I love short stories that pack a punch—emotionally, intellectually, even viscerally. Stories that may take only a short time to read, but stay with you for days afterwards. These are a few of my favorites:

THE ONES WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS by Ursula K. LeGuin. Only a few pages long, but what an amazing few pages. Ones of the finest short stories ever written in the English language, don’t @ me.

SINGING MY SISTER DOWN by Margo Lanagan. This is the first piece of fiction I ever read by Lanagan, and she’s now one of my favorite writers (check out her miraculous novel, Tender Morsels). This is a shattering piece of anthropological storytelling that does not give up its secrets easily.

PONIES by Kij Johnson. This deceptively simple story of a young girl’s party is a kick in the gut wrapped in cotton candy. I remember giving this to my son to read when he was in high school, and he said to me, “This isn’t a fantasy, it’s a documentary.” If you were ever bullied, particularly in middle school, Ponies should maybe come with a trigger warning.

I can’t link to this one, but it’s available to read on Go check it out, I’ll be here when you get back.

MAN FROM THE SOUTH by Roald Dahl. I imagine more people know Roald Dahl for children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. While all of Dahl’s kids’ books have a deep undercurrent of darkness, it’s in his adult short stories that the darkness truly bubbles to the surface. This one has been adapted for both television and the movies, but it’s the original story, particularly the final sentence, that will send a shiver down your spine.

SURVIVOR TYPE by Stephen King. Auto-cannibalism. That’s all I’m gonna say.



I live in Northeast Ohio, where we have four distinct seasons—fall, winter, spring, and traffic cones. I kid, sort of. Anyway, my point is, fall is my favorite season, and we have excellent pumpkin patches here, with apple picking, corn mazes, apple cider slushies, pony rides, and pumpkin everything, much like the setting of Pumpkin Heads the graphic novel by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

This is an intensely sweet and nostalgic story that made me immediately yearn for fall to get here. It’s set over the course of just one night at DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch & Autumn Jamboree, the last night that best work buddies Deja and Josiah will work together before going off to college on their separate ways. There’s no big story arc here. Pumpkin Heads is a collection of small moments, of chasing crushes and unrequited love, of friendships and saying goodbye, of troublemaking kids and runaway goats, of Frito Pie, succotash, and other tasty fall treats. In a few short hours Deja and Josiah learn a lot about each other and themselves.

I first discovered Faith Erin Hicks back when she was doing web comics, and was immediately drawn to her line work and storytelling style. Now she’s a rising star in the graphic novel world. Her work includes the Nameless City trilogy, Friends With Boys, The Adventures of Superhero Girl (one of my favorites) and the young adult novel, Comics Will Break Your Heart. Her work here is assured and expressive. She captures the setting with perfect detail, and her characters’s emotions are clear and beautifully drawn.

I’m sure Rainbow Rowell needs no introduction—her novels include bestsellers like Eleanor & Park, Carry On and Wayward Son. Somewhat shockingly, I haven’t yet read anything of hers, but after Pumpkin Heads that will change. I love her dialogue here. It carries a surprising amount of emotional heft in a minimum of words. Her storytelling is warm and natural, and the combination of her words and Hicks art is a match made in heaven, or maybe a heavenly pumpkin patch.



Coyote Songs, by Gabino Iglesias, is a short novel, but don’t let the brief length convince you that it lacks literary weight. I finished it late last night and it hasn’t yet left me. I had unsettled dreams, and I find myself thinking of it at odd moments.

A mosaic novel, Coyote Song follows the lives of several characters, some living and some not so much, who live on either side of the America/Mexico border, La Frontera. The book is set on the bleeding edge of right now, with border patrols, shocking violence, political upheaval, human trafficking, child stealing and murder. There are monsters here, both supernatural and human, both corporal and not. And though the supernatural terrors are detailed and bloodcurdling (the chapters about the mother twisted me into knots), it’s the human monsters I will never forget. Iglesias is unsparing in his descriptions of immigrants left in the backs of trailers to cook, of men for whom disposing of bodies is just a job to do.

Iglesias’ writing style is captivating, his use of language evocative. Read Coyote Songs. You’ll be richly rewarded, but be prepared to peer into the darkness that humans are capable of. Try not to look away.



