Two Free Stories for your Reading Pleasure…

Summer is nearly over, but you can always use a summer read.

Here are two short stories you may have missed.

First, I’m very happy to have stories in two new venues, Tough Crime, edited by Rusty Barnes, and Retreats from Oblivion, the Journal of NoirCon. I was sad to see crime fiction mags close shop, and I’m grateful that these editors have given us new ones.

cement truck train crashThe Third Jump of Frankie Buffalo” is a pure hard-boiled crime story that draws on my days working at the docks in Newark, inspired by getting stuck in traffic at a railroad crossing. Tough Crime is publishing a lot of great stuff by new writers like Shawn A. Cosby and established authors, including one by Matthew Lyons that will appear in this year’s Best American Short Stories, edited by Roxane Gay. That’s amazing for such a new venue.

branch brook parkThe Forest for the Trees” first appeared in The Flash Fiction Offensive but didn’t reach a lot of people, so I am glad Retreats from Oblivion chose to reprint a new edit. It is a noir love story and very personal, set in the neighborhood I grew up in. I heard a lot of street racing stories growing up and a cousin totaled his Corvette and was scarred for life, hiding the wreck in a garage from police. I myself never raced, but I once wrapped my Mustang around a tree after hitting some ice, and drove it home, engine smoking. The police followed the smell. They wanted to charge me with leaving the scene of an accident, but I asked them if the tree was pressing charges and they let me go.

cover-pluck-life-during-wartime-1800x2700pxI hope you enjoy these stories. If you like them, I am selling signed copies of my story collection Life During Wartime for $16 shipped. You can reply to this email if you want a personalized copy. If you bundle it with Blade of Dishonor or Bad Boy Boogie, the books are $15 each (so, $30 for 2, $45 for all three).

 

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

Cover Reveal for Life During Wartime

LIFE DURING WARTIME is my newest story collection, out January 29th 2018, from Down & Out Books. It collects my best stories and includes some new ones, such as the title story, and stories heard only at various readings across the country, such as “The Cronus Club,” “Gunplay,” “Deadbeat,” and others. I’ll let you know when it is available for pre-order. Most of these stories have never seen print. Some were in Kindle collections, but those are now out of print. It does NOT include “Russian Roulette,” which you can only read in the excellent collection KILLING MALMON.

Here is the cover:

cover-pluck-life-during-wartime-1800x2700px

Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense

Steel Heart Cover 2500x1563Presenting ten unflinching stories with heart.

What does Steel Heart mean? It means hard-boiled thrillers with heart. And here are ten of my best and most popular, most of which have only been available in print until now.

I tarried a bit in getting a story collection together. Many have asked for one. I wanted to do it right. Then my friend JW Manus, who designs beautiful e-books–if you think that’s an oxymoron, see what she’s done for Lawrence Block, the Protectors anthology, and Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats, among many others–prodded me, asking why I didn’t have a collection of my best stories out there. My wife Sarah made the cover. Jaye and I edited the stories anew, and Jaye designed the book, which when you take a free peek on Amazon or Smashwords, exceeds her reputation.

Right now the book is available on Amazon for Kindle, and Smashwords in all formats, and you can also read it there online. With Kindle Cloud Reader, you don’t need a Kindle to read the book either. Barnes & Noble is taking their sweet time. It is also available for Kobo e-reader, but I am waiting for it to be available through Watchung Booksellers Kobo program before sharing that link. Then the sale will support my local indie bookstore. I will update this page, and the official Steel Heart page when it is available there.

And here are the stories:

Gumbo Weather – Jay Desmarteaux confronts his own past as he spars with a ruthless crime boss to rescue a child from a hellish home.

A Glutton for Punishment – Terry is an MMA fighter who’s never backed down from a fight, but this one might be his last.

Legacy of Brutality – Denny the Dent ain’t smart, but he listens good. When a woman at his gym tangles with her abusive boyfriend, it’s 300 musclebound pounds of street justice to the rescue.

The Forest for the Trees – A street racer finds the love of his life as he escapes from the cops. But how long will he live to love her?

Six Feet Under God – A wise-cracking existential P.I. takes on the ultimate murder case: Who killed the Almighty?

Tiger Mother – in 1950s Harlem, Caldonia Peele hunts down her missing son. It’s the toughs who better be afraid when tiger mother’s on the prowl.

Freedom Bird – Vietnam Vet Harve Chundak battles to teach his unruly son to walk the straight and narrow, but will he lose the war?

Black-Eyed Susan – A bad joke comes to all-too-real life for the denizens of a mill town gin mill.

The Last Sacrament – The dangerous life of an unlikely altar boy.

