On Blank Slates

I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions.  Not sure why, but it’s something I’ve never really got around to doing.  Maybe there’s a reason for it, and maybe there isn’t.  I guess it’s not important.

What is important to me is the start of a new year and everything that comes with it.  Even more importantly, there’s everything that gets left behind.  2009 wasn’t a great year for me.  It was right up there with 2008 on the “Awful Shit” scale.  It’s my sincere hope that 2010 is an improvement.

Okay, so 2009 wasn’t all bad.  It saw the release of my first short story collection, Broken Skin.   I published additional short stories in Shroud, Cemetery Dance, the first issue of Brian Keene’s newsletter Of Keene Interest, and at Horror World.  I sold He Stepped Through to Bloodletting Books, and two other books have been snatched up by another small press, though contracts haven’t been signed on those.  My writing took several strong steps forward, thanks to the help and advice of great friends.

But y’know what? 2010 feels like a blank slate.  I can do anything I want with it, and I think I will.  I’ll still be writing, and I’ll continue to improve as a writer.  I’ll still be living, and I’ll continue to improve as a person.  That’s good enough, I think.  Don’t really need any resolutions for that.

Have a great 2010, everybody.  May it be better than your 2009.

Christmas and The Family

My second Christmas with Shawna, I heard what has become my favorite Christmas song.  We were out in Abilene, spending the holiday with her family (now my family).  On Christmas Eve, while taking a break from the regular activities of drinking and bullshitting, Shawna’s uncle put in a Robert Earl Keen CD.  Seconds later, I was listening to “Merry Christmas from the Family.”

I’m not sure if I can explain how this funny song that’s almost a novelty can be so touching to me.  For myself, it sums up the small things that make families, well, family.  It’s a simple, heartfelt song about keeping those special in your heart close to you.  At least, that’s what it is to me.  While it used to make me laugh, it eventually started making me thankful.  This year, it also makes me cry.

Have a happy holiday, everybody.  Tell your family and friends how much you love them.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE FAMILY
By Robert Earl Keen

Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party
We were drinking champagne punch and homemade eggnog
Little sister brought her new boyfriend
He was a Mexican
We didn’t know what to think of him ’til he sang
Felis Navidad, Felis Navidad

Brother Ken brought his kids with him
The three from his first wife Lynn
And the two identical twins from his second wife Mary Nell
Of course, he brought his new wife Kay
Who talks all about AA
Chain smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel
The First Noel

Carve the Turkey
Turn the ball game on
Mix margaritas when the eggnog’s gone
Send somebody to the Quickpak Store
We need some ice and an extension chord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of tampons and some Marlboro Lights
Halellujah everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the family

Fred and Rita drove from Harlingen
I can’t remember how I’m kin to them
But when they tried to plug their motor home in
They blew our Christmas lights
Cousin David knew just what went wrong
So we all waited out on our front lawn
He threw the breaker and the lights came on
And we sang Silent Night, Silent Night, Oh Holy Night

Carve the turkey turn the ball game on
Mix Bloody Mary’s
Cause We All Want One!
Send somebody to the Stop ‘N Go
We need some celery and a can of fake snow
A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites
A box of tampons and some Salem Lights
Halelluja, everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the Family

Felis Navidad!

A Good Weekend

Every now and again, you just need a good, relaxing weekend.  That’s what I had this weekend.  Originally, I’d planned to wrap presents and do laundry, but those got pushed aside in favor of naps and Christmas shows, as well as a short ride on The Late Late Show.

Despite my strict napping and TV-watching schedule, I found time to get out of the house.  Saturday night, I had a great dinner with fellow authors Joe McKinney, Lee Thomas, and Wrath James White.  Our familes got together at Wrath’s place, where we proceeded to decimate a turkey and plenty of other items.  I was careful to not bring out the pumpkin roll I’d made until Shawna and I were close to leaving.  Sometimes, it pays to be devious.

Sunday night, we went to my friends Doug and Becky’s house for dinner.  After eating what can only be called an insane amount of damn-tasty fish, Doug and his friend Phil interviewed myself and Austin screenwriter Clint (wow, his last name has escaped me) for their podcast.  That should be up later this week, and it will include a little contest.  Fear not, I’ll get info up as soon as I have it.

