Odilon Redon, Orpheus In early morning hush,the moon sings farewell,gelid murmured notesthrough white cat-paw clouds if you listen, recalllight recalls time recalls light,the ancient ships of night seasask whenask whatyou wantfrom the whispers and pulsesof mother music from earth and sky, the fiddle, flute, and drums ofwind-beats and tree rustle,the cardinal chirps and crow caws,black […]Listen, Recall
I read 89 books in 2021. These are, subjectively and in order, my top 21 in 2021.
|21||Mefisto in Onyx||Harlan Ellison||1993||Mark V. Zeising Books||Another powerful story from H.E. in a beautiful, oddly shaped 1st edition. One of the only books written for adults that is wider than it is tall. Keeping in character, Ellison could not resist a shot, in his Acknowledgements, at some folks who had rejected the book. MiO is a gritty, noirish novella of murder and suspicion.|
|20||Typewriters Bombs Jellyfish: Essays||Tom McCarthy||2017||New York Review Books||The essays are full of erudition and odd insights. They carom off delightfully in every direction. My favorite was The Prosthetic Imagination of David Lynch which provided a glimmer of understanding of the film director’s strange and tenebrous aesthetic.|
|19||Christopher Durang Complete Full-Length Plays 1975-1995||Christopher Durang||1997||Smith and Kraus, Inc.||Durang’s plays are funny with caustic commentary on the foibles of modern American society. I’d already read Beyond Therapy and seen it in a small theater in L.A. with my son Tristan playing the part of Andrew. My favorite play in this collection was The Vietnamization of New Jersey.|
|18||Get in Trouble: Stories||Kelly Link||2015||Random House||Link is a faultless stylist and a master of the outre.|
|17||J. G. Ballard: The Complete Short Stories||J. G. Ballard||2001||Flamingo||I had already read a number of the stories in this massive, 1200 page volume because they’d been published in so many ‘Best of’ anthologies. My favorites were Minus One, The Smile, and Love in a Colder Climate.|
|16||On Wings of Song||Thomas M. Disch||1993||Easton Press||Another gorgeous leather-bound volume with gold-leaf embossments and gilt-edges from Easton Press. It is a modern fairy tale and biting satire of American society and Christianity. Disch never disappoints.|
|15||The Fires of Heaven||Robert Jordan||1993||Tor Books||The fifth in the epic fantasy series the Wheel of Time. There is good reason WoT is mentioned in the same breath as GoT, LOTR, and Narnia.|
|14||The Arrest||Jonathan Lethem||2020||Ecco||Lethem is one of our best writers and a rarity in that he is equally adept at writing speculative and mainstream fiction. The Arrest is a dystopian novel set in America’s near future and depicts what happens when cars, computers, airplanes, etc. stop working.|
|13||The Lowland||Jhumpa Lahiri||2013||Vintage Contemporaries||This novel was apparently a finalist for the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize so, yeah, it’s pretty good stuff. Set in India from the 1960’s to the present day, it is a family tale about two brothers replete with love, tragedy, and contemporary Indian history.|
|12||Bartleby in Manhattan & Other Essays||Elizabeth Hardwick||1983||Random House||E. H. was one of our best essayists and literary critics. If you don’t believe me ask Robert Atwan who chose her over the likes of Joyce Carole Oates, Annie Dillard, and Susan Sontag as the first guest editor in his Best American Essays series started in 1986 and still going strong.|
|11||A Memory of Empire||Arkady Martine||2019||Tor Books||Arkedy Martine is the pseudonym of Dr. AnnaLinden Weller. This space opera is full of action and intrigue and won the 2020 Hugo award for Best Novel.|
|10||News from the World: Stories & Essays||Paula Fox||2011||W. W. Norton & Co.||P. F. is the under-appreciated author of Desperate Characters. These essays and stories have both sparkle and depth, a difficult trick to pull off. My favorites were Clem and the eponymous piece.|
|9||The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin||Philip Larkin||2012||Farrar, Strauss and Giroux||At 700 pages this is the definitive work for Larkin scholars. It has as much commentary as poetry. I read it for the poems only. Some of my favorites were Night Music, No Road, Ignorance, The Old Fools, and Winter Nocturne.|
|8||The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection||Gardner Dozois (Ed.)||2011||St. Martin’s Griffin||This annual collection of the best science fiction from the previous year is always one of the best books I read in any given year. I’ve always wondered about the correct pronunciation for this multiple Hugo-award winning editor’s last name. My favorite stories were The Emperor of Mars by Alan M. Steele, Under the Moons of Venus by Damien Broderick, and In-Fall by Ted Kosmatka.|
|7||The Drowned World||J. G. Ballard||1965||Doubleday & Co.||This 1st edition volume also included The Wind from Nowhere which could easily have landed in the top 21 as well but three works from one author in the list seemed excessive. This post-apocalyptic world in which sea-levels have risen drastically is described n Ballard’s signature dreamy, moody atmosphere.|
|6||Less||Andrew Sean Greer||2017||Back Bay Books||This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a clever, heart-warming, and funny look into the over-lapping worlds of literary writing and academia.|
|5||Raised in Captivity: Fictional Non-Fiction||Chuck Klosterman||2019||Penguin Books||This much better-than-expected collection of short story[/essays?], all of them about a dozen pages or less, features Klosterman’s wit, humor, weirdness, and crazed imagination.|
|4||The Portable Veblen||Elizabeth McKenzie||2016||Penguin Books||The funniest, sweetest novel I read in 2021, it takes a clever and witty look at families and Big Pharma.|
|3||The Largesse of the Sea Maiden||Denis Johnson||2018||Random House||Everybody who is anybody in the literary world loves Johnson’s writing. Who am I to disagree? He is a master word-smith. I liked the prison story Strangler Bob the best in this collection where every story is good.|
|2||The Hotel Eden||Ron Carlson||1997||Penguin Books||Another great collection of short stories that edged out Johnson’s above only because of the superb story Keith.|
|1||Perdido Street Station||China Mieville||2000||Del Rey Ballantine Books||A wonderful meld of science fiction and fantasy. This Arthur C. Clark award-winning novel set in the steampunk world of New Crobuzon (which bears a more than passing resemblance to London) is an enthralling tour-de-force.|
“Starlight Sower painting by the international renowned artist Hai Knafo who was inspired by Or Zaruaa Synagogue in Jerusalem 2011 ( “Light is sown for the righteous” Psalms, chapter 97 verse 11.)” Wikimedia Commons New Year’s Day, 2022: The Promise of Light If I could, I’d share the river dawn,a gift, not of quiet, but […]New Year’s Day, 2022: The Promise of Light
Nature leaves her fingerprinton this land; River pushes on,her perseverance a reminderthat all is flow, and what feelslike an ending, is indeedjust a passage in time:Carry on. (Tuesdays, I borrow from Twitter @Vjknutson. Image my own)Carry On
On this anniversary of the violent attack on the US capital, I thought perhaps this poem is a good one to reflect on as we think about the motivation behind it all. It a time when the country is divided politically and philosophically, it all boils down to who is right! When one is convinced, […]The Atrocities of Being Right
One of my goals for 2021 was to read more and to read a variety of books. I set my goal with the Goodreads reading challenge at 40 books. I am pleased to see I have read 46. And what a variety. From classics to contemporary, humorous to serious, books for children, middle grade and […]Reading Challenge 2021
Great list! I will be posting my reading list from 2021 as well 😊
This beautiful block print was done by my granddaughter and given to us as a Christmas gift. If you look at it, you can see both a positive and negative rose. This is just like life. Sometimes the roses shine bright and are easy to see. Other times they may be dark and harder to […]Seeing Positive and Negative
Every piece I’ve written–every poem or essay, every story or play, every novel or script–is a piece of me.
The Open Road as Receptacle (humorous essay) Punchnell’s 2014. This was an e-zine out of Indianapolis. Now defunct with no archived works. The first writing of mine to get payment. I think it was a token $5, maybe $10. It doesn’t matter; I wept for joy when I got the acceptance email.
The Muse and the Psychiatrist (6,100 word humorous short story) in the anthology Alternate Hilarities in 2014. Now out of print but used copies occasionally available through Amazon.