This post may be a little different than usual, because I’m going to talk about authors, rather than individual books. Well, actually, I’m sure book titles will come up quite a bit. Anyway, here we go, in roughly chronological order. This is all off the top of my head, and I’m sure I’ll miss some favorites, but it is what it is.

I wasn’t much of a reader in my early years. I guess I just hadn’t found anything that tripped my trigger. Then my first week of junior high I ventured into the library for the first time and started poking around. There they were, right next to each other on the top shelf of the section labeled SCIENCE FICTION—Asimov and Bradbury. I checkout out I, Robot and Martian Chronicles, read them each in a day.

That was that.

I read all the Asimovs and all the Bradburys, then I branched out. Heinlein juveniles, Arthur C. Clarke, Verne and Wells, and about 100 Andre Norton novels. Apparently junior high librarians truly loved Ms. Norton. Reading four or five books a week, it didn’t take me long to burn through that bookshelf. Happily, I discovered that my local city library had a large, well-curated science fiction section. I hit the motherlode.

Being a little obsessive, I started at the top left and worked my way alphabetically through it all. I discovered all the golden age giants in the field, and a lot of then-contemporary authors as well. I began to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t. Two goldmines: Damon Knight’s Orbit anthologies and Terry Carr’s Universe anthologies. Through those I would find authors that I still read and enjoy today:

• R.A. Lafferty, the gentleman from Oklahoma who did not start writing until relatively late in life, but was, for a while at least, the best short story writer in the English language. No one, before or since, wrote like Lafferty.

• James Tiptree, Jr. wrote intense, lyrical, and altogether original short stories that pushed science fiction in new and intriguing directions. When it turned out that “he” was actually a clinical psychologist and grandmother named Alice Sheldon, my teenage self thought that was exceedingly cool.

• Harlan Ellison. Much has been said about Harlan (usually by his own self), but the fact is he wrote some of the most seminal short stories in science fiction, and edited my favorite anthology of all time, Dangerous Visions. Again, Dangerous Visions, the even-bigger sequel, is just as good.

• Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Barry N. Malzberg, Felix Gotschalk, Gene Wolfe, Norman Spinrad, Philip José Farmer, Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, Frederick Pohl, John Brunner, Thomas M. Disch, this fella named George R.R. Martin who wrote really good short stories long before he started writing about dragons. The list goes on and on, this is just scratching the surface. A special shoutout to Alfred Bester, who wrote The Stars My Destination, still maybe the finest science fiction novel ever written.

Ursula K. Le Guin challenged me and thrilled me in equal measure with each new book. Her short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, is a masterclass all by itself, one of the world’s most perfect short stories.

As I got into high school, it wasn’t all science fiction, although clearly a lot of it was. My library had a spinner rack of beat-up paperbacks, where I found a novel called Carrie. In the 45 or so years since then, I’ve read nearly everything Stephen King’s written. His On Writing is my favorite writing how-to. In 1974, the same year Carrie was published, a writer named Robert F. Jones wrote a novel called Blood Sport. Jones only wrote a couple of other books, and I said I wasn’t singling out individual novels, but Blood Sport is special. It’s the violent, fever-dream story of a father/son canoe trip down a mythological river, filled with jarring magic realist imagery and audacious language. And because Jones wrote non-fiction for outdoor magazines, all the fishing and hunting details are spot on. I’m not much for re-reading, too many other books to read out there, but I’ve read Blood Sport at least a dozen times. It’s my favorite novel. When my son was 15 we took a canoe trip on the French River delta, and this is the novel I gave him to read on the journey.

Tom Robbins taught me that the through line from the beginning to the end of a novel does not have to be a straight line, and in fact the byways, asides, parenthetical comments, and wild-ass detours are what make his books so much fun. The death of Bonanza Jellybean in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was the first time a book made me cry. Hopefully that’s not a spoiler since it was published decades ago.

Reading Slaughterhouse Five was a revelation—how could seemingly simple language say so much, and move me so deeply? I read everything Vonnegut wrote, continuing to marvel that such a humane, beautiful writer existed in the world. So it goes. Poo-tee-weet.

Philip Pullman, for a simple enough reason—His Dark Materials is my favorite fantasy trilogy of all time, end of story. Sorry, Lord of the Rings. Also, I’ve wanted my own daemon ever since reading it.

Late high school/early college found me discovering more authors who would stay with me. A friend handed me his well-worn paperback copy of The World According to Garp, and I dove headfirst into the work of John Irving. A completely different writer from Vonnegut, yet just as humane. And as a high school wrestler, his focus on that sport from time to time made me happy. I love it when authors get the details right.

