Thursday, May 21, 2009
by Evie Christie
If this was set somewhere great like Sunset Boulevard, you’d find the critic dead in a pool, here, at the beginning. Anywhere will do though, I’m a poet. A hotel stairwell is sufficient. It’s clear that our critic struggles to become a known, if not renowned, author, that he’d eventually like to be remembered as someone who sold well. That he has been in the vicinity of prominence in writing classes with venerated professors who touched his papers and said kind little words about them, it’s possible. That he mastered the fine art of his own writing and was rewarded with lowly gigs like this one: poetry.
The book aside (it wasn’t great but whose is anymore?) there’s the boorishness, that’s the real issue. What if we were to show up at the same party? I couldn’t stand to see the oh, poor you glances of overworked publicists as they sweat it out in Smart Set ensembles, sneaking half sandwiches all night—not even once. I’m a good girl and as such don’t carry revolvers or pistols or anything helpful. I like blood and guts but I’m also a tidy person, this limits me. I’m also a very serious minded person and I need to get my work done in a timely manner, I have a schedule here above my monitor. Week 1 went like this: 1 line, writing, running, market, housekeeping. Week 2: 2 lines, writing, yoga and so on until I could do more blow than a businessman in a foreign layover suite (with an equally foreign stayover sweet). I cut it less and less into weeks 6-8, by week 14 my habit was forceful and pure. You can get a lot done this way.
I began our meeting with pleasantries, and was, thoughtfully asked back for a drink later. I wondered at how he afforded his hotel drinks and also at how remarkably lousy he would be at fucking. I wore stockings because I always do, they are effective, they set a heightened tone, don’t they? I had a drink and we settled against the coffee table for the evening. It wasn’t everyday ‘ham and cheese lunch’ the dealer had explained, no, it was the kind of blow your mom would pack for your birthday lunch (if mothers even pack their children’s lunches anymore, he scoffed). We did this for most of the night, it’s an aggressive and consuming way to go with an evening and most people end up talking too much and blowing the fine, progressive dread that’s actually become the best part of the experience for me. He was so attached to his childhood dog! You wouldn’t believe it. I suppose we’re all kind of pathetic and human about those things. I could see he would need mouth to mouth or an ambulance--not the dog (that was a straightforward hit and run followed by the kindest of shotgun surprise adieus), the dead guy.
by August C. Bourre
The night I killed him wasn’t the first time we’d met. There’d been a reading, not one of mine, and the chubby milk-fed bastard took it upon himself to make introductions. He had wet hands. I don’t expect everyone to be a fan, but when the man who had just demolished my first novel in the Globe presented himself to me as though I ought to be grateful that he stooped to recognize the book at all, I was genuinely offended. He was the most arrogant man I’d ever met. He struck me, and I hope this doesn’t come off as hyperbole, as the sort of man who kicks puppies or lights cats on fire. The son of a bitch needed killing every day of his life. I excused myself as soon as it was polite, and hoped to never hear from him again.
It was two years before I had another book out. My mother had been sick, and I was afraid she wouldn’t live to see a third. Naturally it was dedicated to her. My first novel had sold well, bad review from the Globe aside, so it was only natural those few outlets that still cover books would review my second one. Guess whom the Globe assigned to review it. He found my characters flat, my plot hackneyed, my prose stiff. Every writer will hear these or similar criticisms at one point or another in their career; those I could have lived with. What was unforgivable was his writing that it was good that I dedicated the novel to my mother, as it was the sort of book “only a mother could love.” As though I was unworthy of my mother’s love, had no legitimate claim to her pride in me. As though my gift to her in her final years was a joke.
