with a raccoon that keeps eating his trash. It was never published, the characters were caricatures, but it was good practice, and I liked reading what an experienced writer could do with the idea.

I have a book due at the library- I blew through the excellent House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson, a gripping but entertaining and light psychological thriller, and now I need to finish the forgotten classic Black No More by George Schuyler in a few days, so I won’t be reading more short stories yet!

If you like short stories, my collection Life During Wartime was just released by Down & Out Books, and contains “The Big Snip” which was chosen for The Best Crime & Mystery Stories 2016, as well as a Jay Desmarteaux yarn, three Denny the Dent tales, and “The Cronus Club,” which has never before appeared in print. Signed copies are available from Watchung Booksellers and The Mysterious Bookshop.



Two Saps at The Mysterious Bookshop…

This Wednesday, join me and Nick Kolakowski for a reading and signing at The Mysterious Bookshop, starting at 6:30PM. There will be beer!

2018-02-16 13_26_04-New this week at the Mysterious Bookshop - - Gmail


Nick will have his novella Slaughterhouse Blues and I’ve got Life During Wartime, a collection of 21 stories, from Denny the Dent, stories chosen for the Year’s Best Mystery and Crime, and the Jay Desmarteaux yarn that begins where Bad Boy Boogie leaves off.

Can’t make it? Order a signed copy from the store, to pick up or have shipped to you! They can even have books inscribed for you.

Pre-order Slaughterhouse Blues signed

Pre-order Life During Wartime signed


Stories for February, week one

Here are the stories I’ve read in the first week of February. What good shorts have you read lately? Tell us in the comments.

We Were Holy Once
La Belle de Nuit, La Belle du Jour
The Man and Women Like Him
Things You Should Know About Cassandra Dee
The Fires of Western Heaven
…all by Amber Sparks, in her excellent collection The Unfinished World.

She can write. Some stories have a touch of Edward Gorey, others are more vicious, but they are all delightful. I especially liked “We Were Holy Once”, about an infamous frontier family of hucksters and murderers, from the point of view of the simple brother. “Cassandra Dee” is chilling like a good fairy tale. The title story is more of a novella and feels diluted among the others. Alone it would probably be stronger. I did enjoy it.

“The Crazies” by Maud Streep, One Story.

I bet she gets this a lot, but I was glad it wasn’t Meryl when I saw it. One Story publishes some great stuff, but they also publish stories and excerpts of novels by people who don’t really need exposure, like Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Gilbert. They’re not exclusive, so it’s not to boost subscriptions. I don’t know why they do it, when they only publish 12 stories a year. But anyway, this is one of the good ones, a quick read that draws you in. They’ve had a solid run for the last few months, with this, “Guerrilla Marketing,” and “Pups.” For a $21 subscription, you get a lot of good reading.

Back to McSweeney’s 50:

“Orange Julius” by Kristen Iskandrian is a great story about parenting and over parenting.

“The Secret Room” by Benjamin Percy is a dark and true little short that could kick off a great novel. I hope it does someday.

“Please Fund Me” by Rebecca Curtis is a hilarious poke at entitlement. Looking forward to reading her story collection, Twenty Grand and Other Tales of Love and Money.

McSweeney’s 50 peters out with a translation of a Honore de Balzac story called “The Unfinished Masterpiece” which was all right, and some end notes and footnotes that try to meta-story around it that I couldn’t be bothered with, but overall a good issue.

I love a good Appalachia story and “The Haint” by Chris McGinley at Shotgun Honey is a fine one.

In the new issue of Tin House (vol. 19, #2) “The Wolves” by Kseniya Melnik is a breathless fairy tale from Stalin’s purges. A really great read.

The Noises from the Neighbors Upstairs: A Nightly Log” by Amber Sparks in SmokeLong Quarterly is hilarious. I heard her read it at Noir at the Bar in DC last October, and it’s even better in print.

Another Tin House story is the excellent “Moon and Star” by Ginger Gaffney, about a horse trainer trying to rope two rescue mares at a prison ranch where the inmates learn to work with animals. It’s as tense as it can get and still beautiful. Don’t tell me “literary” stories are about nothing.