Harry Crews introduced me to a gritty, harrowing version of southern gothic. Brutally beguiling.

I certainly didn’t give up on horror. Along with King, I discovered Clive Barker and Peter Straub, two writers who weave together rich, complex meditations on the nature of evil. Add Robert McCammon to this list. He writes horror as well as anyone, plus, with Boy’s Life, one of the great coming-of-age novels in American literature. This is not an exaggeration. If Mark Twain wrote about small town Alabama in the 1960s, and sprinkled it with magic realism, it might have resulted in Boy’s Life.

So what am I reading today? Glad you asked! Many of the authors listed above are still a regular part of my TBR list, but I’ve added a bunch more to my collection of must-reads:

• I didn’t come to Neil Gaiman through his comics like many people. For me it was American Gods, after which I immediately read everything he had written up to that time. He understands that intersection between myth, magic, and fairytales better than just about anyone. Depending on the day, I tell people he’s my favorite writer.

• Speaking of that intersection between myth, etc., Margo Lanagan inhabits that same space. Her work is beyond original. I first discovered her with her story Singing My Sister Down, which will gently, sweetly shatter you.

• On the days when Neil Gaiman isn’t my favorite author, Joe Lansdale usually is. He writes horror, westerns, crime, and historical fiction with equal skill. His Hap and Leonard novels are the most consistently entertaining works of fiction being written today. Best dialogue writer this side of Elmore Leonard.

• Andrew Vachss writes crime fiction that’s so beyond hard boiled, it makes Raymond Chandler read like Goodnight Moon. Writing is only a sideline for him…he uses the profits from his books to finance the pro bono legal work he does exclusively for abused kids.

• John Scalzi reminds me of Robert Heinlein, but without the troubling politics and misogyny. Rip-roaring space opera, believable humans and aliens, wonderful world-building.

• Alison Bechdel’s graphic novels are of such a high degree of difficulty that it boggles the mind. Personal yet universal, which is hard to pull off.

• I first discovered Chuck Wendig through his blog, where he dispenses writing advice and expounds on the world with profane delight. His fiction is a nice mix of horror, fantasy and apocalyptic science fiction. Do yourself a favor and follow him on Twitter, as well.

• Seanan McGuire, who also writes as Mira Grant, is a true original, and alarmingly prolific. She writes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, all of it amazing. Her Wayward Children series is portal fantasy that I recommend to anyone who will listen.

• Lynda Barry is an award-winning cartoonist who has written several books, but truthfully, she’s here for just one—the graphic novel Cruddy. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and often downright scarifying. Should be required reading in every high school in the country.

• Joe Abercrombie is LordGrimdark on Twitter, and the name is apt. He writes dark, gnarly fantasy, blood-drenched and dense. I space his novels out, because they require concentration that is richly rewarded.

• Richard Kadrey’s singular creation is Sandman Slim, a half man, half demon whose adventures on earth, in hell, and all points in between span a bunch of novels, and I hope they never stop.

• Simple enough—Paul Tremblay is the best new horror writer working today. Starting with Head Full of Ghosts, he’s redefined the genre. His new one is coming soon, and I can’t wait.

I guess that’s it for now. There are many other authors I love, but they don’t yet have the body of work to make this list. Or I just forgot them. I know this went a bit long, but I’ve really enjoyed this read down memory lane. Thanks for joining me.



I can’t play an instrument, can’t sing a lick, but oddly enough I love to write song lyrics. I’ve had a few recorded by local bands and singers, but if any singer/songwriters out there are interested, I have a notebook full ready to go. I’ve always really liked this one.


I had this little walk-up flat down in Chinatown
above the sidewalk vendors selling magic by the pound
neon pulsed outside the window like crickets in the night
and the bar girls walked home all alone through the early morning light
from my fire escape I’d watch the parade, check the pulse of the city around me
open myself to the beat and the roar, let the sounds of the city surround me

but Chinese food gives you a headache
and smoggy air gives you the flu
so I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through

I had the kind of lifelong friends that people sing about
however deeply in I went, I knew they would pull me out
call us Musketeers or Stooges, we never really cared
the three of us would ride a passing comet on a dare
side by side we fought and cried and propped each other up
I considered knowing them the source of all my luck

but Pauly makes you nervous
and Ronnie drinks more than a few
so I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through

I had a life that fit me like a well-worn overcoat
and then you came along and rocked my happy little boat
I took your hand and turned my back on all the things I knew
I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through

I can’t remember now if you even asked me to
but I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through



This is a werewolf novel unlike any you’ve read, possibly unlike any every written. There are no foggy London alleys, no windswept moors, no crumbling castles drenched in moonlight. Mongrels is a white trash coming-of-age novel that swings back and forth across the American south from Texas to Florida.

