#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-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.

Lost Girls on Netflix and The Escape to Candyland

The new Netflix film Lost Girls takes an interesting look at the unsolved Long Island Serial Killer case from the POV of one of the alleged victim’s mother. Directed by Liz Garbus, the film gets off to a choppy start, but once Amy Ryan takes control and begins her mission to find her missing daughter, her impassioned performance raises the film beyond your standard psychological thriller melodrama. The supporting performances are also very strong, with the cast making the most of roles that would’ve benefited from more fleshing out in a longer format.

The material here is probably better suited for a miniseries, but I enjoyed the film’s compactness and some of Garbus’ moody visual choices for lighting, framing, etc… This is one of those sad but true tales about young women being marginalized and victimized, and the “stronger-than-they-thought-they-were” women in their families becoming their voice after they were silenced. Ingrained misogyny and corruption, as well as the mishandling of mental health issues are brought to light as the women champion for the murdered girls…but sadly to no avail as of yet beyond the story being shared.

Many of the stories in Yong Takahashi’s new collection The Escape to Candyland swirl around the marginalization and victimization of women as well. A good portion of the stories deal with women who were brought up in a corrupt and cultish crime ring headed by a pastor and yogi in Atlanta. These characters could’ve easily ended up like the women in Lost Girls.

Combined with other tales of immigrants, the marginalized, and the mentally or emotionally troubled, Takahashi’s stories make for an interesting read.

Both the film the short story collection standout because of their POVs. They both make it clear that these are voices that need to be heard…deserve to be heard. These are stories that are all too commonly swept under the rug.

The haunting line from Takahashi’s story “Sacred Places” rings true for all of these girls and women:

“We’ve lived our lives like compressed balls of yarn, twisted and knotted together, unable to separate ourselves from each other. Once I let my secret go, all the others will unravel.”

Written by D. H. Schleicher

The Timely and Timeless Dramas On Sal Mal Lane

On a relatively quiet street in suburban Sri Lanka children play, parents brood, and old folks reminisce while the storms of an inevitable civil war seem to gather on a different planet. But those dark clouds will eventually cover everything, and the children’s haven will be forever shattered, and soon peace only reachable in their imaginations.

The context of Ru Freeman’s heartbreakingly beautiful, intimate, and real 2013 novel On Sal Mal Lane is the Sri Lankan civil war that exploded in the early 1980’s. The threat was visible and violent, human madness gone viral. The threat we are facing today in 2020 is invisible and viral, but the emotions, the fear, the sense of impending doom, the desire to see a light at the end of the tunnel, a generation of innocence loss…this could speak to our moment now in the midst of global pandemic or to the people who lived through WWII just as much as Freeman’s novel speaks for those in Sri Lanka almost 40 years ago.

I started reading On Sal Mal Lane right before the world went on lockdown. My wife mentioned it to me many times before over the years, stating she thought I would really enjoy it as Sri Lanka always fascinated me. For whatever reason I kept shrugging it off, until just a few months ago. Like many of my favorite novels, this was the right book at the right time. The character arcs mirrored the arcs of our own lives, the civil war in the novel encroaching on the children’s domestic bliss just as the pandemic began invading ours.

Freeman’s “first-hand” but omniscient narrative insights into the worlds of children, as well as intimate knowledge of social mores and religious, racial, and political differences, make the reader feel as if they are a resident of Sal Mal Lane. Ceremonies, cricket matches, local fauna, the touch of certain fabrics, the taste of certain sweets, the smell of burning things…the details of the children’s lives are wholly immersive. As equally vivid as the details of the outside world are the details of the inner thoughts and emotions of the children. How she depicts certain arcs such as an evolving love and talent for music, or a brief affair with wanting to be a cricket start give shades and color to the children in ways rarely captured in art.

Regardless of the personal context I brought to my reading, it’s fair to say On Sal Mal Lane would’ve moved me to tears on any given day in any given year of my adult life. But the feelings felt now in the moment for the characters Freeman created couldn’t have been deeper. I will never forget the scene when the children’s schools were suddenly closed as riots began in the streets of Colombo and everyone was left to wander home through the chaos, or the excruciating choice one troubled teenage boy makes while caught up in the melee of the marauding mob that seals the fates of all down the lane.

On Sal Mal Lane is a timely and timeless masterpiece. It’s the type of art that provides solace and reminds us that we were, we are, never alone. We can connect with other people and characters from different times and in different places, in good times and bad, and in all the shades and colors of life. I’m so glad I met the residents of Sal Mal Lane when I did.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

For another view into the beauty of Sri Lanka through the horrors of its civil war, I highly recommend another masterpiece, Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost.

For an equally immersive and poignant look at ordinary people caught up in the storms of war and trying to survive, I highly recommend another masterpiece, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, famously written “in the moment” of the German invasion of France during WWII.

#AndThenWeVanish Whether We Like It Or Not

For a brief moment, as the world-altering realities of life during a pandemic sank into the pit of my stomach as the new normal, I struggled with whether or not I should stick to the original release date for my new short story collection And Then We Vanish. But it quickly became the least of my worries, and so, April 7th 2020 was going to be the release date whether we liked it or not, and now here we are. And we have not vanished.

Eleven tales made up of old and new stories curated from over a decade or work, And Then We Vanish represents literary fiction with a twist. The stories are married to the theme of people vanishing or wanting to vanish. Most of the stories are dark, but apart from many of the characters wanting to escape their lives, and a few meeting their untimely demise, the stories are connected with strains of hope. When faced with bizarre events, trauma, and the absurd, most of these characters find ways to survive and move on.