The second time we met was outside his home near High Park. It was after midnight, and he didn’t see me. I had a silver Smith & Wesson revolver, a little snub-nosed twenty-two. I put the barrel behind his left ear, and let it give a whisper. The bullet rattled around in his skull until his brains were mush. I used a revolver so I wouldn’t have to hunt for shell casings in the dark. The cylinder on the revolver was too large for a Toronto storm drain, so it’s now sitting somewhere at the bottom of Lake Ontario, wrapped in a towel sealed with black hockey tape. I have no doubt it looks like any other rock down there in muck. I didn’t stay to watch him twitch, but I didn’t run either. I got on the first streetcar headed to the lake, and then went straight home. It’s been six months and no policeman has ever knocked on my door. I regret nothing.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
By Gail Farrelly
Her corpse has been wheeled out to the mortuary van, but the chalk outline of the literary critic’s tortured body remains on the blue rug as a creepy reminder for the ten members of my writing club.
She had always ripped apart my mystery stories, saying that they lacked realism. Motive, means, and opportunity, she had reminded me. All three were needed to make a good mystery. Tonight when I decided to do the deed, I remembered that she was allergic to peanuts, and I just happened to have a bag of them in my purse. And oops! A few peanut crumbs had landed in her drink when she left it unattended on the piano for a few minutes.
She would have liked today’s story. Except for the ending.
At many meetings I had quietly seethed at her ruthless criticism. She had taken my dignity, my reputation, and my pride as she had torn apart my work. But today she had stepped over the line and taken something more valuable.
It happened downstairs a few hours ago. Just as I was about to back my Cadillac into a nice big parking space down the block, she sneaked up from the rear in her mini Cooper and maneuvered herself into the space.
I stare at the chalk outline and feel no guilt. This time she had gone too far. As a native New Yorker, she should have known better. Stealing a parking space is punishable by death.
And there’s no appeal.
by Brian Palmu
The unkindest cut (and I’m not talking about the foreskin), he’ll soon be
thrown into a hole in the ground where waning moons press wan light on rabid
curs doing their St. Vitus dance on an unmarked slab. He’s done.
That’s me, Detective.
I hope it shall never be so, Constable. Pray, what, again, were his last
This footnote to a particularly vituperative report on the love poems of a
serial bomb builder: “After finishing Mr X’s sixteenth redundant
monstrosity, my spleen may soon explode. Speaking of explosives, in my
garden there’s a strange black bag with a red wire affixed, and snaking
athwart the rustling rhododendron. Think I’ll go investigate ….”
As for the murderer, we didn’t need the fingerprinters. Remaindered one week
after the launch, and now the grey pinstripes. Poor shit.
Note the knife’s angle of entry into the critic’s blood-congealed melon. He
was a southpaw, I reckon. Perhaps a Faulkner/O’Connor acolyte? Was the
victim, in sympathy, a federalist, or worse, a formalist?
The internecine poetic thrusts and sallies aren't for the faint or feint of
heart, I’m afraid.
What did the wretched scribbler leave behind?
No family or friends to speak of. A dented cocker spaniel. A fierce bust of
William Logan. A month’s supply of industrial-strength soap.
Aye. If there were at least one supporter to etch on his cold granite:
“Ultimately, his hands were clean.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The chalk remained the next day, faded, smudged. Poorly edited, Cindy couldn’t help remarking to Suzanne, who’d coerced her into attending "the scene of the crime."
"What crime?" Cindy had asked. "He jumped."
Suzanne didn’t agree. No one as confident in his own opinions would need the solace of freshly laid asphalt.
"You think he was pushed?"
Suzanne shrugged. She’d had a crush on the critic, Cindy knew. Suzanne’s slim debut volume of poems was due out the following month, and she’d sent him a copy of the proofs, a pair of soiled undies, and a perfumed card.
"Do you want to get laid or reviewed?" Cindy had asked.
Suzanne replied, "What’s the difference?"
Now they stood over the spot where he’d died. A large death, not a little one. Cindy didn’t understand book people. Especially poets. Why did they hate each other so? Did it all go back to their mothers? Why couldn’t they punctuate or use capital letters?
Cindy imagined the critic on his balcony, wine glass in one hand, Suzanne’s manuscript in the other. The blogosphere had already confirmed the details. Her underwear stuffed under his belt. Her manuscript dispersed across the area. The perfumed card hadn’t turned up.