Mongrels also swings back in forth in time, telling its story non sequentially in vignettes that, taken together, present a mosaic of life as a family of werewolves. The narrator is a boy traveling with his aunt and uncle, both werewolves, as they cut a bloody swath through the south, stopping here and there to work odd jobs and live for awhile before the bodies pile up and they have to move on. We meet the boy at various ages, both young and teenaged. This is a coming-of-age story with a unique twist—at he grows up he’s consumed with wondering when, and if, he will turn for the first time.

Jones gives us werewolf history and folklore that is wholly original and fascinating. He writes with a hypnotic rhythm, mixing graphic mayhem with surprising spurts of humor to offset the spurts of blood.

I can’t recommend Mongrels enough. It’s a tour de force.



Way back in 1999 I wrote a picture book manuscript that I really liked. It was a silly, rhyming (Yes, I know, rhyming picture books are perennially out of favor, but mostly because there’s so much bad rhyme out there, and my rhyming is pretty good, if I do say so myself. But I digress.), 313 word picture book called Up Ned’s Nose. Yep, it was about a kid named Ned with an alarming number of things stuffed up his nose, and his older brother’s attempts to extract said things. The book had no moral, no lessons too impart. It was goofy and funny, and like I said, I really liked it. As an illustrator, I knew it would be stupid fun to illustrate.

Earlier that year I had entered a story in the Writer’s Digest annual writing competition, and placed in the top 10, which was pretty cool. So, not really expecting much, I entered Up Ned’s Nose in the 2000 Writer’s Digest competition.

I won the grand prize!

Crazy. Not sure what you get now for winning now, but back then the prizes were pretty spectacular. I got a nice check, which was great, but the rest of the prize was, well, life changing. Writer’s Digest sent my wife and I to New York City all expenses paid, accompanied by one of their editors, who was altogether delightful. That’s still not the best part. Included in the trip was the chance to meet with three editors of my choice, in their big, fancy NYC publishing house offices. All three were welcoming, supportive of my work, inspiring, and full of helpful tips. On days when I’m down on myself and thinking of hanging up my keyboard, I still think back to that trip.

Did any of them make an offer on Up Ned’s Nose? Nope. But that was okay. In the several months between winning the prize and taking the trip, I decided to try subbing Ned. And the first publisher I sent it too, the very first, liked it and offered a contract. The publisher was Smallfellow Press, the kids division of Tallfellow Press, founded by Larry Sloan and Leonard Stern, of Price Stern Sloan fame (Sloan and Stern have sadly both passed away since then.). They paid me the first third of the agreed upon advance, as stated in the contract.

So did the book get published? Nope. A funny thing happened. One of the partners at Smallfellow became worried that a little kid would be unduly influenced by my silly story and stuff a toy truck up their nose, and they would be held liable. They went back and forth. Eventually my manuscript was sent to Alan Isaacson, the lawyer played by Ed Norton in The People vs. Larry Flynt, to get his opinion on the matter. At least my story was meeting famous people.

A couple of years passed. I never did hear what Mr. Isaacson thought about the issue, but Smallfellow eventually let the contract lapse.

In the intervening years I’ve submitted Ned a couple of times, and had some interest, but nothing has come through. Truthfully, after everything that’s happened, my heart hasn’t really been in it. This past summer a writing conference came to Cleveland, my home town, and I pitched Ned to an agent. She asked me to send her the manuscript. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m going to give it a bit longer.

After all, what’s a few more months.



