If you’re taking a leisurely five-day weekend to celebrate the Fourth of July, you’re going to need something to read. And I’m assuming you’ve already read all the adventures of everyone’s favorite patriotic vampire. So it’s time for you folks to branch out a little.
If you’re looking for something scary, then I suggest the latest collection of short stories from my friend and teacher John Rember. Sudden Death Over Time is set almost entirely among the academics at a tiny liberal arts college as they struggle to find their own reasons to live. And while that might not sound like the stuff of horror, in places it is absolutely terrifying. John’s prose is as mercilessly lucid as ever, and he wrestles with the existential questions most of us prefer to avoid without strong chemicals. My personal favorite was the piece about the professor who’d personally taken charge of the college’s stash of deadly materials accumulated in the glory days of the Cold War, when you could get plutonium and biotoxins through the mail. You can order the book direct from the publisher here.
Coming To My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride is by Alyssa Harad, another refugee, like me, from the great state of Idaho. I admit, I haven’t read this yet, but Alyssa was always a gifted and ridiculously smart writer, so it’s worth checking out. It hits July 5, and sounds fascinating. After thinking of herself as primarily a bookish intellectural, she discovers an unknown sensual obsession in perfume just before she’s about to get married. Think Eat, Pray, Love without the entitlement issues. Wouldn’t be surprised to see this hit Oprah-like levels of success, so get your copy now.
Yet another Boise native, Stephanie Reents just released The Kissing List, a collection of short stories about the early days of semi-adulthood: the escape from grad school; the first, crappy apartments; and the inevitable collisions with love and mortality. Filled with effortless, elegant prose and surprising moments of grace.
When I was at the University of Riverside’s Palm Desert MFA program, (#humblebrag) I got to meet a writer I’ve admired for a long time, Steve Almond. He was gracious about my fanboy piddling all over his sneakers, so I suggest you pick up his new collection of stories, God Bless America, or any of his seriously funny, smart and occasionally sex-drenched work.
Or you can do yourself a favor and read anything by Emily Rapp and be amazed by her ability, her strength, and her breathtaking honesty. (Seriously, I write about vampires to avoid thinking about the stuff she confronts in just a few paragraphs.)
After all that, you might be in the mood for some lighthearted mayhem. Fortunately, my friend Cody Goodfellow has got you covered. His book, All-Monster Action, destroys the entire planet in a war fought between weaponized Godzillas and bioengineered freaks, and it is ridiculously fun.
Finally, there’s Glen Duncan’s Tallula Rising, the sequel to The Last Werewolf. It’s brilliant. Read both books if you haven’t already. Then read everything else he’s done. Duncan is one of the greatest prose stylists I’ve ever read. Werewolves and vampires are just the bacon and hot fudge on top of the sundae.
As it turns out, there’s nothing like monsters fighting monsters to take your mind off — or maybe illuminate — the great struggle of humanity to simply live through all the joy and pain the world serves up to us, every day.
Okay. That should hold you until at least next week. Get reading.
There is a company that will turn your cremated remains into vinyl LPs. That’s an especially strange and sobering thought for a Friday morning, so let’s move onto the shameless self-promotion before we get too deep into wondering what songs should be pressed onto those discs…
(“Don’t Fear the Reaper” seems a bit on the nose, doesn’t it? Of course, if you’re into 80s Wave, you have two versions of “Forever Young” to choose from, but that might be a little tasteless for some. “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode? “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash? “Story of My Life” by Social Distortion?)
Right. This week’s RED, WHITE, AND BLOOD news:
Reading the adventures of Cade and Zach may cause some bleeding. You’ve been warned:
Thanks to Richard L. Powell, who sent the image of his blood-spattered copy of THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE.
Bob Reiss has an awesome review of the audiobook version of RED, WHITE, AND BLOOD up at his site, The Guilded Earlobe. Thanks, Bob. (Once again, I am very lucky to have Bronson Pinchot narrating.)
Clark Isaacs at the Kingman Daily Miner says RED, WHITE, AND BLOOD is a “five-star book for all, not just fans of the vampire occult.”
A great review and summary of BLOOD OATH, the first book in the series, at Examiner.com.
And in other news:
I got to see Weezer this week at the Roxy. It was for a fundraiser for my daughter’s preschool, but I’ll take my cool points where I can get them. Of course, when Rivers Cuomo ran into the audience and high-fived my wife, I almost missed it completely, because, like an asshole, I was tweeting.
Still, I stayed out late and heard some great music. I loved the covers of Tiffany and Poison, and heard a song Cuomo wrote in Japanese that sounded like the prom theme of a high school where the kids fight giant monsters. And above all else, the band was incredibly kind to donate the time and effort.
Here’s my grainy, photographic proof:
Last week, I also was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the UC Riverside MFA program, held in Palm Desert, by Tod Goldberg. (Goldberg is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, and — perhaps not coincidentally — his stories are amazingly heartbreaking. Check them out and you’ll see).
