Category Archives: Reading

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: A Review

I’ve had a great run of luck with books lately (maybe not my own, with regards to finding it an agent, but I’m working on that still). Starting with Swash!, by Brendan Myers, and then the whole amazing Last Policeman trilogy from Ben H. Winters, the post-apocalyptic former garbage man in Adam Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready, Sandman Slim crawling up out of Hell into Los Angeles in Richard Kadrey’s series starter. And Simon Rich’s excellent short story collection, The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories. But I wanted to highlight Claire North’s amazing The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. So here’s my review of it. Enjoy.

 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book.
I’ve always loved this book.
Each and every lifetime in which I’ve read it.
In fact, I loved it so much that the next time through I visited Claire North (pseudonym) in 2005 — it took me a while to find her pseudonymous self — and handed her a partial outline of an idea for a book about a kalachakra, a person who lives their lifetime over and over again.
She told me she’d already gotten an idea like that and called her patent lawyers.

So in my next life I tracked her down more quickly, came prepared with better notes. Saw her in 1990. Dropped off my scribbled notes in her school bag on a fine Scottish morning. The sensation of a five year old publishing a book which such a fun, imaginative plot and ripe characters made ripples that probably caused some odd things to happen downstream through the ages, but at least I got to read it earlier.

In my next life I tried giving the same notes to her father, but nothing came of it. He didn’t care for the visceral descriptions of the tortures Harry August endures, yet endures with a type of detachment. The next after that I tried it out on her mother in 1981, but that, too, had no effect. The very next life I tried publishing the book myself, which is when the publisher pulled me aside, in the grimy halls of the printing room.
“You can’t publish this book.”
“Why not?” I may have stuttered a little.
He peered at me over the top of his glasses, which never seemed to sit well, as if the cloud of ink in which he seemed to walk prevented his glasses from adhering to his face.
I flapped the manuscript.
“Claire wants you to know that she knows.”
“But… but she hasn’t even been born yet.”
The publisher simply looked at me, his hand held out for the manuscript.
“Aw.”
“Is this the only extant copy?” He waggled his fingers at the manuscript I could tell was already slipping out of my hand. “Don’t lie, now, she’ll know. You know she’ll know.”
I nodded, and handed over the pages and skulked off and just waited and waited and waited until 2014, when the book would finally be published.

Except I didn’t have to wait. Because I had one last copy because I’d spent the previous life memorizing the book and read it over again in my mind. In fact, I even wrote this review back in 1978, I just had to wait and wait for someone to come around and invent Goodreads.com.

I thought the plot was a lot of fun, the characters an excellent cast with whom you could spend a few lifetimes. There were beautiful moments when kalachakra meet each other in passing (Joseph Kirkbriar Shotbolt’s story is a good one — ‘”Oh God,” he groaned, seeing me read. “You’ve trained as a doctor, haven’t you? Can’t stand bloody doctors, especially when they’re five years old.”), the mysterious Cronus Club saving its members, and sometimes not. The book was a spy novel, a time travel novel, a story about a couple of friends. What a fantastic read.

View all my reviews

Saint Patrick’s Next Trick in the Twisted Tales 2014 Competition

Hey there, so “Saint Patrick’s Next Trick,” which some of you may have read as a special thank you gift from me, is up on the Raging Aardvark’s Twisted Tales 2014 competition, which is hosted by EtherBooks.

If I want a shot at the People’s Choice Award, I am told, I have until the end of July 14th (midnight GMT) to have as many people as possible down my story with the EtherBooks app (which is available for iPhones, iPads, and whatever devices run Android).

So I would really appreciate it if you would run out, buy an iPhone, download the EtherBooks app, log in, select the Discover tab on the bottom of the screen, tap All Genres for the genre list, and choose Competitions.

