Monday, June 29, 2009
After wading through more than 75 submissions, the three of us have finally settled, after much deliberation, on a winner. Winnowing the list proved much harder than we expected: the quality of the submissions was excellent. Our shortlists attest to the difficulty we had selecting a winner: they are almost completely different. So, in the interest of full disclosure, we've decided to publish our individual shortlists. We want to thank everyone for submitting, and we hope that you had as much fun writing your Revenge-Lits as we had reading them.
For its style, humour, playfulness, voice, and the tightness of its presentation, we've agreed the the best of the RevengeLit submissions was:
The Eternal Remainder: by Charles Conley
The Case of Poe Ethic Justice: by Albert Howard Carter III
Blind Judge: by Nathaniel Moore
Murder, Deconstructed: by Barbara Eliasson
Special K to Kill by Karin Montin
A Rose by Any Other Name by Jackie Kingon
Writing Lessons by Lydia Ondrusek
Blind Judge: by Nathaniel Moore
Career Best: by Nathaniel Ward
How To: by Fred Fawnicoly
Charles Conley will be receiving a $100 cash prize, publication in issue 77 of CNQ, and a Biblioasis catalogue of 40 (or so) titles. Congratulations to Charles and all of the shortlisted entrants!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
by Sheial Sims
The daily Toronto Galaxy devoted the front page to the death of their star literary critic. “HACK MURDERED” amused the authors in the underground blog group, Silence the Hack.
One author a week, one book at a time, anyone of the 750+ writers, he had ‘hacked’ to bits with his critical reviews over his 14 ½ year career were to become suspect.
Word spread through texts, emails, faxes and the occasional archaic form of communication - the actual phone conversation.
“Hack’s dead, Denis is opening the Club to celebrate with a 10 am bonfire.” Jubilantly they coursed to Club Defamation.
Meetings with editors were cancelled en masse, deadlines delayed as writer’s joined the victory group. Symbolically they brought personal copies of Sebastian Hack’s way with their words and an eerily accurate effigy.
Will Ferguson, who had succeeded despite Hack’s lack of warmth, was unanimously elected emcee. His toast to the dead critic summed up everyone’s feelings.
“Hack, true to his name never wrote an honest word in his life. Although no one’s friend he was a name on our lips and death lists. My sympathies to those of you whose life works were ended by Hack’s pen.” Sniffles and outright sobs rippled as the truth of Ferguson’s words pierced people’s pain.
“Fellow writers raise your glass to whomever, bravely deleted an unnecessary character, in our common plot. The Galaxy & the Force may never know the real killer, but through reading the works he critiqued, we will know the truth.”
“Darling!” Myron held a dining room chair out for Frances. The table was set with her old damask cloth and the good dishes. He hummed.
“What’s the occasion?” Myron never fussed about or pulled out her chair. It was typically Frances’s job to throw together a meal every night, even though Myron was semi-retired.
Myron put his finger to his lips and grinned. “Back in a flash!” He disappeared into the kitchen.
He worked the champagne cork with a tea towel. Thok! Who knew Myron had such an expert wrist flick? He filled glasses and took a seat opposite Frances.
“Well, it’s done. I’ve killed him,” said Myron, leaning back in his chair looking like the cat who’d killed the canary.
Champagne spurted through Frances’s nostrils and sprayed her shirt. “What? Did you say killed, Myron?” Champagne slopped over the edges of Frances’s flute.
“Frances, Frances,” Myron cooed. “Don’t you remember saying you wished that old coot would f-off and die?” Myron-Weight-of-the-World Schepanski twirled the stem of the glass in his fingers. “That Journal review. What nerve! Slagging a home town gal.”
“Ohmygodohmygod,” Frances wailed, guzzling the remainder of her drink.
“Un momento!” Myron trilled and escaped again, strangely elated. Generally obsessed by his own concerns, Frances hadn’t realized Myron had registered the sting of that biting book review.
He appeared with a flourish and two plates of coq au vin. “Didn’t take much to discover where Percy Cavendish parked,” Myron mused and served her a leg. Frances refilled. “I hope you don’t mind I used your Jeep, Frannie. Crushed him against a brick wall in the alley.”
“You wouldn’t believe how many runs I had to take at the old fellow,” Myron said and clinked her glass. Frances regretted trying to save money by using public transit.
“Assuming female cat owners lack carnal knowledge is pitifully cliché,” I said.
“You’re either a natural coquette or you’re toying with me.”
When I didn’t answer – how could I? – he murmured, “Ah so,” and began to ply me with champagne. By evening’s end I was granting him limited favors in the back of my Corolla parked in the F Street ramp. We fully consummated our dalliance a week later in a remote county park. I brought champagne and teacakes to mark the occasion.
After six weeks, he ended it with a phrase lifted from my own memoir: “What we had was complex and fragile – like a snowflake.” Galling, but a literary critic’s memory must get muddled.
A month later, he was found dead, sprawled under our tree in the remote county park. At first they suspected foul play. His trousers were undone; a champagne bottle, two glasses, and soggy teacakes littered the stormy scene. No witnesses came forth, but the coroner declared Lionel the victim of a lightning strike. Although it was undeniably original, few mourned his passing.
by Steven Le
It was still dark when she woke, and her naked thigh had slipped outof the covers due to the warmth of the night. She moved it back,pulled the blanket to her chest and turned to gaze at the man on thefar wall. A finger of moonlight breached the curtains, illuminating anoaken desk with its glow, and finally highlighted the cheekbones ofthe man’s face. He was clanking away on a typewriter. She stared athim, longingly, trying to telegraph her euphoria to get his attention.