I’d known grad school could take place at a resort with its own Splashtopia water park, I would have stayed in academia. I got to geek out over meeting Steve Almond and Geoff Dyer and finally, in person, my agent-sibling Jillian Lauren. I sat and tried to be as smart and funny as the faculty (did not even come within 100 yards of any of them). And then gave a lecture on the proper care and feeding of a monster and met a lot of sharp writers. With any luck, I didn’t damage too many of the students with my advice, because I would sure as hell like to go back again.
It’s always an act of sheerest optimism when I bring my keyboard on any solo trip these days. Much like the running shoes that take up space in my bag, I start each trip believing in a better version of myself who will blog from the road after a workout in the hotel fitness center before knocking out a couple chapters over a healthy breakfast, maybe yogurt or granola or something artery-soothing like that.
By the end of the trip, of course, I’m cursing the running shoes for taking up valuable space for the books I’ve bought at every stop, usually while mildly hung over, eating a rasher of bacon from the free hotel buffet. And then I start the next game of “Bejeweled” on my iPad.
I had a great trip despite not morphing into that better version of myself. The people at Powell’s in Portland and Tattered Cover in Denver were incredible and generous, both the staff and the audiences. April at Tattered Cover went above and beyond, staying up late to read my first book and then coming in on her day off to introduce me.
But right now I want to talk about Houston.
I love Houston’s Murder By The Book, which has pretty much jammed my books down the throats of every one of its customers. I owe David Thompson a great deal, because he was an early and enthusiastic evangelist for me. I only met him once, but I can see why he is so greatly missed.
At the rental bay at George H.W. Bush Intercontinental airport1, the clerk offered me a VW bug, and in a burst of extremely ill-timed nostalgia, I took him up on it. He seemed a little shocked and even made a short attempt to change my mind, but I drove a convertible VW off and on from high school to grad school, until it burst into flame at an intersection. So before I thought it through — at the very least, I should have realized there was no place to put my portable GPS — I was zipping along the road listening to classic rock and the cheerfully mumble of my computer navigator where it had fallen on the floor like a drunk face-down on the carpet.
I found myself in heavy traffic on a Saturday. (Last year at about this time, the streets all seemed deserted. I thought there must be an event or a game, but the staff at MBTB told me that’s just standard Houston traffic. I decided the economy must be recovering.)
A disturbing number of the drivers in Houston have what could be described as an aggressively relaxed attitude behind the wheel. In LA, I’m used to people who drive fast and hard. But in Houston, some drivers — usually marked by crushed door panels and fenders — combine 80 mph speeds with a dreamy kind of inattention to their surroundings. It’s as if, so high up behind the wheels of their SUVs and megatrucks, comfortably snug in their big leather seats, they’ve forgotten they’re on a highway at all, and think they’re on the couch at home — until they see their exit, and then it’s a sudden, complete stop and a five-lane change with a brief blink of the turn signal like a warning shot.
Despite that, I’ve got a growing, weird affection for Houston. Previously, I’d only been through the city on layovers, so all I saw was the airport. But I love the Four Points where I stay, with its retro-future theme. I’m in awe of the comic book store, Third Planet, that’s conveniently located next door. And through the whole city, you can still see an overlay of the space-age JFK-era optimism that persists in the design of its freeways and the neon of old motels.
Like everywhere else, the reading and signing was a great deal of fun. I love that people care enough about my stories to show up in person and ask me what the deal is with Cade and Tania, or that they’re glad to see Zach has grown up since BLOOD OATH. I’m still a little flattered and incredulous that people buy my books and it makes me grateful.Whenever I wonder why the hell I’m cramming myself into a kiddie seat on a tin can filled with jet fuel instead of staying home with my family and my favorite shows on TiVo, this is the answer.
This week I’ll be climbing into another series of tin cans and kiddie seats, going to Seattle, then Boise for the crucial hometown gig, then back to San Diego before Phoenix a few days later. More info, as always, right here. Hope to see you out on the road.
1It’s a little baffling to me why George H.W. Bush was ever considered a wimp. The guy was a genuine war hero who survived ditching his plane into the Pacific while Ronald Reagan simply play-acted at being a soldier. Then he became a multi-millionaire rather than live off his family fortune. In the 1970s, he was named head of the CIA — in effect, America’s James Bond. Whatever your politics, that’s a fairly impressive resume of studly accomplishments. Yet somehow, people still think of him as the dorky hall monitor in our line-up of chief executives. All of this came to mind when I saw his statue at the airport:
The signing at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego was a real honor — it’s one of the motherships for geeks in the country, and they showed great faith in a first-time author like me. Many thanks to Maryelizabeth, Patrick, Michael and everyone else at the store. Thanks also to the incredibly prolific author Nathan Long, author of Bloodborn, who was kind enough to share the time and his knowledge with me and the audience. I even got to see an old friend from high school and former colleagues from my misadventures in journalism. You can read more at my friend Diana’s blog, Paranormal Romance.
Absolutely great first stop at Barnes & Noble in the Grove in Los Angeles. Many thanks to William and the entire crew for making it such an amazing experience. And many thanks to the people who all showed up.