The High Cross in Dysart

The High Cross in Dysart

You can find Twisted Tales entries on the app by selecting Discover from the bottom menu, tapping All Genres for the genre list, and choosing Competitions. Then select Twisted Tales 2014, tap on the Entries tab. Maybe take a break and make yourself a cup of tea. Mutter about how you always go that step above and beyond for friends and you don’t know quite why you do it all the time.

Get back to your device (don’t leave it on the sink like that last time!) and scroll through the list of entries. Look for Saint Patrick’s Next Trick. Don’t touch *anything* else. Just keep scrolling. If it’s not there, try going back up to the top of the list. Pull down on the list (ignore my earlier comment about not touching anything else). The list may or may not have refreshed. Scroll down again and try and find Saint Patrick’s Next Trick. If it helps, imagine yourself on an exciting treasure hunt. Where the treasure is *reading* and *gold*! Well, metaphorical gold, in the form of reading, but still.

Alternatively, you can go directly to my story by clicking this link, this one right here.

I don’t know how that helps you, because it just tells you to go download the app and then find the story, but maybe you can search for the story by name, “Saint Patrick’s Next Trick,” or by *my* name, “Matthew Hanlon.”

And if your spouse gets a little angry or upset that you went out and purchased a new phone or tablet just to vote for me with your download, send them my way and I’ll explain how they, too, need to rush out and get a new iDevice to vote for my story in the People’s Choice Award in the 2014 Twisted Tales competition.

 

Thank you, and good night.

Go Pick Up “The Man in My Nostril”!

Volume II, Issue 2 of The Oddville Press with my short story “The Man in My Nostril” is now out!

The Man in My Nostril's Main Setting

The Man in My Nostril’s Main Setting

I alluded to this the other day, but now everyone, including you, can now read this excellent issue from the hard-working bunch of folks at Oddville.

Head to their website and their downloads page, which is linked above, or you can download the PDF directly from here (it’s around 9MB if that sort of thing means anything to you).

Besides my amazing story about, well, a man in my nostril, it’s got some fantastic writing. Personal faves were “How to Cut Open Your Unicorn” by Jacquelyn M. Stolos, “Terminal Velocity” by Linton Robinson, “What the Bison Feel” by Mark Rigney, and “Peter’s Glass” by Andrew Davis.

It’s about as free as you’re going to get, so go grab a copy for your favorite PDF reader (like iBooks on the Mac or iPad or phone) or ask a friend with an electronic device to download it and print it out for you, or tattoo it on their back so you can sit back, relax, and have a read.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day with a Story

Well, youse fellas have already seen it, back at Christmas-time, but I figured, in honor of Saint Patrick’s very own day, I would re-publish (by just re-linking) my short story about Saint Patrick’s next trick, after ridding Ireland of all the snakes.

Bacon and Cabbage

Bacon and Cabbage

So don’t waste any time, just go download “Saint Patrick’s Next Trick,” which is a far better way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day than wearing a shirt or button that reads “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.”

 

For next year I’ll consider printing the entire story on a button, if you prefer to express your Saint Patrick-ness on buttons.

 

 

Download “Saint Patrick’s Next Trick” small_pdf_icon

Selected Shorts Stella Kupferberg Prize: Wish Me Luck

So my entry into the Selected Shorts 2014 Stella Kupferberg Short Story Prize is off, wish me luck. It’s called “The Foragers.”

Selected Shorts

Selected Shorts

Selected Shorts is one of my favorite ways to pass the time in the car. Their podcast is free on iTunes and has some amazing quality stories and readings of those stories. Their late host, Isaiah Sheffer was one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard. When I’m writing short stories I often try and hear them read in his voice, because if it doesn’t sound good when he’s reading it it’s likely not going to sound good when a reader is reading it.

I have a few targets on my mental writing cork board, those stretch goals to hit someday, and one of them would be to get a short story of mine produced by Selected Shorts and read live, on stage, at Symphony Space in New York City. So here’s hoping…

 

 

P.S. By ‘wish me luck’ I do mean that, if you should see me wandering in your general vicinity today you should attempt to rub my belly, like some emaciated Buddha. And if I’m not in your general vicinity you should rub my belly *with your mind*.