Kamikaze Death Burgers at the Ghost Town Cafe – Jay Desmarteaux is just trying to get by, running contraband in his voodoo Cadillac. When he tangles with a psycho trucker and the red hot lawyer for a violent biker gang, he fights a battle worthy of the Road Warrior in the Utah desert for his very soul.

Praise for these short stories:

“Thomas Pluck doesn’t flinch and he doesn’t pull punches. He writes with passion, grit, heart, and his prose cuts as clean as a scalpel.” –Wayne D. Dundee, author of RECKONING AT RAINROCK and the Joe Hannibal PI series

“If you don’t know who Thomas Pluck is, you will soon enough. He combines jabs of clever humor with full-impact gut shots.” –Johnny Shaw, author of DOVE SEASON and BIG MARIA

“To read a Thomas Pluck story is to be enmeshed in atmosphere that completely takes over the body and the heart. A place of honesty, brutal but true. Pluck is described best in one word: Storyteller.” –Les Edgerton, author of JUST LIKE THAT and THE PERFECT CRIME

“Black-Eyed Susan by Thomas Pluck is short and mean and well-written. I don’t think I’ve read anything by this author before, but I’ll be on the lookout for his name now.” –James Reasoner, author of THE CIVIL WAR SERIES

“These stories prove that Pluck ain’t here to f**k around.” –Chuck Wendig, author of BLACKBIRDS and THE BLUE BLAZES

10% of the proceeds of this book will be donated to PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children.

While your waiting for my editor to finish with BLADE OF DISHONOR, and me to finish editing BURY THE HATCHET, have a taste of the MMA fighter who inspired “Rage Cage” Reeves of Blade, and two Jay Desmarteaux stories, plus Denny the Dent and several more. Sorry it took so long to get this together, but I think you’ll agree that it was worth doing right.

Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense  is available at the following e-book retailers.

Kobo, through Watchung Booksellers

Amazon for Kindle

Barnes & Noble for Nook

Smashwords, in many formats, including to read online.

Soon for Apple iPad

Salute These Shorts

I love short stories. Otherwise I wouldn’t write them, because they are a pain in the ass. Sure, you can get the whole idea in your head at once, but there’s no room for error. So when I read a great one, I sit in awe. Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

The Creature from the Cleveland Depths, by Fritz Leiber

This one felt silly when I first read it, but now that we have cell phones, ol’ Fritz is laughing in his grave.

In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried, by Amy Hempel

Amy Hempel paints pain so beautifully, without ever using fancy brushes.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. LeGuin

An incredible fable that puts civilization in perspective and asks us why we can’t walk away.

The Gentle Way, by Lawrence Block (available in his collection “Enough Rope”)

Mr. Block writes damn fine short stories. This one, about an animal shelter dealing with a vandal, resonates deeply. His excellent story “See the Woman” is available online.

Placebo, by Andrew Vachss (Available in his collection “Born Bad,” and also in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.) You can read the also-excellent “Working Roots” free here on his website.

Placebo is a pared down work of great power. Working Roots is a gritty urban fairy tale. I wish Andrew Vachss would write a novel about these kids.

Houston, Houston Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr. aka Alice Sheldon.

How do you end violence? The answer is simple, if unpleasant.

Speech Sounds, by Octavia Butler
The last Ms. Butler is interviewed by Charlie Rose here:

The late, great Ms. Butler captures the terror of a true apocalypse and losing the power to communicate in this gut puncher.

The Man from the South, by Roald Dahl

One of my favorite horror tales. You’ll be clutching your fingers!

The Chaser, by John Collier

One of the funniest and best short story writers, Collier is oft forgotten but has many lessons to teach writers today and many joys to bring readers for centuries hence.

The Appointment in Samarra, by Somerset Maugham

A classic bit of flash fiction.

Why I Live at the P.O., by Eudora Welty

A great picture of a family from one of its loony members.

A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor

If you don’t like this story, hit yourself in the face.

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell

The inspiration for “The Thing,” this one is terrifying on a cellular level.

“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” by Harlan Ellison. He has written a ridiculous amount of great short stories. How to choose one? This has always been the most memorable to me. A supercomputer destroys humanity in retribution for creating him–a genius who cannot truly move, feel or love– but he saves five individuals to torture for eternity. Misanthropy at its most dire. A close second is “The Paladin of the Lost Hour,” a wonderful fantasy story about a man who guards the “clock” that keeps the world from doomsday, and how he shares a moment with a veteran wracked with survivor’s guilt. The first is available in the collection of the same name, the second is in “Angry Candy.” I am also fond of the entire collection :”Deathbird Stories,” especially the title story, which retells Genesis from Satan’s–I mean “Snake’s” point of view.