I hope that we can all do the same in the wake of recent real-world events.

– D. H. Schleicher

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.

Cover design by Violeta Nedkova

What I’m Reading: #Covid-19 #StayAtHome Edition

On Sal Mal Lane: A Novel by [Freeman, Ru]

Don’t expect anything escapist and fun here (well, maybe something slipped in). But do expect to find common themes of tragedy, human fraility, resiliency, and survival.

Current Reads:

  • On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman – I’m about half-way through this wonderful, Dickensian look at normal people trying to navigate social mores, keep up appearances, and lead their day-to-day lives on the cusp of the Sri Lankan civil war. Told mostly from the point of view of the neighborhood children, this is shaping up like an all-time classic.
  • The End of Echoes by Dawn Hosmer – I’m oh-so-close to finishing this emotionally exhausting read (and I mean that in a mostly good way) about emotionally exhausted families going through extreme trauma and change. Some of the tribulations are repetative, but they speak keenly to cycles of abuse and behavior. Not surprisingly, the author is a former social worker.

In My Queue:

Past Reads that Seem Fitting For Our Time:

  • When It’s Over by Barbara Ridley – I read this just last year, and it’s a powerful and engrossing look at refugees living through the blitzkriegs over England during WWII.
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky – It’s been many years since I read this, but the author’s “in the moment” depiction of Nazi-occupied France is still one of my all-time favorite novels.
  • Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje – Want to know more about the Sri Lankan civil war? Ondaatje’s devastating and haunting masterpiece will fuel your dreams.
  • The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen – a timely read about a small town under quarantine during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

I would be remiss not to plug my own works:

  • Then Came Darkness – a novel about a family struggling through the Great Depression while trying to keep a murderous man hellbent on revenge at bay.
  • And Then We Vanish – my new collection of short stories (lit fiction with a twist) due to be released April 7th, 2020.

What’s in your reading pile this spring of extreme social distancing?

Discover Eleven Ways to Vanish in April 2020 with #AndThenWeVanish

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release, April 7th 2020, of my new short story collection.

Eleven twisting tales curated from nearly a decade of work, And Then We Vanish features five new stories and six previously published stories.

vanish wordpress 1

In these stories we encounter characters who are victims of their own poor decisions and of chance, like a young boy under the threat of a local kidnapping scare who starts to realize the truth about himself and his father one fateful Halloween, a woman in the midst of a midlife crisis whose dog keeps running away from her, a disgraced college professor who becomes entangled with his down-and-out neighbors outside of Atlantic City, and a lonely person who wanders Niagara Falls at night imagining their escape with a mysterious stranger.

These characters might be longing to disappear or left behind by those who already have, and their stories challenge us to connect with them while they navigate the waves of mystery, violence, and the absurd that filter into their everyday lives.

Discover Eleven Ways to Vanish in the Following Tales:

  • The Pumpkin Thief – new
  • The Ballerina in Battery Park – originally published in Scratch Anthology: Volume 3
  • Upon the Unfortunate News of My Death – new
  • Boko Haram’s Greatest Hits – originally published in A Million and One Magazine
  • Anthrax and Cherry Blossoms – originally published in A Million and One Magazine
  • Somebody You Used to Know – new
  • Blue Heather – new
  • Down Gallow’s Way – originally published in Red Moon District by Underground Voices
  • Wild Horses – new
  • When Night Falls on Niagara – originally published in Eunoia Review
  • Night of the Spider – originally published in The Stone Digital Literary Magazine

Preorder for your Kindle for $3.99.

Preorder the paperback version for $9.99.

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

Cover design by Violeta Nedkova

There is Weird Wild Heartbreaking Beautiful Stuff to be Found in The Deep

The Deep is a wildly imaginative bit of fiction anchored in universal truths and spun creatively from real trauma. It is simultaneously a collaborative work based on the mythology created in experimental rap songs, and a uniquely singular novella. Like its main character, the mysterious Yetu, it is both plural and one. It’s quite unlike anything I have ever read. If I tried to ensnare and then relay its essence, imagine if Toni Morrison wrote a piece of science-fiction. It’s that soulful, and that weird. But to reduce it to that type of blurb would do it a disservice.

A fantastic underwater utopia inhabited by strange sentient creatures (the Wajinru) who are descended from pregnant women tossed overboard during the transatlantic slave trade, communal memories, climate change, the end of the world…it’s all woven into the rich tapestry of Rivers Solomon’s tome which reads like an epic poem. Rich in metaphors and bold imagination, it channels both the grief and the triumph of the marginalized.

Love who you love. Own your past. Create your future.

For all the heartache, the novella builds to an amazing closing line that left this reader reeling.

There is hope in the chaos.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

My Favorite Films and Books of 2019

Stay tuned for my 2010’s retrospective (and top films of the decade) in the coming days. In the meantime here are My Top Films of 2019:

Notable Films I’ve Yet to See: Marriage Story, 1917, Little Women

Weirdest Film: The Lighthouse

Best Guilty Pleasure: Crawl

Biggest Disappointments: Ad Astra, A Hidden Life

And here are my Top Books of 2019:

Favorite Fiction: When It’s Over (Barbara Ridley)

Favorite Non-Fiction: Spying on Whales (Nick Pyenson)

Most Thrilling Read: Pray for the Girl (Joseph Souza)

Best Older Book I Read for the 1st Time: Anil’s Ghost (Michael Ondaatje)

Written by D. H. Schleicher

Feel free to share your own favorite books and films of 2019 in the comments!