It wasn’t until days later, when the police came knocking, that Suzanne confessed. Her emails were all over his computer. So, too, was his sharp dismissal of her talent.
"He was allergic, how did you know that?" the solemn police sergeant wanted to know, but Suzanne just smiled.
"Environmental sensitivities," she told Cindy when her friend visited her the following month in custody. "He wouldn’t have been a good critic without them."
by Larry Lefkowitz
The detective told Kunzman he could erase the chalk outline once filled with the body of Lieberman, the known literary critic.
“Why did you do it?” he asked Kunzman, Lieberman’s assistant, who sat as if stunned by his own act, staring at the chalk parameters of his late mentor.
“It all began the time that Lieberman stole from my brilliant review of a novel by A.B. Yeshua, which I had left on Lieberman’s desk, and which Lieberman, had blatantly seized with his prehensile hands, read, and published with a minimum of changes under his own name, including my most honed metaphors.”
“Thereafter Lieberman continued to ‘borrow’ (his phrase) from my review articles submitted to him and claim them as his own.” Yesterday he did it once too many. I put a stop to the practice.”
“Yes . . . with a bookend to the back of the head.”
Too bad he couldn’t write the obituary for Lieberman, mused kunzman. He would have ended it with the words “In our field of literary criticism there was one Lieberman. It’s doubtful if ever there will be patience for two,” but felt to do so would be to personify the jackass in the fable who kicked the dead lion; accordingly, he settled for the banal (if alliterative) ”Lieberman has left us and literature lackling.” (Sans the need to specify what.) In employing these words, Kunzman could not escape the odd feeling that he was composing an elegy for himself.
by Fred Fawnicoly
So, when kill a book reviewer? Not “critic”, since this north-side-of-the-border hasn’t had a resident critic since Frye died. Reviewers have to have social agendas, since preening’s important to them. Ask around. This is Canada, after all. Everybody knows everybody. Go to a place your hate-object will be, preening. Aim, shoot, and leave.
Who? Book reviewer? Yep, the one getting exposure in the journals, mags and papers that pass your obviously superior work up. ’Nuff said.
Where? In front of as many book maggots as possible. Preferably at a prize-awarding ceremony. Outside on the street, obviously, because only the clique particular to the award will be invited inside. They’re Torontonians. No one will grab you after. Wear a George Bowering mask. Everyone who doesn’t live there hates the West Coast.
How? Well, in a coffee shop near Jane and Finch, I met a guy who knew a guy who’d sell me a 9 millimeter. Met another guy on another day who’d do the job himself, guaranteed, for the same price as the handgun. So your part’s easy enough. Wear a George Bowering mask. Pay the guy who’ll do the job. He won’t give a shit what coast you’re from. He’ll think it’s a Nixon mask.
And what? Yes, a reviewer is a what.
Why kill a reviewer? Well, why kill a cock roach? Why kill a Norwegian rat? Rhetorical questions are sooooo annoying!
Monday, May 18, 2009
by Penn Kemp
Cutting Re: Marks, or The last SOB, or “Only a Play but My Play”, or The Hedge Hog, or The Cock's Comb, or The Head Cheese, or Critical Mass/Mess/Age, or Enough!
“Lame!” So the Critic panned my latest play, dismissing months of labour in one derisively decisive cliché. I limp from the computer, crestfallen. Cock o’ the walk, this Reviewer never hedged bets nor minced words so his blog goes viral fast. My thesaurus suggests apt synonyms for Critic: enemy, opponent, detractor, censor, columnist. Calumnist! Drama- he wants drama? He’ll soon be dead-panning, minced-meat: mark my words. This Detractor will be tracked down. His next review will be his life's, before the screen goes blank.
Revenge is sweet, they say, so I bake a cake when I know he’s coming over. A death-day cheesecake, with tinfoil-wrapped coins for Cerberus inside. Slicing his piece, my knife slips... How clumsy of me, raspberry-icing cake in his face like that. (Beware Playwrights scorned...)
