Tuesday, February 28, 2012


by Bryan Russell


John was very brilliant and worked at a lab splicing and breeding things and he had an idea about a dog because he always loved dogs and had a Rottweiler when he was a boy. It was a big dog and he used to lie on it and feel his head rise and fall as the dog breathed, but then it chased a car and got hit and rolled over and whined in the dirt until it died.

So John had the idea to make a car-proof dog and spliced some things into a litter of puppies. He was very good–splicing was just like pushing buttons, sequencing here, sequencing there, or perhaps it was like playing the violin really slowly. He didn't tell his bosses because he'd already floated the idea and they'd told him don't be stupid.

So he had a litter of pups, but times were tough—he had a gambling debt (damn those ponies) and decided to sell the pups at a garage sale, along with his old golf clubs. Bob came and bought the biggest because it was one damn big pup, with a head like a football covered in a shag rug. But one of John's bosses happened to stop by the garage sale (he was always looking for a deal) and saw the pups and got pissed off and confiscated them, though he did buy the golf clubs for twenty-five bucks. John said that was the whole litter (because he certainly wasn't giving that hundred dollars back to Bob).

So now Bob had a giant Rottweiler pup, and it was cute and ungainly in a brutish sort of way. He fed it kibble and it grew very quickly. Within a few weeks it was eating a full bag a day and was already the size of a grown dog. Bob was sort of happy, as no one would goddamn ever mess with him while his dog was around, but it was pretty expensive, this big frigging dog.

Then the ungainly pup caught a squirrel after waiting patiently at the bottom of a tree. Bob just saw a fluffy tail sliding into the maw and down that wide gullet.

Next it was a cat. Meow.

That's one tough dog, Bob thought. He taught it to sit up and roll over and bark at his command, but after a while it simply stopped and stared at him. Bob noticed its eyes were sort of red.

And then it started eating the neighborhood dogs. The Martins' Chihuahua, of course. Then the Smith's beagle. Then Lassie (the Dubrovniks actually called the hairy thing Lassie). Sampson the golden retriever. Marko the Doberman Pinscher. Emma the Rottweiler. This made Bob nervous, and sort of happy. He thought about calling his dog Cannibal. Or maybe Cannibal Lecter.

But then the local dog owners gathered together and came with shouts and pitchforks. Well, garden rakes. The dog just stared at them, and when it growled they felt the road vibrate and they remembered their microwave dinners were probably ready now. Let the police deal with it.

The officers came, somewhat nervously, wearing padding. They were armed. They caught sight of the dog and stopped. It was a big dog. A very big dog. But the dog turned and loped off into the trees.

Maybe it's for the best, Bob thought. The officers gave him a ticket, but he said it wasn't his dog. He said he thought it was John-from-down-the-street's dog.

Except the dog came back, sometimes, at night, and looked in Bob's window at the flickering TV. It was almost as tall as Bob now.

Once, in the deep of night, when the stars were like icepicks in the black sheet of the sky, Bob thought he heard a howling, a deep and sad and terrible baying.

McAdam, who had a farm just on the edge of town, said that his cows were disappearing. The story was in the local paper, section C3. And then McAdam disappeared. The local racetrack shut down, as some of the horses had gone missing, and the rest wouldn't leave their stalls. A reporter called it "a mass onset of equine agoraphobia."

There were reports that a couple bears had come down out of the hills, rooting for garbage, haunting the McDonald's dumpster after dark. And then one day a severed bear head was found in the parking lot. It had a frightened look on its dead face.

Bob woke one night to see huge red eyes in his window, vast glassy pools lit from within and shadowed by dreams of ash and smoke. His bedroom was on the second floor. He didn't move. The eyes blinked. A nose puffed steam onto the window and bumped it open. Its breath rustled the curtains. A huge head, bulking shoulders… shoulders with strange protuberances. Like giant swellings. The furnace eyes blinked again and then the dog was gone.

Bob stopped working. He waited, each day, though nothing happened. He did not see the dog for a while. He wasn't sleeping well. There were shadows under his eyes. He went out one morning in the dimness before dawn and saw a shape. It was as big as a house. Red eyes turned and saw him. Three pairs.

The dog had three heads, each one massive and thick, like the furred head of a dinosaur, a tongue-lolling tyrannosaur. The three heads watched him for a while, and then the dog loped to the nearest house. The Martins. When Mike Martin stepped out into the morning in business casual, one of the dog's heads snapped him up and swallowed.