An open letter to the Harley Davidson dealership

Dear Harley Davidson dealership,

Hi.  It’s me, Nate Southard.  You might remember me from when I bought an Iron 883 back in October.  Actually, that’s a stupid thing to say.  You obviously don’t remember me buying a motorcycle from your rather cavernous-yet-shiny store.  Why do I say this?

Because, if you did remember my purchase, you might have mailed my license plates instead of keeping them on a desk in some back office.

Because, if you did remember my purchase, your various salesmen might not keep calling me two months later to ask if I’m still interested in buying a Sportster.

To be fair, one salesman called to ask if I was ready to trade in my 883 for a bigger bike.  That salesman, I assume, is less an idiot and more an asshole.

Look, I know times are tough.  I know sales of new bikes are down.  I’ve read about the production shutdowns at your factories.  That said, I don’t feel the answer is to cold call every name you have on file.  Most likely, that kind of behavior will send the motorcycle-buying public running for the hills.  I know you’ve chased me away from your dealership.

Thank you.  That is all.

Sincerely,

Nate Southard

Top Ten Books of 2009

Much like my list of songs from last week, these books might not all be from 2009.  They are, however, from within the past year or two.  As I also mentioned earlier, I haven’t had a chance to read King’s Under the Dome or Simmons’ Drood.  Had I, I would expect them to be near the top.

Feel free to leave a comment with anything you think I might have missed.  I want to hear what you’re enjoying.

1. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.  Sometimes a book just hits you like a club and knocks you flat on your back.  Gillian Flynn’s debut novel did that to me.  What I thought was going to be a pretty standard mystery ended up being something a whole lot weirder and a whole lot darker.  This was one of the two books I read this year that changed the way I approach writing.

2. The Terror by Dan Simmons.  Simmons’ fictional account of the real life tragedy that befell the HMS Terror as it searched for the Northwest Passage is the kind of story nightmares are made of.  Richly detailed and full of wonderful characters, The Terror is the kind of book that only comes around once in a great while.  One of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve ever encountered.

3. Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan. Two years after The Missing blew my mind, Sarah Langan returns to do it all over again.  Audrey is an architect with a history of mental problems, so when she moves into an apartment building with a history of driving its tenants mad, bad things are bound to happen.  As Audrey starts dreaming about a door, however, things quickly spiral out of control.  One of the best thrillers I’ve ever read.

4. The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay. Paul Tremblay bursts on the scene with this disturbing and hilarious story of a narcoleptic private eye tasked with finding a reality show celeb’s stolen hands.  Or is that really the case?  Tremblay’s prose crackles and keeps you turning the pages.  I can’t wait to see what he does next.

5. Hellbound Hearts by various.  This anthology of short stories based on Clive Barker’s Hellraiser mythos is a cover-to-cover slab of excellent fiction.  Standout pieces by Tim Lebbon, Sarah Langan, and Conrad Williams are only a few of the highlights.

6. The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston.  Four boys break into a house in order to retrieve a stolen bike.  Instead, they find a meth lab.  What follows is an exploration of fractured innocence and terror.  Every single time you think Charlie Huston can’t make things worse for these characters, he just goes right ahead and does it.  An incredibly powerful book.

7. The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa.  The three novellas in this book may not look like horror stories at first.  That’s because Yoko Ogawa finds the horror in everyday life and sets it to simmer.  When it finally boils over, it will leave you breathless.  Wonderful writing from beginning to end.

8. Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler. And in this corner we have some good old fashioned fun.  Gischler tells the story of a man forced out of his cabin years after an apocalypse to both look for his wife and find some means of survival in the world.  Full of maniacs, strip clubs, liquor, and a train powered by steroid-hulking freaks, this one’s a roller coaster of thrills and laughs.

9. ZOO by Otsuichi.  A strange hybrid of a novel and a short story collection, ZOO is chock full of stories most minds would never even imagine.  A man receives a new picture of his dead girlfriend every day so he can watch her decompose.  Another man builds a house from the bodies of the people he kills.  There’s a lot of incredible–and incredibly twisted–stuff here, and it just amazed me.

10. Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters by John Langan.  John Langan writes stories that would fit in any era.  His rather classical style reads like a breath of fresh air.  This collection is full of fun stories.  There are mummies, a skeleton, and an apocalypse unlike anything you’ve ever seen.  On top of it all is John Langan’s prose, a wonderful, smooth style that I hope we see a lot more of soon.