“Walt, come back to bed,” the woman said, as the blanket sloped downthe curve of her breast and exposed it. “Or turn on the light orsomething. Staring in the dark hurts your eyes. My sister justfinished her second year at Berkeley, she knows this kind of stuff.”
“I’m almost finished.”
“Really? Oh my, thats great! I thought you said you were only halfway? It doesn’t matter. Come when you’re done.” And the woman placedher arms underneath the blanket and slithered her legs around,shifting the silk sheets about her body. Her voice whimpered and herbody writhed.
“I can feel it,” Walt said. “A year of work, of heart, and then tofinally set it out there. It’s going to be great. I know it.‘Ingenious’ they’ll all say. Every one of them.”
“I’m sure they will,” the woman said and fell asleep.
The dead hand held the pen so tightly that Detective Lieutenant Simon Ramsay couldn’t budge it. Maximum rigour. That meant Reginald Twichell had been a corpse for about twelve hours. The man’s features were drawn into a sneer. So far death was mimicking life exactly.
Ramsay had had one run-in with the living Ramsay, years ago. It hadn’t been pleasant. In that, of course, he was not alone. Ramsay had been naïve enough to think that a policeman’s memoir might have at least a niche audience in town. Twichell had taught him otherwise. As the senior critic of the Toronto Gazette, Ramsay had lorded pitilessly over the local literary establishment for years. His weekly “Twichell’s List” rankings of the efforts of local writers had jump-started a few careers, but had sunk many more. Or rendered them still-born, rather, for he preferred to review the first‑timers, the weakest, most vulnerable, those who were most hopeful, those who hungered for the slimmest word of praise to justify their years of anonymous toil now bound between covers and expectantly presented to the world. These were his prey.
His reviews were gems of literary assassination. To all those but the victim, his voluptuous prose was entertaining, a frequently vulgar, often high-camp romp through the fashions of literary history. Whereas he might impotently describe Tom Wolfe as “a Dickensian chronicler of the anti-squalour of the McMansion class,” (for Wolfe needed neither Twichell nor, in fact, his market), any attempt at an even light satire of Toronto society, for instance (which, as an inveterate ultra-snob, Twichell guarded zealously), would be dissected minutely and pilloried for its “cottage-country angst, devoid of all but the most hackneyed sentiment that, were it literate, would cause the ghost of Thackeray to rise from the deserved graveyard of nineteenth century excess and file suit for plagiarism and defilement of his genre.” Any budding writer, thus ravaged, would choose to decamp elsewhere. Many had.
“Well, he lived well, now didn’t he,” pronounced Sergeant Tilden, Ramsay’s second. Ramsay came out of his reverie.
“What did you say?”
Tilden was kneeling down over the torso going through Ramsay’s pockets.
“He ate well, or at least his last meal was pretty fancy. Oysters. Fairly reeks of them. Take a sniff.” Ramsay shook his head slowly, declining the invitation, and looked down at the body for a long moment. Then he scowled and shifted his gaze toward the pen, still clutched like the weapon it was in Twichell’s hand.
Abruptly Ramsay turned, walked over to Twichell’s desk and picked up last weekend’s book review section, which was lying open. He read for a short while and then summoned Tilden.
“I want you to pick up this man, James Sonderheim, for questioning.” He was pointing at the name of the author of a book being prominently reviewed by none other than the dead Twichell.
“Look at this.” Ramsay indicated a paragraph toward the end of the review.
Tilden began reading aloud: “ ‘Mr. Sondenheim appears to be totally oblivious to the irony of a man as homely as the face on his dust jacket would seem to demonstrate agonizing clumsily over the minutiae of the daily toilet of a movie start of the stature of his protagonist. Mr. Sondenheim is betraying a star-struck obliviousness not just to his own mediocrity but to the true fastidiousness any talent must bring to bear on his work, a fastidiousness, it must be noted, that this particular author, as evidenced by the turgid relentlessness of his prose, displays not the merest smidgen of’. ”
Tilden looked quizzically toward his superior.
“Twichell didn’t eat oysters,” Ramsay explained. That smell is DMSO---dimethylsulfoxide---a chemical that enters the skin extremely rapidly, taking with it anything that it might be mixed with.”
Tilden’s face remained clouded.
“The pen,” Ramsay offered.
“You mean. . .?
“Yes. Poisoned. I think we’ll find that Mr. Sondenheim’s sense of irony is very well developed indeed.”
Tilden nodded, and without a word turned and left the room.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
by Mark Paterson
Pascal was drunk as shit and carrying on about paper towels. “Humanity started its slow descent down the toilet when we invented them. I mean, think about it for a minute. Think about it as a concept. Paper. Towels. We all deserve to die for coveting that kind of convenience.”
We let him talk, let him say whatever he wanted. It was his book launch and twelve people had shown up. An hour before last call, the four of us left in the place with him – his girlfriend, his two brothers, and me – were all sticking around for our own reasons, our own obligations. He thanked us excessively and incessantly, called us the noble prisoners of his failure.
“It’s not a failure, babe,” Stephanie wined, draping an arm across his shoulders. I hated the way she called him babe, hated the way he slithered from her embrace even more. She took a copy of For Short Attention Spasms from a stack of them on the table and waved it about. “Who else here has a book? Who else here could accomplish this? A short story collection. Who else here could even dream of doing this?”
