Songbird

I always say that short stories are much harder for me to write than novels, and I also realize that makes me sound completely insane. But it’s true. I don’t know why I have such a mental block about writing short stories, but the sad thing is I do. I make it much harder than it probably needs to be, most likely. And there’s nothing I admire more than people who write excellent short stories. There’s apparently nothing Stephen King can’t do when it comes to writing; I can name of the top of my head any number of absolutely brilliant short stories he’s written. Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, William Faulkner–the list goes on and on. I wish I read my short stories, honestly; it makes sense to read short stories when I don’t have a lot of free time to read a novel, or between clients at work, etc. I really want to reread King’s collections Night Shift and Skeleton Crew, and I have anthologies all over my house, as well as back issues of both Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that I should really read.

Music often inspires me; all of my blog titles are song titles, for example, or a lyric from a song, so when I heard about Jim Fusilli’s new anthology Crime Plus Music, crime short stories inspired by music, I had to get a copy.

Thus far, I’ve only read one of the stories, but it’s quite exceptional and may be one of the best short stories I’ve read this year: Alison Gaylin’s “All Ages.”

Gaylin is one of my favorite authors. I’ve loved all her novels (there is one I haven’t read; I’m holding it back because of that weird thing where I always want there to be one more book I haven’t read by a favorite writer), and her What Remains of Me is one of my favorite novels of 2016. Her contribution to my own anthology Blood on the Bayou, “Icon”, was something I was incredibly proud to publish.

But “All Ages”–wow.

We started with the hair. Bret said that was where all adventures started–Great hair, great music, great buzz. And so the first thing we did on the night of the all-ages X show at The Whisky was to lock ourselves in her upstairs bathroom with two cans of Aquanet, three boxes of Midnight Raven temporary dye, and an assortment of pics and combs, gels whose names I can no longer remember but whose colors I do–battery acid green, radioactive yellow…Each of them with anepoxy-like consistency and a sickly chemical smell. We teased the mercy out of each other’s hair and took swigs from a bottle of peach schnapps we’d found at the back of her parents’ liquor cabinet and we played X albums–Under the Big Black Sun, Los Angeles, some bootleg tape recorded live at one of their local shows. Bret’s trifecta in action. And it was working. Exene’s steely voice grew more and more beautiful with each gulp of schnapps, John Doe’s growl a cloud I could float on. My hair turned stiff and black and defiant and before long I was a star, a punk rock star. I felt like dancing.

Gaylin captures the 80’s beautifully, and what it was like to be a kid during that time (she also does this in What Remains of Me). The story, also like the novel, flashes back in time from the present to the 80’s, as the main character remembers what happened the night of the X concert, and how she and Bret hadn’t been friends for years, now that she is attending Bret’s funeral. It’s a lovely story, about friendship and loss, the complicated relationships between girls…and there’s a twist that will knock you out of your chair.

The book is worth the price for this story alone, and it has an amazingly stellar line-up of top crime writers in addition to Gaylin as well: Craig Johnson, Val McDermid, and Gary Phillips, just to name a few.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

And now back to the spice mines.

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