 

My 2009 songs

Last year, I didn’t create a list of my top songs of the year.  I really don’t know why not.  Just never got around to it, I guess.

Well, this year I’m going to almost give you such a list.  This isn’t a list of my top songs of 2009.  Hell, most of these songs didn’t come out in 2009.  At least one of them came out more than ten years ago.  Instead, this is a list of the songs that were important to me this year, the songs that got me through a really shitty 365 days.  They appear in no particular order and contain a sample lyric just for shits and giggles.

1) “Two Words, Mr. President: Plausible Deniability” by Driver F.  This high energy and goofy as hell Austin band delivered a very infectious record with Chase the White Whale.  This, the lead track, is one of the best, most pure pop rock songs since Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys were recording. “Hey Angel, won’t you shed your wings and stay a while?”

2) “Call of the Playground” by Shudder to Think.  Back in 1997, Shudder to Think released 50,000 BC.  To date, I’m the only person I know who loves that record.  “Call of the Playground” blends wonderful melodies with quirky dynamics and tempos.  Craig Wedren’s soaring, trembling vocals just make things perfect. “Is that a bruise or a kiss?”

3) “Summer, Man” by Taking Back Sunday.  I’ve dug Taking Back Sunday since their first record, and their latest continued to impress.  “Summer, Man” is the highlight.  From the tripping guitar intro to the thundering chorus, this could be TBS’s best song to date.  “The summer is over, and I doubt I’ll be seeing you around.”

4) “Word Forward” by Foo Fighters.  After a record so disappointing I can’t be bothered to look up the title, Dave Grohl and company recorded one of their best songs ever for their greatest hits collection (ironic, no?).  “Word Forward” isn’t just a semi-poignant meditation on growing old and up, but also a rock song that starts quiet and then builds into something just… amazing.  “Goodbye Jimmy, farewell youth….”

5) “The Bitch of Living” by the cast of Spring Awakening.  Sure, this song may be a rather coy discussion of masturbation, but there’s also a lot of lines in there that really ring true about just how fucking hard life can be.  In a year when I lost both parents and spent most of my time hating myself, it really meant a lot to me. “It’s the bitch of living and living in your head.  It’s the bitch of living, just getting out of bed.”

6) “Learned to Surf” by Superchunk.  I’ve been hoping for years and years that Superchunk would put out another disc.  Well, that wish came true this year with Leaves in the Gutter. This song is everything a Superchunk song should be: poppy, rocking, funny, and sung up high. “I can’t hold my breath anymore.  I stopped sinking, learned to surf.”

7) “Spread Like Fingers” by Cruiserweight. I’ll end on a more upbeat note and with another Austin band.  I’ve long been a fan of Cruiserweight, and when their record Big Bold Letters came out, I found myself listening to it for months on end.  This was my highlight, a slightly sad, slightly sweet take on love and friendship.  “Thank God we keep our roots close together, and I promise to keep your name where I go in big bold letters.”

Heading for the Holidays

Well, December is here, and the holidays are right around the corner.  For me, that means a lot of weekends spent in my pajamas and plenty of worries about what to buy so and so and how on earth I’m going to afford it.  It also means I can put egg nog in my coffee (when I’m not putting pumpkin spice creamer in it).

The first issue of Brian Keene’s newsletter, Of Keene Interest, has been released.  It contains my short story “Work Pit Four,” which is possibly the best peace of writing I’ve put together in the past few years.  Of course, if you’re not already a subscriber, you’re kind of screwed.  Sorry about that.

Looking for a Christmas present for that special someone?  A not-so-special someone?  Yourself?  Well, maybe you should head over to the bookstore and do a little shopping!

As things head toward the end of the year around here, I’ve got to make a few blog-related decisions.  Namely, I have to figure out if I’m going to post a top ten books of the year.  I’m always behind on my reading, so it’s usually a Top Ten Books I Read This Year list.  Normally, that doesn’t bother me, but this year saw the release of both King’s Under the Dome and Simmons’ Drood, and I haven’t had a chance to read either.  Really, it just feels kind of ridiculous to write a year’s best when I haven’t read the two biggest horror releases of the year.

So that’s where the first full week of December finds us. Enjoy!

No Free Story

Very sorry.  When trying to post this month’s free story, the format went psycho on me.  Until I can get it fixed, I’ve decided to take down the free story instead of posting it in twelve different fonts.

Again, sorry.