I could dream, I thought, but didn’t say.
The brothers were silent, too. Pascal, moving only his eyes, glanced at each of us around the table. “Well,” he ventured, “I guess you’re right, Steph.”
I swear I could have killed him right then. Right in front of everybody.
“Plus, don’t forget, I write book reviews.”
“And they’re good!” Stephanie raved. “They’re so thoughtful! You’re a good writer, Ben.”
“Well, I guess it’s, it’s – ” he searched for the words, found some pretty crappy ones, “I guess it’s because of what I write.” This time he accepted a kiss on the lips. Then he pushed back his chair and announced he was due for a piss. “Order me another Carlsberg, will you?”
“Me, too. On both counts.”
On the way to the men’s room he put one arm around my neck, half-tackling, half-hugging. “At least you, you respect me. I know I can count on that.” His breath was worse than salami. Still clutching me, he used his other hand to rub my scalp and muss my hair. I tried to extract myself but he held on tight and we squeezed through the bathroom door side by side.
Before the urinal Pascal unzipped and let out a long, animal groan. I stabbed quickly and repeatedly, in the back, jailhouse-style, as instructed, with my pen. My hands were bloodied and ink-stained and the fucking paper towel dispenser was empty.
by Walter Golden
Killing Clarence was no bad deal. It was his fault anyway. He was a critic. He was supposed to read books. But he wouldn’t read mine, so old fat boy is making Hell a brighter place tonight.
Sure it’s self-published, but that don’t make no never mind. It costs a lot to self-publish. Do you know how many liquor stores I had to hold up to get the cash? Of course I never could stay off the crystal long enough to hire one of them snooty book doctors.
Not that I need one. I learned to read in jail. I know words--even big ones.
All Clarence had to do was tell people to buy my book. No big deal. I even promised him new hubcaps for his fancy car.
Do you think he’d help? No, not mister big shot. He kept squawking about honesty, his reputation, and all that crap. It gave me a headache.
So I slipped a knife into him.
Us artistic types have needs. I hear old Papa-whoever-the-hell-he-was, used to drink rum like he owned Cuba. Me, I need meth. I use it a lot. People call me Old Meth Mouth. But the junk brings me together, makes me sharp. Clarence wasn’t sharp. He should have taken one look at me and known I was desperate.
Because I gotta to get stores to sell my book.
Because I gotta to get people to buy my book.
Because I gotta get money for a really good dentist.
by Aniko Rankine
Maximilian Shriebbesser flunked out of everything his father’s influence could secure—law, medicine, politics—with admirable reliability and sang-froid. In other words, he didn’t give a damn. What he did care about was his novel, a 2442-page-long masterpiece synthesizing (and transcending) everything from ancient mythology to post-post-modernism, which he had finally completed.
The rejection letter (“Confused. Needs focus and substantial cuts.”) broke his heart but finally made him realize what was wrong with his approach to life: he was trying to do things instead of criticizing what others did. He had to make a change.
He became a literary critic. He developed an unmistakable style--the Scoff, Dismiss and Condescend Method—and a faithful following.
Alma Silvestre was the perfect target: beautiful, exotic, an eloquent and charmingly Brazilian-accented defender of the rain forest and of indigenous magic realism. Whilst captivating, Schriebbesser wrote with gusto, Silvestre’s world hardly. One wonders if romanticized projections can. Baroquely ornate. Ultimately, fails at. The word reactionary comes to.
He sent the review off and imagined her reaction: dark eyes filling with tears, lips quivering with humiliation. Sleep came easily with that fantasy, and he shifted off next to his keyboard, vaguely aware that the webpages he’d used to check the accuracy of every detail in her book were not shutting down. They were stuck in a loop that kept opening even more of them: a growing, pulsating, exhuberating forest of pages on the Forest.
He was found on the floor the next morning, the victim of an apparent heart attack. The small mark on the arm and the traces of curare were left out of the autopsy report—they made no sense, and, well, you could never tell what freakish vices these literary types indulged in on lonely nights.
Bloated, vituperative Olivier; drunken, swooning Olivier; Monday-morning Olivier never remembering what Saturday-night Olivier had said, or to whom. Toward the end he even began writing out of his head, and his halfwit editor, scared to death of his paper’s declining sales, let the old man bully him into sending whatever tripe he came up with to press. Somebody was bound to take it too personally. If calling it “too personally” is even fair. I kind of think he deserved it.
“What wouldn’t you pay?” Colombe asked me, after the fact, when I visited him in jail. “What wouldn’t you give for a moment’s release, to become the it rather than the bloody I for once?” “This is the animal kingdom” he said. “Critics enrage, punish, and the rest learn not to bait the tiger, no? His stock and trade was anger and petty revenge, I suspect he would have been disappointed not to be stabbed in the throat by a disgruntled author.”
I remember watching him walk across the room with the fork in his hand, just sort of hanging there, almost forgotten, the way people carry their car keys. Olivier barreling on, oblivious, the rest of us uncomfortable, and the son of a bitch too self-absorbed to understand all the anger he had generated over the years was ricocheting back toward him in that moment. We all came from good homes, went to good schools, none of us had ever seen blood like that before.
Anthony frowns as I lick-and-flip his manuscript. It’s that whole preposition-at-the-end-of-a-sentence thing. He’s never understood why I get to be a novelist and he doesn’t, not in 17 years.
Only, now he is. The great critic emerges. The literary world lives for moments like this. It’s like Roger Ebert making a film. The knives will be out come next fall.
"Page 387," he replies. I’ve put my feet on his coffee table.
"Did you go with my idea? Do I order you chased off a cliff by a gaggle of naked hookers?"
His frown deepens. "I decided to go with something more – plausible."
Plausibility is just one of my literary shortcomings, according to Anthony. Toronto book wonks have never forgiven him for panning my much-beloved and award-winning debut novel, Grip Me. Anthony’s was the lone dissenting voice. The book wonks still can’t believe that we’re best friends, that we play squash every Thursday.
Was I hurt by his review? Absolutely. But was he honest? Damn right he was – which is more than I can say for a lot of the sub-literate twits who praised my book. But still. He stung me. So a promise made: If he were ever to write a novel, we’d both be characters and mine gets to kill his. So here we are, 431 pages later…
Anthony’s three-year-old daughter Tessa is playing by his bookshelves. She’s just yanked down Martin Amis’ The Information (hardcover) and struggling under its weight. Anthony goes to help her while I read the scene. "You’re a bit too young for that, little one," he says, taking the tome from her and putting it back in its rightful place.
My eyes fly over manuscript lines. The scene’s a bit cliché – Anthony bleeding and crawling on his belly on a kitchen floor while I hover over him, big wooden cutting board raised by the handle – but it’s written with a certain highbrow intensity, a compelling oomf.
Anthony returns to the couch. "Well…?"
"Shh-shh." I finish the scene, then look up at him. "Well, Anthony, it’s quite—" My eyes flick suddenly to his left. "Oh shit!"
We had opened his balcony door earlier because it was hot. Tessa has gotten out. And now, up onto the balcony’s railing.
Anthony sees her and flies off the couch. I set the manuscript down and then chase after him. He leaps out the door and onto her, grabbing her by the hips as she topples. I trip on the lip between the living room and balcony, and go cascading into them. They pitch over. I reach out and grab them both and yank them back to safety.
"Jesus! You nearly killed us!" Anthony yells, cradling his screaming daughter.
"I … I …" I don’t know why, but I suddenly need to crack a joke. "Hey, I was doing you a favour. If you were to die before your book came out, it would be an instant classic." And I strike a Disney pose.
He clutches his wailing daughter even closer and shakes his head. "You slay me," he says without laughing.
He said I always put too much of myself in my work. I never paid much attention, because, after all, his past was academic, Canadian academic, not one of those who came up from the States, or from exotic backgrounds abroad, so that put him automatically among the third-rate. He was, before he took the job at The Caribou (that glossy pretentious as Ignatieff, its ad spaces all status watches and high-end cars and big-buck liquor) nothing more than a small-town text-book tout, an Aylmer PhuD.
But his three-line dismissal in The Yearly Review of Recent Canadian Publications, Literary and Otherwise of the book I’d worked on for a decade (Miss Lamia is one of those women who sees her life as so important that she can’t forgo retelling it again and again in each tiring, tired novel.), well, that was too much.
If he thought I wrote myself so thoroughly into my stories, I’d give him how. And I did, carefully, weighing each word, developing each clause and period to draw him in. I’d put his name, and his position at the magazine, on the title page, to assure that it would be delivered to him. I knew, once my body’d been discovered, he’d read it greedily. It wasn’t a long story, but by the last few pages, I was becoming thin, sparse, evacuate. It was a struggle to finish. The last few words, and the space about me grew blear. Then the final period, and darkness.
I came back a bit at a time. He’d been a careful reader since the stale graduate school he’d paid for, and I trusted he’d not skip a word. Two-thirds of the way through, I began to feel renewed. I had enough vitality to understand that all his romances had been failures of his egoism, and that he was nowise as big as he’d bragged.
By the end, of course, I had complete presence in his body, and pinched the last of him, already an empty carapace, last winter’s upturned beetle on the windowsill, out.
I enjoy the new me. My fellows at The Caribou are of course thoroughly snobs, and that renders them far too shallow to have caught on, even though for the last two issues, I’ve been praising my own work lavishly.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
by Karin Montin
The literary festival authors’ reception was buzzing. Henry J. Kerchief stood with a knot of admirers, regaling them with juicy anecdotes left out of his scathing review of Frank Dixon’s Horse Tranquillizer in that morning’s Mop and Pail.
The British-born Dixon, a one-time jockey now living in Toronto, had an impressive track record. His twenty-five mystery novels set in the high-stakes world of harness racing were all bestsellers when published every year or so. Horse Tranquillizer was his first book since the death of his wife, Philippa, three years earlier.
Kerchief’s review alleged that Philippa, always credited with the research, had actually written all Frank’s books. He told his avid listeners that personal papers in the hands of her unnamed lover—wink, wink—showed definitive stylistic commonalities with the Dixonian oeuvre.
Kerchief slipped out into an alley behind the hotel. The relentless pressure from this crowd to converse in litcritspeak was starting to take its toll and a solitary smoke would do him good. A sudden stab to his right buttock was followed by a burning stream of ketamine, street name special K. Finding himself flat on the ground, he looked up at a blurry but familiar face.
“Hank!” growled his murderous acquaintance. “You treacherous old hack! Bad enough that you mounted my wife. But trampling on my work and sullying my reputation now that she’s gone is really not sporting.”
