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The Scariest Part: Clarissa Goenawan Talks About RAINBIRDS [Mar. 6th, 2018|07:00 am]
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My guest this week on The Scariest Part is author Clarissa Goenawan, whose debut novel is Rainbirds. Here is the publisher’s description:

Intertwining elements of suspense and magical realism, award-winning literary debut Rainbirds opens with a murder and shines a spotlight on life in fictional small-town Japan.

Ren Ishida is nearly done with graduate school when he receives news of his sister, Keiko’s, sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to abandon their family and leave Tokyo for this small town in the first place.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up right where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at the wealthy Mr. Katou’s mansion, in exchange for reading aloud each morning to Katou’s depressed, mute wife. As Ren gets to know the figures in the town, from the mysterious Katou to fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, he replays memories of his childhood with Keiko and finds his dreams haunted by a young girl with pigtails who is desperately trying to tell him something. Struggling to fill the void that Keiko has left behind, Ren realizes that perhaps people don’t change, and if they don’t, he can decipher the identity of his sister’s killer.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Clarissa Goenawan:

I started writing Rainbirds when I was twenty-five — just a year older than my narrator, Ren Ishida. We had a couple of things in common. One of them is this: both of us were facing a lot of uncertainties.

In Rainbirds, Ren was about to finish his graduate studies. He’d gone to a prestigious university but had no idea what he kind of career he wanted to pursue after graduation. In addition, his long-time girlfriend was pressuring him to settle down. (For a certain type of person, this can be very scary indeed.) But one rainy night, his older sister got murdered. Thirty-five-year-old Keiko Ishida — who, in Ren’s words, “had a sweet disposition, quite a slim frame, and the air of someone with a good upbringing,” and, “was the type of woman the average salaryman wanted as his wife” — was brutally knifed to death. The mystery surrounding her death propelled him into tracing her old life, and that became his main focus.

As for me, at that time, I’d just left a lucrative job in banking sales to take a sabbatical. Supposedly it was a year-long break, but also, it was my desperate last attempt to achieve my childhood dream. I’d always want to be a writer.

But the writing path is a long and winding road (not being dramatic, because this is so true!). You need to put in the hours. Long hours. It’s all hard work, and I faced a lot of pressures, from well-meaning friends who asked, “When are you going back to work?” to relatives who chided me for spending too much time on my ‘hobby’. All of those, coupled with rejection after rejection, were so demoralizing. Apart from hard work, publishing also requires an element of luck.

Being in our mid-twenties is a very delicate phase. It’s a crucial phase that will probably shape the rest of our lives. What kind of career would we pursue, who we settle down with… stuff like that. We’re expected to be old enough to make these important decisions. But at the same time, we probably don’t know enough.

The year is 2018, and I’m twenty-nine now. Very close to thirty.

Right now, this is what I want to say:

If you’re in your mid-twenties and feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. It’s common to feel clueless and confused. I don’t know what your situation is, but just do your best. Your very, very best. So you won’t have any regrets.

Or perhaps, you’re a writer in the beginning of your career, still struggling and questioning yourself. Even though the dark tunnel does feel endless, if you never give up, one day your dream might just come true.

And talking about luck, I heard she favours those who work really, really hard.

Rainbirds: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound / Book Depository

Clarissa Goenawan: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and the US. Rainbirds is her first novel.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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14 Years! [Mar. 5th, 2018|07:38 am]
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Today marks 14 years I've been on LiveJournal! It's not what it used to be, and hasn't been for probably about half that time, but I remember its glory days fondly.
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Other Places [Mar. 1st, 2018|09:10 am]
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Other PlacesOther Places by Karen Heuler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another outstanding collection of science fiction stories by Karen Heuler, whose previous collection, THE INNER CITY, blew me away. This is sf that focuses on character, predicament, and absurdity rather than science and technology, and as such it may not be to the taste of all sf enthusiasts, but if you like the weird, fantastical, and occasionally irrational literary-speculative hybrid fiction of authors like Kelly Link, you’ll like Heuler’s work, too.

