Sunday, June 26, 2011

Scarce Resources by Brendan Detzner

Chicago author Brendan Detzner has a collection of short stories coming out in August and I managed to get one of the advanced "zero edition" copies two months early. Right place, right time (specifically, Top Shelf Books, June open mic night). The collection is called Scarce Resources and it's one of the few collections I've read where the term Weird Stories is correctly applied.

Too often, writers seem to feel uncomfortable leaving elements of their work unexplained. Their compulsion to explain every event, opening every door and shining a light on all the nightmares, ruin what could otherwise have been some fine stories. Mr. Detzner shows an admirable resistance to this urge, revealing just enough in these strange fantasies to intrigue without ruining the mood with full disclosure.

It's like driving past a traffic accident. You see enough to realize something bad has happened. You can infer some details from glimpsing the wreckage. But soon you've driven past it. You've learned all you're going to learn about that story. You're compelled to go back and find out more; at the same time knowing it's probably for the best you don't have all the gory details.

Not to say that there are no gory details to be found in this collection. But just as often, there are stories that maintain an extremely brutal tone without needing to offer lengthy descriptions of violence. The actions of violent men are not half as horrifying as the reasons they give for committing them.

Like I said, I got hold of an advanced copy; but it was far from being the only one. If you want to own one of the zero-edition copies for yourself, check out the Kickstarter page that's been set up to provide promotional funds for the project. For ten dollars, you can get a signed copy of the book. If you're not sure these are the stories for you, there's a video of the author reading the first story in the collection, "The Black Plague". You can find links to four more of his short stories on his web-site, Brendan Detzner Online.

I've been truly fortunate to meet a number of excellent writers in Chicago (most of whom will probably find it odd that I refer to them by their last names on my blog posts). If you've seen me reading at an open mic event, chances are that you've also already heard some of Brendan Detzner's work as well. If you haven't, this collection is a wonderful introduction and well worth the money. Check it out.

Things I've written since last post: first draft of Footprints and first draft of The Haircut

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Concrete: Depths by Paul Chadwick

The story begins with a man whose brain has been transplanted into a seven-foot tall, half-ton body of stone. The surgery was performed by aliens who subsequently left the planet, their motives unknown. Beyond being MacGuffin-like instigators who set up the premise, the aliens aren't important to the story. What matters is that this man decides to accept his new life, filled with both horrible limitations and wonderful opportunities. He adopts the name Concrete and becomes a celebrity.

Paul Chadwick has been writing stories about Concrete for over twenty years, publishing them in a number of one-shots, limited series and shorts published in anthologies. Several years ago, Dark Horse Comics began publishing a series of paperbacks that collect all of these stories together into a coherent timeline. Depths is volume one in this series and a fine place to begin.

For those of you who still have pre-conceived notions about what sort of story a comic book can tell, there are no superheroes here. At one point, Concrete appears on the Tonight Show and simply asks the people of the world what they would do if they had his abilities (can hold his breath for an hour, can lift a truck, amazing vision, etc.). Many of the stories that follow begin with Concrete and his companions, writer Larry Munro and Doctor Maureen Vonnegut, reading letters from all over the world. Among his adventures in volume one, Concrete attempts to: rescue a group of miners from a cave-in, entertain at an eight year-old's birthday party, scare some children at a beach, swim across the Atlantic Ocean, wrestle a bear and act as bodyguard to an eccentric pop singer. Some attempts fail and some succeed.

One of the most striking elements to this series is the level of realism in all of the above situations. Once the fantastic elements of Concrete's origin are established, those elements are quickly removed so that we're simply left with a man trying to make the most out of his life. This is a man sometimes motivated by pettiness and greed, but more often by curiosity and a simple desire to be useful. He has adventures which we are reminded time and again do not necessarily require superhuman strength. Anyone can go exploring or volunteer to help those less fortunate; but so few of us do. Concrete is perhaps a man who was so wrapped up in self-pity that, when something truly terrible finally did happen to him, he found there was no pity left to feel.

You can order a copy of this book online, of course; but I'd encourage you to find a local comic shop or independent book store instead. Quirky stories like Concrete survive in part because of the efforts of these retailers. You can find a preview of it online here. The cover image is taken from the Grand Comics Database (GCD), an online index of comic books and a fantastic reference tool.

Stuff I've worked on this past week: second draft of Pink Bruises on Pink Skin, first draft of The Weeping Parrot