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.

Hills of Fire and Shotgun Honey

I’m thrilled to announce that my story “Rockridge Ringer” will appear in Hills of Fire: Bare-Knuckle Yarns of Appalachia later this year from Woodland Press, edited by Frank Larnerd. That one of my tales set in West Virginia passed muster with a native is honor enough, but sharing print with Frank in a Woodland Press book is even sweeter. I won’t tell you much about the story, but it involves two ex-cons fighting bare knuckle in a holler for a crooked sheriff. And there’s bikers, go-go girls and… well, you’ll just have to read it. And it stars Jay Desmarteaux, the lead in Bury the Hatchet.

And on Friday, my story “From the Heart” appeared in Shotgun Honey, one of my favorite online venues, and where I made my crime fiction debut (in this decade. My first was in Blue Murder, a long defunct online zine). It’s a short short (under 500 words) about the heart of a bluesman. I wrote the first version in 1999 or earlier. Though the story is utterly different, I was inspired somewhat by Harlan Ellison’s “Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman” and the down dirty Chicago blues from Andrew Vachss’s Burke series, the movie Thief, and so on. I rewrote it when I rediscovered it in May, but the basics and the voice didn’t change much. I think your voice is something you can develop, but not really change. You may have a few of them, with different tones, but the heart behind them is the same.

Interview and Thank Yous

First off, pulp master, wester-writin’ workhorse and all-around stand-up guy David Cranmer – editor of Beat to a Pulp and author and creator of the Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles franchise- as it is quickly becoming- invited me to answer a few questions down at the U.S. Marshal’s office. I took a shot of Maryland Rye and told him some tales… I’m no rat, but that ornery cuss is generous with his .45 Colt, and I wanted to walk out of there, so here’s the malarkey I spouted:

7 Questions, at The Education of a Pulp Writer

And I have a story up at Pulp Metal Magazine called “Gunplay.” It’s kinky and weird and I have a sick sense of humor…

I’d like to thank a few writers and bloggers for their reviews this week:

Katherine Tomlinson of Kattomic and NohoNoir, used my 100 word story “Faggot” as an example of how to write very short fiction that still tells a powerful story. “if you haven’t read it, you need to. In fewer than 100 words, he’ll take your breath away.” Thank you, Katherine… it was tough to write, and I’m glad my my punch connected!

Chris Rhatigan of Death by Killing and All Due Respect also reviewed “Faggot” on the very cool Short Story 365 project, where you read a short story every day and write a short review of it. “If you’re not reading Thomas Pluck yet, you should change that.” Thanks, Chris!

and Johnny Shaw, author of Dove Season, also chimed in at SS365 about “Little Sister” in the Lost Children Anthology, saying “If you don’t know who Thomas Pluck is, you will soon enough. His short fiction is all over the internet and he combines jabs of clever humor with full-impact gut shots.”

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

A short sharp anti-bullying piece

My story “Faggot” was written for Chuck Wendig’s 100 word anti-bullying challenge a few months back. It’s now up at Shotgun Honey, and if you leave a comment with your thoughts, or experiences with bullying, I will donate $5 for each comment to It Gets Better to support anti-bullying campaigns and gay teen suicide prevention.

You Can Donate Too.

It is not an excerpt from my novel in progress, but involves two characters- Brendan and Joey Bello, and is written from the bully’s perspective.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Meet Fiona Johnson…

Every bird’s got to leave the nest, but sometimes they need a little push. Or a three-toed kick in the arse. That’s what my friend Fiona gave me back in March when I wrote “The Last Sacrament,” and wondered if I should submit it anywhere. She told me to, gave me suggestions, and I got my first publication.

A short while later this fine judge of good writing asked me if I thought she should submit her own stories. Now, I’d been reading her tales of Gemma the Scottish police investigator for some time, drawn in by their gritty reality and Gemma herself, a fiercely alive character you should drop by Fiona’s blog- or Shotgun Honey- to meet. So I got to return that kick in the arse. I’m not sure if she believed me, or if it took our mutual friend Kate, but she’s got two great stories in The Flash Fiction Offensive and Shotgun Honey,  venues that keep getting better.

Fiona is interviewed today at Sea Minor, the blog of Nigel Bird, a fine writer himself. Please drop by. She gives me a great shout-out, but honestly, I’m sending you that way in the hopes you’ll read her stories “Saying Goodbye” at TFFO and “Hard as Nails” at Shotgun Honey, and see what a talent she has. If crime stories aren’t your game, “Saying Goodbye” is as good a coming of age tale as I’ve read in a long while. Read her now, so you can give a smug sniff a few years from now when Gemma stars in the gritty procedural from Scotland that everyone is scrambling to read.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Shogun Honey

Art by Derek Chatwood, prints available at PopRelics

Inspiration can come from anywhere. My friend Sabrina Ogden, book reviewer extraordinaire, made a typo on twitter. She’d meant to mention the great online short fiction site Shotgun Honey- not coincidentally the host of my first fiction publication– but instead, she typed “shogun honey.”

And me being me, I made a joke, saying they should do a week of all samurai fiction. (Samurai Fiction, by the way, is a great movie you ought to rent right now). She seemed dubious, and I came up with the first line of the story in a flash of inspiration, limited by twitter’s 140 character limit. I used to sneer when my poetry teacher, Rachel Hadas, said the limitations of form made you a better writer, but twitter and flash fiction have helped me follow Strunk’s law, “omit needless words,” which will make anyone a better writer.

Sabrina loved the line and asked me to keep writing. A few days later I had written “Shogun Honey,” and while far from a masterpiece, it was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you like it. It begins:

Ishikari took the job for three rice balls a day and a dry place to sleep. By dark, he’d wished he drowned and starved. 

read the rest at Shogun Honey… I mean Shotgun Honey.


© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Let Us Prey

My story “The Last Sacrament” is up at the excellent flash crime fiction site Shotgun Honey, which I loved immediately because they use a screenshot from one of my favorite revenge films: Thriller: They Call Her One-Eye. A fantastic ’70s grindhouse flick from Sweden… on Netflix. Check it out.

But also check out my story, and the ones by other excellent writers posted there as well- Gun Mantra, Tornado Noir, Gran Torino- see what they can do with 700 words. It’s not as easy as it looks.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck