When Australian writer Aiki Flinthart was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she wanted to work on a final book as a literary legacy. Her shout out to writers who were willing to participate in a project was answered from around the globe. So, we have Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Lee Murray, Ken Liu, Ian Irvine, and several other authors from the fields of science fiction, fantasy, horror, experimental fiction, and speculative fiction coming together to support a fellow writer. And what a stunning display of literature has been brought forth for the reader!
Aiki’s theme was relics, wrecks, and ruins – very narrow in itself, heightening the reader’s curiosity into what the contributors could possibly have come up with. And they surprise you with one story after another! A magical carpet woven with stories that come alive, an underwater village of corpses, a submarine under attack by the real world and saved by a mythical one, a life composed of 16-minute loops, a dog stealing enchanted artifacts, musicians conducting exorcisms through rock music. A world of witches and fairies, alien interactions and underwater adventures, past and future, the highest points in space and the depths of the oceans – Relics, Wrecks, & Ruins lives up to its task of creating a legacy.
Aiki Flinthart passed away earlier this month. Her final creation is an astonishing work of art, considering the extraordinary circumstances of how it came into being. A must-read for all readers, irrespective of the genres mentioned above. It’s just so well written! When it comes to anthologies, sourcing multiple writers with equal credibility is a task in itself. Add to that their numerous genres, the narrow scope of the theme, and the fact that they’re scattered around the world and still working as a team. Flinthart could not have been prouder of the legacy she left behind.
With Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons, award-winning author Keith Rosson delves into notions of family, grief, identity, indebtedness, loss, and hope, with the surefooted merging of literary fiction and magical realism he’s explored in previous novels. In “Dunsmuir,” a newly sober husband buys a hearse to help his wife spread her sister’s ashes, while “The Lesser Horsemen” illustrates what happens when God instructs the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to go on a team-building cruise as a way of boosting their frayed morale. In “Brad Benske and the Hand of Light,” an estranged husband seeks his wife’s whereabouts through a fortuneteller after she absconds with a cult, and in “High Tide,” a grieving man ruminates on his brother’s life as a monster terrorizes their coastal town. With grace, imagination, and a brazen gallows humor, Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons merges the fantastic and the everyday, and includes a number of Rosson’s unpublished stories, as well as award-winning favorites.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a guest writer for Meerkat Press’ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature this remarkable literary endeavor of a fantastic writer on its worldwide blog tour.
AN EXCERPT FROM ‘THE LESSER HORSEMEN’
“We stepped outside as knives of sunlight winked off every glassed thing on the street. The stink of exhaust enveloped us. Sewage warming in the gutters brought out the scents of the human soufflé: piss, heated blacktop, burnt plastic.
Famine hiked his jeans up—we had our trappings, each of us, our strange cosmic shortcomings that kept us tethered here, not nearly human but certainly more than ideas, and Famine’s was, obviously, his constant hunger. Not so obvious was that he could never find a fucking belt that fit him. He took off down the avenue muttering something about an all-you-can-eat bouillabaisse shop on Mississippi, the cuffs of his pants scraping the ground, arms wrinkled and red at the elbows, striding along with one hand bunching the acid-washed fabric at his waist.
War folded his cruise handout and sighed, squinting at the empty street. “We leave in three hours? Man, He’s not dicking around.”
“He’s not known for that, is He?”
“True. Guess I better go grab my gear,” he said, and then paused. He seemed poised for some comradely dig, but we were long past it. Centuries, at least. “See you on the boat,” he managed.
The Good Lord certainly had a point. I could admit that. We’d long since become fractious, four different arrows arcing toward four different targets at four different times. No harmony, no shared intention. There had been a time when that was not the case, but now? Only Death was constant.
The Good Lord was staring at me through the window, his hands cinched over his little stovepot of a belly. He raised a hand and shooed me along, the look in his eyes absolutely flat, dead as deep space.
I went home to pack.”
INTERVIEW WITH KEITH ROSSON
I interviewed author Keith Rosson as part of the release and promotional tour of his latest book. Here’s a peek into our conversation:
1) After reading The Mercy of the Tide last year, I was looking forward to your latest book. How do you strike a balance between literary fiction and experimental fiction?
I wish I knew the answer to that. As it stands now, my work is considered “genre-blurring,” i.e. “we don’t know where to file this guy’s stuff, so while we recognize he’s a decent writer, this stuff is a bit harder to sell.” I think that balance just comes from writing for so long. I greatly admire genre writers, as well as those who write literary fiction, and balancing that tightrope between the two really just comes from diligence and writing a lot.
2) Your writing spans across magical realism, fantasy, contemporary horror, and mystery. Is there a specific reader audience you target?
Oh man, if there was, I’d probably sell more books. But I’m that weird amalgam of a writer – one who’d like to be considered a “serious literary author” but also simply cannot stop writing about reincarnated medieval executioners or monsters or guys getting beaten up by, like, sentient, malevolent forests. I have no idea who my audience is, but I know some people like my books, and I’m profoundly grateful for them.
3) When your genres and themes are so vast, what are the challenges in writing a short story collection in comparison to a novel?
I’m not a prolific short story writer. For every story that I finish, there’s probably a half dozen of them where I’ve lost the thread or the idea peters out and they languish half-finished. So honestly, the challenges here were just picking the best stories and arranging them in a way that made the most sense. I have no idea if other writers experience this problem, but with a novel I can get a general idea of the thing as a whole. It starts here, ends here, and in the middle, all of this shit happens. I get that process. With a story collection, it’s like holding a bunch of different puzzle pieces and trying to fit them into something manageable and just hoping it works. It feels way more fractured, way less linear, and you’re not sure if the pieces fit or not until the thing comes out in a book.
4) Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons – What’s the story behind the title, and the book cover as well?
I grew up on punk rock and I love it. I consider punk songs to essentially be folk songs. Protest songs or homage songs, electrified. Three chords, simple structure, a clear intent. So a folk song is like this simple homage to something, right? And a trauma surgeon is someone who fixes our injuries, staunches our blood, sets our bones straight, closes our wounds so that we don’t die. A folk song for a trauma surgeon is a simple, shouted thank you to those that fix our ailments, that stitch our wounds for us. As far as the cover goes, there’s a wolf and there’s a rabbit. Their relationship seems pretty clear. There’s a lot of that kind of relationship in the book, whether its internalized or not.
5) Your narratives merge the everyday with fantastical elements. What drives you as a writer? How much of your observations and experiences make it into your stories, and where does imagination take over?
That’s an awesome question, and I wish I knew how to answer it. It’s all organic. Knowing when to insert some feeling or observation or humanity into a scene that’s otherwise fantastical or fabulist is just one of those things that I’ve gotten more comfortable with due to endless practice. But the goal – one of the goals – is to make people care about these folks. You want readers to care about these people, become invested in them. And as far as what drives me, I actually love the publishing, submitting, and editing process. The whole thing is a blast. Even the endless (and I do mean endless) rejection has had much of its sting taken out after all these years. I love books, I love libraries, I love reading. None of it has lost its allure over the years.
6) Stories like “The Lesser Horsemen” and “Homecoming” are thought-provoking and seeped in reality through fantasy. Any thoughts on writing satire, considering the very relevant topics you cover?
Honestly, I don’t really know what satire is as a genre, or how to write it. Gotta plead ignorance on this question, as I don’t know enough about the genre to offer much of a take on it.
7) Which story in the collection would you say you had the best time writing?
You know, I wrote “The Lesser Horsemen” in a notebook over a period of maybe three days, and when I sat down to type it out, it was almost a word-for-word transcription of what you’re reading in the book, with very few changes. It was maybe the purest version of “automatic writing” I’ve ever experienced as an author. Compare that with “Their Souls Climb the Room” – I worked on multiple versions of that story for six or seven years, and writing the version that you see in the collection was like pulling teeth. Speaking of pulling teeth, I also think “Baby Jill,” the story about the tooth fairy who’s beginning to question her own existence, as well as humanity’s frailty of spirit, is one of the coolest, creepiest things I’ve written. One of my favorite stories.
8) Any upcoming books for readers to look forward to?
We haven’t even officially announced it yet, but my novel All the Wound-Down World will be released by Meerkat Press in 2023. It’s set in present day and features the same setting/world and some of the same characters as The Mercy of the Tide, forty years after the events in that book took place. It’s, uh, pretty wild.
9) Any literary influences, favorite books or authors you would recommend?
Here are a bunch of books that I’veread over the past few years that have stuck with me. They’re all great:
Mad Boy by Nick Arvin
Wounds: Six Stories from the Borders of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud (stories)
Dodgers by Bill Beverly
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs (stories)
Broken River by J. Robert Lennon
Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai (stories)
Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons (stories)
And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks (stories)
Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick (stories)
Yoko Ogawa is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I love how her writing covers a range of genres, all brilliant works in their own way. “Revenge” is a peculiar book, written in the form of short stories, where each story connects to another – in no particular order – culminating into a larger tale somewhere down the line. More recently, Jane Borges’ “Bombay Balchao” was another book written in the experimental fiction format – a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories woven together to form a novel. Both Ogawa and Borges are a pure delight to readers with their literary prowess in taking writing – and reading – to a different level.
Coming back to Revenge, it can be termed as a series of dark tales, with sinister elements binding them to one another. The protagonist of one story can be a minor character in another, at times not even named – leaving the reader to decipher who we are reading about, what role they play in each story, are they even connected or does the reader feel so because we assume the stories are strung together. The eerie world created by Ogawa moves across generations, time spans, places – past, present, future, the real world and the supernatural, fact and fantasy all drawn in as well as apart from each other.
An aspiring writer, a murderous landlady, an obsessed bag maker, a singer, a surgeon, a Bengal tiger, a mother, strawberry cake – crossing paths and converging their fates in this dark web of vengefulness. Ogawa can be emotional and unsettling, impassive and heartbreaking, creepy and gentle. Her macabre take on relationships and emotions make this book effectively terrifying. Revenge is not horror in the traditional sense. A passenger train, a bakery, home gardening – the fact that her settings are so bland ups the ante of the terrors that lurk within. Ogawa’s writing can transform a normal scene next door to something downright horrifying – nothing seems out of the ordinary, and you can’t tell when and how the horror crept up on you. The best part is connecting the stories, navigating clues as you wander in this strange world.
Of course, Ogawa’s frequent English translation collaborator Stephen Snyder deserves as much of credit as the writer herself, for marvelously bringing life to her stories. Horror fans might not find this “scary” enough, and Ogawa’s fans might find this a little disturbingly different from her other works. Revenge is a collection/novel that would be appreciated by literary fans – those who revel in the written word and the beauty she creates with literature.