This reviewer really got into the psychology of Strength. I think I've read four different reviews of the anthology and my story has been mentioned in three of them. It was written in 2006 so it isn't nearly as tight as anything I'd write today, but I read it last night and realized it's a pretty heavy story for all it's gore and shocking elements.
Well, if you believe half the reviews of Ruthless at Amazon.com, the book is terrible. If you believe the other half, the book is great. Sometimes that's a good thing. The two reviews I've read that are independent of any site selling the book have been basically positive. The latest, however, has this to say about my story "Strength" --
Strength by Alec Cizak, a story about a sociopathic child well on his way to becoming a serial killer was by far the hardest for me to read. Truly disturbing, disgusting and frightening, this one takes the cake for the most “ruthless,” story in the bunch.
"Disturbing, disgusting and frightening," hmm... I guess that's what I was going for when I wrote the story, so I guess this critic's opinion is positive. You can read the entire review here at a site called Toxic Graveyard. I'm not sure who the critic is, but I guess I should say thanks! Glad I could disturb, disgust and frighten you (most of my ex-girlfriends will attest that I do that everyday, to everyone I meet. I beg to differ...)!
David Cranmer's post about the Sub-Mariner over at his blog has got me all nostalgic for the early 80s, yet again. I think it's definitely a sign of getting old. I'm sure people who were adults during that time remember it much differently. I remember delivering newspapers in the afternoon on Hampton Drive. Collecting on Saturdays (one dollar per customer, per week) and taking my money to the Comic Carnival in Broad Ripple at least twice a month and loading up on comics. They were still 50 and 60 cents then and a kid could afford a solid habit. Frank Miller and Alan Moore were just getting started. Popular culture in those days was all about fun. You didn't have to sit through lectures on how to be a polite person, disguised as entertainment... Jesus, I miss those days...
Well, they done gone and done it! They printed my first western, The Bastards of Gallup, over at The Western Online. I appreciate Mr. Pizzolato taking a risk on me like that. Looking at the story now, I can see that I wrote it before I had my Raymond Carver epiphany around early December and started cutting massive amounts of words on each revision. The result is there's not much ambiguity in the story, but I think it's entertaining enough. If anybody takes the time to read it I sure would appreciate any comments. Just remember, it's the first western I've written, so go easy!
I'm sure some people are annoyed when they read my blog and I shamelessly promote something they're familiar with; On the off chance that you, dear reader, are not familiar with the IFC documentary The American Nightmare, allow me to shamelessly promote it here.
I first saw this film in 2000 in a posh hotel room in Beverly Hills. I had been conned by the idiot producer of my first movie to live in L.A. until we found the two leads for the movie. Tori Spelling was originally slated to play the female lead. I met her and interviewed her (as much as possible-- the idiot producer kept cutting in to our very serious discussion of the movie to ask her questions about her character on 90210). She was much cooler than I ever thought she'd be. She was going to play a hooker in the movie and thus dressed 'skanky' to demonstrate to me that she could dirty herself up and play a streetwalker. Tori and her agent did a great job of kissing my ass, telling me Mr. Id was the greatest script they had ever read and blah blah blah. After I moved to L.A. to live there permanently, I learned that people always kiss the screenwriter's ass to make sure they get chosen for the production. Now, before you laugh about the whole idea of Tori Spelling playing a hooker, keep in mind that every movie she's ever been in has gotten theatrical distribution. This was especially important to the idiot producer. She said she would do the picture as long as we got someone good for the male lead. We were working with the hoity-toity big shots at CAA and they showed us a bunch of actors who were just starting out, including some kid named Colin Farrel. The problem was, these guys all looked entirely too effeminate to play the lead character in Mr. Id, who was based heavily on Charles Bukowski. So three days became three weeks. Eventually we interviewed Steve Parlavecchio, who starred in Amongst Friends, an independent about some yuppie 'gangsters' that played well at Sundance back in the early 90s. Tori was not pleased with our decision so the producer fired her and went with Parlavecchio. Artistically, it wasn't a bad decision. Steve's a good actor and for the few who have the displeasure of sitting through a screening of Mr. Id, Steve's performance (and, of course, my script) is the only compelling aspect of the film. But I digress. During those three brutal weeks in L.A. I watched a lot of television in the hotel room and it was during this time (October, 2000) that The American Nightmare debuted on IFC.
The American Nigthmare covers the major independent American (and Canadian) horror films made between 1968 and 1978. It focuses on Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, They Came From Within, Dawn of the Dead, and Halloween. There are interesting interviews with the directors of those films. Some of them get rather philosophical. The thesis of the documentary, I believe, is that these men grew up in the cold war with a sense of dread not felt by any generation before them. There are a couple of professors thrown in to add some 'intellectual' weight to the discussion, including a woman I'm guessing is a feminist who admits that these movies are important. Parts of this documentary are heart-breaking, I think, particularly make-up artist Tom Savini's retelling of his experiences in the Vietnam War. My only complaint is that this documentary, along with just about every other documentary on the rise of the horror film as a mainstream genre, doesn't give Tom Savini the credit he deserves for launching a revolution in special make up effects. My beloved slasher genre would never have taken off the way it did without Savini's work from 1978 to 1981.