Of the nine stories and one poem collected in OTHER PLACES, my favorites include “The Apartments,” a surreal tale about a woman who discovers all the apartments in which she used to live in New York City are occupied by people from her past (this story was also nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award); “What They See on Nox,” in which colonists on a distant planet encounter creatures that might be ghosts; and “The Moons of Martle Hart,” which plays with suspicion and paranoia as an astronaut begins to wonder if her only crewmate on a spaceship is human or something else. I want to give a special shout out to the story “Which Side Is the Other Side?” as well for being the funniest story in a collection where there’s often a deep well of humor lurking just beneath the surface.

Heuler’s work continues to impress and amaze me. If there’s one writer working in speculative fiction today who isn’t getting the attention she deserves, it’s Heuler. I hope more people will discover her work soon. If they do, I have no doubt they’ll become a fan like me.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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NYRSF Readings: Alisa Kwitney & Nicholas Kaufmann [Feb. 23rd, 2018|08:58 pm]
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Friends! I will be reading at the New York Review of Science Fiction series on Tuesday, March 6th, along with Alisa Kwitney. I hope you can join us! (They have beer!) Here are the details:

Tuesday, March 6th
7 PM
The Brooklyn Commons
388 Atlantic Avenue, between Hoyt & Bond
In Brooklyn!

Click here for the Facebook event page, where you can RSVP if you want!

I hope to see you there! (Did I mention they have beer?) Feel free to bring books to sign!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By [Feb. 22nd, 2018|09:41 am]
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All Heads Turn When The Hunt Goes ByAll Heads Turn When The Hunt Goes By by John Farris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is kind of crazy, but in that great, over the top, 1970s horror way! Part Southern Gothic family drama, part supernatural horror tale, ALL HEADS TURN WHEN THE HUNT GOES BY is exceptionally well written. Farris is an accomplished and talented author with a deft hand at characterization and an impressive ability to conjure terrifying images without explicitly describing what you’re seeing. Other parts are more explicit: the violence, the sex, and particularly the racial politics. A great deal of the novel takes place on a Southern plantation in the 1940s, and the N-word is used frequently and cavalierly. As a writer, Farris is interested in the horrific legacy of slavery and the Jim Crow laws that replaced it, but that kind of language might be enough to turn some modern readers away.

The first half of the novel confused me a little — a deliberate structural choice on Farris’s part — by presenting several seemingly unrelated events that occur over the course of two years to seemingly unrelated characters, but by the end Farris manages to tie it all together quite well. The prose can be dense at times, and the pacing lackadaisical, but it all leads up to a climax that’s so creepy and satisfying that the reader’s patience is rewarded tenfold.

If you’re looking for something to read from the glory days of the horror paperback, from a time before Stephen King’s complete domination of the field, I would definitely recommend Farris’s ALL HEADS TURN WHEN THE HUNT GOES BY, so long as you don’t mind its unhurried pace and can stomach its warts-and-all exploration of abhorrent racial bigotry.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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STILL LIFE: NINE STORIES Reissued! [Feb. 12th, 2018|09:49 am]
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My collection from 2012, Still Life: Nine Stories, is out in a smart new e-book edition from Crossroad Press! Currently available only as an e-book, Still Life contains seven previously published stories and two originals, with an introduction by multiple Bram Stoker Award-nominated author James A. Moore (Serenity FallsBloodstained Oz). Still Life‘s first-ever print edition is in the works, too, and will hopefully be available this year.

The best news? Still Life: Nine Stories is available for only $3.99! Buy it from:

Kindle

Nook

Smashwords

Kobo

Google Play

or your favorite bookseller!

“I haven’t enjoyed a collection this much since Joe Hill’s phenomenal 20th Century Ghosts. Don’t miss this.” — Nick Cato, The Horror Fiction Review (selected as Book of the Month, October 2012)

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Chandler Klang Smith Talks About THE SKY IS YOURS [Feb. 6th, 2018|07:00 am]
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I’m thrilled that my guest this week on The Scariest Part is my good friend Chandler Klang Smith! Chandler and I met years ago when we both had books out from ChiZine Publications. She’s been a close friend ever since, and a writer whose skillful prose and boundless imagination I admire. Her new book is the dark, satirical SF novel The Sky Is Yours. Here is the publisher’s description:

In the burned-out, futuristic city of Empire Island, three young people navigate a crumbling metropolis constantly under threat from a pair of dragons that circle the skies. When violence strikes, reality star Duncan Humphrey Ripple V, the spoiled scion of the metropolis’ last dynasty; Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg, his tempestuous, death-obsessed betrothed; and Abby, a feral beauty he discovered tossed out with the trash; are forced to flee everything they’ve ever known.