The tiny killer pried open Kerchief’s mouth and poked a horse pill down his throat, wadding in a colourful blinker to make sure it would stay down. He then trotted back inside, smiling to think that Hank Kerchief’s mark on the literary landscape would not last long. Nay, no longer than the chalk outline soon to be drawn on the dirty pavement.
Now to return to his fans. Nothing like fans to give one a boost.
by Barbara Eliasson
“This is inappropriate.” The chairman of the English department looked down at the chalk outline of the late unlamented literary critic, Brutus Pannem. “Dragging the body of a man like that into our conference room!”
The members of the department, gathered around the chairman, nodded. Over the years Pannem had dripped acid on their works. Understandably, all were secretly gleeful.
“Was he, indeed, dragged here from elsewhere? Or were there signs of a class struggle?” Professor Karle wanted to know.
“There was certainly no systematic pattern of signs,” said Professor Peers.
“It’s rather beautiful,” said Professor Jacob, staring at the figure in the carpet. “A perfect example of form without content.”
“What do we know of the historical and cultural context of this event?” asked Professor Green.
“Since when have you employed euphemisms?” demanded Professor Blunt.
The chairman tried to pacify his colleagues. “What’s important here is the meaning.”
“What meaning?” said Professor Derrman. “What can we know? Whatever appears to be the case here can always be undermined.” His colleagues rolled their eyes. In his youth Derrman had been overly influenced by the Yale critics.
“I’ll bet a woman did it,” offered Professor Missogh. “These female scribblers are everywhere, and some of them are vicious.”
“Oh, my God!” Professor Walter glared at Missogh. She looked as though she would gladly have substituted him for Pannem in the just-removed body bag.
The combatants were interrupted.
Standing in the doorway to the conference room was Professor Eccles, the maverick of the department. “One of those with no clearly thought-out theoretical stance,” the chairman muttered.
Eccles didn’t mutter; he roared. “What are you standing around for? Pannem was a narrow-minded, mean-spirited bastard. Evidently, someone agreed with me.”
He waved his hands at his colleagues with a shooing gesture.
by RW Morgan
One measure of a man is how he handles adversity. I was doing well enough—but today the scales tipped.
Woody shifted and winced. He didn’t yell. For some reason, he decided to talk to me. “How did you get into publishing?”
What a strange conversation. He obviously handled stress better than I did. I was sure my blood pressure was rising. My voice cracked. “I—I—took out two loans on my house and even borrowed from our retirement fund. That company is my life.
Amazingly, he kept talking. “Why are you so upset with me?”
Was he dense? “You wouldn’t review the book! We can’t get into the stores now. She’s the best author we ever published—we put everything we had into it. I know we’re a small company, but you could have at least looked at it. We’re ruined!”
“It’s not just me. All reviewers do the same thing. A book needs to fit our standards.”
“Standards? You mean guidelines derived through the success of writers such as Twain, Carroll, and Poe?”
“Oh, no. Classic Literature would never pass our current standards.” He had a wry smile.
Just to be sure, I checked the knots.
Woody ignored me. “We use a different yardstick now.”
“What do you measure?”
“We look at the size of the publisher, the amount of money spent on promotions, the number of booked interviews, the scope of the campaign. We try to weigh the potential impact on the media. It’s a calculated strategy.”
I pulled out my tape measure. I was ready.
Woody sounded concerned for the first time. I think he finally got it. “What are you measuring?”
by Janet Paszkowski
My critic is dead!
I do so love dead critics. Critics are like plows, churning their opinions, while pitching manure in their barren mind fields
Now a blood-stained white sheet remains my bedside critic, while the silence—dwelling between vacant words--becomes the source of the green sprout,
rising in my fertile garden.
by David Glyn-Jones
RCMP Sergeant Wills stared at the chalked outline.
"Someone finally caught up to him. Arrogant bastard. Acid tongue, acid pen.
"You knew him?" asked his junior.
"Met him once. My daughter took writing classes from him. He ripped up her
final piece without even reading it. Broke her heart."
"I took some of those classes with her. She was very lovely."
The sergeant sighed. "That was years ago. Her mother couldn't take what
happened and killed herself too, within the year."
"I didn't know until I came back to town. "
The sergeant stirred. "So let's see what we can find on this."
"I've looked. There isn't much."
"He must have been expecting someone Yet though he was in his library, there
are no papers or open books around. There's a whisky bottle and a glass over
there. Only his fingerprints on them. Same brand you drink isn't it?"
The constable nodded, and watched the sergeant pick up the letter-opener
murder weapon. "This is real sharp," said the older man.
"No point having such things unless you keep them sharp."
"You'd hardly notice this one sliding between your ribs."
There was a silence broken by the younger man. "I loved her," he said.
"Is that why you killed him?"
"I've kept tabs on him. He was in AA. The scotch is your brand. And I'll bet
that weapon came from your workshop."
There was another silence'
"He destroyed so many people with his arrogance and vile tongue," said the
"Too many to produce a viable suspect?"
Thursday, June 11, 2009
by Barbara Pavone
As the jagged edges dug into his spine he relished the relief of the cold, wet cobblestones slowly soaking his shirt and soothing his bruises. He had barely any control remaining over his weak body but he exerted himself to force open his eyes. As he did so, he instantaneously regretted the effort. The cloaked figure in the harlequin mask was still staring at him mockingly, as were his equally clad assistants. He had hoped with all his heart and soul that it had been a terrible dream - their continuing presence stated otherwise.
“Wipe that indignity off your face,” snarled the leader of the harlequin army. “Surely you know you brought this upon yourself. Your meddling and so-called ‘constructive criticisms’ alienated our readers and publishers and cost us our careers.”
“No ... one ... ever ... said anything!” pleaded the critic.
At this accusation a universal groan echoed off the walls of the cave and roared in the deteriorating critic’s ear.
“We, kind Sir, always voiced our opinions of disagreement, but you persisted. Your senseless babble made us appear to be nothing more than incompetent, illiterate morons who, in your eyes, could not string two words together. You turned us into the laughing stocks of the literary world!”
On this note the critic felt himself sink farther into an abyss he was now certain he would not return from. He pondered over the masks and the figures seemed to read his mind.
“As a great writer once said: ‘All the world’s a stage.’ You’ve transformed us into fools, mere Harlequins placed into your theatre for comedic relief. We’ve adopted the role for this farewell - our final gift to you, before the curtain falls.”
by David Docherty
Sequestered in the jury box, the days passed horrifically. How could this have happened? What deviancy leads to such miscarriage of justice? Who could and would devise such a plot? Questions like these torment the mind, scathing the very soul. Adding insult to injury, not being able to unleash the nightmare by talking it over with those owns holds near and dear cages the demons in ones own bowels.
A literary critic, found dead at his desk, no discernible cause of demise, yet his brutal suffering obvious upon the silent corpse. Nearby a note, not written but pasted together with foul words cut from his own nasty reviews, no signature attached. Words of hatred spew forth, such as should never be read.
And yonder sits grimacing prosecution attorney, ceaselessly caressing his prized piece of evidence, a voodoo doll found in the writer's guild meeting room, porcupined with pens, pencils and even a feather quill piercing where a heart would lie in a real human being. The doll itself noosed about the neck with typewriter ribbon and hung eerily from the reading lamp which stood beside the very chair the reviewer so arrogantly occupied when he sat in on open mike nights.
Twenty weapons and dozens of fingerprints. More defendants than jurors and yet only one question needs answered. How could this have happened? How could anyone want to prosecute the death of a critic?
by Pamela Kent
I knew I should have felt something when I plunged that letter opener deep into her flesh, where I estimated her heart to be – if she had a heart. And indeed, I did feel something – satisfaction
The letter opener would not have been my first choice. It was a quick, if painful death. I would have preferred something more lingering. Poison perhaps, the rack no longer being executionally correct.
I had spent seven years writing that ‘tell-all’ memoir. It had ruined my marriage, alienated my children, left me friendless, but she had destroyed my career with just a few words in an email. An email for God’s sake! The least I expected was a letter; hand-written would have been a nice touch, but I would have been satisfied with a signed, typewritten note, in an envelope, with a stamp in one corner, delivered in the usual manner. When you deliver bad news, the least you can do is to deliver it diplomatically.
She said that it wasn’t right for their agency. She said there were agencies that handled ‘this types of book’. Yes, she actually wrote ‘this types of book’.
That was what pushed me over the edge. She made a mistake in a three-line email. I made sure there were no typographical errors in the whole of my manuscript, but she couldn’t proof read one small email. And yet, she felt competent to judge my writing.
She lived to regret that rejection. But not for long.
by Virginia Winters
The outline looked like his ego: bloated, empty, one accusing hand outstretched. I stood towards the back of the crowd in the tiny parking lot attached to my bookstore. Henry Adams Cuthbert lay dead. It sounded like the title of a detective novel, the kind he destroyed with his reviews. I turned away and walked back inside.
There were no customers. I didn’t expect any, after the article he wrote about the store. Dark, uninviting, with a would-be author who knows nothing about books behind the counter: the words burned off the page.
He had arrived late and uninvited for the book launch, clutching a bottle of his favourite champagne. He poured a miserly ounce into each glass and raised his. “To my ex-wife: her book is a genuine reflection of her talent. R.I.P.”
That ended the party. The few friends I had left scurried away, murmuring to each other. He tossed his wine glass - rented - into the fireplace and waddled out the back door. He had stolen everything from me that had every mattered. Not my book. I grabbed scissors from the counter and ran after him.
“Henry. Don’t do this to me.”
He turned towards me, looked at the scissors and laughed. “Melodrama. I told you that you couldn’t write.”
I plunged them into his neck, watched the blood ooze around them, saw the unbelieving look in his eyes and watched him die. I wiped my fingerprints off the handles and walked inside to call 911.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
by Charles Schaeffer
FBI agent Dirk Overmeyer stared at the brown-edged letter sandwiched between sheets of glass. A junior agent explained: “The lab authenticates age of the ink and paper, at least 1865.”
“Yeah, how many so-called Lincoln--Booth authentication jobs have they dumped on us over the years?"
“The murder pistol was our big one. We proved the Derringer in the Ford’s Theater museum was genuine, not a fake placed there to cover theft of the original.”
“You’re telling me a 12-year-old boy, holed up at the Garrett Farm when pursuers shot John Wilkes Booth, wrote this?”
“He overheard the dying Booth. Letter was handed down through his family.”
Overmeyer mouthed the note. “Tell my mother, I died for my country...Useless, useless.’ Yeah, historians verify those as Booth’s last words.”
“But there was more. Nobody else heard it , except the kid--or believed him. Read on. Booth lingered several hours. The note says Lincoln wasn’t his first target. But the President’s head swung in the line of fire just as Booth aimed at a front-row New York Times literary critic, a vicious detractor of Booth’s acting, which he had labeled ‘amateurish and histrionic’ in previous reviews.”
“Booth hated him like Lincoln?”
“More. Lincoln was targeted, too, but next in line. Two birds with one assassination.”
“But the Derringer was single-shot.”
“True, except Derringers came in pairs.”
“And Booth packed the mate?”
“He broke his leg jumping from the Box to the stage-- spoiling his plot to nail the critic, too.”
by Percy spurlak Parker
Working in the shadows of Woodrow Wellington Hanks, the famed literary critic for the New York Daily Tribune Times, I was in the prime position to observe the events surrounding the aftermath of his death.
To his throngs of readers his death was a particular horrid and grotesques occurrence, seeing as he'd been shot several times and then dismembered, his body parts scattered throughout the city. To the writers who suffered the public poisonous lashings of his Critic's Corner column, and oft times career ending prose, the same news was cause for joy and celebration.
His death mimicked one in a recent novel he'd blasted, Bloody Millions, by Barry Bestist. The novel chronicles the life of a Columbian underling, and what he does to climb to the top of the drug cartel, each time killing in exotic fashion the person one rank above him.
Hanks had berated the novel as outrageous lackluster dribble, without a modicum of believability. Naturally the police jumped at Bestist as their number one suspect, but Bestist was at a book signing at the time Hanks was murdered. I was elated when the police released him. Personally, I'd found his novel both entertaining and informative, especially the chapter on how the main character painstakingly dismembered the body.
Now that the Critic's Corner will be carrying my byline, I plan an extensive rebuttal of Hanks review of Bloody Millions. Barry Bestist has become my favorite author.
Book reviewer, Harper Doubleday was overwhelmed by the thousands of emails, snail mails, packages left on his door step by hungry authors yearning for a review. He spent more money fixing his overloaded computer than he made reviewing books.
One day he stumbled upon the ideas of Alan Turing, regarded as the father of the computer who developed a test capable of fooling people into believing they were interacting with a person and not a machine. This could relieve my pressures and I can finish my novel, “The Politics of Alphabets.” thought Harper.
Harper spent a year building a Turing machine. It exceeded his expectations. Each day it sounded more human. Not only did it critique books but suggested such insightful revisions that many authors won literary prizes.
His own novel moved from tortoise into hare and was now finished.
Doubting if the work needed any revision and thinking it worthy of a Pulitzer, he was curious as to what suggestions the Turing machine would make. He keyed the manuscript: pushed analyze.
Weeks later the police were called because of a bad smell coming from an open window in Harper’s home. Harper was found on the floor electrocuted. One burnt hand held a printout whose only decipherable words were “derivative” and “uninspired”. The other held the plug to the machine yanked from its electrical socket.
But the machine was still humming and running like a successful book reviewer, on a power source all its own.
“May I help you?” it said. “My name is Harper Doubleday.”
Thursday, June 4, 2009
by Patricia Harrington
Chatter swirled in the room, bright and sharp, like the clinking wine glasses. At the reception, readers and novelist wannabees encircled Sinclair Amherst, literary critic. He’d just finished a booksigning and talk about his New York Times best seller, “Foibles and Follies: Life of a Literary Critic.”
Priscilla Owens, owner of the Bookfaire Store on the Sound, had been thrilled when Amherst said he’d do a signing while in the area. The store attracted a large well-to-do tourist crowd. Priscilla had asked her longtime friend, local author Debra Langdon, to assist her with the reception and food. “After all, Amherst did mention your novel in his book.”
Debra’s heart sank at her friend’s request. Yes, Amherst had quoted a passage from her debut novel; but in his chapter on Pedestrian Plotting.
After Amherst’s book came out, Debra’s agent called her. “That killed your chance for a follow-up novel.”
Debra repeated the comment to Priscilla who shrugged it off. “Nonsense. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. You’ll see. It’ll work to your favor.”
As the evening progressed, Debra refilled platters from the seafood and snacks in the kitchen. She prepared a plate for Amherst and handed it to him.
Then she circulated about, covertly observing Amherst who wiped his mouth carefully with a napkin after eating the butterclams.
The clams would taste delicious; too bad they came from a beach with a warning sign—one Debra had chosen to ignore.
Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. Do Not Harvest.
“So here’s the thing,” Ratburner said, his nose twitching. “Julius Pinkle tended to piss writers off. He loathed them. Just read a review.” The publisher of The Canadian Literary Excoriator pushed a pile of quarterlies in the detective’s direction.
Sergeant Thomas declined the offer and repeated his question. “Who wanted him dead?”
“And who’s he when he’s at home?”
“Byron Lunquist. Author of something called Low Hanging Fruit. Silly little twat. But the book was decent enough. Julius disagreed. His review was, shall we say, inflammatory.”
Sergeant Thomas wrote the name in his book and added ‘twat/inflammation’. “Lunquist threatened Pinkle? You know this for a fact?”
“Byron vowed he’d remove Pinkle’s knobbly bits and hang them on his Christmas tree,” Ratburner said. “Near the bottom… so his dog could get them.”
Sergeant Thomas glanced out the window. It was snowing. “Where can I find Lunquist?”
The chalk outline of Julius Pinkle (sans head and minus its block and tackle) was still fresh in the Sergeant’s mind as he pulled up to Lunquist’s house. In the darkness, he could see glow-in-the-dark lips. Then he heard a growl. It was Lunquist’s dog. “Byron Lunquist,” he called out. “I’m arresting you for the murder of Julius Pinkle.” Lunquist, clad only in pajama bottoms and tanning ointment, asked the sergeant what had given it away.