One Story (Actually Two Stories and a Book Trailer)

So, for whatever reason, I subscribe to One Story, the magazine. You may, too, for all I know. If you don’t you may want to. It’s a short story a month (plus one extra, I believe, daylight savings story, we’ll call it), which I think I enjoy because of the high risk the publishers have taken. One measly story per month? What if it’s a dud? There goes a whole month with that dud of a story on your hands, like a bloodstain you just can’t get out and then there are these witches at the door and Lady MacBeth You can see how it could spiral out of control.

 

One, err, Two Stories

One, err, Two Stories

 

So I’ve been meaning to mention the last story they published, because I think you, whoever you are (hi, Mom!), will get a kick out of it. It’s called “Mastermind,” by Jen Fawkes. I loved the concept and the voice Jen Fawkes uses for the story. It’s endearing, in an evil genius kind of way. The conclusion of the story left me a little bit wanting — it seemed a bit over the top for such a finely constructed scenario, but, as she mentions in her Q&A, she sort of substituted Chekhov’s gun with a volcano, so there you have it.

 

This month’s issue is the first shot in the B.J. Novak barrage which seems to be well-timed to detonate for the publication of his collection of short stories entitled One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.
His story is called “A Good Problem to Have,” and again, I loved the premise. Loved the old man in the story, who is the original inventor of the “a train leaves Chicago for Cleveland at 2pm, traveling at 60 miles per hour, at 3pm, a train leaves Cleveland heading for Chicago at 3pm, traveling at 85 miles per hour…” problem. There were a few sentences that I recognize from my own tendency to run on a bit that didn’t seem to get left on the cutting room floor, but overall it was a cute, fun story.

Based on the One Story entry I’m not entirely sure whether or not I’ll pick up his short story collection, but I caught his book trailer for the collection today. For the trailer, alone, I should probably pick up the book. Between the trailer and his upcoming appearance at Symphony Space for Selected Shorts I’m very, very jealous of B.J. Novak.

Great Readings – ‘Ghosts and Angels’ from Selected Shorts

I cannot urge you enough to go and grab the “Ghosts and Angels” Selected Shorts podcast episode now, like RIGHT NOW, before it goes away.

Ghosts and Angels - Selected Shorts

Ghosts and Angels – Selected Shorts

I’ve made it through two of the stories so far, and both of the readings are excellent, but the late founder of the Selected Shorts program, Isaiah Sheffer, reads a James Thurber short story and it just sparkles and is more than worth the cost of the bandwidth it will take to download the podcast.

More often than not, when I imagine a short story of mine read aloud I imagine Sheffer’s voice — he was just an amazing reader and takes such an obvious delight in Thurber’s very funny story about the ghost in the apartment.

 

Go directly to WYNC, do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect $200, just go listen, quick.

Merry Christmas!

As a meager thank you for reading these very words, I want to present to you the Mona Schreiber Prize-Losing short story, “Saint Patrick’s Next Trick.”

4 Miles to Lahinch

4 Miles to Lahinch

It’s a story about the truth behind Saint Patrick’s miracles, especially out on the west coast of Ireland. You’ll learn things you maybe only suspected in this gripping tale of snakes, the absence of snakes, and the Cliffs of Moher. As I mentioned, it’s no winner, but on this holiday, aren’t we all really winners? Sure, sure we are.

Just click on the image below and you should be on your way to enjoying the PDF production of “Saint Patrick’s Next Trick.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoy it, and a happy holiday season to you and yours.

Saint Patrick's Next Trick

Saint Patrick’s Next Trick

The Hereafter Gang, a review

I was given a review copy of this book (The Hereafter Gang, by Neal Barrett, Jr). Joe Lansdale gave it a plug on Facebook, asking people to drop the publisher a line to help get this book the attention it deserved. So I dropped them a line and got my copy. This is the first book by Neal Barrett, Jr. that I’ve read.