It was like a game. So easy. The dog was really rather quiet for something as big as a house. The shaggy heads took turns. Early-to-rise joggers. Shop owners. Civil servants. A few lawyers. A long-necked podiatrist. The heads fought over the mailman. The middle head ate John, and then it bayed, the sound haunting the air and rattling between the rows of houses.

When the neighborhood was silent (silent as a February wind after a storm), the dog knocked down a house and lay on the flattened roof. It rested its head on the ground, the lamp-like eyes watching Bob.

Bob got in his car, turned the key, and backed into the street. He started down the road. West. Go west, young man. The three heads rose up. Noses sniffed.

Bob hoped 70 miles an hour would do it, but as he hit the city limits he saw a dark form in his rearview mirror, loping along. Bob sped through the slanted light of morning toward a new town, an electric town with high picket fences, followed always by the specter of a dog.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Calling out the White Dudes

Okay, go read this:


Basically, Meg Clark points out a bunch of stupid things said by Jonathan Franzen about women, women writers, and (in particular) Edith Wharton. Her response is super smart and, you know, pretty funny.

But what I was thinking was that when a White Dude says something stupid on this general topic, a few things occur:

1) A bunch of really smart women write really awesome replies, and you can often find them on the blogosphere. Like Meg's. If you haven't read it yet, do so now. (If you don't, I will take away all your cookies and beer)

2) The mainstream response is limited. Perhaps publications simply don't want to go against the status quo (especially a status quo they've helped build), or perhaps they think it a given that these responses by women simply aren't valuable (the "Oh, those are just the angry feminists" response that completely pisses me off). Mainstream avenues for replies to such comments seem limited, particularly for women. Mostly for the above reasons, I'm guessing, but partly, perhaps, because some of the women who do have mainstream influence won't step up, or at least typically haven't done so -- for fear of rocking the boat? for fear of being labelled and written off? for fear of not being taken seriously? Which is a valid concern, in the sense that there is a large cultural arena in which the depowering response to the lash of such voices is to simply laugh them off. "Oh, those are just the feminists." Which infuriates me, as it is utterly arrogant to dismiss other viewpoints without even being willing to engage them. Ignoring honest discourse is a response of the worst kind. Of course, the problem is that we allow people to get away with this. We don't call them on this. And we should.

3) You don't hear much from other White Dudes. I'm guessing, speaking as a White Dude, that many of us don't notice the problem (failing to see the ramifications, for instance, of what Franzen says), have fallen prey to the "Oh, that's just the feminists" argument, or are simply nervous about stepping up, either to challenge the manly manly words of the Franzens ("Maybe people will think I'm not masculine enough!") or for trying to say something when the lovely Meg Clarks of the world can say it better (and the feeling might be that the Meg Clarks have more of a right to speak on the matter -- which may even be true, I don't know, but that doesn't excuse silence).

So! I'm calling out the Whtie Dudes. First, for the White Dudes like me to stop saying stupid White-Dudeish things. And second, for the White Dudes to stand up when another White-Dude says something stupid and say "That's stupid." Well, you can be more polite than this. I mean, I am Canadian (though some of us aren't polite: shhhhh). But silence is permissive. Silence says "Keep talking, Mr. Franzen, we're all in your corner."

But I kind of like Meg Clark' corner. So, you know, I'll hold her spit-bucket while the fight goes on, and I ain't throwin' in the white towel.

Friday, February 10, 2012

I'm in the New York Times

So, I just made the New York Times.

Well, sort of. But it's still kind of cool.

NYT.com - Go here: http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/literary-heirs/

On the left of the picture of literary mags are some wonderfully drawn cards of a girl with crazy hair (by the wonderfully talented Melinda Beck). These are some of the postcards from the lovely postcard literary magazine Abe's Penny. Now, if you were turn those cards over you would find a story I wrote to match those pictures. The New York Times calls these ten mags "really good reads." So that totally means me. Or so I'm claiming.

(Possibly they just loved Melinda's pictures: Shhhhhh)

Anyway, kind of neat. On the dark flip-side of the New York Times you'd be able to see the backs of a bunch of literary magazines and my story. On the dark side I'm probably a big star right now. People are probably bringing me free lunch baskets.

A Single Shot - Under the Microscope

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John Moon is out hunting in the woods (illegally poaching) and trails a wounded deer into a quarry. No escape. When he sees movement, he fires. And then the deer runs out of the trees. From the other direction.

