Julie’s Cimmerian Tales Book Club: Kelly Link

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This month, I want to focus not on a specific book, but on an author: Kelly Link. I was introduced to Link’s writing in college. The first short story I read by her was “The Hortlak,” which includes a convenience store love triangle, zombies, shelter dogs, and printed pajamas. It’s in her second collection, Magic for Beginners. You can read it here. (Or, you can read her entire first collection, Stranger Things Happen, which is in the Creative Commons!)

Link’s stories include elements of the fantastical or weird. Some are set in contemporary suburbia with subtle twists, others in worlds that suggest high fantasy. I’m working my way through Pretty Monsters, a YA collection that won the Locus Award in 2009. Among the stories in the book are one about a boy who digs up the wrong dead girl, another about kids with magical tendencies who serve wizards in towers built on a marsh, and a third about twin sisters who decide that being Dead is the best way to go through life.

“Quirky” is too light a word to describe Link–some of her stories are downright eerie or morbid. There are unsettling elements, hordes of rabbits that gather in a family’s backyard, or hordes of green Susans who make Susan beer all day. For all their outlandishness, Link nevertheless maintains in her stories a strong sense of these not-worlds, maintaining their reality. Little details help, like the earwig that still sends Christmas cards to Fox in the titular story of Magic for Beginners. The illustrations that accompany the stories are an added bonus. (These are by Shelley Jackson and Shaun Tan, respectively.)

If you enjoy off-the-wall stories that are literary and fantastical at the same time, I recommend checking out Kelly Link’s work. Seeking inspiration? Visit her Story Monster page, which will randomly generate a prompt for you to develop a “monstrous, three-sentence story.” (I got: Once upon a time, “Billy” went to “Japan” and decided to toss around his “apple”!–I dare you to come up with a good story in the comments.) Want her to read your work and possibly publish it? Link and her husband, Gavin Grant, own Small Beer Press and run the small press zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. And if you’re in the Baltimore area, you can see her this weekend at FaerieCon East–you might even run into me! There are a slew of other great authors who will be at the Con, as well.

Happy Cimmerween! From Anne

Cimmerween!Read Part I

Ramapo High
Part II

I stroll down the halls. Detention starts at 4 o’clock, but I don’t want to be early. Or on time. Or even five minutes late. Those times say, “I’m trying.” My locker is gray and bland. I dump the books and papers I’ve collected today inside. A few sheets slip between the cracks and down into the locker below. No reason bringing homework home that I have no intention of completing anyway.

This hallway has no windows, but I feel eyes on me. The hairs on my arms stand on end. I worry the ring on my thumb before slamming my locker door shut. The metallic boom echoes down the empty corridor. There isn’t a student or a teacher in sight. Guess no one wants to be here longer than they have to. The heavy tread of my boots thumps in time to the beat of my heart. I hum the summer’s one-hit wonder and follow my mental map of the school.

A half set of stairs leads down to the Science wing. The temperature drops by ten degrees and the skin on my arms prickles in response. They must keep it cooler down here for health reasons or they lack the funding for fridges. They better have protective clothing. No way I’m dissecting shit and getting formaldehyde all over my vintage 1990-era Screaming Trees threads. The shirt was dad’s … before the accident.

I push past the double-swinging-doors labeled “Dissection Lab – Beware” and find myself in a large room filled from floor to ceiling in stainless steel appliances, tables, cabinets, and flickering fluorescent lights. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe I’d stepped into a morgue. Imagined eyes sweep over me. I ignore the way my skin crawls because the room is as empty as my dad’s spot at the dinner table.

continue reading …

Jen’s Cimmerian Tales Book Club

My “To Read” pile is starting to get out of hand, which means it looks like a skyscraper. Sitting at the top of it is the third installment of Ilsa Bick’s Ashes Trilogy, Monsters. Aptly named for the upcoming holiday, Monsters is sure to be just as addictive as the first two books, Ashes and Shadows.

The series follows Alex’s struggle to stay alive after Earth is devastated by an electromagnetic pulse that kills billions, alters the minds of thousands, and wipes out every computer system in existence. Thrown into a world that’s ending gives Alex, a terminal cancer patient, a chance for survival she didn’t have before. But the blast that may have stolen her tumor also changes kids into mindless things that eat the squishy parts of other humans, and kill to do it. Alliances form among monsters and men, and communities are born out of danger, tyranny, and the hope to stay alive long enough to rebuild the world.

Bick’s plot is thick and visceral in emotion and content so that your heart speeds up with her characters as they fight, quite literally, for their lives. She mixes survival story with horror in an unfolding apocalypse that challenges every human instinct. The fight or flight in this novel in tangible and goosebump-inducing. Fast paced, terrifyingly detailed, and just enough zombies and gore to make a surgery assistant (ie: me) unsure of her stomach, the series is perfect for a Halloween read.