#SundayStories Week Six: Somebody You Used to Know

#SundayStories Week Six:

“Somebody You Used to Know” came to me as clear as ice on an Upstate New York lake when I was on my on my way to Cooperstown, NY for the weekend and the Sandy Hook school shooting happened. This horrible, complicated, young father character burst into my head and demanded I write his story. As a father now, I don’t know that I could write the same story today from the same twisted point of view. This was the story I struggled with the most as to whether I should include it in the anthology or not, but I could just never shake it, and so here it is.

Connie’s, the pub that serves as the main setting of the story in the fictional Hamlet, was inspired by Cooley’s Tavern in Cooperstown, NY.

Buy the paperback from Amazon for $9.99.

Download a copy to your Kindle for $3.99, or with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited.

Ask your local indie bookstore to stock their shelves through Indiebound.

Add And Then We Vanish to your Goodreads “Want to Read” pile.

The Slippery Complexities of Human Behavior on Display in Ivy Ngeow’s Novel Masterpiece Overboard

“A stranger. She is trying to show you a grain of kindness but it turns into a beach of bitterness.”

A stranger…tossed overboard from a burning yacht in a raging storm that claims the lives of all onboard…except him.

He wakes up, battered, burned, unrecognizable…an amnesiac…in a Thai hospital…with amazing food.

From the intoxicating smell of homecooked cuisine in a foreign hospital…to the way non-native speakers of a language have their feelings often misinterpreted…it’s these types of sharp, evocative details that litter and bloom in Ivy Ngeow’s smart, witty, satirical, dark, complex, twisting globe-hopping psychological thriller.

The amnesiac’s point of view is boldly done in second person narration, and it’s one of the few times I’ve found this to work well. But it’s not just his story, there are other POVs (like a philosophical Polish plumber with a pet Burmese python living in London, and a rich widow caught up in legal disputes) done in third person limited, and all circumnavigate each other in startling ways leading to a shocking denoument.

Apart from the perceptive details, there are sardonic notes on materialism and obsessions with brands. Many of the characters walk through their carefully curated lives like amnesiacs who can only remember their identity by the brands they wear or procure.

Like Christian Petzold’s film Phoenix and Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, identity, amnesia, and transforming oneself hang over the proceedings like a pall. Ngeow’s spin on the themes, however, are decidedly modern and channeled through technology and interior design. Her characters foolishly build protective walls around themselves with their possessions and hobbies, often unaware of their true selves and how others perceive them through the veils of technology and language. Ngeow’s sardonic wit and voice echo back to the best of Graham Greene. And much like Greene’s work, Overboard, finds that delicate balance between thrilling entertainment and keenly observant literature inundated with the slippery complexities of human behavior.

Overboard is a modern, novel masterpiece. An absolute must-read.

Review by D. H. Schleicher

#SundayStories Week Five: Anthrax and Cherry Blossoms

#SundayStories Week Five

“Anthrax and Cherry Blossoms” is another story that arose from an amalgamation of anecdotes from working for a large financial institution. A co-worker told me once about a bank manager who discovered human ashes in a safe deposit box. There had to be an interesting back-story to that, so I made one up! I set it in Washington D.C. during the cherry blossom season after spending a weekend down there with my wife one spring.

Like “Boko Haram’s Greatest Hits” this was originally published last year by A Million and One Magazine, which sadly no longer appears to be in existence.

Buy the paperback from Amazon for $9.99.

Download a copy to your Kindle for $3.99, or with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited.

Ask your local indie bookstore to stock their shelves through Indiebound.

Add And Then We Vanish to your Goodreads “Want to Read” pile.

#SundayStories Week Four: Boko Haram’s Greatest Hits

#SundayStories Week Four

It’s time for the fourth edition of #SundayStories where each week I reveal the inspiration behind one of the eleven twisting tales from my short story collection, And Then We Vanish.

“Boko Haram’s Greatest Hits” came to life when I was snowed in it at my future wife’s apartment in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. I used the term snowed in loosely – it was an overhyped non-blizzard event, but I was spending the night anyhow and decided to work-from-home from her place the next day when I trudged down (through the epic white dusting and slush) to a local bar (McMenamin’s Tavern) for lunch and overheard an awkward conversation between two strangers…who became the mysterious Jasmin and the hapless Wes in the story.

Summer Indie Book Reading

While I’m currently reading Ivy Ngeow’s Overboard, which might turn out to be the best Indie book I’ve read yet and will most certainly warrant its own in-depth post, here’s a rundown of some recent Indie books I finished and the reviews I posted on Goodreads:

 

The Hanging Artist by Jon Steinhagen (novel)

The Hanging Artist is a very specific kind of entertainment. If the premise (Kafka awakes in a sanitarium to meet a giant talking bug and then is sucked into a bizarre murder mystery) sounds too strange, then it probably will be for you. But if it sounds great (like it did to me) then by all means buy, buy, buy.

Kafka makes for a great amateur detective, and apart from the inherent absurdism of the premise, Steinhagen’s greatest treat for this reader was the screwball detective dialogue between Kafka and the giant bug, and Kafka and the Biede character (an investigator from the mysterious society that wants to employ Kafka’s skills). Then there are all the suspects and various theater folk, each uniquely drawn and memorable, and the playful “nocturnes” following a Hanging Artist performance where acquaintances of theater patrons are dropping dead. The mystery actually had me guessing, and the solution to the crime is appropriately bizarre.

Witty, dark, and sometimes silly, The Hanging Artist makes for smart, surreal escapism.

 

Susan M. Lane has given us quite an interesting and psychologically rich collection of short stories with Secrets. Admittedly, I was turned off by the opening story about a serial killer that was so well done as to almost give me a panic attack. I wasn’t sure I could handle the collection if all of the stories were that intense. But I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

There are a number of stories about people queued up in lines: at the grocery store, a fast food drive-thru, a bank…and Lane is quite adept at capturing the banal tension of these everyday occurrences, how the act of waiting and observing other people can be stressful, and sometimes the smallest misunderstanding or slight could be triggering. In these stories Lane head-hops from person to person, diving deep into their fears and worries and pasts, revealing the secrets behind the everyday people we encounter…secrets we’ll never know just by observing them.

Misunderstandings (and prejudices) that lead to violence (the closing story is all too relevant today) is another key theme running through many of the stories.

Not all of the stories hit home for me, and some of the more noir ones, though fun, seemed like throwaways. But Lane’s craft is…crafty. And I would highly recommend her collection for those who enjoying reading stories that highlight the darker side of humanity and revel in twists of fate.

 

The Pup and the Pianist by Sara Flower Kjeldsen (novella)

Fascinating, quick-paced adventure novella about a young lad named Max and another unlikely survivor stranded on the Galapagos after a disastrous naval skirmish during the Napoleonic wars.

Vivid descriptions and judicious use of metaphors overcome some odd wording and grammatical puzzlers. The author was clearly trying to capture the spirit of the era both in the writing style and tone.

The character development is excellent and heads in directions I did not anticipate.

Reviews by D. H. Schleicher

#SundayStories #AndThenWeVanish Catch-Up

Well, I finally made an official author page on Facebook, and one of the fun things I did to connect with readers and promote my new short story collection, And Then We Vanish, was start #SundayStories, where every Sunday I talk about the inspiration behind one of the eleven stories featured in the collection.

I’ve done this the past three Sundays and thought I would share those behind-the-scenes stories here on my blog as well. Going forward you can read #SundayStories on Facebook or here at The Spin.

#SundayStories Week Three

“Upon the Unfortunate News of My Death” was one of many stories I wanted to write that incorporated my previous experiences working in a large call center – a strange eco-system with its own set of rules, social mores, and populated by interesting characters from all walks of life. This was another one written rather quickly…it all just gelled one day after word got around the call center that someone at another site was erroneously reported as dead by their manager. What a story! I set this one in my old stomping grounds of North Carolina, with the climactic showdown between over-zealous assistant call center manager Crystal Dawbs and aggrieved agent Kayla Spaulding taking place atop a rooftop bar with dramatic views of downtown Wilmington, NC.

#SundayStories Week Two

“The Ballerina in Battery Park” is one of those stories that just came to me, complete and ready to write, after a trip to NYC to visit a friend where we came across a murder scene walking home from watching the Sacha Baron Cohen film Bruno. I merged a number of different anecdotes from multiple stays in the city into the story, including that time I got thrown out of Battery Park past closing time, and frequent brunches at the famous Harry’s Steakhouse off Wall Street. I wrote a first draft in a flash, did very minor edits, submitted it to a contest on a lark, won third place and publication in their annual anthology. It was my first published short story.

You can also find my original blow-by-blow details of the weekend visit that inspired the story by clicking here.

#SundayStories Week One

“The Pumpkin Thief” is one of those stories that percolated in my mind in one form or another for many years. I had long wanted to write something that incorporated “The Cowboy” kidnapping scare from my childhood – yes, we lived in a fear of man in a Stetson hat snatching us for a few weeks, just like the kids in the story – but it wasn’t until a trip to a corn maze prompted a friend and I to joke about leaping from the car to steal a pumpkin from the giant patch on our way out that lightning struck and the idea and characters appeared to me. The story went through many iterations, the main character of Pete slowly revealing himself through many, many re-writes. He’s always been one of my favorites, along with his antagonist, Fast Dan, the proud owner of the Ford Pinto Black-and-Decker convertible.

Buy the paperback from Amazon for $9.99.

Download a copy to your Kindle for $3.99, or with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited.

Ask your local indie bookstore to stock their shelves through Indiebound.

Add And Then We Vanish to your Goodreads “Want to Read” pile.