He shoots the deer. But what else did he shoot? Into the trees, he finds a young woman. A dead woman, with his bullet inside her. And he also finds a campsite. And a pile of money. A lot of money.

Moon is down on his luck; poaching is the only reason he's getting by. And now he's poached something new: money. But the body won't stay hidden forever, and the police may come knocking. And the girl wasn't alone. Her friends want the money back, and they ain't the sort of men to take a loss lightly.

Now, that's a pretty damn good premise, and this is a pretty damn good book. Dark, gritty, well-written; the story and premise remind me a little of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Perhaps not quite as good as that masterpiece, but it's interesting to note that A Single Shot was written first, and the line of influence might run from Jones to McCarthy on this occasion.

"Before the sun is up, John Moon has showered, drunk two cups of coffee, and changed into his blue jeans, sweatshirt, and Timberland hiking boots. He has eaten two pieces of toast, a bowl of cereal, and put out food for his wandering dog. Before leaving the trailer by the front door, he gets his 12-gauge shotgun and a handful of slugs from the gun cabinet off the kitchen."

You know the old saying: introduce a gun in act one, you know it has to go off...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The World, The World

Sometimes the world just knocks you down with its beauty and you can't find the words.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Sour Lemon Score - Under the Microscope

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I'd been hearing about Richard Stark among crime afficionados for a while. It seemed like, among people in the know, that Richard Stark was thought of as maybe the best crime writer on the continent

Richard Stark, though, is just a pseudonym. The writer's actual name is Donald E. Westlake, a prolific writer in the genre best known for his humorous caper novels and for writing the screenplay for The Grifters. But he's a writer with many pseudonyms, and he's used those pseudonyms to allow him to explore different styles (and genres). And "Richard Stark," as the pseudonym might suggest, does not write humorous caper novels: he writes stark and hard crime novels. Short, sharp, and brutal is more the order, though there is always a dark humor to "Stark's" writing. If you want a bit of a feel for his work, Mel Gibson's Payback was a remake of a movie that was based on a Stark novel of the same name.

The Sour Lemon Score is crisply written, tight, and sharp, and yet somehow full of life - the dialogue, in particular, is full of character (and characters). The protagonist Parker, is an efficient and unrepentant criminal; not evil or cruel, but generally aware of his own self-interest and accepting of what that entails. Which makes him better than many of the other criminals haunting the societal underbelly, but not a man to cross. And in the Sour Lemon Score, one of the men on a score does just that. Which, needless to say, does not make Parker happy. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse - between two cats. And the mouse? A large pile of money. Money that Parker feels is his.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Year of Reading Books I Already Own

My house looks like this:

 * not actual picture of house

One of the things about being a compulsive book buyer, and the former owner of a bookstore, is that I have built a rather wicked personal library. Having first dibs on any book that was ever brought into my store was, shall we say, rather nice.

This means my house is full of awesome books to read, across a wide variety of genres. Something for all occasions! And I keep buying more. It's possible I shall soon have to annex a small township to provide the proper space.

It also happens, though, that I probably have less time to read now than at any other time in my life. Or, at least, less time for leisure reading. As an editor, my day job is mostly words, words, words. Which is good. But balancing a more-than-full-time job with three (soon to be four) kids, two cats, and a lovely wife, and then squeezing in time for my own writing (and blog), leaves less time for personal reading (well, comparatively; I still, um, read a lot).

This has been percolating in my head for a while, and it's led me to a new goal for the year: I'm going to focus on reading the books I already own. First, because I own a huge array of amazing books that I want to read. Second, maybe I can save a little money. Third, I'm running out of book space. And fourth, I'll probably still buy books.

Just a lot less of them.

Cold turkey won't work (I'd die). There are still certain writers whose books I will buy immediately (I'm looking at you, C-Mac. And you, A-Patch.). For example, I came across a book at a used book store a couple weeks ago, and it was something that I was planning on ordering. And it was in great condition. And it was five dollars. SOLD.

But I also saw lots of other interesting books there. In times past, they might have joined my personal hoard/horde. But I resisted. The new immigration policy seems to be working (no electric border fence for me, though).

So: prudence! My old friend! Okay, my new casual acquaintance, who I will try to spend some quality time with and get to know better.

New policy: Read My Own Books.

Strange, strange, I know. But it's my plan. Occasional book purchases: okay. I mean, I like to support writers with my money, but it has to work on my end, too. Balance, balance, balance. Also, some Feng Shui, as I'm running out of house space.

And, if successful, maybe my house will look like this: