Sunday, March 8, 2015

Voluntary Terror

Thanks to Erik Arneson and the Word Crimes podcast you can experience the magic and stickiness of NoirCon from the comfort of your own toilet (or wherever you listen to podcasts). Joe Samuel Starnes set up an event last Halloween in Philadelphia that challenged an audience to sit through more than twenty authors read their own material which is a terrifying prospect (except Wallace Stroby who read a spooky poem - classy) and now Word Crimes has released the audio experience in two episodes. I read in the first section in absolutely the worst slot anybody could hold - you know what I mean, following David James Keaton reading from The Last Projector on its release day, no less. Participation was not a total loss tho. Afterward Stuart Neville told me he liked my creative use of swear words. Am I still blushing? Yep, still. So here's episode one if you're so inclined. It also features Anthony Neil Smith and Patricia Abbott, so there's that. Episode two features that Stroby-poem, plus Nik Korpon and Rob Hart. Now it's just like we were all there together.

I'm working on a few new short stories now that I hope to find good homes for. Have heard about Florida Man, the anthology Joe Clifford and Craig T. McNeely are putting together for Gutter Books? That there's a juicy concept. I'd like to get in on that action... Aaand maybe I will. (Also check out Mr. McNeely's interview over at Dead End Follies about his new venture Double Life Books). You want to get into the spirit of this thing, I suggest reading some books like Kick Ass by Carl Hiaasen, Paper Trails by Pete Dexter (Low Gear and Minus are just exactly what I wanted Terry and Cal to feel like) and of course anything by Vicki Hendricks.
And good news on that front. New Pulp Press has just brought Vicki's Voluntary Madness back into print and if you've never read Ms. Hendricks, this would be a fine place to start. The following is a reprint of something I wrote when her wildly excellent and auspiciously wild collection of short stories Florida Gothic Stories was released:

…bound by wild desire—I fell into a ring of fire.”

You could pick any random line from the June Carter song Ring of Fire and have a great title for a Vicki Hendricks story. She spins tales of desperate souls who know not half measures. Their hopes and dreams may seem small, (a Tom Waits line comes to mind—“There’s nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix”), but the sincerity and fervor with which those dreams are chased render void all snide attitudes or pious remove we may bring to the reading.

When I’m referring to Vicki Hendricks and I describe her writing as provocative, I don’t intend for you to conjure yourself, the reader, lost in enriching contemplation at the close of one of her stories. I want for you to imagine the words on the page prickly—hurting you—the literary equivalent of sharp sticks jabbing at your fingers and eyes as you turn the pages. But there you go, picking it up again, going back for more. Just can’t help yourself, can you?

Neither can I.

In Hendricks’ land ANYTHING can happen. Reader beware. You are NOT safe. You ARE stimulated, titillated, invigorated, repulsed and obsessed right alongside her characters. Afterward, when you’ve had yourself a good cup of chamomile, a long shower, and some legal drugs to take the edge off, you’re still a long way from satisfied. You need more.

While Vicki’s novels (particularly Miami Purity and Cruel Poetry) are good places to start, the best introduction, I believe, to her world are her short stories. The reason is partly the nature of her material—extremes. The characters voices telling their own tales are going to wear you out. They are going to demand from you what life is demanding from them and frankly, sometimes a novel is exhausting.

So rejoice, finally there’s a collection of many of her best shorts—Florida Gothic Stories.

Read in a string, the intensely personal nature of her work becomes apparent. Nobody really quite goes for it, like Vicki. No one else really hangs it out there the way she does and as you read story after story of bad luck and worse timing, no matter how much manipulation, sexual mis-adventure, greed or violence is engaged in by the protagonists, it will not, simply can not quench the fire of their earnestly yearning hearts that endear them to us immediately and irrevocably.

It’s fitting perhaps that in the only state of the union where the further north you travel, the more southern you get, that the shorter the piece in this collection that features the Sunshine State in the title, the more potent its emotional core. Hendricks wastes no time investing us in the all or nothing schemes and dreams of her characters and spares us no sorrow or momentary joy along the way.

The collection is bookended by essays from a couple of her biggest fans. From the Introduction by Megan Abbott: “These stories – they’re raw and beautiful creations…While the doomfulness of noir snakes through every story here, it’s not the heart beating at the center… Who are we to judge these damaged souls, who rise higher than we do because, in the end, they care more, need more, grasp for it, because for them everything matters so much?” And from the afterward by Michael Connelly: “Her words weren’t written for me but they get to me. Right up under the rib cage.”

Me too.
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Hanging out with heroes of mine, like Vicki (pictured above with Kieran Shea, Neil Smith, myself, Keaton, Korpon and Scott Adlerberg), is the real thrill and pleasure of attending events like NoirCon. So, enjoy if you like the podcasted reading, but next time be there in person, it's a lot more enjoyable.

Also, check the hell out of these blurbs on Vicki's Miami Purity. I love these:

"An instant classic: so gruesome and funny and deadpan outlandish that you wind up baying at the moon like a Florida coondog." - James Ellroy

"A cracked hymn to American trash culture... Ms. Hendricks proposes a world in which the first thought after murder is sex and the second is inheriting the victim's car." - Robert Polito 

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