As they wander toward the scalded heart of the city, they face fire, conspiracy, mayhem, unholy drugs, dragon-worshippers, and the monsters lurking inside themselves. In this bombshell of a novel, Chandler Klang Smith has imagined an unimaginable world: scathingly clever and gorgeously strange, The Sky Is Yours is at once faraway and disturbingly familiar, its singular chaos grounded in the universal realities of love, family, and the deeply human desire to survive at all costs.

The Sky Is Yours is cinematic, bawdy, rollicking, hilarious, and utterly unforgettable, a debut that readers who loved Cloud Atlas, Super Sad True Love Story, and Blade Runner will adore.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Chandler Klang Smith:

Midway through my new novel The Sky Is Yours, one of the main characters, an immature young man named Duncan Ripple, runs away from his family and the mansion where he grew up, only to find himself lost and alone in the mean streets of his fiery dragon-plagued city. In these uneasy new circumstances, the first figure he encounters is a mysterious fireman. Along with his peaked helmet and yellow slicker, this stranger wears an ancient, stained gas mask that conceals his identity.

I knew I wanted this juncture in the plot to signal a transition, to show that Ripple could not go home again. There’s an entire subgenre of horror concerned with coming of age: the babysitter who discovers the phone calls are coming from inside the house, the couple on a date who find the escaped convict’s hook-hand embedded in their car door. These monsters don’t hide under your bed; they wait out there, in the world, and escape from them is temporary at best. The only retreat is back into childhood, where your parents can still protect you, a realm where none of us can safely stay forever.

Introducing the character first as “Leather Lungs” — a nickname derived from the “mask of hose and hide” that conceals his features — I framed him as the subject of an urban legend in the city, the big bad of scary stories Ripple has heard a million times after lights out in boarding school, furtively whispered lest they summon him. In these stories, Leather Lungs appears behind you, in the half-fogged mirror. He looms at the foot of the bed when you awake with sleep-bleared eyes.

At this moment in the novel, though, he intrudes in full force, into the stark reality of midday.

I was pleased with Leather Lungs’ first appearance, but even after he was unmasked, I wanted him to retain some of the dread he initially instilled. What lurked beneath that snozzled hood? My inspiration for the answer came from an unlikely source: the fate of the puppet star of one of my favorite movies as a kid. These images of Hoggle from the Labyrinth, his face flayed of its vinyl sheathing, animatronics laid bare, lingered in my mind for longer than you might expect.

The idea of a face (especially a beloved face loaded with empathetic associations from my earliest repeat film viewings in childhood) stripped down to its mere machinery struck me as oddly chilling. The “uncanny valley” trips a wire in our brains. It tells us, “This creature is manipulating your instincts. Don’t trust them blindly! You have to use your head.” But what if the uncanny valley lies just beneath the surface of someone we used to know? Without giving too much away, I decided to place Ripple in the position of making this judgment call for himself, in order to show the abrupt way he’s thrust into forging his own alliances and managing his own destiny in the world.

I’m not a horror writer per se. But horror plays a role in every story I find worth writing, because it plays a role in every bold shift and transition a character can make in life. We encounter monsters, or we become them; we shed our flesh a little each day. We’re doomed to die — we don’t know what is coming for us, but it’s coming. One of my favorite writers, Thomas Pynchon, writes, “When we speak of ‘seriousness’ in fiction ultimately we are talking about an attitude toward death.” Horror, as a genre and as an emotion, takes death seriously because it leaves us with no way out. It brings the unknown too close for comfort. It gets under our skin.