I can’t play an instrument, can’t sing a lick, but oddly enough I love to write song lyrics. I’ve had a few recorded by local bands and singers, but if any singer/songwriters out there are interested, I have a notebook full ready to go. Here’s an example:


I first heard Mother Music as a child in the south
calling through the screen door from the woods behind my house
barefoot in the dew-wet grass, blanket wrapped around me
deeper still among the trees I felt her voice surround me
I came into a clearing hung with early morning mist
sat back and watched the treetops that the sun began to kiss

and Mother Music sang to me from deep within the earth
a song of new beginnings, of cleansing and rebirth
Mother Music sang to me from leaf and branch and stone
a song so bold I thought the skin would lift right off my bones
Mother Music sang to me in a voice of pure white light
left me dazed and satisfied, possessed of second sight

my intervening years are filled with restlessness and yearning
the need to hear her song again rests within me, burning
I’ve slept beneath the stars above more times than I can say
from mountain top to desert floor I’ve watched the break of day
I catch a whisper now and then, like an echo out of time
and it brings me back to dew-wet grass and Mother Music’s rhyme

when Mother Music sang to me from deep within the earth
a song of new beginnings, of cleansing and rebirth
Mother Music sang to me from leaf and branch and stone
a song so bold I thought the skin would lift right off my bones
Mother Music sang to me in a voice of pure white light
left me dazed and satisfied, possessed of second sight

Mother Music, sing to me
Heal my heart, set me free
Mother Music, sing to me
My eyes are open, let me see

I’ve traveled down so many roads to find this humble truth
that I was touched by magic one sweet morning in my youth
but you can’t recapture magic and you can’t bring back the past
so I’ll spend my time contented ’til I leave this place at last

then Mother Music will sing to me from deep within the earth
a song of new beginnings, of cleansing and rebirth
Mother Music will sing to me from leaf and branch and stone
a song so bold I think the skin will lift right off my bones
Mother Music will sing to me in a voice of pure white light
leave me dazed and satisfied, possessed of second sight



I can’t play an instrument, can’t sing a lick, but oddly enough I love to write song lyrics. I’ve had a few recorded by local bands and singers, but if any singer/songwriters out there are interested, I have a notebook full ready to go. Here’s an example:


I was drunk our wedding night, couldn’t get it up
you did my best man in the bathroom, beat him like a pup
we headed south to honeymoon where tropic breezes blow
I can understand the hurricane, but why’d it have to snow?

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, it’s playing our song

we lived above a laundromat just a stumble from the bar
even so, some nights I just couldn’t crawl that far
when I heard your ass was for the asking, I didn’t really care
let’s just say I wasn’t caught completely unaware

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, it’s playing our song

I walked in one afternoon and caught you dead to rights
you said, honey wait your turn…it wasn’t worth a fight
you picked up the bottle, I picked up young girls
we’d meet at night and hold on tight to our sad and lonely world

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, it’s playing our song

we’ve lost our friends down bad dead ends, lost our self respect
lost whatever we once had to pity and neglect
consider this an invitation to put our lives to bed
it really couldn’t be much worse with a bullet in the head
I’m leaving in the morning… I hope you’ll come along
this bus is heading straight to hell, and I hear they’re playing our song

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, I hope it’s playing our song

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, I hope it’s playing our song



Sarah Gailey burst onto the scene, at least for me, with her American Hippo novellas, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow. Intriguing world building in an alternate history Louisiana where hippos have been imported and now run feral, and rugged hippo wranglers ride their hippo steeds into danger and adventure. Gailey writes complex, believable genderqueer characters that you’ll find yourself rooting for.

She continued to impress with Magic for Liars, a fast-paced murder mystery set in a school for young mages.

Now comes Upright Women Wanted. This isn’t actually being released until February, but I was able to snag an ARC at NY Comic Con, to my surprise and delight. Another novella, this slim book packs a ton of world building, doled out in hints and whispers.

Upright Women Wanted is set in a future American southwest, as we follow a wagon train of queer librarian revolutionaries, and their teenage stowaway, on a dangerous journey across a desert teeming with bandits and fascists, with war a constant rumble in the background.

By turns thrilling and heartbreaking, with characters I truly cared about, I loved this book. My only complaint is that is was over too quickly, and I want to know more about this world Gailey has so deftly created. I hope she returns soon to Esther and her comrades.



So, I plan on reviewing novels as I read them, but in the last couple of weeks holiday and family obligations kinda sorta got in the way. Here are somewhat abbreviated reviews of my last read of 2019 and my first read of 2020.


Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books began with Savage Season, way back in 1990. There are now by my count 12 novels and many novellas and short stories featuring running buddies Hap and Leonard. Hap Collins is a middle-aged white shit kicker who avoids violence when at all possible. Leonard Pine is his best friend, a black, gay Viet Nam vet with a short fuse, who does not suffer fools. They are not criminals (although they sometimes stomp all over that line), and not law enforcement (although they work as private detectives in later novels), but their misadventures take them on a wild ride through the seedy underbelly of East Texas. The books are violent, profane, scatological, sometimes harrowing, and laugh-out-loud funny as long as you are not easily offended. Also, Lansdale is the best writer of dialogue this side of Elmore Leonard. Get to know Hap and Leonard, and you’ll be hooked.

Blood and Lemonade is a hybrid beast, a group of short stories held together with loose connective tissue. If you’re new to Hap and Leonard, this is not the one to start with. For fans, though, this is a goldmine, because we get to know Hap and Leonard as young men when they first met. I loved it.


I’m going to keep this short and sweet. The Institute kept me up way, way past my bedtime for several nights running. I couldn’t put it down. This is King in full on thriller mode, with a breakneck plot and wonderfully realized characters.

I don’t want to go into much detail, as part of the reading pleasure here is discovering what exactly is going on. There’s a secret government organization, kidnapped children in harm’s way, an evocation of small-town American life that King is better at than just about anyone, and tension that just keeps ratcheting up.

As a long time King fan, I’ve often felt that the weakest part of his game is novel endings (I’m looking at you, Under the Dome), but here he nails it. The Institute is a big, satisfying page-turner.

Favorite Opening Lines


Just a few of my favorite opening lines. I plan on returning to this theme from time to time, as I’m fascinated by what resonates for me and draws me into a novel.


No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.


Jack Torrance thought: officious little prick.


The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.


We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.


There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.


It was a pleasure to burn.


When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.


Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.


I’ve been called Bone all my life, but my name’s Ruth Anne. I was named for and by my oldest aunt—Aunt Ruth. My mama didn’t have much to say about it, since strictly speaking, she wasn’t there. Mama and a carful of my aunts and uncles had been going out to the airport to meet one of the cousins who was on his way back from playing soldier. Aunt Alma, Aunt Ruth, and her husband, Travis, were squeezed into the front, and Mama was stretched out in back, sound asleep. Mama hadn’t adjusted to pregnant life very happily, and by the time she was eight months gone, she had a lot of trouble sleeping. She said that when she lay on her back it felt like I was crushing her, when she lay on her side it felt like I was climbing up her backbone, and there was no rest on her stomach at all. Her only comfort was the backseat of Uncle Travis’s Chevy, which was jacked up so high that it easily cradled little kids or pregnant women. Moments after lying back into that seat, Mama had fallen into her first deep sleep in eight months. She slept so hard, even the accident didn’t wake her up.


Together, they walked across the property; the girl, the boy, and the dancing skeleton wrapped in rainbows.

If You Give a Hummingbird a Hatchet


My writing group did a challenge—write a twisted version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. This was mine:


If you give a hummingbird a hatchet, he will plummet to the ground from the weight. That will piss him off, and he’ll seek revenge.

He’ll probably notice that the hatchet is dull and ask you for a whetstone to sharpen it, because dull hatchets are not suitable for revenge.

If you give him a whetstone, because he’s a cute little hummingbird who couldn’t possibly hurt anything, he’s sure to ask you for some water for the whetstone.

If you give him the water he’ll sharpen the hatchet to a wicked edge. Then he’ll probably ask you to bend down close and accept what you have coming to you.

At this point you may feel the first shiver of fear creep up your spine, so you’ll run.

He will absolutely chase you, the hatchet thumping against your hardwood floors as he drags it behind him, his little claws making scritch-scritch sounds that fray your nerves like nails down a blackboard.

Just when you think you’re going to make the front door, as your outstretched fingers brush the knob, you’ll probably hear something that sounds very much like an evil cackle as your legs suddenly stop working in a rush of blinding pain.

He may crack a smile then, just a hint, and he’ll ask you what it feels like to have your achilles tendons severed. Then he’ll go to work with the hatchet.

When he’s done he’ll ask you for a mop to clean up the mess. But you won’t be able to answer. This will piss him off all over again, And he’ll probably head for your neighbor’s house.

Let’s hope they have a mop.