“Pinkle was sporting radioactive dye in his nether bits. He’d had a scan the day before. Your dog’s wearing the evidence,” he said. “Plus,” he noted, pointing to the nicely decorated spruce, “you’ve used Pinkle’s head as a tree topper.”
It was safe to say that the Sergeant could appreciate symbolism and irony as much as the next guy.
by Miriam Clavir
The "R"s in my address book are off-limits, and I hope my friends ensconced there understand I won't be leafing through those pages. In November my chum Greg Richards died, and seeing Richards [crossed-through] still empties my gut. But the "P"s are different, I found out last week. When Sonny Parry was murdered Thursday, that cross-out tangoed. Not just Parry [crossed-through] but Parry [crossed-through] þ .
"Sunny" Parry clouded the Arts page in every goddam article. He reviewed a local poet's launch with, "I hate rhyming poetry, the mark of an amateur, and how this man was allowed past the open mic..." My courtroom crime novel got, "One lawyer I would never hire is author..."
I joined the killer's defense team pro bono. Walking into that first meeting, I could see that the others, all lawyers by the look of their fine grey suits, were there for the same reason. There was a certain gleam in the eyes, a hot tension in the air, a licking of lips.
"He's a cop who writes mysteries. Shot Parry with his service revolver. He's admitted everything." The chief counsel read from his notes. " 'Parry's review stated his police protagonist was unbelievable. That the author should talk to a real policeman.' You can imagine how that went down for our client at the station."
Revenge is a satisfying dish when its victim is cold. We got down to strategy, and the team coalesced. I had the last word, contributing our code name. "To paraphrase Agatha Christie," I said, "The acquittal will come through our Little Grey Cell."
by Travis Richardson
Everybody hates a critic, but nobody was hated more than Harvey McMannus. When his body washed ashore, the question wasn’t who did it, but who didn’t.
Hurricane Harvey devastated anything in his path with written and verbal brutality rarely witnessed since the Inquisitions. First time writers, post-review, quit the craft and took up physical labor. Well-known writers either retired or chose pseudonyms for their civilian life. He had restraining orders against each ex-wife - #1 (kankles) threw a knife, #2 (lousy cook) attempted poison and #3 (mouth breather) cut the brakes. Even under police protection, Harvey found himself in danger after publishing an editorial about flatfoot luddites polluting the force. Daily, waitresses, cashiers, and postal employees were reduced to tears. A citywide cost-benefit analysis found his presence equaled losses in morale, staff, and customers. Eventually his money was no good anywhere.
So who killed Harvey? Sheriff Grover (man-child Neanderthal) interviewed the entire town and every skewered subject. All had motive and a few, hoping for glory, confessed. But none did it. Poring through his papers, Grover found a single positive review. Harvey’s prose glowed for “The Dastardly Detective,” a novel by Harry McNell. Internet and Library of Congress searches yielded neither the novelist nor tome.
When searching Harvey ’s car, yellowed sheets of the novel emerged with sentences so contrived that even “Drop-Out” Grover guffawed. On the cover page in red ink somebody wrote “Absolutely terrible. You have no chance as a writer.”
Harvey had given up the dream, swallowing bitter water.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
by Rebecca Rosenblum
The party was dense with scent: mushrooms caps seared with chili oil, J'adore perfume, spilt beer, peach Febreeze.
“You'll like Kenny,” Ravi told Gwen, tugging her across the room “He's a book critic, and you love books!”
A man dressed as a boy turned to greet them. His pretty curls were tied back in a terrycloth scrunchy, his madras shirt untucked from cargo shorts, all pocket flaps open.
He shook her hand firmly.
“So you're a book reviewer—that’s so fascinating!”
“Oh no!” Kenny swigged from a fluted glass of something pink. “Book reviewers write puff pieces for money. A critic...that's not a job, it's a vocation.”
“Still…it must be great to introduce good books to people.”
Seconds passed, Kenny gaping, Gwen squirming, Ravi trying to work a baby carrot through the artichoke dip.
Finally: “Sad to say, that don't happen too often. What kills me is, more often I wind up getting hatemail because I write a negative review of some damn Oprah book about the glory maternal love.”
“But Oprah did Love in the Time of Cholera.”
“You know what I mean, the fucking ‘inspirational reads.’ They fucking kill me.”
Ravi turned for the F-bombs, slopping dip down the buttons of his shirt. “What?”
Kenny slammed down his flute so hard Gwen thought the stem would break. When she reached out to steady it, she discovered it was made out of plastic. “You know what I mean.”
“Actually—” said Gwen.
“When you actually go through publishers’ catalogues, it’s shocking how much garbage gets published every year. The odds an assigned book will result in a positive review are low indeed.”
“There’s lots of new books I like.”
“Seriously? I’m interested, seriously, in getting your perspective. Ravi said you, work in finance, right? So you don’t have the background or anything.”
Gwen thought of all the twisting mysteries, bizarre local histories, glitzy biographies she’d loved in the past year. She could try to deal a serious blow to Kenny’s cynicism. But then she thought about having to continue the conversation another hour, never getting any dip and missing the Balderdash game entirely. And she knew he had to be killed outright.
“Well, one big recommendation is the latest in a series… You might think you know the Chicken Soup books, but I bet you haven’t read the one for the American Idol Soul.”
The plastic glass fell to the floor as Kenny staggered back, gasping, gutshot.