The Sky Is Yours: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Chandler Klang Smith: Website / Facebook / Twitter

A graduate of Bennington College and the creative writing MFA program at Columbia University, Chandler Klang Smith is the author most recently of The Sky Is Yours (Hogarth/Crown). She has worked in book publishing, as a ghostwriter, and for the KGB Bar literary venue. She is serving as a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards for the second year in a row and teaches and tutors in New York City.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories [Jan. 31st, 2018|04:07 pm]
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Behind You: One-Shot Horror StoriesBehind You: One-Shot Horror Stories by Brian Coldrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charmingly macabre — or would that be macabrely charming? — this collection of Brian Coldrick’s creepy, droll artwork is compiled from his popular Tumblr “The Hairs On the Back of Your Neck.” Each piece of art is a single panel accompanied by a single caption, evoking a ghoulish scene that could easily be taken from the middle of an excellent horror story. The subjects of Coldrick’s pieces tend not to know what’s right behind them, whether it’s a spirit, a monster, or an uncanny and inexplicable representation of their own id, but for the reader there’s a joyful thrill in imagining what will happen next, in conjuring a full story from just a single image. Highly recommended for horror fans, but also for fans of artists like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The House on the Borderland [Jan. 28th, 2018|08:32 pm]
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The House on the BorderlandThe House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now that I’ve finally read THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, another in a long line of classic horror novels I’ve been meaning to read for decades but somehow never got around to, I can see why H.P. Lovecraft called it, “A classic of the first order.” It’s full of cosmic mystery and hints at something much larger than our human narrator, known only as the Recluse, can comprehend. The novel is trippy — psychedelic, even — with the amazing imagery the Recluse encounters during his visions/astral projections/whatever they are. The first half of the novel, in which the Recluse’s house is attacked by creatures from another dimension (or another planet, or another time, or maybe all three), is gripping and right up there with the best weird fiction. The second half, which makes use of time travel and consists mainly of the Recluse watching the accelerated end of the Earth and the coming of the Green Sun from his study window, is much drier, and I’ll admit my mind sometimes wandered during the long patches of monotonous description.

I wish there were something at the end of the novel to tie it all together, but we’re left only with more mysteries, which definitely was Hodgson’s intention but which I found somewhat unsatisfying. If you read THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, I’d recommend doing so for the novels’ astounding imagery and the breathtaking originality of its ideas, rather than for the narrative itself. I enjoyed it, and some of the imagery will definitely stay with me, but for better or worse THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND is more acid trip than novel.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Daily Show: An Oral History [Jan. 18th, 2018|11:25 am]
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The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and GuestsThe Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests by Chris Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone who watched THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART from its first episode to its last, I loved this book. Of course, I’m the target audience! Journalist Chris Smith presents a very sympathetic view of Stewart and the program itself — you can tell he’s a fan, too, and shares Stewart’s political leanings — but this is an oral history, and that means there’s a good share of warts-and-all to be found here as well, such as the time Stewart threw a newspaper at producer Madeleine Smithberg in anger, and the details behind Stewart’s behind-the-scenes conflict with Wyatt Cenac, incidents that don’t always paint Stewart in a great light.

But Stewart is hardly a monster. In fact, many of the stories I learned from the anecdotes in this book paint him as someone worthy of admiration, from paying his cast and crew out of pocket during the writers’ strike to make sure they could keep paying their bills, to his tireless work to get the Zadroga bill passed on behalf of 9/11 first responders, to the volunteer work he quietly did for veterans away from the cameras. But what really stuck out for me was just how hard everyone on the show worked. They made it look so easy on television, but these folks crafted a show four days every week based on current events — in some cases extremely current — and they knocked it out of the ballpark more often than not. The days were long and the work was often grueling. But the love so many of the people interviewed in the book have for Stewart and the show is evident, and that makes it a really touching read. (Even John McCain — who was a good friend of Stewart’s until they had a falling out over the senator’s wooing of the far-right base, whom McCain had previously always criticized and stood against, during his presidential run in 2008 — has nothing but good things to say about him here.) I teared up once or twice, and I don’t even know these people!

I never watched THE DAILY SHOW WITH CRAIG KILBORN, and I never really got into THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH because it felt like it was targeted more toward the generation after mine, but THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART was must-see television for me. If you were a fan of the show, too, or even if you were just a casual, once-in-a-while viewer, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. There are lots of great behind-the-scenes anecdotes and plenty of revelations, all of which I found fascinating, but mostly I enjoyed being around people like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Mo Rocca, Samantha Bee, Jason Jones, Kristen Schaal, Larry Wilmore, and Lewis Black again, even if I’m only reading their words. (Their often very, very funny words!) It felt like visiting old friends.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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