My Favorite Books of 2019


I’ve read nineteen books this year, which I think is pretty average for me. There were three graphic novels (I’m trying to read more), one non fiction, and the rest novels. I may sneak in one more before the end of the year, but for now, these were my favorite reads of 2019. Note, that doesn’t mean they were all published in 2019.

Fun Home, a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. I first experienced Fun Home as a stage musical, and it was amazing, but the book is even better. The story of Bechdel’s childhood with her family, her coming out as a young gay woman, and her fractious relationship with her closeted gay father, Fun Home is raw and painful and funny, the art perfectly in sync with the words.

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire. McGuire has become one of my favorite authors over the past couple of years. Her Wayward Children series has set a new standard for portal fantasy. Middlegame, a standalone novel, is a revelation. It embroils twins Roger and Dodger in a complex world of alchemy, secret government organizations, and fractured timelines. Oh, and they just may be on the verge of attaining godhood.

Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig. Wendig burst onto the scene a few years ago with the gritty, violent Miriam Black series. Wanderers is a whole other animal, a massive post apocalyptic novel with great characters and a deeply involving story. There are echoes here of Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, but Wanderers puts an exciting new spin on the genre, and is a totally unique reading experience. I lost hours of sleep while I was reading this.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, a graphic novel by Emil Ferris. The first thing you notice about this book is the artwork. It fills every page, edge to edge, densely crosshatched, chaotic yet exquisitely detailed. It reminds me a little of Robert Crumb’s work, but I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like this. You soon realize that the story is just as involving and mesmerizing as the art. My Favorite Thing is Monsters is the fictional diary of a ten year old girl in late 1960s Chicago as she investigates the murder of her holocaust-surviving neighbor, roaming back in time to Nazi Germany.

Growing Things, by Paul Tremblay. With just a handful of novels to his credit, Tremblay, a high school math teacher by day, has become one of today’s premier horror writers. Growing Things is a collection of short stories. Just as harrowing as his novels, yet far more experimental, the stories here keep you off balance. Unsettling in the best way.

Four Great Books You May Have Never Heard of


Four books that I love, that I’m always surprised to discover people haven’t heard of:

BOY’S LIFE by Robert McCammon. McCammon mostly writes intelligent thrillers and horror novels (the apocalyptic Swan Song is a favorite of mine) but this is something altogether different. Part murder mystery, part the exciting and sometimes dangerous adventures of a 12 year old boy and his friends in small town Alabama in the early 60’s, Boy’s Life is infused with magic realism and wonder.

LITTLE, BIG by John Crowley. An epic classic of modern fantasy without an orc or a dragon in sight. This is the sprawling chronicle of the Drinkwater clan and their sometimes fractious relationship with the land and denizens of fae. Pure magic.

TERRITORY by Emma Bull. Bull starts with a meticulously researched novel set in Tombstone, Arizona, with all the characters you think you know, including the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday. Then she underpins it with a deep undercurrent of supernatural dark magic. Completely audacious, completely wonderful.

SANTA STEPS OUT by Robert Devereaux. This, um, very adult novel features Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny as the modern incarnations of pagan gods, with all their sensual appetites fully intact. I can’t even begin to describe the insanity that Devereaux spews onto the page in a fever dream that I guarantee is unlike anything you’ve ever read. As long as you’re not easily offended (and hell, even if you are) do yourself a favor and read this book. You’ll be amazed.

Books by the Numbers


In 1995 I got several books for Christmas. This was not unusual. However, in 1995 I also received a small address book from my Uncle Ray, and although I didn’t really need it as an address book, I decided to use it to keep track of the books I read in the new year.

Because I can be a tad obsessive, I’ve kept track ever since. Like I said, a tad excessive.

So, books, by the numbers.

335: The number of books I’ve read since 1996.

23: Number of non-fiction books on that list. Okay, so I like fiction. The vast majority are genre novels of one kind or another—horror, science fiction, fantasy, crime. You get the idea.

5: The fewest book I read in one year, in 1998. That year I drew several wallpaper borders for a local company. These were huge, time-consuming projects that left me little free time.

31: The most books I read in any year, in 2002. For whatever reason, I must not have done much drawing or writing that year. No idea why.

8: the number of graphic novels on the list. I was surprised and a little disappointed that I’ve read so few graphic novels, and I’m trying to rectify that. I have several on my TBR pile.