Anyway, this is a heavy documentary. I watched it once with a group of people to celebrate Halloween and they were all bummed out by the time it was over. This is serious-time watching, not necessarily entertainment. Regardless, if you appreciate the history of the modern horror film in America, this is, in my opinion, the best of the lot.
So the pundits on Fox News and MSNBC are pointing fingers at each other over what caused the shooting in Arizona this weekend. The suspect is, as always seems to be the case, a "loner," a "lone nut," a guy with mental problems and not much desire to be a member of his high school glee club. And so the commentaries come out about these "dangerous" people who don't want to be part of the crowd. Who don't know how to think like sheep. And from the left, the calls for gun control and from all corners, efforts to "prevent" this sort of tragedy from happening again.
Bad news, folks. It can't be prevented. John Carpenter talks about the "lizard brain" that lurks in all of us. Writers of horror and crime fiction don't have any problem calling upon this part of the brain to conjure up stories about brutality and violence among humans that occurs in nature, among other animals, every single day. We are, in the end, animals. No different. Our blood-thirsty drive for preservation is expressed in many creative ways (art, corporate greed, procreation, etc.), but that drive exists and will always exist. No amount of Prozac or shock therapy or profiling of teenagers who don't want to be part of the glee club will change that. News flash: It's a dangerous world! Life is dangerous! No amount of security guards at shopping malls and airports is going to change that.
Just when I think I've read the best story in the Beat to a Pulpanthology, I go and read another one that wows me more than the last. This morning I read Charles Ardai's story "A Free Man." It's especially meaningful to me since last night I actually had a dream where I was questioning what the hell I had done with my life thus far (the early revs of a midlife crisis, I believe). Ardai captures this fear very well and seems to understand how it is even more devastating to a blue collar guy. There are plenty of noir writers I could compare Ardai to, but I find it interesting that the writer I really thought of while reading "A Free Man" was the campus-revered Raymond Carver. By extension, I thought a bit of Charles Bukowski.
Now, we all go through a Bukowski phase. Usually in our twenties, when we still think life is unfair and the world is stacked against us (as we grow older, we realize it's true and accept it...) I recently wrote a paper on Bukowski and Carver, however, in effort to determine whether or not they should be considered in the same literary category. My conclusion was that Carver was a bit too middle-class to be thought of in the same arena as Bukowski who, while sometimes exaggerated, wrote about being poor from a very personal, first-hand experience. This paper was written for a class I took on contemporary literature. The scope was postmodernism and beyond. We read Marquez in the beginning (which I fucking loved) and then we read Junot Diaz at the end of the class. Marquez is, of course, considered 'magical realism.' Bukowski and Carver are, of course, considered 'dirty realism.' I wondered, as I took the class, and now, if these labels make any sense at all.
Isn't "magical realism" just "fantasy" with a label that's acceptable to the snooty "literary" writers from the university? Isn't "dirty realism" just "noir" for the stuck-up? I believe these labels need to go! Here is my proposal:
If it's straight realism with no fantastic elements (i.e., Carver, most of Bukowski's stuff,) then how about we call it "Realistic Fiction"?
If it's entertaining and has elements of the fantastic, be they horror, science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, whatever, how about we call it "Fantastic Fiction"?
So in addition to the research I'm doing on slasher films, I occasionally get a chance to read a short story out of two anthologies I am working my way through. I recently read "Maker's and Coke" by Jake Hinkson, which is the story that kicks off the Beat to a Pulpanthology. Mostly I jumped back and read it to get me to stop reading the stories out of order but also because the first time I got down with the crazy woman who made me crazy, we were drinking Maker's. Anyway, the story was good. Any story about a cop drinking on the job is worth reading. There's something nice and subversive about featuring robbers in Dick Cheney masks as well. On a whole, my kind of story.
My dad bought me the Best American Noir anthology, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, for Christmas. Of course, I flipped right to the Jim Thompson story and read it, only to realize I'd already read it in a different anthology. No matter. I'm currently working my way through Lawrence Block's "Like a Bone in the Throat." Holy shit, that is one sick story! Next story I'll take a look at is Ed Gorman's since I've already read his story in the BTAP anthology.
So far, half the stories slated to appear in All Due Respect this year come from, pardon the cliche, across the pond. It's the British Invasion all over again! The first story is by Tony Deans. It's called The Ballad of Jimmie Jazz and tells the story of some tough times for some tough people.