Kirkus has a very favorable early review of a crime anthology I'm participating in. It's a very large anthology--close to 100K words--and split into two parts. One features realistic crime, the other supernatural. I wrote a story called "The Guessing Game" for the realistic crime portion.
More importantly for me on a personal level is the essay I wrote to close out the book. It's a tribute to Ed Bryant, who has two stories in the anthology--probably the last two pieces of original fiction that will be published anywhere (his estate is working on a massive compilation of his writing, however, and it may include some unpublished, unknown work.
Having the opportunity to write the essay was a real gift to me, but I've been fretting over the quality of the finished piece for months. I hope people will overlook its flaws and see the love and respect I had for the man. I wish to God he was still with us in the flesh.
Out in Print has given Seventeen Stitches a pretty good review. Check it out here if you'd like. The book comes out on June 3rd.
Publisher's Weekly has reviewed Seventeen Stitches and the results are mixed. Some stories worked, others didn't.
I've never encountered one central point of criticism this review has to offer, that a particular story in an anthology could be so objectionable that it "tarnishes" the rest of the works. That's a pretty strong take. In this reviewer's case, the story "Riveter" presents itself as thoroughly offensive, suggesting I see the Holocaust as a trivial matter to hang an alternative history story on. I think this is a terrible misreading of the story's intent, but there's no point arguing. I just can't think of another instance where an anthology or collection has faced a similar argument.
Meanwhile, I've listened to the audiobook version and am very pleased. The narrator, Jack Nolan, did a great job with it. With seventeen stories to try out, I hope people find at least one that entertains, intrigues or pleases.
Denver's largest indie magazine interviewed me about Trigger Point and you can read it here. One of the things I managed to get highlighted was how the novel intersects with my work as a librarian. The work of librarianship, at least in a public library, has changed an awful lot since I entered the profession 15 years ago. I sought out the career primarily because I like research and helping people conduct research. That's what you think of when you imagine a "reference librarian." But that's such a tiny part of my job now. I can go weeks without having anyone ask a question that requires more than a cursory glance through a database or print reference book. My work largely consists of planning public programs and helping people with their technology problems.
Readers Advisory is one of the few "traditional" public librarian roles that's managed to survive the profession's tectonic changes. It also remains among the most challenging and rewarding. From the standpoint of a writer, there's no better way to get inside a reader's mind than to interview them about their tastes. It's also a terrific way to acquaint yourself with publishing trends.
In the lead-up to writing Trigger Point, I was thinking of two patrons who used to come into the library very often asking for book recommendations. They both liked mysteries, but one liked cozies and the other favored titles along the lines of Kiss the Girls. I thought it'd be interesting to try a book that could blend both elements. So Trigger Point was in part an experiment in threading the needle of two vastly different tastes in mystery fiction. There are some fairly graphic sequences bookended by the sensibilities of a cozy. As a genre experiment, I was thinking of a book that I could give to both my patrons and have them walk away happy.
The risk, of course, is that Trigger Point is a novel that manages to completely annoy both patrons. Hopefully I haven't done that. Time will tell . . .
Here is the final cover for Seventeen Stitches, my first short story collection. I'm beyond thrilled with it. The design is by British Fantasy Award finalist Ben Baldwin, from a concept idea given to him by my publisher. The piece is called "Carnations."
As a writer, I have a few hundred people I could thank for influencing me. The bulk of them have been dead at least 50 years. My living influences likely have never heard of me, and I've certainly never met them. They've influenced through their stories, teaching by pure example. I'd like to think I'm a good, attentive student.
Ed Bryant is an exception. I encountered his work first when I was about 13 years old and growing up in Lexington, KY. My father really liked horror fiction at the time, and he had Kirby McCauley's famous Dark Forces anthology on the book shelf. I picked it up after learning it had Stephen King's "The Mist" in it. The anthology also happened to include a visceral little tale called "Dark Angel," a story that pressed about every queasy sexual button in my adolescent brain. A couple of years later, I'd recognize his name when I encountered Skipp and Spector's Book of the Dead. Ed's story was called "A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned." With a title like that, I expected brilliance.
And received it.
I reread that story several times over the years as I graduated high school and got a Bachelors and then a Masters degree in literature from the University of Kentucky. I'm certain that I didn't read anything else from Ed during that period, nor did I know anything about him. I certainly didn't know he lived in Denver when, in 1999, I moved to Colorado with the intentions of getting a Masters degree in library science from Denver University.
Jump ahead 8 years later, and I'm at a restaurant where I was invited to a good-luck dinner for a former co-worker who'd be running in the Boston Marathon. Another former co-worker, Linda Anderson, sat down next to me. Linda and I worked in different departments at the library, and I didn't always have occasion to talk to her a lot. But we had discussed a mutual interest in writing, and she happened to invite me to her writer's group.
"I think you'll like it. It's led by Ed Bryant, and he's a Nebula Award winner."
I have to admit the name didn't ring an instant association with me. In fact, I initially intended not to accept the invitation. At that time, I held the idiotic belief that writers should work in total isolation, influenced only by what they read. Getting someone's opinion about a work in progress seemed too much like stories I'd head of movie studios completely reshooting a film because it "failed" with a test screening audience.