Now I literalize the metaphor, scalping that wigged-out crest right off his head. Underneath is a mass of worms squirming like grey cells: a paper wasp’s nest, a mess of sodden bills in low denominations of payola. A head in hedge funds: that’s how his mind roils. Cutting this long story short, I leave the knife wiggling in his wooden blockhead.
The crummy Critic on my floor looks up beseechingly, mouth rasping scarlet. I lean low under the hedge of wig to catch his last sob: “How could you? It was just a play…” His eyes glaze cherry-red. I’d better be quick before he’s dust. “Eat chalk,” I snarl, stalking off to key in my forthcoming title, Justice: a Play.
Okay. Okay. I’m a big kid. I can handle this. God knows, I’ve handled it before. Lots of times. You should see my walls. All of them. Kitchen. Bathroom. (Not the shower, though. Tried it. Papier maché plugging the drain.) But everywhere else. Inside the closets. Right down to the baseboard. When I ran out of wall space, I started putting them in photo albums – the kind with the sticky peel-back plastic. Got whole shelves full of those. Could show them to you, if you came over some time. Would you like that? To come over? You could, you know. Not like you don’t know my address.
Okay. Okay. Consider yourself invited. Or yourselves. You do say our needs. I can just see you all. Sitting around a big table. Maybe in robes with hoods. One of you reads aloud a paragraph, or maybe just a sentence, or maybe just a single word of my work as you call it. Then the leader chants, “Does this meet our needs at this time?” And the rest chant back, “No, it does not meet our needs at this time.” Then one little guy, a castrato they keep just for the purpose, pipes, “Though it shows merit.”
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is just one of you. And you’re using the royal our. Or the divine. Sure. Because that’s who you think you are, isn’t it? God! Fucking God! And that’s why it’s always all about your needs! Because it’s not as if I have any needs of my own! Is it? Of course not!
Sorry. Sorry. I think where this is coming from is that I got your latest today, and I have no place to put it. Even the floors are completely covered. The ceilings. The doors. Windows. Furniture. I suppose I’m just going to have to turn into one of those people you read about sometimes in the paper. You know – the ones who collect stacks and stacks of newspapers or bills, or in my case, rejection slips, and one day the stacks collapse on them and they smother and their cat eats them.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
By Nathaniel Moore
God was doing sit-ups when the golden phone began to ring. It was 11:45am EST. Silver pools of sweat all over the master bedroom floor. The golden phone was loud. God was crunching; when this particular line rang, it ruffled several of God's closest clouds, including Tyranny, Tyra, and Taylor. The vibration tore small holes in the lining. God did tens of thousands each month, these strenuous God sit-ups, and the accompanying strained vocals familiar on earth during exercising.
Another loud ring. God sweated lions. A third ring. Huffing majestic. On the fifth, someone answered. One of God's handlers. A pause; a moment. God noticed the golden receiver glistening in the heavens, tin the hands of a friend. God exhaled and grabbed a towel; beads of God's sweat were sopped up in the gentle thread count.
“God, it's for you. Are you in?” Someone said, hand over the mouth piece. “You available?”
And then God spoke, gentle but firm. "Yes...yes, that's good, I see. Right. Really? Well that's great for a six week window. Especially in the summer! Congratulations. Sure go ahead. [PAUSE] I like that one! Very tetrastichous! I mean Tetrastichus. It's a lot of work yes. Well, I want to retire in 400 years but that's not going to happen either!" God laughed. God listened. God listened to the voice on the other end. Something about a poetry contest.
“Which one now? Oh I see. Well that is popular these days. Did they include a S.A.S.E.? Okay. Shortlist their poem, plus three others, lose fourteen in the mail, and outright disqualify the rest. Anything else?” God asked.
“No, that was last night. Squats. Six thousand. Everyday? Are you kidding. No, twice a week tops. Yes, yes, right, sure I'd love a contributor's copy when it's ready. No, thank you.”