Short Story Challenge, January 2018

As I said in an earlier post, I have tasked myself with reading more short stories this year, and I’m off with a bang. Here are the rest of the stories I’ve read in January. I highly recommend subscribing to One Story and Down & Out Magazine in particular. I am also greatly enjoying The Unfinished World, a story collection by Amber Sparks. A * (think Vonnegut) means I liked the story especially much. What are your favorite short stories you’ve read recently?

On the Top, by Mark Budman. Sasson Magazine*
One at a Time, by Lissa Marie Redmond. Down & Out Magazine*
The Lizzie Borden Jazz Babies, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World
The Cemetery for Lost Faces, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World*
Jordan Teller, by Sheila Heti. McSweeney’s 50*
The Logic of the Loadad Heart, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World
Thirteen Ways of Destroying a Painting, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World
Closure, by Nick Kolakowski. Down & Out Magazine*
Hero, by Jeff Parker. McSweeney’s 50*
Puppet Master Made the Puppets, by Vauhini Vara. McSweeney’s 50*
Tell the Bees, by Bill Crider. Down & Out Magazine*
Extinction Therapy, by Bracken MacLeod.*
The Wife’s Story, by Ursula K. LeGuin*
Lancelot in the Lost Places of the World, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World*
Guerrilla Marketing, by Sanjay Agnihotri. One Story*
Last Night at Skipper’s Lounge, by Timothy J. Lockhart. Down & Out Magazine
A State of Decline, by J.J. Hensley. Down & Out Magazine
Scattered and Smothered, by Hector Acosta. Shotgun Honey*
And the World was Crowded with Things That Meant Love, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World
Birds with Teeth, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World*
For These Humans Who Cannot Fly, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World*
Take Your Daughter to the Slaughter, by Amber Sparks. The Unfinished World

Today is the day… Life During Wartime and Other Stories

“Pluck likes to explore micro-cultures–Mohawk skywalkers, elite Wall Street brokers, veterinary workers, MMA fighters, cruel middle schoolers, and single mothers from Harlem, among many other types and anti-types. Amazingly, the dialogue, settings, and situations all ring true. (Either Pluck has done some serious research or he’s lived a life on the move!) ” —Out of the Gutter Online

To answer that wonderful review, I do a bit of both. I love research, and when I find something that interests me, I sack it away to explore late. Firecracker will tell you about road trips to visit strange places, like the former Nazi summer camp in Andover, New Jersey, where the American Bund marched. Or a museum to see a neolithic Venus fetish that looks like a woman holding a sword. Chatting with strangers to pick their brains, in bars, trains, elevators, and on the street. Driving over swamps in Louisiana to figure out where you could jump and have a chance of survival… I do research without leaving my desk, too, but you can’t depend on wacky wikis and Google all the time. You need to talk to people or observe them, and I’ve been lucky enough to know some very interesting characters, who I pay tribute to whenever I write.


Take a ride on the neuter scooter in “The Big Snip,” selected as one of the best crime stories of 2016. Follow a mountain man who’s not what he seems into a snowbound frontier town where evil has sunk its claws. Dine at the most exclusive restaurant in New York, where “Eat the Rich” takes on a whole new meaning. Meet Denny the Dent, a hulking 350 pounds of muscle who wouldn’t harm a fly…but who’ll gladly crush a bully’s skull like a nut. And read the Jay Desmarteaux yarn that takes off where Bad Boy Boogie ends.

These are stories that Wayne D. Dundee calls “hard-hitting bombs” and Johnny Shaw says are full of “gut punches and belly laughs” and I think you’ll enjoy them. A gonzo investigation to find the assassin of the almighty in “Six Feet Under God,” two lovers who practice the most unsafe sex of all in “GunPlay,” which Hilary Davidson read at Noir at the Bar and brought down the house, to the opener, “Freedom Bird,” one of my most personal and favorite stories, which you can read here om Criminal Element.

Available directly from Down & Out Books (they give you the ebook for free with a paperback purchase), at your local bookstore through IndieBound, and from the usual retailers:

• Barnes & Noble — Trade Paperback | eBook
• iTunes — eBook
• Kobo — eBook
• Amazon — Trade Paperback | eBook

If you would like a personalized copy, I have a few left. You can email me at the Contact Form above.