Vestes Uncus, A New Species Found in Several Closets with Some Observations on Mating Habits, Sexual Reproduction, and a Call to Action (7,500 word humorous essay with diagram, tables, and charts) in Mad Scientist Journal archived in the September 2014 issue
The Man of the Year (3,500 word psychological horror short story) in the Horrified Press anthology The Boneyard in 2015. I signed the contract on a Monday and the book was released that Friday. No editing was done on my story and I’m pretty sure none was done for the others as well. I never received any royalties so I know, per the contract, less than sixty-five copies were sold. It is now out-of-print and unavailable anywhere as far as I can tell. I’d like to think my self-edited story was the best of a rather disappointing lot.
Blood Suckers is a 3,000 word humorous horror short story for Alternate Hilarities II: Vampires Suck in 2015. Out-of-print but used copies are available at times through Amazon.
Having Fun with Computers (14,000 word science fiction short story) appeared in Cheapjack Pulp, Issue 1215 (vol. 4) in 2015. I enjoyed several of the stories in this issue. There are still a few new copies available at Amazon for $6.99 each.
The Camel’s Dung War is a 3,000 word anti-war fable published at Unsung Stories on 11 September 2015. It is archived on this quality, UK-based e-zine. Go to http://www.unsungstories.co.uk/ > Shorts > scroll down > Older Posts > do it a second time to get to stories from 2015.
Saving the World from Evil Stumps is a 1000 word humorous, creative non-fiction piece appearing in the July 2014 issue of Woods-N-Water News (Michigan’s Premier Outdoor Publication is their by-line). They put it in the Kids Hunting…Guest Column. Their payment policy for guest columnists at the time was to not pay for the first publication but then pay $60 for each piece published thereafter. When they published The Last Squirrel Hunt in 2016 (see below), the publisher paid me $120, I assume $60 of that was retroactive thus making Evil Stumps, at $.06/word, my first pro-level publication. I believe the July 2014 issue is out-of-print and unavailable.
Looking Sharp at Four Centuries (1,800 word humorous, creative nonfiction) for Alternate Hilarities III: Hysterical Realms, 2016. The editor, Giovanni Valentino, was great to work with. He really wanted a story but agreed to accept this faux article on wizard grooming based on pieces one would see in magazines like GQ. At this point I’d only had token payments for my writings. I asked if he would pay $.01/word so I could count it as a semi-pro sales. He graciously agreed and I could check off another box on my list of writer’s goals. A few used copies are still available at Amazon. Although not listed as a contributor on Amazon’s site or on the back cover, I promise you my essay is in there starting on p. 175.
The Last Squirrel Hunt is a 3,500 word humorous and heartfelt creative nonfiction piece about the last hunting trip, after a life-time of hunting and fishing trips, Uncle Bob took with me and several of his other nephews. It appeared in the September 2016 issue of Woods-N-Water News (Michigan’s Premier Outdoor Publication). Their website claims over 20,000 subscribers and 100,000 monthly readers. This means the two essays of mine they published received, by far, the most exposure of anything else I’ve ever had published. I don’t think any copies are now available.
Two Old Friends in the Garden is a 1,300 dark fantasy flash fiction piece for In Medias Res: Stories from the In-Between. The anthology was published by Writespace out of Houston in 2016 and was edited by Holly Walrath.
This is a slim but high quality collection of tales with stories that “…focus on characters who are thrown into or stuck between different cultures, communities, families, races, genders, self-images, dimensions, or continents. They explore the gray area—the uncomfortable, the undefined. These are characters in the middle of it all…”
A few new paperback copies are still available through Amazon or you can read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.
Death Needs a Job (3,100 word humorous horror short story) appearing in Strangely Funny IV in 2017. The story is based on a Christmas party skit I wrote while working at Michigan Works! The Job Force in Escanaba, MI. Oddly enough, Strangely Funny IV is the fifth book in the series.
It is still available on Kindle and as a paperback (new and used) at Amazon.
Mea Culpa of an Absent Father is a 4,000 word, highly personal essay still archived on the Entropy website (entropymag.org). This is a non-paying but high quality literary e-zine. Unfortunately, to find this piece you have to go to the Essays category then keep scrolling down to the bottom of each page and click on older posts thirty plus times until you get to March 21, 2019. I am listed as a Guest Contributor. I originally submitted it to their WOVEN series. The editor didn’t think it was a good fit there but liked my voice enough to accept it as a creative nonfiction/essay. This one was difficult to write as I had to take a long, unflinching look at the mistakes and poor choices I made as an absent father in my relationship with my oldest daughter Melissa.