God put the phone down. A cloud rolled on its side and began to laugh. A ray of sunlight giggled. God sneezed, catching the nostrils before too much wind expelled.
“That could have been messy.”
“No kidding.” One of God's creatures said.
I’d have revenge. I wrote a piece for the anthology he was editing. I knew he’d read it just for the pleasure of rejecting me, and, because it would be brought out by that press using as its mascot the fish-eating flightless bird of a continent no one owns nor wants to, I didn’t even care that the prose started out predictable and pedestrian. No! I mixed every metaphor I could manipulate! I punned pathetically! I advanced the plot academically, I narrated nuancelessly! And I inserted on the penultimate page a priceless paragraph, poetical, paradoxical and so startling with its freshness, that I knew, after the stretch of drivel I’d given him, his aesthetic sense would blow as surely as he’d blown my hound.
So that’s my story, dear reader. Death by prose. And I’ll pull a Mulroney if you ever mention it again.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
He looked good, chalked up, chalked off. He deserved it. He had been chalking up books for a few years, getting his start at an Open Mic and confirming his love for his own voice. But getting poetry into journals was a harder task than showing up early at readings, and poetry forced him to modulate his voice, and he wanted to hear his own voice. So he began writing reviews, finding that editors loved blood on the page. And he loved the blood of others on the page. He sometimes went back to the Open Mic, but randomly, to increase the terror, and he refused to read poetry, he read reviews, reviews of the books that were being read that night. The Open Mic organizers let him do it, because they were afraid of him, afraid that he would write reviews about them, and he would, and they knew he would, if they refused him. But his voice: he recorded a whole CD of his reviews, titled it Greatest Hits, and reviewed it himself in a local magazine, the only time –ever, it would turn out- he would uncork the word “masterpiece.” It was an odd voice, a wannabe Caper accent forced through a potato peeler, and it was completely out of sync with its own malice. It is this way I imagine him, stabbed in the back, his assailant refusing to identify himself or even preface his attack with the knowledge that he was about to die, blissfully composing his latest takedown on the way back from the Open Mic where the featured reader that evening, I hear, is smiling as he utters his most famous review, “No Comment.”
Friday, May 15, 2009
Ivor Miskelson was a hated child.
Like a weed that sucks up repeated attacks of pesticide to become, finally, poisonous itself, he dealt with the rejection of his relatives and peers, raised himself from the garden plot, and became the grotesque focus of all eyes, unplanned impediment to the growth of everything around him.
Ivor Miskelson became a literary critic.
Read To Me, Miskelson’s television show, was a trainwreck. Millions tuned in every week to see if its host could, by a series of increasingly ugly jabs, again reduce a bestselling author to tears. He did not disappoint. Until Jonquil Esterhaus.
He questioned her lifestyle, laughed at her hat. She admitted her changing from writing children’s books to cozy mysteries could cripple the educational life of a generation. Her demeanor remained serene. After reading the teaparty scene from “I’m Afraid The Vicar Is Out,” she even kissed Miskelson during the closing music. Credits rolled with them deep in conversation, holding hands.
Police responded to a call from Esterhaus the next morning to find her in her bedroom, marking galleys. The late Mr. Miskelson sprawled fully dressed across her calico bedspread, dried spittle on his chin and an empty cup that looked like it had held cocoa clutched in stiff fingers.
“He said I was fascinating, that he wanted to see what I was working on next,” Esterhaus said to the detectives as people dealt with the body. She patted the galley of “The Coroner’s Cocoa.”
“So I showed him.”
Thursday, May 14, 2009
by Albert Howard Carter III
Simon Lacerous’ column “The Last Word” routinely excoriated literary works: if realistic, they lacked imagination; if fantastic, they lacked veracity; if existential, they lacked moral compass; if moralistic, they were fascist.
As he left his office one midnight dreary, he was confronted by a hooded figure carrying a stylus, a goose quill, a ballpoint, a laptop, and a scythe.