Thank God a flicker of common sense, sheer curiosity, or a strong desire to meet new friends overruled my initial reluctance. I went to the group meeting. In fact, I even submitted a story for critique, called "Social Studies." If you're going to try a critique group, you might as well jump in feet first, right?
They called themselves Old Possum (in fact, we still do) because that was the name of the used book store where the group originally met. By the time I joined, they were meeting in a townhouse owned by Carter Wilson, who at the time had an agent but was unpublished. (Carter's since gone on to win the Colorado Book Award and achieve quite a bit of financial success, and I'm glad to call him one of my closest friends). And this is where I met Ed Bryant in person. We went around introducing ourselves--a fairly quick process; the group has always consisted of just a few people, 5 or 6 at the most--and Ed went last.
I didn't have to listen to him very long before the light of realization went off in my head. Oh shit, I thought. You're that Ed Bryant.
In fact, as I recall, I did more than think it. I exclaimed it. Even a few years later, the phrase "You're that Ed Bryant" sometimes came up as a private joke among us.
You might imagine how stunned I was to discover that I was in the presence of the writer behind two stories that so intrigued me earlier in life. I think I sat through most of the meeting just repeating to myself, Can you believe this? This is ridiculous. This is impossible!
Then it came time to critique my story.
I've tried workouts from P90X that haven't gotten my heartbeat as fast as it was going in anticipation of Ed's remarks. At the time, "Social Studies" felt like the pinnacle of my abilities as a writer. I thought it was damn good, my best shot. His critique was either going to confirm that I had a shot at getting stuff published, or it was going to shake me into confronting my delusions.
Smiling, Ed told me, "This is the most literate chainsaw massacre I've ever read."
I've yet to receive a critique comment that I prize more highly than that.
Ed Bryant passed away on February 10th, so I did not personally know him quite 10 years. I believe I fell just a few months short of a decade. At this moment, as news of his death spreads through the literary community, I see people posting pictures of him from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and I blink back tears and wish I'd met him so much earlier than I did.
Mentally, I've been prepared for his death for many years. He was born with juvenile diabetes and sometimes commented that he had already outlived the statistics. In the time I knew him, he suffered a host of progressively worse medical problems. There were several times I visited him in the hospital and walked away telling myself that he would not recover. But he always did. Near the end of 2016, though, we learned that he was approaching kidney failure and was going through the process of dialysis. He was endlessly exhausted as much by medical bureaucracy as by treatments. During our last group meeting in January, after summarizing the sheer amount of hoops he was having to jump through, he said, "I may simply be too lazy to stay alive." I admit I once again entertained thoughts that he would not make it to the end of 2017, but I also recalled all the previous times I made that assessment only to be proved gloriously, thankfully wrong. So I had hope.
In storytelling, mentors exist to die. The protagonist cannot move on until their teacher has been removed from the scene. I was thinking on that very point a few years back while watching "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Ever since Michael Gambon took over the role of Dumbledore, I had an inescapable association in my mind between Ed and that character. It's a combination of Gambon's mannerisms and, most of all, his voice. Ed had a lovely, deep voice; it's no surprise he did a stint as a radio DJ, and of course he was famous as a convention toastmaster.
And so I've lost my Dumbledore and my friend, and the world has lost one of the sweetest, most compassionate persons one can imagine. I love you, Ed.
I was recently invited to submit a couple of stories to a new publishing app called Great Jones Street. GJS is building a free library of short stories and they've got a broad range of offerings, including Hugo and Stoker Award winners. My contributions are "The Revenge of Oscar Wilde," which originally appeared in the anthology Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages and is now my most-reprinted story (it'll appear again in 17 Stitches, my short story collection); and "Riveter," which appeared in Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists (it is also slated to reappear in 17 Stitches).
You can download the Great Jones Street app for both Apple and Droid devices (not sure about the Kindle Fire) for free.
I have a new short story called The Return over at Hex Publisher's Words ezine. This story comes with a trigger warning. It's one of the more aggressive stories I've ever done, and I imagine many will find it offensive. Whether it matters or not, however, let me say that it's not my intention to be offensive, or insensitive, or derogatory. "The Return" likely risks being read as an anti-Christian, or more specifically anti-Catholic in its sentiments. But that's not where my heart is at all. While I'm not a Christian, I was certainly raised one--a bit Southern Baptist, a bit Methodist. And while many, many, many Christians drive me up the wall, their antics don't sabotage any fundamental truths might lay claim to. As to whether those truths are in fact true, I don't know.
As for myself as a writer, I have a few personal rules, and one of them is to pursue a story's premise to its fullest extent, no matter where it leads and no matter if it makes the story unpublishable. "The Return" is case of my thinking what Lolita would be like if authored by William S. Burroughs, with a hearty mashup of both The Exorcist and the movie Spotlight. So pedophilia, pedophiles, and man's fallen state are major themes here. But the larger risk is the portrayal(s) of Christ and how he returns to walk the Earth in physical form. Those readers who grant me their time and follow the story to the end might feel highly affronted. I can only accept their criticism, whether delivered in a harsh rebuke or an annoyed rolling of the eyes, and thank them for the time they spent, and hope they didn't feel it was entirely wasted.
Sean Eads is a writer living in Denver, CO. Originally from Kentucky, he works as a reference librarian.