The Distinguished Gentleman (3,500 word weird, dark fantasy short story) was published in Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown in 2019. So far, this is probably the best anthology in which a story of mine has appeared. New and used trade paperback copies are still available at Amazon or it can be read on Kindle.
This story was first written many years ago when I was still teaching English high school completion courses to adults. I gave them a writing assignment, told them I also had the assignment and that if I didn’t finish it by the due date they wouldn’t have to either but warned them I almost always met my deadlines. This is the story I wrote, in timely fashion, for that assignment. Some years later I polished the story and sent it out. After a dozen or so rejections and a series of tweaks and revisions, I decided to do a major rewrite with the deletion of a number of scenes and additions of new scenes. The next market to which I sent this new version accepted it.
Mommy! Mommy! Watch Me Mommy! is a personal and painful prose poem I submitted to Inverted Syntax on the back of a post card. Inverted Syntax is another non-paying but high quality literary e-zine. They accepted it as part of their 2nd Annual Art of the Postcard program in 2019. It is archived on their website (invertedsyntax.com) under the category The Art of the Postcard, scroll down and click on 2nd Annual Art of the Postcard and mine is about eighteen down from the top.
The Macabre and Blasphemous Horror of Chocolate Cake Twinkles is a 1,400 word humorous horror flash fiction story for Deep Fried Horror: Cthulhu Cheese Burger released in January 2020. Another slim anthology that does not appear to have been edited. A print copy or two may still be available at Amazon as well as the Kindle version.
Woods Reader is an excellent literary magazine and nicely illustrated. It has my love sonnet to my wife, Monica in the Boundary Waters, in the Spring 2020, Vol. 3, Issue 1. Copies are available at their website: woodsreader.com. On their homepage scroll down to find single issues for purchase here.
The sonnet form is Shakespearean.
Bobby and the Wheel of Fortune (2,800 word creative non-fiction) is in the Meltingpot. A charity anthology published October 13, 2020 with all proceeds going to the Douglas Foundation. I’m not sure if any print copies are still available but Kindle may have it.
A haiku, his favorite, based on my long poem Ubbits (see below) was selected for the Poetry Pea Journal of haiku and senryu, Winter 2020. You can hear it being read on the Poetry Pea podcast of Nov. 16, 2020 by the editor, Patricia, with her lovely, British voice. Copies of this print journal, packed with scores of the finest haiku and senryu, can be purchased at Amazon.
Here is the haiku:
boyhood racial slur:
Two sonnets I wrote for my youngest daughters years ago have been published in Tales from Fiddler’s Green in 2021. This is the premier issue. The editor, Susan Redington Bobby, selected For Christiana: Write While You May as the first piece in the magazine and the finishing piece is For Ariana: Dance While You May. Both sonnets are Shakespearian. The magazine is beautifully designed and illustrated and all the stories and poems are high quality. Issues are available at fiddlersgreen.com > Shop.
Written in iambic octameter with an ababcdcd, etc. rhyme scheme, Ubbits is a long poem (128 lines) I wrote in support of Black Lives Matter. I felt compelled to write it after George Floyd was murdered by a cop on the streets of Minneapolis in May 2020. It is autobiographical as I write about my struggles against the intergenerational racism in my family. It was accepted by Lonely Cryptid Media for their anthology Resist With Every Inch and Every Breath due for publication in February 2022.
The Sad, Grievous Death of Edgar Allan Poe is a microfiction piece accepted by 42 Stories Anthology: a non-paying market with a most interesting premise. The idea is to create an anthology with 42 categories of 42 microfiction pieces in each category. Each piece is 42 words long with the title 42 characters, and the author’s bio is also 42 words long. As of this writing, the Chief Editor, Bertram Allan Mullin (aka BAM), is several hundred short of the 1,764 stories needed. The book may come out in 2021 but I’m thinking 2022 may be more realistic.
My microfiction piece is in the Macabre & Morbid category because of course it is. The microstory grew out of a line I ended up not using while writing the full-length stage drama BiPOElar based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe.
Perhaps you’re wondering about the fascination with the number 42. The reason is found in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams where the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”, as determined by a supercomputer, is simply and mysteriously: 42.