In a flash, Simon saw the error of his ways and shouted out this devious fiction: “When I woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, I found myself changed into a monstrous vermin. Surely that’s punishment enough?”
The hooded figure opened its cloak, revealing multivariate weaponry. It spoke in sepulchral tones: “If, sir, you were in fact changed into a cricket, I should employ this [it indicated a flyswatter] but I perceive you are a critic, indeed of the most slovenly, ambushing, and puling sort.”
“Perhaps so,” S.L. replied, quickly kneeling, “but I made less money than most writers. Oh, spare me, hooded figure!”
H.F. pursed its lips and extruded a large stick of playground chalk. Its robe swirling, it danced macabrely as it drew—on the alley’s tarmac and around the kneeling critic—the forensic figure of a victim.
“Lie here and don’t go outside the lines,” it ordered.
H.F. pulled a kalashnikoff from its robe and riddled S.L. with a staccato series of very short bursts, creating umlauts, colons, diereses, ellipses, and, even, periods.
Police, seeing the corpse already with an outline, experienced brain seizures.
A second-story window opened and Annabel Lee, an intern with Marlowe, Poirot & Holmes (also a leggy dame with big headlights and a smart mouth on her) cried out, “Look, yuh lousy flatfeets, it’s obvious you should put out an APB for that punk Chu Aishen!”
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Everybody Hates a Critic,
Some people hate them more than others.
Terry Griggs’s new comic-noir biblio-mystery Thought You Were Dead kicks, err, off with a literary critic found under a hedge with a knife in his head, and literary revenge plays an increasingly important role as the novel unfolds. The literary world, and especially the Canadian literary world, can be a small, spiteful – and occasionally murderous – place. Character assassinations abound, books are regularly murdered in the (shrinking) book pages across our fair land, while others are smothered with damningly faint praise. More than a few knives, even if thankfully metaphorical, have been buried hilt deep in authorial backs.
Do you bear the scars of CanLit’s internecine wars? Have you spent a small fortune on postage and only have a drawerful of rejection slips to show for it? Has the world been slow to recognize your evident talent? Then, dear reader, this contest is for you.
To celebrate the launch of Terry Griggs’s Thought You Were Dead, Biblioasis and Seen Reading are teaming up to help you unleash the murder we know is in your heart with our Revenge-Lit contest. Pen a flash fiction of 250 words or so (though, in truth, no one is likely to count them) on the (fictional) literary critic whose body once filled the chalk outline and what he did to get there and send it by June 12th to firstname.lastname@example.org. The best of the entries will be published as they are received at RevengeLit.blogspot.com. The winning entry will:
1) Receive a one hundred dollar cash prize
2) Be published in a forthcoming issue of CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries
3) A Biblioasis press catalogue of in-print trade titles (approx. 40 books, retail value approx. $1000.00)
Entries to be judged by Dan Wells, Julie Wilson and Terry Griggs.
A baseball-capped, bat-eared, tuberous Claymore resident was being interviewed. Chellis turned up the sound to hear him imputing the crime to a) terrorists, b) street gangs from Farclas (ha ha–at least we have streets), c) the baby-killing, pro-choice contingent, and d) his mother-in-law. Using the discordant conjunctions of the sub-literate–like, ya know, get it?–the guy was gumming together these stray strands of conspiracy theory into a single nut cluster. Chellis was placing his bets on the mother-in-law. Witches were once very useful for this sort of thing, but they’d gone out of fashion. No one would suspect the publishing world, barricaded behind their mountainous slush piles, of bumping someone off, but for all anyone knew, their office life could be as vicious as that of academe. Besides, murder required some competence, didn’t it? (Mrs. H frequently vented on the subject of publishing screw-ups.)-- From Terry Griggs's Thought You Were Dead
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Who would want to kill a lowly book reviewer? Only about a thousand people Chellis could think of off hand. The police were in for some excruciating interviews. Cop: “I understand, sir, that you’re a writer.” Suspect: “Indeed, I am, and my talent was evident from my earliest years…” – from Terry Griggs’s Thought You Were Dead