17: The number of novels I’ve read by Joe Lansdale, the most by any one author. Lansdale is a modern-day Mark Twain, if Twain had written violent, scatological, deeply serious and laugh-out-loud funny crime, horror, westerns, and historical fiction, often all of those things jumbled together in a meaty East Texas stew. My favorites of his are the Hap and Leonard series, the misadventures of a middle aged white guy (Hap) and his best friend, Leonard, a gay Viet Nam vet. These books are violent, profane, tense, and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph.

Other authors who appear multiple times: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket, Seanan McGuire (writing as both herself and Mira Grant), Andrew Vachss, Richard Kadrey, Paul Tremblay, Joe Abercrombie. There are others, but these are the writers I come back to again and again.

First book on the list: Deviant Way, by Richard Montanari, a brutal serial killer novel set in my hometown of Cleveland.

Last book on the list: The Woman In The Window, by Dan Mallory, a twisty thriller that I’m about halfway through as I write this.

Confessions of a Book Dad


I first wrote this five year ago as a guest blog for someone else. My kids are five years older than they were then, and their lives have clearly changed. I no longer have a reason to stand on the sidelines in the cold spring rain and cheer.

So, think of this as a snapshot of an earlier time. Rereading this brought back fond memories for me.


I’m a book dad. 

I was a book kid and a book teen, on a first name basis with my local librarian, my nose always buried in one crumbling, broken-spined paperback or another. I know many intelligent, successful adults who put away books when they reached adulthood and never looked back. Not me. I kept right on reading, and became a book guy. When it turned out the woman I fell in love with and married was also a reader, it came as no real surprise.

When our son was born, reading to him seemed as natural as feeding and changing him, and just as integral to his proper care. Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar were early favorites. You just can’t go wrong with the classics. Eric was a young reader, also not much of a surprise. He devoured Magic Treehouse and Boxcar Children books, inhaled Goosebumps and Hardy Boys. We took turns reading the first Harry Potter book to him, a chapter each night, completely enthralled. My wife and I made a pact not to read ahead. I admit here, for the first time, that I sometimes cheated. Eric read the second Potter book by himself, and the die was cast. He was a book kid.

My daughter Hannah, born two years after Eric, not so much. She loved being read to, but the reading bug never really bit her. In a house filled to overflowing with books, she often had trouble finding something that interested her. She was, and is, smart and creative, a wonderful writer and musician, but finding a book that demanded her attention was challenging. When it did happen, she read and reread them obsessively. Harry Potter did the trick, as did Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging and its sequels, and the Mates, Dates books. Hunger Games had our entire family reading, in shifts. (By the time Mockingjay came along, we game up and bought multiple copies for the house.) The same thing happened with The Fault In Our Stars.

Our second daughter, McKenna, is also a reader. She’s 14 now. Her friends and her pass around books like they are sacred objects, from the aforementioned Fault In Our Stars to Divergent and The Mortal Instruments books. They write fan fic, and talk about their favorite characters as if they were real. In a way, the best way, I guess they are.

As a book dad, I love recommending favorites to my kids. Sometimes it’s easy. Eric is 21 now, and we have virtually the same taste in fiction. We buy each other books all the time, and it’s always something we want to read as well. Recent choices include The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, Lev Grossman’s Magician trilogy and Jo Walton’s Among Others. We have two main points of disagreement. One is e-readers, which I have accepted as a necessary, and convenient, evil, but which he refuses to truck with. I sometimes purchase something on my Kindle I know he desperately wants to read, just to entice him, but so far he’s resisted. The other concerns the subject of rereading, which I rarely do. Too many novels I haven’t yet read, is my position. Eric has reread Ender’s Game and His Dark Materials so many times that he’s had to buy new copies.

Recommending books to my daughters is much more hit and miss. McKenna may be a reader, but at least at the moment, her friend’s picks carry more weight than mine, and she likes what she likes. She currently favors, quote, “Dystopian series with a love interest.” Luckily for her, there are plenty of those floating around. I did score with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black. Hannah is the toughest nut to crack, but when I recommend something she likes, it’s uniquely satisfying. Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Lynda Barry’s Cruddy are dark, challenging novels that I love, and that Hannah connected with. I’m hoping to get her to try Geek Love next.

For the record, all three kids have read Trapped In Lunch Lady Land. Voluntarily.

I’m a lot of things, like most people. A husband and father, a graphic designer and illustrator, a published author, a soccer sideline cheerleader. And proudly, a book dad.