Don’t Judge the Book by Its Cover

So the book starts out a little like 50 Shades of Grey for Men. I say this having not read* 50 Shades of Grey.
But it’s what I imagine 50 Shades of Grey would be like, were it told from the point of view of a man.
But (like that’s off-putting, for some reason, and for some people it may be), Doug Hoover, the protagonist, has got a great voice. A great, authentic Texan/Oklahoman voice. Now, I’ve got to warn you, I’ve only accidentally been to Texas before, and that only on the inside of an airport, a hermetically sealed airport.** So I have no idea if this is a true authentic Texan/Oklahoman voice. But it was to me. Doug’s having trouble with his wife, Erlene and her unfortunate lineage (though that may only be a part of the problem), and that part of the story, the unraveling marriage, is interesting enough, and understandable enough, given Doug’s proclivities, but the journey just sizzles, along the way. In particular I enjoyed the part in chapter 6 in the bar where they start discussing Cherokee Indians and new black Stetson hat. In Kindle terms, and I have no idea what this really means***, it’s at location 522 or so.
I loved the little anecdotes like that one, and when a particular habit of Doug’s involving the rich Texas soil is revealed as the secret to his youthful glow the story gets even more interesting.
It soars, however, when Doug meets Royce, the young boy at the Hanging Judge Barbecue #7 and stumbles upon James McArthur Dean Hill, the possible cautionary tale, and finally Sue Jean, his perfect little package
I like the history of the Old West and feel like a complete ignoramus compared to the vast knowledge that Neal Barrett, Jr. slops out there without a second thought, along with a good heaping of World War fighter plane battle history, but I enjoyed the quick lessons through osmosis.
I suppose I won’t go into the second half of the book for fear of ruining it for you, but it was my favorite part, by far. Barrett captures Doug’s disorientation as his life falls just a little bit apart and I love the humor and imagination and tenderness with which he handles the aftermath. The basketball-playing (or obsession with it) and tennis games in the latter half of the book had me laughing out loud.
I hadn’t expected much from this book, to be honest, even though the recommendation came from Mr. Lansdale. But, in the end, this was a great read, and I’m glad it’s getting new life as an ebook. This is the second zombie ebook I’ve read this year where an older, out of print book that simply faded away, the first time around gets a second chance (the first being Michael Joyce’s amazing “Going the Distance“), and I’m very glad I got the chance.

 

* I swear.
** I also swear.
*** I really do swear, and I swear that this is the first time I’ve ever had a book crash on me. I was reading this on a borrowed Kindle Paperwhite. The future!

Mobilization! Or Maybe Not, This Time

It is a great thing that my writerly ego is larger than the Sahara Desert, because, though I tried, valiantly, to get our local library to host myself (and the kids! I used the cuteness of the kids as an application weapon!) during their local author day, I received word yesterday* that we were not accepted as one of the presenting authors. While in my younger days I would have attempted to mobilize you, the vast internet army that has risen to our call to action in the past, I’m going to give it a pass on this one.

20131115-135847.jpg I’m hoping that gives you fine folks, who’ve been such great supporters, a little well deserved rest. Consider this like a doctor’s note (though I’m not a doctor) to take a little time for yourself. You’re welcome.

Because, who knows, if one of you out there has Mollie Glick’s number or ear** I may be hitting you up to put in a good word for a very nice, very humble author of a little book about butterflies, a retired hockey player, his plumber wife, and Old Sturbridge Village. Amongst other things.

Coming soon to a bookshelf near you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* This sounds like I got a letter hand-delivered by some sweaty, grimy guy hopping off a horse, taking off his hat and wiping his brow while handing me the letter at the same time. This is not the case.

** Good God I hope not literally.